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The authors describe three splendid and newly discovered objects from the Upper Palaeolithic in northern Spain: an engraved scapula, a possible spearthrower and a decorated stone pendant. As well as adding to the corpus of iconic artefacts from the period, these new finds have the special virtue of being meticulously excavated and recorded in context.
This newly discovered and excavated site defines an Upper Palaeolithic activity unit consisting of a roasting pit at the centre of an area 5m across. Although the main task was the processing of two mammoths, there were numerous other wild animals in the assemblage. The occupants used flint knives, made bone tools and modelled in baked clay – on which they left their fingerprints, along with imprints of reindeer hair and textiles. Pavlov VI offers an exemplary picture of the basic living unit that made up the settlement clusters of the Gravettian people in Central Europe.
Backed artefacts, otherwise microliths or backed bladelets, are key indicators of cultural practice in early Australia – but what were they used for? The authors review a number of favourite ideas – hunting, scarification, wood working – and then apply use-wear analysis and residue studies to three prehistoric assemblages. These showed contact with a wide range of materials: wood, plants, bone, blood, skin and feathers. These results are unequivocal – the backed artefacts were hafted and employed as versatile tools with many functions.
The authors report and describe the remarkable grain silos discovered at Tel Tsaf in the southern Levant. These tall, white, barrel-shaped towers seem to mark the first appearance of monuments of demonstrative surplus.
The Jwalapuram Locality 9 rockshelter in southern India dates back to 35 000 years ago and it is emerging as one of the key sites for documenting human activity and behaviour in South Asia. The excavated assemblage includes a proliferation of lithic artefacts, beads, worked bone and fragments of a human cranium. The industry is microlithic in character, establishing Jwalapuram 9 as one of the oldest and most important sites of its kind in South Asia.
We are honoured to present this pivotal paper by a senior Danish scholar (born in 1922) that promises to revise many views of Late Neolithic and Bronze Age Europe. Prehistoric daggers found in graves in Scandinavia and beyond have long been interpreted as weapons wielded by warriors, giving the whole period a rather belligerent flavour. In a radical re-interpretation, the author demonstrates that their use was most probably for the despatch of cattle or other livestock, and the dagger is thus the implement of sacrifice and the symbol of its office.
The famous monumental Bronze Age cairn Bredarör on Kivik with its decorated stone coffin or cist has been described as a ‘pyramid of the north’. Situating his work as the latest stage in a long history of interpretation that began in the eighteenth century, the author analyses the human bone that survived from the 1930s excavation and shows that the cist and chamber must have remained open to receive burials over a period of 600 years.
The Xiongnu people have long been considered an archetypical nomadic group, characterised archaeologically mainly from their tombs – which have reinforced the stereotype. Thanks to a sophisticated survey project, the authors are able to reveal the Xiongnu's economic complexity. Although primarily pastorialists they practiced cultivation and their ceramics reveal a settlement hierarchy which chimes with the broader social and settlement system of the region.
Studying the pottery produced in the Granada region between the eighth and eleventh centuries AD, the author describes a changing discourse of Roman and Islamic forms. This in turn can be held to reflect the changing social relations between conquerors and conquered.
Ancient Mesoamericans are generally thought to have imagined the universe stacked in vertical layers, not unlike the cosmic layers of Dante's Comedy. Dismantling this model, our authors show it to be based upon a post-conquest European-Aztec hybrid. This penetrating critique tracks the history of the hybrid cosmos from its first appearance through its resilient repetition until today.
Glass – one of the most prestigious materials of the early Islamic empire – was traded not only as vessels and bangles but as raw glass blocks. One of its raw materials, plant-ash, was also traded. This means that tracking the production of this precious commodity is especially challenging. The authors show that while chemical composition can relate to vessel type, it is a combination of chemical compositions with strontium and neodymium isotope ratios that is most likely to lead to (a geological) provenance for its manufacture. The materials used by the glassmakers were local sand and plant ashes. Reported here is the first application of the method to the glass made at the primary glass making centre of al-Raqqa, Syria in an environmental context.
It is probable that ‘The Farm Beneath the Sand’ will come to stand for a revolution in archaeological investigation. The authors show that a core of soil from an open field can provide a narrative of grazing animals, human occupation and their departure, just using DNA and AMS dating. In this case the conventional archaeological remains were nearby, and the sequence obtained by the old methods of digging and faunal analysis correlated well with the story from the core of ancient ‘dirt’ DNA. The potential for mapping the human, animal and plant experience of the planet is stupendous.
The authors show how sites in upland Hawai‘i may be dated using uranium series radiogenic measurements on coral. The sites lie in a quarry, inland and at high altitude, with little carboniferous material around, and radiocarbon dating is anyway problematic here for the first millennium. Freshly broken coral had been transported to these sites, remote from the sea – no doubt for ritual purposes. Giving a date in the fifteenth century with an error range of only five years, the method promises to be valuable for the early history of the Pacific.
We are grateful to Chris Evans for convening and introducing this imaginative archaeological tribute to the work of Charles Darwin, 150 years after the publication of his On the origin of species – the inspiration for an evolutionary concept of history in so many fields. June 2009 is also the 150th anniversary of a yet more momentous event in the history of archaeology, the endorsement of the antiquity of human tool-making by observations in the Somme gravels. Clive Gamble and Robert Kruszynski reconstruct the occasion and publish the famous axe for the first time. Chris Evans returns to present us with the bitter-sweet spectacle of the Darwin family as excavators and Tim Murray rediscovers a suite of pictures made for John Lubbock which show how prehistoric life was envisaged in polite society at the time. Lastly we are grateful to Colin Renfrew for his own reflections on the anniversary.
It all began in a railway carriage. Two businessmen, travelling to the Kingston Assizes in Surrey, nodded to each other as strangers do, but did not strike up a conversation. They were expert witnesses appearing for different sides in the Croydon Water Question; a legal test case that boiled down to who owned the undergroundwaters of London (Mather 2008: 83–4). Joseph Prestwich (Figure 1a), the older by 11 years, represented the water suppliers. As the train rattled along under full steam he would have seen landmarks from his pioneering geology of the London Basin. But water was not his business. His family ran a profitable wine importers. Geology, however, was his passion.
Recent years have seen renewed interest in Darwinian concepts as an inspiration for evolutionary theory in archaeology (for example Barton & Clark 1997; Hart & Terrell 2002). This is not, however, the thrust of this paper, whose aims are more historiographic than programmatic. It will not focus upon Darwin's 'big book', The Origin … of 1859 (or even The Descent … of 12 years later), but rather his last volume, the wonderfully curious The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms of 1881 (hereafter Worms).
Much has been written about the extraordinary impact of Darwinism during the mid- to late nineteenth century, expressed in the scholarship of 'reception studies' (see for example Ellegård 1958; Glick 1988; Numbers & Stenhouse 1999). A significant focus has been on developing an understanding of the impact of Darwinian thinking on just about every aspect of Victorian society, particularly on literature, science, politics and social relations (see for example Beer 1983; Frayter 1997; Lorimer 1997; Moore 1997; Paradis 1997; Browne 2001). A great deal of attention has also been paid (by historians and philosophers of science) into the specifics of how the Darwinian message was disseminated so quickly and so broadly. Here the interest lies in the links between the rhetoric of scientific naturalism and the politics of the day, be it Whig-Liberal or Tory (see for example Clark 1997; Barton 1998, 2004; Clifford et al. 2006). A consequent interest lies in the ways in which science was popularised in Victorian Britain (see especially Lightman 1997, 2007).
In a single year two of the fundamental principles for the study of antiquity were established: chronology and process. Both have been elaborated and re-visited since: chronology most significantly 90 years later in 1949 with the development of radiocarbon dating by Willard Libby. That these two foundations should be established in the ambit of a single year – 1859 – is remarkable, and worthy of celebration.