Latest Issue: Issue 376 - August 2020
Research, Method & Debate
Antiquity—the past—has been fundamental to archaeology from the very beginnings of the discipline, and it remains the central concept around which archaeological research is developed. Over the years, however, alternative ways of doing and thinking archaeology have come forth to challenge this orientation on the past. Despite their growth in scope and sophistication, these alternatives remain at the margins of our community. In this article, the authors argue that it is in the best interests of archaeology—both as a community and as a discipline—to not brush aside these alternatives but rather to afford them serious attention.
Animal domestication represents one of the most important advances in human history. Pigs (Sus scrofa) were domesticated multiple times in prehistory and are therefore ideal for examining how geography and culture shape the domestication process. The authors integrate zooarchaeological and isotopic data from Neolithic (c. 10 000–2000 BP) pigs from central China and the Lower Yangtze Valley to demonstrate two dominant domestication trajectories. In central China, pig husbandry intensified following domestication, corresponding with population growth and a shift in socio-economic organisation. In the Lower Yangtze Valley, however, increasing urbanism was associated with a preference for wild resources supplemented by the limited exploitation of domestic pigs.
During the Early Neolithic in the Near East, particularly from the mid ninth millennium cal BC onwards, human iconography became more widespread. Explanations for this development, however, remain elusive. This article presents a unique assemblage of flint artefacts from the Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (eighth millennium BC) site of Kharaysin in Jordan. Contextual, morphological, statistical and use-wear analyses of these artefacts suggest that they are not tools but rather human figurines. Their close association with burial contexts suggests that they were manufactured and discarded during mortuary rituals and remembrance ceremonies that included the extraction, manipulation and redeposition of human remains.
The Neolithic to Bronze Age transition (c. 5000–3500 BP) saw dramatic socio-economic developments in ancient China. Complex polities emerged in many regions, only to decline and collapse by the end of the period. In the Central Plains area, however, these centuries laid the foundations for China's first dynasties. This article presents zooarchaeological, palaeobotanical and isotopic research from key sites of the Central Plains spanning the period c. 5000–3500 BP. The results demonstrate that, contrary to narratives of the climate-induced collapse of these polities, Central Plains agricultural regimes intensified and diversified during the Neolithic to Bronze Age transition.
The cemetery at Zvejnieki in Latvia was in use from c. 7500–2600 BC, spanning part of the regional Mesolithic and Neolithic. This article presents a reanalysis of finds from a double inhumation burial of a male and a female dating to 3786–3521 BC. A unique leg ornament associated with the female is composed of tubular beads. Previously believed to have been made of bird bone, reanalysis of 68 of these beads now demonstrates that they were produced from fossilised sea lilies (Crinoidea). This new identification of a rarely recognised raw material is discussed in the context of other hunter-gatherer encounters with unusual materials and their environments.
Understanding socioeconomic inequality is fundamental for studies of societal development in European prehistory. This article presents dietary (δ13C and δ15N) isotope values for human and animal bone collagen from Early Neolithic Osłonki 1 in north-central Poland (c. 4600–4100 cal BC). A new series of AMS radiocarbon determinations show that, of individuals interred at the same time, those with copper artefacts exhibit significantly higher δ13C values than those without. The authors’ results suggest a link between high-status goods and intra-community differences in diet and/or preferential access to the agropastoral landscape.
The Khao Wong Prachan Valley of central Thailand is one of four known prehistoric loci of copper mining, smelting and casting in Southeast Asia. Many radiocarbon determinations from bronze-consumption sites in north-east Thailand date the earliest copper-base metallurgy there in the late second millennium BC. By applying kernel density estimation analysis to approximately 100 new AMS radiocarbon dates, the authors conclude that the valley's first Neolithic millet farmers had settled there by c. 2000 BC, and initial copper mining and rudimentary smelting began in the late second millennium BC. This overlaps with the established dates for Southeast Asian metal-consumption sites, and provides an important new insight into the development of metallurgy in central Thailand and beyond.
In prehistoric coastal and western-central Thailand, rice was the dominant cultivar. In eastern-central Thailand, however, the first known farmers cultivated millet. Using one of the largest collections of archaeobotanical material in Southeast Asia, this article examines how cropping systems were adapted as domesticates were introduced into eastern-central Thailand. The authors argue that millet reached the region first, to be progressively replaced by rice, possibly due to climatic pressures. But despite the increasing importance of rice, dryland, rain-fed cultivation persisted throughout ancient central Thailand, a result that contributes to refining understanding of the development of farming in Southeast Asia.
The urban plan of ancient Motya on the Isola di San Pantaleo on the west coast of Sicily and its relationship to developments in Phoenician and Punic societies have been investigated since the early 1960s. Data from geophysical surveys in the north-eastern quadrant of Motya show the regular organisation of urban insulae framed by two broad roads. These results, combined with data from previous nearby excavations, improve the modelling of Motya's layout, and contribute to the wider discussion of Phoenician/Punic and broader Mediterranean urban traditions between the sixth and fourth centuries BC.
Ancestral Polynesian Society has been argued to represent a formative stage in Polynesian ethnogenesis. Recently discovered human burials at the Talasiu midden site in Tonga, dating to c. 2650 cal BP, now provide the earliest known evidence for Ancestral Polynesian mortuary behaviour. This article presents and evaluates the burials, comparing archaeological evidence for Talasiu mortuary practices with those of older Lapita and more recent Tongan burials, as well as with Ancestral Polynesian Society funerary activities inferred through linguistic reconstruction. These comparisons emphasise that several socio-cultural behaviours that are important to contemporary Polynesian societies were expressed very differently in the past.
Ancient Greece is well known for its many temples and sanctuaries, including several dedicated to healing and associated cults. Informed by disability studies, this article analyses the architecture of public spaces and facilities, alongside epigraphic, iconographic and literary evidence, to argue that the ancient Greeks sought to ensure the accessibility of healing sanctuaries. Even without a framework of civil rights as we understand them today, the builders of these sites made architectural choices that enabled individuals with impaired mobility to access these spaces. It is hoped that this research may stimulate further investigations into accessibility at other sites in the Classical world and beyond.
As the Inca Empire expanded across the South American Andes during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries AD, Lake Titicaca became its mythical place of origin and the location of a pilgrimage complex on the Island of the Sun. This complex included an underwater reef where stone boxes containing miniature figurines of gold, silver and shell were submerged as ritual offerings. This article reports a newly discovered stone offering box from a reef close to the lake's north-eastern shore. The location, content and broader socio-cultural context of Inca sacrifices are examined to illuminate the religious and social meaning of underwater ritual offerings at Lake Titicaca.
Recent large-scale comparative archaeological studies of wealth differences have used Gini coefficients to assess inequality, employing house-floor area as a standardised, cross-cultural proxy for wealth. Two such studies have found that storage capacity produces higher Gini coefficients than floor area, suggesting that the latter measures household wealth, while the former reflects anticipated income. Here, the authors test these relationships using the floor area and storage capacity of excavated houses on the Lower Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. The results, which reflect those from previous studies, support the cross-cultural nature of the pattern, and show that storage capacity reflects food-surplus deployment strategies rather than anticipated household income.
Archaeology and private artefact collecting have complex and inextricably linked histories. Archaeologists have long drawn attention to criminal activity among collectors, but to assume that all private owners of cultural material—and any archaeologists who interact with them—have ill-intent or engage in illegal behaviour can cause as much harm to the archaeological record as the criminal actions themselves.
At first sight, these two volumes represent different views of the task of interpreting material culture: the first seems to announce a post-processual paradigm, emphasising the agency of objects and the ambivalence of meanings in the area of magical practice, whereas the second makes no overt claims about materiality while based firmly on museum objects. In fact, however, the differences between them are rather smaller than first impressions suggest.
The discipline of archaeology in Afghanistan was at a turning point when the original editions of The archaeology of Afghanistan and the Archaeological gazetteer of Afghanistan were published in 1978 and 1982, respectively. The first three decades of modern archaeological activity in Afghanistan (1920s–1940s) were dominated by French archaeologists who primarily focused on the pre-Islamic past, particularly the Buddhist period. Following the Second World War, however, Afghanistan gradually opened archaeological practice to a more international community. Consequently, the scope of archaeological exploration expanded to include more robust studies of the prehistoric, pre-Islamic and Islamic periods. In the 1960s, the Afghan Institute of Archaeology began conducting its own excavations, and by the late 1970s, national and international excavations were uncovering exciting new discoveries across the country. These archaeological activities largely halted as Afghanistan descended into chaos during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979–1989) and the Afghan Civil War (1989–2001); the Afghan Institute of Archaeology was the only archaeological institute continuing operations. The original editions of the volumes under review were therefore timely and poignant publications that captured the peak of archaeological activity in twentieth-century Afghanistan and became classic texts on the subject.
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Sudan is a vitally important region for understanding the migrations of Anatomically Modern Humans from the African continent. Here, the authors present the results of a preliminary survey in the Kerma region, during which, 16 new Middle Stone Age sites were discovered.
A new project maps mobility patterns and social networks from prehistory to historical times in the western piedmont of the Maloti-Drakensberg, South Africa, and considers how rock art sites relate to seasonal or transhumance patterns in the region.
A combined archaeobotanical and micro-refuse analysis is being implemented at two Early Neolithic tells currently under excavation in the Pelagonia Valley: Vrbjanska Čuka and Veluška Tumba. The first results suggest similarities with Greek sites that show a relatively broad crop spectrum.
Excavations at Gonur Oasis in the ancient delta of the Murghab River revealed a unique polychrome painting at the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex. Found in an unusual grave at Gonur 20, the painting may offer new insights into ancient technologies and interaction between Old World civilisations.
Survey and excavation of a medieval fort in central Himalaya has provided evidence for a unique system of defence. Radiocarbon dates provide a chronology for the fort and fortalices (small forts or fortified houses) in the Garhwal region.