Latest Issue: Issue 377 - October 2020
Research, Method & Debate
Globally, rock art is one of the most widely distributed manifestations of past human activity. Previous research, however, has tended to focus on the art rather than artists. Understanding which members of society participated in creating such art is crucial to interpreting its social implications and that of the sites at which it is found. This article presents the first application of a method—palaeodermatoglyphics—for the estimation of the sex and age of two later prehistoric individuals who left their fingerprints at the Los Machos rockshelter in southern Iberia. The method has the potential to illuminate the complex socio-cultural dimensions of rock art sites worldwide.
The past decade has witnessed an intensification of research into the use of pottery by hunter-gatherers. Long viewed by Western scholars as a marginal practice among these groups, pottery production is now known to have been widespread among prehistoric hunter-gatherers, many of whom practised no other activities associated with agriculture. In emphasising the centrality of ceramics to these communities, however, we risk marginalising those who did not adopt pottery. Here, the authors critically examine a series of different models proposed for hunter-gatherer pottery innovation and adoption within the context of the aceramic communities who inhabited Britain and Ireland during the fifth millennium cal BC.
Increasing scholarly interest in past human mobility has provoked intense debate between archaeologists and archaeogeneticists. Explanations advanced by the latter have been criticised for framing explanations in terms of large-scale migrations, lacking underpinning social theory or interest in human behaviour; conversely, archaeologists have been criticised for supplying samples but no intellectual input. This article uses examples of ceramics and chipped stone tools to illustrate local interactions within regional Eneolithic Corded Ware culture in Moravia, demonstrating that what may appear as a homogeneous archaeological culture spread by mass migration can be understood as a more complex series of overlapping, local cultural changes.
Cremated and unburnt human remains have been recovered from a variety of British Bronze and earliest Iron Age archaeological contexts (c. 2500–600 BC). Chronological modelling of 189 new and extant radiocarbon dates from a selection of these deposits provides evidence for the curation of human remains for an average of two generations following death, while histological analysis of bone samples indicates mortuary treatment involving both excarnation and the exhumation of primary burials. Curated bones came from people who had been alive within living or cultural memory, and their power probably derived from relationships between the living and the dead.
The discovery of a large underground silo complex with spectacular intact grain stores at the Late Bronze Age Hittite capital of Hattusha in Turkey provides a unique snapshot of the mobilisation of crop production by the Hittite state. A combination of primary archaeobotanical analysis, crop stable isotope determinations and functional weed ecology reveals new insights into Hittite cultivation strategies, featuring a range of relatively low-input, extensive production regimes for hulled wheats and hulled barley. Taxation of extensively produced grain in the sixteenth century BC reveals how an ancient state sought to sustain itself, providing wider implications for the politics and ecology of territorially expansive states in Western Asia and beyond.
Despite the importance of wine in the Iron Age Mediterranean, known structures associated with its production are rare. Recent excavations at Phoenician Tell el-Burak have now revealed the first Iron Age wine press in Lebanon. Its remarkable state of preservation enables a systematic study of its plaster to be made as well as a comparison with two other plastered installations at the site. Archaeometric analyses offer new data concerning the composition and technology of Iron Age lime-plaster production, confirming the existence of a local and innovative tradition of plaster production in southern Phoenicia. These results contribute to the wider discussion of Phoenician technology in the broader Iron Age Mediterranean.
Once considered rare, archaeological examples of violence in prehistoric Europe have accumulated over recent decades, with new discoveries providing evidence of large-scale, organised warfare among pre- and protohistoric populations. One example is La Hoya in north-central Iberia. Between the mid fourth and late third centuries BC, the site was subjected to a violent attack, its inhabitants killed and the settlement burned. Here the authors present osteological analyses for a massacre: decapitations, amputations and other sharp-force injuries affecting a wide cross section of the community. They interpret the massacre as an instance of conflict between rival local communities, contributing to a growing picture of the scale and nature of violence in Iron Age Europe.
Intentional facial disfigurement is documented in archaeological contexts around the world. Here, the authors present the first archaeological evidence for intentional facial mutilation from Anglo-Saxon England—comprising the removal of the nose, upper lip and possible scalping—inflicted upon a young adult female. The injuries are consistent with documented punishments for female offenders. Although such mutilations do not appear in the written record until the tenth century AD, the instance reported here suggests that the practice may have emerged a century earlier. This case is examined in the context of a wider consideration of the motivations and significance of facial disfigurement in past societies.
Viking Age burial mounds are usually interpreted with reference to their exterior dimensions, the funerary treatment of the deceased and the artefacts placed within them. The process of constructing these mounds, however, may also have played an important role in funerary traditions. Investigations at the Gokstad mound in Norway demonstrate that the building of this mound—in terms of its phases and material expressions—formed an integral part of the overall burial rite. The complex construction sequence contained references to both the physical and mythical landscapes, revealing the potential of the study of burial mound construction at other sites in Viking Age Scandinavia and beyond.
Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) provides a means of rapid and highly accurate survey of archaeological excavations and structures at landscape scales, and is particularly valuable for documenting tidal environments. Here, the authors use TLS to record tidal fixed fishing structures and a tide mill within the Léguer Estuary at Le Yaudet, in north-west France. As part of a comprehensive resource-exploitation system, the early medieval (sixth to eighth centuries AD) structures lie within, and exploit different parts of, the tidal frame. The results are used to quantify production within an estuarine landscape associated with seignorial or monastic control of environmental resources.
‘Smellscapes’ have become an increasingly popular concept in recent years. Here, the authors argue for a new direction in sensorial archaeology by focusing on the ‘smell of things’ or the potential information held in the odours of archaeological objects. They offer a case study using early modern earthenware ceramics from Portugal—renowned for the distinctive smell and taste imparted to their contents—to explore the possibility of developing standardised analytical techniques and vocabularies that would allow archaeologists to describe the odours associated with artefacts.
The earliest claim for domesticated rice in Island Southeast Asia (4960–3565 cal BP) derives from a single grain embedded in a ceramic sherd from Gua Sireh Cave, Borneo. In a first assessment of spikelet-base assemblages within pottery sherds using quantitative microCT analysis, the authors found no additional rice remains within this sherd to support the early date of rice farming; analysis of a more recent Gua Sireh sherd (1990–830 cal BP), however, indicates that 70 per cent of spikelet bases are from domesticated rice. This technique offers a high degree of contextual and temporal resolution for approaching organic-tempered ceramics as well-preserved archaeobotanical assemblages.
Understanding of the past can inform our approach to tackling a range of global challenges. Yet the inclusion of archaeologists and, more generally, those scholars engaged in studies of the past, is highly limited in most large, problem-oriented, interdisciplinary research projects, such as those supported by funding under Horizon 2020—the European Commission's major research and innovation programme. This article examines the interdisciplinary context of archaeological research and funding, and proposes potential ways forward to ensure that such work is fully integrated into projects supported under the next programme, Horizon Europe (2021–2027). In this way, archaeologists can contribute to and influence societal change.
Past trackways and the mobility associated with them have long been a neglected topic of research in Britain—a lack of attention attributable to the publication of Alfred Watkins's The old straight track in 1925. Yet, new interdisciplinary approaches, including from the perspectives of social theory and the sciences, can allow us to move forward. Here the authors offer the first steps towards a positive approach to understanding past mobility.
In this era of online indexing and scholarly social media, it is easier than ever for researchers to find papers and authors that they are interested in. But as access to information expands, choices over what information to consume are increasingly driven by pre-existing prejudices and confirmation bias. In this context, it takes ever more discipline for scholars to not become locked in their own echo chambers. All of us can see the damage that this same tendency is doing to our public life, so we should try to guard against the same thing happening in scholarship.
Dispossession—the action of taking away and depriving people of their homeland, property, history, language, identity, cultural practices and/or livelihoods—underlies and connects these two publications. Dispossession is a long-standing interest in historical archaeology dating to the 1970s when its study was referred to as the ‘archaeology of the disenfranchised’. Both books contribute superb additions to this established research area, and more significantly, they introduce new themes, approaches and insights into the myriad ways that communities were dispossessed in the distant and recent past, as well as in the present.
Free to access
Archaeological excavations at Kota Tampan in West Malaysia recovered a large stone assemblage dated to 70 kya and believed to be associated with the presence of early Anatomically Modern Humans in Mainland Southeast Asia. New technological analysis demonstrates that almost all these stone artefacts result from early stage reduction through freehand and bipolar percussion.
The first formal bone tool in the Central Altai of Russia was found in an Early Upper Palaeolithic assemblage at the Kara-Bom open-air site. Here the authors report the results of AMS dating, use-wear analysis, 3D-modelling and zooarchaeological and collagen fingerprinting analysis, which reveal important new insights into the osseous technology of the Kara-Bomian tradition.
The discovery of an Early Upper Palaeolithic rockshelter, Nahal Rahaf 2, in the southern Judean Desert revives the debate about whether the Levantine Aurignacian extended into the arid regions of the Southern Levant.
Excavations in marginal areas of the loess uplands in southern Poland have revealed that the northern periphery of the Sandomierz Upland was intensely colonised in the sixth and fifth millennia BC by Linearbandkeramik and Malice Culture Danubian communities. This research suggests that analogous settlement clusters may exist in other marginal regions of the Central European loess belt, previously thought to be uninhabited.
A Late Bronze Age hoard from Karmin, Poland, contained 16 socketed axes, half of which were made of copper. The copper axes represent the same local type as the bronze objects and bear the same traces of manufacturing and use. The authors argue that the move to copper was a response to unexpected difficulties in the tin supply.
Ceramics discovered at Yan'an, Shaanxi, are glazed using a polychrome technique previously unknown in the Han Dynasty. Chemical analysis shows similar technological methods to those used during the Warring States period. This paper demonstrates two possible influences for the polychrome decoration that ultimately suggest Eurasian cultural hybridity and exchange.