Thursday, April 27, 2017

Poking Bear with Stick (Tsuneki, Nieuwenhuyse, Campbell, 2017)

I haven't been able to read through the full, unwashed-masses, free section of this book "The Emergence of Pottery in West Asia", but from what I've read so far, the general theme appears to be exploding the lazy and uncourageous notion of 'independent' pottery invention in the West Asia (although they write modestly with careful statements)

It seemed pretty obvious after reading Jordan and Zvelebil's book "Ceramics Before Farming:  The Dispersal of Pottery Among Prehistoric Eurasia Hunter-Gatherers" that vitrified ceramic technology diffused, at least, from the Far East where it was exceptionally refined and old (as pottery).  I've personally witnessed this in museums of East Asia and there is no doubt in my mind, that all vitrified pots used by humans originate there.

I continue to believe that this diffusion was mediated by population movements or networks across Central Asia and I think that that picture is slowly fleshing out in the archaeogenetic record of the Baltic and Volga regions as early ceramics seem herald migration to some degree.

Several interesting facts regarding West Asian pottery is that its incipient phase is often fine, sometime painted, and functionally non-essential.  It spreads quickly over a very large area with almost no experimentation phase.  It doesn't cook new foods, it doesn't store things, it doesn't do old things better, it's not easier to make.  In many early places it appears imported, if only a short distance.  After this early ceramic phase, it is replaced by technical "crap" before evolving again and then surpassing its origin.

Ancient Baltic Sea Shores (Muru, 2017)

This dissertation by Merle Muru re-creates the coasts of the Estonian shores using various data, including archaeological, but it's built on a succession of his studies into the Baltic shorelines.

It confirms that the succession of cultures in this area (Kunda, Narva, Corded Ware) preferred settlement locations that were quite different.  In fact, it could be inferred that the changing landscape of the Baltic attracted different cultural life-ways at different times. 

Wild Cabbage (Brassica Oleracea) by the Sea (Microfarmgardens)
The Kunda folk lived along the rivers in the Baltic region until they are succeeded by the Narva Culture around 5,000 B.C.  Modern archaeological opinion is that the Narva Culture is basically Kunda 2.0 with pottery.  Probably more complex than this.  Already we have seen what appears to be genetic enrichment in this area from the Volgan woodsmen cultures that were expanding North and West during this time.

Narva folk may have been attracted to the changing landscape that created large brackish lagoons.  Their point-based pottery is a low-fire, heat tolerant pottery that likely cooked seafood and pork fat in.  Their diet seems to have consisted more of sea critters and pork.  Some temporary settlements on open shorelines suggests they periodically went out to sea to club baby seals to death.

There is a question as to the purpose of their point-based pottery, but it probably relates to seafood preparation or how it was set in the campfire.  Also, if the pottery was used for fermenting fish and cabbage, or alcohols, then maybe it is possible that point-based pottery is advantageous for concentrating the surface area of the trub?  The kinds of fatty, brackish water fish fished out of the lagoons and deltas may have needed preservation by fermentation, such as modern surströmming, since many of these fish are not well suited for drying or smoking preservation.

The Narva Culture is joined, rather than directly superseded, by the Corded Ware culture that preferred the fertile river bottoms created by the lower water levels, such as in graphic D of Northeast Estonia.  The fertile grassland would be readily tillable and very suitable for cattle.

It's interesting that modern Baltic cuisine, fish, krauts, pork is basically unchanged for so long.  Also, it may be possible to overlay genetic results to see how different peoples migrate to familiar biomes.

GIS-based palaeogeographical reconstructions of the Baltic Sea shores in Estonia and adjoining areas during the Stone Age.  Merle Muru (2017)  DISSERTATIONES GEOGRAPHICAE UNIVERSITATIS TARTUENSIS [Link]

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Iberian Dogster Phenomenon (Arantxa Daza Perea, 2017)

Beginning sometime between the LN and Early Iberian Chalcolithic, dog remains start appearing in notable arrangements: in people burials, in pits and apparently near ditch entrances of ditched enclosures.  These dog depositions are significant enough and strange enough to say that there exists an 'Iberian Dogster Phenomenon'.

This paper by Daza begins looking at Peninsular dogs from the Late Neolithic to the Bronze Age beginning with, at least in this preliminary paper, grading on osteometric traits against other populations.  Already the results are surprising as all Neolithic dogs are tightly clustered.  However with the apparent emergence of the Bell Beaker phenomenon, it is possible to see greater morphological diversity that begins moving toward modern improved breeds.

Castilian Galgo Español (Omar Curros Simon)
There are several interesting formats in which dogs are found, but one that sticks out begins in the Iberian Bronze Age when dogs often appear in child burials.  Within the context of Bronze Age beliefs about the sequence of events following death, these dogs may have been intended to help shepherd children through the underworld.  Dog #7 is one such child-shepherd.

But the most interesting dog in this set is dog #1 as seen below in the Canonical Variate Analysis below.  This dog was buried with a Bell Beaker man in the Meseta (plateau) region of Spain.  If I am reading this correctly, it appears that the dog clusters with a morphology consistent with a sighthound.

For this body-type to be found within the pseudo-steppe ecology of the Spanish grasslands is fairly significant, since it strongly suggests that this was a working dog.  Dog #1 appears between the physical dimensions of a greyhound and the pre-Columbian viringo (being that the modern dog reference set was limited to only a few major types).

Fig 7. Canonical Variate Analysis on Dog Groups.  #1 is Bell Beaker

#6 was a ditch dog and is kind of hovering out there by itself.  In any case, this is the preliminary paper, a thesis will follow, and then apparently a larger study.

Fig 2. Camino de las Yeseras.  Beaker dog.  (Area Consultores S.L.)  

On that note, I pasted this from the Perdigoes research blog last year.  This is the presentation, publishing may follow:
"...a synthesis about the Bell Beaker phenomena at Perdigões will be presented at a meeting to be held in the University of Lisbon next May."
This will be interesting because Perdigoes is large and old, but also because it is within a geological region that likely supplied copper ingot or works to the castillos on the coast.  So something interesting may have gone on at this location.  Also from the Perdigoes research blog, there will also be before long a very large archaeogenetic study on ancient Iberian aurochs and cattle.   

Daza Perea, A., (2017). Preliminary Studies of Late Prehistoric Dog (Canis lupus f. Familiaris Linnaeus, 1758) Remains from the Iberian Peninsula: Osteometric and 2D Geometric Morphometric Approaches. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology. 27(1), p.Art. 12. DOI:

This paper aims to highlight developments in archaeological knowledge relating to dog remains found in deposits from Late Prehistoric contexts at sites along the Iberian Peninsula. Preliminary results from ongoing osteometric and 2D Geometric Morphometric studies applied to these remains are here presented and discussed to contextualize future studies by the author.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"Dents in Our Confidence" (Horn and von Holstein, 2017)

Use-wear analysis bolstered a now erroneous perception that early copper weaponry were little more than male status symbols.  For whatever importance conferred to the owners of metal weapons, the over-interest in the social significance has apparently distracted archaeology from a critical analysis of emerging use-wear studies.

This paper by Horn and von Holstein looks at the study of use-wear and finds a need to honestly acknowledge what can be known with the limited study areas.  In fact, it could be reasonably surmised, base on the state of the current data, that most copper weapons were used regularly, sometimes forcefully, and then continually repaired, re-shaped, re-riveted and edge-hardened throughout the objects' lifetime.

They focus on two areas that obscure what can be known.  One is the maintenance of copper weapons, the other is the disparate corrosion associated with different styles of burial and deposition.  Here they consider attributes of copper to reconstruct the life of the object and they show that the presence of a decomposing body significantly alters the material over other burial methods.
"It has been argued that they were less important in warfare and served a more ceremonial purpose because in Scandinavian rock art they are usually depicted sheathed, i.e. in a passive role, and because researchers perceive real Early Bronze Age weaponry as lacking any usability in combat...However, at least 26% (18) swords from the Early Nordic Bronze Age possess notches..and 48% exhibit very strong (5) or extreme (6) corrosion, obscuring use-wear traces.  Thus, though only 26% can be directly shown to have use-wear damage, [but] up to 74% might have done so."
If looking at re-riveting of Unetice halberds, they raise the prospect that current typologies based on hafts could be totally false. 
"Being unaware of the possibility of repairs may cause researchers to assume that the reduced form was the original design.  This is problematic for the construction of typologies. For example, Wüstemann (1995) defined several variants of Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age halberds belonging to the Unetice complex according to the shape of their hafting plates. However, from the pieces with complete rivet holes, we can construct a continuous line of more and more damaged hafting plates with broken rivet holes and repairs such as secondary rivet holes."
Fig 3.  Rework halberd hafts of copper knives.

As a footnote, I've suggested previously that the small "jeweler's" cushion stones and whetstones found in some Bell Beaker burials were not the tools of a smith, but rather maintenance tools of a dagger owner, similar to a butt stock gun cleaning kit or an integrated whetstone on a survival knife.

Free version [here]

"Dents in our confidence: The interaction of damage and material properties in interpreting use-wear on copper-alloy weaponry" Horn and vonHolstein.  Journal of Archaeological Science
Volume 81, May 2017, Pages 90–100

The presence or absence of use-wear marks on copper (Cu)-alloy weaponry has been used since the late 1990s to investigate the balance between functional (combat) and symbolic (value, status, religious) use of these objects, and thus explore their social and economic context. In this paper, we suggest that this work has not taken sufficient account of the material properties of Cu-alloys. We discuss mechanisms of plastic deformation, incremental repairs and corrosion in detail to show how these can obscure use-wear traces. In a survey of Cu-alloy weaponry from the Nordic Bronze Age (1800/1700e550 BCE) from Denmark, Sweden and Germany, we show that corrosion of Cu-alloy objects is strongly linked to depositional context, being greater in burials (both inhumations and cremations) than hoards or as single objects. A relative paucity of use-wear marks on burial weapons should therefore not be used to argue that these were purely symbolic objects, e.g. in contrast to the better preserved hoard material. We
propose that use-wear traces on Cu-alloy weaponry, particularly on blade edges, is significantly more elusive than previously realised, and that undamaged objects have been over-identified.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Anthropology of a Prospector" Melheim and Prescott - part 2

Returning again to the chapter "Exploring new territories - Expanding Frontiers..." which seeks to understand the exploration of Scandinavia by Bell Beakers if interpreting their activity in this region as prospecting.

A Klondike Prospector with Chilkoot (?) Indian packers. (University of Washington)
Melheim and Prescott look to the memoirs of a Klondike prospector, Bill Jones, to gain insight into the high-risk and often unproductive world of prospectors.  They believe the dynamics of exploration, exploitation and relationship-building as a useful guide for the 2nd millennium.
"A striking feature in Jones's account is the often friendly encounters with the local sea mammal- and reindeer-hunting semi-nomadic Chutchki population.  The Chutchki were themselves uninterested in the mineral resources, but provided the prospectors with food, shelter and local clothing (Jones 1927:100-2).  They were already familiar with the English language, guns and alcohol.  Although Jones was a stranger in a new land, the many traders, prospectors and adventurers who had traveled this landscape before him had prepared his way, through information that flowed in the networks between prospectors.  Although not temporally and spatially related, there are shared environmental and material challenges which legitimise using this recent narrative as an analogy for how a BBC prospector on the Scandinavian Peninsula may have gone about his business."
The authors delve into the phases of prospecting, emphasizing that much of actual work is front-loaded into preparatory tasks, such as exploration and surveying.  Makes sense when you compare the time and resources to drill an oil well.  Much of the time is spent in the exploration and geological survey phase.  Even more time is spent firmly establishing legalities such as legal conveyances, easement and mineral rights and sometimes - security.

Bell Beakers traveling outside their core settlements into the distant reaches would have been confronted with similar primitive realities.  At least initially:  easement privileges, permissions to exploit resources, right to trade, logistical support, security.  Remember that Beakers, despite their prowess and pioneering spirit, are throughout their cultural existence numerically disadvantaged and unfamiliar with the territories they enter.  

Like the Chutchki, North Sea farming and fishing societies may have welcomed, or at least tolerated, adventurous foreigners eager to exploit resources and establish better trade.  At least for metal resources, Melheim and Prescott emphasize that Scandinavian metal prospecting didn't require success, and in fact, like the story of Bill Jones and so many Klondike adventurers, it appears that these ores were not fully exploited.

Here's some of the key points that the authors believe would have been important for these explorers.  I've shorten these, but each one is expanded upon in the text.

(1) To look for colourful bedrock typical of copper deposits...
(2) To follow river valleys and river beds
(3) To read the vegetation (for evidence of heavy metals)
(4) To read the geology
(5) The ability to relocate resources after their discovery
This takes us beyond the retarded, two-dimensional understanding of 'priest-kings' digging scary metal out of the ground.  These were highly specialized and time-consuming tasks that required considerable negotiations with the local nations, probably through interpreters.  Many of these efforts proved fruitless, at least the intended industry.
Melheim, Anne Lene & Prescott, Christopher (2016). Exploring New Territories – Expanding Frontiers: Bowmen and Prospectors on the Scandinavia Peninsula in the 3rd–2nd Millennia BC, In Anne Lene Melheim; Håkon Glørstad & Ann Zanette Tsigaridas Glørstad (ed.),  Comparative Perspectives on Past Colonisation, Maritime Interaction and Cultural Integration.  Equinox Publishing.  ISBN 9781781790489.  10.  [Link]

See also "Slettabo: Europe's northernmost beaker.  The BBC in Norway - from black box to historical watershed"