Latest Issue: Issue 373 - February 2020
Research, Method & Debate
Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan became an iconic Palaeolithic site following Ralph Solecki's mid twentieth-century discovery of Neanderthal remains. Solecki argued that some of these individuals had died in rockfalls and—controversially—that others were interred with formal burial rites, including one with flowers. Recent excavations have revealed the articulated upper body of an adult Neanderthal located close to the ‘flower burial’ location—the first articulated Neanderthal discovered in over 25 years. Stratigraphic evidence suggests that the individual was intentionally buried. This new find offers the rare opportunity to investigate Neanderthal mortuary practices utilising modern archaeological techniques.
Northern Spain has a high density of Upper Palaeolithic cave art sites. Until recently, however, few such sites have been reported from the Basque Country, which has been considered to be a ‘void’ in the distribution of parietal art. Now, new discoveries at Danbolinzulo Cave reveal a different situation. The graphic homogeneity of the motifs, which comprise five ibex, two horses and a possible anthropomorph, along with several unidentified figures, strongly suggests a pre-Magdalenian (>20 000 cal BP) date for the art. Here, Danbolinzulo is interpreted in its wider context as occupying a pivotal position between Cantabrian-Iberian and French/continental art traditions.
South-west Transylvania was an important source of metal and other natural resources for Bronze Age Europe, helping to facilitate the development of increasingly hierarchical societies. The absence of a radiocarbon-based chronology for Transylvania, however, has impeded understanding of the region's role within broader socioeconomic networks. Here, the presentation of the first radiocarbon chronology for the Wietenberg Culture in south-west Transylvania allows the authors to highlight the importance of interregional exchange and reliable access to metal for Bronze Age European societies, and emphasise that resource-procurement zones follow unique trajectories of socioeconomic organisation.
Dating to the Early Formative period, Vaquerías pottery is the earliest polychrome ceramic in the Argentine Northwest. Questions about its provenance, use and circulation persist, however. To address these, the authors employ, for the first time, an integrated methodology comprising petrographic, morphological, iconographic and contextual analyses of ceramic samples from three regions of north-western Argentina. The results suggest five distinct modes of manufacture of Vaquerías ceramics, the non-centralisation of their production, their wide geographic distribution and their use in a variety of functional contexts. The methodology is applicable elsewhere and illustrates the potential of this approach over traditional stylistic-morphological studies.
Destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, Herculaneum is one of the world's most famous Roman settlements. Exactly how the victims died during the eruption, however, remains unclear. The authors address this issue by examining changes in bone apatite structure and collagen preservation, combined with collagen extraction. Results suggest that the prolonged presence of soft tissue, as well as the stone chambers in which inhabitants had sought shelter, acted as thermal buffers that minimised the heat-induced degradation of skeletal tissues. The results have implications for the interpretation of large residential sites and for contexts where heating and burning is associated with buildings.
Mobility on the Tyne–Solway isthmus constitutes a gap in our understanding of the planning and functioning of the Roman frontier of northern Britain. Although the inflexible design of Hadrian's Wall appears insensitive to variations in local environment, identification of potential Roman-period fords suggests that securing river crossings was an important influence on military plans. The Roman army exploited established routeways to impose increasingly sophisticated systems to structure movement, initially via a system of forts, fortlets and towers—the Stanegate—and subsequently using a continuous barrier: Hadrian's Wall. As these measures evolved, so local communities experienced greater levels of military control and inequality.
Excavations at the stone sarcophagus burial site of Pangkung Paruk on Bali have yielded the largest collection of Roman gold-glass beads in early Southeast Asia found to date, together with elaborate gold ornaments and two Han Chinese bronze mirrors. Unprecedented in Island Southeast Asia, these artefacts find parallels at Oc Eo in Vietnam, at other sites in the Mekong Delta and on the Thai-Malay Peninsula. Analyses of these new finds and comparison with others from across the region provide insights into the early to mid first-millennium AD trans-Asiatic networks that linked Southeast Asia to South Asia, the Roman world and China.
The evidence of funerary archaeology, historical sources and poetry has been used to define a ‘heroic warrior ethos’ across Northern Europe during the first millennium AD. In northern Britain, burials of later prehistoric to early medieval date are limited, as are historical and literary sources. There is, however, a rich sculptural corpus, to which a newly discovered monolith with an image of a warrior can now be added. Comparative analysis reveals a materialisation of a martial ideology on carved stone monuments, probably associated with elite cemeteries, highlighting a regional expression of the warrior ethos in late Roman and post-Roman Europe.
Borre in Norway is famous for its Late Nordic Iron and Viking Age (AD 400–1050) monumental burial mounds. Recently, ground-penetrating radar (GPR) surveys have revealed three large structures close to the mound cemetery. Their unusual layout and size, and location within such a prominent burial site, suggest that they were halls—high-status buildings mentioned in the Nordic sagas. The authors present the GPR results, discuss the buildings’ typological classification and provide a preliminary chronological framework. The latter suggests that the buildings coexisted with some of the burial mounds, and raises important questions about the significance of such buildings in Nordic mound-building societies.
During the eleventh to thirteenth centuries AD, the small settlement of Banganarti grew into one of the most important pilgrimage centres in the Middle Nile Valley. Ongoing excavations have yielded clear evidence of its unique economic and social diversity. Large-scale pig breeding, attested by the ubiquitous remains of pigs in the archaeozoological record, is particularly significant and unlike that found on other regional medieval sites. The authors investigate the popularity of pig breeding and pork consumption at Banganarti in relation to the specific role played by the site in the religious landscape of the medieval kingdom of Makuria.
The discovery of mass burial sites is rare in Europe, particularly in rural areas. Recent excavations at Thornton Abbey in Lincolnshire have revealed a previously unknown catastrophic mass grave containing the remains of at least 48 men, women and children, with radiocarbon dating placing the event in the fourteenth century AD. The positive identification of Yersinia pestis in sampled skeletal remains suggests that the burial population died from the Black Death. This site represents the first Black Death mass grave found in Britain in a non-urban context, and provides unique evidence for the devastating impact of this epidemic on a small rural community.
So-called desert kites have been found widely in the Middle East and Central Asia. The newly discovered Keimoes 3 site in the Nama Karoo, however, represents one of only three known desert kite sites in southern Africa. The complex comprises 14 funnels arranged in three groups around a small hill. Radiocarbon dates for structures in the region suggest a relative age for the kites of less than 2000 years. The authors demonstrate how strategic use of the site's micro-topography optimised game harvesting, and argue that Keimoes 3 offers robust evidence of Holocene Stone Age hunters engaging in long-term landscape modification as part of their subsistence strategies.
In 2011, Operation Nightingale was established to promote archaeology as a means to support the wellbeing and recovery of serving military personnel and veterans. Since then, the number of opportunities for participation has increased enormously. This article seeks to contextualise the current landscape of ‘rehabilitation archaeology’ for military personnel and veterans, through the presentation of data from the largest service evaluation to be based on standardised psychological measures undertaken to date. The results demonstrate improvements in wellbeing among veterans participating in fieldwork in 2018, including a reduction in the occurrence of anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation, and a greater sense of being valued.
Marine plastic pollution is a global environmental concern. With reference to approaches in contemporary archaeology, object biographies and psychology, this article presents the application of a novel participatory (‘World Café’) methodology that aims both to understand how marine plastic pollution occurs and to demonstrate the value of the approach for encouraging behaviour change. As proof of concept, the authors present the preliminary results of fieldwork involving local people in the Galápagos archipelago to demonstrate the benefits of an archaeological approach in developing new frameworks to help mitigate this critical environmental threat.
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The ‘Monumental Myopia’ project uses multiscalar remote-sensing techniques to identify potential prehistoric nomadic settlements in the Siberian landscape. Eschewing the monumental burial mounds, the project aims to explore the everyday life of pastoral societies in the first millennium BC.
At Corinaldo, near the Adriatic coast in northern Marche, the discovery and excavation of a high-status tomb dating to the seventh century BC has illuminated wide-ranging aspects of Piceni Culture in this part of central Italy, while also highlighting the growing symbiosis between academic research and development-led archaeology in heritage conservation and planning processes throughout Italy.
The ‘Qin & Han Iron Smelting Site Investigation Project’ aims to illuminate the early use and production of iron during the Qin and Han Dynasties in south and south-west China. Here, the authors report on attempts to discover the origins of iron objects from the Lingnan region.
Excavations at Shichengzi, the probable location of ancient Shule, have revealed diverse burial practices suggesting a population with varied cultural backgrounds. Together with archaeobotanical evidence, this indicates a community of agro-pastoralists and Han Dynasty migrants using diverse cropping patterns to attain self-sufficiency. The project raises interesting questions about the impact of migrations on the identities of inhabitants.
The Vaigat Iceberg-Microbial Oil Degradation and Archaeological Heritage Investigation (VIMOA) project records the results of archaeological survey of five sites in Greenland that are threatened by extreme weather conditions related to climate change. The project demonstrates the advantages of collaboration between archaeologists and natural scientists, and provides a repository of data to help preserve the archaeological record.