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This paper examines interactions between co-occupants of riverine niches in north-west Europe during the Late Upper Palaeolithic using both ecological and archaeological data. It is argued that consideration of both the Lateglacial record and autecology of eel, beaver and horse supports a reinterpretation of some famous but enigmatic panels of Magdalenian mobiliary art as representations of eel fishing, along with horse and beaver exploitation in disturbed riverine habitats. It is further suggested that this constitutes a humanly co-constructed niche in ecological, nutritional, and symbolic terms, which was also particularly advantageous for human well-being and social development in this time and place.
Since its publication in 1954 Star Carr has held an iconic status in British Mesolithic archaeology. The original excavations at the site recorded a large assemblage of bone and antler tools from a sequence of peat deposits at the edge of the Lake Flixton. Over 60 years later this remains the largest assemblage of bone and antler artefacts of its date in Britain and has been an invaluable source of information for life in the early Mesolithic. However, the interpretation of this material has been the subject of intense debate, and the assemblage has been variously described as the remains of an in situ settlement, a refuse dump, and the result of culturally prescribed acts of deposition. Fundamentally, these very different ideas of the nature of the site depend on differing interpretations of the environmental context into which the majority of the organic artefacts were deposited. This paper presents the results of recent work at Star Carr that helps to resolve the debate surrounding both the context of the assemblage and the motivations that lay behind its deposition.
Archaeological fieldwork preceding housing development revealed a Mesolithic site in a primary context. A central hearth was evident from a cluster of calcined flint and bone, the latter producing a modelled date for the start of occupation at 8220–7840 cal bc and ending at 7960–7530 cal bc (95% probability). The principal activity was the knapping of bladelets, the blanks for microlith production. Impact-damaged microliths indicated the re-tooling of hunting weaponry, while microwear analysis of other tools demonstrated hide working and butchery activity at the site. The lithics can be classified as a Honey Hill assemblage type on the basis of distinctive leaf-shaped microlithic points with inverse basal retouch.
Such assemblages have a known concentration in central England and are thought to be temporally intermediate between the conventional British Early and Late Mesolithic periods. The lithic assemblage is compared to other Honey Hill type and related Horsham type assemblages from south-eastern England. Both assemblage types are termed Middle Mesolithic and may be seen as part of wider developments in the late Preboreal and Boreal periods of north-west Europe. Rapid climatic warming at this time saw the northward expansion of deciduous woodland into north-west Europe. Emerging new ecosystems presented changes in resource patterns and the Middle Mesolithic lithic typo-technological developments reflect novel foraging strategies as adaptations to the new opportunities of Boreal forest conditions. While Honey Hill-type assemblages are seen as part of such wider processes their distinctive typological signature attests to autochthonous, regional developments of human groups infilling the landscape. Such cultural insularity may reflect changing social boundaries with reduction in mobility range and physical isolation caused by rising sea level and the creation of the British archipelago.
The western seaways – an arc of sea stretching from the Channel Islands in the south, up through the Isles of Scilly, the Isle of Man, and the Outer Hebrides to Orkney in the north – have long been seen as crucial to our understanding of the processes which led to the arrival of the Neolithic in Britain and Ireland in the centuries around 4000 cal bc. The western seaways have not, however, been considered in detail within any of the recent studies addressing the radiocarbon chronology of the earliest Neolithic in that wider region. This paper presents a synthesis of all existing 5th and 4th millennia cal bc radiocarbon dates from islands within the western seaways, including 50 new results obtained specifically for this study. While the focus here is insular in a literal sense, the project’s results have far reaching implications for our understanding of the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition in Britain and Ireland and beyond. The findings broadly fit well with the Gathering Time model of Whittle et al., suggesting that the earliest dated Neolithic in this zone falls into the c. 3900–3700 cal bc bracket. However, it is also noted that our current chronological understanding is based on comparatively few dates spread across a large area. Consequently, it is suggested that both further targeted work and an approach that incorporates an element of typo-chronology (as well as absolute dating) is necessary if we are to move forward our understanding of the processes associated with the appearance of the first Neolithic material culture and practices in this key region.
This paper provides a contextual summary of a diachronic analysis of ceramic vessels and hunter-gatherer societies from the final Pleistocene to the later Holocene in a remote corner of the Vitim Basin in Eastern Siberia. An integrated programme of ceramic analysis, raw materials survey, and archaeological investigation is drawn into new models of group mobility and social behaviour. The results challenge widespread assumptions about the relationship between ceramics, sedentarisation, and social complexity. Evidence of these transformations, though potentially identifiable in the archaeological record, could not be associated with the adoption of pottery.
This paper examines the relationship between the use of late Irish passage tombs and the development of the British and Irish Grooved Ware complex, including its Orcadian origins. The architectural forms of these passage tombs and their associated material culture, symbolic repertoires, and depositional practices in Ireland and Orkney indicate sustained connections between people in these places. It is argued that these interactions strongly influenced the development of Grooved Ware and its associated material culture in Orkney and beyond. The results of recent dating programmes are synthesised, and the character of depositional practices from 3300 to 2700 cal bc are reassessed to highlight continuities in traditions of practice and representation. Together, these indicate that the adoption of Grooved Ware in Ireland did not herald an era of large-scale social transformation and that the primary use of late passage tombs did not suddenly cease at the end of the 4th millennium bc. Instead they continued as foci for largely unchanged forms of ceremonial activity until 2450 cal bc as part of a series of ongoing social and cultural shifts in people’s material culture and practices. It is argued that the current periodisation of the late 4th–3rd millennia bc in Ireland unduly emphasises a disjuncture between the Irish Middle and Late Neolithic. An alternative view of social and cultural change that refocuses attention on social agency is proposed.
Landscape geophysical survey around the small upland ‘henge’ at Yarnbury, Grassington, North Yorkshire revealed few anthropogenic features around the enclosure but did identify a small rectangular structure in the same field. Sample trenching of this feature, radiocarbon and archaeomagnetic dating proved it to be an earlier Neolithic post and wattle structure of a type that is being increasingly recognised in Ireland and the west of Britain. It is the first to be recognised in the Yorkshire Dales and it is argued that the Dales may have been pivotal in the Neolithic for east–west trade as well as pastoral upland agriculture.
Around the beginning of the 3rd millennium cal bc a cremation cemetery was established at Forteviot, central Scotland. This place went on to become one of the largest monument complexes identified in Mainland Scotland, with the construction of a palisaded enclosure, timber structures, and a series of henge monuments and other enclosures. The cemetery was established between 3080 and 2900 cal bc, probably in the 30th century cal bc, which is contemporary with the cremation cemetery at Stonehenge. Nine discrete deposits of cremated bone, representing the remains of at least 18 people, were identified. In most instances they were placed within cut features and, in one case, a series of cremation deposits was associated with a broken standing stone. This paper includes the first detailed assessment of the cremated remains at Forteviot and the features associated with the cemetery, and explores how the establishment of this cemetery may have been both a catalyst and inspiration for the elaborate monument building and prolonged acts of remembrance that occurred at this location over a period of almost 1000 years. The paper also outlines the parallels for Forteviot across Britain and, for the first time, draws together the dating evidence (including Bayesian modelling) for this major category of evidence for considering the nature of late 4th/early 3rd millennium cal bc society. The results and discussion have wide implications and resonances for contemplating the establishment and evolution of monument complexes in prehistoric Britain and beyond.
This article presents a comparative study of the arrowheads found in graves dating to between 2500 BC and 1700 bc in north-west France, southern Britain and Denmark. The aim is to characterise their modes of production and functions during a period which successively sees the introduction of copper then bronze metallurgy, the former accompanying the appearance of Bell Beaker pottery and associated practices in these areas. Several modes of production are proposed, from individual manufacture by Bell Beaker-using warriors to specialist production for elite use during the Early Bronze Age. Over and above their function as weapons – arguably associated more with interpersonal combat than with hunting – arrowheads served to portray and emphasise the social status of the individuals. In the case of the Early Bronze Age Armorican arrowheads, they should be regarded as ‘sacred’ objects, made for display and enhancing the power of the chiefs. Lastly, arrows are placed in the broader perspective of major trends affecting Europe during the Bell Beaker period and then the Early Bronze Age, while the distribution of arrowheads with slanted barbs suggests the operation of an Atlantic cultural complex.
The Scandinavian landscape is littered with postglacial outcrops, many of which carry engraved motifs. Although drawings of ships are most often discussed, this paper focuses on representations of feet. In Northern Europe ship motifs are often associated with cosmologies based on the movement of the sun. This paper investigates whether drawings of feet could have been associated with the same worldview. A number of interpretations are offered of the images at two sites in different parts of Sweden: Järrestad 13:1 and Boglösa 138:1.
Baltinglass is a multi-chamber Neolithic passage tomb in Co. Wicklow, Ireland, excavated in the 1930s. This paper presents the results of a radiocarbon dating programme on charred wheat grains and hazelnut shell found underlying the cairn, and on cremated human bone found within and near two of the monument’s five chambers. The results are surprising, in that three of the six determinations on calcined bone pre-date by one or two centuries the charred cereals and hazelnut shells sealed under the cairn, dating to c. 3600–3400 cal bc. Of the remaining three bone results, one is coeval with the charred plant remains, while the final two can be placed in the period 3300/3200–2900 cal bc, that is more traditionally associated with developed passage tombs. A suggested sequence of construction is presented beginning with a simple tomb lacking a cairn, followed by a burning event – perhaps a ritual preparation of the ground – involving the deposition of cereal grains and other materials, very rapidly and intentionally sealed under a layer of clay, in turn followed by at least two phases involving the construction of more substantial chambers and associated cairns. What was already a complex funerary monument has proven to be even more complex, with a history spanning at least six centuries.
Over the last 20 years interpretive approaches within Iron Age studies in Britain have moved from the national to the regional. This was an important development which challenged the notion that a unified, British, Iron Age ever existed. However, whilst this approach has allowed regional histories to be told in their own right, there has been far too much focus on ‘key’ areas such as Wessex and Yorkshire. Our knowledge of the ‘gaps’ in-between these regions is uneven across the country and seriously distorts our understanding of the period. This situation is particularly acute in Wales where there is a paucity of very large material and structural assemblages. As with many ‘in-between’ areas, developer-funded archaeology has increased the baseline dataset, although the interpretations of those data have not developed in parallel. This paper will demonstrate that, to more fully understand the integrated regional composition of Iron Age Britain, we must give detailed consideration to the evidence from these ‘gaps’. By bringing together for the first time all of the available aerial photographic, chronological, faunal, palaeobotanical, and excavated data in one of these ‘gap’ areas, southern Glamorgan, this paper will show that through the careful analysis of the available evidence we are able to gain an understanding of different areas’ distinctive regional characters and move beyond our over-reliance on a small number of key regions.
This study uses two novel archaeobotanical techniques – crop carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis and functional weed ecology – to determine directly how the intensity of agricultural practice changed from the Neolithic to the Early Iron Age in south-west Germany, with the emergence of fortified hilltop settlements (Fürstensitze or chiefly seats) regarded as the first urban centres in central Europe. The crop isotope and functional weed ecological evidence suggest that surplus cereal production in the Early Iron Age was achieved through sustained use of manure combined with expansion in arable cultivation, both developments that are connected with more widespread use of animal traction. The increased scale of cultivation is broadly apparent across rural as well as fortified hilltop centres in the Early Iron Age, and considerable variability in manuring intensity is consistent with agricultural decision-making at a local level rather than centralised control. Additionally, the more intensive manuring of hulled six-row barley, used in beer production, demonstrates that the political importance of drinking and feasting in Early Iron Age society was reflected in crop husbandry practices. In terms of animal husbandry, faunal isotope data reveal a radical decrease in forest cover, potentially reflecting an expansion in the scale of herding accompanying that of arable cultivation. Site-specific patterning points to a range of herding strategies, from specialised herding of cattle at the Heuneburg to generalised patterns of livestock management at rural sites.
The paper discusses the Garboldisham macehead: an unusual decorated macehead carved from red deer antler. The macehead was found in the 1960s deposited in a tributary of the river Little Ouse, Norfolk and is decorated with three spirals, making it especially significant. This paper reports on the analysis of the decoration using digital imaging, discusses a new radiocarbon date recently obtained for the artefact, and discusses its significance alongside other dated antler maceheads.