Latest Issue: Issue 367 - February 2019
Research, Method & Debate
The motivations of prehistoric hunter-gatherers for selecting particular lithic raw materials are often explained in rigidly functional or symbolic terms. By examining the exploitation of crystal quartz at two Terminal Pleistocene rockshelter sites (Ntloana Tšoana and Sehonghong) in Lesotho, southern Africa, the authors reveal that lithic reduction required a form of engagement unique to that material's specific properties. The preferential use of quartz crystals—irrespective of the availability of a wider range of raw materials—demonstrates agency and variability in the technological decisions.
Zhokhov Island in the Siberian High Arctic has yielded evidence for some of the most remote prehistoric human occupation in the world, as well as the oldest-known dog-sled technology. Obsidian artefacts found on Zhokhov have been provenanced using XRF analysis to allow comparison with known sources of obsidian from north-eastern Siberia. The results indicate that the obsidian was sourced from Lake Krasnoe—approximately 1500km distant—and arrived on Zhokhov Island c. 8000 BP. The archaeological data from Zhokhov therefore indicate a super-long-distance Mesolithic exchange network.
Geologists and archaeologists have long known that the bluestones of Stonehenge came from the Preseli Hills of west Wales, 230km away, but only recently have some of their exact geological sources been identified. Two of these quarries—Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin—have now been excavated to reveal evidence of megalith quarrying around 3000 BC—the same period as the first stage of the construction of Stonehenge. The authors present evidence for the extraction of the stone pillars and consider how they were transported, including the possibility that they were erected in a temporary monument close to the quarries, before completing their journey to Stonehenge.
Prehistoric population decline is often associated with social collapse, migration and environmental change. Many scholars have assumed that the abandonment of the fortified tell sites of the Great Hungarian Plain c. 1500–1450 BC led to significant regional depopulation. The authors investigate the veracity of this assumption by dating graves from Békés 103—a recently excavated Bronze Age cemetery in eastern Hungary. Using decorative motifs and radiocarbon dates to measure changing ceramic styles over more than 1300 years, they consider the implications for non-tell sites known only through surface survey. The results suggest that, even though people abandoned tell sites, regional populations were maintained.
The deer stone and khirgisuur (DSK) monumental complexes are iconic elements of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1200–700 BC) ceremonial mortuary landscape of the Eastern Eurasian Steppe. A precise chronological framework of these monuments is crucial for understanding their ritual and funerary roles, as well as their wider social functions. The authors establish the first high-precision chronology for a large DSK complex in central Mongolia using 100 new radiocarbon dates. Their chronology suggests that the construction of this DSK complex extended over approximately 50 years, perhaps requiring only locally available human and animal resources, without the need to draw on those of wider regional networks.
By linking ice-core volcanic horizons with precisely dated frost damage in bristlecone pines, the authors have revised the dating of the principal Greenland ice-core chronologies back to c. 2000 BC. This revision has implications for establishing an absolute calendar date for the Bronze Age eruption of Thera. Three volcanic horizons (1653, 1627 and 1610 BC) are now coincident with the seventeenth-century BC radiocarbon dating of Thera, but none of these horizons is likely to result from the Theran eruption. In particular, a volcanic event at c. 1627 BC—a date associated with Thera for over 30 years—can now probably be attributed to the Aniakchak II volcano in Alaska.
Grave-good typologies have traditionally formed the basis for chronological frameworks in many areas of the world, including the Lika region of Croatia. Here, the authors report the first AMS radiocarbon dates from Late Bronze Age Lika (c. 1200–800 BC)—a period assumed to be synonymous with the emergence of the local Iapodian culture. Comparisons between the absolute dates and the relative chronological assignments of key burial contexts show inconsistencies between the dating methods that lead the authors to propose an alternative narrative for Iapodian emergence and socio-political reorganisation at the end of the Bronze Age.
A collection of mummified animals discovered in 1964 in a Third Dynasty mastaba tomb at North Saqqara, Egypt, offers the unusual and unique opportunity to study a group of mummies from a discrete ancient Egyptian context. Macroscopic and radiographic analyses of 16 mummy bundles allow parallels to be drawn between the nature of their internal contents and their external decoration. The evidence suggests that incomplete and skeletonised animal remains fulfilled the equivalent votive function as complete, mummified remains, and that a centralised industry may have produced votive mummies for deposition at the Saqqara Necropolis.
Narratives of transformation in Iron Age societies on the periphery of the Greek world have positioned colonial powers as agents of change. Archaeological sites exhibiting apparent Greek or Macedonian evidence are often taken to exemplify Hellenisation, whereby ‘barbarians’ adopted ‘more advanced’ Greek practices. Such narratives, however, are imbued with assumptions of cultural superiority, failing to elucidate the complexity of past social interactions and how these manifest in the archaeological record. The barrel-vaulted reservoir at the site of Kale-Krševica in Serbia reveals that the simplistic framework of Hellenisation is insufficient to explain the construction of this unique hydraulic installation.
Prehistoric copper and bronze objects are found throughout Island Southeast Asia, many of which were manufactured in Mainland Southeast Asia and exchanged over vast distances. The contexts of initial metal use and production across this maritime region are poorly known and rarely dated—particularly in the islands east of Wallace's Line. The authors report on two recent finds of bronze Dong Son drums in Timor-Leste, which, with their incised decoration, are examined in the context of elaborately shaped socketed axes depicted in the island's rock art, discussing their role and significance for understanding exchange networks and practices including raiding, headhunting and ceremonial activities.
The warrior woman has long been part of the Viking image, with a pedigree that extends from the Valkyries of Old Norse prose and poetry to modern media entertainment. Until recently, however, actual Viking Age evidence for such individuals has been sparse. This article addresses research showing that the individual buried at Birka in an ‘archetypal’ high-status warrior grave—always assumed to be male since its excavation in 1878—is, in fact, biologically female. Publication, in 2017, of the genomic data led to unprecedented public debate about this individual. Here, the authors address in detail the interpretation of the burial, discussing source-critical issues and parallels.
Recent excavations in the historic centre of ancient Jerusalem have revealed evidence of an Abbasid (eighth- to tenth-century AD) marketplace. Refuse pits and cesspits have yielded an exceptionally well-preserved archaeobotanical assemblage—the first to be recovered from a Levantine marketplace, and the first in the region to be almost entirely preserved by mineralisation. Among several rare species identified is the earliest discovery of aubergine in the Levant. The assemblage includes staple and luxury food plants, medicinal herbs and plants used for industrial production, illuminating patterns of consumption, production, trade and the socioeconomic structure of Abbasid Jerusalem.
Research to document Aboriginal occupation across the Dampier Archipelago has also encountered the earliest archaeological evidence for the presence of American whalers in North West Australia. Inscriptions in the form of rock engravings made by the crews of the whaling ships Connecticut (1842) and Delta (1849) have been discovered on Rosemary and West Lewis Islands. These maritime inscriptions are uniquely superimposed over earlier Indigenous rock art motifs, appearing to represent distinct mark-making practices by the whalers on encountering an already-inscribed landscape, and thus providing insight into the earliest phases of North West Australia's colonial history.
The material and documentary archive of twentieth-century global conflict is rich and diverse, but even for such a recent period, gaps in our knowledge remain. One of these concerns abandoned Cold War military sites, where secrecy and historical silence surrounding their construction and use has limited our understanding. This article reports on research that combines airborne laser-scanning data, historical cartography, archived aerial photographs and declassified satellite imagery to investigate three Cold War nuclear storage sites in western Poland. The results supplement and challenge extant historical narratives, and demonstrate the potential of archaeological data for creating persuasive narratives about the recent hidden past.
How does a major European museum maintain its high profile as a cultural institution when faced with dwindling public funds? The decision of the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen to refurbish its Viking gallery under the direction of a celebrity designer has caused a stir far beyond Denmark. Appointed in 2017, the Museum's director, Rane Willerslev, has vowed to set this venerable institution on a more contemporary and commercially viable track. As one of his first major initiatives, he contracted the fashion designer and reality television star Jim Lyngvild to brush up the Viking Age gallery—one of the museum's most prominent international attractions, but strangely a hitherto somewhat neglected part of the display.
This three-volume publication presents an up-to-date overview on the human colonisation of Northern Europe across the Pleistocene–Holocene transition in Scandinavia, the Eastern Baltic and Great Britain. Volume 1, Ecology of early settlement in Northern Europe, is a collection of 17 articles focusing on subsistence strategies and technologies, ecology and resource availability and demography in relation to different ecological niches. It is structured according to three geographic regions, the Skagerrak-Kattegat, the Baltic Region and the North Sea/Norwegian Sea, while its temporal focus is Late Glacial and Postglacial archaeology, c. 11000–5000 cal BC. These regions are particularly interesting given the long research history, which goes back as far as the nineteenth century (see Gron & Rowley-Conwy 2018), and the numerous environmental changes that have taken place throughout the Holocene: the presence of ice until c. 7500 cal BC, isostatic rebound alongside sea-level rise and the formation of the Baltic Sea, all of which have contributed to the preservation of outstanding archaeology.
When the Normans arrived in England in AD 1066 they found a kingdom divided into a distinctive and complicated administrative geography. In compiling Domesday Book, the great survey of holdings and liabilities over much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086, the assessors grouped information firstly into ‘shires’—districts that are in many cases the precursors of modern counties—and then into smaller divisions such as hundreds, wapentakes and vills (estates), with additional groupings such as multiple hundreds and regional ealdormanries also discernible in the source. These administrative entities clearly had a territorial composition. Using the boundaries of estates, parishes and hundreds mapped at later dates, numerous scholars have sought to reconstruct the administrative geography described in Domesday Book. The resulting maps have, in turn, been interpreted as the product of several centuries of developing territoriality and of continual social and political change. The shires of Norfolk and Suffolk (the ‘north’ and ‘south folk’), for example, appear to fossilise the extents of the kingdom of the East Anglians as it existed 300 or 400 years before Domesday survey; in other cases, clusters of hundreds have been argued to represent post-Roman tribal groupings.
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The FINDER project aims to apply ZooMS to identify new hominin fossils from across large parts of Eurasia previously lacking in such evidence.
A new project aims to understand the early prehistoric use of animals and plants along the ancient Silk Road through archaeological fieldwork in southern Kyrgyzstan's high Alay Valley.
Recent archaeological survey on the Greek island of Kythera yielded prehistoric quartz that offers new information on the island's role in early Aegean occupation.
Excavations at the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B ritual site of Naḥal Roded 110 in the Southern Negev, Israel, have revealed evidence—unique to this region—for on-site flint knapping and abundant raptor remains.
In 2017, archaeological survey recorded more than 160 Late Bronze–Iron Age cyclopean fortification complexes in the historical Javakheti region, Georgia. The author relates different types of cyclopean complexes mentioned in Urartian written sources to the sites found in Javakheti.
In 2013, archaeological survey at the Bam World Heritage site of the eastern part of Kerman Province in Iran discovered the remains of a previously undocumented Sassanid fire temple.
This article presents a new and accurate map of Gerasa/Jerash, an important site located in modern northern Jordan, which displays urban development spread across more than two millennia.