Wednesday December 11, 2013
Whether we like it or not, people with more money and power than the rest of us--the rulers, chiefs, elites--have been a part of human society for thousands of years.
Sunken Garden of the Palace at Songo Mnara. Stephanie Wynne-Jones/Jeffrey Fleisher 2011.
Archaeologists are plagued with this, or so we say--people are overwhelmingly drawn to the really amazing artifacts, the luxurious villas, the evidence of conspicuous consumption in graves and middens. Seriously--all of that stuff is only a tiny fraction of how the world works and so a tiny fraction of the archaeological assemblages that have been collected in the world. But it's a loud fraction.
Here's a collection of the residences of royalty, part of the ongoing ancient houses collection I'm building.
Sunday December 8, 2013
December 8th is the traditional date for Bodhi Day, when the historical Buddha Siddartha Gautama is said to have reached enlightenment: when better to speak of the enlightening effects of archaeology?
Stupa at Sarnath, where the Buddha is said to have found enlightenment. Chris Moss
Several recent archaeological studies associated with the life of the Buddha have been conducted, most recently excavations at Lumbini in Nepal, said to have been his birthplace. The oldest phase of the Maya Devi shrine at Lumbini is securely dated between 550-800 BC, making it the earliest shrine associated with the Buddha to date.
Coningham RAE, Acharya KP, Strickland KM, Davis CE, Manuel MJ, Simpson IA, Gilliland K, Tremblay J, Kinnaird TC, and Sanderson DCW. 2013. The earliest Buddhist shrine: excavating the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini (Nepal). Antiquity 87(338):1104-1123.
Friday December 6, 2013
There's really no other way to look at it: new techniques of extracting and analyzing tiny fragments of mitochondrial DNA from very old bone are forcing scholars to rewrite human history.
The Sima de los Huesos hominins lived approximately 400,000 years ago during the Middle Pleistocene.
Javier Trueba, MADRID SCIENTIFIC FILMS.
Analysis of the mtDNA from what looked like 400,000 year old Neanderthals in the Sima de los Huesos site in Spain has revealed instead that the hominins at Sima are not Neanderthal but instead are more closely related to the recently discovered Denisovan population.
That alone shakes up the scientific world, because for over a century, scholars have had to rely solely on morphological characteristics of ancient people to understand human evolutionary relationships. What this study, that of the recent Dmanisi study, and others in the past half a decade show is that morphology cannot necessarily be a reliable indicator of relatedness.
The work of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology scholar Svänte Pääbo and others inventing and refining laboratory methods to winkle out mtDNA from ever-older human samples has continued and (I hope I hope) will continue to amaze us and overthrow our ideas of the course of human evolution. How exciting!
Meyer M, Fu Q, Aximu-Petri A, Glocke I, Nickel B, Arsuaga JL, Martinez I, Gracia A, Bermúdez de Castro JM, Carbonell E et al. 2013. A mitochondrial genome sequence of a hominin from Sima de los Huesos. Nature in press.
Some Recent News Stories
Monday December 2, 2013
This month, the fourth edition of James Graham-Campbell's classic text The Viking World is published by Frances Lincoln LTD, via Aurum Press.
The Viking World - Cover Art Francis Lincoln LTD Publishing Group
The new version includes updates to several of the chapters, and is in a smaller format, which turns the oversized coffee table book into a more accessible format for the intent reader....