Have you ever tried digging a hole with a stick? Or chopping down a tree with a stone axe? How about living on porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a month? Reading about the way people lived in Stone Age and Mesolithic (10000-5000 BC) times gives only a very limited understanding of how things were in the distant past. Actually recreating everyday life introduces a sense of empathy and other dimensions which paint a far more detailed picture: the essence of experimental archaeology.
Let’s begin with a clarification. Experimental archaeology should not be confused with reconstruction. Those involved don’t dress up as cavemen and women for the sake of an audience. They are using certain tools and techniques common in different time periods to try and learn more about the variables which affected hunter gatherer life while also exposing some of the misunderstandings that have become accepted truths.
The University College Dublin experimental archaeology department is currently building a Mesolithic structure based on the only surviving example on this island: Mount Sandel in Co Derry, which dates from 7800 BC.
The first advanced Bronze Age civilization of Europe was established by the Minoans about 5,000 years before present. Since Sir Arthur Evans exposed the Minoan civic centre of Knossos, archaeologists have speculated on the origin of the founders of the civilization. Evans proposed a North African origin; Cycladic, Balkan, Anatolian and Middle Eastern origins have also been proposed. Here we address the question of the origin of the Minoans by analysing mitochondrial DNA from Minoan osseous remains from a cave ossuary in the Lassithi plateau of Crete dated 4,400–3,700 years before present. Shared haplotypes, principal component and pairwise distance analyses refute the Evans North African hypothesis. Minoans show the strongest relationships with Neolithic and modern European populations and with the modern inhabitants of the Lassithi plateau. Our data are compatible with the hypothesis of an autochthonous development of the Minoan civilization by the descendants of the Neolithic settlers of the island.
Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of the disease plague, has been implicated in three historical pandemics. These include the third pandemic of the 19th and 20th centuries, during which plague was spread around the world, and the second pandemic of the 14th–17th centuries, which included the infamous epidemic known as the Black Death. Previous studies have confirmed that Y. pestis caused these two more recent pandemics. However, a highly spirited debate still continues as to whether Y. pestis caused the so-called Justinianic Plague of the 6th–8th centuries AD. By analyzing ancient DNA in two independent ancient DNA laboratories, we confirmed unambiguously the presence of Y. pestis DNA in human skeletal remains from an Early Medieval cemetery. In addition, we narrowed the phylogenetic position of the responsible strain down to major branch 0 on the Y. pestis phylogeny, specifically between nodes N03 and N05. Our findings confirm that Y. pestis was responsible for the Justinianic Plague, which should end the controversy regarding the etiology of this pandemic. The first genotype of a Y. pestis strain that caused the Late Antique plague provides important information about the history of the plague bacillus and suggests that the first pandemic also originated in Asia, similar to the other two plague pandemics.
Flakes of charred material scraped from shards of ancient pots are the earliest direct evidence of pottery use for cooking, a new study suggests. Possibly the biggest surprise, scientists say, is that these prehistoric chefs weren't part of an early agricultural community, and they weren't cooking grain: They were hunter-gatherers who lived in Japan during the waning phases of the last ice age, and they were apparently boiling up a seafood stew.
Pottery was invented somewhere in eastern Asia between 12,000 and 20,000 years ago, but exactly where and when—and particularly why—isn't clear. Indeed, virtually nothing is known about how the first pots were used, says Oliver Craig, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of York in the United Kingdom. Regardless of why such vessels were invented, they undoubtedly offered new and attractive ways to process and consume food, he notes. Layers of blackened material on the inner surfaces of some pot shards, many of them palm-sized or smaller, hinted that the vessels had been used for cooking, but scientists hadn't performed detailed studies to confirm the notion.
David Connolly's insight:
Fish stew! Yum! seriously though... we seem to be getting slocer to the actions of humans.
The universal facial attractiveness (UFA) hypothesis proposes that some facial features are universally preferred because they are reliable signals of mate quality. The primary evidence for this hypothesis comes from cross-cultural studies of perceived attractiveness. However, these studies do not directly address patterns of morphological variation at the population level. An unanswered question is therefore: Are universally preferred facial phenotypes geographically invariant, as the UFA hypothesis implies? The purpose of our study is to evaluate this often overlooked aspect of the UFA hypothesis by examining patterns of geographic variation in chin shape. We collected symphyseal outlines from 180 recent human mandibles (90 male, 90 female) representing nine geographic regions. Elliptical Fourier functions analysis was used to quantify chin shape, and principle components analysis was used to compute shape descriptors. In contrast to the expectations of the UFA hypothesis, we found significant geographic differences in male and female chin shape. These findings are consistent with region-specific sexual selection and/or random genetic drift, but not universal sexual selection. We recommend that future studies of facial attractiveness take into consideration patterns of morphological variation within and between diverse human populations.
This film looks at the National Museum of Iraq which suffered pillaging, theft and damage in 2003
David Connolly's insight:
This film looks at the National Museum of Iraq, which suffered pillaging, theft and damage in 2003. Nine years on, the museum remains closed for restoration. Work is progressing well and the Ministry of Tourism and Archaeology is continuing its efforts to recover lost cultural treasures. The film examines the scale of the Iraqi history which was lost, and the archaeological items that are there to remind us of the great civilization it once was home to
Fertility and abundance are important themes of ancient Mesopotamian texts and images. The goddess Inanna and her consort Dumuzi personify these ideas in texts of the second millennium B.C.E. Excavated by Leonard Woolley in the 1920s, the Royal Cemetery at Ur dates to the mid third millennium B.C.E. Among the tombs, that of Queen Puabi yielded many ornaments of gold, carnelian, and lapis. Some of the pendants realistically depict identifiable animals. Others are more stylized depictions of clusters of apples, dates, and date inflorescences. Apples and dates are both associated with the goddess Inanna, who is associated with love and fertility. Twisted wire pendants in the same group of objects are not so readily identified. I propose here that the twisted wire pendants in the Puabi assemblage may literally represent rope, symbolically reference sheep, and narratively evoke the flocks of the shepherd Dumuzi. Pairing symbols of Inanna and Dumuzi evokes life in a place of death.
This article considers and rejects the following identifications for the wire pendants: stylized palmette, pinnate leaf, grape (and implicitly any other fruit cluster), water, road, canal, and snake.
Between 2009 and 2012, Dr Dan Hicks (Curator of Archaeology and University Lecturer) led a collections-based project that developed the first overview of the range and research potential of the Museum's world archaeology collections.
The project - Characterizing the World Archaeology Collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum - was funded by a grant of £116,325 from the John Fell OUP Research Fund and with additional support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (IfA Workplace Bursaries scheme) and the Boise Fund.
The project resulted in a book, published in March 2013 as both hard copy and in open access form. This volume - World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum: a characterization - introduces the range, history and significance of the archaeological collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum, and sets out priorities for future research into the collection. Through 29 newly-commissioned essays written by a specialist team, the volume explores more than 136,000 artefacts from 145 countries, from the Stone Age to the modern period, and from England to Easter Island.
Pioneering a new approach in museum studies - which the project calls "characterization" - this landmark volume is an essential reference work for archaeologists around the world, and a unique introduction to the archaeological collections of one of the world’s most famous museums.
You can order the book fromArchaeopress
You can also read the full content of the book online, through the links below: To make a donation to the Pitt Rivers Museum, please visit http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/gift.html
In his book The Omnivorous Mind: Our Evolving Relationship with Food, neuroanthropologist John S. Allen discusses the history of human eating, from foraged foods on the savannah to four-star meals cooked by celebrity chefs, and discusses why crunchy foods like tempura and fried chicken have universal appeal.
In 1983, the investigations of the Combined Prehistoric Expedition at 27 locales at Wadi Kubbaniya in Upper Egypt were concluded after four field seasons.
This work culminated in four comprehensive publications highlighting the importance of the Kubbaniyan lithic industry during the Late Palaeolithic (Wendorf et al. 1980, 1986, 1989a & b). Wadi Kubbaniya is located north of Aswan and is the largest wadi in the Western Desert of Upper Egypt.
During the Late Palaeolithic, overflow from the Nile became impounded in the wadi, forming a lake. An extensive dunefield formed along the north-eastern edge of this lake; Late Palaeolithic people repeatedly camped within and adjacent to this dunefield (Figure 1).
This presence dates from about 20 000 BP to around 12 000 BP. The length and intensity of occupation varied but, based on the variety of artefacts, abundant faunal remains, hearths and ash lenses, and numerous grinding implements, most loci of activity appear to have been domestic occupations.
The grinding implements are evidence that plant resources were an integral aspect of subsistence.
The Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs in the Tien Shan Mountains: A Fertility Ritual Tableau
by Jeannine Davis-Kimball, Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads
“ . . . before writing, myths had to serve as transmission systems for information deemed important, but because we . . . have forgotten how non-literate people stored and transmitted information . . . we have lost trace of how to decode the information often densely compressed into these stories, and they appear to us as mostly gibberish
To the left is a figure which illustrates the phylogenetic inferences from a new paper in Nature Communications, The genomics of selection in dogs and the parallel evolution between dogs and humans (see Carl Zimmer’s coverage in The New York Times). Why is this paper important? The first thing that jumped out at me is that because they’re using whole genomes (~10X coverage) of a selection of dogs and wolves the results aren’t as subject to the bias of using “chips” of polymorphisms discovered in dogs on wolves (see: Genome-wide SNP and haplotype analyses reveal a rich history underlying dog domestication). The second aspect is that the coalescence of the dog vs. wolf lineage is pushed further back in time than earlier genetic work, by a factor of three. A standard model for the origin of dogs is that they arose in the Middle East ~10,000-15,000 years ago , possibly as part of the broad shift of lifestyles which culminated in the Neolithic Revolution.
A classic example of interweaving a fictional character with an historical figure is Bram Stoker’s, Count Dracula with that of Vlad III, the infamous 15th century ruler of Wallachia.
A portrait of Vlad “Țepeș” (the Impaler) – after his favourite manner of execution – hangs in Ambras Castle in the Austrian Tyrol. To tourists who visit Romania this famous portrait represents the Count Dracula of fiction, as surely as any Hollywood film poster.
To a Romanian though, this view is sacrilegious, but in examining the huge success of a temporary exhibition opened in the capital city of Bucharest in 2010, promoting that same overlapping of fiction and historical reality, it is obvious that no-one is immune. This was the first time that the portrait from Ambras Castle was shown in Romania and was also used in the official publicity poster. The exhibition entitled, “Dracula: Voivode and Vampire” did not include the name of Vlad in its title.
Darwin (1871) recognised that Africa was the continent from which humans originated. This suggestion was based not on fossils but on comparative anatomy of modern primates. Of all the living primates, it is the African chimpanzee (Pan) and Gorilla that are most similar to Homo in terms of gross anatomy. The discovery of Australopithecus africanus at Taung in southern Africa in 1924, described by Raymond Dart (1925), supported Darwin's statement regarding an African origin for humanity. Robert Broom described Paranthropus robustus as another hominin from the South African site of Kromdraai (Broom 1938; Broom & Schepers 1946), and additional specimens of A. africanus were discovered by Broom (1947) at Sterkfontein. Broom & Robinson (1949, 1950) reported the presence of Telanthropus, later recognised as early Homo, at Swartkrans in Early Pleistocene contexts. Initially it was possible to 'pigeon-hole' new hominin discoveries into discrete genera and distinct species, but with the discovery of additional specimens from South Africa as well as Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Chad, boundaries between species and even between genera have become questionable. There is clearly a need for an approach whereby the degree of similarity between specimens can be re-assessed in the context of a species definition which is applicable to hominin fossils.
What to Do with Unprovenanced Artifacts—Publish or Perish?
Two books recently came across my desk that reveal yet another cleavage within the archaeological profession.
In some respects the books are quite similar. Both are collections of papers delivered at scholarly conferences that were then gathered together to make a book. Both have senior scholars among the presenter-authors. Both books are edited by husband-and-wife teams—one by Eric and Carol Meyers and the other by Meir and Edith Lubetski. And a final similarity: Both teams of editors are friends of mine.
The new Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity (CECD), supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is a successor to the Centre for the Evolutionary Analysis of Cultural Behaviour (see AI 2000/2001). Here the director of the CECD outlines the theoretical frameworks within which the Centre operates and the main research themes that will be pursued over the next five years.
The Iron Age of the Iranian central plateau was first investigated 70 years ago at Tepe Sialk near Kashan (Ghirshman 1939). At this site, the upper archaeological levels indicate the remains of the Iranian-speaking people who founded the Median kingdom and subsequently the Achaemenid Empire. Today, as well as Sialk, we know of several important Late Iron Age sites such as Shamshirgāh (Kleiss 1983) and Qoli-Darvish (Sarlak 2011). For example, the recently discovered Late Iron Age cemetery at Sarm has produced archaeological materials which are so similar to those found at Sialk that the site could even be thought of as a 'second Sialk' in southern Qom (Fahimi 2004).
IAN ARMIT. Headhunting and the body in Iron Age Europe. xii+260 pages, 86 illustrations, 5 tables. 2012. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 978-0-521-87756-5 hardback £60.
oday, 'headhunting' is a term more often used in employment recruiting than in later prehistoric archaeology. Ian Armit's book, however, makes a convincing case that societies in Iron Age Europe did indeed engage in practices for which 'headhunting' is an appropriate description. The opening chapter of the book defines the vocabulary used and clarifies the meaning of headhunting, head veneration, cosmology, religion, ideology and ritual violence. Armit defines headhunting as "a form of group-sanctioned, ritualised violence, in which the removal of the human head plays a central role" (p. 11).
Review by Katharina Rebay-Salisbury School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester, UK
Newly obtained ages, based on electron spin resonance combined with uranium series isotopic analysis, and infrared/post-infrared luminescence dating, provide a minimum age that lies between 397 and 525 ka for the hominin mandible BH-1 from Mala Balanica cave, Serbia.
This confirms it as the easternmost hominin specimen in Europe dated to the Middle Pleistocene. Inferences drawn from the morphology of the mandible BH-1 place it outside currently observed variation of European Homo heidelbergensis.
The lack of derived Neandertal traits in BH-1 and its contemporary specimens in Southeast Europe, such as Kocabaş, Vasogliano and Ceprano, coupled with Middle Pleistocene synapomorphies, suggests different evolutionary forces acting in the east of the continent where isolation did not play such an important role during glaciations.
"To report on the likely existing evidence about the practice of circumcision in prehistory, or at least a culture of foreskin retraction, and also the meaning of erection in Paleolithic minds.
Drawings, engravings, and sculptures displaying humans are relatively scarce, and 100 examplesof male genitals are speciﬁcally represented. Some depict a circumcised penis and other representurologic disorders such as phimosis, paraphimosis, discharge, priapism, or a scrotal mass. Inaddition, a small number of phalluses carved in horn, bone, or stone, with varying morphology,has survived to the present and also reveals a sustained cult for male erection and foreskinretraction not limited to a particular topographical territory. The very few noncoital human orhumanoid ﬁgures with marked erection appear in a context of serious danger or death. Therefore,erection could be understood as a phenomenon related to the shamanic transit between life anddeath
David Connolly's insight:
Really intersting! as a balance to the dissasociated female
Cyber-archaeology is the marriage of the latest developments in computer science and engineering with archaeology.
Digital advances are enabling archaeologists, traditionally experimenters and early adopters of new technologies, to use ever more powerful and portable devices to collect and analyse vast amounts of information from the cultural and natural environment.
Simultaneously, rapid economic development, regional conflict and population growth have increased the threat of damage and destruction to global archaeological resources. The recent partnership between the University of California, San Diego-California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (UCSD-Calit2), the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan in the Petra Archaeological Park represents a case study in how cyber-archaeology can contribute to both conservation and research goals of different stake-holders.