Latest Issue: Issue 374 - April 2020
Research, Method & Debate
The Pleistocene archaeological record of South Asia is important for addressing questions relating to the origin and evolution of Palaeolithic cultures, continuity or change in lithic technologies, and population dispersals across Asia. Here, the authors report on intensive regional studies to investigate variability within this record, employing field survey, lithic analysis and experimental knapping. They examine Palaeolithic hominin behavioural change in the Wainganga Basin, central India, focusing on variability in spatial distribution, stratigraphy and lithic reduction strategies in Acheulian to Late Palaeolithic sites. This emphasises the diversity of cultural sequences in South Asia and contributes to questions of transition and change based on cultural preferences, raw materials and lithic strategies in different regions.
Circular features made from mammoth bone are known from across Upper Palaeolithic Eastern Europe, and are widely identified as dwellings. The first systematic flotation programme of samples from a recently discovered feature at Kostenki 11 in Russia has yielded assemblages of charcoal, burnt bone and microlithic debitage. New radiocarbon dates provide the first coherent chronology for the site, revealing it to be one of the oldest such features on the Russian Plain. The authors discuss the implications for understanding the function of circular mammoth-bone features during the onset of the Last Glacial Maximum.
The Konya Plain in western Turkey hosted some of the earliest known farming communities beyond the Fertile Crescent. While robust radiocarbon chronologies have elucidated the development of local Neolithic settlement patterns, particularly for Çatalhöyük, the history of occupation at Canhasan sites III and I to the south-east is less clear. Here, the authors present new radiocarbon dates for these sites, demonstrating that these settlements align closely with the occupation sequence to the north. Aceramic Neolithic occupation at Canhasan III further emphasises Çatalhöyük East's isolation for most of the Ceramic Neolithic, while Canhasan I was reoccupied during a phase of dispersed settlement.
In Eastern Europe, the use of light vehicles with spoked wheels and harnessed horse teams is first evidenced in the early second-millennium BC Sintashta-Petrovka Culture in the South-eastern Ural Mountains. Using Bayesian modelling of radiocarbon dates from the kurgan cemetery of Kamennyj Ambar-5, combined with artefactual and stratigraphic analyses, this article demonstrates that these early European chariots date to no later than the first proto-chariots of the ancient Near East. This result suggests the earlier emergence of chariots on the Eurasian Steppe than previously thought and contributes to wider debates on the geography and chronology of technological innovations.
Decorated ostrich eggs were traded around the Mediterranean during the Bronze and Iron Ages. Research on their origins has focused primarily on decorative techniques and iconography to characterise the producers, workshops and trade routes, thereby equating decorative styles with cultural identities and geographic locations. This is problematic, as craftspeople were mobile and worked in the service of foreign royal patrons. The present study investigates the provenance of ancient ostrich eggs, reconsiders trade patterns via isotopic indicators and characterises decorative techniques in order to assist in the identification of culturally distinct decorative styles or regional preferences.
The south-eastern Black Sea area is a key region for understanding the history of iron metallurgy. While Classical texts mention the people living in this area as producers, and perhaps even inventors, of iron, material evidence has been lacking. Recent archaeological survey and scientific analyses now make it possible to investigate iron technologies in the region during the mid to late first millennium BC and the medieval period, providing new insights into the metallurgical tradition that inspired such admiration in the Graeco-Roman world. These results have implications for the smelting of iron in liquid state, although it remains unclear where and when this technology first appeared in Western Eurasia.
Accurately dating the creation and development of earthwork features is a long-standing problem for archaeologists. This article presents results from Bosigran (Cornwall, UK), where boundary banks believed to be prehistoric in origin are assessed using optically stimulated luminescence profiling and dating (OSL-PD). The results provide secure construction dates for different boundaries in the Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as chronologies for their early medieval and later development. The research demonstrates not only the prehistoric origins of these distinctive Cornish field systems, but also a practical and cost-effective methodology suitable for dating earthworks around the world.
Mountain passes have played a key role in past mobility, facilitating transhumance, intra-regional travel and long-distance exchange. Current global warming has revealed an example of such a pass at Lendbreen, Norway. Artefacts exposed by the melting ice indicate usage from c. AD 300–1500, with a peak in activity c. AD 1000 during the Viking Age—a time of increased mobility, political centralisation and growing trade and urbanisation in Northern Europe. Lendbreen provides new information concerning the socio-economic factors that influenced high-elevation travel, and increases our understanding of the role of mountain passes in inter- and intra-regional communication and exchange.
Donkeys facilitated trade and transport in much of the ancient world, but were seldom used in elite or leisure activities. While Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907) texts indicate that noble women played polo riding donkeys, this has never been documented archaeologically. Here, the authors present the first archaeological evidence of the significance of donkeys for elite Tang women through analyses of donkey remains recovered from the tomb of a Tang noblewoman in Xi'an, China. These findings broaden our understanding of the donkey's historic roles beyond simple load bearing.
High-resolution analysis of the ice core from Colle Gnifetti, Switzerland, allows yearly and sub-annual measurement of pollution for the period of highest lead production in the European Middle Ages, c. AD 1170–1220. Here, the authors use atmospheric circulation analysis and other geoarchaeological records to establish that Britain was the principal source of that lead pollution. The comparison of annual lead deposition at Colle Gnifetti displays a strong similarity to trends in lead production documented in the English historical accounts. This research provides unique new insight into the yearly political economy and environmental impact of the Angevin Empire of Kings Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and John.
Since the 1890s, archaeologists have been studying the cliff dwellings of the Mesa Verde region of south-western Colorado, seeking to understand the factors that drove the ancient Pueblo Indians from these once vibrant communities. The ongoing Sand Canyon-Castle Rock Community Archaeological Project examines connections between the landscape, architecture and rock art of the Castle Rock Community in the thirteenth century AD—immediately preceding the total depopulation of the Mesa Verde region. The combination of new technologies and collaboration with modern Pueblo people—the Hopi—provides a richer and more nuanced picture of the Community's last days.
Following the 1940 evacuation of the British Channel Island of Alderney, a network of Nazi labour and concentration camps was built on the island to house foreign labourers. Despite investigations led by the British Government immediately after the conclusion of the Second World War, knowledge of the history and architecture of these camps remained limited. This article reports on archaeological investigations, which, for the first time, have mapped the Sylt labour and concentration camp using non-invasive methods and 3D-reconstruction techniques. The results provide the opportunity, alongside historical research, to examine the relationships between architecture, the landscape setting and the experiences of those housed at Sylt camp.
The underlying theme of Foraging in the past is how archaeology can be used to identify the full range of diversity among hunter-gatherers in the absence of ethnographic analogues. In the introduction, Ashley Lemke argues that forager diversity must have been greater in the past than is suggested by comparison with the spatially and temporally restricted ethnographic record of modern hunter-gatherer societies. The deep prehistoric past covers timeframes with no modern environmental analogue, and the subjects of our study include a broader range of human ancestors than just anatomically modern humans. Consequently, archaeologists must use models and hypotheses to identify novel forager adaptations that lack any modern ethnographic equivalent.
Climate change regularly made the news in 2019. In the face of numerous protests around the globe, and increasingly frequent natural disasters, we appear to be entering a (perhaps overdue) stage of heightened awareness with regard to the fragility of the Earth and our impact upon it. Current concerns over the fate of our planet, and species, look set to stay, but for deep-time prehistorians, who have long contended with records of environmental change on a scale relatively unparalleled in historic times, business continues as usual. In the opening to Resilience and reorganisation of social systems during the Weichselian Lateglacial in North-west Europe, Sonja Grimm makes reference to the importance of the Club of Rome (a non-profit, non-governmental organisation) in highlighting socio-ecological stability as an issue for public concern, and one that archaeological studies such as this can contribute to and bolster. Meanwhile, Peter Moe Astrup, in his introduction to Sea-level change in Mesolithic southern Scandinavia, notes that Mesolithic people from this area would have been exposed to the consequences of global sea-level rise on a far greater scale than those predicted for our own future generations. What these volumes share is an emphasis on the importance of adaptive flexibility and the human experience in shaping our response to climate change.
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While hunting scenes are well attested in Indian rock art, only two depictions of butchering are known from sites in India, and are very rare globally. Here, the authors present the discovery of a rare depiction of deer butchering, found at Maser in the Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh, India.
The discovery of eight biface lithic artefacts at Kashiwabara in Japan demonstrates the use of lithic reduction strategies, and suggests that mobile hunter-gatherers on the Japanese Islands were caching artefacts during the Incipient period of Jomon (c. 15–11 500 cal BP). This has parallels with hunter-gatherer behaviour in North America, and indicates that caching strategies may not have been unique to Palaeoindians.
Drawing upon new evidence emerging from Kenya's Cherangani Hills, this research project furthers current understanding of the archaeology of Late Iron Age forest-dwelling communities in East Africa, focusing on a series of intriguing earthworks deep inside forest environments that are reminiscent of the ‘Sirikwa’ tradition.
Excavation at nuraghe S'Urachi has yielded a wide range of archaeobotanical materials preserved through charring and waterlogging. This unusual evidence allows us to study the agricultural practices and diet of this community in the first millennium BC and to understand better the economic and cultural interactions between Sardinia and the wider Phoenician and Mediterranean world.
The great feud between the clans Campbell and MacDonald in the early seventeenth century AD was part of a power struggle for control of Islay, the seat of the Lord of the Isles, and encompassed wider political, economic and religious change in the region and beyond from the sixteenth century. The discovery of a seal matrix found during excavations at Dunyvaig Castle reveals the personal story of Sir John Campbell of Cawdor (1576–1642) in these broader political events.