Archaeological excavations at a Mesopotamian site have provided indirect evidence that several herd animal species were hunted to near-extinction in the Levant between 4000 and 1000 BC.
Scholars have long recognized that many species including hartebeest, Arabian oryx and ostrich disappeared from what is today Syria and Israel during the second millennium BC. Reasons for this disappearance of herd animals has been attributed to a variety of causes, including urban expansion, loss of habitat to sheep farming, and hunting. Investigations by Guy Bar-Oz (Haifa University) and associates at the site of Tell Kuran, Syria, suggest that one major culprit might have been the intensive use of desert kites.
The funnel-shaped linear object in the center of this photo graph is an immense desert kite, located near the site of Tell Kuran, Syria. Google Earth
A desert kite is a one of a handful of deathly efficient collaborative hunting methods used by human beings, in which the hunters use pairs of natural and/or constructed walls to drive whole herds of animals into an enclosure or pit or off a cliff face. Desert kites are known from southeastern Turkey to the Arabian peninsula, and the first ones date to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, between the 7th and 9th millennium BC. They appear to have been most in use between ~4000-1000 BC, during which time onagers, oryx, hartebeest and ostrich were extirpated from the southern Levant.
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Tell Kuran is a Mesopotamian site located in the Khabur River Basin of northeastern Syria, a small mound with documented Ubaid (4700-4600 BC) and Late Uruk (ca 3300 BC) occupations. Nearly fifty desert kites are known in northeastern Syria, several within a few kilometers of Tell Kuran. Within the tell's deposits was discovered a shallow lens of densely packed gazelle bones (Gazella subgutturosa). The deposit, roughly dated to ~3500-3100 BC, contains the remains of a minimum of 93 gazelles, of all ages and sexes. Most of the gazelle bones are non-meaty parts, such as the lower parts of feet. A small number of meat-bearing bones (ribs, scapulae, etc) were recovered, and no evidence of burning was identified within the deposit, leading the researchers to interpret this deposit as the initial stage of the butchery of a large number of gazelle carcasses.
Butchery marks on the foot bones suggest that they occurred during skinning; and the depth of the cutmarks suggests a significant time gap between the death of the animal and when it was skinned. Bar-Oz and colleagues suggest this is because the animals were killed at some distance from the site, then brought to Tell Kuran for the initial butchery. The animals in the deposit include a range of neonates, juveniles, prime-age adults and old animals, and both sexes, suggesting this is represents a complete herd, rather than the result of a culling or attrition (which would only include old and weak animals), or a hunting episode (which would only include the best meat-bearing animals).
Further evidence from the bones indicates that the kill occurred during the mid-to-late summer, when the herd would have been moving into its southern territories. Gazelles did not go extinct during this period, although they did disappear from the archaeological record in the southern Levant for some two thousand years. Bar-Oz and associates recognize that ostrich, oryx and hartebeest were also hunted by use of desert kites, and hypothesize that these species may not have been so resilient as the Persian gazelle.
Persian gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa). Photo by Alistair Rae
Bar-Oz G, Zeder MA, and Hole F. 2011. Role of mass-kill hunting strategies in the extirpation of Persian gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa) in the northern Levant. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.
The Three Sisters is (um, are?) the name of an ancient farming technique, in which beans, maize and squash were planted in the same place.
The Three Sisters, photo by Abri le Roux
The sisters work collaboratively: maize provides a stalk for beans to grow on; beans provide mineral nitrogen for nitrogen-greedy maize; beans and maize together provide shade and humidity for squash; and squash provides weed and erosion control for the other two. And that's only a taste of the benefits of the technique.
Planting beans, squash and maize together was truly a stroke of genius--not to mention a recipe for succotash--and the combination probably dates between 5,000 and 3,500 years ago.
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China is known for its long history of pottery making: archaeologists believe it is quite likely that pottery was invented in what is today China (or nearby) some 20,000 years ago. Even the word "china" means "high-fired ceramics" in English.
Blue and white covered jar with cloud and dragon, Jianjing period of the Ming Dynasty, 1522-1568; curated at the Palace Museum, Beijing. Photo by Xuan Che.
So, when people say that Jingdezhen is known as the ceramic capital of China, they refer to the enormous pottery making community where porcelains were made for official and royal consumption by the 7th century AD, and for darned near global markets by the 13th century.
The earliest evidence for somebody cultivating banana trees identified so far is in Kuk Swamp, a site in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, where bananas have been growing for over 15,000 years, and people have been deliberately planting them for at least 7,000 years.
Bananas in a Mysore Market
Photo Credit: Jennifer Turek
Bananas are really interesting: in part, because the evidence for their domestication is so old, but for geeks like me, in part because the main evidence is from tiny silicon plant remains called opal phytoliths that appear in the shapes of volcanoes. Really, how cool is that?
Ancient road systems, the earliest of which date to the Neolithic, are feats of engineering that represent a wide range of uses and considerations.
Street in Pompeii, photo by Guillen Perez
Road systems could have been built primarily for maintaining trade, like the Silk Road; or for building and maintaining great empires, like the Inca, Persians and Romans; or for ritual pathways like the Nazca lines, the Inca Ceque system and the great Chaco Road. Or all of those purposes at once. Fascinating! To feed my personal fascination, I've compiled information on several of the most interesting roads, trails, pathways and highways in our collective histories over the past six thousand years. Here is a collection of the specific ways in which some past cultures moved along the countryside.
Great Zimbabwe is the best known archaeological site dated to the Zimbabwe culture of the late African Iron Age.
Architectural detail, Great Zimbabwe. Photo by Nite_Owl
Nearly 80 acres of masonry buildings and enclosures make up Great Zimbabwe, buildings which were built beginning in the 12th century AD by Zimbabwe culture people stacking courses of shaped local stone--the buildings are mortarless. The structures at Great Zimbabwe are massive, and the architectural details, including conical towers and embedded designs like the one above, make it a fascinating place to visit.
The history of Great Zimbabwe is also fascinating: there is an abundance of archaeological evidence of connections with the medieval trade port of Kilwa Kisiwani and other Swahili coast towns, and thus access to trade goods throughout the Near and Far East.
Domestic goats (Capra hircus) were domesticated about 10,000-11,000 years ago, by Neolithic farmers in the Near East.
The photograph of these sweet little goats on the island of Ithaki, Greece was taken by the Flickrite called Malingering.
Besides milk and meat, goats produced very useful dung for fuel, as well as for materials for clothing and building: hair, bone, skin and sinew. And they're adorable, don't you think?
Heuneburg is one of the best known hillforts in central Europe, and, according to the latest research, it is one of the earliest of urban centers north of the Alps.
3D reconstruction of the Heuneburg at the height of its prosperity in the first half of the sixth century BC. © Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg
The hillfort of Heuneburg perched above the Danube river in southern Germany has been extensively excavated, and its ancient history--in use for over 1,000 years--well-established.
But what has been intimated, but not understood in detail until the publication in the journal Antiquity this week, is that during the early Iron Age (~600 BC) Heuneburg was the centerpiece of an urban settlement that included a population of 5,000, half-dozen additional fortified settlements and hundreds of farmsteads within an area of 100 hectares. That makes Heuneburg the largest and earliest settlement north of the Alps known to date.
Fernández-Götz M, and Krausse D. 2013. Rethinking Early Iron Age urbanisation in Central Europe: the Heuneburg site and its archaeological environment. Antiquity 87:473-487.
A new video collection from PBS called Journey of the Universe is due out June 4, 2013. It explores the philosophical efforts of some religious and scientific leaders to pull together what Stephen Jay Gould called "non-overlapping magisteria": science and religion specifically as they refer to ecology.
The Journey of the Universe Collection. Shop PBS
The Journey of the Universe Collection is a 10-hour-long examination of the work and impact of cosmologist/ecologist and theologian Thomas Berry. Berry [1914-2009] was a Roman Catholic priest, whose work combined a study of global cultural and religious history and influenced many scholars. Directed by evolutionary philosopher Thomas Brian Swimme and Yale religious historian Mary Ellen Tucker, the ten hours include 20 interviews with scientists and philosophers concerning Berry's impact.
Although this is obviously not my area of expertise, I had seen part of the original one hour program and felt that people in the anthropology field and related sciences would be interested in the presentation, so I enlisted the help of my family philosopher/media geek, who does have those chops and was willing to review the 10 hour video combination for us.
- Journey of the Universe and Journey of the Universe Conversations: A Review
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Palmyra was an important crossroads for the Silk Road passageway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Far East. Set at an oasis in what is now the Syrian Desert between Damascus and Dura-Europos, by the second century BC, Palmyra connected the Mediterranean and the Euphrates valley.
Roman Colonnade and Canal at Palmyra. Photo by Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
By the early centuries AD, Palmyra became of vital importance to the Roman control of the region, so important that even after conquering most of Syria, the Romans let Palmyra remain free. But it didn't last: the juicy plum that was Palmyra became a full-fledged Roman colony in AD 217. The Roman colonization of Palmyra transformed the bustling camp into a state-supported Roman city.
Cities of the Silk Road
Palmyra is the latest in About.com's Cities of the Silk Road project.