Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

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Online ISSN: 1573-7764
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The Mesolithic in Eastern Europe was the last time that hunter-gatherer economies thrived there before the spread of agriculture in the second half of the seventh millennium BC. But the period, and the interactions between foragers and the first farmers, are poorly understood in the Carpathian Basin and surrounding areas because few sites are known, and even fewer have been excavated and published. How did site location differ between Mesolithic and Early Neolithic settlers? And where should we look for rare Mesolithic sites? Proximity analysis is seldom used for predictive modeling for hunter-gatherer sites at large scales, but in this paper, we argue that it can serve as an important starting point for prospection for rare and poorly understood sites. This study uses proximity analysis to provide quantitative landscape associations of known Mesolithic and Early Neolithic sites in the Carpathian Basin to show how Mesolithic people chose attributes of the landscape for camps, and how they differed from the farmers who later settled. We use elevation and slope, rivers, wetlands prior to the twentieth century, and the distribution of lithic raw materials foragers and farmers used for toolmaking to identify key proxies for preferred locations. We then build predictive models for the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic in the Pannonian region to highlight parts of the landscape that have relatively higher probabilities of having Mesolithic sites still undiscovered and contrast them with the settlement patterns of the first farmers in the area. We find that large parts of Pannonia conform to landforms preferred by Mesolithic foragers, but these areas have not been subject to investigation.
Map of the study area showing the location of the rock art sets discussed on the text (based on Nasa Blue Marble image)
Hunter-gatherer rock painting (North-Central Chile). San Pedro Viejo de Pichasca rock shelter
Radiocarbon dating dispersion of rock painting (North-Central Chile)
Agrarian petrogyphs (Central Chile). Paidahuen archaeological site
Inka rock models (Atacama Desert). Cupo archaeological site
Non-representational approaches (to rock art) have highlighted the relevance of making processes. Rhythm, temporality, and taskscapes emerge from every act of making, and are deeply engaged with the affective properties of these practices. In this paper, we outline a rhythm-analysis perspective to rock art discussing how it can shed light on the affective properties of this materiality, the emergence of landscapes , and the impact this practice had on the lived temporalities of the peoples that carried them out. We apply our approach to three case studies related to hunter-gath-erer, agrarian, and Incaized communities in different areas of the Southern Andes. As a result, we discuss the relevance of approaching the relationship between making , rhythm, correspondences, and taskscapes to better understand rock art and avoid the pitfalls of an ahistorical relational perspective in archaeology.
The Carpathian Basin was a highly influential centre of metalworking in the 2nd mil. BC. Nevertheless, despite the abundance of metal objects from the Late Bronze Age, the scarcity of contextually associated metalworking remains representing distinct phases of the metalworking cycle from this region is striking. Here, we explore Late Bronze Age metalworking through the lens of a uniquely complete metalworking assemblage from the site of Șagu from contexts spanning the sixteenth to early thirteenth century BC. This material provides insights into changes in craft organisation following socio-political change after the collapse of Middle Bronze Age tell-centred communities. Our approach combines analytical and experimental data together with contextual analysis of technical ceramics (crucible, mould, and furnace fragments) to reconstruct the metalworking chaîne opératoire and place Șagu in its broader cultural context. Analyses demonstrate clear technological choices in ceramic paste recipes and strong interlinkages between metallurgy and other crafts practised on site, from domestic pottery production to building structures. Experimental replications reveal important intrinsic and experiential aspects of metallurgical activities at Șagu. Evidence on the spatial organisation of metallurgical workflows (routine sequence of actions and decisions) suggests they incorporated a high degree of visibility, which marks a distinct change in the use of craft space compared to the context of densely occupied Middle Bronze Age tells nearby. Combined, our archaeometric, experimental, and contextual results illustrate how changes in metalworking activities in the Late Bronze Age Carpathian Basin were deeply embedded in an ideological shift in the aftermath of the breakdown of Middle Bronze Age tells and the emergence of new social structures.
Thermal influences on marine molluscs are poorly understood across all disciplines, including archaeology. This presents potential issues for further analysis including radiocarbon dating and stable isotope analysis, as well as hindering our understandings of processing and preparation methods for shell in the past. Different methods of burning or heating may not always leave visual signs on a shell; however, a variety of structural and chemical changes may take place. Here, we present an experimental study using modern-day shells of five tropical marine species designed to explore how various thermal interventions modified shells in terms of microstructure (scanning electron microscope) and mineralogy (X-ray diffraction). We found distinct differences between the taxa using varied temperatures and durations, with shell microstructure playing a key role in responses to thermal stresses. This study highlights the importance of acknowledging this variation, both when structuring research as well as seeking to interpret archaeological shell remains.
This paper describes weathering modifications to elephant bones in Zimbabwe, southern Africa, and discusses possible implications about conditions of deposition and the time elapsed since death or skeletonization. The observed patterns of proboscidean bone weathering, the times elapsed since death, and burial times may not be same as for bones of smaller terrestrial mammals typically found in fossil assemblages. A system of weathering stages is proposed for proboscidean long bones, flat bones, mandibles, and ribs. Special attention is given to drying cracks that affect breakage patterns when weathered bones are trampled or impacted. Weathering effects on elephant bones vary for several reasons, such as differences between juvenile and adult cortical bone and frequency of wet/dry cycling. Also briefly discussed are the observed or possible effects of burning, dissolution, organic erosion such as root etching, and inorganic carbonate (calcite) encrustation. Comparable weathering effects are also reported on bones of Mammuthus spp., supporting the probability that (1) bone weathering in fossil proboscidean assemblages can be described in corresponding terms, and (2) implications about assemblage origins may be similar, although this inference must be cautiously drawn. The data reported here will allow analysts to describe assemblage materials in consistent terms.
Magic and witchcraft, classic topics in the anthropology of religion, involve everyday things such as ashes, ceramics, minerals, shell, and projectile points. In many cultures, people attribute agency to such artifacts, as well as architecture, begging the question what is the archaeological record of such animate beings? To understand past human lifeways more fully, we need to explore the formation processes associated with the interaction between people and other non-human actors. For example, what might we learn from a burned pueblo whose rooms contain ash, projectile points, crystals, and other items? In this paper we argue that deposits in ritually closed pueblos of the North American Southwest, like many other Neolithic villages, likely contain purposely deposited objects in an effort to neutralize the anima left in these places and to prophylactically protect their former inhabitants from future witchcraft. We present Cottonwood Spring Pueblo, New Mexico, as a case study.
A comprehensive mapping of potential sailing mobility was performed for the eastern and central Mediterranean basins. The mapping is based on newly developed methods for measuring potential sailing mobility of merchant ships with a loose-footed square sail in Antiquity, both for direct passages and for coastal sailing. The metrics of the measured direct and coastal sailing passages generate new measures of potential sailing mobility that provide new insights into the functioning of maritime links. The study also applies the measurements to several case studies in historical context including mapping of potential sailing mobility for the grain shipments from Egypt to Rome and the potential sailing mobility of Phoenician maritime links between the Levant and colonies to the west. The mappings reveal the bottlenecks for westward sailing from the Levant in the summer months. The mappings also highlight the bi-directional sailing links that could be maintained throughout the summer season despite the prevailing Etesian winds. The mappings contribute to deeper understanding of seafaring options and challenges during Antiquity.
During the age of sail-powered ships, the maritime trade networks of Southeast Asia were highly cyclical in nature due to the biannually switching wind directions of the East Asian Monsoon. The Selden Map of China provides us with a glimpse of these connections in the early seventeenth century, and it is drawn in a unique way that allows the sailing durations between ports to be measured. In this paper, a novel method of simulating directed sail-powered voyages is developed. The method utilizes ArcGIS Pro’s functionality through Python macros, and unlike the previous least-cost path (LCP) sailing models, it is based on sequential LCP analysis using dynamic real-time series wind data. The optimized routes and sailing durations generated by the macros are then compared against the Selden map. In general, the model performs reasonably well in favourable winds, but is unable to simulate tacking properly in adverse conditions. The results allow the visualization of wind patterns in terms of time spent at sea and demonstrate the inherent natural rhythm of maritime movement and trade in the South China Sea region. The macros are freely available and can be modified to simulate directed sailing in other time periods, localities, and environmental settings.
Representation of the calculations made for intra-bone (blue) and intra-individual (gold) isotopic variation by calculating the distances between the δ¹³C and δ¹⁵N values within a bone and between different bones of an individual in two-dimensional isotopic space
Three examples to illustrate how an analyst would use the NIDS metric (1.50‰) to determine the number of isotopically distinct samples and how the probability to misclassify samples was calculated. Coloured numbers highlight when multiple bones are from the same individual (example in panel A: 3 bones belong to Individual 1 (red) and 2 bones belong to Individual 2 (blue)). The probability to misclassify samples increases from panels A to C (A 0.14; B 0.125; C 0.375 to misclassify individual 1 or 2 and 0.042 to misclassify individual 1 and 2)
Histograms showing the distribution of the distances in isotopic space between δ¹³C and δ¹⁵N values obtained from multiple samples within a single bone (A), multiple bones sampled within one individual (B), and multiple individuals within one species (C). Dashed lines represent the mean value for each dataset and unfilled bars represent values outside two standard deviations from the mean value
Variation in δ¹³C among sampled elements of a southern Ontario raccoon (Procyon lotor). See Online Resource Table S4 for individual bone δ¹³C values
Archaeological and palaeontological excavations frequently produce large quantities of highly fragmentary bone. These bones can help to answer questions regarding past environments and human and animal lifeways via a number of analytical techniques but this potential is limited by the inability to distinguish individual animals and generate sufficiently large samples. Using stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values of bone collagen ( δ ¹³ C, δ ¹⁵ N), we present a metric to identify the number of isotopically distinct specimens (NIDS) from highly fragmented faunal assemblages. We quantified the amount of intra-individual isotopic variation by generating isotopic data from multiple elements from individual animals representing a wide variety of taxa as well as multiple samples from the same skeletal element. The mean intra-individual variation (inter-bone) was 0.52‰ ( σ = 0.45) (Euclidean distance between two points in isotopic bivariate space), while the mean intra-bone variation was 0.63‰ ( σ = 0.06). Using archaeological data consisting of large numbers of individual taxa from single sites, the mean inter-individual isotopic variation was 1.45‰ ( σ = 1.15). We suggest the use of 1.50‰ in bivariate ( δ ¹³ C, δ ¹⁵ N) space as a metric to distinguish NIDS. Blind tests of modelled archaeological datasets of different size and isotopic variability resulted in a rate of misclassification (two or more elements from the same individual being classified as coming from different individuals) of < 5%.
Penning turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo spp.) in the Ancestral Pueblo American Southwest/Mexican Northwest (SW/NW) involved the creation or use of a variety of spaces and contexts throughout AD 1–1600 and into the post-contact era. Turkey pens, or captivity, occur through simple tethering, reuse of abandoned pit houses or surface rooms, or creation of pens within villages, plazas, and elsewhere. Turkey dung, droppings, and eggshells are fundamental for determining the presence or absence of pens at archaeological sites. In this paper, I review the archaeological record for turkey pens and focus on three main questions: (1) how are turkey pens identified in the SW/NW, (2) if turkey pen construction or evidence for turkey captivity shifts through time, and (3) what the record of turkey penning informs us regarding the long-term human management of these birds and global perspectives on human–bird/human–animal management. Ancestral Pueblo peoples created an adaptive and flexible strategy for turkey penning, which successfully integrated these birds into ceremonial and socioeconomic processes for approximately 1600 years.
Explaining variation in hunter-gatherer livelihoods hinges on our ability to predict the tradeoffs and opportunities of pursuing different kinds of prey. Central to this problem is the commonly held assumption that larger animals provide higher returns upon encounter than smaller ones. However, to test this assumption, actualistic observations of hunting payoffs must be comparable across different social, technological, and ecological contexts. In this meta-analysis, we revisit published and unpublished estimates of prey return rates (n = 217 from 181 prey types) to assess, first, whether they are methodologically comparable, and second, whether they correlate with body size. We find systematic inter-study differences in how carcass yield, energetic content, and foraging returns are calculated. We correct for these inconsistencies first by calculating new estimates of energetic yield (kcals per kg live weight) and processing costs for over 300 species of terrestrial and avian game. We then recalculate on-encounter returns using a standardized formula. We find that body size is a poor predictor of on-encounter return rate, while prey characteristics and behavior, mode of procurement, and hunting technology are better predictors. Although prey body size correlates well with processing costs and edibility, relationships with pursuit time and energetic value per kilogram are relatively weak.
Origin of the reference collections for sheep (Carmejane and Hama) and location of the archaeological sites (Ullastret and Empúries)
A Measurements taken for the analysis of quantitative dental mesowear on the second lower molars of sheep. B Dental mesowear score (MWS) and the dietary regimes (from Fortelius & Solounias, 2000)
Mesowear score (MWS) results for the two groups of studied sheep
Univariate graphs (cusp angle and cusp height) for the two groups of studied sheep.
A Bivariate graph of cusp angle and cusp height values for rangeland (in green, n= 14) and grass-dominant sheep (in orange, n= 12). Individual values are plotted, as well as the mean and SD for each variable. B Bivariate graph with the archaeological samples from Ullastret (n= 7) and Empúries (n= 15)
Dental mesowear is a widely used tool in archaeology and palaeontology for the reconstruction of the overall diet of mammals. This method is based on the characterisation of the height and relief of dental cusps, as they vary according to diet. The use of this method on domestic ungulates presents limitations because (1) currently, very few reference frameworks are available, and (2) the qualitative categorisation of cusps limits our observations and interpretations. In this work, we introduce the analysis of quantitative dental mesowear, based on the measurement of the angle and height of cusps from photographs. The use of this method on 26 present-day domestic sheep with two different feeding strategies showed very significant differences: the group with a dominant rangeland diet has high cusps with acute angles, and the group with a dominant grassland diet has lower cusps with obtuse angles. This method has been compared with the traditional technique of mesowear score, which consists in the qualitative categorisation of cusps into seven categories. However, the analysis showed that mesowear score is more prone to observer error than quantitative mesowear. In addition, quantitative mesowear better reflects the variability in dietary behaviours of extant sheep since observations are not limited into seven categories. To test quantitative mesowear in archaeological samples, we analysed caprine mesowear at two Iron Age sites (sixth-fifth centuries BC) from the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula: Empúries and Ullastret. The results show that caprids at the Ullastret site have a slightly more abrasive diet than at Empúries, which is consistent with data obtained from dental microwear in previous work. Overall, we show the potential of this technique, which can be combined with traditional techniques, to distinguish past caprine feeding strategies.
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Fish taphonomy from archaeological sites provides considerable useful information about human behaviours and environmental contexts as potential food remains or as natural occurrences. This article focuses on mechanical deformations of fish vertebrae and the potential information about predation, diachrony in the deposition of the remains, and time-averaging and reworking processes these provide. Experimental work using uniaxial compression on dry and water-soaked vertebrae from modern skeletons [Meagre (Argyrosomus regius, Asso 1801), European hake (Merluccius merluccius, L. 1758) and Pouting (Trisopterus luscus, L. 1758)] compared to modern digested fish vertebrae from a predator of extreme taphonomic modification (European otter, Lutra lutra) allowed us to assess key features to identify different processes and site formation agents. Our results are also compared with experimental assemblages modified by water and dry abiotic abrasion. These provide a baseline to understand the nature of the agents causing modifications to archaeological vertebrae from the Middle Holocene Argentinian sites of El Americano II and Barrio Las Dunas and the Magdalenian site of Santa Catalina (Basque Country, Spain). The experimental frame of reference allowed us to identify dry compression on Barrio Las Dunas and Santa Catalina assemblages and wet compression on El Americano II and Santa Catalina sites, improving our interpretation of the formation of those archaeological deposits and their fish assemblages. These data allow one to explore with a higher degree of confidence than has been hitherto possible how humans obtained, processed, and discarded fish in former times.
Throughout much of the pre-Hispanic Andes, bioarchaeological and iconographic evidence shows that the decapitation, dismemberment, and display of human heads were important aspects of ritual practices. Researchers have debated about the social identities of these decapitated heads—were they revered local ancestors, non-local enemies captured in raids or war, or locals injured in distant combat partially repatriated for home burial—answers which have distinct implications for understanding the motivations and social contexts of this practice. We describe trophy-taking and trophy-making from the Uraca cemetery in pre-Hispanic Arequipa, Peru. To determine whether these trophies were locals, we employ radiogenic isotope analyses (87Sr/86Sr, 206Pb/204Pb, 207Pb/204Pb, 208Pb/204Pb) of tooth enamel from 37 individuals (25 non-trophies and 12 adult male trophies). To understand the degree of childhood mobility that occurred and whether that differed between individuals who became trophies and those who did not, we also examine 87Sr/86Sr, 206Pb/204Pb, 207Pb/204Pb, 208Pb/204Pb in paired teeth from infancy/early childhood and middle childhood of 18 individuals (8 non-trophies and 10 trophies). Results show that 20% of the non-trophies and 75% of the trophies were non-local relative to modeled local 87Sr/86Sr and mean (± 2 SD) of lead isotope values. Intra-childhood differences show that the individuals who became trophies experienced more childhood mobility than non-trophy individuals. This suggests Uraca’s external interactions and mobility were structured by violent intergroup raids and warfare throughout the region. Ongoing analyses will extend Uraca’s residential isobiographies to adolescence and late-life, refine the expected range of isotope ratios in the region, and clarify the extent of Majes Valley mobility during the mid-first millennium CE.
Neolithization was a complex, protracted process of domestication, sedentarization, and technology change that occurred in various combinations in various times and places around the world. Understanding the causal relationships among those and other important human behaviors remains an analytical challenge. This study examines Neolithization through the lens of lithic artifact variation in the Lake Titicaca Basin, Peru. Drawing on previous lithics research, we outline a synthetic model linking changing diet, mobility, and projectile technology to predicted trends in lithic assemblages. The expectations are then compared to two large, well-dated lithic assemblages from the Titicaca Basin-one from the Middle/Late Archaic forager site of Soro Mik'aya Patjxa (8.0-6.5 cal. ka) and the other from the Terminal Archaic horticultural site of Jiskairumoko (5.2-3.4 cal. ka). We find that the strongest signal in lithic technology change is related to the introduction of archery technology. Signals for subsistence change and declining mobility are relatively weak. The results suggest an early but unconfirmed adoption of archery technology in the Terminal Archaic Period with major transitions in mobility and diet likely to have occurred subsequently in the Terminal Archaic or Formative periods. The findings are consistent with a behavioral model in which changes in projectile technology played a prominent role in the evolution of resource intensification and residential sedentism as well as resource privatization and sexual division of labor in the high Andes.
Configurations of religious practitioner types, selection-function relationships, and social complexity
This paper provides a method- and theory-focused assessment of religious behavior based on cross-cultural research that provides an empirically derived model as a basis for making inferences about ritual practices in the past through an ethnological analogy. A review of previous research provides an etic typology of religious practitioners and identifies their characteristics, selection-function features, the societal configurations of practitioners, and the social complexity features of the societies where they are found. New analyses reported here identify social predictors of the individual practitioner types in their relationships to subsistence and sociopolitical conditions (foraging, intensive agriculture, political integration, warfare, and community integration). These relations reveal the factors contributing to social evolution through roles of religious organization in the operation of cultural institutions. The discussion expands on the previous findings identifying fundamental forms of religious life in the relations of the selection processes for religious practitioner positions to their principal professional functions. These relationships reveal three biogenetic structures of religious life involving (1) alterations of consciousness used in healing rituals, manifested in a cultural universal of shamanistic healers; (2) kin inheritance of leadership roles providing a hierarchical political organization of agricultural societies, manifested in priests who carry out collective rituals for agricultural abundance and propitiation of common deities; and (3) attribution of evil activities, manifested in witches who are persecuted and killed in subordinated groups of societies with political hierarchies and warfare. These systematic cross-cultural patterns of types of ritualists and their activities provide a basis for inferring biogenetic bases of religion and models for interpreting the activities, organization, and beliefs regarding religious activities of past societies. Cases are analyzed to illustrate the utility of the models presented.
Least cost analysis (LCA) has emerged as a favored geospatial method used by archaeologists to model potential pathways of movement. To produce increasingly effective least cost models, we must more thoroughly consider the role that energetics have played throughout human history and understand how physiological conditions tied to energetics, such as fatigue, influence peoples’ decisions when moving. We illustrate this need by modeling a physically demanding case study from the American Southwest and demonstrate that the interpretive consequences of using time- versus energy-based cost function can have meaningful impacts on archaeological reconstructions of the past. Therefore, to better inform the selection of least cost functions in LCA, regardless of the material record in a specific study context, we present a theoretically informed strategy for classifying whether time or energy was a more pertinent cost to past movers by focusing on the role of fatigue and its influence on energetically efficient decision making.
The acoustics of the Lower Chuya River area rock art landscape are analyzed through both the exploration of its acoustic properties and the ethnographic information gathered about the region. The results obtained in the acoustics tests undertaken in the area, in particular at the rock art sites of Kalbak-Tash I, Kalbak-Tash II, and Adyr-Kan, are examined. They indicate that the perceived loudness resulting from a natural amplification of sound (strength parameter) and music and speech clarity may have been some of the reasons behind the selection of these locations for rock art production. The ethnographic sources related to the Altai and other Siberian areas are then reviewed as a way of providing an ontological framework for the study of Altaian sonic concepts and behaviors in nature. As the sources indicate, at least for the historical period and presumably earlier, in the prehistoric period, all existing beings are entangled by sound, and they mimic each other in endless ways. We argue that these sites were selected in a non-linear relational ontological framework. It is suggested that the multidisciplinary perspective combining archaeology, physical acoustics, and ethnography has considerable potential for providing a new, richer understanding of rock art landscapes.
Types of boomerang, and denomination of its morphological components; (a) symmetrical boomerang, (b) asymmetrical boomerang, (c) beaked or hooked boomerang, (d) returning boomerang, (e) cross-boomerang. (Drawings by E. F. Martellotta)
Main morphological types of boomerangs and their geographic distribution throughout Australia. Boundaries and names of the regions follow the work created by David R. Horton (© AIATSIS 1996). (a) asymmetrical, ochred, fluted boomerang (from Jones (2004, p. 17)). (b) hooked beaked boomerang (from Jones (2004, p. 87))—central Australia. (c) asymmetrical boomerang with sharpened tips (from Jones (2004, p. 90). (d) boomerang showing an unusual concavity on one of the arms (from Jones (2004, p. 90))—Western Australia. In the Kimberley, the asymmetrical shapes (e) are dominant in the coastal region (Jones, 2004, p. 82), whereas boomerangs from inland (f) have more traits in common with central Australia (Jones, 2004, p. 82). In the Eyre region, smaller boomerangs (g) were thrown, whereas longer boomerangs (h) were used in close contact fighting (Jones, 2004, p. 92). (i-j) symmetrical boomerangs from the Southeast (top) (from Jones (2004, p. 99)) and Spencer (bottom) (from Jones (2004, p. 103)) regions. (k) morphological variability of boomerang’s morphologies in the region corresponding to central and eastern Queensland (Jones, 2004, pp. 96–97). Jones, P. (2004). Boomerang. Behind an Australian Icon, Wakefield Press, Kent
Literature evidence of Australian hardwood boomerangs used for retouching lithic tools. (a) geographic distribution of the identified references; (b) drawing of a boomerang used for retouching a hafted stone tool (McCarthy, 1961, Fig. 2); (c) drawing of a wooden head of a spear used for retouching a hafted stone tool (Mountford, 1941, Fig. 2E); (d) drawing of the use of bone retoucher against the edge of a lithic tool (Kozlikin et al., 2020, Fig. 3; drawing by courtesy of M. Baumann). McCarthy, F. D. (1961). The Boomerang. The Australian Museum Magazine 13(11): 343—49. Mountford, C. P. (1941). An Unrecorded Method of Manufacturing Wooden Implements by Simple Stone Tools. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 65(2): 312—16. Kozlikin, M. B., Rendu, W., Plisson, H., Baumann, M., and Shunkov, M. V. (2020). Unshaped Bone Tools from Denisova Cave, Altai. Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia 48(1): 16—28
Boomerangs are among the most recognisable elements of Australian Aboriginal technology. In the popular mindset, the prevailing image of these wooden artefacts is that of thrown implements that return to the thrower, principally used for hunting animals. However, boomerangs have a deep multipurpose role in Indigenous societies , with just a few examples of their known functions, including fighting, digging, and making music (i.e., "clap sticks"). Recently, yet another function for boomerangs has been proposed (Martellotta et al., 2021a): the functional modification of lithic tools (i.e., retouching)-a form of use that is almost unknown among non-Aboriginal researchers. Here, we provide the first comprehensive review of evidence for the use of boomerangs as lithic retouching tools (percussors). A detailed lexical analysis demonstrates similarities between Palaeolithic bone retouchers used for the same purposes as the Australian hardwood boomerangs, thus confirming our traceo-logical hypothesis and the power of using a multidisciplinary approach in investigating Australia's deep past. This paper provides the foundation for discussions surrounding the multipurpose concept behind many Aboriginal tools by focusing on the most iconic item. We propose that, in future studies, the complex technological and functional features of boomerangs should take precedence over their famous "returning effect".
Minimum animal units (MAU) are central to the study of skeletal part profiles in zooarchaeology. This measure standardizes skeletal part counts by their anatomical frequencies in a complete animal, transforming those counts into a series of values—one for each type of skeletal part. Zooarchaeologists often treat MAU as ordinal scale and use rank order statistics to compare MAU values against measures of dietary utility and bone density. Using simulation, I show that these standardized values erase critical sample size information and lead to biased ordinal correlations, preventing reliable inferences about the fossil populations from which the samples were drawn. Given the sample sizes typical of zooarchaeological work, the standardized count problem probably misguides many interpretations of taphonomy and human subsistence. The problem can be circumvented by using Poisson regression, a simple statistical method that provides conservative inferences for relationships between skeletal part profiles and measures of bone density and dietary utility, especially when implemented in a Bayesian framework. The regression approach treats skeletal part data as counts rather than ranks, while also retaining sample size information. I demonstrate the method with two archaeofaunal examples. Poisson regression allows for reliable inferences about fossil assemblages, although extending those inferences back to past animal communities or death assemblages presents additional challenges. Insights into these communities and assemblages require that zooarchaeologists carefully consider the relationship between statistical model specification and causation.
Notarchirico is at a nodal point in time and space for understanding the settlement of Europe in terms of migration or in situ evolution. Former technological analyses have not shown significant differences between the different lithic assemblages at Notarchirico. Our approach here is to produce a phylogenetic analysis of the lithic assemblages taken as the terminal of the analysis and interpreted as cultural units. In the cladistic framework, characters are hypotheses of relationships between lithic assemblages, and homologies are hypotheses of relationships between lithic objects: cores, flakes, nodules. To effectively grasp informative lithic innovations in the assemblages, we formalise cladistic hypotheses as hierarchical characters in the framework of three-item analysis and propose a new algorithm to remove the high number of repeated terminals among trees inherent to a cladistic analysis of assemblages. Beyond the classic distinction of the presence or absence of bifaces, our analysis of the five Notarchirico layers, dated between 670 and 700 ka, highlights a well-supported cladogram grounded on complex hierarchical characters on lithic artefacts. This cladogram shows a paralogy event between the flake-free layer H, representing short-term occupancy, and the other layers representing long-term settlements. The resulting cladogram shows that relationships between lithic assemblages at Notarchirico do not follow the stratigraphy. Moreover, the Notarchirico lithic assemblages cannot be explained in an entirely local way, but seem to be part of a more complex European history.
Contemporaneity of spatially distinct activity areas at prehistoric sites is often inferred based on lithic refit connections alone. These connections are, in addition, only rarely discussed in detail, nor are they explicitly subjected to any form of critical assessment. In this paper, we present a combined use of Bayesian modeling of 14C-dates, raw material characterizations and lithic refitting to investigate the occurrence of interconnected artefact clusters at the Belgian Mesolithic site of Kerkhove. Besides this, a set of parameters is presented, that is employed to control the reliability of the refit connections. The three proxies applied in this paper suggest that the Early Mesolithic occupation of the site was organized as two diachronic and more or less parallel alignments of artefact clusters. Based on the lithic refitting results, two scenarios can be considered to explain the formation histories of these linear arrangements. The individual artefact clusters incorporated within them were either occupied in a strictly contemporaneous manner or in a (partly) sequential manner.
Comparison of reconstructive approaches to radiocarbon frequency data on small (n = 10), medium (n = 100), and large (n = 1000) datasets using bootstrapped Composite Kernel Density Estimate, OxCal’s Model_KDE and baydem’s finite Gaussian Mixture model. The grey area represents the shape of the underlying probability (identical for the three sets) from which radiocarbon dates were sampled from. R scripts required for generating the figures are available at and archived on zenodo (
Estimates and 95% confidence interval of a fitted exponential growth rate on a simulated dataset with two different sample sizes (n = 50 and n = 500) using: a direct regression fit on the SPD; b Bayesian radiocarbon-dated event count (REC) model; c maximum likelihood fit via the ADMUR package; d) Bayesian hierarchical model via nimbleCarbon package; e) approximate Bayesian computation with rejection algorithm. Real growth rate is shown as a dashed line. R scripts and details required for generating the figures are available at and archived on
The last decade saw a rapid increase in the number of studies where time–frequency changes of radiocarbon dates have been used as a proxy for inferring past population dynamics. Although its universal and straightforward premise is appealing and undoubtedly offers some unique opportunities for research on long-term comparative demography, practical applications are far from trivial and riddled with issues pertaining to the very nature of the proxy under examination. Here I review the most common criticisms concerning the nature of radiocarbon time–frequency data as a demographic proxy, focusing on key statistical and inferential challenges. I then examine and compare recent methodological advances in the field by grouping them into three approaches: reconstructive, null-hypothesis significance testing, and model fitting. I will then conclude with some general recommendations for applying these techniques in archaeological and paleo-demographic research.
Assumptions and myths in the archaeology of religion: (a) Hawkes' "ladder of influence" that places religion in the least knowable category; (b) assumption that magic predates and prefaces organised religion in a simple, linear fashion; (c) secularisation myth that religious beliefs decrease over time; (d) myth of purification where modern institutions are assumed to disentangle previously overlapping social categories
Map of Vanuatu, highlighting islands and locations mentioned in the text
Simplified diagram of connections between material and supernatural forces and beings in southern Vanuatu kastom (black boxes represent areas of known Polynesian influence or introduction)
Southern Vanuatu cultures with the addition of Christianity and mission influences as means of connection to the outside world while retaining most of kastom
Representations of time and temporality from archaeological and kastom perspectives, including those based in lived experience (right), local event-based histories (centre, translating from Bislama from bottom to top: time of creation, time of stones and the first men, time of Mwatiktiki, time of the missionaries to the present), as well as orthodox archaeological chronology (left)
Recent expansion of alternative frameworks for archaeological interpretation, particularly non-Western ones, provides an opportunity to revisit and challenge orthodox narratives in the discipline. The Melanesian concept of kastom provides a framework to understand contradictions arising from the selective nature of colonial-era culture change. One facet of these transitions is the widespread adoption and integration of Christian beliefs and practices within Indigenous communities. From the 1600 s onwards, European missionaries sought to “convert” Pacific Islanders to Christianity. Much of what is written about religious change in the past is coloured by a Western missionary lens, with active proselytisers transforming existing beliefs and practices amongst the converted. This story is not sufficient, as changes to religion include elements of syncretism and creative adaptation of new beliefs while maintaining the old ways. In kastom , non-linear temporalities and histories experienced in place undermine orthodox accounts of change through time. Kastom provides a stable reference point for malleable histories, while also offering possibilities to craft different kinds of archaeological narratives.
Human behavioral ecology has proven a valuable theoretical framework for evaluating the archaeological record of human population expansion the world over. To evaluate hypotheses for the late Pleistocene human colonization of the Americas, we need to address a typical assumption built into those models: static landscape knowledge. By taking landscape knowledge as the predicting variable, rather than a constant, we can explore the behavioral mechanisms involved in the interaction of humans with new and unfamiliar environments. Acknowledging the process of adaptation produces contrasting and readily testable hypotheses for human population expansion. As a case study, we use an ideal free distribution model to test competing hypotheses for the colonization of Southeast Alaska. Our results indicate that Southeast Alaska was likely colonized by humans prior to their appearance in the extant archaeological record in the early Holocene. The locations of our oldest archaeological sites in the early Holocene are best explained as the result of a well-established population matching their settlement locations to rising sea level.
Investigating the organic content of archaeological pottery has largely focused on identifying food commodities, but their use and mode of processing still need to be thoroughly investigated. The present study aims to explore the diversity of organic residue absorption patterns, over a wider range of functions than previously studied by experimentation, by analysing ceramics still in use today. A field survey in Bedik Country, Senegal, where the use of pottery is still alive, was conducted to document the uses of ceramics and to interview potters and users of the vessels. As a preliminary study, nine ceramics whose use was recorded were investigated through 59 samples for their absorbed molecular profiles, lipid concentrations, and the preservation of triglycerides and C18 unsaturated fatty acids. The interpretations were first carried out as a blind test and then compared with the actual use. Lipid concentrations and molecular profiles indicated a diversity of contents, and the comparison of samples taken along the vertical transects of the vessels resulted in pottery function hypotheses that were broadly aligned with the actual uses. Cooking pots for fat-rich products were successfully identified, but the various documented patterns showed that lipid accumulation in ceramics is more complex than expected. Although caution is required to adopt this approach for archaeological pots, the vessel for fermenting plant products has been identified. Last, this work pointed out that ceramics can be used for a wider range of purposes than those usually considered for archaeological pottery, such as steaming or cooking non-food products.
During the 4th millennium BC, an intensive artefact circulation system existed among the hunter-gatherer peoples of north-eastern Europe. Along with other goods, ring-shaped ornaments that were mainly made of different kinds of slates or tuffites were commonly distributed. Although commonly referred to as ‘slate rings’, these ornaments consist mainly of fragments of rings. In this paper, we suggest that the ‘slate rings’ were never meant to be intact, complete rings, but were instead fragmented on purpose and used as tokens of social relationships relating to the gift-giving system. By refitting artefact fragments together, analysing their geochemical composition, micro details, and use-wear, we were able to prove that these items were not only intentionally fragmented but also likely worn as personal ornaments. Moreover, ED-XRF analysis of 56 of the artefacts showed a correlation between their geochemical characteristics and stylistic detailing, suggesting different production phases or batches. Comparative data analysis confirmed the provenance hypothesis that the majority of the analysed objects, or at least their raw materials, were exported over hundreds of kilometres from the Lake Onega region.
A new theoretical approach to medieval rural settlement, built on the concept of intensity, is proposed. It is argued that analysing settlements as intensive spaces creates new opportunities to explore the emergence of difference in medieval lived experience. The approach is intended to overcome the challenges posed by approaches to medieval architecture framed by binary divisions ( e.g . inside/outside). Drawing on posthuman thought, it is argued that such divisions constrain the understanding of how and why difference emerged in the past. The paper advances this approach through its application to the study of house construction and domestic economy in the medieval village of Hangleton, England. It is proposed that difference emerges as everyday practices are performed in constantly changing material environments, generating situationally grounded but varied experiences of rurality. Rather than being subject to macro-scale economic processes, this approach allows us to understand historical change as a patchwork of localised interactions which overflowed the bounds of communities or regions.
Spatial analysis studies in Palaeolithic archaeology arise as indispensable research tools for understanding archaeopalaeontological sites. In general terms, spatial studies have been specialised in the description of the distribution of materials and in the definition of accumulation areas, with the aim of distinguishing intentional activities or studying postdepositional processes. In recent decades, the development of GIS tools has enabled huge strides forward in the field of spatial archaeology research, such as spatial inferential statistics. These tools are particularly useful in the identification and location of clustering from statistical criteria, facilitating the subsequent analysis of accumulations through other archaeological, taphonomic and spatial techniques, such as fabric analysis or directional distribution. The cluster analysis, and its contextualisation considering all the archaeological and stratigraphical variables, allows the inference of some of the processes and factors that could have taken part in the accumulation of materials, as well as assessing how this affected the composition and preservation of the archaeological assemblage. The present article reviews the more traditional and innovative methods for studying horizontal distribution patterns and the objective definition of clusters, highlighting the parameters, uses and limitations of these techniques. We present an application of these methods to different Palaeolithic sites, going through different scenarios, such as location (open-air vs. cave), context, scale (large vs. small area), excavation methodology and spatial record methods.
Skill has allowed lithic analyses to expand their scope beyond the limits set by a representational understanding of practices and sociocultural dynamics. It remains excluded from coarse archaeological contexts in favour of higher resolution ones however. Such coarse contexts are ubiquitous and must be included to broaden description, interpretation and theorization into broader and more heterogeneous narrative landscapes. This paper argues that skill is key to including lithic practices from coarser archaeological palimpsests, provided it is reframed as a process immanent to any cultural practice that conjoins with other processes to shape contexts of various scales. Second, skill must be anchored with a set of core concepts—technical difficulty, accidents and execution quality—that each knapping event and every lithic assemblage actualizes, regardless of scale. Third, methodologies must be built using this set of core concepts and adapted to a site’s specifics. Using such a methodology, I describe learning patterns, skilled reduction sequences and spatial patterning in the plowed fields of La Martre (Quebec, Canada), where millennia of continuous occupation and hundreds of thousands of lithic remains have been mixed up in a dense and homogeneous layer. I show that understanding skill as a trans-scalar process can help free lithic analyses from prior, bounded and familiar units of analysis. It can and should be used first to draw broader patterns that connect contextually specific lithic expressions. It affords for scalable analyses that can help expand the scope of the depositional contexts archaeologists routinely work with.
Occupational intensity is a common theme in current research and has been linked to significant demographic trends in the past. The Late Pleistocene in the southern Cape may be especially important in understanding the impacts of socio-demographic change given its association with developments in 'modern' human behaviour. The ubiquity of archaeo-faunal remains at Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites makes these convenient datasets for documenting site-specific occupational patterns. In this paper, zooarchaeological and taphonomic data are evaluated as proxies for occupational intensity, and occupational trends are explored in the southern Cape. Zooarchaeological and taphonomic data from three southern Cape MSA sites-Klipdrift Shelter, Blombos Cave and Pinnacle Point-are compared with previously determined higher and lower occupational levels within each site to assess the value of these proxies in tracking temporal changes in settlement intensity. The results show that, while frequencies of small mammals and larger ungulates often covary with occupational levels, these are problematic indicators because of the impact of carnivores. Similarly, faunal diversity generally corresponds well with increasing human occupations but is a problematic proxy because of the effects of animal activity. Anthropogenic bone surface modifications appear to be effective in tracking occupational patterns, with trampling a particularly useful indicator. Faunal and shellfish density, and transverse bone fracture patterns, are valuable proxies of occupational intensity at all sites. Generally, the data suggests close links between occupational intensity at these sites and marine transgressions. Evidence of increased exploitation of small game in the later MSA may imply periods of subsistence intensification possibly linked to increased demographic pressure during Marine Isotope Stage 4.
Humans occupy a wide range of environments, including those that experience water stress. Our species has a long history of mitigating arid and semi-arid environmental risk through cultural and technological behaviors. Identifying Pleistocene foraging behaviors in water-stressed environments is particularly instructive for understanding the development of behavioral plasticity and the dispersal of modern humans. However, evidence for adaptability can be difficult to ascertain from archaeological deposits in marginal environments where occupation intensity may be light. In this study, landscape decision-making is inferred from expectations derived from the “whole assemblage behavioral indicator” approach to the formation of lithic assemblages. This model is tested against surface artifact density data from the Southern Kalahari to identify landscape provisioning structure in semi-arid environments. Our results indicate place provisioning strategies including logistic foraging, with evidence for increased occupation duration in areas closer to water. This pattern is contrasted with the published record at White Paintings Rockshelter in the Middle Kalahari, where a collector strategy is inferred. Variable means of achieving water security may have been key underlying behaviors for the dispersal of our species into marginal environments, and this study provides baseline evidence for some of the flexible land-use strategies used in the Kalahari Basin.
Rock art carvings, which are best described as petroglyphs, were produced by removing parts of the rock surface to create a negative relief. This tradition was particularly strong during the Nordic Bronze Age (1700–550 BC) in southern Scandinavia with over 20,000 boats and thousands of humans, animals, wagons, etc . This vivid and highly engaging material provides quantitative data of high potential to understand Bronze Age social structures and ideologies. The ability to provide the technically best possible documentation and to automate identification and classification of images would help to take full advantage of the research potential of petroglyphs in southern Scandinavia and elsewhere. We, therefore, attempted to train a model that locates and classifies image objects using faster region-based convolutional neural network (Faster-RCNN) based on data produced by a novel method to improve visualizing the content of 3D documentations. A newly created layer of 3D rock art documentation provides the best data currently available and has reduced inscribed bias compared to older methods. Several models were trained based on input images annotated with bounding boxes produced with different parameters to find the best solution. The data included 4305 individual images in 408 scans of rock art sites. To enhance the models and enrich the training data, we used data augmentation and transfer learning. The successful models perform exceptionally well on boats and circles, as well as with human figures and wheels. This work was an interdisciplinary undertaking which led to important reflections about archaeology, digital humanities, and artificial intelligence. The reflections and the success represented by the trained models open novel avenues for future research on rock art.
Convex hulls of five source groups and consumers. In (a), all sources are present. In (b) and (c), a single source from a source group has been omitted: (b) pike (from freshwater fish) and (c) squash (from C3 plants). The data used to generate these polygons is presented in Online Resource 1
Convex hulls representing consumers and mixing polygons in five different scenarios: a) all 5 source groups sampled; b) missing “C3 plants”; c) missing “C4 plants”; d) missing “marine fish”; e) missing “freshwater fish”; f) missing “domestic herbivores”.
Histograms and lollipop graphs showing differences in the means of subgroups of three different populations as sample size changes. For the histograms, the x-axes express the absolute difference measured between subgroup means and population means in ‰; y-axes express the total count of measurements; for the lollipop graphs, x-axes express δ¹³C values, y-axes express δ¹⁵N values. Top row: population SD = 4; second row: population SD=3, and third row: population SD=2. From left to right, subsample sizes are 3, 5, 10, and 20
Flow chart for how to decide what samples to select for SIMMs. Note that the faunal/ flora assemblage may come from different contexts
Using stable isotope mixing models (SIMMs) to quantify past diets is becoming increasingly common in archaeology. This study highlights important field-specific difficulties encountered by archaeologists in reconstructing palaeodiets using SIMMs. Focusing on the data acquisition stage, we discuss several issues that could confound dietary quantification if not accounted for. These issues are categorized under several broad categories: diagenesis, intra-individual variability, representativeness of both the consumers and sources, and other commonly encountered field-specific problems. We summarize these issues with a flow chart to help archaeologists to select the most appropriate samples for dietary reconstruction using SIMMs, thereby decreasing the probability that the outputs of the SIMM are inaccurate. We conclude by discussing the ways in which SIMMs may not be appropriate for all archaeological contexts, highlighting those areas that are likely to be the most problematic for end users.
Shovel probes are a common form of archaeological data collection in densely vegetated landscapes. They were once the subject of critical analyses that evaluated their utility for archaeological survey, specifically the discovery of archaeological sites. In the decades that have passed since these classic studies were published, the objectives of regional survey have continued to evolve. Many archaeologists now recognize regional survey as a fundamentally demographic endeavor, one whose aim is to understand how many people lived where in a landscape during different periods of time. This recognition has placed greater demands on methods of regional data collection than those envisioned in the classic shovel probe literature. In addition to discovering prehistoric settlements, surveys must also reliably collect the full range of data that is needed for making the population estimates (be they relative or absolute) that lie at the heart of settlement demography. This paper evaluates the utility of shovel probes for studying regional settlement demography using the area and density of ceramic sherd scatters, a commonly used population proxy in numerous parts of the world. This evaluation is empirically grounded in analyses of data from the Intermediate Area (southern Central America and northern South America), the results of which are used to assess, and in some instances modify, regional survey results from the Middle Térraba Basin in southern Costa Rica.
Boxplots showing maximum a length, b width, c thickness, d weight for all expert and novice cores separated by raw material and maximum e length, f width, g thickness and h weight for all expert and novice flakes, separated by raw material
Examples of novice basalt (a), quartzite (b) and chert cores (c), and expert basalt (d), quartzite (e) and chert (f) cores
Examples of novice cores on chert (a-d), basalt (e-f) and quartzite (g-h) produced during this experiment
Examples of expert basalt (a), quartzite (b) and chert (c) flakes which are elongated and well produced and novice basalt (d) and quartzite (e) flakes retaining a short and wide morphology
Examples of novice quartzite and basalt flakes. Novice quartzite edge core flakes (a), and short and wide basalt flakes with heavily crushed knapping platforms and impact points (b)
The identification of Oldowan hominin knapping skill levels has been a focus of numerous studies, with apparent variation in technical abilities identified between a number of Early Stone Age archaeological sites. Raw material variability, however, can play a significant role in the outcomes of knapping events as well as in the accuracy of analysis. Implications of such variability are yet to be fully understood. Here we present an experimental study to assess the effects that varying raw materials have on the identification of technological attributes typically associated with varying skill levels and whether it is possible to identify knapper skill levels across multiple raw materials. Variation was tested between raw materials from Olduvai Gorge across and between skill levels. The results suggest that knapping skill levels manifest differently in the material record across raw materials. In addition, we suggest that raw material has a significant effect on identifying knapper skill variation. This has implications for future research concerned with identifying knapper skill within and between early assemblages of differing raw materials.
The Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project revealed a robust and striking pattern of the extreme dominance (>99%) of locally produced ceramics over six centuries and across different depositional contexts (in total over half a million pottery sherds). The archaeology of Jerash points towards an exceptional degree of self-sufficiency in craft products: why? The project team implemented a full quantification approach during excavation, manually and digitally recording and counting all pottery and other classes of artefacts. This enabled a full analysis of trends in production and use of ceramics throughout the archaeologically documented history of Jerash and revealed the unexpected pattern of the extreme dominance of local pottery. Archaeologists formulated a set of hypotheses to explain this pattern, and we developed an agent-based model of simple customer preference driving product distribution to evaluate several explanatory factors and their potential interactions. Our simulation results reveal that preference for locally produced ceramics at Jerash might be a plausible theory, but only if its intrinsic value was considered rather high in comparison to other goods, or if it was preferred by a majority of the population, and there was a tendency to follow this majority preference (or a combination of these factors). Here, we present a complete research pipeline of a full quantification of ceramics, analysis and modelling applicable at any archaeological site. We argue that transparent methods are necessary at all stages of an archaeological project: not only for data collection, management and analysis but also in theory development and testing. By focusing on a common archaeological material and by leveraging a range of widely available computational tools, we are able to better understand local and intra-regional distribution patterns of craft products in Jerash and in the ancient eastern Mediterranean.
Settlement map of Altar de Sacrificios showing the location of previous and recently documented structures. Satellite image courtesy of the DigitalGlobe Foundation
Ceramic chronology chart showing the ceramic phase dates for Altar de Sacrificios (Adams 1971) in comparison to the revised high-precision chronology for Ceibal (Inomata et al. 2017)
Gini scores with 80% confidence intervals for all of the material wealth (a), social well-being (b), and embodied well-being (c) indicators through time
Box-and-whisker plot of the adjusted health index through time. Note that lower health status during the Classic period is associated with higher degrees of health inequality in comparison to earlier time periods (see Fig. 3c)
Inequality is an intrinsic element of contemporary societies, with high income disparity impacting everything from life expectancy to violent crime. While inequality in today’s society is complex and multifaceted, the prominence and persistence of inequality that existed throughout human history raise important questions about its broader impacts in the past. In this paper, we discuss the concept of quality of life (QOL) for archaeology and introduce methods for studying multiple dimensions of wealth and well-being in past societies. Using previously published burial data from the ancient Maya site of Altar de Sacrificios, we illustrate this approach employing notions of personhood that treat individuals embedded in complex socio-material relations. These data enable diachronic analyses in the degree and kinds of inequality that characterized this Maya community over a span of nearly 2000 years. We further discuss how these techniques can apply to other units of archaeological analysis and comparative case studies. Tracing the disparities in material wealth, social well-being, and health through time enables a more detailed analysis of the specific contexts and historical processes that gave rise to varying degrees of inequality in the past.
This paper investigates relationships between intervals of local environmental aridity and site occupation intensity at the Upper Paleolithic cave site of Üçağızlı I (Hatay coast, south-central Turkey) by combining a stable carbon isotope-based paleoenvironmental record with several classes of archaeological evidence. A novel method for synthesizing stable isotope data from multiple ungulate species is used to create an integrated archaeofauna-based paleoenvironmental record. This method increases the temporal resolution of the investigation in the absence of precise chronological control for some sedimentary layers and reveals patterns of habitat segregation among coeval prey taxa in each layer. The method also demonstrates significant variation in the δ13C-diet of ungulates occupying contemporaneous landscapes, reflecting the existence of multiple micro-habitats within the foraging ranges of the Paleolithic occupants. Overall, the degree of environmental aridity does not correlate with measurable changes in land use or site occupation intensity based on archaeological proxies in the Üçağızlı I sequence. One exception is the Ahmarian occupation in layer B1-3 that records the wettest environmental conditions in conjunction with a marked increase in site occupation intensity, increased dietary breadth, and evidence for meat storage practices. These patterns likely signal a reorganization of forager land-use strategies in response to a short-lived interval of especially productive environmental conditions, possibly in conjunction with reduced mobility of local foragers.
The endokarst landscape is the result of long erosion and sedimentation processes that have modelled an environment in which capricious forms abound. Despite being a hostile environment for human life, these caves must have attracted the attention of human groups from as early as the Palaeolithic. It is striking that many examples of rock art appear to be closely symbiotic with their natural support; nevertheless, it is difficult to confirm any relationship in the distribution of the decorated spaces, based on their morphology. Moreover, if we start from the hypothesis—widely accepted, but not demonstrated—that Palaeolithic cave art is a system of visual communication, the visibility of the art or the number of people who could be accommodated in the decorated sectors should be determining factors. In order to avoid making subjective appraisals when analysing these factors, we have designed a Python script with a workflow to work directly with 3D models of caverns using GISs, which can be easily replicated and edited by other researchers. Application of this script in the Magdalenian caves of Atxurra, Santimamiñe and Altxerri (Northern Spain) has allowed us to compare them accurately based on their visibility features. This has shown that in some cases, there may have been prior planning to enhance the visibility of some figures. In all cases, the groups of figures are located in deep and hidden parts of the caves, usually in sectors with limited capacity to accommodate people, which would be consistent with a system of restricted communication.
Weapons and past weapon systems are important research topics in Paleolithic archaeology. Its popularity stems from its relevance for understanding broader technological evolution, subsistence strategies, and human behavior. However, identifying what weapon system was used has proven to be a significant methodological challenge over the last few decades and in spite of what some titles of recent publications suggest, the question is still not resolved. In this paper, we present the results of a ballistic analysis of the four modes of propulsion that are traditionally considered for the Paleolithic period (bow, spear-thrower, hand-cast and thrusting spear). We advocate a stepwise approach to the problem given the multiple variables involved. The goal of this study is to add an essential building block to current understanding by exploring the notion of reactional impact stress (RIS) on the basis of the angle of incidence developed by the different projectiles. Our results show the importance of RIS for accurately understanding the projectile impact phenomenon and the existence of a reproducible and mutually distinct RIS between the four tested weapon systems. These results shed a new light on approaches that have been used previously to examine weapon systems archaeologically, such as those relying on the length of “diagnostic impact fractures”. Our results allow the proposition of an alternative approach that appears to hold great potential, in particular for identifying the use of the bow. While a reliable method for recognizing past propulsion modes is not yet established, we conclude that the solution lies within the integration of several fields, more in particular use-wear analysis, fracture mechanics in brittle solids, and ballistics and we progressively move forward in identifying the key building blocks of such a method.
View of the Western Mediterranean region and location of Barranc de la Boella, Isernia La Pineta and Torralba sites in the Iberian and Italian Peninsula
A Panoramic view of the Barranc de la Boella site. White arrows indicate the place of each site; (B) View of La Mina site and location in the gully; (C) View of El Forn and location in the gully; (D) View of Pit 1 and location in the gully; (E) Lithostratigraphic units and archeopaleontological levels identified at La Mina and El Forn (Modified from Vallverdú et al., (2014a, b))
Remains recovered from Barranc de la Boella with evidence of bone surface alteration: (A) hippopotamus maxilla; (B) horse astragalus; (C) deer jaw; (D) horse vertebra
Jaws recovered from Isernia La Pineta, 3 coll, with evidence of bone surface alteration belonging to a rhinoceros (A), deer (B), and suid (C) materils hosted at UNIFE
Remains recovered from Torralba with evidence of bone surface alteration: (A) elephant limb bone fragment (hosted at MNCN-CSIC); (B) rhinoceros jaw (hosted at MNS)
A commonly identified problem in open-air sites is the poor preservation of bone surfaces because of the multiple agents and processes that act on them. In these assemblages, surface modifications of anthropic origin can be scarce or null, and its activity is mainly inferred through the stone tools and evidence of anthropogenic breakage. Carnivore activity is also frequent. La Mina and El Forn (Barranc de la Boella), Isernia La Pineta, and Torralba are open-air assemblages from the Early and Middle Pleistocene that have contributed to our knowledge of the activities that Lower Paleolithic hominins developed in open spaces. These sites show poorly preserved bone surfaces, evidence of carnivore activity, and few indications of human use on the faunal remains, although stone tools recovered are unequivocal sign of a hominin presence at those sites. Here, we present a synthesis of the taphonomic conducted at these sites with the aim of describing how this kind of work can be conducted at Paleolithic open-air sites using several different proxies, considering the limitations commonly identified in assemblages with poorly preserved bone surfaces. The absence or scarcity of cut marks could be related to the poor preservation of the faunal remains. However, it is impossible to affirm that any such marks were originally present, as hominins may have performed activities not linked to animal carcasses. Anatomical profiles have been presented as a useful tool for reconstructing the paleoecological environments and for allowing inferences to be made about the levels of competition among large predators. The assemblages reflect similarities in the deposition type of the remains and the use of these open spaces by hominins at different times during the Lower Paleolithic.
Landscape plays a vital role in the development of military campaigns through the definition of geostrategic landmarks that structure the control of the territory, the imposition of constraints to the movement of armies and the identification of features that facilitate defence against attackers. These factors are linked to the study of past spatial mobility which is typically done by finding optimal pathways between pairs of points using Least-Cost Path analysis. This emphasis on optimality may not be ideal for case studies that need a general approach to spatial connectivity such as the study of conflict-related dynamics. Connectivity modelling based on Circuit Theory (CT) is an alternative approach to spatial mobility that captures the connectivity of an entire region identifying not only optimal paths but also bottlenecks, dead-ends and any other spatial feature that may impact movement. We present here a framework to study landscapes of conflict using connectivity modelling; the framework combines CT, visibility analysis and statistical hypothesis testing to understand the reasons behind the assault and destruction of Puig Ciutat (NE Iberian Peninsula) during Julius Caesar’s civil war. Results suggest that the site exerted decisive control over a highly connected area linking two possible logistical bases (Emporion and Massalia) to the armies fighting at Ilerda (49 BC).
Hypothetical example of the composition of an artifact set (a) and its diversity estimated as Shannon’s entropy (b)
Hypothetical example of the increase in Rényi’s entropy corresponding to the decrease of the order in archaeological taxonomy. A total of 0.6 and 0.4 are the proportions of artifacts in taxonomic units and H is the Rényi’s entropy
Hypothetical example representing the singularity in equation 12 (the replication rate in primary type is equal to 3.645)
Model behavior illustrated by the hypothetical example of the cultural set. The hypothetical artifact set is divided into two types, each composed of two variants. Artifact types replace each other over time (a). The resulting behavior in variants leads to the introduction of innovation, “Variant B3” (b). The resulted values of Rényi’s entropy indicate different intensiveness of cultural dynamics at different orders of taxonomic hierarchy (c)
Contributing to the issue of complex relationship between social and cultural evolution, this paper aims to analyze repetitive patterns, or cycles, in the development of material culture. Our analysis focuses on culture change associated with sociopolitical and economic stasis. The proposed toy model describes the cyclical character of the quantitative and qualitative composition of archaeological assemblages, which include hierarchically organized cultural traits. Cycles sequentially process the stages of unification, diversity, and return to unification. This complex dynamic behavior is caused by the ratio between cultural traits’ replication rate and the proportion of traits of the higher taxonomic order’s related unit. Our approach identifies a shift from conformist to anti-conformist transmission, corresponding with open and closed phases in cultural evolution in respect to the introduction of innovations. The model also describes the dependence of a probability for horizontal transmission upon orders of taxonomic hierarchy during open phases. The obtained results are indicative for gradual cultural evolution at the low orders of taxonomic hierarchy and punctuated evolution at its high orders. The similarity of the model outcomes to the patters of material culture change reflecting societal transformations enables discussions around the uncertainty of explanation in archaeology and anthropology.
Neumark-Nord 2 (Germany) HP 7 sequence, with lithological units and the archaeological find levels (Sier et al., 2011), the stratigraphical distribution of charcoal particles, carbonised seeds (Kuijper, 2014), arboreal (AP) and non-arboreal pollen (NAP) and data regarding vegetation openness (Pop & Bakels, 2015); correlation of archaeological layers containing fire-related findings with vegetation openness episodes shown in red
Pollen analysis (pollen percentage of trees, shrubs, upland herbs and Corylus avellana) from Weimar-Niederweimar II.2 profile and macrofossil evidence (percentage of wood, charcoal and remains from plants occupying open, disturbed and nutrient-rich areas) from different palaeochannel fills at Weimar-Niederweimar (Germany). The sequence shown here is dated to the Younger Dryas (11,640 BP, gravel layer), Preboreal (11,400–10,970 BP, gravel layer) and Boreal periods (10,420–9,510 BP, sand/gyttja and gyttja layers); phases of Early Mesolithic anthropogenic impact within the Lahn valley area are shown in red (after Bos & Urz, 2003)
Pollen analysis (pollen percentage of Corylus, Melampyrum, Succisa, Potentilla-type and microcharcoal) and NPP evidence (percentage of Gelasinospora, Neurospora, Sporormiella) from a profile at North Gill 5B (North York Moors within England and Wales). This evidence reflects post-disturbance phases after burning and intensive grazing during the Late Mesolithic at North Gill. The profile consists of amorphous peat resting on sand at 100 cm. The inferred age of the basal peat lies within the Late Mesolithic based on dates available for a section a few tens of metres away from North Gill 5 (5,270 BP) and higher section of this site (4,540 BP at 73 cm) (after Innes & Blackford, 2003). Red shows the phase with the highest herbivore concentrations; this follows a phase with intensive burning
We review palaeoenvironmental proxies and combinations of these relevant for understanding hunter-gatherer niche construction activities in pre-agricultural Europe. Our approach consists of two steps: (1) identify the possible range of hunter-gatherer impacts on landscapes based on ethnographic studies; (2) evaluate proxies possibly reflecting these impacts for both the Eemian (Last Interglacial, Middle Palaeolithic) and the Early–Middle Holocene (Mesolithic). We found these paleoenvironmental proxies were not able to unequivocally establish clear-cut differences between specific anthropogenic, climatic and megafaunal impacts for either time period in this area. We discuss case studies for both periods and show that published evidence for Mesolithic manipulation of landscapes is based on the interpretation of comparable data as available for the Last Interglacial. If one applies the ‘Mesolithic’ interpretation schemes to the Neanderthal record, three common niche construction activities can be hypothesised: vegetation burning, plant manipulation and impact on animal species presence and abundance. Our review suggests that as strong a case can be made for a Neanderthal impact on landscapes as for anthropogenic landscape changes during the Mesolithic, even though the Neanderthal evidence comes from only one high-resolution site complex. Further research should include attempts (e.g. by means of modelling studies) to establish whether hunter-gatherer impact on landscapes played out at a local level only versus at a larger scale during both time periods, while we also need to obtain comparative data on the population sizes of Last Interglacial and Holocene hunter-gatherers, as these are usually inferred to have differed significantly.
Efficiency-based frameworks have a long history in archaeological research and have been used particularly by zooarchaeologists when interpreting forager behaviour. The use of optimality models, such as the prey- and patch-choice models in Optimal Foraging Theory (OFT), have the ability to identify episodes of resource depression, but also behavioural anomalies in the archaeological record that deviated from predicted optimal behaviour. Deviations may be the result of social, cultural, or environmental factors. We investigated prehistoric harvesting of the culturally-important Hawaiian limpet (Cellana spp.) across fourteen sites on the windward, north coast of Moloka‘i, Hawaiian Islands. Prehistoric harvest of the three endemic limpet species (C. exarata, C. sandwicensis, C. talcosa) is compared with OFT-predicted harvesting, natural limpet abundance, and contemporary traditional gathering. Our results indicate that prehistoric limpet abundance does not reflect efficiency-based predictions or natural abundance of limpet populations. Ancient limpet harvesting in Hawai‘i is instead similar to present-day gathering and may have been shaped by social and cultural influences.
Access to social capital and valued resources modulates household decision-making as people seek to occupy the best-quality patches of land available. Prior occupancy, inheritance, and land tenure norms can constrain opportunities resulting in inequality between households. We examined processes of settlement development and structural inequality at two Classic Period (250–900 CE) Maya centers, Ix Kuku’il and Uxbenká, in Southern Belize. From the lens of human behavioral ecology (HBE), we evaluate the predictions of two population density models, the ideal free distribution (IFD) and the ideal despotic distribution (IDD), on household decision-making. To do so, we correlate the initial foundation date of households with nine measurable suitability variables as proxies for social and environmental resources. We conclude that at Uxbenká and Ix Kuku’il, social resources, such as the ability to mobilize labor, cooperation, and access to a transportation corridor, likely influenced where people chose to live. Environmental resources, including good farmland and access to perennial water sources, were widely distributed across the landscape and accessible to everyone. This study highlights the importance of social relationships on household decision-making, which is often difficult to detect in the archaeological record. The development and manifestation of institutionalized inequality are processes relevant to all societies past and present.
Top-cited authors
Olivier P. Gosselain
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles
Sam Lin
  • University of Wollongong
Pam J. Crabtree
  • New York University
Vaughn M Bryant
  • Texas A&M University
Karl J Reinhard
  • University of Nebraska at Lincoln