Monday, October 11, 2004

Online paper alert David Meltzer has provided an (apparently free) link to a paper he co-authored with Mike Cannon on his web site. It's an examination of the early Paleoindian record with implications for terminal Pleistocene extinctions in North America:

Early Paleoindian foraging: examining the faunal evidence for large mammal specialization and regional variability in prey choice Michael D. Cannon and David J. Meltzer

North American archaeologists have spent much effort debating whether Early Paleoindian foragers were specialized hunters of megafauna or whether they pursued more generalized subsistence strategies. In doing so, many have treated the foraging practices of early North Americans as if they must have been uniform across the continent, even though others have pointed out that adaptations appear to have varied among groups inhabiting different kinds of environments. Resolving these issues fully requires referring to archaeofaunal data and evaluating those data critically. In this paper, we conduct such an evaluation of the existing Early Paleoindian faunal record, which we then use to test the hypothesis that early Americans across the continent specialized in the hunting of megafauna. After detailed attention is given to taphonomic issues, to the limited geographical distribution of sites with secure associations between humans and prey taxa, and to differences among sites in the roles that they likely played in settlement and subsistence systems, it becomes clear that the faunal record provides little support for the idea that all, or even any, Early Paleoindian foragers were megafaunal specialists. It does appear, however, that there was considerable variability in Early Paleoindian prey choice across the continent, which was likely related to variability in the environments that different groups inhabited.

Money quote: That is, there is no a priori reason why Clovis mammoth hunters of the plains and southwest, rather than, for example, early hunters of medium-sized artiodactyls in the northeast, should be used as a model for hunters in places where Early Paleoindian subsistence practices are, as of yet, largely unknown. Indeed, as we have noted, there is perhaps better faunal evidence to support the idea that the early inhabitants of the intermountain west focused their hunting on medium-sized artiodactyls like mountain sheep than there is to support a hypothesis of specialization on megafauna.

Thus, an assumption of continent-wide adaptive uniformity is not supported by the faunal record at hand. . . .

Sadly, a very close reading of the archaeological literature on many subjects reveals that often our notions of what actually took place are strongly influenced by what we think we know rather than what can be empirically demonstrated.

Repatriation update UK museums face controversial Ethiopian legacy

British Museum (BM) director Neil MacGregor has decided that there is one small group of objects within his care that no one, not even he, should be allowed to see. These are tabots, which are regarded by Ethiopian Christians as representing the original Ark of the Covenant, the wooden chest which once housed the Ten Commandments. The Ark was placed in the Temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon in the 10th century BC, and the Ethiopian Orthodox church believes that it was later taken to Aksum, in the north of
the country.

Tabots are wooden tablets which must be hidden from view, and should only be seen by the senior clergy. It is highly sacrilegious for them to be viewed by other believers, let alone non-believers.

Upshot is that they (the BM) are working on perhaps a renewable 5-year-term loan (read: permanent) to the Church; the objects would be housed in a London church.

Medieval dentistry Medieval teeth 'better than Baldrick's'

Think of medieval England and you are likely to conjure up an image of a wizened hag with black stumps for teeth.

But although that might have been the unfortunate state of some people's teeth, others had much better care.

Documents show that, not only were the educationally elite aware of the importance of keeping their teeth clean, but they also knew how to fill cavities and deal with facial fractures.

They could recognise oral cancer and even knew the rudiments of teeth whitening.

Iron Age horse burial unearthed

A RARE ritual burial of four horses has been discovered in an area experts regard as a sacred landscape surrounding one of the most important prehistoric sites in the North of England.
Carbon dating shows the horses – lying nose to tail at Nosterfield Quarry close to Thornborough Henges, north of Ripon – were buried around 50AD, shortly after the Romans arrived in Britain.
The burial pit, or barrow, was found earlier this year as a team from Field Archaeological Specialists, based at York University, watched over the removal of topsoil at the sand and gravel quarry.
Zoo-archaeologist Steve Rowland, who uncovered them, said: "Two of the skeletons were virtually intact, but the other two had been accidentally damaged through ploughing of the land in previous years.