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There are few frontiers from later periods whose archaeology is more beguiling than the east African coast. To the east are the sea-routes of the Indian Ocean, to the Islamic world, to India, to Indonesia, to China. To the west are the distinctive cultures of medieval Africa. And on the coast are the settlements where the east and the west touch. This paper works towards the wider issue of circum-maritime cultures from a single find from the new excavations at Shanga which have revealed mosques of a remarkably early date.
The group of gold objects excavated in 1808 from Bush Barrow, a little to the south of Stonehenge, are among the best-known and best-regarded artefacts from British prehistory. Here they are fully published, with an account of the recent restoration of the larger lozenge from the group.
Classification is fundamental to all artefactual archaeology, and no one who works with artefacts can be unaware of the doubts that surround many classifications. How similar are the similar things that belong together? How different are the different things that belong apart? What do the classes of similar things actually amount to? This paper looks at some fundamental questions of classification, believing that classification is too important a practical matter to be left to the theoreticians.
The Mediterranean, and especially Greece, provides fine conditions for field-survey – long and intense human occupation, good surface exposure, and distinctive, diagnostic ceramics. Where the Classical authors are conspicuously reticent about the countryside, field-survey can provide a rural picture, as well as the settlement patterns of prehistory. Here, the methods of field-survey return from the countryside to look at the cities, formerly the preserve of the excavator.
The relations between rescue and research have been a lively issue in those many countries where salvage work has become the context for much, or most, funding for archaeological fieldwork. Nowhere has the debate been livelier than in the USA, where the last decade has seen the growth of cultural resource management (CRM), in part ‘as a rebellion against the connotations of the term “salvage archaeology”’ (Knudson 1986:400).
The University of Pittsburgh is one of the most active anthropology departments in the field; here the CRM issues are explored, with examples from the Pittsburgh programme.
The Lake Nyos disaster of 1986, when gases blew up in a Camerounian lake and the resulting gas and water vapour killed hundreds of people, prompted this examination of the effect of gases coming from underground, on a smaller but steadier scale, from a place that was reputed to be one of the entrances to Hades in ancient times.
The first settlement of the Americas is one of those research questions in which convictions have sometimes seemed as important as data. There has recently been encouragement both for True Believers, in the very early sequence of dates reported by the French from a Brazilian rock-shelter, and for True Sceptics, in the revised and more recent dates now given to some of the older finds from North America after further study by AMS carbon dating. Here, a review of a major new book is the opportunity to review the issues.
For the last half-century, the story of very early hominids, and their stone industries, has been almost exclusively ‘in Africa’. This first report of a very early industry takes the story ‘out of Africa’ and into the Indian sub-continent – that is, in a geographical direction towards the early industries of eastern Asia.
The precise placing of spots in the landscape from the evidence of old photographs – whether of things themselves of archaeological interest or for re-locating old excavations – is obvious enough in principle, and clearly useful. Here is a practical means to do this, with two examples from historical archaeology in the United States, a context where matters of archaeological interest come more often into the era of photography than they do in some other places.
Recently, more than ever, Mesoamericanists have had reason to share in the regret felt by Egyptologists at one aspect of the history of antiquities-looting in Egypt - one clearly tinged with tragic irony. For, as Brian Fagan (1975: 11, 261) and others have pointed out, attempts to remove sculpture from ancient Egyptian sites on a large scale began only in the 1820s, and that was just the period when Champollion was achieving his basic decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. Since the coveted basrelief sculptures usually had to be prised from their settings by using chisels and crowbars, any associated hieroglyphic inscriptions tended to end up in smithereens. Champollion himself, as he travelled through Egypt seeking and transcribing texts, became appalled at the destruction, yet more than half a century would pass before collectors and museums came to recognize the damage they were causing through their purchases.
The complete decipherment of Mayan glyphs is an event that neither we, nor perhaps our children, shall ever see: the script is tortuously complicated, as many hieroglyphic writing systems are, and hardly susceptible to rapid and unequivocal ‘codebreaking’. Nevertheless, good progress has been made towards reading the glyphs, with many solid achievements in reconstructing the genealogies and political interaction of royal dynasties of the Classic period (e.g. Berlin 1959; Proskouriakoff 1960). The focus of the present paper is another, more controversial feature of Mayan glyphs: a set of ‘phonetic’ or syllabic units used in spelling Mayan words. Virtually all glyph specialists now accept the validity of these units, but the path to consensus has been difficult and acrimonious. We shall examine here why many good scholars resisted ‘phoneticism’ in Mayan script, and why additional evidence so impressively confirms its existence.
The remarkable progress since 1960 in the decipherment of Maya inscriptions has created unique opportunities for interpretation. The Classic period (AD 250–900) Maya, who for half a century had been interpreted almost entirely from archaeological evidence, have suddenly become an historical civilization. Archaeological data and models can now be combined with and cross-checked against the Maya’s own dynastic records. New data have accumulated so rapidly, however, that communication between specialists in different realms of Maya studies has not kept pace. To stimulate communication, the School of American Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, sponsored a seminar in October 1986 that brought together a group of epigraphers, art historians and archaeologists to share their data, expertise and divergent approaches. This article will summarize the parts of the seminar that bear upon political history. My debt to the ten colleagues† who participated in the seminar is very great. The experience was genuinely collegial and whatever contribution our efforts make to Maya studies will be the result of the interplay of ideas and viewpoints that we established during our week together.
Despite decades of extensive study of ancient Maya ceramics, a few basic questions still vex the archaeologist: What were the actual uses of the distinct types of Maya vessels? How can we determine the precise function of some pottery forms? How can we understand the classification the Maya themselves had for their pots? This brief note, using a recently-discovered vessel from Río Azul, Guatemala, as an illustration, will show that such questions can be addressed using combined data from different analytical approaches. Here I also wish to emphasize the notion that some of the most important sources of information on these issues are the hieroglyphic texts painted or carved on numerous Maya ceramics.
The revelations in the study of the Ancient Maya made possible by the revolution in hieroglyphic decipherment have not occurred in isolation. Archaeological investigations within the last three decades have produced a much broader vision of Maya society during the Classic Period than previously possible. Particularly, the study of settlement patterns in conjunction with environmental studies has opened new vistas onto the size and organization of the populations which supported the rulers in their civic-ceremonial centres (Ashmore 1981; Culbert & Rice n.d.). The challenge for the present, and future, is to combine the archaeological record with the studies of inscriptions and politico-religious symbolism, to build a more complete and incisive reconstruction of the past. Where the two records are particularly clear and abundant, we may also aspire to explaining the past.