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The hunter-fisher-gatherers of fourth- to third-millennium BC north-eastern Europe shared many characteristics traditionally associated with Neolithic and Chalcolithic agricultural societies. Here, the authors examine north-eastern European hunter-fisher-gatherer exchange networks, focusing on the Russian Karelian lithic industry. The geographically limited, large-scale production of Russian Karelian artefacts for export testifies to the specialised production of lithic material culture that was exchanged over 1000km from the production workshops. Functioning both as everyday tools and objects of social and ritual engagement, and perhaps even constituting a means of long-distance communication, the Russian Karelian industry finds parallels with the exchange systems of contemporaneous European agricultural populations.
Recent aDNA analyses demonstrate that the centuries surrounding the arrival of the Beaker Complex in Britain witnessed a massive turnover in the genetic make-up of the island's population. The genetic data provide information both on the individuals sampled and the ancestral populations from which they derive. Here, the authors consider the archaeological implications of this genetic turnover and propose two hypotheses—Beaker Colonisation and Steppe Drift—reflecting critical differences in conceptualisations of the relationship between objects and genes. These hypotheses establish key directions for future research designed to investigate the underlying social processes involved and raise questions for wider interpretations of population change detected through aDNA analysis.
The shell-midden site of Riņņukalns in northern Latvia offers a rare opportunity to study long-term trends in ceramic production and function at a European hunter-fisher-gatherer site. Riņņukalns was occupied from the sixth millennium BC, with the midden developing from the later fourth millennium. Here, the authors discuss the chaîne opératoire and function of the Riņņukalns material, showing that pottery was used in both the pre-midden and midden phases primarily to cook aquatic and porcine resources. The technology used to produce these cooking vessels, however, changed over time, with new firing techniques associated with a shift to the use of shell temper. The results have implications for understanding prehistoric technology and subsistence in other parts of the world.
Woven textiles from Çatalhöyük in southern Anatolia are among the earliest-known examples of weaving in the Near East and Europe. Studies of material excavated in the 1960s identified the fibres as flax. New scanning electron microscope analysis, however, shows these fibres—and others from more recent excavations at the site—to be made from locally sourced oak bast. This result is consistent with the near absence of flax seeds at Çatalhöyük, and suggests there was no need for the importation of fibres from elsewhere; it also questions the date at which domesticated flax was first used for fibres. These findings shed new light on early textile production in the Neolithic, suggesting tree bast played a more significant role than previously recognised.
Figurines made of wood, bone, amber, clay and lithics are occasionally discovered in prehistoric contexts in Fennoscandia, but the discovery, in 2020, of a unique wooden snake figurine during the excavations of a Neolithic wetland site in Finland broadens our understanding of the worldview of northern peoples 4400 years ago.
The aim of the comment is to address the misrepresentations of our work on the Neolithic transitions that are found in a recent article by Manen and coauthors in Radiocarbon. There are a fair number of them as indicated in the comment. The purpose of the comment is (1) to set the record straight, (2) to clarify several misconceptions that have persisted in the literature for some time, and (3) to comment briefly on the convergence between our own recent regional modeling of the spread of early farming along the north coast of the West Mediterranean and the position currently held by Manen and coauthors.
Manen et al. provide here a reply to the critical comment published by A. J. Ammerman regarding their article “The Neolithic Transition in the Western Mediterranean: a complex and non-linear diffusion process—the radiocarbon record revisited,” published in 2019 in Radiocarbon. They also use this occasion to reaffirm the need to elaborate novel interpretive frameworks that combine both geo-chronological and cultural data.
This article examines large-scale spatial and temporal patterns in the agricultural demographic transition (ADT) of Mesoamerica and southwestern North America (“the Southwest”). An analysis of published settlement and subsistence data suggests that the prolonged ADTs of these regions involved two successive eras of rapid population growth. Although both periods of growth were fueled by the introduction or development of more productive domesticates, they had distinctive demographic and social consequences. The first phase of the ADT occurred only in a scattering of favorable regions, between 1900 and 1000 BC in Mesoamerica and 1200 BC–AD 400 in the Southwest. Its demographic consequences were modest because it was underwritten by still rather unproductive maize. During this phase, increased population was confined mainly to a few agricultural heartlands, whereas surrounding regions remained sparsely populated. The second phase of the ADT was more dramatic in the spatial scale of its impact. This “high productivity” phase unfolded between 1000 and 200 BC in Mesoamerica and AD 500–1300 in the Southwest, and it was fueled by more productive maize varieties and improving agricultural technologies. It was accompanied by sweeping social, economic, and political changes in both regions.
This essay advances the argument for James C. Scott as a preeminent political ecologist, despite the fact that he has not claimed such a title for himself. While he is variously described as an (errant) political scientist, an (adopted) anthropologist, and a (most of the time) Southeast Asianist, he has not usually been called a card-carrying political ecologist. But in fact, his many works have foreshadowed a number of the topical concerns of political ecologists of Asia, such as his attention to subsistence strategies of peasants, to hegemony and resistance, to state power and simplifications, to anarchism and self-organization, and to ecological transitions and human-nonhuman interactions. The fact that Scott is one of the most-cited theorists in the field of political ecology is further proof of his influence, with authors using Scottian themes to launch critical investigations of how power shapes environmental relations and how politics plays a role in the co-constitution of nature and society.
North-western Arabia is marked by thousands of prehistoric stone structures. Of these, the monumental, rectilinear type known as mustatils has received only limited attention. Recent fieldwork in AlUla and Khaybar Counties, Saudi Arabia, demonstrates that these monuments are architecturally more complex than previously supposed, featuring chambers, entranceways and orthostats. These structures can now be interpreted as ritual installations dating back to the late sixth millennium BC, with recent excavations revealing the earliest evidence for a cattle cult in the Arabian Peninsula. As such, mustatils are amongst the earliest stone monuments in Arabia and globally one of the oldest monumental building traditions yet identified.
The island of Sardinia is well known for its Late Neolithic and Copper Age underground rock-cut tombs that were used over generations for collective burials. Many tombs were decorated to resemble house interiors and cemeteries are often referred to as villages of the dead. Research so far has focused on excavating stratigraphic contexts within some of these monuments, or on typological classifications of tomb plans and wall decorations, but the landscape context of the cemeteries and their relationship to settlements have been overlooked. The article presents the results of two seasons of survey in Ossi (north-west Sardinia), focusing on two major cemeteries (Mesu ‘e Montes and S’Adde ‘e Asile). Combining fieldwalking, mapping and 3D recording techniques, the survey provides a comprehensive documentation of the cemeteries (from the underground architecture of individual tombs to their landscape setting) and yields evidence of prehistoric settlements in their vicinity. The article discusses the topographic and visual relationships between the tombs and the residential areas and how they may reflect social interactions between the living and the dead in late prehistoric Sardinia.
Evidence for prehistoric salt production in Britain has been confined to the Bronze and Iron Ages. This article presents new evidence for Early Neolithic (3800–3700 BC) salt-working at Street House, Loftus, in north-east England. This deeply stratified coastal site has yielded the remains of a brine-storage pit and a saltern with at least three associated hearths, together with an assemblage of flint and stone tools, ceramic vessel sherds and briquetage. A process of production is suggested and parallels are drawn from contemporaneous European and later British sites. This discovery has the potential to influence future Neolithic studies considering subsistence, early technologies and exchange mechanisms.
The Nekselø Wickerwork provides an unusually solid estimate on the marine reservoir age in the Holocene. The basis for this result is a 5200-year-old fish weir, built of hazel wood with a brief biological age of its own. Oysters settled on this construction. They had lived only for a short number of years when the fence capsized and was covered in mud and the mollusks suffocated. Based on the difference in radiocarbon (14C) age between accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) samples of oyster shells and wood, respectively, the marine reservoir age for this site is estimated to 273 ± 18 14C years. Re-evaluations of previously produced data from geological and archaeological sites of Holocene date in the Danish archipelago indicate marine reservoir ages in the same order as that of the Wickerwork. Consequently, we recommend the use of the new value, rather than the ca. 400 14C years hitherto favored, when correcting for the dietary induced reservoir effect in radiocarbon dates of humans and animals from the Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic periods of this region.
The initial spread of food production in eastern Africa is associated with livestock herding during the Pastoral Neolithic. Recent excavation at Luxmanda, Tanzania, a site dating to c. 3000 BP, revealed circular installations of lower grinding stones and numerous handstones. This discovery, unprecedented for this era, challenges previous ideas about pastoralist mobility and subsistence.
The ‘Wadden Sea Archive of landscape evolution, climate change and settlement history’ project (WASA) focuses on the analysis of marine sediment archives from the East Frisian Wadden Sea region. It aims at understanding the formation of palaeolandscapes since the end of the last ice age. One part of the project studies the possible correlation and shift of archaeological settlement patterns, climate change and sea-level rise through time in order to derive archaeological expectancy maps. In this paper we present our findings for a quantifiable set of Stone Age sites in the area of the prehistorical Dornumer tidal basin, discussing them against the background of coastal environmental factors and the applied methodology of our modelling. To enable spatial analysis of these sites, we developed a palaeographic elevation model, which was subsequently flooded at 2000-year intervals between the Boreal and early Subboreal periods. Particular challenges are posed by the dynamics of marine transgression, the related changes in the natural environment and their spatial extent. As a result of our GIS-based approach, the model can be extended geographically and provides a basis for future research.
The discovery of a dismantled stone circle—close to Stonehenge's bluestone quarries in west Wales—raises the possibility that a 900-year-old legend about Stonehenge being built from an earlier stone circle contains a grain of truth. Radiocarbon and OSL dating of Waun Mawn indicate construction c. 3000 BC, shortly before the initial construction of Stonehenge. The identical diameters of Waun Mawn and the enclosing ditch of Stonehenge, and their orientations on the midsummer solstice sunrise, suggest that at least part of the Waun Mawn circle was brought from west Wales to Salisbury Plain. This interpretation complements recent isotope work that supports a hypothesis of migration of both people and animals from Wales to Stonehenge.
The shift to sedentary lifeways represents a significant change in human adaptation. Despite the broadly contemporaneous timing of this transition across East Asia during the Holocene Climatic Optimum, such changes varied regionally. This article synthesises new and existing data from Neolithic sites on the Mongolian Plateau to reveal a simultaneous shift towards investment in site architecture, with distinct variation in the organisation of settlement and subsistence across biogeographic zones. The development of sedentary communities here emphasises the importance of climatic amelioration for incipient sedentism, and demonstrates how differences in ecological and cultural contexts can encourage various responses to the same environmental stimuli.
The recent discovery of several late Linearbandkeramik (LBK) sites in Central Europe, including Vráble in south-west Slovakia, has revealed evidence for increasing diversity in Neolithic mortuary practices, which may reflect inter-community war and socio-political crisis at the end of the LBK. Here, the authors combine osteological and radiocarbon analyses of inhumations from Vráble. Rather than a straightforward sign of inter-community conflict and war, this development reflects a culmination of internal conflict and a diversification in the ritual treatment of human bodies. The emerging variability in LBK methods of manipulating and depositing dead bodies can be interpreted as an experimental approach in how to negotiate social conflicts and community boundaries.
According to the ‘farming/dispersal’ hypothesis, the Early and Mid-Holocene spread of Neolithic material culture in East Asia would have arisen from dispersals of established farming populations. The authors test this hypothesis by considering the Beixin Culture that appeared in the south-west Haidai region of northern China c. 5000 BC, before spreading north and east to the coast over the subsequent millennium. While this culture had architecture, elaborate pottery and other forms of Neolithic material culture, analysis of archaeobotanical evidence from Guanqiaocunnan (4340–3970 BC) suggests an economic base of hunting, gathering and cultivating, rather than a reliance on farming.