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In at least 400 European caves such as Lascaux, Chauvet and Altamira, Upper Palaeolithic Homo sapiens groups drew, painted and engraved non-figurative signs from at least ~42,000 bp and figurative images (notably animals) from at least 37,000 bp. Since their discovery ~150 years ago, the purpose or meaning of European Upper Palaeolithic non-figurative signs has eluded researchers. Despite this, specialists assume that they were notational in some way. Using a database of images spanning the European Upper Palaeolithic, we suggest how three of the most frequently occurring signs—the line <|>, the dot <•>, and the <Y>—functioned as units of communication. We demonstrate that when found in close association with images of animals the line <|> and dot <•> constitute numbers denoting months, and form constituent parts of a local phenological/meteorological calendar beginning in spring and recording time from this point in lunar months. We also demonstrate that the <Y> sign, one of the most frequently occurring signs in Palaeolithic non-figurative art, has the meaning <To Give Birth>. The position of the <Y> within a sequence of marks denotes month of parturition, an ordinal representation of number in contrast to the cardinal representation used in tallies. Our data indicate that the purpose of this system of associating animals with calendar information was to record and convey seasonal behavioural information about specific prey taxa in the geographical regions of concern. We suggest a specific way in which the pairing of numbers with animal subjects constituted a complete unit of meaning—a notational system combined with its subject—that provides us with a specific insight into what one set of notational marks means. It gives us our first specific reading of European Upper Palaeolithic communication, the first known writing in the history of Homo sapiens.
Archaeological investigations have documented an ideological and occupied frontier in the Lower Tagali Valley along the southern margins of the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Open-area excavations document two types of house structure associated with Huli occupation of the Lower Tagali Valley landscape, a women's house (wandia) and a lodge and ceremonial complex associated with a bachelor cult (ibagiyaanda). Excavation revealed the complete floor plan of the women's house site and multiple structural elements of the ceremonial complex. Radiocarbon dating provides a chronology for both sites that accords with genealogical histories for the colonization of this landscape by Huli during the early nineteenth century, or approximately eight generations ago. These archaeological findings are consistent with the strategies still employed today by Huli in the initial ideological incorporation of new territory and anchoring of expansionary claims through subsequent settlement and cultivation.
This paper unpacks the cognitive processes potentially involved in comprehending funerary ‘models’ from ancient Egypt. These objects comprise small scenes, usually made of wood, which have been found in burial chambers of pharaonic-era tombs. After considering the fittingness of the term ‘model’, the paper illustrates how a cognitive approach might better help us understand the purported functionality of these objects than has hitherto been the case. This approach, grounded in distributed cognition, draws on semiotics, figurative thought and communication theory and considers the priorities of both the theoretical sender and the theoretical receiver. The perspective of the sender comprises what could actually be built, given the confines of material, size, space and budget. The perspective of the receiver is tied to the factors that guarantee intelligibility, such as cultural primaries, medial awareness and aesthetic priming. It is argued that many of the cognitive processes driving comprehension may be based on transfer processes transcending culture and aesthetics, such as metonymy and metaphor, which occur both in the linguistic and the visual modality. In this way, we can ground discussions of model production and use in more fine-grained theoretical and methodological frameworks and achieve new insights into the communicative power of these objects.
The abundance of obsidian at the Pottery Neolithic Wadi Rabah culture (7600/500–6800 cal. bp) settlement of Hagoshrim IV in northern Israel, the rich repertoire of stamp seals, and imported chlorite vessels at the site, as well as the presence of skilled obsidian knappers, indicate intensive trade. Reviewing the archaeological data, we propose that the obsidian discovered at Hagoshrim IV and at other Wadi Rabah sites of the southern Levant reflects one of the earliest forms of a kin-based direct trade. Kin-based direct trade partnerships revolve around the migration of family members from the source area of the goods to areas in which the goods are highly valued to form trading communities and act as agents to receive them. We further propose that Hagoshrim acted as a possible trading community, interacting with the Wadi Rabah settlements of northern Israel and that the transition in the source of the obsidian from mainly central Anatolian sources (in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period) to mainly Eastern Anatolian sources (in the Pottery Neolithic period) is connected with changes occurring at the source areas of the obsidian, possibly the rise of the Halaf cultural complex in the northern Levant c. 7900 cal. bp. All these indicate that the Wadi Rabah culture was well integrated in the expanding interaction sphere of the Middle and Late Halafian.
This paper describes the chaîne opératoire of earthen architecture relating to buildings and thermal structures at the Neolithic site of Kleitos 2 in Kozani. It provides a material-based approach to the variable processes involved in construction as a practice of community involvement. The chaîne opératoire, adapted based on a refined concept of technology, is employed here as a key analytical tool. This paper tackles questions relating to the social scale of the construction processes concerned, specialization in construction, and the participation and collaboration of the builders. By choosing to focus on a local-scale analysis of a single site, we were able to develop a detailed framework that includes all the steps involved in manufacturing the earthen features, from the decision-making processes to questions of spatial allocation, the acquisition and processing of materials and construction practices, together with their subsequent use and end-life. The aim of this paper is to recognize construction processes as a social event involving cooperation and social performativity, which fosters and reaffirms social interactions, obligations and entanglements, shedding light on the dynamics of the society in question.
This paper provides a framework to highlight the entanglement of discovery and historiography based on the example of the rock-relief figure of Karabel (Turkey), a pivotal monument to recognize the Hittites and the biblical past. I lay out the common narrative of the re-discovery's story that resemble a hagiography, and I put it into perspective with critiques from post-colonial studies. Due to the ongoing damage at the figure of Karabel, I hypothesize that the one-sided role of the monument in the story of the re-discovery of the Hittites by western scholars is insufficient to avoid the radical rejection of the Karabel relief by some people. This article is theory-in-practice: it highlights some pitfalls and tells a story with more diversity, open thought, and considerations beyond traditional narratives of power in passéist oriental archaeology.
Thus far, most researchers have focused on the cognition of fire use, but few have explored the cognition of firemaking. With this contribution we analyse aspects of the two main hunter-gatherer firemaking techniques—the strike-a-light and the manual fire-drill—in terms of causal, social and prospective reasoning. Based on geographic distribution, archaeological and ethnographic information, as well as our cognitive interpretation of strike-a-light firemaking, we suggest that this technique may well have been invented by Neanderthal populations in Eurasia. Fire-drills, on the other hand, represent a rudimentary form of a symbiotic technology, which requires more elaborate prospective and causal reasoning skills. This firemaking technology may have been invented by different Homo sapiens groups roaming the African savanna before populating the rest of the globe, where fire-drills remain the most-used hunter-gatherer firemaking technique.
Architectural reuse was common in ancient Egypt. Modern interpretations of this practice, particularly in royal contexts, usually ascribe it either a practical or ideological function, only rarely considering it possible that different motivations were involved. This type of approach is particularly true for the reuse of Old Kingdom blocks by the Middle Kingdom king Amenemhat I in his pyramid at Lisht, a case often classified as solely utilitarian. However, an approach that prioritizes not only the ancient Egyptian worldview and royal ideology, but also how this case of reuse fits into cross-cultural considerations of monumentality, demonstrates the necessity to look at this practice more holistically. This study focuses in particular on the possibility that the transportation of reused materials by Amenemhat I was a spectacle of construction used to showcase the king's legitimacy and authority at the start of a new dynasty.
This work aims to apply the theories of new materialities to the study of the material culture of the Formoso stilt village, a pre-colonial settlement from the ninth–tenth centuries ad, located in the Baixada Maranhense. Appliqués of the pottery bowls at this archaeological site present cosmological information regarding the transformation or metamorphosis of bodies, aspects that are fertile for the discussion of shamanism in the lowlands of South America, especially the Amazon. Classic concepts of anthropological ethnography applied to archaeology are used, contributing to the discussion on the diversity of ways to manufacture the body in the Amazon in its easternmost portion, such as that of the Master of Animals, a supernatural entity metamorphosed by the shaman and who could also have been part of the cosmology of the lake peoples of Maranhão, Brazil. Two artifacts depicting beings that have their feet turned backwards may be associated with the Curupira, thus evidencing a long-lasting history of this supernatural being that was recorded both in colonial documentation and in indigenous ethnography.