Latest Issue: Issue 362 - April 2018
Research, Method & Debate
The bow and arrow is thought to be a unique development of our species, signalling higher-level cognitive functioning. How this technology originated and how we identify archaeological evidence for it are subjects of ongoing debate. Recent analysis of the putative bone arrow point from Sibudu Cave in South Africa, dated to 61.7±1.5kya, has provided important new insights. High-resolution CT scanning revealed heat and impact damage in both the Sibudu point and in experimentally produced arrow points. These features suggest that the Sibudu point was first used as an arrowhead for hunting, and afterwards was deposited in a hearth. Our results support the claim that bone weapon tips were used in South African hunting long before the Eurasian Upper Palaeolithic.
Bilateral symmetry in handaxes has significant implications for hominin cognitive and socio-behavioural evolution. Here the authors show that high levels of symmetry occur in the British Late Middle Pleistocene Acheulean, which they consider to be a deliberate, socially mediated act. Furthermore, they argue that lithic technology in general, and handaxes in particular, were part of a pleasure-reward system linked to dopamine-releasing neurons in the brain. Making handaxes made Acheulean hominins happy, and one particularly pleasing property was symmetry.
The Grotte Chauvet is world renowned for the quality and diversity of its Palaeolithic art. Fire was particularly important to the occupants, providing light and producing charcoal for use in motifs. Charcoal samples were taken systematically from features associated with the two main occupation phases (Aurignacian and Gravettian). Analysis showed it to be composed almost entirely of pine (Pinus sp.), indicating the harsh climatic conditions at this period. No distinction in wood species was found between either the two occupation episodes or the various depositional contexts. The results throw new light on the cultural and palaeoenvironmental factors that influenced choices underlying the collection of wood for charcoal production.
The carved wooden object uncovered from the Shigir peat bog in the Sverdlovsk region towards the end of the nineteenth century remains one of the oldest, known examples of monumental anthropomorphic sculpture from anywhere in the world. Recent application of new analytical techniques has led to the discovery of new imagery on its surface, and has pushed the date of the piece back to the earliest Holocene. The results of these recent analyses are placed here in the context of local and extra-local traditions of comparable prehistoric art. This discussion highlights the unique nature of the find and its significance for appreciating the complex symbolic world of Early Holocene hunter-gatherers.
In 1990 the excavation of a group of tumuli in south-western Bosnia was published in the pages of Antiquity. The key discovery was the Bronze Age burial of an adult male (Pustopolje tumulus 16), wrapped in a large woollen textile. At the time, little attention was paid to the textile. New analyses of the fabric, however, have led to a reappraisal of this find. The textile is presented here fully for the first time, with details of the analyses that have been undertaken. These reveal that the Pustopolje textile has major significance for our understanding of the early development of weaving technology and clothing in the Bronze Age archaeological record, and in particular it underlines the presence of distinct and separate weaving traditions in Central Europe and Scandinavia.
The importance of jade in the burnt offerings of the Shang Dynasty known as ‘Liao sacrifice’ has long been known from documentary evidence, but has yet to be scientifically verified. We present the results of non-destructive analyses of a jade parrot excavated from the tomb of imperial consort Fu Han at Yinxu in Henan Province. Analyses revealed the presence of diopside, an outcome of phase transition from tremolite resulting from heating in antiquity. This provides the first scientific evidence that the Shang Dynasty used jade in Liao sacrifice, and confirms oracle bone inscriptions and later records concerning the ritual.
The recent discovery of a well-preserved horse burial at the Third Cataract site of Tombos illuminates the social significance of equids in the Nile Valley. The accompanying funerary assemblage includes one of the earliest securely dated pieces of iron in Africa. The Third Intermediate Period (1050–728 BC) saw the development of the Nubian Kushite state beyond the southern border of Egypt. Analysis of the mortuary and osteological evidence suggests that horses represented symbols of a larger social, political and economic movement, and that the horse gained symbolic meaning in the Nile Valley prior to its adoption by the Kushite elite. This new discovery has important implications for the study of the early Kushite state and the formation of Kushite social identity.
Two recent discoveries on the east bank of the Tiber are of major significance to the study of early Rome: the discovery that the sixth-century BC riverbank was in a different position to the modern bank, and the finding of a Late Bronze Age site deeply buried adjacent to Sant'Omobono church, the latter reported by Brock and Terrenato (2016). This article reconsiders the Sant'Ombono data in an environmental context, questioning both the previous interpretation of site usage and the provenience of the dating evidence. This reappraisal is placed within a recently developed research theme, namely the transformation of the landscape of early Rome into a cityscape, which involved large-scale encroachment on the east bank.
The identification of parasites in ancient human remains can address questions of past health, disease, mobility and mortuary customs. Archaeoparasitological evidence from Russia is, however, almost absent. This study presents the first such evidence in the form of a helminth infection in a mummified individual from the southern Siberian site of Doge-Bary II, the burial ground of a nomadic Iron Age community. Despite the removal of the intestines as part of the mummification procedure, the residual eggs of Trichuris trichiura, a non-indigenous species of whipworm, were detected. This evidence provides the first confirmation of prehistoric contact between southern Siberian nomads and distant agricultural areas, such as China and Central Asia.
The European Migration Period (c. AD 400–550) was characterised by political, social and economic instability. Recent excavations at Sandby borg ringfort on the island of Öland in Sweden have revealed indisputable evidence of a massacre which occurred at that time. Osteological, contextual and artefactual evidence strongly suggest that the fort was abandoned immediately following the attack and was left undisturbed throughout antiquity. Sandby borg offers a unique snapshot of domestic life and abrupt death in the Scandinavian Migration Period, and provides evidence highly relevant to studies of ancient conflict, and on social and military aspects of Iron Age and Migration Period societies.
The Christianisation of Ireland in the fifth century AD produced distinct monastic practices and architectural traditions. Recent research on Inishark Island in western Ireland illuminates the diverse material manifestations of monasticism and contributes to the archaeological analysis of pilgrimage. Excavations revealed a ritual complex (AD 900–1100) developed as both an ascetic hermitage and a pilgrimage shrine. It is argued that monastic communities designed ritual infrastructure to promote ideologies of sacred hierarchy and affinity that legitimated their status and economic relations with lay worshippers. In a global context, this research emphasises how material and spatial settings of pilgrimage can accommodate and construct social distinctions through patterns of seclusion, exclusion and integration in ritual.
Despite the high degree of technological sophistication visible in other aspects of urban engineering, the archaeology of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica has revealed curiously few examples of bridges or formal, permanent water-crossing structures. The ancient city of Cotzumalhuapa, where at least five such structures have been identified, is a notable exception. The author reviews the archaeological and historical evidence for these bridges, and reflects upon the diversity of engineering technologies that they reveal. Although it remains unclear why bridges are absent at many other contemporaneous sites, these examples offer a fascinating glimpse into the urban planning of structured mobility in Mesoamerica.
Archaeological evidence for ritual animal offerings is key to understanding the formation and evolution of indigenous Sámi identity in Northern Fennoscandia from the Iron Age to the seventeenth century AD. An examination of such evidence can illuminate how major changes, such as the shift from hunting to reindeer pastoralism, colonialism by emerging state powers and Christianisation, were mediated by the Sámi at the local level. To explore the chronology of, and local variations in, Sámi animal-offering tradition, we provide a synthesis of archaeozoological data and radiocarbon dates from 17 offering sites across Norway, Sweden and Finland. Analysis reveals new patterns in the history of Sámi religious ritual and the expression of Sámi identity.
The ‘Digital Index of North American Archaeology’ (DINAA) project demonstrates how the aggregation and publication of government-held archaeological data can help to document human activity over millennia and at a continental scale. These data can provide a valuable link between specific categories of information available from publications, museum collections and online databases. Integration improves the discovery and retrieval of records of archaeological research currently held by multiple institutions within different information systems. It also aids in the preservation of those data and makes efforts to archive these research results more resilient to political turmoil. While DINAA focuses on North America, its methods have global applicability.
From Brazil to the United Kingdom, 2016 was a critical year in global politics. Heritage, ethics and the way that archaeologists relate to the public were and will all be affected, and it is time to reflect critically on the phenomenon of ‘reactionary populism’ and how it affects the practice and theory of archaeology. ‘Reactionary populism’ can be defined as a political form that is anti-liberal in terms of identity politics (e.g. multiculturalism, abortion rights, minority rights, religious freedom), but liberal in economic policies. It is characterised by nationalism, racism and anti-intellectualism, and as Judith Butler states in a recent interview, it wants “to restore an earlier state of society, driven by nostalgia or a perceived loss of privilege” (Soloveitchik 2016). Our intention here is to argue that the liberal, multi-vocal model of the social sciences and the humanities is no longer a viable option. Instead, we ask our colleagues to embrace an archaeology that is ready to intervene in wider public debates not limited to issues of heritage or of local relevance, is not afraid of defending its expert knowledge in the public arena, and is committed to reflective, critical teaching.
We commend González-Ruibal et al. (above) for their well-formulated challenge to a widely held view in Anglophone archaeology. Their insistence that archaeologists must rethink their position in a radically changed political context is highly apposite, although we do not agree entirely with all of their arguments. Here, we address three principal issues.
And now what? This anxious question torments many of us in the current socio-political moment: that of Trumpism and Brexit; of resurgent xenophobia and racism expressed through election results and policies around Europe; and of the return of fascism and Nazism. It is this moment that has prompted González-Ruibal et al. (above) to call for a new, politicised archaeology. In so doing, they urge archaeologists to abandon the soothing liberal but ineffective embrace of communities and the public. They also argue against identitarian politics and the discourse of apolitical and abstract multiculturalism. I am in broad agreement with them, and called some years ago for a shift from ethics to politics, and for an explicit, public political stance (Hamilakis 2007). If the politicisation of archaeology was important 10 years ago, it is much more urgent now.
As the authors of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies manifesto (Campbell & Smith 2011), there are aspects of the debate piece by González-Ruibal et al. (above) that we have no trouble agreeing with, but we take issue with other elements. This paper sets up far too many straw people, based on a limited engagement with the archaeological and heritage studies literature. At its heart, and despite the radical rhetoric, Gonzalez-Ruibal et al.’s paper is another defence of archaeological expertise by archaeologists, based on a dubious equation of reactionary politics with communities and the popular.
González-Ruibal et al. raise challenging issues that seem frightening in their implications. In both their specificity and their wider theoretical contexts, I had previously given these issues little thought, and some I had not even recognised. I share fully the authors’ concern that archaeologists must seek ways to engage people influenced by ‘reactionary populism’, people who “are diverse, fragmented and complex”, and who may be “greedy, patriarchal, xenophobic or uninterested in the past” (González-Ruibal et al. above). The authors find fault with the multi-vocal, multi-cultural approaches of epistemic populist archaeologies that tend to exclude most of those who fit this description. I could object to some of the details of the authors’ critiques of epistemic populism and heritage studies, but their core arguments are mostly correct and powerful. At the same time, at least within a North American context, I think that archaeologists have generally reacted to the various populist pressures of the past century and that we have already started to do what the authors suggest.
We thank all of the commentators for raising crucial points that provide us with the opportunity to make important clarifications. Bernbeck and Pollock point out that in our work, only the people of the present matter, rather than those in the past. Although our discussion centres on living people, we also believe that the past is unfinished and that working with it allows us to build a different future. We also believe that archaeology has a responsibility towards the dead. We are, in a Derridean spirit, committed to “those others who are no longer or [. . .] not yet there, presently living, whether they are already dead or not yet born” (Derrida 2012: 18). There is, however, more than an ethical dimension to this; our plea for a new objectivity means that we are interested in the past qua past, not just in representations of the past in the present.
Following four centuries of Roman expansion, the Emperor Trajan led the Empire to its greatest extent by annexing Dacia (Transylvania), north-western Arabia and Sinai and, briefly, all of Armenia and Mesopotamia. He bolstered imperial administration, reformed provincial government, clarified certain principles of justice and encouraged a system of welfare, the alimenta (Bennett 2001). Last year, 2017, was the nineteen-hundredth anniversary of Trajan's death. The occasion was marked in various ways across Europe, and the opportunity to reflect on Trajan's legacy was particularly poignant in view of the continent's present troubles.
These three books range from the clinical (Hunt) to the folksy (Woodward and Hill), and might be seen as a progression. One travelling from the Hunt-edited encyclopaedia with its emphasis on new and exotic scientific analytical techniques, rigorous theoretical approaches and data analysis, through the Integrative approaches book using techniques and ideas that have proved effective for decades (this book is firmly within the mainstream of recent excellent pot books that have a very strong US contribution, as exemplified by Quinn 2009), to the English, and almost quaint, re-issue of Woodward and Hill outlining post-processualist concerns and quite devoid of any black box ‘gee-whiz’. Their combined 1200 pages, heavily featuring petrography, often alongside geochemistry, show that these sorts of ceramic studies, although often regarded as comatose-inducing, are in favour again.
These volumes treat economic and social themes of the Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean; all touch on Egypt, but the volume on Egypt itself limps way behind in both quality and scope. Taking these three volumes together, one has the impression that the unresolved problems of the last five decades of turmoil in archaeological thought have left not merely unhealed scars, but also badly set broken bones.
Our understanding of the interactions between the Roman Empire and indigenous societies (or ‘barbarians’) that lay within or surrounding its borders has undergone considerable advances over the last 30 years. Stemming initially from a colonial perspective, which saw the Roman Empire as ‘civilising’ those who were subsumed into it, the study of these interactions now includes a wealth of diverse post-processual or post-colonial approaches that stress the complexity of interactions within and between these social groups. Even with these advances, the self-imposed opposition between prehistoric and Roman studies, whether in theoretical stance, approach or research frameworks, remains constant in modern scholarly debate (Hingley 2012: 629). As a consequence, and despite extensive debate to the contrary, the divide between ‘Romans’ and ‘natives’ endures in our current interpretations of the contact between pre-Roman and Roman society.
New Book Chronicle
And so to my next NBC, the difficult second album, the sophomore slump. As an antidote to any jitters on my part, in this issue we tackle a range of books investigating creativity and innovation in the past. Innovation is enjoying something of a ‘moment’ in archaeological thought at present, with several large, multi-disciplinary projects underway in Europe and sessions devoted to the topic at major US and European conferences over the last few years. As with the current concentration on inequality, this interest can be traced to the social and political climate of the present and concerns over rapid technological change, economic growth and productivity. Innovation can be both productive and profoundly disruptive, and as such, it is of central concern in understanding social change in the past and predicting its effects in the future. The first four volumes discussed below deal directly with innovation, creativity and learning. The fifth, written by political scientist James C. Scott, invites us to consider the negative consequences of certain kinds of innovation and the implications for the sorts of complex societies that we live in today.
Free to access
Newly discovered prehistoric sites in the Seimarreh Valley in Iran provide the first evidence for Palaeolithic human habitation in this region of the Central Zagros.
The ‘Karaburun Archaeological Survey’ project aims to illuminate the lifeways of Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene foragers in western Anatolia. A recently discovered, lithic-rich site on the Karaburun Peninsula offers new insights into a currently undocumented period of western Anatolian prehistory.
Recent excavations at Mala Pećina Cave in Croatia have provided new evidence for social and cultural interaction between mobile groups during the Balkan Early Neolithic.
Salvage excavations in Tehran have provided a small lithic assemblage of probable Aceramic Neolithic date. This may offer the earliest evidence for the spread of Neolithic culture across the vast Iranian Central Plateau.
Disparity in recorded Neolithic activity between the eastern and western Thessaly plain in central Greece is being redressed by the ‘Long Time No See’ landscape project. A recently discovered pottery kiln complex at Magoula Rizava tell site offers exciting new evidence for intra-regional pottery production and circulation during the Middle Neolithic period.
Ongoing excavations at Arslantepe in south-eastern Turkey are revealing settlement continuity spanning two crucial phases at the transition from the second to the first millennium BC: the post-Hittite period and the development of Syro-Anatolian societies.
Recent surveys around Mount Chikiani in the Georgian Caucasus have revealed intensive prehistoric exploitation of high-altitude obsidian resources, far beyond the scale previously documented.
The ‘Landscapes of Production and Punishment’ project aims to examine how convict labour from 1830–1877 affected the built and natural landscapes of the Tasman Peninsula, as well as the lives of the convicts themselves.
In response to increased international collaboration in archaeological research of the South Caucases, a recent workshop has addressed important issues in applying GIS to the study of heavily modified landscapes in the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.