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In the summer of 1986 a mass grave was discovered along the bank of the river Tryggevælde Å where it empties into Køge Bugt, the bay south of modern Copenhagen, Denmark. The human remains, dating to the late Mesolithic Ertebølle culture, consisted of eight individuals of multiple ages, ranging c. 35–45 years old to newborn children. Four were arranged on one side of the grave, with four on the other, placed head to foot. How they were related and what befell them is a mystery. Herein, we present a bioarchaeological assessment of these individuals for the first time and apply an acid etch-based analysis of dimorphic sex chromosome-linked tooth enamel peptides to confirm their biological sex. Our results allow a direct connection between engendered grave treatment and biological sex in non-adult individuals as young as c. 4 years of age. We conclude with a discussion of the possible circumstances of their deaths and their possible relationships to one another.
Artificial illumination is a fundamental human need. Burning wood and other materials usually in hearths and fireplaces extended daylight hours, whilst the use of flammable substances in torches offered light on the move. It is increasingly understood that pottery played a role in light production. In this study, we focus on ceramic oval bowls, made and used primarily by hunter-gatherer-fishers of the circum-Baltic over a c. 2000 year period beginning in the mid-6th millennium cal bc. Oval bowls commonly occur alongside larger (cooking) vessels. Their function as ‘oil lamps’ for illumination has been proposed on many occasions but only limited direct evidence has been secured to test this functional association. This study presents the results of molecular and isotopic analysis of preserved organic residues obtained from 115 oval bowls from 25 archaeological sites representing a wide range of environmental settings. Our findings confirm that the oval bowls of the circum-Baltic were used primarily for burning fats and oils, predominantly for the purposes of illumination. The fats derive from the tissues of marine, freshwater, and terrestrial organisms. Bulk isotope data of charred surface deposits show a consistently different pattern of use when oval bowls are compared to other pottery vessels within the same assemblage. It is suggested that hunter-gatherer-fishers around the 55th parallel commonly deployed material culture for artificial light production but the evidence is restricted to times and places where more durable technologies were employed, including the circum-Baltic.
Ancient DNA studies have identified western Scotland as the only known region in Britain where inter-breeding occurred between early 4th millennium bc Neolithic migrants and the indigenous Mesolithic population. By drawing on excavations at Mesolithic and Neolithic sites on the Isle of Islay, I identify a period of population overlap and suggest three scenarios for Mesolithic–Neolithic interaction: swift succession, dual population, and biocultural merger. These scenarios are evaluated against the archaeological evidence from Islay and elsewhere in western Scotland, and with reference to patterns of Mesolithic–Neolithic interaction in continental Europe. A cautious preference is expressed for biocultural merger, occurring between the mid-4th and mid-3rd millennia bc, a period that could be termed the ‘Neomesolithic’.
Ancient fingerprints preserved in clay artefacts can provide demographic information about the people who handled and manufactured them, leaving their marks as an accidental record of a moment’s interaction with material culture. The information extracted from these ancient impressions can shed light on the composition of communities of practice engaged in pottery manufacture. A key component of the process is a comparator dataset of fingerprints reflecting as closely as possible the population being studied. This paper describes the creation of a bespoke reference collection of modern data, the establishment of an interpretive framework for prehistoric fingerprints, and its application to assemblages of Iron Age briquetage from coastal salterns in eastern England. The results demonstrate that briquetage manufacture was constrained by age and sex.
Sarsen stone boulders are familiar components of numerous British Neolithic megalithic monuments. Non-monumental uses of sarsen stone are, however, less well understood. This paper focuses on non-megalithic sarsen and its roles for communities, using case studies from three sites spanning the Neolithic in Wiltshire. Published data from Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure and analysis, using a new methodology, of recently excavated material from the West Kennet Avenue occupation site, and Marden henge enclosure are used to explore the varied ways in which sarsen was used. Rather than being an expedient ‘mundane’ stone this analysis demonstrates that non-megalithic sarsen could be just as meaning-laden as other more ‘attractive’ (larger, exotic) material. Daily encounters with sarsen stone for different purposes and in varied quotidian contexts afforded it with values which likely contributed to its use in monumental contexts. The importance of attending to sarsen in its multiple forms and contexts is thus made clear.
The wealth of settlement evidence has supposed a decisive difference between prehistoric archaeology of the Mediterranean compared to that of Central Europe. This situation has changed substantially during recent years due to large scale rescue excavations carried out in central and eastern Germany. Individual houses as well as large settlement complexes have been systematically recorded and can now be dated to the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. The catalogue of all ground plans discovered up to 2019 in the federal states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia has recently been published as a supplementary volume of the proceedings of the conference ‘Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Settlement Archaeology’, held in Halle (Saale) in October 2018. Based on the geographical distribution, shape, size, orientation, and dating of the more than 240 building ground plans, the present study examines the architecture and settlement development of the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker communities, as well as of the Únětice complex, between the rivers Saale and Elbe. This analysis offers new insight into the way of life of the first full metalworking societies of central Germany from the 3rd and first half of the 2nd millennium bce, which so far have mainly been approached through their outstanding, but numerically limited, funerary remains and hoards.
Excavations at Knossos have uncovered faunal and archaeobotanical archives spanning the Neolithic and Bronze Age (7th–2nd millennia bce), during which one of Europe’s earliest known farming settlements developed into its first major urban settlement and centre of one of its oldest regional states. Through stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N) analysis of seeds and bones (as evidence for the growing conditions of cereal and pulse crops and for the types of forage consumed by livestock), land use and, ultimately, political economy are explored. Changing husbandry conditions overwrite any effects of long-term aridification. Early (7th–6th millennium bce) Knossian farmers grew intensively managed cereals and pulses (probably in rotation) that were closely integrated (as manured sources of forage) with livestock. Through the later Neolithic and Bronze Age, settlement growth accompanied more extensive cultivation (eventually with cereals and pulses not in rotation) and greater use of rough graze and, by goats, browse. Pasture on cultivated land remained central, however, to the maintenance of sheep, cattle, and pigs. Variable diet of early sheep suggests management at the household level, while thereafter progressive dietary divergence of sheep and goats implies their separate herding. Until the Old Palace phase (early 2nd millennium bce), urban growth was matched by increasingly extensive and probably distant cultivation and herding but somewhat more intensive conditions during the New and Final Palace phases (mid-2nd millennium bce) perhaps reflect greater reliance on surplus from prime land of previously rival centres that now came under Knossian control.
This paper sets out the results of radiocarbon, histological, and contextual analysis of human remains from non-mortuary contexts in Middle and Late Bronze Age Britain. In the latter period in particular, human bone (much of it fragmentary and disarticulated) has frequently been recovered from settlement contexts and from other locations, such as waterholes, across the wider landscape. However, the source and post-mortem trajectories of such finds are poorly understood. The results of our analyses indicate that some of these finds come from primary burials while others were the result of post-mortem processes such as excarnation. Certain fragments appear to have been curated for lengthy periods of time but there is much less evidence for deliberate curation of bone than there is in Early Bronze Age graves, although other forms of manipulation, such as cutting and shaping of bone fragments, have been recorded. In contrast to the Early Bronze Age, where it has been argued that curated bones may have belonged to venerated ancestors, some of the individuals from the sites discussed in this paper had suffered violent deaths, suggesting that bones selected for manipulation, curation, and deposition may have belonged to a variety of different categories of person.
The past four decades have been a time of great activity for researchers examining the Iron Age in north-west Europe. Since the 1980s, the scale of archaeological fieldwork has expanded massively and, with it, the quantity of data available to study. Iron Age mortuary data have been one of the main beneficiaries of this. Britain is no exception to this trend, with a number of important discoveries made over the years, thereby improving our understanding of mortuary practices during this period. The situation is comparable for the regions which immediately border Britain: Ireland, northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. This paper reviews the current state of research for this part of Europe, contextualising the Iron Age British data within the broader north-west European frame of these neighbouring regions. In so doing, a better understanding of how chronological developments in the British mortuary data relate to those elsewhere is possible. Additionally, these data may inform us of other aspects of past societies, such as population mobility, social structure, and the persistence of ritual practices over time.
The Beaker phenomenon in Britain is typically represented by a particular form of pottery and its inclusion in graves with flexed or crouched inhumations referred to as Beaker burials. Analysis of the full range of burial evidence, however, reveals a high degree of variability in funerary rites including cremation and skeletal disarticulation. Summed probability distribution analysis of radiocarbon dates provides evidence for continuity of these other, atypical rites from the pre-Beaker Late Neolithic (c. 3000–2450 cal bc) through the Chalcolithic (c. 2450–2200 cal bc) and into the Early Bronze Age (after c. 2200 cal bc). Regional diversity is apparent in Beaker period funerary treatments and grave good provision between these typical and atypical rites, as is differential selection of rites on the basis of age and biological sex. This evidence for within and between community funerary diversity has implications for understanding the large-scale processes of cultural and genomic transformation across this period of major transition in British prehistory.
Ever since large amounts of Bell Beaker complex pottery were first discovered within megalithic graves in north-western France, the Bell Beaker has been tightly tied to the ‘megalithic phenomenon’. However, the fact of construction of these various kinds of megalithic monument during the Middle to Late Neolithic pre-dates the users of Bell Beakers. While this is a case of the re-use of older funerary monuments, it is assumed that Bell Beaker funerary practices witness a shift from Neolithic collective burial to individual inhumation. For a long time finds from the megalithic graves have constituted our main source of information on the Bell Beaker complex in north-western France. However, these ‘artificial caves’ have biased our understanding of the Bell Beaker complex and, in particular, of its funerary practices. The re-assessment of old finds and recent large-scale excavations have brought to light a large number of new sites, revealing a greater diversity in Bell Beaker funerary practices in the region than had been perceived previously. In the first part, we set the broader picture, stating what we know or can say about funerary practices during the Recent and Late Neolithic (3350–2550 bc), before the beginning of the Bell Beaker phenomenon. We then discuss the different Bell Beaker burial practices (2550–1950 bc), their chronological and regional variabilities, and, above all, the research biases that might have affected their understanding.
This review presents a summary of the Buzdujeni I report, which is only available in Russian, alongside recent publications in English concerning both this site and other cave sites that were included in an extensive programme of research into the later Palaeolithic of Moldova, Ukraine, and Russia.