Latest Issue: Issue 378 - December 2020
Research, Method & Debate
Around 8150 BP, the Storegga tsunami struck North-west Europe. The size of this wave has led many to assume that it had a devastating impact upon contemporaneous Mesolithic communities, including the final inundation of Doggerland, the now submerged Mesolithic North Sea landscape. Here, the authors present the first evidence of the tsunami from the southern North Sea, and suggest that traditional notions of a catastrophically destructive event may need rethinking. In providing a more nuanced interpretation by incorporating the role of local topographic variation within the study of the Storegga event, we are better placed to understand the impact of such dramatic occurrences and their larger significance in settlement studies.
According to the ‘farming/dispersal’ hypothesis, the Early and Mid-Holocene spread of Neolithic material culture in East Asia would have arisen from dispersals of established farming populations. The authors test this hypothesis by considering the Beixin Culture that appeared in the south-west Haidai region of northern China c. 5000 BC, before spreading north and east to the coast over the subsequent millennium. While this culture had architecture, elaborate pottery and other forms of Neolithic material culture, analysis of archaeobotanical evidence from Guanqiaocunnan (4340–3970 BC) suggests an economic base of hunting, gathering and cultivating, rather than a reliance on farming.
Recent analysis of Early Bronze Age human remains from Staarvey Farm on the Isle of Man has revealed a rare bone knife pommel and 20 other bone objects, offering insight into the importance of bone ornaments and artefact fittings at this time. This article adopts a relational typological approach to analyse the Staarvey burial and comparable assemblages, identifying patterns in the deposition of knife pommels in central and southern Britain. In exploring regional interaction in Early Bronze Age Britain and Ireland, the authors refine and move beyond traditional typologies to trace types of both objects and practice. This approach allows them to consider multiple, overlapping spheres of funerary practice and their relation to identities at different regional scales.
The Glastonbury Lake Village in Somerset, UK, is made up of 90 mounds comprising 40 roundhouses. Excavations between 1892 and 1907 revealed Iron Age structural and material remains unparalleled in Western Europe. The settlement's exact chronology, however, has remained uncertain. Here, the authors present a programme of radiocarbon and dendrochronological dating and chronological modelling on samples from recent excavations. The results indicate that the site was founded in the early second century cal BC, with the last structures being built just over a century later. This new, robust chronology can be used to date a wide range of associated material culture, and complements chronologies established for other Iron Age sites.
Research on ancient Greek rural settlement and agricultural economies often emphasises political agency as a driving force behind landscape change, with comparatively less attention directed to the potential effects of climate. This study analyses climate variability and the spatial configuration of land use in the north-eastern Peloponnese during the Late Hellenistic and Roman (c. 150 BC–AD 300) periods. A synthesis of archaeological field survey data combined with new palaeoclimatological data provides novel insight into how changing climate influenced land use. The authors argue that although climatic variability alone did not drive socio-economic change, drying conditions may have influenced the relocation of agricultural production.
Many exotic animal species were introduced to Northern Europe during the Roman period, including fallow deer (Dama dama). To date, however, finds of fallow deer bones at archaeological sites in this region have been sporadic and disarticulated, leaving uncertainty over their origins. This article presents the first known articulated fallow deer skeleton from Roman North-western Europe. Osteological, ancient DNA, radiocarbon dating and stable isotope analyses confirm that the species was established in this region by the Roman period, probably originating from translocated, rather than native, Mediterranean populations. Clarifying the origins of fallow deer in North-western Europe is critical for understanding the dynamics of species exchange around the Roman Empire.
The Late Nordic Iron Age (AD 550–1050) was characterised by significant change in political, military, judicial and religious structures across Scandinavia, most clearly manifested in the appearance of high-status ‘central places’ in the landscape. Recent ground-penetrating radar surveys at Gjellestad in Norway have revealed a site comprising several large burial mounds—one of which contains a ship burial—in addition to a possible cult house and a feasting hall. This combination of features suggests that Gjellestad was part of a hitherto unknown central place on the eastern shores of the Oslofjord. If correct, the authors’ interpretations demonstrate that the layouts of these sites were formulaic, and that central places may be more common than previously thought.
Hypotheses concerning climatic change during the Amazonian Holocene often assume that the presence of ancient charcoal from forest fires indicates periods of drier climate in the past. These theories, however, neglect the possibility that such charcoal may result from early human activity. This article presents new evidence of anthropogenic ash and charcoal accumulation in the state of Acre, Brazil, dating back to c. 10 000 cal BP, which questions the value of charcoal as a proxy for phases of natural climate aridification. Carbon isotope (δ13C) values also suggest no significant changes in Holocene climate or vegetation. If these results are confirmed, previous studies on Amazonian Holocene climate will require re-evaluation.
Llamas were the preferred sacrificial animals of the Inka Empire, their ritual value second only to that of human beings. Recent archaeological excavations at the Inka settlement of Tambo Viejo in the Acari Valley on the Peruvian south coast have revealed a number of ritually sacrificed llamas in a unique context. This new evidence demonstrates that the establishment of Tambo Viejo as a provincial Inka centre involved the performance of ritual practices that included the dedicatory sacrifice of domesticated animals. These rituals materialised Inka imperial ideology and ultimately enabled the legitimisation of Inka presence in a conquered location.
The use of coffins and jars as funerary receptacles was common across Southeast Asia. During the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries AD, cremation was the dominant mortuary tradition on the Angkorian plains, but in the Cardamom Mountains to the south, contemporaneous groups practised a unique burial tradition involving the deposition of un-cremated bone in exposed ceramic vessels and log coffins. The authors present the first geochemical analysis of individuals from this highland culture, specifically the site of Phnom Pel. The childhood diets of those interred in jars and coffins may have been sourced from different areas within the Cardamom Mountains, suggesting that the individuals came from discrete groups.
In Red Canyon, in the foothills of the Wyoming Rocky Mountains, lie three archaeological sites: a stagecoach station, a tipi ring campsite and a series of faded petroglyphs. Collectively, these three sites offer the opportunity to bridge the divide between the prehistoric and the historic, and to explore multiple forms of cultural entanglement in the American West. This article challenges the scholarly homogenisation of cultural diversity in this region by combining the narratives of these three archaeological sites to reconsider dichotomies between Native and Euro-American, immigrant and resident, and acculturation and tradition.
Pet cemeteries provide a unique opportunity to investigate the development of human-animal relationships, yet few archaeological studies of these cemeteries have been undertaken. This article presents an archaeological survey of gravestones at British pet cemeteries from the Victorian period to the present. These memorials provide evidence for the perceived roles of animals, suggesting the development of an often conflicted relationship between humans and companion animals in British society—from beloved pets to valued family members—and the increasing belief in animal afterlives. The results are discussed in the context of society's current attitude towards animals and the struggle to define our relationships with pets through the mourning of their loss.
This debate piece offers a critique of some recent ‘new materialist’ approaches and their application to Roman expansionism, particularly those positing that the study of ‘Romanisation’ should be about ‘understanding objects in motion’—a perspective that carries important political and ethical implications. Here, the authors introduce the alternative notion of a ‘predatory’ political economy for conceptualising Late Republican and Early Imperial Rome. The aim is to illuminate the darker sides of Roman expansionism in order to produce more balanced and inclusive accounts. Two cases studies—the archaeology of the Roman conquest and of rural communities—illustrate the potential of such a perspective.
These two volumes present the results of fieldwork conducted by Tertia Barnett from 2004–2009 in the Wādi al-Ajāl (Libya). The first volume provides a general synthesis in three sections: 1) presentation of Saharan rock art in general; history of discoveries and research; climate, environment and human activities in the Holocene Sahara; state of knowledge on the chronology. 2) Presentation of the method adopted for collecting data; results of the surveys; subjects and themes observed. 3) Analysis of the location of the engravings; study of their relationship with the ‘cultural landscape’; concluding remarks. Two appendices are devoted to pre-pastoral and pastoral sites, and to the 3D modelling of several engraved panels respectively. The second volume makes available the totality of the observed data, describing each panel individually. For each one, the inventory indicates its number and geographic position, then gives a detailed description, specifies its orientation, its location in the valley and its degree of inclination, before indicating the stylistic affiliation of the engravings observed. The two books are enhanced by a large number of photographs, surveys and maps, in a very careful presentation and a pleasant layout.
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The discovery of a multi-chambered long cairn in central Brittany dating to the Middle Neolithic period challenges previous conceptions of the coastal focus of Neolithic society in this region.
A sickle boat petroglyph in Wadi Asafir, North-west Arabia, can potentially stretch the geographic scope of the connection between Egypt and Western Arabia in the fourth millennium BC.
A multi-disciplinary research project in the Aras Valley, Armenia, focuses on the remains of the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age settlement of Metsamor. The results challenge prior understandings of the settlement's past and the role it played in the region, especially during the first centuries of the first millennium BC.
This paper presents the results of a non-photorealistic rendering technique applied to three different types of reliefs from the ancient Egyptian tomb of Meryneith at Saqqara.
This project develops theoretical as well as methodological tools for the study of ancient wood, focusing on wood-use in North-eastern Europe within the period AD 1100–1600. The authors approach wood within the framework of object biographies and link the study of wooden artefacts with broader archaeological understandings of formation processes and environmental reconstruction.
The ‘Maritime Endangered Archaeology’ (MarEA) project is conducting remote, large-scale identification and assessment of vulnerable maritime heritage to assist in its management in the face of challenges such as climate change and rapid urbanisation.