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In The Unstoppable Species John Shea explains how the earliest humans achieved mastery over all but the most severe, biosphere-level, extinction threats. He explores how and why we humans owe our survival skills to our global geographic range, a diaspora that was achieved during prehistoric times. By developing and integrating a suite of Ancestral Survival Skills, humans overcame survival challenges better than other hominins, and settled in previously unoccupied habitats. But how did they do it? How did early humans endure long enough to become our ancestors? Shea places 'how did they survive?' questions front and center in prehistory. Using an explicitly scientific, comparative, and hypothesis-testing approach, The Unstoppable Human Species critically examines much 'archaeological mythology' about prehistoric humans. Written in clear and engaging language, Shea's volume offers an original and thought-provoking perspective on human evolution. Moving beyond unproductive archaeological debates about prehistoric population movements, The Unstoppable Human Species generates new and interesting questions about human evolution.
How can we understand prehistoric lithic objects? What meaning should we give them and what view should we adopt to claim access to their significance? How can we reduce and clarify our biases? This article is a proposal to introduce Peircian semiotics to review lithic objects. For a long time, these were apprehended as types, sometimes within evolutionary lineages; however, in this research, knapped stone objects will be perceived through a semio-pragmatic grid and reviewed as signs. The proposed approach is a new way of accessing the fields of technical phenomena of prehistoric communities. This new perception aims at a quest for objectivity, by clarifying the affective, analytical and interpretative a priori as an answer to the sometimes very personal view of the prehistorian on lithic objects. Charles Sanders Peirce’s logical theory of signs or semiotics is contextualized within an ‘artisanal’ reading of prehistoric tools as initiated by Éric Boëda and further developed by Michel Lepot. Through this phaneroscopic/phenomenological vision, the technical object, now a sign-object, is placed in action (semiosis) within a system of signs. This new trajectory is positioned both as a methodological tool and as an innovative milestone in the construction of a more logical episteme in Prehistory, taking lithics both as signs of past human activity and of archaeological representations.
The authors present preliminary results from a new research project based in Jebel Shaqadud, Sudan. Their findings highlight the potential for this region's archaeological record to expand our understanding of the adaptation strategies used by human groups in arid north-east African environments away from rivers and lakes during the Holocene. Furthermore, they present exceptionally early radiocarbon dates that push postglacial human occupation in the eastern Sahel back to the twelfth millennium BP.
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.
The Introduction provides an overview of the book’s thirteen chapters, outlining its main goal: to explain the basic notions of prehistoric archeology and its important role in helping us to gain a better understanding of the modern-day human condition. The structure of the book is exposed in five main parts. The first part (Chapters 1 and 2) defines prehistoric archeology and the different fields of knowledge integrated into its multidisciplinary scope. The second part (Chapters 3 through 5) explores the evolutionary indicators of what it means to be human, providing a concise geographical and chronological framework using examples from the archeology. The third part (Chapters 6 and 7) focuses on the technosocial evolutionary processes leading up to Homo sapiens, the last surviving hominin on the planet. The fourth part (Chapters 8 through 12) applies the concepts explained in the previous chapters to consider how the most challenging issues facing modern humanity today are elucidated by viewing them through the lens of prehistoric archeology. The fifth and final part (Chapter 13) concludes the book with a lucid interpretation of the significant role played by prehistoric archeology and evolutionary theory in the modern world.
This book provides a concise overview of human prehistory. It shows how an understanding of the distant past offers new perspectives on present-day challenges facing our species - and how we can build a sustainable future for all life on planet Earth. Deborah Barsky tells a fascinating story of the long-term evolution of human culture and provides up-to-date examples from the archaeological record to illustrate the different phases of human history. Barsky also presents a refreshing and original analysis about issues plaguing modern globalized society, such as racism, institutionalized religion, the digital revolution, human migrations, terrorism, and war. Written in an accessible and engaging style, Human Prehistory is aimed at an introductory-level audience. Students will acquire a comprehensive understanding of the interdisciplinary, scientific study of human prehistory, as well as the theoretical interpretations of human evolutionary processes that are used in contemporary archaeological practice. Definitions, tables, and illustrations accompany the text.
Chapter 13 chapter synthesizes the reasoning developed throughout the book, discussing the important role played by human prehistory in understanding the challenges facing modern-day humans in a globalized world of rapidly developing technologies in an increasingly virtual existence.
The Art and Archaeology of the Aegean Bronze Age offers a comprehensive chronological and geographical overview of one of the most important civilizations in human history. Jean-Claude Poursat's volume provides a clear path through the rich and varied art and archaeology of Aegean prehistory, from the Neolithic period down to the end of the Bronze Age. Charting the regional differences within the Aegean world, his study covers the full range of material evidence, including architecture, pottery, frescoes, metalwork, stone, and ivory, all lucidly arranged by chapter. With nearly 300 illustrations, this volume is one of the most lavishly illustrated treatments of the subject yet published. Suggestions for further reading provide an up-to-date entry point to the full richness of the subject. Originally published in French, and translated by the author's collaborator Carl Knappett, this edition makes Poursat's deep knowledge of the Aegean Bronze Age available to an English-language audience for the first time.
This paper presents results of accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon (AMS 14C) dating of prehistoric samples (human and animal bones, cremated human bones, charcoals, and other charred plant macroremains) from archaeological sites located in the area of Dobużek Scarp, on the Sokal Ridge in central-eastern Poland (E Poland). The date list reports 46 14C age measurements performed within the project “The Dobużek Scarp Microregion as a part of a physiological and biocultural frontier between the Baltic and the Pontic zone (from the 6th to the 2nd millennium BC)” conducted in 2016–2021. The resulting 14C dates fall into quite a long interval, which in terms of the regional archaeological periodization lasts from the Middle Eneolithic to the Early Iron Age, and in terms of the climatological one corresponds with the Subboreal.
With the development of Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic technology and the ability to produce surpluses, ca. 35,000 years ago, the door was open for aggrandizers to pursue a number of surplus-based strategies to benefit themselves and transform cultures into the competitive consumption arenas familiar to us today.
Scott’s attention to endangered animals, birds and plants as well as to processes of extinction is explored in this chapter. Discussion evaluates how awareness of the precarity attending reduced biodiversity in the nineteenth century, as represented in Scott’s historical fiction, can inform understanding of the drivers of similar crises in our own time. The case studies address problems arising from fetishized or idealistic views of Scotland’s ‘wilder’ environments. Enquiry also focuses on ecologies in places that are marginal to, or remote from, urban centres, while endangered human communities such as those of the Highlands before the late eighteenth-century clearances and others that followed are shown to be integral parts of threatened environments. Wolves, beavers, raptors, wild cattle and wild cats are among the species considered. The problems that attend rewilding and conservation strategies are discussed with attention to what is not, or cannot be, preserved or replaced.
Archaeological research demonstrates that an agropastoral economy was established in Tibet during the second millennium BC, aided by the cultivation of barley introduced from South-western Asia. The exact cultural contexts of the emergence and development of agropastoralism in Tibet, however, remain obscure. Recent excavations at the site of Bangga provide new evidence for settled agropastoralism in central Tibet, demonstrating a material divergence from earlier archaeological cultures, possibly corresponding to the intensification of agropastoralism in the first millennium BC. The authors’ results depict a more dynamic system of subsistence in the first millennium BC, as the populations moved readily between distinct economic modes and combined them in a variety of innovative ways.
This chapter outlines the complex historical processes that have shaped the present-day distribution of communities and ethnic groups across mainland Southeast Asia. The chapter first introduces some general information about the region, the languages, and some conceptual preliminaries for the book. A historical account then traces developments since prehistory through the emergence of early states in the first millennium of the Common Era, followed by the rise of new states associated with migrations from the north, into the modern colonial and postcolonial era. The chapter finishes with a discussion of the area’s politically dominant languages and a survey of the state of the art in linguistic research.
Recent critiques of ancient DNA (aDNA) studies in archaeology have called into question the problematic conflation of genetics with ethnic, cultural and racial identity. As yet, however, there has been little discussion of the increasing use of aDNA to reconstruct prehistoric kinship systems. This article draws on anthropological research to argue that kinship relations are not determined by biogenetic links, but are generated through social practice. A variety of archaeological evidence can be employed to explore how enduring affective relationships are created with both human and non-human others. These points require us to challenge androcentric and heteronormative interpretations of aDNA data in the Bronze Age and more widely.
Raw materials from aquatic environments were systematically used for domestic activities even before the appearance of modern humans. Here, the authors analyse the possible use of freshwater mussel valves of the Unio species, whose surfaces preserve marks resulting from their use. They consider the ways in which wear develops on these valves, starting from the comparison between archaeological exemplars and experimental pieces. An experimental programme was developed to record variables such as the procurement of the raw material, the processing of various materials, and the time needed for each operation. Experimental pieces were assessed to document how use-wear develops. The archaeological assemblage from the site of Cheia in Romania (Hamangia culture, fifth millennium cal bc) served as a case study to illustrate the relevance of the results.
The Element summarises the state of knowledge about four styles of prehistoric rock art in Europe current between the late Mesolithic period and the Iron Age. They are the Levantine, Macroschematic and Schematic traditions in the Iberian Peninsula; the Atlantic style that extended between Portugal, Spain, Britain and Ireland; Alpine rock art; and the pecked and painted images found in Fennoscandia. They are interpreted in relation to the landscapes in which they were made. Their production is related to monument building, the decoration of portable objects, trade and long distance travel, burial rites, and warfare. A final discussion considers possible connections between these separate traditions and the changing subject matter of rock art in relation to wider developments in European prehistoric societies.
In prehistoric coastal and western-central Thailand, rice was the dominant cultivar. In eastern-central Thailand, however, the first known farmers cultivated millet. Using one of the largest collections of archaeobotanical material in Southeast Asia, this article examines how cropping systems were adapted as domesticates were introduced into eastern-central Thailand. The authors argue that millet reached the region first, to be progressively replaced by rice, possibly due to climatic pressures. But despite the increasing importance of rice, dryland, rain-fed cultivation persisted throughout ancient central Thailand, a result that contributes to refining understanding of the development of farming in Southeast Asia.
Once covered by the enormous and highly biodiverse Bengalian rainforest, the region was attractive to early humans, who gradually developed settled rice cultivation. Archaeological finds show complex and multilingual prehistoric societies that established urban cultures. Today the ruined remains of fortified cities and large religious structures testify to Bangladesh’s early human history.
The Santa Elina rock shelter (Central Brazil) was recurrently occupied from the Late Pleistocene to the Late Holocene. We compare sets of previously published anthracological analyses with new data to reconstruct the landscape, vegetation, and climate over the several thousand years of occupation, providing information on firewood management from about 27,000 to about 1500 cal BP. Laboratory analyses followed standard anthracological procedures. We identified 34 botanical families and 84 genera in a sample of almost 5,000 charcoal pieces. The Leguminosae family dominates the assemblage, followed by Anacardiaceae, Bignoniaceae, Rubiaceae, Euphorbiaceae, and Sapotaceae. The area surrounding the shelter was forested throughout the studied period. The local landscape was formed, as it is today, by a mosaic of vegetation types that include forest formations and open cerrado. Some regional vegetation changes may have occurred over time. Our data corroborate the practice of opportunistic firewood gathering in all periods of site occupation, despite a possible cultural preference for some taxa. The very long occupation of Santa Elina may be due not only to its attractiveness as a rock shelter but also to the continuously forested vegetation around it. It was a good place to live.
The anthracological analyses of domestic and ceremonial contexts of proto-Jê archaeological sites in southern Brazil and Argentina have yielded data regarding landscape, fire technology, fuel economy, wood selection, and wood use from about 1200 to 250 years BP. The inhabitants of these sites built up the landscape that they occupied, actively constructing and experiencing their domestic and ceremonial places and possibly engaging in vegetation management practices. They gathered timber and firewood in the Araucaria Forest and in intensely modified areas covered by secondary vegetation. These practices likely included logging and gathering fallen deadwood. Our data indicate cultural selection of particular species. Inga sp., Jacaranda sp., and Araucaria angustifolia were probably selected because of the meaning of these woods in the cosmological dual system of proto-Jê societies. Bamboos and palm stems may have been used as kindling and for fire making. These results are an important contribution to our understanding of the proto-Jê occupation and the relationships that these groups maintained with their plant environment.