Latest Issue: Issue 383 - October 2021
Research, Method & Debate
Woven textiles from Çatalhöyük in southern Anatolia are among the earliest-known examples of weaving in the Near East and Europe. Studies of material excavated in the 1960s identified the fibres as flax. New scanning electron microscope analysis, however, shows these fibres—and others from more recent excavations at the site—to be made from locally sourced oak bast. This result is consistent with the near absence of flax seeds at Çatalhöyük, and suggests there was no need for the importation of fibres from elsewhere; it also questions the date at which domesticated flax was first used for fibres. These findings shed new light on early textile production in the Neolithic, suggesting that tree bast played a more significant role than previously recognised.
The effects of the 4.2 kya climatic event on northern Mesopotamia have been the subject of significant scholarly debate, with the notion of a megadrought that forced local populations to migrate attracting particular attention. Here, the authors analyse stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes in human tooth and bone samples to assess trends in subsistence practice at three sites in Syria before, during and after the presumed megadrought event. Despite the proximity of the sites, isotopic differences between them are more significant than diachronic change. Combined with other archaeological evidence, these results indicate a continuity in subsistence patterns, with no indication of disruption associated with the 4.2 kya event.
The origins of metal coinage and the monetisation of ancient economies have long been a research focus in both archaeology and economic history. Recent excavations of an Eastern Zhou period (c. 770–220 BC) bronze foundry at Guanzhuang in Henan Province, China, have yielded clay moulds for casting spade coins. The technical characteristics of the moulds demonstrate that the site functioned as a mint for producing standardised coins. Systematic AMS radiocarbon-dating indicates that well-organised minting developed c. 640–550 BC, making Guanzhuang the world's oldest-known, securely dated minting site. This discovery provides important new data for exploring the origin of monetisation in ancient China.
This article presents the results of an archaeoacoustic analysis conducted inside the three chambers of the fourth-century BC Etruscan painted tomb of Tomba dell'Orco at Tarquinia. Using digital sound samples and an acoustic recording protocol, the study demonstrates how, in some areas of the tomb, low-frequency sounds, such as drumming and chanting, produce lengthy reverberation times. These effects may have been associated with the natural rumble of thunder, which played a significant role in Etruscan society, as indicated in secondary literary sources and material culture. The study provides a more comprehensive understanding of the Etruscan tomb space, while identifying new avenues of research in pre-Roman and other ancient Mediterranean funerary contexts.
The last meal of Tollund Man, a bog body from Early Iron Age Denmark, has been re-examined using new analyses of plant macrofossils, pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs, steroid markers and proteins found in his gut. Some 12–24 hours before he was killed, he ate a porridge containing barley, pale persicaria and flax, and probably some fish. Proteins and eggs from intestinal worms indicate that he was infected with parasites. Although the meal may reflect ordinary Iron Age fare, the inclusion of threshing waste could possibly relate to ritual practices. This re-analysis illustrates that new techniques can throw fresh light on old questions and contribute to understanding life and death in the Danish Early Iron Age.
The importation of Chinese porcelain and celadon into Europe has long been thought to have first begun around the thirteenth century AD. A unique group of Chinese ceramic sherds from archaeological contexts in Spain dated to between the ninth and eleventh centuries, however, now represents the earliest Chinese wares identified in Europe. Such an unexpectedly early presence on high-status sites in Western Europe probably reflects changing patterns of commerce in the Indian Ocean and the giving of prestigious gifts at the very highest levels of social and political power across the Islamic Mediterranean world.
The expansion of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates (seventh to ninth centuries AD) brought diverse regions from the Indus Valley to the Eurasian Steppe under hegemonic control. An overlooked aspect of this political process is the subsequent translocation of species across ecological zones. This article explores species introduction in the early Islamic world, presenting the first archaeological evidence for domestic water buffalo in the Caucasus—identified using zooarchaeological and ZooMS methods on material from the historical site of Bardhaʿa in Azerbaijan. We contextualise these finds with historical accounts to demonstrate the exploitation of medieval marginal zones and the effects of centralised social reorganisation upon species dispersal.
Dietary studies can offer insight into the effects of imperial rule on colonised populations. Inka expansion was associated with change in agricultural production and diet, including greater emphasis on maize. This article presents stable isotope analyses of ten individuals from two locations in Antofagasta de la Sierra, Argentina. AMS dating assigns one site to the start of the Inka period and one to the end. Despite diachronic changes in material culture, isotope analyses indicate that maize remained relatively unimportant in local diet. Given the symbolic value of maize in the Inka world, this lack of dietary change suggests limited imperial influence over local agricultural production and diet.
Machu Picchu, in Cuzco, is one of the most famous archaeological sites in South America. The precise dating of the monumental complex, however, relies largely on documentary sources. Samples of bone and teeth from individuals buried in caves at four cemeteries around Machu Picchu form the basis for a new programme of AMS radiocarbon-dating. The results show that the site was occupied from c. AD 1420–1532, with activity beginning two decades earlier than suggested by the textual sources that associate the site with Emperor Pachacuti's rise to power in AD 1438. The new AMS dates—the first large set published for Machu Picchu—therefore have implications for the wider understanding of Inca chronology.
For nearly 300 years, the Knights of St John forced a range of captives to labour on their galleys, with slave, convict and debtor oarsmen propelling the Knights’ navy in their crusade against Islam. This article considers how we can investigate these captives and the consequences of their presence in Malta by reconfiguring captivity as a process that extended into wider society. By seeking material traces of captivity at sea on board galleys and on land, the article opens new investigative avenues into early modern captivity in the Mediterranean. In addition, it brings to current debates a rare archaeological example of modern slavery within a European context.
The introduction of new animals into hunter-gatherer societies produces a variety of cultural responses. This article explores the role of rock art in western Arnhem Land, Australia, in helping to mediate contact-period changes in Indigenous society in the nineteenth century. The authors explore etic and emic perspectives on the ‘re-emergence’ of water buffalo into Aboriginal cultural life. Merging archaeological analysis, rock art and ethnographic accounts, the article demonstrates how such artworks were used as a tool for maintaining order in times of dramatic social change. The results of this research have significant implications for understanding how cultural groups and individuals worldwide used rock art during periods of upheaval.
Archaeology is often defined as the study of the past through material culture. As we enter the Anthropocene, however, the two parts of this definition increasingly diverge. In the Anthropocene the archaeological record ceases to be observed from a distance, but is something we exist within. It is not an assemblage of material culture, but a hyperobject of vast temporal and geographical scope, in which ecofacts increase in prominence and the role of artefacts recedes. This article examines the archaeological record as a hyperobject and argues for an expanded definition of archaeology for the future past. It argues for a shift from the study of objects towards a broader archaeology that includes immaterial Anthropocene culture.
How does a ‘space culture’ emerge and evolve, and how can archaeologists study such a phenomenon? The International Space Station Archaeological Project seeks to analyse the social and cultural context of an assemblage relating to the human presence in space. Drawing on concepts from contemporary archaeology, the project pursues a unique perspective beyond sociological or ethnographical approaches. Semiotic analysis of material culture and proxemic analysis of embodied space can be achieved using NASA's archives of documentation, images, video and audio media. Here, the authors set out a method for the study of this evidence. Understanding how individuals and groups use material culture in space stations, from discrete objects to contextual relationships, promises to reveal intersections of identity, nationality and community.
This brief review assesses a dynamic virtual exhibition that has been curated by the University of Malta and Heritage Malta, with the support of the Malta Tourist Authority and the backing of the Ministry of Tourism and Consumer Protection, Malta. The exhibition, Underwater Malta (https://underwatermalta.org/map/), aims, through a virtual platform, to explore 17 wrecks ranging in date from a 2700-year-old Phoenician shipwreck found off Gozo to a submarine and numerous ships that sank in the Second World War, and a Victorian gun (cannon) site. The most numerous wreck type is aircraft, with nine that were active in the Second World War (Figure 1). While the wrecks are unified by their underwater resting place, the material, their chronologies and the depths at which they are located on the seabed vary considerably, the deepest being the Phoenician shipwreck that lies beneath 110m of water.
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The discovery of previously unknown chocolate flint outcrops in the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland (only the second known area after that in the Holy Cross Mountains) has undermined our seemingly solid knowledge of the prehistoric economy, which is based on the distribution pattern of this important raw material. The authors present new interdisciplinary research focused on the prehistoric mining of chocolate flint in the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, the distribution of chocolate flint artefacts within the Upland and beyond, and methods to distinguish this material from the Holy Cross Mountains chocolate flint.
The exceptional find of the tooth of a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) at Monte d'Accoddi adds to the documentation on the possible presence, and exploitation by humans, of cetaceans in the prehistoric Mediterranean. The dating (3638–3378 BC) appears to make it the oldest cetacean find in Sardinia.
Archaeological remains at a religious site dedicated to a Yasawiyya Sufi saint reveal a possible centre of iron production along the trade routes connecting the medieval urban centres of Central Asia.
Examination of Philipp von Stosch's documentation of engraved gems, discovered in previously unknown archival sources in the Princes Czartoryski Museum in Krakow and other public and private collections, considerably advances our understanding of the move from antiquarianism to proto-archaeology in the eighteenth century.
Between 2018 and 2020 the Kipot ja kielet [Beakers and Speakers] project (KiKi) collected a typological database of archaeological artefacts in Finland and a typological linguistic database of Uralic languages. Both datasets will be accessible through a public online interface (URHIA) from 2021. The data will help integrate Finnish- and Uralic-speaking areas into global perspectives on human history.