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The influence of pareidolia has often been anecdotally observed in examples of Upper Palaeolithic cave art, where topographic features of cave walls were incorporated into images. As part of a wider investigation into the visual psychology of the earliest known art, we explored three hypotheses relating to pareidolia in cases of Late Upper Palaeolithic art in Las Monedas and La Pasiega Caves (Cantabria, Spain). Deploying current research methods from visual psychology, our results support the notion that topography of cave walls played a strong role in the placement of figurative images—indicative of pareidolia influencing art making—although played a lesser role in determining whether the resulting images were relatively simple or complex. Our results also suggested that lighting conditions played little or no role in determining the form or placement of images, contrary to what has been previously assumed. We hypothesize that three ways of artist–cave interaction (‘conversations’) were at work in our sample caves and suggest a developmental scheme for these. We propose that these ‘conversations’ with caves and their surfaces may have broader implications for how we conceive of the emergence and development of art in the Palaeolithic.
Archaeology is centrally concerned with the tension between material remains in the present and a reconstructed past. This tension is captured by the concept of a trace, namely a contemporary phenomenon that references the past through some sort of epistemic intervention. Traces are deceptively complex in terms of both their epistemology and their ontology and hence worthy of detailed exploration. In particular, archaeological traces not only concern the past per se but also possess a latent quality of as yet unrealized signification. This gives archaeological traces a future orientation that is rarely considered in discussions of archaeological epistemology.
Archaeological materials from the Mediterranean world in Southeast Asia are scarce and their social context and cultural implications are rarely considered, while objects in Mediterranean style are often misinterpreted or overlooked. Concomitant to the increasing implementation of laboratory analysis, the range of new evidence, especially coming from recently excavated sites in Thailand and Myanmar, along with the reinterpretation of earlier data now brings the potential to compare different regions, and to discuss possible variations in terms both of the diversity and density of Roman materials. This study includes Mediterranean imports produced between the last centuries bce and first centuries ce, as well as Asia-produced inspired objects that integrate Mediterranean elements to varying degrees, combining new data and re-analysed materials. The paper not only contributes to building the sequence of cultural exchanges, but also interprets in cultural terms the varying Mediterranean elements present.
Handaxes have a uniquely prominent role in the history of Palaeolithic archaeology, and their early study provides crucial information concerning the epistemology of the field. We have little conclusive evidence, however, of their investigation or societal value prior to the mid seventeenth century. Here we investigate the shape, colour and potential flake scarring on a handaxe-like stone object seen in the Melun Diptych, painted by the French fifteenth-century artist Jean Fouquet, and compare its features with artefacts from diverse (including French) Acheulean handaxe assemblages. Commissioned by a high-status individual, Étienne Chevalier, Fouquet's work (Étienne Chevalier with Saint Stephen) depicts an important religious context, while the handaxe-like object points to the stoning to death of an important Christian saint. Our results strongly support the interpretation that the painted stone object represents a flint Acheulean handaxe, likely sourced from northern France, where Fouquet lived. Identifying a fifteenth-century painting of a handaxe does not change what we know about Acheulean individuals, but it does push back the evidence for when handaxes became a prominent part of the ‘modern’ social and cultural world.
A small rural stopover along overland Maya and Aztec trade and travel routes was identified in surveys and excavations at adjacent settlements and shrines at Mensabak, Chiapas, Mexico. This collection of Late Postclassic to Spanish conquest-era (c.ad 1350–1650) Maya sites are similar in function to rural Old World and Andean caravan stopovers, such as caravanserai and way stations, where travellers and traders obtained supplies, trading partners, safety, solidarity through ritual and travel information along long-distance land routes. These sites are similar to trading ports and pilgrimage centres, but they are smaller, located in the countryside, not often managed by regional states, and have scaled-down economic exchange with fewer exotic trade items. Stopovers often include landscape and rock-art shrines for collective ritual among foreign travellers and local populations. While investigators have researched the anthropological importance of overland routes, caravans and trade centres, less attention has been given to stopover sites in the countryside. This article discusses the archaeological signatures and outlines the comparative social, economic and ritual implications of small rural stopover sites that united people on the road.
This paper describes the analysis of the Late Prehispanic rock-art site of Villavil 2 (Catamarca, Argentina). Despite its modest and inconspicuous nature, this is one of the few examples of rock-art sites known in the area to date. The relationship of the site with the surrounding landscape and the distribution of rock art throughout the site are analysed using a combination of GIS and 3D modelling. This analysis makes it possible to gain an understanding of the factors behind the location and distribution of rock art on different spatial scales. The interpretation presented here suggests that this rock art reproduces, on a modest local scale, patterns of production of Inka landscapes of control and dominion that have been recognized elsewhere, in sites with a much more obvious monumental scale. The internal organization of the site mimics, on a small scale, forms of interaction with the wider landscape that have been regionally observed, usually focusing on more conspicuous elements such as architecture.
Historical phenomena often have prehistoric precedents; with this paper we investigate the potential for archaeometallurgical analyses and networked data processing to elucidate the progenitors of the Southwest Silk Road in Mainland Southeast Asia and southern China. We present original microstructural, elemental and lead isotope data for 40 archaeological copper-base metal samples, mostly from the UNESCO-listed site of Halin, and lead isotope data for 24 geological copper-mineral samples, also from Myanmar. We combined these data with existing datasets (N = 98 total) and compared them to the 1000+ sample late prehistoric archaeometallurgical database available from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Yunnan. Lead isotope data, contextualized for alloy, find location and date, were interpreted manually for intra-site, inter-site and inter-regional consistency, which hint at significant multi-scalar connectivity from the late second millennium bc. To test this interpretation statistically, the archaeological lead isotope data were then processed using regionally adapted production-derived consistency parameters. Complex networks analysis using the Leiden community detection algorithm established groups of artefacts sharing lead isotopic consistency. Introducing the geographic component allowed for the identification of communities of sites with consistent assemblages. The four major communities were consistent with the manually interpreted exchange networks and suggest southern sections of the Southwest Silk Road were active in the late second millennium bc.
The historic environment—comprising a palimpsest of landscapes, buildings and objects—carries meaning and plays a crucial role in giving people a sense of place, identity and belonging. It represents a repository of ever-accumulating collective and individually held values—shared perceptions, experiences, life histories, beliefs and traditions. These social or private values are mostly ascribed by people to familiar places within this environment based on the ontological security which this everyday heritage provides. However, these values are notoriously hard to capture and categorize. This makes it difficult to incorporate them into heritage-management strategies, which typically rely on objective, fact-based datasets. In this paper, we present a new methodology to capture those elusive values, by combining Topic Modelling with the principles of Grounded Theory. Results show that our novel approach is viable and replicable and that these important values can be effectively and meaningfully integrated, thus creating more inclusive approaches to heritage management than exist currently.
Direct or indirect evidence of ropemaking are scarce in European prehistory. Only a few references to Middle or Upper Palaeolithic remains are known to us, with more examples towards the Holocene. The archaeological contexts of ropes offer little information about possible uses, as the activities they are used for are often archaeologically invisible. However, some rock-art traditions shed some light on potential uses, worth exploring. In Spain, Levantine rock art offers the best graphic examples across Europe showing various uses of ropes, including climbing. Starting from the recently discovered climbing scene of Barranco Gómez site (Teruel, Spain), including the best preserved and more complex use of ropes seen so far in Levantine art, this paper analyses representations of ropes in this art, as well as their varieties and diverse uses. Our study suggests that different rope-making techniques were used by Levantine societies, which we believe are indicative of a complex rope-making technology, requiring a considerable investment of time and efforts. It also shows a certain variety of rope climbing techniques and rope climbing gear, illustrating that both were mastered by Levantine societies. Moreover, a preferential use of ropes in honey-hunting scenes is observed.
This article proposes an interpretive framework of paradox and wonder as a new approach to understanding the affective properties and social consequences of miniature objects in the archaeological record. Building upon current scholarly theories of miniatures as inherently intimate, this approach accounts for how small-scale artworks were also designed and deliberately manufactured to elude user attempts at full sensory access and immersive escapism. This desire-provoking tension between intimacy and distance—which lures viewers into small-scale encounters only to insist upon the object's life-size existence—is wonder, and it is what gives miniature objects their social relevance and ability not only to reflect, but also to influence, the real world. The benefits and applicability of this approach to miniaturization are illustrated through analysis of case studies of miniature objects (figurines, coins, seals and seal impressions, and jewellery) from Hellenistic Babylonia (Seleucid and Parthian periods in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq, 323 bce–ce 224).
Social exclusion has been faced in modern societies as a phenomenon to be prevented in terms of equality. However, it can also be explored in past societies, where some individuals could confront situations of marginalization and exclusion. Previous scholars have accepted or rejected the existence of social exclusion in Ancient Egypt, although none of them has employed a theoretical framework to study it. This paper shows social exclusion as a phenomenon present in Ancient Egypt, analyses the available Egyptian evidence from a theoretical basis inherent to the social sciences, especially Sociology, and applies it to two case studies.
Macrolithic tools are linked to daily activities and, fundamentally, to settlements, hence their importance for the study of Late Prehistoric societies. However, these objects are also associated with funerary contexts, but have not often been analysed holistically. This paper studies an assemblage of macrolithic elements from three collective tombs from the third millennium cal. bc at the site of La Orden-Seminario (Huelva, Spain), from a theoretical and methodological perspective based on the biography of the object. Our analysis focuses on typology, raw materials, technology, function and burial context. The results show that the tools can be linked to domestic activities such as the grinding of cereals and the processing of plant materials, as well as for the production and maintenance of the elements used in these activities. The analysed objects display long biographies of use and, in some cases, we have documented intentional breakage for their deposition in the tombs. The patterns of deposition in the funerary contexts reflect social practices related to the ritual and symbolic behaviours surrounding death and the relationship with everyday objects.
Gender is under focus in prehistoric archaeology, with traditional binary models being questioned and alternatives formulated. Quantification, however, is generally lacking, and alternative models are rarely tested against the archaeological evidence. In this article, we test the binary hypothesis of gender for prehistoric Central Europe based on a selection of seven published burial sites dating from the Early Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age. Results show that the binary model holds for the majority of individuals, but also supports the existence of non-binary variants. We address such variants as ‘minorities’ rather than ‘exceptions’, as only the former can be integrated in interpretive models. However, we also find that quantification is undermined by several sources of error and systematic bias.
In this article we put forward an alternative account of the famous wristguards, or bracers, of the European Early Bronze Age. Combining new materialism with empirical microwear analysis, we study 15 examples from Britain in detail and suggest a different way of conceptualizing these objects. Rather than demanding they have a singular function, we treat these objects as ‘multiplicities’ and as always in process. This, in turn, has significant implications for the important archaeological concepts of typology and object biography and our understandings of material culture more widely.
Reconstructing the technical and cognitive abilities of past hominins requires an understanding of how skills like stone toolmaking were learned and transmitted. We ask how much of the variability in the uptake of knapping skill is due to the characteristics of the knapping sequences themselves? Fundamental to skill acquisition is proceduralization, the process whereby skilful tasks are converted from declarative memories (consciously memorized facts and events) into procedural memories (sub-consciously memorized actions) via repetitive practice. From knapping footage, we time and encode each action involved in discoidal, handaxe, Levallois and prismatic blade production. The structure and complexity of these reduction sequences were quantified using k-mer analysis and Markov chains. The amount of time spent on tasks and the pattern of core rotations revealed portions of these reduction sequences that are predisposed to being converted into procedural memories. We observed two major pathways to achieve this proceduralization: either a repetitive or a predictable sequence of core rotations. Later Acheulean handaxes and Levallois knapping involved a predictable platform selection sequence, while prismatic blade knapping involved a repetitive exploitation of platforms. Technologies and the portions of their reduction sequence that lend themselves to proceduralization probably facilitated the more rapid uptake of stone toolmaking skill.
Theories derived from the ontological, posthumanist, or the new materialist turn have been increasingly employed in various fields within archaeology in the past decade. Recently, Roman archaeology also picked up on these theories: however, critical integration as well as more theoretical refinement is necessary to show the real potential of such theories. New materialism is not about writing a ‘history of objects’, but about a better ontological positioning of the non-human and human otherness. For Roman archaeology it can therefore be a powerful tool to broaden our perspectives on material culture and diverse social issues such as inequality, marginalized communities, slavery and coloniality. In this paper I will show how we can regard ontological fluidity in the Roman world through a new theoretical lens.
San forager populations in nineteenth-century southern Africa were forced to adapt to greatly destructive aspects of the colonial project. Forging new societies from heterogeneous sources, they engaged in prolonged armed insurgency, recording their exploits, presence and beliefs in the rock-art archive of the Maloti-Drakensberg. These images reference conflict and trauma, conventionally interpreted as visions of spiritual warfare. However, viewed through the lens of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), deeper dimensions emerge. PTSD is the culturally subjective experience of generalizable neuropathologies which develop following a traumatic event. Diagnosable in diverse communities worldwide, it nonetheless requires insider idioms to understand its local expressions. We explore how PTSD manifested in this historic and cultural context; how its symptomatic social dysfunctions would have been understood in forager aetiology, and how its intrusive flashbacks would have intruded on altered-state experiences induced to heal the consequences of violence. We find that the artists were not passive victims of trauma, but rather used art symbolically to reconsolidate individual and collective understandings of traumatic events.
This article analyses the development of Neolithic earthen architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean as a concrete example of ‘communities of practice’. Recent studies on earthen architecture have highlighted its adaptability to different climates, architectural forms and craftmanship levels, focusing on the technological aspects of earthen construction. This paper explores the anthropological significance of earth as a building material. It provides evidence on the development of earthen building techniques, interactions between different communities regarding building practices and an understanding of the dynamics of chaîne opératoire in relation to various materials. A review of archaeological case studies provides compelling preliminary evidence for the existence of early specialized architecture in Neolithic Aegean contexts.