Latest Issue: Issue 394 - August 2023
Research, Method & Debate
In this contribution to our periodic ‘Archaeological Futures’ series, Lindsay M. Montgomery and Tiffany C. Fryer reflect on the reshaping of archaeological praxis in the Americas through recent developments in collaborative community-engaged research. Over the past 20 years, new theoretical and methodological approaches informed by decolonisation and Black feminism have shifted power dynamics within the discipline. The authors review this growing body of research, highlighting trends in collaborative archaeological research and discussing some of the ongoing challenges and tensions. They argue that this collaborative paradigm marks a new future for archaeology in the Americas, which will increasingly centre on topics of importance to Black and Indigenous scholars and descendant communities.
One defining characteristic of Homo sapiens is the production and use of personal ornamentation. Evidence from Africa and western Eurasia has dominated discussion, but a growing number of finds directs attention towards Island Southeast Asia. In this article, the authors report on an assemblage of Nautilus shell beads from the Indonesian cave site of Makpan, Alor Island. The highly standardised forms, mostly with two perforations, and evidence of use wear, indicate that these beads were utilised as appliqués. Dating to the terminal Pleistocene, these beads appear to form part of a wider tradition also attested on Timor and Kisar, suggesting an early inter-island network across southern Wallacea.
During the Late Epipalaeolithic and Early Neolithic, societies across the Levant transformed their social, cultural and economic organisation, with new forms of food production, architecture and material culture. But to what extent were regional developments connected and how, in particular, did ideas and objects flow between the most southern and northern reaches of Southwest Asia? Finds from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic site of WF16 in southern Jordan resonate with those from Göbekli Tepe and other sites hundreds of kilometres to the north. Emphasising shared symbolism and ideology, the authors explore how connections may have arisen and how they were maintained, revealing expansive social networks spanning Southwest Asia that underpinned the emergence of farming.
Studies of the rural landscapes around the Nabataean/Roman city of Petra in Jordan have tended to assume a developmental trajectory based on that of the urban centre. Recent archaeological investigations at the site of Umm Huwaiwitat, however, shed light on the longer-term histories of human occupation and land use in the region north of Petra. Excavation has revealed Late Neolithic deposits formed by the burning of animal dung and the disposal of ash. These deposits underlie walls, today serving as agricultural terraces, which date to at least the Early Bronze Age. Umm Huwaiwitat therefore provides a microcosm of the long-lived and constantly reworked agricultural landscapes of the Middle East.
Studies of early fourth-millennium BC Britain have typically focused on the Early Neolithic sites of Wessex and Orkney; what can the investigation of sites located in areas beyond these core regions add? The authors report on excavations (2011–2019) at Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire, which have revealed a remarkable complex of Early Neolithic monuments: three long barrows constructed on the footprints of three timber buildings that had been deliberately burned, plus a nearby causewayed enclosure. A Bayesian chronological model demonstrates the precocious character of many of the site's elements and strengthens the evidence for the role of tombs and houses/halls in the creation and commemoration of foundational social groups in Neolithic Britain.
Human burials have been recovered from a wide variety of intra- and extramural settlement contexts at Neolithic period sites (3000–1200 BC) in southern India, yet formal cemeteries remain virtually unknown from this period. Research at MARP-79 in the Raichur District of the south Indian state of Karnataka, near the type-site of Maski, documents a large Neolithic cemetery, now with the largest number of radiometrically dated burials of any archaeological site in southern India. The cemetery demonstrates considerable, previously undocumented variation in mortuary ritual, involving new materials, technologies and burial practices, which challenge culture-historical models, pointing instead towards long-term incremental developments that alter how we understand the emergence of Neolithic social differences.
During the early first millennium BC, Phoenician peoples settled the Iberian coasts instigating cultural innovations known as the orientalising; indigenous communities of the interior have long been considered as passively dependent on, or isolated from, these developments. Recent excavations at the Early Iron Age village of Cerro de San Vicente in central Spain, however, have yielded domestic contexts that prompt reconsideration of this relationship. The authors use settlement layout, architecture and locally made tablewares to identify heterarchical organisation around virilocal and bilateral kinship and hybrid practices that attest to adoption of know-how and practices from distant places. Emphasis is placed on the role of embodied craftworking skills and female mobility in transculturation processes.
During the first few centuries AD, Rome and the imperial frontiers were supplied with olive oil from the province of Hispania Baetica (southern Spain). Vast quantities of oil were exported in Dressel 20 amphorae. But how did the agricultural economy of Baetica relate to global demand and how did it change over time? The author focuses on relative changes in agricultural output, using a new method to model fluctuations in amphora production based on more than 1000 waster sherds collected from 23 amphora workshops in the Guadalquivir Valley. The chrono-proportional representation method indicates variation in production between individual workshops and wider production districts, contributing to assessments of the scale and organisation of the Roman economy.
Although conflict archaeology is now well established, the archaeological remains of many specific military confrontations are still to be explored. This article reports the results of fieldwork to document the site of the Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944–25 January 1945). The authors use drone-mounted 1m-resolution LiDAR and very high-resolution simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM) methods to reveal more than 940 features within the forested Ardennes landscape, many of which were subsequently visited and confirmed. As well as highlighting the potential of the LiDAR-SLAM method, deployed here (both in this geographic region and in conflict archaeology) for the first time, the survey results emphasise the need for a debate on managing the heritage of a key modern conflict landscape in Europe.
From the seventh century AD, successive Islamic polities were established around the Mediterranean. Historians have linked these caliphates with the so-called ‘Islamic Green Revolution’—the introduction of new crops and agricultural practices that transformed the economies of regions under Muslim rule. Increasingly, archaeological studies have problematised this largely text-based model of agrarian innovation, yet much of this research remains regionally and methodologically siloed. Focusing on the Western Mediterranean, the authors offer a theoretically informed, integrated environmental archaeology approach through which to contextualise the ecological impact of the Arab-Berber conquests. Its future application will allow a fuller evaluation of the scale, range and significance of agricultural innovations during the ‘medieval millennium’.
Archaeologists of East and southern Africa have long been attracted to large urban centres, such as those on the Swahili coast, and to the circulation of imported goods. Here, the authors aim to refocus attention on the diversity of objects that were produced and transformed by the inland societies of East and southern Africa during the Middle Iron Age (AD 750–1250). Recognition of the remaking, bundling and repurposing of small, portable objects emphasises the innovative practices that helped to bestow power on their makers. A socially embedded approach to studying objects and practices re-presents African communities as innovators and active transformers of non-local objects, and facilitates new narratives about the political economy of Africa at that time.
The claim that the illicit trade in antiquities is the third largest, second only to arms and narcotics, is widely repeated. But where does this claim originate and what is the evidence for its veracity? The authors present a ‘stratigraphic excavation’ of the claim by systematically searching through academic articles, popular press and policy literature to reveal the factoid's use and reuse over the past five decades. The authors find that the claim is not based on any original research or statistics, and it does not originate with any competent authorities. The analysis demonstrates how the uncritical repetition of unsubstantiated ‘facts’ can undermine legitimate efforts to prevent looting, trafficking and illicit sale of antiquities.
For archaeology to survive in the present and for critical discourse on the past to thrive, archaeologists must advocate for the discipline's continued relevancy. In this Debate article, the authors illustrate the potential and challenges of such advocacy by examining contemporary perceptions of the Roman period Hadrian's Wall and how it relates to modern border landscapes—namely the US/Mexico border. They argue that archaeologists have not addressed the imagined continuity of socio-political narratives surrounding borderlands, calling for wider recognition of border materiality. The authors contend that the uncritical portrayal of the past, particularly in politically charged spaces such as border zones, can contribute to inequality and oppression in the present.
Hanscam and Buchanan (2023) have written a timely and important contribution to the evolving discussion about the politicisation of archaeology, and the prominent role that intersections with Border Studies might play in future debates. I concur with many of their substantive points. Focusing on boundaries and bordering processes is a natural extension of the work on identities that has been a dominant theme in archaeology since at least the 1990s; it also provides a counterbalance to recent trends that seek to extend globalisation deeper into the past, not least in Roman studies (e.g. Pitts & Versluys 2014). As Hanscam and Buchanan note for the public sphere, there are also numerous academic contributions within the Border Studies literature that draw upon archaeological or historical examples, though often framed within outdated understandings of the meanings of these boundaries (e.g. Nail 2016; see Gardner 2022). Our role in engaging with these contributions is not simply to point out mistakes, but also to learn from this range of perspectives on the significance of boundaries in human societies, to fuse them with our own interpretations of ancient borderlands, and to contribute to contemporary debates that crystallise many of the most important issues of our times.
The wider case presented by Hanscam and Buchanan (2023), as I understand it, is for archaeologists to consider directly the relation of the past in shaping social and political narratives in the present. I agree that this should happen; I contend it is productively happening already. It is a stretch to argue that the misinterpretation of Hadrian's Wall has been a substantive tool for political justification of US-Mexico border policy, or that archaeologists should make a comparison between such sites just in case someone tries to do so. I am interested in having a conversation about the history of bordering regimes, but why would we make a connection that might be misused in order to clarify that these are not good cases for comparison, beyond that both are walls? In relation to the authors’ problem statement that history is being misused to justify the present, it is notable that the one quotation cited observing a relationship between Hadrian's Wall and present-day US-Mexico border barriers is from The New Yorker—hardly a bastion of jingoistic politics or a go-to source of journalism for the political right. Moreover, the quote expressed caution against making a comparison between Hadrian's wall and contemporary border walling projects.
Hanscam and Buchanan (2023) give us an insightful comparative analysis of Hadrian's Wall and the US/Mexico border wall. Their analysis shows how critically to study and use these long walls in an explicitly political archaeology. I have engaged in archaeology as political action (McGuire 2008), and have researched the materiality of the US/Mexico border while doing humanitarian work along that border (McGuire 2013). Hanscam and Buchanan deftly employ archaeology as a political tool to challenge capitalist ideologies about borders. They plead for a politically relevant archaeology that engages the past to address modern issues. Without such relevance, they fear that archaeology will be made redundant. I emphatically agree with them that an activist archaeology makes our discipline more relevant. I fear, however, that these politics may be our demise rather than our salvation.
Archaeologists should always have their say in the interpretation of the archaeological record. Moreover, they should not allow those interpretations to be misappropriated by others, whether politicians, journalists or specialists of other disciplines. By contending that borders are a timely topic for archaeological attention, Emily Hanscam and Brian Buchanan (2023) make a decisive epistemological step forward within the field, also opening up the potential of the discipline's specialised knowledge for wider dissemination and impact. They advance from a straightforward position: the argument that re-bordering in the contemporary world, notably through the increasing fencing of borders (Bissonnette & Vallet 2020), often originates in a normative and normalising discourse on the past. The best example, according to the authors, is Hadrian's Wall, which appears as a common justification for the building of contemporary walls on a growing number of international borders. Their text unfolds a comparison between the archaeological findings about that one short segment of the Roman limes in northern Britain and the supposed properties of the contemporary infrastructure on the US/Mexico border, which successive US presidents have sought to reinforce—chief among them Donald Trump.
We are grateful for the participation of the respondents and heartened at the general agreement on the importance of a politically proactive archaeology. Inevitably, the authors offer differing perspectives on how best to achieve this goal, including the degree to which political engagement may foster the strength and relevance of the discipline (McGuire 2023), the limitations of landscape or assemblage perspectives for analysing these issues (Gardner 2023; Szary 2023), and whether or not such a call is even necessary because many archaeologists are already engaged with this type of research (Soto 2023). We appreciate the opportunity that these comments provide to us for critical reflection on our arguments; here, we briefly engage with the major themes raised as part of the ongoing dialogue.
The absence of archaeological narratives in Australian museums reflects a complex post-colonial history of research and museology. In this context, Connections across the Coral Sea at the Queensland Museum (December 2021 to 9 July 2023), Brisbane, is a welcome contribution to the important mission of sharing the ancient Australian past with the public. This object-rich exhibition illuminates the lives of coastal peoples, as understood through the ‘Coral Sea Cultural Interaction Sphere’ hypothesis—that is, the idea that during the late Holocene, this was a region of substantial maritime-based exchange between mainland Aboriginal Australians inhabiting Cape York and the peoples of the south coast of Papua New Guinea and the Torres Strait Islands (see McNiven et al. 2004; Figure 1). The key archaeological content on display includes evidence from excavations on Lizard Island (Jiigurru) off the east coast of Cape York, short films on the Cultural Interaction Sphere hypothesis and how it has been investigated, and a 3D-printed stratigraphic section accompanied by an impressive interactive virtual stratigraphic section (Figure 2). Proponents of the Coral Sea Cultural Interaction Sphere hypothesis argue that, although groups shared ideas, they continued to maintain their individual identities, in many cases choosing not to adopt technologies used in other areas (e.g. the continued use of spear throwers in Australia versus bows and arrows in the Torres Strait Islands and Papua New Guinea).
Uivar “Gomilă”, a long-awaited and overdue first volume (of a planned set of three), presents, in seven chapters, a comprehensive account of the results of archaeological research on the site of Uivar, Romania. It reports on 10 seasons of investigation into the north-eastern periphery of the Vinča Culture phenomenon and the occurrence of tell settlements in the second half of the sixth millennium BC. Multiple contributors—mostly members of the original research team—present a well-defined case study of a Late Neolithic tell settlement, starting from general questions about the tell phenomenon in South-east Europe and the Neolithic of the Banat area, where “Gomilă” is located (Chapter 1).
New Book Chronicle
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An archaeological field project designed to investigate Palaeolithic occupation is being undertaken in Mardin Province, south-east Turkey. New sites have been identified and recorded systematically, including Şıkefta Elobrahimo Cave. Together, these provide ample evidence for hominin presence in this area since the Middle Palaeolithic.
The north-western Negev is an under-researched ecotonal region. We excavated two late Middle Palaeolithic open-air sites and recovered rich lithic industries that could be refitted, as well as remains of fauna, and charcoal. Palaeoenvironmental information and dates indicate interesting inter-site differences.
This project examines the local impact of Neolithic and Steppe population dispersals on archaeological cultures west of the Rhine, using new high-coverage ancient genomes from present-day Luxembourg. In addition, we sampled the Beaker-period grave of Dunstable Downs in England, which offers close parallels to the grave of Altwies in Luxembourg.
The Big Exchange project investigates large-scale exchange systems in Eurasia and Africa (8000–1 BC). We concentrate on raw materials of known origin (‘sourced finds’). Network analysis of tools and artificial intelligence methods are used to analyse the combined data sets. We invite broad collaboration on bimodal exchange networks.
Geophysical prospection and archaeological excavation are helping to contextualise a group of Middle Bronze Age metalwork hoards in Brittany. At Kerouarn, three hoards with a total of 89 bracelets were found buried in a semi-circular enclosure with a monumental entrance, bounded by two deep ditches and their associated embankments. No domestic or funerary remains were discovered.
The central agglomeration of Němčice in Moravia was one of the most important archaeological sites of the La Tène period in Central Europe. This article presents current interdisciplinary research on the site, including the discovery of the earliest glass workshop in Transalpine Europe.
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