Archive | December, 2013

2013 In Review

31 Dec

The (wonderful) WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 240,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 10 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Quick Note

I did some editing of earlier entries on the site last night and it has come to my attention that a few desperately need to be updated and re-vamped, especially one or two of the early posts in the Skeletal Series.

Also I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone that has viewed this site in 2013 and I hope you have found it useful or informative in some way.  I am always happy for constructive feedback so please do not hesitate to get in touch!

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Blogging Archaeology: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

24 Dec

This is the second entry in a blogging carnival that Doug, of Doug’s Archaeology, started back in November.  Just to recap the whole idea of this blog carnival was started by Doug after he saw that the Society for American Archaeology are having their 79th annual conference in Austin, Texas, in April 2014.  Doug specifically noticed that they are including a session on the rise of blogging in archaeology and since he cannot be there himself he thought it was pertinent to start a blogging carnival online to get the archaeology blogosphere alive with monthly questions, which are posted at his site.

Image Credit.

Mixed image (with judicious use of ClipArt and Paint).

It turns out there are an awful lot of interesting archaeological blogs out there on the great wide web and a fantastic 72 separate blogs took part in the first round back in November.  My November entry, which dealt with the issues of why I started blogging in the first place and what keeps me blogging, can be found here.  In his November round-up of each and every blog that took part Doug also posted the December questions that focuses on the good, the bad and the ugly of blogging archaeology.  A further recap: to take part all you have to be doing is discussing and talking about archaeology on your own blog site: you can be an individual, part of a group, a professional archaeologist, an academic or just interested in archaeology to take part.  Please do!  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading my favourite blogs reply to Doug’s questions but, importantly, I have also discovered some new sites.  That is the joy of a blogging carnival!

So without further ado let us crack on to this month’s question: the good, the bad and the ugly of blogging archaeology online.

The Good

Clearly this is a simple answer because it is you.  If you are reading these words then that is why I am writing this.  This blog has found a bigger audience than I ever could have dreamed of, even with my almost non-existent advertising of the site.  It is the active feedback, the emails that ping into my inbox asking for information on McCune Albright Syndrome or Fibrous Dysplasia or the comments on my about page, that remind me why I continue to write this blog.  This, to me, is the great side of blogging, the active feedback that lets you know that people are actually reading your blog or discussing points that you have raised in posts.  As a bonus I hopefully get to improve my writing and I get to blog about the subject that I am most passionate about.

Further to this the blog has remained a major way in which I interact with academia, especially now that I have finished my Masters degree and currently search for a job.  I am locked out of a lot of the important archaeological and osteological journals but bloggers provide article overviews, disseminate their views for a popular audience and provide direct ways in which to discuss and implement research ideas.  This, to me, is the most important part of blogging, the helping of building up a network of trusted bloggers who are informative, interesting and imaginative.

The Bad

There are very few bad things about blogging, especially blogging about archaeology and human osteology.  The fact that this blog takes up a fair amount of time to maintain, to update and to edit could be a bad thing I guess, but I do not consider a minute of this wasted time.  There is one thing that I do worry about and it is one thing that I think most academically minded bloggers worry about, that of original work being lifted word for word and not being properly credited.  Although there is little work of truly original research on this site, I have had ideas I have wanted to share for future projects and research avenues that I want to pursue but I have been put off from writing about because of two things in particular.

I am currently not in academia although I am considering a return if I can polish a research idea I have had.  For me this next step would be to apply for a doctoral research position (ie apply for a PhD) but of course I cannot share the idea as I risk it being read by others and pursued by those who are in a position to study.  I have discussed the idea with other academics and they seem to think that the avenue of research could be viable, but do I want to go further down the academic route?  Of course nothing may ever come of the idea itself.  We shall see!

The second point is that on a blog you are writing openly and publicly to the world.  Wayward Women  have a particularly enlightening post on the bad side of blogging, namely of when your hard work gets lifted, fully and completely, and is subsequently attributed to some other reporter in the press.  Further to this point I think the blogger has to be aware that any content on their site could have been lifted at any time without their knowledge.  To the extent of my own I do not think that this has happened on mine, but I do remain fearful of it happening.  I am happy if my blog is shared, if I have been recognised as the writer of the posts here.  I heartily encourage use of Creative Commons when discussing other people’s work and to reference articles and blogs accordingly.

The Ugly

Surely the ugly goes hand in hand with the above bad side of blogging, in the form of the rise of the green monster.  Although please do not mistake me for some big green giant hellbent on revenge for a non-existent slight!  No, this is of a personal monster, of only the mild jealously of seeing such fantastic and informative bloggers and blog entries on bioarchaeological and archaeological research pursing their passion with such intellectual rigour and vigour.  Academia can be insular, not for nothing is the quote of academics sitting in their ivory towers often mentioned.  However this does academia, especially archaeology, a great disservice.  One only needs to see the tremendous amount of archaeological blogs online, the rise of community archaeology and the passion in which many fight for Open Access to understand that archaeology is deeply involved with disseminating archaeological knowledge to a wide and varied audience.

I also want to pick up another point here.  Unemployment is rarely mentioned or discussed in archaeology blogs online but it is an often inherent feature of archaeological fieldwork (and, increasingly, in academia) that at some point you may (or will) find yourself out of a job.  [Un]Free Archaeology, a site ran by Sam Hardy, does a phenomenal job documenting the changing conditions of work in the current economic climate (read: austerity, plus other factors affecting academia).  I am highlighting this because this is the ugly side of the profession.  Sam has a post in particular that details in gut wrenching detail the fate that can befall many scholars on short-term contracts: unemployment.  In a recent post he has highlighted the work of Scholars at Risk Network, an organisation that until this point I had not heard of.  Scholars at Risk Network do an amazing job of detailing scholars around the world who have been imprisoned because of their academic research.  As an international organisation of individuals and institutions they are “dedicated to protecting threatened scholars, preventing attacks on higher education communities and promoting academic freedom worldwide”.  The site is well worth a look and it is worth remembering that we who blog are lucky to be able to actually do so, to have that freedom.

The next blogging carnival question will be up at Doug’s Archaeology in early January 2014 so please do jump in and join!  The summation of the December questions are available here at Doug’s site together with the topic of January’s post.

aRNA: A Helpful Friend In Palaeopathology?

20 Dec

It is another quick post from me highlighting another researcher’s work but it is one well worth reading!  Over at So Much Science, So Little Time researcher Dr Kristin Harper has highlighted an intriguing possibility on the direction for the future of palaeopathology.

What is aRNA?

Harper’s post highlights the possible value of aRNA ( ancient Ribonucleic acid) in the investigation of viruses (think influenza and coronaviruses such as SARS) in past human populations in her post on the ability of researchers being able to obtain aRNA samples from 700 year old maize samples.  RNA performs a variety of important functions in the coding, decoding, regulation and expression of genes; essentially RNA acts as the messenger which carries instructions from DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) for controlling the synthesis of proteins in living cells.  DNA itself is the molecule that encodes the genetic instructions that are used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms (including many viruses) however, unlike DNA, RNA is composed of shorter single strands of nucleic acids.  This has made it particularly vulnerable to degradation in archaeological contexts.

The best place to search for evidence of aRNA strands in the human skeleton in an archaeological context would be in the dental pulp cavity, specially the molar teeth.  This seems to be the place where diagenesis  has the least effect on the human skeleton due to both the tough enamel coating found in human teeth and the tooth sockets themselves being fairly protected inside the mandible and maxilla, which is where cortical bone is often dense due to the biomechanics of mastication (Larsen 1997).

I should point out here that the area of genetics is not my specialty but it is an area of inherent interest for me, especially in its applications to palaeoanthropology and palaeopathology.

Why Could This Be Important?

The foundations of palaeopathology are built on the observed changes in human skeletal material and palaeopathology itself often specifically focuses on markers of stress or trauma that can be found in the macro or micro skeletal anatomy.  As a consequence of this many diseases (and indeed traumas) are ‘invisible’ in the archaeological record as they leave no marker of note on the skeleton itself.  The diseases and syndromes that do leave a lesion (which can include blastic and/or lytic lesions) are often said to leave pathognomonic lesions that are, at a basic level, an indicator of the disease or infection processes behind the bone change.

So, as you can imagine, quite often in human osteology we have a ‘healthy’ skeleton of an individual that has died at such and such an age but with no obvious cause of death.  In essence we have the osteological paradox, where those who do contract a disease and die shortly afterwards leave no evidence of bone lesions (or trace of the cause of death) in comparison to individuals who do have severe pathological bone changes but have evidently lived long enough for the disease itself to alter the skeletal architecture; it is, in short, the question of discerning the health of a past population (Larsen 1997: 336).  This is a simplified version of the osteological paradox, a discussion outlining the paradox and it’s full implications and discussion points can be found in Woods et al.’s (1992) article (available online here).

This can have serious effects on our estimates of disease prevalence in history and prehistory, especially in the cases of viruses as they can often kill quickly and leave no skeletal marker.  However because they are cells that were once alive they do leave behind evidence of traces of aRNA.  So any new methodology of being able to extrapolate aRNA of past infections from human skeletal material is welcome as this could potentially open up new insights into past populations and population dynamics.

Further Information

Bibliography

Larsen, C. 1997. Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behaviour From The Human Skeleton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woods, J. W., Milner, G. R., Harpending, H, C. & Weiss, K. M. 1992. The Osteological Paradox: Problems of Inferring Prehistoric Health from Skeletal Samples. Current Anthropology. 33 (4): 343-370. (Open Access).

Open Access Archaeology Website

16 Dec

A very quick post here just to highlight the Open Access Archaeology website, a site ran in part by the creator of it, Doug Rocks-Macqueen, with the help of Lorna Richardson and other dedicated researchers.  The Open Access Archaeology site provides the user with a resource on open access archaeology journals, highlighting where to publish if you want your work to be available for free or if you are just searching for a specific article or chapter.  Currently in the beta testing stage, the website promises to help make the destructive process of archaeology open for everyone by providing the results of the research available to everyone.

Guest Post: The Rise of BAJR Part I by David Connolly

12 Dec

David Connolly is the founder of the British Archaeological Jobs and Resources (BAJR) website and runs, along with archaeologist Maggie Struckmeier, the Past Horizons website, a web portal specialising in the reporting of archaeological news and projects from around the globe.  Formerly a guitarist and key member of punk band Oi Polloi, David left to pursue a career in archaeology and subsequently worked the British field circuit for a number of years.  He has also excavated and surveyed sites in far flung places such as Croatia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Jordan.  His experiences at York helped him form a keystone in his belief of the use of methodologies in archaeological practice.  Currently residing in Scotland, David specialises in archaeological surveys and regularly partakes in community archaeology projects.

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Once there was a time without BAJR (pronounced badger) – however, very little is understood about how it became a part of British archaeology and how it has evolved into its present day form.

The Man Behind BAJR

BAJR was a creation of myself, David Connolly and was born out of a realization that although the world of archaeology can be a wonderful place to be, it can equally create very real problems for those who wish to pursue it as a career.

DavidConnollyTST

A long haired David Connolly and a trusted total station taking recordings and measurements during archaeological survey work.  Survey work is a key part of archaeological field research and plays a major role in the evaluation of archaeological sites and during excavations themselves.

At the end of the 1990s I was experiencing this very problem and was not in the best of places, both mentally and physically. Once in the not too distant past, the world was my oyster; I worked my way around the Middle East and Central Asia in winter and the UK circuit during the summer. But these halcyon days were not to last and I became trapped in an ever decreasing spiral of work dependence, an all too common malaise of the peripatetic jobbing archaeologist.

Around 1997 my life started to change for the better when I met Maggie my wife. She seemed to see saw some sort of potential in this washed up train wreck of a man.

I tried to ‘man up’ and made an effort to create a website to promote my own work, but it all felt a bit pointless.

At around the same time, I became aware of a newsletter called the Digger which was a ‘tell it like it is, no holds barred’ publication, doing the rounds of the site hut. Reading this suddenly made me very aware that I wasn’t the only one out there experiencing difficulties. This led to many discussions about all the associated employment problems such as poor wages and unregulated conditions that archaeologists were trying to cope with. Maggie then suggested that I do something positive with this knowledge and take a stand.

At last, I felt I had a real purpose and my sad little website got a makeover in August 1998 and became a platform to announce employment opportunities within the profession.

BAJR Beginnings

With this new belief that we can all do something positive to change our lives and not just sit and grumble about it became the foundation stone of BAJR. It was envisaged as a resource for collecting any archaeological jobs that were on the grapevine and also to act as a means to stay in touch and communicate.

Early BAJR existed in a time before social media and mobile internet. Connection was via dialup modems and field archaeologists would normally use the computer at their local library to check BAJR for jobs and then print any out to share around. Seeing the valuable role that BAJR was now playing in the employment process, archaeology companies were increasingly emailing job adverts for inclusion onto the website. BAJR was fast becoming a popular method of finding staff, not just for digging teams, but for other roles as well.

DavidConnollyearlyBAJR

An early version of the BAJR website.

This central portal ensured that postal lists were now becoming obsolete and the expense to a company of taking out a Guardian advert or similar was no longer required. Every BAJR job advert could be printed out and posted up on the walls of site huts in a matter of minutes after they were uploaded.

Each advert that came in was hand transcribed from email or letter over to an html page – but this scrutiny led to interesting consequences. Examining each and every job posting provided the opportunity to question and even to refuse those that seemed to pay less than the ‘standard’ wages. Of course, this meant that criteria needed to be made clearer so that companies and applicants knew what was acceptable and what was not.

A system needed to be formalised, something that provided markers for progression and pay minima grades based on responsibility. This was worked upon and then introduced, over two years and several discussions with contractors later, the nuances and present structure finally evolved.

Formalising

Simple to understand, it was generally accepted by most of the UK archaeological contractors as a basis for pay and conditions. It has to be stressed though that these grades have never sought to replace Institute for Archaeologists levels (PIfA, IAfA and MIfA) or even attempt to subvert them; it is merely a way for all contractors and all archaeologists who use BAJR to know what is expected and what the bottom line is.

It is true to say that some people feel that the BAJR pay minima represent de facto levels, but this is not the intent. Although, every company is consulted annually on the following 12 monthly grade pay scale, the choice to advertise or not, is always in the hands of the contractor. They are free to pay less than the quoted grade if they wish, but if they do they know that their jobs will not be advertised on BAJR.

Thus the modern day BAJR is a beast of three parts:

  1. Jobs portal – It is accepted by archaeologists working in the United Kingdom that BAJR (British Archaeological Jobs and Resources) is a trusted portal for archaeology job adverts and has a strong pay and conditions ethic.
  2. Forum – BAJR also provides a platform to encourage open debate on all that is right, wrong and humorous about the archaeological profession.
  3. Information provider – A comprehensive searchable directories ranging from curatorial services to heritage courses within the UK.

It is now fifteen years since the first BAJR website was uploaded but the brand and the ethos behind it has stood the test of time.

DavidConnollymodernBAJR

The modern interactive face of the BAJR site today with each component playing a special part within British archaeology.

The Future?

Defining and distracting views of BAJR include misconceptions, expectations and beliefs that merged into a monolithic vision of an organisation that must be up to something, but what was that something?

Find out now as Part II and Part III of the Rise of BAJR can be found here and here

Lee Berger Talks About Rising Star Project

11 Dec

Palaoeanthropologist Lee Berger, describer of Australopithecus sediba and professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, can be heard here describing the recent Rising Star Expedition and the projects rescue of hominin bones from deep inside a cave in South Africa after a chance discovery by some cavers.

The project, with support from the National Geographic and the Speleological Exploration Club of South Africa, have recently recovered around 1200 individual fossil hominin elements during a three week recovery dig at the site.  As Berger discusses in the phenomenally exciting radio interview with National Geographic it his belief that there are articulated hominin remains yet to be uncovered and rescued from the cave site.  It truly promises to be an amazing site due to the massive haul of fossil material found within a concentration no bigger then many dining room tables.  Once the fossils have been analysed scientifically further information will be released, although the project is fairly unique in the fact that it is running as an open science project.  The National Geographic (and others including John Hawks and Lee Berger) has so far done an excellent job in documenting the project (see here).

In perhaps one of the most interesting periods ever for palaeoanthropological news the interview competes with the recent investigation of the five Homo erectus individuals at the Dmanisi site in Georgia and last week’s announcement of the sequencing of mtDNA from a 300,000 year old hominin from the Sima de los Huesos site in Spain (Meyer et al. 2013).  I hope to further explore the 300,000 year old mtDNA article in detail in an upcoming entry.

As ever, I heavily recommend heading over to John Hawks weblog as his posts on the Rising Star Expedition and human evolution continue to enthrall and shed light on the fossils and genetic investigations that he is so often a part of.  We are living in some truly fascinating times where we are really starting to learn about human evolution through the glorious combination of genetic analysis and the smart approaches to extracting ancient DNA, combined with the truly amazing fossil finds of the past decade and a bit.

Bibliography

Meyer, M., Fu, Q, Aximu-Petri, A., Glocke, I., Nickel, B., Arsuaga, J-L., Martínez, I., Gracia, A., Bermúdez de Castro, J .M., Carbonell, E & Pääbo, S. 2013. A Mitochondrial Genome Sequence of a Hominin from Sima de los Huesos. Nature. 505: 403-406.

Digitised Diseases Website Live Tomorrow!

9 Dec

Something pretty spectacular and interesting is happening in the world of online access as the Digitised Diseases project website goes live tomorrow night (09/12/13) with a grand opening at the Royal College of Surgeons of England in London.  This means that a grand total of around 1600 scanned human skeletal specimens will be made available to researchers and the public to view for free.  The aim of the project is ‘to create a web-accessible archive of photo-realistic digital 3D models of pathological type-specimens’ from human remains (source).

DD

The Digitised Diseases blog banner. The site is an excellent resource detailing the pathological bone changes which occur as a result of either trauma or disease progression.

The project is using the latest in 3D laser scanning, high resolution photograph and CT scans to provide free examples of palaeopathologies that affected the skeletal anatomy.  The populations that are represented by the skeletal series used to illustrate the various traumas and diseases will include individuals from a variety of archaeological contexts from England, including late Medieval  and more modern 18th and 19th century contexts.  The team that is spearheading the project is largely based at the archaeology department at the University of Bradford with support coming from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, who are based in London.  One of the main reasons for initiating the project was the poor state and bone quality of the pathological examples, so by creating an online depository, which is free to access, it is hoped that the knowledge can be spread far and wide whilst the bones themselves can be preserved and maintained.

The popular Digitised Diseases blog for the project has been up and running for a while now and it is currently helping to showcase examples of scanned bones with clinical descriptions and case histories of their various maladies.  It is a fantastic site and well worth a visit.  Once the proper site is up and running I can imagine that it will be extremely popular with human osteologists, medical historians and archaeologists.  It will be the perfect site to quickly log and compare an example of a suspected pathology right in front of you with one recorded properly and scanned on the site.  I am also looking forward to seeing what impact this will have on other academic institutions and whether the site will evolve to contain further pathological examples, perhaps some prehistoric ones or examples on other hominins.

On a side note the Royal College of Surgeons of England’s base in London is also home to the Wellcome Museum of Anatomy and Pathology and the Hunterian Museum, two excellent museums that document and present the value of human osteology and soft tissue pathology to a wide audience.

Updated 09/12/13

The website is now live and the available models are excellent!  It is a fantastic resource for learning about the trauma and disease process and the effects that they can have on human bone.  I have only just started to play around with the live beta version of the website and there are quite a few of the models that are currently unavailable to view.  I expect that this will change in the upcoming days and weeks as this project becomes fully live.

Below is a quick screen shot of an adult individual (sex undetermined) who presents with a surgical trepannation on the left parietal bone, quite something!  I did have difficulty zooming into the model as my laptop lacks a 3 buttoned mouse.

ddsurgtrepannation

A screen shot of the ectocranial view of trepannation model (left parietal bone in the skull) found in the surgical sub-menu on the Digitised Diseases website. Note the model can be enlarged and the description box on the right hand side details the anatomical pathology on this specimen.  Click to enlarge (source).

I am looking forward to investigating Digitised Diseases in further detail as it is a great resource, openly available to everyone to investigate pathological bone changes and the effects of disease, trauma and surgical procedures on human skeletal remains.  The models can be viewed online, as I did (see above), or can be downloaded and used at your pleasure.  Please remember to cite the program where it has been used in research.

Further Information

Bob Chapple 2014 Irish Archaeology Essay Contest Announced

7 Dec

Robert M. Chapple has recently announced the arrival of a new archaeology essay competition for 2014.  Focusing on any aspect of Irish archaeology, students at any 3rd tier educational establishment (see below) are asked to submit an original research essay highlighting the value and wealth of Irish archaeology.

Robert’s inspiration for the competition, which runs from the 6th of December of this year until the 1st of November 2014, is the sad loss of his father Bob Chapple, who died unexpectedly 3 years ago.  In a passionate and inspiring blog post Robert details just how his father influenced and supported him throughout his life.  Particularly touching is the dedication Robert gave to his father, the first archaeologist in the family, in a published monograph shortly before his father’s death.

The competition’s aim, which is sponsored by Wordwell Books Ltd who are offering a €60 voucher to the winner, is to present the work of next generation of archaeology scholars to the wider world.  If you are a student, whether an under-graduate or post-graduate, this is your chance to produce a piece of original research work that will be made available to a diverse and interested audience, it is an opportunity to engage and communicate your work with the world.

Robert states:

“In memory of my father, I would like to introduce an Archaeological Essay Prize for undergraduate and postgraduate students. The competition will open to any registered student at any third level institution, conducting original research on any aspect of Irish archaeology as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree/diploma of any kind. The entry is to be in the form of an essay (max 5000 words) outlining the research being conducted and its importance, relevance etc., along with results (expected, actual, emerging etc.) to be published on this blog.”

I, for one, look forward to reading the winner’s entry when it is published on Robert’s site and I am keen to see which topic and area of research will win the prize.

Ireland has a rich and diverse archaeological record with a rich and well documented palaeoenvironmental record.  Ireland is justifiably famous for the amount of well preserved archaeological finds from it’s peat bogs in the centre of the country, including bog bodies (such as Clonyclavan Man and Old Croghan Man) and Bog Butter, but Ireland also boasts some truly outstanding prehistoric and historic archaeological sites.  This includes everything from Mesolithic camping sites (Mount Sandel) to the staggering Neolithic Newgrange complex, from a Viking toy boat to the utter devastation of the Great Famine in the 19th century and it’s archaeological implications.

Of course the essay could be on any topic to do with Irish archaeology, from a site analysis or artefact discussion to archaeological theory and practice, it really is up to the student as to what they want to discuss and that opens a great opportunity to pursue what you love.  I will keep an keen eye out for the winner and I shall look forward to further competitions after the 2014 award.  Robert has taken a step forward to involve not just the researchers and archaeologists but also members of the public in helping to discover the wealth of Irish history and archaeology.  In short it is a step to be applauded.

Further Information

  • The competition is open from now until the 1st of November 2014, with the winner being announced in January 2015.
  • Further information and provisional rules on the form, content and rules of submission can be found at Robert’s blog here.

An Introduction to the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik Culture

6 Dec

A recent post of mine discussed the fickle nature of constructing and using databases when conducting archaeological research, however in that post I didn’t much expand upon the culture that I had studied in my dissertation for the MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology at the University of Sheffield.  So here is a brief introductory post, taken and edited from my own research, of the Linearbandkeramik culture of Central Europe, one of the first major agricultural practicing cultures in the European Neolithic period.  The Linearbandkeramik were named, somewhat imaginatively, after the linear bands found on their pottery and are hereby after referred to as the LBK.

Origins and Expansion of the Linearbandkeramik Culture

The LBK are an early Neolithic Central European culture dating from 5500 BC to 4900 BC, although there are sites dating to just before and after this period (Whittle 1996: 146).  The origin of the LBK culture and the exodus point is thought to be from the Starčevo–Kőrös–Criş cultures from the Hungarian Plain dating to around 5600 BC, which has been primarily identified due to similar incised pottery and similar radiocarbon dates for the location of the earliest LBK sites (Price et al. 2001: 593).  Largely known for their homogeneity in their architectural and material culture, the LBK distribution across the seemingly favoured loess plains was fairly rapid in archaeological terms.  Arching across from the Hungarian Plain in its origin to reaching the Paris Basin and Ukrainian plains at its zenith, two distinct geographic areas having been established for early and late LBK periods (Figure 1 below, Whittle 1996: 146).

The early phase originated from western Hungary and followed the Danube and other river corridors, rapidly reaching the Rhine and Neckar valleys within a few centuries (Jochim 2000: 186).  The second phase often mapped in studies includes the rapid extension into the Paris basin in eastern France, the Netherlands, and Belgium in western Europe, towards the loess boundaries of the northern European plain in Germany and Poland, with extension as far as western Ukraine (Bogucki 2000: 198).  There are slight differences in regional chronologies, with evidence of LBK settlements as late as the middle of the 5th millennium BC in north eastern Europe (Vanmontfort 2008: 157), and evidence of the fragmentation of late LBK sites into different cultural entities in the northern and central European LBK sites (Hofmann & Bickle 2011).

LBKSPREADD

Figure 1. The distribution and spread of LBK in Central Europe, where A is earliest LBK (5500 BC) and B is late LBK expansion (4800 BC) (Bogucki 2000: 198).

In general LBK settlements are found on loess soils, near water in valleys and in low lying situations, typically in woodland at its climax phase of post-glacial growth, although the archaeological evidence suggests that little or limited inroads were made into the surrounding woodlands (Whittle 1996: 149).  It is noted however that a few sites and exceptions lie outside the loess boundaries, particularly in Poland, near Kujavia, although no distinguishing features have been noted at these sites (Whittle 1996: 146).  It has also been pointed out by some that the inland environments the LBK favoured were naturally devoid of hunter-gatherer populations (Price 2000i: 4), although this has been argued against by some, especially in the earlier and middle period of the LBK cultural expansion where it is to be expected that some hunter-gatherer/LBK interaction would have probably occurred (Vanmontfort 2008: 151).

Throughout the distribution and period time frame of the LBK culture the climate was somewhat warmer than it is today, with the temperature sitting a few degrees higher which resulted in a relatively dryer central and eastern European plain (Bogucki 2000: 198).  It is thought that this relative rise in temperature could have a positive effect on agricultural and farming practices, providing an advantageous environment for the growth of plant material (Bogucki 2000).  One of the main points of discussion between researchers of the LBK culture concerns their expansion during the early Neolithic period is the nature of the mode of transmission of both their culture and their expansion into the Central European Plain (Bellwood 2005).  This echoes the expansion of the early Neolithic in Europe and, as the LBK are one of the first major and well documented farming cultures, there has been an increasing amount of research in the relationship between LBK centres, pre-existing hunter-gatherer cultures, and the rate of LBK expansion (Shennan 2011, Tresset & Vigne 2011, Vanmontfort 2008, Vencl 1986).  As such it is important to consider the individual LBK sites within their surrounding context and within the culture as a whole.  By making broad sweeping generalizations, nuances in the archaeological record are generally missed.

Linearbandkeramik Society

Gimbutas (1991) was one of the many early prehistorians who have argued that the Neolithic represented the continuation of the matriarchal society from the Upper Palaeolithic, as represented by one idea of the Venus figurines as symbols of matriarchy throughout European prehistory (Scarre 2005: 395).  Recent archaeological and genetic investigations have displaced this theory, particularly those regarding early Neolithic communities (Bentley et. al. 2012).  Evidence from the varying disciplines of linguistics (Fortunato 2011: 108), spatial models (Rasteiro et al. 2012) and biomolecular evidence (Lacan et al. 2011: 18255), amongst others, have highlighted the general trend of patrilocal kinship based societies amongst the Neolithic societies in Europe.  The continued use of isotopes in archaeological studies, including strontium as a marker of migration (Bentley et al. 2012), and carbon and nitrogen as dietary markers (Durrwachter et al. 2006, Oelze 2012), in the understanding of kinship and community differentiation in the LBK culture, in particular, is having a sustained impact on the perceptions of the society in the Neolithic period (Bentley et al. 2012: 1).

In Bentley et al.’s (2012: 4) study of over 300 individuals from 7 well known LBK sites (Vedrovice, Aiterhofen, Schwetzingen, Nitra, Kleinhadersdorf, Souffelweyersheim and Ensisheim) across the LBK distribution compelling evidence was uncovered that suggests that the LBK society, as whole, was patrilocal in nature.  Evidence gathered from the strontium isotope program highlighted significantly less variance in the geographic signature amongst males than amongst the females tested, and with less variance amongst burials with ground stone shoe last adzes than those without (Bentley et al. 2012: 1).  Durwachter et al. (2006: 41) and Oelze et al. (2011: 276) studies indicate no substantial difference between male and female diets at LBK sites or any preferential access to differing foodstuffs.  Bentley et al. (2012: 4) however do suggest that males, particularly those with an adze present in their grave, represent individuals who have preferential access to preferred loess soils.  Bentley et al. (2012: 4) go on to state that, generally speaking, the results indicate that ‘male inheritance of land means that males tend to live where they were born, while females marry and moved elsewhere’.  Bentley et al (2012: 4) conclude that ‘unequal and inherited land access developed over time among the early farmers of central Europe’, with evidence of differential access to goods being able to be traced back to the early Neolithic.

Linearbandkeramik Material and Mortuary Culture

The architectural and material culture of the LBK was fairly standardised and remarkably consistent throughout their cultural lifespan although regional variations did exist, especially towards the end of the LBK chronology (Bogucki 2000: 205).  Often clustered into villages, the LBK people practised agriculture in a subsistence economy, cultivating cereals and legumes such as barley, emmer, einkorn, pea, lentil and flax, using intensely cultivated garden sized plots to grow the produce.  Animals, such as cattle and pigs, were also kept, as well as hunting animals which were locally available (Bogaard 2004).  Many LBK settlements were open, without any defined or bounded perimeter, and consisted of 8-10m long timber built longhouses spaced apart by 2-3m from each other, which were often orientated in the same way (Bradley 2001).  The size and numbers of longhouse dwellings at LBK sites varied from just a few to a more than 40 (Hofmann & Bickle 2011).  No LBK longhouses have been found with the floor intact, limiting exact evidence and, with the de-calcification of the loess soils since LBK times, much organic material and evidence has been further lost from the archaeological record (Whittle 1996: 160).  In the late LBK period (5000 BC onwards) there was a proliferation of ditched enclosures, varied in shape and form, though most occupying a space no more than 2 ha. in size, throughout the geographic spread of the LBK (Whittle 1996: 174).

Typical artefacts such as shoe last adzes, stone axes, flints, stone hammers, polished adzes, incised pottery decorations, spondylus shells shaped into beads and necklaces, are found at sites throughout the distribution of the culture (John 2011: 41, Whittle 1996: 171).  Material culture is also the social inward and outward expression of a culture, with goods often in daily use and in circulation between families, friends and communities throughout the LBK settlements.  Pottery throughout the LBK period was incised with linear bands, which may have been imbued with some meaning or statement as regional styles proliferated throughout (Whittle 1996: 173).  Whittle (1996: 173) further suggests that although adzes are and have been seen as status indicators (Bentley et al. 2012), the key question is the ownership of such objects.  That a male or female may be buried with an adze, does not necessarily mean that they owned the artefact during life (John 2011).    It seems increasingly likely, however, that during their working lifetime adzes were worth acquiring, even by forager communities associated around the LBK periphery, such ‘as seen at (the) Skateholm II’ site in Scania, southern Sweden (Whittle 1996: 174).  The spondylus shells are also indicators of trade and circulation of goods with areas such as the Adriatic and north Aegean (Bentley et al. 2012: 1), which are often taken as indicators of status and community differentiation, which is often correlated with reproductive advantages (Bocquet-Appel et al. 2012: 335).

The mortuary culture of the LBK has been evidenced by the excavation and evaluation of several large cemeteries, such as the early LBK Vedrovice site and late LBK sit of Aiterhofen (as discussed in my dissertation thesis), and by the less well investigated cremations at various other sites (Hofmann & Bickle et al. 2011: 185).  Inhumations are typically single crouched burials, with the individual placed on their left side (Figure 2 below, Bickle et al. 2011).  Inhumation and cremation are not mutually exclusive as both have been found at several sites together, obstinately having been practiced at the same time as each other (Whittle 1996: 168).

AiterhofenburialLBK

Figure 2. A ‘typical’ LBK crouched inhumation burial from the mid period LBK site of Aiterhofen, Germany.  Notice the stone tool behind the skull of the individual and the spondylus shells draped around the head (Bickle et al. 2011: 1247).

Whilst the majority of burials from the LBK period have come from cemetery sites, inhumations are also sometimes found under settlement structures with the majority of these belonging to female or juvenile individuals.  Added to this are other inhumations which have been found inside settlements, pits, or in ditches outside settlements (Bentley et al. 2012).  Polished shoe last adzes, incised pottery, lithics, spondylus shells and beads, are just some of the artefacts found at LBK sites and in inhumations throughout the LBK cultural lifespan.  Both Bentley (2012ii) and Bentley et al. (2012: 4) studies have shown a positive correlation between the presence of shoe last adzes and male burials, whilst their 87Sr/86Sr studies have shown a pattern of a patrilocality society amongst the populations considered in the studies.  Empty burial plots (of either body or funerary goods) have also been discovered at numerous LBK cemeteries, with the possibility that the grave sites were meant to remain empty as a symbolic act (Lenneis 2010i: 164).

Late period LBK ‘death pits’, such as at Talheim and Herxheim in southern Germany and Asparn Schletz in Austria, represent something altogether more different, possibly massacre sites although this is heavily debated (Bentley et al. 2008, Bishop & Knusel 2005, Wahl & Konig 1986: 150).  Evidence of violence is not uncommon in the preceding Mesolithic and Neolithic periods in Europe (Duday 2006, Lillie 2004, Schulting 2006), however Whittle (1996: 171) states that at Talheim in particular the ‘scale of violence (here) is unexpected’.  The above three sites have been explained as possibly symptomatic of the LBK world towards its end.  Whittle states that the most general inference to be drawn is that it is consistent with the rest of the LBK evidence, that the massacre sites size and their victims represent the strong norms of ‘communally sanctioned behaviour’ (1996: 171).

  • The abstract for my dissertation, focusing on patrilocality and the use of isotopes, can be found here.
  • Previous posts discussing the Linearbandkeramik culture can be found here.
  • If you would like a copy of the dissertation thesis please email me (address is in the about me tab).

Bibliography:

Bellwood, P. 2005. First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies. London: Wily-Blackwell.

Bentley, R. A., Wahl, J., Price, T. D. & Atkinson, T. C. 2008. Isotopic Signatures and Hereditary Traits: Snapshot of a Neolithic Community in Germany. Antiquity. 82 (316): 290-304.

Bentley, R. A., Bickle, P., Fibiger, L., Nowell, G. M., Dale C. W., Hedges, R. E. M., Hamiliton,. J., Wahl, J., Francken, M., Grupe, G., Lenneis, E., Teschler-Nicola, M., Arbogast, R-M., Hofmann, D. & Whittle, A. 2012. Community Differentiation and Kinship Among Europe’s First Farmers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. doi:10.1073/pnas.1113710109. 1-5.

Bentley, R. A. 2012i. Social Identity in the Early Linearbandkeramik: Evidence from Isotopes, Skeletons and Burial Contexts. Early Farmers: The View from Archaeology and Science Conference Booklet. University of Cardiff, Wales. May 2012. pp. 23.

Bentley, R. A. 2012ii. Mobility and the Diversity of Early Neolithic Lives: Isotopic Evidence from the Skeletons. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. Accessed at Http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2012.01.009 on the 13/06/12.

Bickle, P., Hofmann, D., Bentley, R. A., Hedges, R., Hamilton, J., Laiginhas, F., Nowell, G., Pearson, D. G., Grupe, G. & Whittle, A. 2011. Roots of Diversity in a Linearbandkeramik community: Isotope Evidence at Aiterhofen (Bavaria, Germany). Antiquity. 85 (330): 1243-1258.

Bishop, N. A. & Knusel, C. J. 2005. A Palaeodemographic Investigation of Warfare in Prehistory. In:  M. P. Pearson & I. J. N. Thorpe (eds.) Warfare, Violence and Slavery in Prehistory. BAR International Series. 1374. Oxford: Archaeopress. 201-216.

Bocquet-Appel, J., Naji, S., Linden, M. V., & Kozlowski, J. 2012. Understanding the Rates of Expansion of the Farming System in Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science.  39 (2): 531-546.

Bogaard, A. 2004. Neolithic Farming in Central Europe. London: Routledge.

Bogucki, P. 2000. ‘How Agriculture Came to North-Central Europe’. In: T. D. Price (ed.) Europe’s First Farmers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 197-218.

Bradley, R. 2001. Orientations and Origins: A Symbolic Dimension to the Long House in Neolithic Europe. Antiquity. 75 (287): 50-56.

Duday, H. 2006. L’archaeothanatologie ou L’archaeologie de la Mort (Archaeothantology or the Archaeology of Death). In: R. Gowland and C. Knüsel (eds.), The Social Archaeology of Funerary Remains. Oxford: Oxbow. pp. 30-52.

Durrwachter, C., Craig, O. E., Collins, M. J., Burger, J. & Alt, K. W. 2006. Beyond the Grave: Variability in Neolithic Diets in Southern Germany? Journal of Archaeological Science. 33 (2006): 39-48.

Fortunato, L. 2011. Reconstructing the History of Residence Strategies in Indo-European-Speaking Societies: Neo-, Uxori, and Virilocality. Human Biology. 83 (1): 107-128.

Gimbutas, G. 1991. The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Hofmann, D. & Bickle, P. 2011. Culture, Tradition and the Settlement Burials of the Linearbandkeramik. In: B. W. Roberts & M. V. Linden (eds.) Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability and Transmission. New York: Springer. pp. 183-200.

Jochim, M. 2000. ‘The Origins of Agriculture in South Central Europe’. In: T. D. Price (ed.) Europe’s First Farmers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 183-196.

John, J. 2011. Status of Spondylus Artefacts within the LBK Grave Goods. In: F. Ifantidis & M. Nikolaidou (Eds.) Spondlyus In Prehistory: New Data & Approaches- Contributions to the Archaeology of Shell Technologies. BAR International Series 2216. Oxford: Archaeopress. pp. 39-45.

Lacan, M., Keyser, C., Ricaut, F., Brucato, N., Duranthon, F., Guilaine, J., Crubézy, E. & Ludes, B. 2011. Ancient DNA Suggests The Leading Role Played by Men During the Neolithic Dissemination. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  108 (45): 18255-18259.

Lenneis, E. 2010i. Empty Graves in LBK Cemeteries: Indications of Special burial Practises. Documenta Praehistorica. XXXVII: 161-166.

Lillie, M. C. 2004. Fighting For Your Life? Violence at the Late-Glacial to Holocene Transition in Ukraine. In: M. Roksandic (ed.) Violent Interactions in the Mesolithic: Evidence and Meaning. BAR International Series. 1237. Oxford: Archaeopress. pp. 89-96.

Oelze, V. M., Siebert, A., Nicklish, N., Meller, H., Dresely, V. & Alt, K. W. 2011. Early Neolithic Diet and Animal Husbandry: Stable Isotope Evidence from Three Linearbandkeramik (LBK) Sites in Central Germany. Journal of Archaeological Science. 38 (2): 270-279.

Price, T. D. 2000i. ‘Europe’s First Farmers: An Introduction’. In: T. D. Price (ed.) Europe’s First Farmers. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press. pp. 1-19.

Price, T. D., Bentley. A. R., Luning, J., Gronenborn, D. & Wahl, J. 2001. Prehistoric Human Migration in the Linearbandkeramik of Central Europe. Antiquity. 75: 593-603.

Rasteiro, R., Bouttier, P., Sousa, C. C & Chikhi. 2012. Investigating Sex-biased Migration During the Neolithic Transition in Europe, Using an Explicit Spatial Simulation Framework. Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences. Doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.2323 accessed on the 20th of May 2012.

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Schulting, R. J. 2006. Skeletal Evidence and Contexts of Violence in the European Mesolithic and Neolithic. In: R. Gowland and C. Knüsel (eds.), The Social Archaeology of Funerary Remains. Oxford: Oxbow. pp. 224-237.

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Vencl, S. 1986. The Role of Hunter-Gathering Populations in the Transition to Farming: A Central-European Perspective. In: M. Zvelebil (ed.) Hunters In Transition: Mesolithic Societies and their Transition to Farming. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press. pp. 43-51.

Wahl, J. & Konig, H. G. 1987. Anthropologish-Traumatologishe Untersuchung der Menschlichen Skelettreste aus dem Bandkeramischen Massengrab bei Talheim, Kreis Heilbronn. Fundberichte aus Baden-Wurttemberg. 12: 65-193.

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Blogging Archaeology: Why I Blog

3 Dec

I was recently kindly asked to participate in a blogging carnival started by Doug over at Doug’s Archaeology (a fantastic site) although, as always, I may be late to the party.  So why this ‘blogging carnival’ then?  Well the Society for American Archaeology has decided to host a ‘Blogging in Archaeology’ session at its next annual conference in Austin, Texas, in 2014 but Doug cannot attend it (and neither can I) so he thought he’d contribute by extending it into the online community to widen the participation.  An excellent idea!

jonnytwopac

Image credit, with judicious use of ClipArt.

This is a great opportunity for a wealth of archaeology blogs to become united by the shared passion over our past.  You also don’t have to be American to partake in the carnival nor to be going to the SAA ‘Blogging in Archaeology’ session to join in the online fun.  As Doug states this is open to all archaeology blogs and each month in the run up to the conference (slated for April 2014) Doug’s Archaeology blog will host the carnival and ask different questions.  Join in whenever you want, you do not have to take part each month and each entry that you do will be linked back to Doug’s so it promises to be a great place to find new archaeology blogs and exciting topics amongst the wealth of questions and answers.

So for the month of November there are two questions that Doug has asked of the archaeology blogging community, these are highlighted in bold and my response follows each question.

Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group- the group, start a blog?

I started this blog back in the midst of internet time that was early 2011 for a few reasons.  I had finished my undergraduate degree the year before and had started volunteering for a local archaeology unit but I wanted somewhere where I could start to document my burgeoning interests in human bones in archaeology.  I had also been thinking for quite a while about applying for a Master’s degree in human osteology during and after the undergraduate degree and I wanted to know what sort of blogs out there discussed human osteology/bioarchaeology and its uses after such programs.  I came across two straight away (Powered By Osteons and Bones Don’t Lie) that provided excellent resources of knowledge on the human skeleton from researchers in academic positions.  These two blogs and a multitude of others helped to support and consolidate my own independent studying and, together in conjunction with the core textbooks such as Mays (1999), Larsen (1997) and White & Folkens (2005), helped by discussing up-to-date methods and approaches used in human osteology and bioarchaeology.

The idea of starting a blog was both intriguing and intimidating as I was worried that I could be unintentionally misleading people if I made mistakes and that no-one would read the site.  I had also worried that my site could bring nothing new to the table, that if I wanted to start blogging I’d have to find a way to make my site slightly different.  However I thought the benefits of starting a blog outweighed the negatives and that it would be a chance to improve my own writing (spelling and grammar), provide an opportunity to connect with a wide group of people outside of academia, and it would also prove a testing ground for my own passion for all things bone related.

There was also a personal side to the story- I know first hand what it is like to hear your tibia and fibula snap, to hear the crunch of the femoral neck as it buckles, to have undergone some fairly extensive surgery to re-align and re-enforce the bones themselves.  I was worried that this could bias some of the things I wrote (and still do worry) but I thought that the blog would open up an opportunity to talk about my own bone disease (polyostotic fibrous dysplasia) in a way in which I have had trouble finding online.  Maybe if I could provide some sort of resource other sufferers could see that they were not alone?  (although this sounds perhaps a bit too grandiose when typed onto the screen).

‘Ah ha!’ I thought, no-one has gone through each of the bone elements in turn and described them and detailed their key anatomical landmarks.  This was the first idea of how I could make my blog both stand out and improve my own knowledge at the same time thus the Skeletal Series was born.  I had found my hook and I thought the blog was something that I could at least attempt.

I didn’t really know it at the time that the site would still be up now nor did I think I would still be blogging nearly 3 years later, but there you go.  You never really know the outcome before you actually commit and do something and see what happens.

Why are you still blogging?

I have answered this, in part, in a blog reflection after the latest surgery in a post called Future Steps that details the evolution of this blog.

Why do I still blog?  It is a tough question.  Every post you write you ask yourself whether anyone is going to read it, to want to read it, and you ask yourself why are you writing it?  The passion that fuels such endeavors is invariably lifelong if you have kept it up for a number of years but I don’t think blogs run on passion alone.  You need dedication, time and perseverance.  I think you must have a variety of content on the site, to be willing to expand or to risk change.  The blogosphere is big, immense even, and many blogs don’t last that long altogether.  It is a short form, it is not built for the marathon race or the long haul.  They can disappear easily, can be deleted or altered beyond recognition.

Yet there is something that keeps dragging me back to post each time I think I may watch TV instead.  It is seeing the world map lit up each day with hits from countries that I have only dreamed of visiting, of reading the rewarding comments from people who have found the site useful, of meeting friends and researchers from around the world and swapping emails and information.  As such I have altered my blog a little, started to include interviews with archaeologists or human osteologists to gain new insights into what the world of archaeology is really like.  I want readers of my site to be able to think about how big a topic archaeology and human osteology are, to be able to help learn by offering a variety of content, but also to be able to provide a series of links to other wonderful blogs or sites to learn more.

The Guest Posts are still going strong with a rich and varied content.  I want this blog to have an international reach, topics that will reach out to a wide and interested audience, not just the struggling student or tired researcher but the passionate school pupil and the intrigued father.  I thought (and still think) that if I can provide a free service for people to help learn about the human skeleton and the value of archaeology, that if just a handful of people have learnt something from my site, then the hours of typing, updating or correcting posts and finding articles has been time well spent.

Since completing my Masters program in 2012 blogging has, for me, provided one of the best ways of keeping up to date with the archaeological literature.  This is through the efforts of other bloggers who have either posted summaries of new articles (articles that are often unfortunately locked behind a paywall) or that have discussed the merits of articles or approaches when reviewing or highlighting their own original research.  Another key feature is the rise of the Open Access movement which has called for the free distribution of scientific articles.

A number of academic journals do offer articles for free online view, either as samples or as short timed pieces, and there are a number of publishing organisations that publish online peer-reviewed free access journals or articles (PLoS for example).  Blogging also opens the door to connect with researchers directly and this, for me, has led to the development of the first interview for this blog and it has also opened up new research corridors.  Put simply, I would not be as plugged in and as engaged with human osteology/archaeology/bioarchaeology/human evolution as much as I am if it were not for this blog, the people who read it and the people who have taken the time to correspond with me.

But it is also in reading other peoples blogs, their research and work, that really inspires me personally.  I love browsing the archaeology and bioarchaeology blog sites after being away from the computer for a few days or a few weeks, to see what people have been inspired to write about themselves.  To learning about a person’s idiosyncrasies of how to side a medial cuneiform; to read how accurate Bones really is; to hear the latest about an exciting hominin haul; to wonder about the Mesolithic on my doorstep; to learn about the latest methodological approach in bioarchaeology.  Blogging is all of these things and more.  It is a world of knowledge in which I am learning all the time – I think blogs bounce off each other, you can find your own niche but you can also learn together from each other.  Blogging is also fun and creative, it is a space away from the seriousness of academia, a zone in which you can explore ideas freely and communicate with a world-wide audience quickly and efficiently.

The next blogging carnival question will be up at Doug’s Archaeology shortly, jump in and join!  The summation of the November round is available to read here with December’s question.