Diagnostic properties of hammerstone-broken long bone fragments, specimen identifiability, and Early Stone Age butchered assemblage interpretation

Posted on July 28, 2017 by ARCAS

Publication date: September 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 85 Author(s): Stephen R. Merritt, Kellyn M. DavisZooarchaeological assemblages in a variety of geographic and temporal contexts are dominated by fragmentary long bone specimens, and precise identification of side, skeletal element, and bone portion underlie archaeological interpretations, including specimen counts for skeletal part profiles, minimum number of element (MNE), and individual (MNI) estimates. Actualistic hammerstone and anvil breakage of domestic goat limb bones was used to document how fragmentation impacts precise identification of skeletal specimens, analysis of assemblage composition, and reconstructions of butchery behavior. Specimens greater than 2-cm in size were assigned to categories that describe the precision with which side, element, upper, intermediate and lower limb segment, and long bone portion could be identified. Results suggest that specimen size is positively related to identifiability, and more identifiable specimens tend to include epiphyses and relatively complete shaft circumferences. Most elements produced a similar number of fragments, including highly identifiable ends that yield accurate skeletal part profiles, MNE, and MNI estimates. However, if density-mediated destruction removes these specimens, analysis of less-identifiable shaft fragments significantly underrepresents element and individual abundance. The number of identified limb specimens (NISP), MNE, and epiphysis-to-shaft ratios in fragmentary archaeological butchery assemblages suggest limb end underrepresentation deflates measures of assemblage abundance and reduces the behavioral resolution of butchery interpretations. However, zooarchaeological analyses can productively incorporate fragmentary, less-identifiable specimens when they define hypotheses that match the scale of archaeological data.

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Identifying the accumulator: Making the most of bone surface modification data

Posted on July 27, 2017 by ARCAS

Publication date: September 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 85 Author(s): Jessica C. Thompson, J. Tyler Faith, Naomi Cleghorn, Jamie HodgkinsTaphonomic analysis is an essential component of zooarchaeology, but is employed in different ways within different research traditions. Within the Africanist Palaeolithic literature, there is a strong emphasis on quantitative comparison of proportions of different bone surface modifications to one another and to proportions observed on modern experimental collections. This work has been driven by debates about the taphonomic histories of Oldowan sites that document the subsistence strategies of early Homo, but this specific approach can be usefully applied to a range of contexts across many different time periods and geographic locations. One obstacle to the cross-fertilization of this taphonomic tradition with other zooarchaeological work is the restrictive manner in which data are selected from an assemblage for analysis. To ensure comparability between fossil and modern assemblages, analysts typically exclude specimens with evidence for post-depositional modification not modeled in the experimental data. Although this adds interpretive robustness, it can diminish sample size significantly, sometimes to the point of affecting statistical analyses, and results in much time invested in collecting data that ultimately are not used. Here, we describe a new method for maximizing the number of specimens that can be incorporated into analysis, thus resolving the persistent problem of poor sample sizes to make more statistically robust comparisons to actualistic datasets.

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Digging deeper: Insights into metallurgical transitions in European prehistory through copper isotopes

Posted on July 26, 2017 by ARCAS

Publication date: Available online 26 July 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science Author(s): Wayne Powell, Ryan Mathur, H. Arthur Bankoff, Andrea Mason, Aleksandar Bulatović, Vojislav Filipović, Linda GodfreySoutheastern Europe is the birthplace of metallurgy, with evidence of copper smelting at ca. 5000 BCE. There the later Eneolithic (Copper Age) was associated with the casting of massive copper tools. However, copper metallurgy in this region ceased, or significantly decreased, centuries before the dawn of the Bronze Age. Archaeologists continue to be debate whether this hiatus was imposed on early metalworking communities as a result of exhaustion of workable mineral resources, or instead a cultural transition that was associated with changes in depositional practices and material culture. Copper isotopes provide a broadly applicable means of addressing this question. Copper isotopes fractionate in the near-surface environment such that surficial oxide ores can be differentiated from non-weathered sulphide ores that occur at greater depth. This compositional variation is transferred to associated copper artifacts, the final product of the metallurgical process. In the central Balkans, a shift from 65Cu-enriched to 65Cu-depleted copper artifacts occurs across the metallurgical hiatus at the Eneolithic-Bronze Age boundary, ca. 2500 BCE. This indicates that the reemergence of metal production at the beginning of the Bronze Age is associated with pyrotechnical advancements that allowed for the extraction of copper from sulphide ore. Thus copper isotopes provide direct evidence that the copper hiatus was the result of exhaustion of near-surface oxide ores after one-and-a-half millennia of mining, and that the beginning of the Bronze Age in the Balkans is associated with the introduction of more complex smelting techniques for metal extraction from regionally abundant sulphidic deposits.

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A technological and morphological study of Late Paleolithic ostrich eggshell beads from Shuidonggou, North China

Posted on July 22, 2017 by ARCAS

Publication date: September 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 85 Author(s): Yi Wei, Francesco d’Errico, Marian Vanhaeren, Fei Peng, Fuyou Chen, Xing GaoWe report the results of a detailed analysis of ostrich eggshell (OES) beads derived mainly from Cultural Layer 2 (CL2) of Locality 2 at the Shuidonggou site (SDG2) in North China, which is dated to ca. 31 ka cal BP. The eggshells belong to the extinct ostrich Struthio anderssoni. Based on microscopic examination, morphometric analysis, and experimental replication, we identify clear differences in morphology, size, technology, and style. Results indicate that the technology of bead making is similar to that used in most Middle and Later Stone Age sites in Africa and recorded ethnographically. Both well-made and poorly-crafted OES beads were produced at SDG2. Drilling experiments conducted in the framework of this study show that hafted stone points were probably used to make the perforations. Only occasionally beads were deliberately polished on inner and outer eggshell surfaces. Beads morphology and technology suggest that distinct types of beads were made by different individual craftspeople. This supports the hypothesis that several human groups visited the Shuidonggou site and used OES beads as an information technology about 31 ka cal BP.

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Advances in archaeomagnetic dating in Britain: New data, new approaches and a new calibration curve

Posted on July 21, 2017 by ARCAS

Publication date: September 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 85 Author(s): Catherine M. Batt, Maxwell C. Brown, Sarah-Jane Clelland, Monika Korte, Paul Linford, Zoe OutramArchaeomagnetic dating offers a valuable chronological tool for archaeological investigations, particularly for dating fired material. The method depends on the establishment of a dated record of secular variation of the Earth’s magnetic field and this paper presents new and updated archaeomagnetic directional data from the UK and geomagnetic secular variation curves arising from them. The data are taken from publications from the 1950’s to the present day; 422 dated entries derived from existing archaeo and geomagnetic databases are re-evaluated and 487 new directions added, resulting in 909 entries with corresponding dates, the largest collection of dated archaeomagnetic directions from a single country. An approach to improving the largest source of uncertainty, the independent dating, is proposed and applied to the British Iron Age, resulting in 145 directions from currently available databases being updated with revised ages and/or uncertainties, and a large scale reassessment of age assignments prior to inclusion into the Magnetic Moments of the Past and GEOMAGIA50 databases. From the significantly improved dataset a new archaeomagnetic dating curve for the UK is derived through the development of a temporally continuous geomagnetic field model, and is compared with previous UK archaeomagnetic dating curves and global field models. The new model, ARCH-UK.1 allows model predictions for any location in the UK with associated uncertainties. It is shown to improve precision and accuracy in archaeomagnetic dating, and to provide new insight into past geomagnetic field changes.

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Investigation of organic matter and biomarkers from Diepkloof Rock Shelter, South Africa: Insights into Middle Stone Age site usage and palaeoclimate

Posted on July 21, 2017 by ARCAS

Publication date: September 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 85 Author(s): James A. Collins, Andrew S. Carr, Enno Schefuß, Arnoud Boom, Judith SealyDiepkloof Rock Shelter (DRS) represents a site of major interest for reconstructing early human behaviours during the Middle Stone Age (MSA). Rock shelters such as DRS also potentially preserve information concerning the environmental context for such behaviours. In this respect the organic matter composition of rock shelter sediments has rarely been investigated in detail, particularly at the molecular level. Here, we used pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (py-GC/MS) to systematically assess the organic matter composition of bulk sediments within the MSA and Later Stone Age (LSA) sequence at DRS. From this we sought to gain insights into site usage, taphonomy and burning practices. Additionally, we analysed the chain length distribution of leaf-wax n-alkanes as well as their hydrogen and carbon isotopic compositions (δDwax and δ13Cwax) to investigate their potential as hydroclimate and vegetation indicators. This constitutes the first leaf-wax isotopic data in a terrestrial context of this antiquity in South Africa.Py-GC/MS shows a dichotomy between stratigraphic units (SUs) of high organic matter content, producing a range of pyrolysis products, including homologous series of long chain n-alkene/n-alkane doublets and alkyl-nitriles, and SUs of low organic matter content, dominated by aromatic, heterocyclic N and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) pyrolysis products; typical molecular burning products. Several SUs of the Intermediate Howiesons Poort interval exhibit the latter composition, consistent with micromorphological evidence.δ13Cwax remains stable throughout the MSA, but leaf-wax n-alkane chain length and δDwax increase during the Late Howiesons Poort interval. Comparison with such patterns in modern plants in the region suggests this represents a shift towards the input of more arid-adapted vegetation into the shelter, driven either by aridification at the site locale or a change in selection practices. Our results suggest that these techniques have further potential in southern Africa and globally at sites where organic matter preservation is high.

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Geospatial Big Data and archaeology: Prospects and problems too great to ignore

Posted on July 12, 2017 by ARCAS

Publication date: Available online 11 July 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science Author(s): Mark D. McCoyAs spatial technology has evolved and become integrated in to archaeology, we face a new set of challenges posed by the sheer size and complexity of data we use and produce. In this paper I discuss the prospects and problems of Geospatial Big Data (GBD) – broadly defined as data sets with locational information that exceed the capacity of widely available hardware, software, and/or human resources. While the datasets we create today remain within available resources, we nonetheless face the same challenges as many other fields that use and create GBD, especially in apprehensions over data quality and privacy. After reviewing the kinds of archaeological geospatial data currently available I discuss the near future of GBD in writing culture histories, making decisions, and visualizing the past. I use a case study from New Zealand to argue for the value of taking a data quantity-in-use approach to GBD and requiring applications of GBD in archaeology be regularly accompanied by a Standalone Quality Report.

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A landmark-based approach for assessing the reliability of mandibular tooth crowding as a marker of dog domestication

Posted on July 11, 2017 by ARCAS

Publication date: September 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 85 Author(s): Carly Ameen, Ardern Hulme-Beaman, Allowen Evin, Mietje Germonpré, Kate Britton, Thomas Cucchi, Greger Larson, Keith DobneyTooth crowding is one of several criteria used to infer the process of domestication in the zooarchaeological record. It has been primarily used to support claims of early animal domestication, perhaps most contentiously in claims for the existence of so-called “proto-domestic” dogs as early as the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic. Tooth crowding studies vary in their methodological approaches, and interpretation of the resulting data is constrained by the limited geographic and temporal scope of reference specimens used to construct an appropriate comparative framework. To address these key problems, we present a standardised landmark-based protocol for the measurement and quantification of mandibular tooth crowding that can be systematically applied in the context of dog domestication research. We then test the assumption that tooth crowding is less frequent in ancient and modern wild wolf populations by examining 750 modern dogs and 205 modern wolves from across the modern geographic range of Canis lupus as well as 66 Late Pleistocene wolves from Alaska.Our results demonstrate that landmark-based metrics provide a reliable approach for recording and analysing tooth crowding. Although it is likely that the relatively low frequency of tooth crowding found in our modern dog dataset (∼6%) in part reflects the ‘modern’ morphology of domestic breeds, the higher frequency of crowding in both modern (∼18%) and ancient (∼36%) wolves strongly suggests that current assumptions linking tooth crowding with the process of early domestication (at least in dogs) should be critically re-evaluated, and that further investigations into the drivers behind these developmental patterns should be pursued.

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Cautionary tales on the identification of caffeinated beverages in North America

Posted on July 9, 2017 by ARCAS

Publication date: September 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 85 Author(s): Adam King, Terry G. Powis, Kong F. Cheong, Nilesh W. GaikwadIn recent years several studies have attempted to understand the use of caffeinated beverages in North America before the coming of Europeans using absorbed residues. These studies have focused on the two key plant sources of caffeine in North America: Theobroma cacao (cacao) and Ilex vomitoria (yaupon holly). The authors initiated a study to explore the possibility that one or both plants were used at the Mississippian period (900–1600 CE) center of Etowah in northern Georgia. In the process, a series of problems with methodologies in use were revealed. Key among those were limitations on the methods used to identify ancient caffeinated beverage residues, distinguish them from modern contamination, and differentiate residues made by each plant. In this paper we explore what our data from the Etowah site reveal about methodologies currently in use and make suggestions for future studies of residues created by caffeinated beverages in North America.

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Chemical analyses of Egyptian mummification balms and organic residues from storage jars dated from the Old Kingdom to the Copto-Byzantine period

Posted on July 8, 2017 by ARCAS

Publication date: September 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 85 Author(s): Jeannette Łucejko, Jacques Connan, Sibilla Orsini, Erika Ribechini, Francesca ModugnoTwenty three samples of Egyptian organic materials, spanning from the Old Kingdom to the Copto-Byzantine Period, were investigated by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The sample set was comprised of ten balm samples from human mummies, three balms from shrews, and ten samples of residues scraped from jars and amphora from storehouses.This research program was undertaken with two main goals:Firstly to provide complementary data on the mummification balms from both humans and animals with an emphasis on the occurrence of bitumen in mummification mixtures.Secondly to explore whether the jar residues were mixtures that were used for mummification purposes or whether they were pure ingredients stored for various uses including ritual practices.The analysis highlighted that the most abundant constituents of the mummification balms were: fats or oils, waxes, conifer resin, pitch, mastic resin, castor oil, and bitumen. Balms from animal mummies were not found to be significantly different from the balms from human mummies. Residues from potsherds appeared to belong to two categories: pure products (fats and castor oil) and mixtures containing fats, Pinaceae resin and pitch, mastic resin, and castor oil, i.e. the constituents also identified in mummification balms. The mixtures were thus residues of preparations for ritual practices and embalming.This study demonstrates that bitumen is underestimated by the chemical approach currently applied in most archaeometric studies of Egyptian organic residues, which are better suited for the identification of lipids and resinous materials. We thus applied a specific analytical design, targeted at bitumen. Bitumen from the Dead Sea was conclusively identified using as reference materials for comparison, i.e. the present day bitumen from the Dead Sea floating blocks, as well as several bitumens from mummification balms and bitumen lumps unearthed from the archaeological site of Tell Yarmouth near Jerusalem in Israel.

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