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Bits & Pieces: Open Archgaming Research, Buried, Sulawesi Art, & Desert Island Archaeologies

9 Oct

There have been a few things I’ve been meaning to highlight recently on the blog, but I thought I’d just highlight them in a single entry for your pleasure!

  • As readers of the blog may be aware I’ve never really covered archaeological gaming before.  I’ve been reading the fantastic Archaeology of Tomb Raider blog by Kelly M for a while though, and I understand that gaming is playing a fundamental role in how the general population are introduced to archaeology and cultural heritage at relatively early ages.  Gaming archaeology is fast becoming a unique way of conducting research at the intersection of gaming technology and archaeological research, often using multidisciplinary approaches.  I’ve recently discovered the delightful Archaeogaming blog, where the author has decided to be fully open about his research plans.  This includes posting copies of his original PhD research proposal and the revised edition that he has now submitted to the University of York, which has a recognised digital archaeology research cluster.  The department also offer a new MSc in Digital Archaeology, which looks pretty exciting.  The fact that Archaeogaming put up his research proposals is a great breakdown in the often secretive world of PhD applications (though of course many blogs are also breaking this down).  The posts were particularly informative for me in understanding how to structure a proposal – the content was interesting, invigorating and now I want to know what happens next!  I wish Archaogaming good luck.
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  • The blog actually led me to me next port of call which is the fantastic free online text base game Buried, produced by University of York researcher Tara Copplestone and Luke Botham.  The game, produced for Tara’s MSc dissertation as a proof of concept and entered into the University of York’s 2014 Heritage Jam, offers the gamer an interactive opportunity to learn about archaeology by role-playing in a wide variety of opportunities.  As Tara states on her website: You play as a young archaeologist who has just returned from a field season and is grappling with the ups and downs of personal life, academia, archaeology, the past, the present and hopes for the future (Copplestone 2014).  The game itself is fairly short, but it is packed full of background on the process and meaning of archaeological investigation, covering a number of different theoretical underpinnings and approaches.  You can also change a wide variety of options so the game is instantly re-playable for any number of times.  I cannot recommend taking part in the game enough, it is a thoroughly rewarding and innovative experience which offers a stimulating environment  to learn both about archaeology and yourself.  Archaeogaming also a full great review of the game here, which is what initially alerted me to Buried’s existence.  Tara also has a number of different archaeology games at her main site here, it is well worth a look!

    buriedgame tara copplestone

    The opening shot of the fantastic ergodic literature style game Buried, by Tara Copplestone and Luke Botham. Not only does this game introduce to the public what post-excavation archaeology is like but it also interlays the information and choices that the player can make, making the game eminently re-playable. Click to play here. Image credit: Copplestone & Botham.

  • Meanwhile I recently had the great chance to participate in UCL researcher Lorna Richardson’s Desert Island Archaeologies project.  Lorna’s interesting project is aimed at highlighting the Top Ten archaeology books that you would take away with you if you were deserted on an island in the middle of a great vast ocean.  So far there have been 14 very interesting entries from around the world of archaeology, with people such as BAJR’s David Connolly and Microburin’s Spence Carter (Yorkshire central!) taking part in it.  As you’d probably expect by now my entry was fairly eclectic, mixing the core human osteology and bioarchaeology textbooks with some of my favourite literature (bit of García Márquez) and travel books (Can’t beat Cees Nooteboom!).  If you’re an archaeologist or at all involved in cultural heritage or history I recommend sending Lorna an email saying  you’d be interested in participating.  One of my personal favourite entries so far is the succinct archaeologist Tom Cromwell, who links to a beautiful article by Kent V. Flannery (1982) detailing the wonderful world of archaeology in a creative and eye-opening piece of writing.  The Flannery article is also the origin of the wonderful phrase that archaeology is the most fun you can have with your pants on!
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  • Finally there has been some incredible news regarding the cave art (human hand stencils and animal paintings) in Sulawesi, Indonesia.  The extensive and beautiful hand and animal markings located on the Maros-Panpkep karst landscapes of Sulawesi, originally thought to date to under 10,000 years old or so,  has now been re-dated using new uranium-series dating of coralloid speleothems to around 27,000 to 40,000 years old (Aubert et al. 2014).  This is amazing news as it makes it some of the oldest cave art in the world (that is parietal art), located far outside of Western Europe, which has long been thought to be the nexus of this crucial development of art by Homo sapiens (Roebroecks 2014: 170).  The research also just goes to show the value of re-investigating old archaeological sites using new technologies and calibrations.  Indonesia is fast becoming of the most interesting archaeological landscapes.  For further information the BBC have an article here with some great photographs of the site and the Guardian article can be found here.  Nature also have a video up here, which places the artwork into the context of human artwork globally.
sulawesi

One of the panels of rock art at the site of Leang Timpuseng highlighting the dated coralloid speleotherms (that formed and acculminated after the art work was completed) and associated paintings. The kartst limestone environment of Maros-Pangkep is rich in such rock art works (Aubert et al. 2014: 224).

10/09/14 Correction

Sulawesi was incorrectly spelled on the initial blog entry.  Further to this the latest scientific articles have been added to the bibliography and detailed in the entry about the site above.

Bibliography

Aubert, M., Brumm, A., Ramli, M., Sutikna, T., Saptomo, E. W., Hakim, B., Morwood, M. J., van den Bergh, G. D., Kinsley, L. & Doesseto, A. 2014. Pleistocene Cave Art from Sulawesi. Nature. 514: 223-227.

Flannery, K. V. The Golden Marshalltown: A Parable for the Archaeology of the 1980s. American Anthropologist. 84 (2): 265-278. (Open Access).

Roebroeks, W. Art on the Move. Nature. 514 : 170-171.

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The Trials and Tribulations of Homo floresiensis: A Quick Introduction

1 Sep

I haven’t wrote about palaeoanthropology much recently, but I have been meaning to write about Homo floresiensis for a while now.  The diminutive hominin, most likely a new Homo species although this is still debated, was discovered by chance on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003 during the excavation of the Liang Bua cave site, which was led by the now sadly deceased New Zealand archaeologist Mike Morwood (Brown et al. 2004).  The team that excavated at Liang Bua cave found the remains for a probable 12 separate H. floresiensis individuals dating from around 95,000 years ago to around 13,000 years ago (1), making H. floresiensis one of the last hominin species to live in conjunction with our species, H. sapiens (Brown et al. 2004: 1055).  One of the most complete individuals found at the site is LB1, an adult female aged around 30 who has almost both lower limbs, upper right arm, pelvis and cranium surviving (see image below).  It is this individual that has become the holotype, or type species, for H. floresiensis and on who most of the current research has, and continues, to focuses on (Brown et al. 2004, Brown 2012, Falk et al. 2005, Henneburg et al. 2014).

The majority of this research has been focused on the skeletal remains themselves and archaeological context as attempts to extract ancient DNA (aDNA) from the remains has not been successful, likely due to the cave environment that the skeletons were excavated from and the fragmentary nature of the surviving aDNA.  Morwood’s team formally announced the details of the skeletal remains in 2004 and stated that the remains included primitive and derived features resulting from long term isolation and endemic dwarfing (Brown et al. 2004: 1055-56).  It is important to note here that up until the excavation of H. floresiensis in 2003 it was thought that only H. erectus and H. sapiens were the only Homo hominins present in Late Pleistocene Asia (Brown et al. 2004: 1056).  Later hominin finds, such as at the Denisova Cave excavations in Siberia in 2010 and the announcement of the Denisovan species, have highlighted that other unknown hominins were present in Late Pleistocene Asian contexts helping to fundamental change, and challenge, the way that we think of the evolution of our species H. sapiens (Reich et al. 2010: 1053).

LB1

The species holotype is LB1, found in 2003 in the Liang Bua cave site on Flores, Indonesia. The adult female individual dates to 18,000 years old, stood 3.5 ft tall and represents one of the most complete H. floresiensis individuals found. Notice the large dentition relative to the overall cranium size. Image is not to scale. Image credit: Jennifer Clark (Human Origins Program) and Chip Clark (Smithsonian Institution).

There are many issues surrounding the remains of the H. floresiensis hominins that serve to obstruct and help obfuscate the research that has taken place into understanding the origin and anatomy of the floresiensis hominin.  Inevitability this is ongoing as McVie (2014) highlights in a recent Guardian newspaper article.  Thus it is pertinent to highlight them here to help understand where we are at with understanding the remains of the Flores hominin.  Indeed the H. floresiensis case has all the unfortunate tropes of a spectacular palaeoanthropological find (2) (the unexpectedness of the finds, the bickering academics, mishandling of remains etc.) and continues to show no sign of abating.

As is indicative above, H. floresiensis is a unique and interesting recent hominin ancestor, even more so as the only physical remains of the species are the 12 individuals found and excavated at the Liang Bua cave site in Indonesia.  It is the opposite to our modern notion of the (much maligned) Neandertal, being gracile, petite and small in statue and body.  Perhaps inevitably it was labelled a ‘hobbit’ species (although this word has led to problems with the Tolkein estate).  The type specimen LB1 was quickly repudiated as a H. sapiens individual with a pathology by several researchers and others who have, at various times, stated that all the H. floresiensis individuals, and in particular LB1 and partial skeleton LB6, display attributes varying from myxoedematous endemic cretinism (Oxnard et al. 2010, Brown 2012), Laron Syndrome (Falk et al. 2009, see Hawks 2007), or Down Syndrome (Benton 2014, Henneburg et al. 2014).  There have also comparisons even being made of the singularity of the Late Pleistocene epoch species being compared to the K/T impact boundary event 65 million years ago (Eckhardt et al. 2014), which frankly is a little mystifying.

McVie (2014) has highlighted a potential conflict of interest with regards to both the Eckhardt et al. (2014) and Henneburg et al. (2014) publications, as there is a suggestion that Henneburg (who helped author both articles) picked his reviewers to help favour his research team’s hypothesis and investigation.  The journal that both of the articles were recently published in, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (or PNAS), does not operate a peer review policy in the recognised sense, as most of the other respected journals use, but uses its own specific and trusted system (see here).  Perhaps most surprising is the fact that this team have now published 3 separate papers each focusing on different pathological conditions each time in their continued belief that the H. floresiensis remains are probable members of H. sapiens and represent pathological processes (Henneburg et al. 2014).

Regardless of the ongoing new-species-or-not debate there must be further investigation of the context of the remains.  As Hawks (2007) highlights it is the exact nature of where H. floresiensis fits in both the evolutionary tree and the archaeological context of Asia that remains to be thoroughly demonstrated.  This can only be determined by further finds with consolidated archaeological contexts over an extensive period of time and, with luck, further specimens of this hopeful new species.  The specimens of this population found on Flores, Indonesia, are both tantalising for the human evolution implications and frustrating for their apparent uniqueness in location and time.  As such the Flores H. floresiensis remains are surely one of the most interesting and divisive points of interest in the palaeoanthropological world today.

Notes

(1). A new analysis of the chosen radiocarbon samples and the stratigraphy of the cave site by Sutikna et al. (2016) has led to a serious revision in the chronology of the Homo floresiensis fossils.  It seems that all fossil evidence of H. floresiensis is older than 60,000 years, which is a major revision and leaves a lot of questions regarding the contextual material culture and faunal remains and their association with the fossil hominins.  John Hawks has covered the implications that this new article by Sutikna et al. has in a detailed and interesting read, check it out here.

(2). An excellent counter example of this is the University of the Witwatersrand and National Geographic funded Rising Star project currently underway in South Africa, where the remains of a spectacular palaeoanthropological site (with the evidence of numerous hominin individuals of some importance) has been well and truly open to researchers and members of the public to take part in and to learn about.  This has included an extensive and on-going social media presence and an open call for researchers to join collaborative workshops to study the remains.

Lean More

  • The Smithsonian Institute has a handy guide in introducing the hominins of human evolution at the Human Origins website and, as a part of this, there is a nice guide to H. floresiensis.
  •  For a full round of the issues involved in the research of H. floresiensis and the LB1 type fossil, I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia entry on the species which covers all pertinent academic articles published.

Bibliography

Benton, A. 2014. Was the “Hobbit” a Human with Downs Syndrome? Probably Not. EvoAnth. Accessed 19/08/14. (Open Access).

Brown, P. 2012. LB1 and LB6 Homo floresiensis are Not Modern Human (Homo sapiens) Cretins. Journal of Human Evolution. 62 (2): 201-224.

Brown, P., Sutikna, T., Morwood, M. J., Soejono, R. P., Jatmiko, Wayhu Saptomo, E. & Rokus Awe Due. 2004. A New Small-Bodied Hominin from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, IndonesiaNature. 431 (7012): 1055–1061.

Eckhardt, R. B., Henneburg, M., Weller, A. S. & Hsu, K. J. 2014. Rare Events in Earth History Include the LB1 Human Skeleton from Flores, Indonesia, as a Developmental Singularity, not a Unique Taxon. PNAS. 111 (33): 11961-11966. (Open Access).

Falk, D., Hildebot, C., Smith, K., Morwood, M. J., Sutikna, T., Brown, P., Jatmiko, E. W. S., Brunsden, B. & Prior, F. 2005. The Brain of LB1, Homo floresiensis. Science. 308 (5719): 242-245.

Falk, D., Hildebolt, C., Smith, K., Jungers, W., Larson, S., Morwood, M., Sutikna, T., Jatmiko, E. W. S. & Prior, S. 2009. The Type Specimen (LB1) of Homo floresiensis Did Hot Have Laron Syndrome. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 140 (1): 52-63.

Hawks, J. 2007. Another Diagnosis for a Hobbit. John Hawk’s Weblog. Accessed 24/08/14. (Open Access).

Henneberg, M., Eckhardt, R. B., Chavanaves, S. & Hsu, K. J. 2014. Evolved Developmental Homeostasis Disturbed in LB1 from Flores, Indonesia, Denotes Down Syndrome and Not Diagnostic Traits of the Invalid Species Homo floresiensis. PNAS. Early View: 1-6. (Open Access).

McKie, R. 2014. Homo floresiensis: Scientists Clash Over Claims ‘Hobbit Man’ was Modern Human with Downs Syndrome. The Guardian. Accessed 19/08/14.

Oxnard, C., Obendorf, P. J. & Kefford, B. J. 2010. Post-Cranial Skeletons of Hypothyroid Cretins Show a Similar Anatomical Mosaic as Homo floresiensis. PLoS ONE. 5 (9): 1-11. (Open Access).

Reich, D., Green, R. E., Kircher, M., Krause, J. Patterson, N., Durand, E. Y., Viola, B., Briggs, A. W. & Stenzel, U. et al. 2010. Genetic History of an Archaic Hominin Group from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Nature. 468 (7327): 1053–1060. (Open Access).

Sutikna, T., Tocheri, M. W., Morwood, M. J., Saptomo, E. W., Awe, R. D., Wasisto, S. … & Storey, M. 2016. Revised Stratigraphy and Chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua in Indonesia. Nature. In Press. doi:10.1038/nature17179.