Crisis Management in the Ancient Southwest

Archaeology News - February 5, 2015

TUSCON, ARIZONA—Throughout the mega drought in the American Southwest between 1276 and 1299, relationships between many social groups grew stronger, according to a study of ceramics conducted by Lewis Borck and a team at the University of Arizona. He used a database of millions of ceramic and obsidian artifacts that had been compiled by Barbara Mills of the University of Arizona and her collaborators at Archaeology Southwest to study the relationships of 22 different subareas of the Southwest from A.D. 1200 to 1400. It was understood that the same types of ceramics, found in similar proportions in different communities, indicated that those communities shared a relationship. Borck and the team members found that the relationships between the communities grew stronger during the drought, perhaps as people turned to their neighbors for food and information. “It seemed to be a way to mobilize resources and to increase your variability of resources, by increasing your interaction with more distant people,” Borck explained. And, the communities that had larger social networks had a better chance of surviving the drought without migrating. “A lot of people have hypothesized that this process of having more extensive social networks is sort of a backup strategy for people, but this is one of the first times we’ve been able to demonstrate it at a very large, regional scale. It backs up a lot of these hypotheses about ‘social storage’ being as important as the real storage of actual items. The flip side is that if you are highly insular and protectionist and don’t interact with a lot of your neighbors, you’re really susceptible,” Mills said. For more on the archaeology of the Southwest, read "On the Trail of the Mimbres."

Categories: Blog

3-D Measurements Revise Date of Dog Domestication

Archaeology News - February 5, 2015

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NEW YORK—Biologists Abby Grace Drake of Skidmore College and Michael Coquerelle of the University Rey Juan Carlos have conducted a 3-D analysis of the 30,000-year-old skulls thought to belong to the earliest domesticated dogs. They compared the new skull measurements with those of modern and ancient wolves and dogs from North America and Europe, and found that the animals thought to have been the first dogs were actually wolves. “The difference between a wolf and a dog is largely about the angle of the orbits: in dogs the eyes are oriented forward, and a pronounced angle, called the stop, exists between the forehead and the muzzle. We could tell that the Paleolithic fossils do not have this feature and are clearly wolves,” Coquerelle said. Drake and Coquerelle add that the new measurements of dog and wolf fossils support the domestication of wolves some 15,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period, when wolves would have scavenged at permanent human settlements. To read more about dog domestication, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Categories: Blog

3-D Measurements Revise Date of Dog Domestication

Archaeology News - February 5, 2015

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NEW YORK—Biologists Abby Grace Drake of Skidmore College and Michael Coquerelle of the University Rey Juan Carlos have conducted a 3-D analysis of the 30,000-year-old skulls thought to belong to the earliest domesticated dogs. They compared the new skull measurements with those of modern and ancient wolves and dogs from North America and Europe, and found that the animals thought to have been the first dogs were actually wolves. “The difference between a wolf and a dog is largely about the angle of the orbits: in dogs the eyes are oriented forward, and a pronounced angle, called the stop, exists between the forehead and the muzzle. We could tell that the Paleolithic fossils do not have this feature and are clearly wolves,” Coquerelle said. Drake and Coquerelle add that the new measurements of dog and wolf fossils support the domestication of wolves some 15,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period, when wolves would have scavenged at permanent human settlements. To read more about dog domestication, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Categories: Blog

New Dates for Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula

Archaeology News - February 5, 2015

TENERIFE, SPAIN—Neanderthals may have disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula around 45,000 years ago, or some 5,000 years earlier than the rest of Europe, based upon the final occupation layer of El Salt, which has “a very robust archaeological context,” according to Bertila Galván of the University of La Laguna. Plataforma SINC reports that a team of scientists examined the extensive stratigraphic sequence at El Salt, and its lithic objects and remains of goats, horses, and deer. The team also obtained new dates from six teeth from a young adult who may have belonged to one of the last groups of Neanderthals in the region. They think that the Neanderthal population in the Iberian Peninsula gradually declined over several millennia, while the climate grew colder and more arid. Evidence at El Salt and other sites in the Iberian Peninsula suggests that modern humans arrived in the region after the Neanderthals had disappeared. To read more about our extinct cousins, see "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

Categories: Blog

New Dates for Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula

Archaeology News - February 5, 2015

TENERIFE, SPAIN—Neanderthals may have disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula around 45,000 years ago, or some 5,000 years earlier than the rest of Europe, based upon the final occupation layer of El Salt, which has “a very robust archaeological context,” according to Bertila Galván of the University of La Laguna. Plataforma SINC reports that a team of scientists examined the extensive stratigraphic sequence at El Salt, and its lithic objects and remains of goats, horses, and deer. The team also obtained new dates from six teeth from a young adult who may have belonged to one of the last groups of Neanderthals in the region. They think that the Neanderthal population in the Iberian Peninsula gradually declined over several millennia, while the climate grew colder and more arid. Evidence at El Salt and other sites in the Iberian Peninsula suggests that modern humans arrived in the region after the Neanderthals had disappeared. To read more about our extinct cousins, see "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

Categories: Blog

Agriculture Brought Changes to Farmers’ Jaws

Archaeology News - February 4, 2015

DUBLIN, IRELAND—An analysis of the lower jaws and teeth of 292 skeletons from the Levant, Anatolia, and Europe dating between 28,000 and 6,000 years ago has found differences in the form and structures of the jawbones of European hunter gatherers, Near Eastern/Anatolian semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and transitional farmers, and European farmers. “Our analysis shows that the lower jaws of the world’s earliest farmers in the Levant are not simply smaller versions of those of the predecessor hunter-gatherers, but that the lower jaw underwent a complex series of shape changes commensurate with the transition to agriculture,” Ron Pinhasi of University College Dublin told Phys.org. Hunter-gatherer populations had an “almost perfect state of equilibrium” between their jawbones and dental distances, resulting in straight teeth. But the “harmony” between the jaws and teeth of the semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and farmers was disrupted, perhaps by the shift in diet from wild, uncooked vegetables and meats to cooked cereals and legumes. Softer foods require less chewing, which in turn lessens the size of the jaw, but not the size of the teeth, resulting in dental crowding. To read about the evolution of the face, see "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?"

Categories: Blog

Agriculture Brought Changes to Farmers’ Jaws

Archaeology News - February 4, 2015

DUBLIN, IRELAND—An analysis of the lower jaws and teeth of 292 skeletons from the Levant, Anatolia, and Europe dating between 28,000 and 6,000 years ago has found differences in the form and structures of the jawbones of European hunter gatherers, Near Eastern/Anatolian semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and transitional farmers, and European farmers. “Our analysis shows that the lower jaws of the world’s earliest farmers in the Levant are not simply smaller versions of those of the predecessor hunter-gatherers, but that the lower jaw underwent a complex series of shape changes commensurate with the transition to agriculture,” Ron Pinhasi of University College Dublin told Phys.org. Hunter-gatherer populations had an “almost perfect state of equilibrium” between their jawbones and dental distances, resulting in straight teeth. But the “harmony” between the jaws and teeth of the semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and farmers was disrupted, perhaps by the shift in diet from wild, uncooked vegetables and meats to cooked cereals and legumes. Softer foods require less chewing, which in turn lessens the size of the jaw, but not the size of the teeth, resulting in dental crowding. To read about the evolution of the face, see "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?"

Categories: Blog

Fifth-Century Wooden Ornament Discovered in Japan

Archaeology News - February 4, 2015

SAKAI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a 1,500-year-old tachikazari, or standing ornament, has been found in Nisanzai Kofun, a keyhole-shaped burial mound built for a high-ranking figure in the late fifth century. The tachikazari would have been placed on top of a cloth parasol, or a figurine made of clay or wood. Such decorations were marks of status and authority. Five other objects discovered at the burial mound in 1976 and 2012 are now thought to be tachikazari.

Categories: Blog

Fifth-Century Wooden Ornament Discovered in Japan

Archaeology News - February 4, 2015

SAKAI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a 1,500-year-old tachikazari, or standing ornament, has been found in Nisanzai Kofun, a keyhole-shaped burial mound built for a high-ranking figure in the late fifth century. The tachikazari wouldhave been placed on top of a cloth parasol, or a figurine made of clay or wood. Such decorations were marks of status and authority. Five other objects discovered at the burial mound in 1976 and 2012 are now thought to be tachikazari.

Categories: Blog

New Dates for Maui’s Ancient Temples

Archaeology News - February 4, 2015

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Uranium/thorium dating of pieces of the small, stony coral Pocillopora meandrina that were left as offerings on altars or incorporated into the stone walls of Maui’s heiau, or temples, has been used to determine when the temples were constructed. Patrick Kirch of the University of California, Berkeley, says that signs of a temple-building boom could indicate a period of political consolidation. Hawaiian rulers would build shrines and temples near farmland and other areas of food production to strengthen their symbolic association with the gods of flowing waters, irrigation, the taro plant, dryland farming, and the sweet potato. “The chiefs and kings extracted surplus production from the commoners and used this to underwrite their own interests, such as supporting craft specialists and warriors,” Kirch told Western Digs. The new dates suggest that the heiau were built over a period of about 150 years ending around the year 1700. “This is the same time during which the Hawaiian oral traditions indicate that Maui island was consolidated into a single kingdom, under the reigns of King Pi’ilani and his successors Kiha-a-Pi’ilani and Kamalalawalu,” Kirch said. To read about the final resting place of one of Hawaii's greatest kings, see "Lost Tombs: Kamehameha I, King of Hawaii."

Categories: Blog

New Dates for Maui’s Ancient Temples

Archaeology News - February 4, 2015

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Uranium/thorium dating of pieces of the small, stony coral Pocillopora meandrina that were left as offerings on altars or incorporated into the stone walls of Maui’s heiau, or temples, has been used to determine when the temples were constructed. Patrick Kirch of the University of California, Berkeley, says that signs of a temple-building boom could indicate a period of political consolidation. Hawaiian rulers would build shrines and temples near farmland and other areas of food production to strengthen their symbolic association with the gods of flowing waters, irrigation, the taro plant, dryland farming, and the sweet potato. “The chiefs and kings extracted surplus production from the commoners and used this to underwrite their own interests, such as supporting craft specialists and warriors,” Kirch told Western Digs. The new dates suggest that the heiau were built over a period of about 150 years ending around the year 1700. “This is the same time during which the Hawaiian oral traditions indicate that Maui island was consolidated into a single kingdom, under the reigns of King Pi’ilani and his successors Kiha-a-Pi’ilani and Kamalalawalu,” Kirch said. To read about the final resting place of one of Hawaii's greatest kings, see "Lost Tombs: Kamehameha I, King of Hawaii."

Categories: Blog

Hip Fossil Challenges Ape Family Tree

Archaeology News - February 4, 2015

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A six-inch-long hipbone of a 12.5 to 8.5 million-year-old ape called Sivapithecus is challenging the belief that the upright body posture exhibited by today’s great apes evolved only once. The upright body posture, also known as the orthograde body plan, features broad torsos and mobile forelimbs. Michèle Morgan, museum curator of osteology and paleoanthropology at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and her colleagues say that this hip bone suggests that the upright body plan may have evolved multiple times. “We always thought if we found this body part, that it would show some of the features we find in the living great apes. To find something like this was surprising,” she said. Sivapithecus is thought to have had a relatively narrow, monkey-like chest, and facial features resembling those of modern orangutans. The Sivapithecus hipbone, however, differs from that of all living apes. “We initially believed that Sivapithecus, with a narrow torso, was on the orangutan line, but if that is the case, then the great ape body shape would have had to evolve at least twice. There are a lot of questions that this fossil raises, and we don’t have good answers for them yet. What we do know is that the evolution of the orthograde body plan in apes is not a simple story.” More fossils are needed to get a better picture of Sivapithecus. To read about a similar discovery, see "Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?"

Categories: Blog

Hip Fossil Challenges Ape Family Tree

Archaeology News - February 4, 2015

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A six-inch-long hipbone of a 12.5 to 8.5 million-year-old ape called Sivapithecus is challenging the belief that the upright body posture exhibited by today’s great apes evolved only once. The upright body posture, also known as the orthograde body plan, features broad torsos and mobile forelimbs. Michèle Morgan, museum curator of osteology and paleoanthropology at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and her colleagues say that this hip bone suggests that the upright body plan may have evolved multiple times. “We always thought if we found this body part, that it would show some of the features we find in the living great apes. To find something like this was surprising,” she said. Sivapithecus is thought to have had a relatively narrow, monkey-like chest, and facial features resembling those of modern orangutans. The Sivapithecus hipbone, however, differs from that of all living apes. “We initially believed that Sivapithecus, with a narrow torso, was on the orangutan line, but if that is the case, then the great ape body shape would have had to evolve at least twice. There are a lot of questions that this fossil raises, and we don’t have good answers for them yet. What we do know is that the evolution of the orthograde body plan in apes is not a simple story.” More fossils are needed to get a better picture of Sivapithecus. To read about a similar discovery, see "Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?"

Categories: Blog

17th-C. Grave May Hold Victim of Batavia Shipwreck Massacre

Archaeology News - February 3, 2015

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—The remains of an eleventh person believed to have come to Beacon Island from the Batavia shipwreck have been found. The vessel was carrying gold and silver when it left the Netherlands for the Dutch East Indies in 1628 to obtain spices, but it went off course and wrecked on Morning Reef, near an island off Western Australia’s coast, in 1629. An estimated 40 people drowned, and a total of 180, including 30 women and children, were ferried off the ship and taken to Beacon Island. When the captain left them to find help, under-merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz and his men took charge of the survivors and killed many of them. When the captain returned, he sentenced the mutineers to having their right hands chopped off and put them to death by hanging. Two musket balls were found near this body, which was found when a digging mutton bird brought a human tooth to the surface. “What’s very interesting is that it looks like that tooth doesn’t belong to that grave, which means that there’s another grave very close,” Jeremy Green, Western Australia Museum Head of Maritime Archaeology, told ABC News. “This was the first time that Europeans lived in Australia—albeit wasn’t in the mainland but it was here—so it’s the oldest known European habitation in Australia,” he said.

Categories: Blog

17th-C. Grave May Hold Victim of Batavia Shipwreck Massacre

Archaeology News - February 3, 2015

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—The remains of an eleventh person believed to have come to Beacon Island from the Batavia shipwreck have been found. The vessel was carrying gold and silver when it left the Netherlands for the Dutch East Indies in 1628 to obtain spices, but it went off course and wrecked on Morning Reef, near an island off Western Australia’s coast, in 1629. An estimated 40 people drowned, and a total of 180, including 30 women and children, were ferried off the ship and taken to Beacon Island. When the captain left them to find help, under-merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz and his men took charge of the survivors and killed many of them. When the captain returned, he sentenced the mutineers to having their right hands chopped off and put them to death by hanging. Two musket balls were found near this body, which was found when a digging mutton bird brought a human tooth to the surface. “What’s very interesting is that it looks like that tooth doesn’t belong to that grave, which means that there’s another grave very close,” Jeremy Green, Western Australia Museum Head of Maritime Archaeology, told ABC News. “This was the first time that Europeans lived in Australia—albeit wasn’t in the mainland but it was here—so it’s the oldest known European habitation in Australia,” he said.

Categories: Blog

4,500-Year-Old Wrist Guard Unearthed in Scotland

Archaeology News - February 3, 2015

DRUMNADROCHIT, SCOTLAND—The discovery of a Bronze Age burial cist at a construction site in the Scottish Highland has led to a second grave that contained pottery and an archer’s wrist guard. “The shards have a distinctive decoration which may have been made on the clay before firing in a stabbing movement with something like a feather quill,” Mary Peteranna of AOC Archaeology Group told The Inverness Courier. The pieces make up about two-thirds of a beaker pot. Organic material at its base may yield information about its contents. “The wrist guard is also particularly exciting. It has holes so that it could be tied to the wrist with a leather strap, and may have been ornamental or functional,” she added. The artifacts may eventually be displayed in the health center that will be built on the site. For more, see "England's Remarkable Bronze Age Cremation Burial."

Categories: Blog

4,500-Year-Old Wrist Guard Unearthed in Scotland

Archaeology News - February 3, 2015

DRUMNADROCHIT, SCOTLAND—The discovery of a Bronze Age burial cist at a construction site in the Scottish Highland has led to a second grave that contained pottery and an archer’s wrist guard. “The shards have a distinctive decoration which may have been made on the clay before firing in a stabbing movement with something like a feather quill,” Mary Peteranna of AOC Archaeology Group told The Inverness Courier. The pieces make up about two-thirds of a beaker pot. Organic material at its base may yield information about its contents. “The wrist guard is also particularly exciting. It has holes so that it could be tied to the wrist with a leather strap, and may have been ornamental or functional,” she added. The artifacts may eventually be displayed in the health center that will be built on the site. For more, see "England's Remarkable Bronze Age Cremation Burial."

Categories: Blog

Hunting Was a Social Activity at Spain’s La Draga

Archaeology News - February 3, 2015

BARCELONA, SPAIN—A study of hunting implements unearthed at La Draga, which included the three wooden bows discovered in 2012, suggests that hunting was a social activity for the early farmers who lived there. La Draga is an early Neolithic site located on the shores of Lake Bayoles in Catalonia, Spain. A portion of the site is now underwater, and it has yielded well-preserved artifacts made of organic materials, including the 7,000-year-old yew bows. “Comparing the scarce remains of wild animals and the abundant hunting gear found at the site, we conclude that nutrition was not the main aim of developing hunting objects. Neolithic archery could have had a significant community and social role, as well as providing social prestige to physical activity and individuals involved in it,” said researcher Xavier Terradas of the Milá I Fontanals Institution. The people of La Draga may have also awarded prestige according to the type of animal that was killed and how it was distributed. “As a collective resource, larger preys may have played at important role, even in those cases when they constituted a punctual or sporadic resource,” added Raquel Piqué of the University of Barcelona. For more, see "How Bow & Arrow Technology Changed the World."

Categories: Blog

Hunting Was a Social Activity at Spain’s La Draga

Archaeology News - February 3, 2015

BARCELONA, SPAIN—A study of hunting implements unearthed at La Draga, which included the three wooden bows discovered in 2012, suggests that hunting was a social activity for the early farmers who lived there. La Draga is an early Neolithic site located on the shores of Lake Bayoles in Catalonia, Spain. A portion of the site is now underwater, and it has yielded well-preserved artifacts made of organic materials, including the 7,000-year-old yew bows. “Comparing the scarce remains of wild animals and the abundant hunting gear found at the site, we conclude that nutrition was not the main aim of developing hunting objects. Neolithic archery could have had a significant community and social role, as well as providing social prestige to physical activity and individuals involved in it,” said researcher Xavier Terradas of the Milá I Fontanals Institution. The people of La Draga may have also awarded prestige according to the type of animal that was killed and how it was distributed. “As a collective resource, larger preys may have played at important role, even in those cases when they constituted a punctual or sporadic resource,” added Raquel Piqué of the University of Barcelona. For more, see "How Bow & Arrow Technology Changed the World."

Categories: Blog

Early North American Potters Cooked Fish

Archaeology News - February 3, 2015

YORK, ENGLAND—Karine Taché of Queen’s College, City University of New York, undertook the analysis of residues on pottery vessels from 33 sites in northeastern North America while she was a research fellow at the University of York. Her measurements of bulk carbon and nitrogen isotopes and compound-specific isotopes, and identification of lipids in the 3,000-year-old pots showed traces of aquatic foods in most of them. “These early pottery sites are now thought to have been important seasonal meeting points for hunter-gatherer groups, drawing communities together and, especially in periods of high abundance, promoting the cooperative harvesting of aquatic resources and new social contexts for the cooking and consumption of fish,” she said. The pots were probably also used for storing fish oil. Oliver Craig of the University of York adds that similar results have been obtained elsewhere in the world, such as Japan, Northern Europe, and Alaska. “Our study points to a close association between aquatic resources and the innovation of pottery by hunter-gatherer societies,” he explained. To read about the earliest ceramics, see "First Pots."

Categories: Blog

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