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About half a century ago ANTIQUITY published the seminal papers of Cecil Curwen on querns. We now return to the theme of flour production and David Peacock uses a computer to analyse a major collection of rotary mills.
As the great antiquity of human settlement in Australia becomes clear, so does the distinctive character of human adaptation in the continent. In particular, the Holocene transformation of the Australian climate led to patterns of human ecology with some characteristics of their own, and some common to regions where the Holocene changes led on to agricultural societies. Here is a case-study in that Australian history.
During the last two decades the Broad Spectrum Revolution, a proposed food-getting adaptation of the terminal Pleistocene, has been generally accepted as an explanatory factor in the accomplishment of food production in Early Holocene Southwest Asia. A survey of faunal and other prehistoric data from the Levant is employed here to argue that wide-ranging exploitation of plants and animals had been persistent in the region from at least the Middle Palaeolithic, and that the issue of taxonomic diversity is unrelated to trends toward food production at the end of the Pleistocene.
With the use of grain comes a variety of parasitic fungi – some benign, others dangerous and even toxic. Here are surveyed some of the fungi to which ancient and modern grain is subject, and some of the consequences for human populations. More specifically, several parasitic fungi, Claviceps, purpurea, C. Paspali, Ustilago maydis and U. esculenta, have infested cereal grains and grasses in ancient and recent times and may have served as a source of human foods or medicine.
Most large-scale excavation projects are computerized, more-or-less, now in their methods of data recording. Here is described one which is computerized with more conviction and on a larger scale than most, with reflections on what that can and should amount to.
As it is written in site reports today, the modern language of archaeology is not a handsome tongue, efficient though it may be at conveying neutral data (another horrid word). Are there lessons to be found in the beguiling style of site reports from a couple of centuries ago? And is there more to their charm than antiquarian romance?
Everyone who has dug up anything knows the excitement of bringing an ancient object to its first light for centuries. Everyone who has directed an archaeological excavation knows the excitement of finding sense in the pattern of many ancient objects revealed. Why is it, then, that the publication of that pattern in a site report is a more wearisome business when—if ever—it take place? Is that just the nature of the business, or is there more to be revealed?
With the great 19th-century restorations of British cathedrals went the first great campaigns of cathedral archaeology. British cathedrals are, characteristically, multiperiod structures where major elements of earlier phases have been swallowed into a later-medieval or post-medieval fabric. So an important element in cathedral studies in the last century was the close observation of clues within the standing building. It remains a major element, in which new methods like the oak dendrochronology for medieval England run alongside that oldest archaeological tool, the observant eye.
The Sutton Hoo Project took up work again at that most famous of British early medieval sites two generations after the excavation of its ship-burial in the summer of 1939. As befits a field project of two generations later, much of its emphasis has been on the context of the site, as well as the barrow-field itself. Here is published a surface find from that wider context.
The Egyptian mammified bodies and the Egyptian texts between them offer a unique insight into the medical skills of an early civilization. Here the evidence for surgery is surveyed, and a pattern of rise and decline identified in its accomplishment.
The ‘radar rivers’ of the southern Eastern Sahara are systems of aggraded valleys containing inset drainage channels, now entirely obscured by wind-blown sand in the dry and hostile open desert. These features, first recognized on radar images, are remnants of the very different and moister landscapes of the Pleistocene and early Holocene. Proof of their attraction for early human settlement are the Acheulean artefacts that are found buried in alluvium that completely fills these old valleys and at the surface, along with Neolithic sites. The distribution of these sites follows, with good reason, the order of the radar channels.
The Queen's Hotel development site in York was in the news early in the year as yet another urban rescue project where a developer's building schedule left very little time for archaeological investigation of, in this case, a palatial Roman building. As always, the question was, where best to dig to learn much and quickly? A guiding answer came from a new application of subsurface radar.
How old is the samovar, that ceremonial apparatus traditionally associated with the serving of tea in (old) Russia and the Near East? This new find from Anatolian Turkey provides further evidence for the use of this kind of vessel for making hot drinks back in Roman times.
A key to the understanding of ancient iconography is knowing just what the pictures are pictures of. That is not always an easy question: in this case, a classic collection of Peruvian depictions, it is at least clear the pictures are of birds. But what kind of bird, and why?
Among the postglacial changes in human diet is the larger place for cereals that led on to full plant agriculture. Here, a specific trace is found in human osteology of the new kind of labour that the grinding of cereal seeds required.
In Southeast Asia the archaeological record is virtually silent about early rice cultivation, for which there is now good evidence from the Chinese Neolithic. Here, new fieldwork from Thailand provides both direct evidence of rice cultivation and, earlier, an indirect clue from palynological indicators.
Graham Connah, who has himself just published a historical archaeology of Australia, reviews a large new book in American historical archaeology, and examines the particular approach that is expressed in its title, the archaeological ‘recovery of meaning’.
It is common knowledge that the West Indies were inhabited by three cultures at the time of European contact—the Island Caribs, the Tainos and the Ciboney – identified largely from the accounts of Spanish and French explorers and chroniclers. Is this knowledge accurate? This evaluation of evidence for the Guanahatabey (‘Ciboney’) of western Cuba and southwestern Haiti finds they did not survive until the time of European contact.