Latest Issue: Issue 371 - October 2019
Research, Method & Debate
This article advances the hypothesis that the transformation of farming from a labour-limited form to a land-limited form facilitated the emergence of substantial and sustained wealth inequalities in many ancient agricultural societies. Using bioarchaeological and other relevant evidence for the nature of ancient agrosystems, the authors characterise 90 Western Eurasian site-phases as labour- vs land-limited. Their estimates of wealth inequality (the Gini coefficient), which incorporate data on house and household storage size and individual grave goods—adjusted for comparability using new methods—indicate that land-limited farming systems were significantly more unequal than labour-limited ones.
North-east China occupies an important geographic position for understanding the process of Neolithisation in East Asia. Although archaeologists have long debated the trajectory of change in this region, a lack of intensive survey and excavation has precluded convincing interpretations. This article presents research on the newly excavated sites of Huayang and Taoshan in the southern Lesser Khingan Mountains, with a particular focus on the lithic assemblages. Comparative and environmental analyses demonstrate the largely uniform trajectory of lithic technologies across north-east China and close correspondence with Late Glacial palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental changes.
Shifts in ceramic technology are often assumed to reflect wider social changes. Closer attention, however, needs to be directed to the fundamental issue of production. Shifts in the ceramic record of the Tao River Valley in north-western China (c. 2100 BC) are no exception and the relationships between ceramic form, clay recipes and communities of practice have not been previously investigated for this region. Here, petrographic analysis demonstrates that, despite major shifts in ceramic form and surface treatment, production techniques, raw materials and exchange relationships show surprising continuity through time.
The Great Orme Bronze Age copper mine in Wales is one of Europe's largest, although its size has been attributed to a small-scale, seasonal labour force working for nearly a millennium. Here, the authors report the results of interdisciplinary research that provides evidence that Great Orme was the focus of Britain's first mining boom, c. 1600–1400 BC, probably involving a full-time mining community and the wide distribution of metalwork from Brittany to Sweden. This new interpretation suggests greater integration than previously suspected of Great Orme metal into the European Bronze Age trade/exchange networks, as well as more complex local and regional socio-economic interactions.
The identification of weights and weight-regulated artefacts is of primary importance for confirming the existence of European Bronze Age value ratios and exchange systems. Until recently, however, no such Bronze Age artefacts had been identified in Britain. Here, statistical analysis identifies—for the first time—Middle and Late Bronze Age balance weights and weight-regulated gold objects from Britain, Ireland and Atlantic France. These finds allow for new interpretations concerning modes of exchange and their significance in Atlantic Europe, further underlining a Continental—and possibly Mediterranean—influence on Britain during the late second and early first millennia BC.
A decade ago, archaeologists discovered the site of a Bronze Age battlefield in the Tollense Valley in north-eastern Germany. Dated to the early thirteenth century BC, the remains of over 140 individuals have been documented, along with many associated bronze objects. Here, the authors present a new assemblage of 31 objects from the site, including three bronze cylinders that may be the fastenings of an organic container. The objects are similar to those found in Bronze Age burials of southern Central Europe, and may represent the personal equipment of a warrior from that region who died on the battlefield in Northern Europe.
Bronze Age agro-pastoralist populations with economies and materials that are generally consistent with the Andronovo Culture—but with localised variations—are known throughout the mountains bordering the Eastern Eurasian Steppe. Recently, evidence for this tradition has also been found in north-west Xinjiang, China, although many questions remain about the production, use and significance of ceramics here. The authors’ analyses of a sample of pottery from sites across the Bortala Valley permit the reconstruction of the ceramic chaîne opératoire and offer two distinct stories: one of cultural connectivity with regional networks of Eurasian pastoralists, and another about self-expression through small-scale local ceramic production.
While Maya public rituals are often assumed to have developed from domestic practices, caches at Ceibal in Guatemala demonstrate the concurrent emergence of distinct domestic and public rituals. During the Middle Preclassic period (c. 1000–350 BC), caches in domestic areas were associated with construction phases—deposited on floors or within construction fills. In the public plaza, however, caches were deposited in intrusive pits. Later, domestic and public ritual practices became more similar. By focusing on deposition processes and deposit context, rather than content, it is possible to recognise distinct ritualised activities that are sometimes obscured by predefined categories such as ‘cache’.
This study uses neutron activation analysis of ceramics to examine economic change and increasing social complexity at the Preclassic Maya site of Cahal Pech in Belize (1200 cal BC–cal AD 300). Seven compositional groups were identified from the site's civic-ceremonial centre and two peripheral residential groups. Analyses indicate that both utilitarian and non-utilitarian ceramics were locally produced as early as 1200 cal BC, and that by c. 700 cal BC, fineware vessels were being exported into neighbouring parts of Guatemala. These results provide direct evidence for economic interaction between Maya lowland communities and for their increasing socio-political complexity.
Excavations of pre-pottery levels at Gua Talimbue and Gua Sambagowala in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, have yielded nearly 4kg of baked-clay fragments, half of which exhibit intentional patterning. The fragments appear to derive from clay hearths. Here, the authors link the patterning on Early Holocene (c. 9900–8800 cal BP) fragments with the intention to enhance the appearance of the hearths’ rims. During the Mid/Late Holocene (c. 4500–2000 cal BP), patterning shifts to the interior surfaces. The effort and specialised skills required to impress patterns on these hearths is, to date, unique in the archaeology of pre-Neolithic Island Southeast Asia.
Inscriptional evidence suggests that the Phnom Kulen plateau to the north-east of Angkor in Cambodia was the location of Mahendraparvata—an early Angkorian capital city and one of the first capitals of the Khmer Empire (ninth to fifteenth centuries AD). To date, however, archaeological evidence has been limited to a scatter of small and apparently isolated shrines. Here, the authors combine airborne laser scanning with ground-based survey to define an extended urban network dating from the ninth century AD, which they identify as Mahendraparvata. This research yields new and important insights into the emergence of Angkorian urban areas.
Stone cist graves dating to the Bronze Age through to the late medieval period are well attested across Western Europe. In the Americas, such cist graves are found only on the island of Saba in the Dutch Caribbean. First starting in the colonial period, this funerary practice continues on Saba to the present day, representing a cultural continuity with rural seventeenth-century populations—probably settlers from the British Isles. This article discusses the recent excavation of several cist burials on Saba, their structural forms and their relevance for understanding cultural continuity in the Caribbean of the historical period.
Lipid residue analysis has recently been applied to investigate the adoption of pottery by Early Woodland hunter-gatherers in north-eastern North America. Results, however, have proven contradictory, especially regarding the extent to which early ceramics were used for processing aquatic resources. Here, the authors argue that this inconsistency is due to the use of different analytical procedures and criteria for identifying aquatic organisms, rather than any actual variations in pottery use. By applying robust analytical criteria and methods to Early Woodland pottery from the Great Lakes region, the authors present evidence supporting their hypothesis that such pottery was indeed used for processing aquatic resources.
A fundamental element of Upper Palaeolithic archaeological practice is cultural taxonomy—the definition and description of taxonomic units that group assemblages according to their material culture and geographic and chronological distributions. The derived taxonomies, such as Aurignacian, Gravettian and Magdalenian, are used as units of analysis in many research questions and interpretations. The evidential and theoretical bases defining these taxonomic units, however, are generally lacking. Here, the authors review the current state of Upper Palaeolithic cultural taxonomy and make recommendations for the long-term improvement of the situation.
In his 2017 masterful film Happy End, the European auteur Michael Haneke returns to some of his favourite themes by portraying the life of a contemporary dysfunctional, white bourgeoisie family in Calais, France, struggling to deal with the skeletons in their cupboard. They are also mostly oblivious to the thousands of migrants from the Global South attempting to negotiate yet another borderland and cross into Britain. In the final scene, a group of them bursts uninvited into the family's engagement party. This classic Hanekean tense moment reminds us that contemporary global migration, rather than being a novel and unexpected ‘crisis’, amounts to an unavoidable return, a return of the oppressed and the colonised; it is a moment in the unfinished histories of white European global domination. In that sense, rather than being a ‘migration crisis’, it can be better described as a reception crisis (cf. Christopoulos 2016), a crisis of the contemporary nation states in the Global North who find it impossible to come to terms with their own histories.
Rock art in the Alps, centred on just two expansive sites, complements the many Scandinavian sites as a major source for open-air art in later European prehistory. A revelatory biography of one of the pioneering researchers there, published simultaneously with a superb monograph on a single rich surface of Alpine art, prompts this review of how we have studied, how we presently study and how we may come to study that art.
Textiles and clothing are fundamental aspects of everyday life in the past but are often overlooked in archaeology. Fortunately, this is changing, as witnessed by three new books, reviewed here. Two deal with the beginnings of clothing and textile production, but in different ways; the third contains contributions reflecting on this theme. The monograph by Ian Gilligan—a polyhistory of medicine, psychology, prehistoric archaeology and biological anthropology—presents new theories on the emergence of clothing and textiles in a sustained argument; the two other books, edited volumes comprising 29 papers by textile specialists, each present new research on different aspects of ancient textiles and clothing. In several cases, authors disagree, enhancing the value of the debates, and adding to our understanding of the impact on society of ancient textile production and clothing.
The series of volumes edited by Joseph Carter on the rural landscape around the Greek colony of Metapontum in southern Italy represent a slow but steady revolution in the field of Classical studies. This latest addition to the series presents the results of excavations at the rural site of Pantanello, near modern Metaponto, first launched by the Institute of Classical Archaeology of the University of Austin in 1974. At that time, Classical archaeologists concentrated almost entirely on urban contexts, especially temples and public buildings. Rural sites were of interest only if they featured in the literary sources. To initiate fieldwork at an anonymous rural location such as Pantanello, where only some roof tiles and stone blocks were visible, was therefore a courageous undertaking for a young scholar such as Joe Carter at that time. That fieldwork, however, has proved to be seminal, not only because of the broad range of data that have been brought to light by Carter and his international team, but also because of the meticulous publication of the results in a series of high-quality volumes that have set a new benchmark. The volume under review, The Greek sanctuary at Pantanello, comprises three sub-volumes, totalling 1678 pages.
Free to access
Recent archaeological survey has revealed large numbers of stone structures, known as desert kites, in north-western Libya. The numbers of these structures and their evident adaptation over time demonstrate a longevity of use and a high degree of specialisation and cooperation among the people who built them.
In 2017, Hurricane Maria exposed a colonial-era settlement at LaSoye on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Evidence suggests that this was a seventeenth- to eighteenth-century Dutch trading factory built over an earlier Kalinago settlement, and a place of early interaction between Indigenous peoples and Europeans.
The recent discovery of a Late/Final Pre-Pottery Neolithic B burial of an adult and two children associated with fox bones at the site of Motza, Israel, demonstrates the broader socio-cultural perspective, and possibly continued animistic world views, of Neolithic foragers at the onset of the agricultural revolution.
The small, Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B site (tenth millennium cal BP) of Nahal Yarmuth 38 in central Israel consists of a unique series of rectilinear structures with plastered floors, beneath which multiple interments were found. The nature of the finds combined with existing knowledge of burial customs of this period make Nahal Yarmuth 38 an ideal site for investigating designated burial sites in the Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B.
This project aims to reconstruct the settlement patterns and palaeoenvironment of the Sąspów Valley in the Polish Jura by combining unpublished archaeological fieldwork with results of recent excavations at 13 cave sites.
This article presents data obtained in the first geophysical survey undertaken in the Decapolis city of Gerasa (Jerash) in northern modern Jordan, and reflects on the value of openly sharing data in the academic community.