Archive | Mesolithic RSS feed for this section

Guest Post: An Archaeologist, an Anthropologist and an Anarchist Walk into a Bar… by Stuart Rathbone

3 May

Stuart Rathbone is a field archaeologist with considerable experience in the UK, Ireland and the United States of America in excavation and project supervising a number of important prehistoric and historic archaeology sites.  In conjunction with field work, Stuart has also held academic positions and writes regularly on a broad range of topics in archaeology for varied audiences.  Stuart has recently left the role of an archaeological project officer, based in the Orkney islands in northern Scotland with ORCA, to pursue an archaeology career in the United States.  His Academia profile, with links to Stuart’s published papers, can be found here.  A previous These Bones of Mine interview, on the nature of archaeological field work and the issues surrounding this, can be found here .  He also runs the Campaign for Sensible Archaeology group on Facebook and is also quite fond of hardcore jungle music.


There are many different ways of classifying societies based for instance on levels of technology, on economic organisation, on the size of their area of influence and so on.  A very fundamental scheme is to divide societies into those that are organised hierarchically and those which are organised anarchically, i.e. without a hierarchic class or power structure.  Anarchic organisation has long been recognised but it took a surprisingly long time for anthropologists and archaeologists to develop a convincing understanding of them.  The ‘segmented lineage systems’ that were the focus of research by the likes of Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard’s and Meyer Fortes between the 1930’s and 1950’s represent early attempts to understand how complex societies could exist without obvious hierarchical power structures (Evans-Pritchard 1940; Fortes 1945).  Reading these accounts it becomes clear that a major problem was the frequent presence of defined leaders within societies that were not organised hierarchically.

A major breakthrough occurred when Harold Barclay developed his ‘limited leadership’ model which highlighted the widespread phenomenon of anarchic communities that utilised leaders with very defined levels of power and authority, whose rewards from claiming the leadership role are rather difficult to determine, and who are essentially beholden to the collective will of their community (Barclay 1982; 1986; 1989).  The existence of a chief in the limited leadership model is more akin to a spokesman than a ruler.  The leader must discuss with the group to gauge the collective feeling and then present what has essentially already been agreed to as the leaders decision.  With no equivalent to a police force or military guard to call on to enforce their will limited leaders have little individual power.  Attempts to take actions against the prevailing mood fail, and the leader ends up undermined and in danger of ridicule or dismissal, and, in extreme cases, in danger of being killed.  Similarly attempts by such a leader to consolidate their power or to exploit the power they have by claiming too many rewards will likely lead to their expulsion or death.  As William Geddes pointed out in regards to the Dayak tribes of Borneo, “the Dayaks are anarchists” who are led by the nominal headman “only when they agree to be led” (Geddes 1957).

A second very important model was developed by the French anthropologist Pierre Clastres (Clastres 1977; 2010).  Whilst Clastres covers some of the same ground as Barclay, in particular demonstrating eloquently the dangers of a limited leader in over extending their authority, the main thrust of his work is his notion of the ‘Society against the State’.  Clastres argues that the constant levels of warfare seen amongst many ‘simple’ societies should not be seen as an unfortunate social factor restricting the development of more complex social forms.  Rather Clastres proposes that it is a deliberate strategy that has developed specifically in order to stop societies adopting hierarchical forms that would ultimately lead to state formation.  In this model warfare is a vital process that is used specifically to maintain individual and community autonomy, at the cost of forfeiting whatever benefits hierarchical organisation might bring.  Interestingly this model interferes with the commonly used social evolutionary schemes, such as the influential model promoted by Elman Service that sees society progress from band to tribe to chiefdom to kingdom before arriving at the ‘goal’ of statehood.  Instead Clastres model divides all societies into States and Societies against the State which are not stages in a linear progression.  Instead societies switch between the two forms, with the switch to hierarchical organisation often triggered through outside influences.  A switch from hierarchic to anarchic forms can occur through various circumstances, either violent resistance, migration or through social collapse.

r1

Typical ideas of social evolutionary progress as promoted by the likes of Elman Service and Colin Renfrew.

The work of both Clastres and Barclay remained somewhat peripheral until quite recently when a number of researchers began building on the foundations they established.  Recently David Graeber, Charles Macdonald and Brian Morris have all produced interesting work that explores different aspects of anarchic anthropology (Graeber 2004; Macdonald 2008 & 2009; Morris 2005).  In 2012 Bill Angelbeck and Colin Grier published a paper that represented the first time that archaeological data was explicitly examined from an anarchic perspective (Angelbeck & Grier 2012).  The paper reviews historical records of the Coast Salish Indian groups of the pacific coast of North America and identifies a complex limited leadership system that boarders on being a class structure.  The ‘inverted pear shaped model’ takes anarchic organisation to the very limit.  The majority of each group belonged to an ‘elite’ class that are supported by a tiny lower class stratum consisting of war captives held as slaves, and outcasts from other groups.  A clear leadership strata was present, but these positions were held by merit and the boundary between the ‘elite’ majority and the leadership group was permeable in both directions depending on performance.  The paper goes on to examine archaeological data from the Salish Coast area over a two thousand year time span.  The authors identify a repeating pattern of shifts between hierarchical organisation and anarchic organisation with periods of increased warfare apparently preceding each shift towards anarchic conditions.

The curious inverted pear shaped social system of the Coast Salish groups.

The curious inverted pear shaped social system of the Coast Salish groups.

At the start of 2015 Robert Bettinger published a book length account of Californian societies based on a large review of archaeological evidence (Bettinger 2015).  The narrative describes a gradual reduction in social group size, linked to developments in technology and changes in the environment.  Bettinger argues that these changes led to the widespread and prolonged existence of small non-hierarchical social groups he characterises as ‘orderly anarchy’.  A symposium was organised at the 2015 Society for American Archaeologists conference to discuss the implications of Bettinger’s work and this suggests a widening interest in the archaeological use of anarchist theory.

Anarchic Archaeology in Britain and Ireland

Given the much greater separation between archaeology and anthropology that exists in Britain and Ireland than is found in America and Europe it is perhaps unsurprising that developments in anarchic anthropology have attracted little attention.  Earlier this year I published a short paper that might represent the first attempt to produce an anarchic archaeology in either Britain or Ireland, although there may well be earlier examples that I am not aware of (Rathbone 2015).  My ongoing research is attempting to fuse the developments in anarchic anthropology with ideas and theories culled directly from political anarchist literature.  Anarchism as a political movement developed in the mid-19th century and there is a vast body of anarchist literature, a substantial proportion of which deals with an anarchist reading of history and archaeology.  This material can be quite wayward and is often an unrealistic reading of the data.  Nevertheless anarchist history is interesting in that it offers different interpretations of well-known events, presents different motivations for why things may have occurred, offers sympathetic accounts of groups and individuals widely criticised in main stream history, and looks at topics that attract little interest elsewhere.  In addition to anarchist history I have been attempting to understand anarchist political theory with the aim of seeing if any of the numerous proposals (and the smaller number of real world examples) of how complex societies can operate in the absence of centralised government might have useful applications in archaeology.  Whilst this is all very much a work in progress, here I want to present four examples of how such a fusion of anarchism and archaeology might be usefully applied, two dealing with prehistoric subjects and two dealing with the post-Medieval world.

Identifying state formation

I suspect most archaeologists would be comfortable with the idea that anarchic groups were present throughout the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods when we suspect only small mobile hunter gather groups were present.  On the other hand it is clear that several centuries before the Roman invasion of Britain state formation had occurred across large areas and that a reasonably stratified society was in place.  What can be gleaned from the proto-historic accounts relating to the Late Irish Iron Age also indicate that the county was dominated by a number of small states with each community enmeshed in a complex network of obligations and responsibilities to their states rulers.  An important question is therefore whether we can identify the process of state formation somewhere between the onset of the Neolithic period and the end of the Early or Middle Iron Age.  It would seem likely that such a process would be complex and occur in different parts of Britain and Ireland at different times.  This may not have been a simple evolutionary process along the lines of Service’s model.  Instead we might find a repeated flipping between anarchic ‘anti-states’ and hierarchical states.  Such a process could explain the oddities in the settlement patterns where we can observe repeated failed attempts at introducing villages to areas dominated by dispersed settlements (Ginn & Rathbone 2012; Ginn 2013; Rathbone 2013a, Rathbone 2013b & 2015).  Each location where villages began to develop could mark the beginnings of a transition towards hierarchical organisation.  The abandonment of villages in a given area might mark a society rejecting the existence of the hierarchies and choosing to return to an anarchic state.  If so we might expect to find evidence of increased violence coinciding with the end of village life at a particular time and place.

Central to the ‘Society against the State’ model is the use of violence between neighbouring group as a method to stop the formation of hierarchical power structures.  Violence is also a common feature within non-hierarchical groups where consensus building and sanctions such as taboos, gossip and mockery have failed to resolve a problem.  Contrary to the utopian visions of political anarchists it seems that when no method to exert authority exists and an impasse in opinions has been reached violence may be the only solution.  Steven Pinker has explored the level of violence in societies across a great span of time and demonstrated rather convincingly that as hierarchical control expands the aggregate level of violence declines (Pinker 2011).  Pinker argues that as state authority has spread across the world and states have claimed ever increasing levels of control over their populations the effect is a drastic reduction in overall violence that he dubs ‘the civilising process’.  Despite the ability of modern states to kill tens of thousands of people in a matter of moments, the monopoly they have claimed over the application of lethal force has led to ever decreasing death rates.  It would seem therefore that decreasing levels of violence can be directly related to the development of hierarchical authority.  There have been numerous attempts to determine the level of violence present at different points in the archaeological record but it remains a difficult task given the incomplete nature of the burial record.  However it does seem that actual skeletal evidence of violence is most common in the European Early Neolithic period and declines after that point, although both the Late Bronze Age and Late Iron Age do seem to also be particularly violent periods (Heath 2009; Rathbone 2015).

This is clearly not the place to present a full interpretation of several millennia’s evidence.  Instead a few elements from a single time period, the Early Neolithic, are offered as an example of how such analysis might proceed.  Martin Smith and Megan Brickley’s study of the skeletal remains from Early Neolithic long barrows revealed a high level of violence that is certainly consistent with anarchic societies (Smith & Brickley 2009).  Similarly the number of Early Neolithic enclosures in Britain that seem to have been attacked by massed forces are exactly what we might expect among neighbouring anarchic societies.  Recent C14 analysis suggests that the use of large long houses in the Early Neolithic came to an abrupt end around 3600 BC.  Jessica Smyth has detailed the high proportion of Early Neolithic longhouses that were burnt down, but favours this as a ritual burning at the end of the occupation (Smyth 2010 & 2014).  However such burning is consistent with anarchic violence and the number of arrowheads and axes associated with these buildings may be more important in terms of their relationship with violence rather than ceremony.  This evidence would be consistent with a widespread implementation of ‘the Society against the State’ and the far less impressive settlement pattern that follows the Long House horizon may therefore mark a shift to smaller anarchic communities.

Anarcho-Federalist Henge Builders?

The monumental construction projects that form such a prominent part of Late Neolithic archaeology are often described as being the work of a specialised ‘ritual elite’ capable of designing and project managing such great undertakings.  In fact much of the language used in discussions of this phenomenon seems curiously anachronistic, with terms like engineers, architects and man hours appearing jarringly misplaced.  Whilst clearly large scale projects involving sizeable groups of people, the evidence to support the presence of these ‘ritual elites’ is curiously absent.  In general the monuments are not associated with either large settlements or large elite residences, and the designs of the monuments themselves seem ill-fitted to be used for the aggrandisement of particularly powerful individuals or groups.  If an elite was really present they seem remarkably restrained in terms of their desire to emphasise their personal power and authority.  There has been little discussion of the mechanisms through which an elite could coerce a large workforce into undertaking decades long construction projects without leaving any obvious traces of a military force or an economic system that would allow for suitable payment of a willing workforce.  The monumental complexes certainly provide ample evidence of an ability to co-ordinate a large number of people working on a significant task, and an ability to utilise resources drawn from a considerable area.  In the 1970’s there were important debates about the existence or absences of elites throughout the prehistoric periods of Britain.  This seems to have reached somewhat of an impasse and a default position of accepting the presence of elites was adopted in lieu of a better explanation (Parker Pearson 2012).

Two areas of anarchist theory seem to offer useful lines of research.  The first is the idea of the anarchist federation which was initially promoted by Pierre-Joseph Proudhoun and enthusiastically taken up by Petr Kropotkin amongst many others (Marshall 2008).  In the anarchist federation individual groups co-operate in order to undertake tasks that would be beyond their own abilities.  The federation is organised in such a way that the individual groups retain most of their autonomy and only grant the federation the authority to organise for the specific agreed tasks.  Whilst a fully developed federation might superficially resemble a hierarchical power structure the emphasis on consensus building and the limitations placed on the power of its members mean it operates quite differently.  A large number of autonomous groups living over a considerable area might form such a federation in order to accomplish specific tasks, such as the monumental religious building projects seen in the Late Neolithic.  Interestingly there is a significant decrease in the skeletal evidence for violence in the Late Neolithic (Heath 2009).  As explained above this could have resulted from a more authoritarian political structure, but it could potentially have derived from the presence of a non-hierarchical structure that allowed neighbouring groups to co-operate without surrendering their autonomy, thus reducing the need for constant aggression.

Nick Card has suggested that variations in the individual buildings within the oversized settlement at the Ness of Brodgar in the centre of Orkney might indicate that each building belonged to a particular group living in a particular part of the archipelago that came to gather at the site for seasonal gatherings (Card 2013).  The use of distinctive architectural differences between the buildings could have been used to signify the autonomy and independence of the different communities whilst residing in such close proximity.  The colossal construction projects undertaken in the area around the settlement would be a testimony to how successfully such a federation could operate.  Based on a series of early C14 dates it has been suggested that Orkney may have been the origin of the religious practices that came to dominate much of Britain and Ireland during the Late Neolithic.  If this is correct then perhaps the key to the successful spread of the ‘Orkney style’ was not the content of the ceremonies or the design of the monuments, but the development of social schemes that allowed larger scale communal projects to be undertaken without necessitating the surrender of individual and group autonomy to an elite strata that might trigger violent resistance.

The second part of anarchist theory that seems useful in this area is the idea of ‘zerowork’ as promoted by Bob Black in his highly influential essay “the abolition of work” (Black 1986).  This line of argument has considerable ancestry within left wing writing and elements of it can be found in Paul Lafargue’s “the right to be lazy”, in Bertrand Russels, “In praise of Idleness” and even George Orwell’s “Down and out in Paris and London” (Lafargue 1907; Russel 1935; Orwell 1933).  The central theme is that much work is essentially pointless, once you remove the need to generate an excess of wealth to be turned over to an exploitative elite.  If the need to generate surplus profit is removed the overall workload on a society would be vastly reduced.  With an overabundance of labour the remaining work could be evenly shared out between the whole group leading to a vastly reduced amount of work hours for each individual, and given that the work had an obvious utility and was not of an arduous length, work would be transferred into something far more enjoyable, akin to a form of play.  The principles of zerowork do seem to have some justification in the anthropological and archaeological record; it has been repeatedly suggested that the shift to agriculture from hunting and gathering or horticulture can be identified with a large decline in the health of a population and a considerable increase in work hours (Diamond 1987).  Furthermore many accounts of traditional societies clearly demonstrate that many tasks were infused with a very un-work like sense of fun and play, and many societies that were not part of a developed economic system seem to have spent much of their effort creating surpluses in order to throw feasts and parties (Metcalf 2010).

The Late Neolithic monument complexes have produced extensive evidence for feasting at a quite excessive scale.  Traditionally these have been seen to be feasts that took place once the construction phase was completed.  A zerowork interpretation would turn this idea around and see the monuments as something that happened as a side effect of communities getting together to hold feasts.  Rather than attempting to calculate the number of ‘man-hours’ that it would take for a group to complete a construction project perhaps it would be better to try and estimate the number of parties that had been held.  Alex Gibson has argued that timber circles were seldom ‘completed’ and that the building process was what was more important than the finished product, which might conform better to zerowork rather than modern notions of a construction project (Gibson 1998).

The recent discoveries at Durrington Walls would certainly make an interesting example to review in terms of Anarchist Federations and Zerowork; not only was there evidence for co-operation of communities from a wide area, the settlement evidence does not so far support the presence of a defined elite, and the associated animal bones assemblage not only suggests feasting on a phenomenal scale, it is clear that the feasting at the site had begun long before the construction of the main bank and ditch (Parker Pearson 2012).

The author, centre, on a recent trip to the Arbor Low henge and stone circle in Derbyshire, accompanied by Gareth Evans and Sarah Harrison. Co-incidentally Gareth is a practicing anarchist whilst Sarah runs a very hedonistic bar.

The author, centre, on a recent trip to the Arbor Low henge and stone circle in Derbyshire, accompanied by Gareth Evans and Sarah Harrison. Co-incidentally Gareth is a practicing anarchist whilst Sarah runs a very hedonistic bar.

Island Paradises

Islands have special characteristics that have long made them the focus of Utopian thinkers, from Plato to Huxley.  During the development of travel writing and antiquarian investigations during the 18th and 19th century the accounts of the Atlantic Islands around the coast of Britain and Ireland often fall into two camps, those that are horrified by the primitive conditions and those that idealise the rugged isolation and the simple lifestyles of the islanders (O’Sullivan 2008).  Recent archaeological accounts of the Atlantic Islands have presented rigorous re-evaluation of the isolation of island life, contending that the islanders were neither peripheral people nor particularly isolated from the contemporary world (Flemming 2005; Dwyer 2009).  Flemming’s review of St Kilda seeks to reduce the isolation of the island and show that despite the distances involved St Kilda was part of an aristocratic territory, entangled in local politics and in particular subject to enthusiastic taxation and rent collection.

The political organisation of the St Kildans is particularly interesting.  The morning meeting, dubbed ‘the parliament’ by 19th century visitors, involved all the men on the island gathering to discuss any issues and make plans for the days activities.  The ‘parliament’ had no formal offices and each man had an equal right to speak an equal vote.  Apparently the woman of the island organised their affairs through a similar meeting, although this features far less prominently in the literature.  According to Tom Steel when there were no tasks that required urgent attention the meeting could last all day, breaking only for lunch, as the men essentially slacked off and gossiped (Steel 1975).  The resources of the island were shared out equally among the community and many aspects of life were subject to communal ownership. A nominal leader, the maor, was a non-hereditary title awarded through merit.  The maor had some ability to resolve disputes but the principle duty was to take the lead during climbing expeditions.  The maor also had the unenviable task of conducting negotiations with the Steward during the annual visit to collect tariffs.  The maor was expected to represent the islanders wishes to such an extent that the steward would strike him three times about the head with a cudgel in a ritualised act of violence.

Despite the predatory relationship with the adjacent state it seems very clear that St Kildan society was organised anarchically, complete with a limited leader.  The relationship with the neighbouring state was clearly exploitative but the St Kildans did receive goods and equipment from the state that they were not able to provide for themselves.  In addition they were able to actively resist the state to some degree. Flemming includes several brief description of such resistance; when a taxman attempted to apply a new tariff he was driven off by the men of the island, when a policeman arrived to arrest a suspected sheep thief the islanders formed a protective cordon around the man and the attempt was abandoned, when the islanders refused to renegotiate a measurement of corn being taken from an advantageously worn vessel, the way the islanders habitually disguised the quantities of various resources from state officials and, more sinisterly, several tales of suspected spies being murdered to protect the islanders privacy and secrets.

Other Atlantic islands also seem to have aspects of anarchic organisation, particularly the presence of limited leaders such as the Rí Thoraí (king) of Tory Island, County Donegal and the ‘Kings’ of the Blasket Islands, County Kerry and the Inishkeas, County Mayo, which seem to be perfect examples of rulers without power.  At present it is not clear how many of the small Atlantic Islands had anarchic political structures and when these individually came to an end.  Although technically owned by large landlords, it seems that many of the smaller island communities were largely left to organise themselves as long as they continued to pay their annual dues.  Had they offered strong resistance to the state authorities they would surely have been harshly sanctioned and the same sort of compromise was used that we see in place with the essentially anarchic Anabaptist communities in North America (Shuster 1983).  The small Atlantic islands might therefore be seen to lie somewhere in between what Hakim Bey has defined as Temporary Autonomous Zones and Permanent Autonomous Zones (Bey 1985 & 1993).

A secluded harbour on the remote island of Inish Turk, County Mayo.  We know that in the post Medieval period many of the Atlantic Islands were involved in smuggling, but how many of them might have been the locations of truly anarchic societies?

A secluded harbour on the remote island of Inish Turk, County Mayo. We know that in the post Medieval period many of the Atlantic Islands were involved in smuggling, but how many of them might have been the locations of truly anarchic societies?

Pirate Utopias

The anarchist idea of pirate utopias seems to have derived from the writing of William S Burroughs, who developed a whole pseudo mythology based on the account of Captain Misson found in “A general history of pirates” published in 1724 by Captain Charles Johnson (suspected to be a pseudonym of either Daniel Defoe or the publisher Nathaniel Mist).  The account details the apparently fictitious life of Captain James Misson, the ‘articles’ under which his ship sailed and the colony they founded on the coast of Madagascar, Libertaria.  Piracy is a complex subject that has many incarnations around the world, and was often a state sanctioned or sponsored activity.  The anarchist interest in pirate utopias principally focuses on the ‘golden age of piracy’ in the late 17th and early 18th century and centres on the possibility of pirate crews that rejected state authority, organised themselves in a manner consistent with anarchist principles and established communities where they were free to create their own ‘lawless’ anarchies.  Whilst this might seem a ridiculous fantasy, especially given the suspect nature of the original source material, there may be something to it.  Peter Lamborn Wilson has argued that the story of Captain Misson may indeed be fictitious but given how little critical commentary it attracted at the time it was presumably consistent with some common understanding of pirate enclaves (Lamborn Wilson 2003).  In fact the ‘articles’ under which Misson sailed and Libertaria functioned are a reflection of the wide spread codes of conduct used amongst pirates that were indeed referred to as articles.

In the Bay of Honduras these rules of conduct and obligations were eventually formalised by a British Naval officer in 1765 and this version is referred to as Burnaby’s Code.  Crucial to the anarchist reading of pirates, Burnaby’s code operated without empowering individuals with titles such as magistrate or judge, it was an example of a formalised collective justice (Finamore 2006).  The archaeology of piracy is in some regards a new subject, leaving to one side the hunt for the wrecks of known pirate vessels, few of which have been successful until very recently.  A limited amount of work has been undertaken on pirate settlements and the results of some of this work are rather surprising.  Lamborn Wilson has written at length about the history of the Pirate Republic of Salé, a large settlement located across the river from Rabat in Morocco (Lamborn Wilson 2003).  Whilst Salé may have been a pirate utopia of sorts, it is hard to see how it may have operated in a manner consistent with anarchist principles, particularly given the role it had in the slave trade.  It seems that Salé is best regarded as a curiously late example of a European city state which depended on piracy to support its economy.  Ultimately Salé may not pass muster, but historians and archaeologists have been able to locate more convincing examples of pirate settlements that fulfil the utopian requirement to a reasonable degree.

A large number of settlements were established by English pirates along the coast of Belize as the golden age of piracy came to its end.  These settlements relied on trading contraband logwood and the settlement of Bacarades, located along the Belize River, is unique in that it has been subject to detailed archaeological investigation (Finamore 2006).  The archaeological research agreed with historical accounts that describe these settlements as consisting of dwellings of only the most simple forms. Nonetheless the range of artefacts present, and in particular the misappropriation of fine goods, especially ceramics, seems to represent an enactment of Hakim Bey’s  notion of ‘radical aristocracy’ (Bey 1985).  Historical accounts suggest the life of cutting logs may have been tedious and dull in the extreme but the one of the main aims of the work seems to have been to provide alcohol for communal drinking, something entirely akin with traditional anarchic horticultural and hunter gathering groups.

If the port of Salé seems little different to a hierarchical city state and the logging camps along the coast of Belize ultimately seem a little dull, the settlement created by English pirates on St Mary’s Island off the east coast of Madagascar really does seem to meet every expectation of a pirate utopia (de Bry 2006).  In a secluded bay on the islands western coast numerous pirates were resident between the 1680’s and the 1720’s including the well-known Captain William Kidd.  The base was used for activities across the Indian Ocean, and during the monsoon season many pirates spent extended stays at the settlement.  As with the Belize pirates the dwellings were generally of the simplest kind, but the pirates apparently fulfilled every stereotype when it came to bedecking themselves in flamboyant clothes, gold and jewels, another enactment of the radical aristocrat theme.  Eventually a merchant based in the settlement, Adam Baldridge, made enough money to construct a sizeable dwelling on Ils des Forbans (Pirate Island), a small islet located in the centre of the bay, which apparently really was underlain by a mysterious system of tunnels that have yet to be explored!  The settlement on St Mary’s Island so closely resembles the anarchist idea of Libertaria it is difficult not to think that this may have been the real world source for the fictional Captain Misson.  One interesting element of the Misson story is the friendly relationship established with the native groups around Libertaria.  Remarkably St Mary’s even lives up to this and the pirates routinely married local Malagasy women, who they draped with “gold, diamonds, sapphires and rubies”.

The real Pirate Bay? Google Earth image of the bay on St Mary’s Island which was home to a large pirate enclave. Ils des Forbans can be seen in the centre of the bay.

The real Pirate Bay? Google Earth image of the bay on St Mary’s Island (Ile Sainte-Marie in Madagascar) which was home to a large pirate enclave. Ils des Forbans can be seen in the centre of the bay.

Moving away from exotic locations half way around the world, Connie Kelleher has examined the archaeological remains of pirate communities along the coast of County Cork (Kelleher 2009 & 2013).  These pirate settlements were initially occupied by English pirates and their families who had relocated from Devon and Cornwall after piracy was outlawed in England at the start of the seventeenth century.  The pirates operated with the tacit approval of the crown, and the pirate settlements were essentially an early stage in the Munster plantation.  Acting in a semi-official capacity and not beholden to the indigenous Gaelic Lordship whose authority had finally collapsed after the Flight of the Earls in 1607, these pirates enjoyed a rather privileged and secure position.

It could be argued that the close links to the crown removes them from the anarchist ideal, but on the other hand the lack of persecution can actually be seen as adding to the utopian nature of the occupation and they might therefore represent Permanent Autonomous Zones (PAZ).  This official sanction is quite different to the traditional forms of piracy previously operated by the Gaelic Lords around the Irish coast, and from similar forms operating around the Scottish coast.  Gaelic piracy was organised and controlled by hereditary aristocracies and does not therefore meet the anarchist ideal, despite the romanticism attached to characters such as Grace O’Malley, the so called Pirate Queen of Clew Bay.  Furthermore the West Cork pirates operated under the same sorts of codes of conduct utilised during the Golden Age of piracy.  Each crew operated individually but the codes provided a format through which they could combine forces for more ambitious projects, returning us again to the idea of anarchist federations.  The numerous remains of the pirate occupation that Kelleher has recorded may therefore represent the most extensive remains of a pirate utopia that have so far been the subject of archaeological examination.

Conclusion

Obviously what has been presented above are merely brief summaries of complicated arguments.  They were not intending to convince anyone that these anarchic interpretations were correct, rather the intent was to demonstrate how much potential anarchic approaches might have for a whole range of topics. Each of the examples discussed here is worth a much fuller examination, and as it happens I am currently working on a book that will explore many aspects of anarchic anthropology, anarchic archaeology and various aspects of political anarchism that might be usefully appropriated.  These examples will be explored in that book, alongside many others, although serious questions remain as to whether I can ever find a publisher for such an unruly tome.  In the meantime I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to the subject and that some of you might also consider hoisting the black flag over your areas of interest.

Learn More

Bibliography

Angelbeck, B., & Grier, C. 2012. Anarchism and the Archaeology of Anarchic Societies: Resistance to Centralization in the Coast Salish Region of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Current Anthropology. 53 (5): 547-587. (Open Access).

Barclay, H. 1982. People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchism. Sanday: Cienfuegos Press Ltd.

Barclay, H. 1986. Anthropology and Anarchism. In the Anarchist Encyclopaedia. Sanday: Cienfuegos.

Barclay, H. B. 1989. Segmental Acephalous Network Systems: Alternatives to Centralised Bureaucracy. The Raven. 7: 207-224.

Bettinger , R.L. 2015. Orderly Anarchy: Sociopolitical Evolution in Aboriginal California: Origins of Human Behaviour and Culture. Oakland: University of California Press.

Bey, H. 1985. T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy and Poetic Terrorism. New York: Autonomedia.

Bey, H. 1993. Permanent Autonomous Zones. Dreamtime Village Newsletter. (Open Access).

Card, N. 2013. The Ness of Brodgar. More than a Stone Circle. British Archaeology. January/February 2013. 14-21.

Clastres, P. 1977. Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology. Oxford: Blackwell.

Clastres, P. 2010. Archaeology of Violence. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). (Open Access).

de Bry, J. 2006. Christopher Condent’s Fiery Dragon: Investigating an Early Eighteenth Century Pirate Shipwreck off the Coast of Madagascar. In R.K. Skowronek & C. R. Ewen (eds) X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy. Gainsville: Florida University Press. 100-130.

Diamond, J. 1987. The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. Discover Magazine. 8(5): 64-66. (Open Access).

Dwyer, E. 2009. Peripheral People and Places: An Archaeology of Isolation. In A. Horning & N. Brannon (eds) Ireland and Britain in the Atlantic World. Dublin: Wordwell. 131-142.

Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1940. The Nuer. A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Finamore, D. 2006. A Mariner’s Utopia: Pirates and Logwood in the Bay of Honduras. In R.K. Skowronek & C. R. Ewen (eds) X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy. Gainsville: Florida University Press, 64-78.

Fleming, A. 2005. St Kilda and the Wider World: Tales of an Iconic Island. Macclesfield: Windgather Press.

Fortes, M. 1945. The Dynamics of Clanship among the Tallensi. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Geddes, W. R. 1957. Nine Dayak nights. The Story of an Dayak Folk Hero. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ginn, V. 2013. Power to the People: Re-interpreting Bronze Age Society. Emania. 21: 47-58.

Ginn, V. & Rathbone, S. 2011. Corrstown: A Coastal Community. Oxford: Oxbow books.

Gibson, A. 1998. Stonehenge and Timber Circles. Stroud: Tempus.

Graeber, D. 2004. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press. (Open Access).

Heath, J. 2009. Warfare in Prehistoric Britain. Stroud: Amberley Books.

Kelleher, C. 2009. Connections and Conflict by Sea. In A. Horning & N. Brannon (eds) Ireland and Britain in the Atlantic World. Dublin: Wordwell. 53-82.

Kelleher, C. 2013. Pirate Ports and Harbours of West Cork in the Early Seventeenth Century. Journal of Maritime Archaeology. 8(2): 347-366.

Lafargue, P. 1907. The Right to be Lazy and Other Studies. Chicago: Charles H Kerr Ltd.

Lamborn Wilson, P. 2003. Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegades. New York: Autonomedia.

Macdonald, C.J.H. 2008. The Gift Without a Donor. Unpublished Manuscript. (Open Access).

Macdonald, C.J.H. 2009. The Anthropology of Anarchy. Occasional paper No. 35 of the School of Social Science, IAS, Princeton. Unpublished Manuscript. (Open Access).

Marshal, P. 2008. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London: Harper Perennial (Open Access).

Metcalf, P. 2010. The Life of the Longhouse: An Archaeology of Ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Morris, B. 2005. Anthropology and Anarchism: Their Elective Affinity. Goldsmith Anthropological Research Paper 11. London: Goldsmith College. (Open Access).

O’Sullivan, A. 2008. The Western Islands: Ireland’s Atlantic Islands and the Forging of Gaelic Irish National Identities. In G. Noble, T. Poller, J. Raven and L. Verrill (eds) Scottish Odysseys: The Archaeology of Islands. Stroud: Tempus. 172-190.

Orwell, G. 1933. Down and Out in Paris and London. London: Victor Gollanz.

Parker Pearson, M. 2012. Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stoneage Mystery. London: Simon & Shulster.

Pinker, S. 2011. The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. London: Penguin.

Rathbone, S. 2013a. A Consideration of Villages in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain and Ireland.  Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 79: 39-60.

Rathbone, S. 2013b. The Village People? An Early History of Neighbourly Disputes. Past Horizons Website. Posted August 1st 2013.

Rathbone, S. 2015. It’s All Gone Pear Shaped. Urbanism, Active Resistance and the Early settlement pattern of Ireland. Proceedings of the Spring 2014 I.A.I conference. (Open Access).

Russell, B. 1935. In Praise of Idleness. London: George Unwin.

Shuster, E. M. 1983. Native American Anarchism. Port Townsend: Loompanics Unlimited.

Smith, M., & Brickley, M. 2009. People of the Long Barrows: Life, Death and Burial in the Earlier Neolithic. Stroud: History Press Ltd.

Smyth, J. 2010. The House and Group Identity in the Irish Neolithic. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Section C 111 (1): 1-31. (Open Access).

Smyth, J. 2014. Settlement in Neolithic Ireland: New Discoveries at the Edge of Europe. Oxford: Oxbow.

Steel, T. 1975. The Life and Death of St. Kilda. Glasgow: Fontana/Collins.

Brief Updates: Archaeological Desks & Palaeoanthropology

17 May

The archaeologist Robert M Chapple has recently done something a bit special to celebrate his 100th post over at his blog.  In a thoughtful and entertaining entry Robert discusses the writing and thinking space of the humble desk, that much maligned friend of the archaeologist.  Indeed when a person thinks of an archaeologist the first thing that pops into a person’s head is the excitement of fieldwork in far-flung countries, a trowel perhaps, maybe some bones or Indiana Jones cracking his whip.  It is rarely the vital tool that is the desk, a space in which to hunker down, study site reports, books and process the archaeological record properly over a hot cup of tea, that pops into the minds of people asked to think about archaeology.

Yet the desk is where the action happens!  This is where the hard work of the amalgamation of knowledge happens, where the fieldwork is fleshed with the existing archive and the site is put within a larger context.  Interpretations are made and broken on the humble desk.  So Robert, recognising this vital space of thought and action, also saw it as a deeply personal space for the individual.  As such he asked a wide variety of his archaeological friends to send their own photographs of their desks for his 100th blog entry.  And it is a lovely entry, displaying both academic desks and personal spaces.  I was also asked to join in and you can see my little bedside table from which I am writing this now!  Although my work area is pretty bare compared to the desks (and fantastic 2 or 3 screen adapted computers) on show here, I got a serious longing for the university library where I carried out the majority of my dissertation research.

In other news I have produced a small article for the Teesside Archaeology Society TEESCAPES magazine.  I was kindly asked to write for them by my good friend Spencer Carter, who is the edited of the magazine and a specialist in studying and understanding the context of prehistoric microlithics.  Spencer is currently researching the Mesolithic period of northern England and his fantastic Microburin site, which documents his research and outreach work, can be found here.  My article, which was published in the 2014 Spring Edition of TEESSCAPES, focuses on the amazing palaeoanthropological highlights of 2013 and specifically mentions the Georgian site of the Homo erectus finds at Dmanisi (1), the Spanish site of Sima de la Huesos, and the Rising Star South African project.  It is an informal look back on year of research and excavations that bought much to the table in terms of our of knowledge of understanding human evolution.  (I may also have sneaked in an Alan Partridge joke).

teesscapes_2014-01_cvr

A great Spring 2014 edition of TEESSCAPES by the Teesside Archaeological Society with articles on a variety of topics including, but not limited to, history and archaeology in the national curriculum, the Mesolithic forests of the coast of NE England, museum reviews, Streethouse before the Saxons and human evolution. There are also field notes and books reviews. Read more about the editor’s views, Spencer Carter, in his enlightening blog on post on publishing and editing archaeology journals and open access in archaeology over at Microburin here.

I’ve tried to frame the article within a basic introduction to palaeoanthropology, some of the major new techniques being used in the study of past populations and some of the problems in trying to understand the fossil record and of human evolution in general.  It is a short article but I have to say I am very impressed by the presentation of the article, so a big thank you Spence!  I hope to start producing articles for TAS as and when I can, but this aside I would urge any reader to check it out and to check out any local archaeology societies or companies near to you.  They really are a wealth of original research and really help you get to grips with what is going on in your region and further abroad.  My own article also includes a cheeky photography of me in a lab coat which is sadly, at the moment, a rare occasion.  If you are an archaeologist, a student archaeologist or someone who just manages to engage in their passion between sleep and work then I heartily recommend jumping in and writing for your local society!

Notes

(1).   The article is a review of the amazing palaeoanthropological finds and research of 2013 and as such is likely to become out of touch with the passing of years, as new research highlights new evidence or different perspectives are investigated, hypothesized and studied in-depth.  A good example of this is the fairly recent claim that the Dmanisi individuals, discussed in my article, could possibly (but unlikely) represent different lineages of hominin species (check out Jamie Kendrick’s site The Human Story for more information on this issue and for in-depth entries on human evolution in general).

Further Information

  • Learn about the Teesside Archaeology Society here.
  • Current and past editions of TEESSCAPES can be found here.
  • Robert M Chapple’s awesome blog can be found and read here.
  • Spencer Carter’s fantastic Microburin site can be read here.

A Stone To Throw: Upcoming Mesolithic Conferences

6 Nov

Two dates to add to the diary if you are a fan of the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods!  The University of Durham have announced the second Where The Wild Things Are 2.0: Further Advances in Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Research conference recently and MESO15: the Ninth International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe have announced a date and location for their 2015 get-together.

wherethewildthingsare20

Wild Things

The University of Durham once again plays host to the ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ conference in early January 2014.  The conference takes place from Wednesday the 8th to Friday the 10th of January (with an optional extra of partaking in a meal on the night of the 9th) in the departments of archaeology and anthropology in the science campus.  The cost of attending the conference is £50 for regulars or £25 for concessions, unfortunately the early bird concessions date has already passed.  The conference will include talks by both post-graduate students and by established professors with topics from a world wide distribution discussed and ebated.  This includes, but is not limited to, talks on the palaeoenvironment of the Taung child, neanderthal survival strategies and funerary practices, human biogeography in Greece and Mesolithic flint scatters in northern England.  The full list and abstracts of the 27 speakers (not including keynote speakers) and poster presentations can be found here, but please note the call for papers has now closed.  I’ve booked my place and cannot wait to hear about the latest research.

MESO15

The Ninth International conference on the Mesolithic in Europe has been announced for 2015.  The conference has been slated to take place from the Monday 14th to Friday the 18th of September 2015 in the city of Belgrade in Serbia.  The deadline for presentation abstracts is the 1st of May 2014, and the sessions are split into the following research groups:

  • People in their environment
  • Colonization
  • Landscapes and territories
  • Settlements
  • Technology
  • Regional identities
  • Social relations and communication
  • Rites and symbols
  • Transitions
  • Current research

The registration fees for the conference are €160 for regular early bird registrations (up until April 2015) with the prices rising to €190 after this period, although there are student prices available and cheaper concessions for eastern European attendees.  The registration cost includes a fantastic trip to see the Danube Gorges and the chance to go the museum of Lepenski Vir, an outstanding site of the European Mesolithic period.  This is a wonderful opportunity to get to grips with the international research on the Mesolithic period and remains on my wish list.

A Mesolithic Tsunami & Heavenly Bodies

23 Sep

Over at Spencer Carter’s Microburin blog a recent post has discussed the possible evidence for the Mesolithic Storegga tsunami in the Tees bay in north eastern England.  Although normally concerned with Mesolithic flints Spencer has crafted a wonderfully detailed and engaging post on the archaeological and palaeo-environmental evidence for marine regressions and transgressions in the bay, helping to highlight the rich (and perhaps I’d say overlooked) archaeological record for the north east of England.  In particular this post highlights the value of researching monographs from local archaeological units, and of new vital research into the character of the Mesolithic period in northern England.

The challenging and changing nature of the Tees bay in evaluating the palaeo-environmental changes highlights the necessity to cast a critical eye over the available literature and on-going research projects.  In particular highlighting the effects of long term international events (recline of the last great ice sheets and post-glacial recolonisation) with the regional and national differences in the organisation of societal organisation during the Mesolithic, Neolithic and preceding Bronze ages.  Spencer’s post really integrates the relationship between the physical geography and the impact on the human use of the landscape and of societal organisation: this is a rich area of investigation.  The Storegga slide events, an massive slide of landmass of the Norwegian coastal shelf around 6100 BC, would have had an phenomenal effect of the communities and landscapes affected, and although the palaeo-environmental evidence at Hartlepool and the Tees bay finds no direct evidence for it (as of yet), there are indications of similar ‘surges’ of sea level in similar horizons (Waughman 2005).  This is a fruitful topic, perhaps one of the most interesting in Mesolithic studies, and Spencer’s post helps to put it in context.

Meanwhile I was recently in Sheffield to catch a guest lecture by Los Angeles based art historian and photographer Paul Koudounaris at the University’s Archaeology department.  Detailing the findings of his recently released book, ‘Heavenly Bodies’, Koudounaris expertly detailed the majestic bejeweled saints that can be found throughout Central Europe in a captivating and enlightening lecture.  The book itself details the wonderfully decorated ‘saints’ (decorated skeletons) in more detail with a lively and informative text accompanying the highly textured photography, truly bringing the so called ‘saints’ back into the limelight.

jewelledskeletons_03

The bejeweled skeleton of St Valerius in Weyarn, Germany. Note the careful attention to detail of the wire gold hair, jeweled mandible, eyes and nose, and extravagant torso decorations. The ‘saints’ were often skeletons picked seemingly at random from the catacombs and given a saints name, although there are many miracles attributed to the skeletons once they were placed in-situ in their church (Source, photograph by Paul Koudounaris).

Various Imperial Roman catacomb burials of Christians (such as Coemeterium Jordanorum & Coemeterium Priscillae) were rediscovered accidentally during the 15th and 16th centuries in and near Rome, at a time of revolt in the Christian world as the Protestant Reformation helped to split the Catholic church in Europe.  The Catholic church, sensing a possible use of the newly discovered skeletons, used the remains as examples of early Christian martyrs despite next to no evidence and only vague documentary evidence in the catacombs themselves.  Having agreed that certain skeletons represented Christians martyred during the Roman period, the church shipped many of the articulated and non-articulated remains to German speaking lands (such as Germany, Austria, Poland and Switzerland, as they represented the heart of the Reformation movement) and had the remains re-enforced with gauze, decorated with jewels and silk and displayed them in prominent positions in churches throughout Central Europe as a method of inspiring and supporting the counter reformation movement (Koudounaris 2013: 32).  Following centuries of displaying the holy relics, many of the ostentatiously decorated individuals were removed from show during the 19th and 20th centuries as they became viewed as being outdated and embarrassing motifs for the Catholic church.

heavenly_bodies_beard

The remains of St Albertus, arrived in Burgrain, Germany, in 1723. Note the particularly fine decoration of the golden hair and heavily jeweled torso, which indicate the wealth of heaven awaiting the faithful. Often the skeletons were re-enforced with gauze, silk and sometimes cardboard inside to support the torso. St Albertus clearly has a mandible which probably does not belong to the above crania, note the uneven dental wear (Source, photograph by Paul Koudounaris).

Frankly the saints that Koudounaris has managed to find in the predominantly German speaking countries of Central Europe are first and foremost works of art of a very high standard, many crafted with care and dedication over months and years by small teams of nuns and church members.  Although many are now lost to history, either destroyed, lost or hidden completely, a small platoon still survive and still on view in many churches across Central Europe (Koudounaris 2013: 174).

If you ever happen to be around Sheffield, the University archaeology department often run Tuesday dinnertime guest lectures which are sometimes (I believe mostly) open to department members and the public alike, it is well worth a look in!  Paul Koudounaris is also currently taking in a number of guest lectures with upcoming talks based in north America, further information can be found here.

Bibliography:

Carter, S. 2013. Storegga Mesolithic Tsunami: Is There Evidence in the Tees Area?  Microburin Blog. 24th August 2013.

Koudounaris, P. 2013. Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs. London: Thames and Hudson.

Waughman, M. (Ed.) 2005. Archaeology and Environment of Submerged Landscapes in Hartlepool Bay, England. Tees Archaeology Monograph. Vol 1.

‘Rise of the Continents’

11 Jun

In the new BBC series ‘Rise of the Continents‘ Professor Iain Stewart discussed the origin of the African continent in the first episode, which aired on the 9th June and is available on the BBC Iplayer here, and nicely tied the opening episode with evolutionary history.  Africa is rich in wildlife and geographical diversity, and it is, of course, the birthplace of our species, Homo sapiens.  For me this program highlighted the importance of understanding geology and geography when considering the origin and evolution of animal life on earth (us included, of course).  In particular the way in which the continents themselves effect evolution through the combined changes of the landscape, climate and geography, which are fundamentally altered through deep geological time as continents shift.  This is important in considering the effects of both evolution on animal species (including the Homo lineage), and the impact of a changing landscape on human populations.

On viewing the program (and becoming engrossed by the palaeontology), my immediate thoughts shifted to two massive geographical changes which impacted on European human and animal populations during the Mesolithic period.

Doggerland‘ is the modern name for the submerged landscape where now the North Sea sits in North-West Europe.  However, up until around 5000 BC the area was dry land which helped connect the islands of the UK to mainland Europe, and the area, termed ‘Doggerland‘, was home to a variety of flora and faunal populations and home to hunter-gatherer humans societies (Gaffney et al. 2009).  This was due to water being locked up in the form of ice during the last Ice Age which substantially lowered sea levels in the North Sea basin.  However, from the Last Glacial Maximum (23,000 to roughly 13,000 BC) to the Late Glacial Maximum (11,000-8,000 BC) in the Northern Hemisphere, the environment changed and the sea level rose, eventually separating the modern day countries of the UK and Ireland from mainland Europe.

On the other side of Europe another monumental landscape change was underway.  The Black Sea, located in South Western Europe, has long been a focus of on-going palaeoclimate research (Siddall et al. 2004, Turney & Brown 2007; also see the UNESCO funded project ‘Caspian-Black Sea-Mediterranean Corridor during the last 30 ky: Sea Level Change and Human Adaptive Strategies‘).  In particular it was unclear whether the Black Sea, with its highly fluctuating water levels, remained an isolate lake during the Late Glacial Maximum, or whether it remained connected to the world sea by the Bhosporus and Dardanelles straits.  Studies and modelling (Siddall et al. 2004) suggest that the Black Sea water level was a lot lower during the Late Glacial Maximum, but following this period increased in water level and overall size.

It’s important to reflect on the effect that these landscape changes would have had on prehistoric cultures.  ‘Doggerland’ is well known for the amount of artefacts and animal bones that are dragged up by trawlers and other fishing vessels (Gaffney et al.  2009), whilst archaeologists have found prehistoric structures and artefacts in the flooded landscape of the Black Sea.  In particular it marked a time of isolation for the islands of Britain and Ireland, which are reflected in the material culture following the separation.  The Black Sea infilling proper likely caused human populations around the area to adapt and change their strategies in hunting and surviving.  With the advent of agricultural in Europe during the Neolithic period (roughly 7000BC-1700BC), the trade and exchange of ideas, material cultural and people was no doubt influenced by changes in the landscape.

The ‘Rise of the Continents’ series is well worth a watch, and I am particularly looking forward to future episodes in the series.

Bibliography:

Gaffney, V., Fitch, S. & Smith, D. 2009. Europe’s Lost Land: The Rediscovery of Doggerland. Council Of British Archaeology: York.

Siddall, M., Pratt, L. J., Helfrich, K. R. & Giosan, L. 2004. Testing the Physical Oceanographic Implications of the Suggested Sudden Black Sea Infill 8400 Years Ago. Palaeoceanography. 19: 1-11.

Turney, C. S. M. & Brown, H. 2007. Catastrophic Early Holocene Sea Level Rise, Human Migration, and the Neolithic Transition in Europe. Quaternary Science Reviews.  26 (17-18): 2036-2041.

Mesolithic Musings and the Howick Home

22 Dec

I ventured up to a dreary and drenched Newcastle today and whilst there I visited the delightful Great North Museum, formerly the Hancock Museum, located near the University of Newcastle.  This a free, engaging and entertaining museum- an ideal place to help soak up an introduction to the natural and historical wonders of northern England.  A proposed near 100% cut in the £2.5 million cultural funds by Newcastle-upon-Tyne city council will likely force a number of cultural institutions (including art galleries, museums, and music centres amongst others) in the city to either close, let go of staff, and/or lose precious objects and artefacts, not to mention a potential loss of knowledge.  Thankfully the Great North Museum receives some funding from the nearby University, but it will remain to be seen what damage across the city the cuts will do.  The Great North Museum houses a number of important collections including over half a million objects from the fields of the natural world, geology, library archives and world cultures.  However it was for the section on archaeology that I was particularly interested to see, especially so the sections on the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods.  It would be fair to say that these sections are not particularly expansive, but they are interesting.

As I mentioned in an earlier post on the Mesolithic in the Tees valley and North Yorkshire Moors, Northumberland has evidence for one of the earliest houses in Britain at Howick, located just on the coast of the North Sea.  On display at the museum were some of the artefacts found from the site including sea shells, burnt hazelnut shells, and microliths.  The site at Howick was discovered and excavated by a team based at the University of Newcastle during the summers of 2000 to 2002.

The Mesolithic hut at Howick, Northumberland, dated to 7800 BC,  overlooking the modern day coastline, (Source).

The Mesolithic hut at Howick, Northumberland, dated to 7800 BC, overlooking the modern day coastline (Source: University of Newcastle Howick Project).

They uncovered 3 distinct phases of a single circular hut building, with construction starting from 7800 BC and in-habitation potentially lasting a century or more, with evidence of post holes and successive lenses of debris.  It is not yet known whether the site was occupied permanently, semi-permanently or seasonally.  A total of 18,000 pieces of flint were recovered from the site, and whilst only a small fraction of these were on show at the Great North, it was nonetheless stimulating to be looking at the evidence and artefacts from one of the earliest domestic sites in the UK.  A large amount of burnt hazelnuts were found with a small number of hearths, indicating that this food group were specifically targeted for food, alongside probable food sources such as seals from along the coastal area.  The site was carefully investigated during the excavation period and subsequent analysis; this included test pitting, sediment coring, soil analysis and geomorphological characterisation, as well as extensive radiocarbon dating of various deposits found in the main extensive open area excavation.

Careful excavations such as this help to add to the picture of Mesolithic life in Britain.  In a recent article written by the project team at Star Carr, a famous waterlogged Mesolithic site in the Vale of Pickering in North Yorkshire, Conneller et al. (2012) suggest that the site was actually quite extensive with evidence of a least one hut, and a significant amount of work had gone into constructing the site.  They also suggest that the long held view of the European Mesolithic as proliferated with ‘small groups’ of people may have had their rationale in the small excavations of archaeologists’ themselves (Conneller et al. 2012: 1004).

These are interesting projects, especially in highlighting the varied archaeological finds of Northern England.  In my hometown alone I have a petrified Upper Palaeolithic/Mesolithic forest located just off the coast, a complex of Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano-British centres spanning nearly a thousand years nearly on my doorstep, an important early Anglo-Saxon centre of Christianity near the coast, not to mention the important Medieval and Post-Medieval trading sites.  It should be remembered that museums are integral to displaying and housing a wide range of collections for the benefit of both the public and the researcher, not to mention commercial construction companies.

Further sources:

Mesolithic Project on the North Yorkshire Moors

18 Dec

There is a nice little article on the Past Horizons website on the work of my local archaeological group, Tees Archaeology, and their continuing work on the Mesolithic project based in the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire Moors in north eastern England, carried out in conjunction with North York Moors National Park.  The Mesolithic period in this area lasted from to 8000 BC  to roughly 3800 BC, with flint tools used during this period often belonging to the microlithic tradition- specialised mini-tools.  The human population during this time were largely nomadic, often moving from place to place as season/food dictated.  However, it can be hard to make specific claims about this period as the evidence can be so scattered and diffuse.  Projects, such as this one spearheaded by Tees Archaeology, can help to unveil concentrations in Mesolithic flints and tools, and possibly even help to highlight camp sites or hearth sites, whilst also involving the public to become engaged with prehistory and heritage management.

The north east of England is generally unrepresented in the archaeological record compared to later periods (Source: Project Summary), and is certainly lesser known compared to the more well known sites of Star Carr in the Vale of Pickering, or Mesolithic houses of Howick in Northumberland.  Yet the evidence gathered from the many hundreds of flints from the project so far could indicate concentrations of Mesolithic activity on the North York Moors, with nearly 450 flints found near Goldsborough, Whitby, with evidence of burn flints which is often taken as a sign of camp fires or hearths (Source: Past Horizons).  This project helps to highlight the systematic approach to the prehistorical archaeological record, especially taking into consideration the change of environment between now and then.

The Tees Archaeology led project is split into 3 main phases, which include:

Phase 1 (completed 2006):

The collation of existing data, including the work of unpublished and unrecorded material, palaeoenvironmental evidence, and information from private collectors.  The information was entered into a database and graded accordingly to type, and from there 6 types of location were identified for Mesolithic sites.  The sites were then targeted in Phase 2 (Source: project Summary).

Phase 2 (completed 2008-2012):

Targeted fieldwork explored the 6 location types identified from the 1st Phase in order to characterise the different types of activity present, detail the chronology at the site, and provide information for future management.  The 6 location types are termed as Zone 1– low lying areas in the Tees valley, Zone 2– lowland activity in prominent locations, Zone 3– lower lying northern and eastern fringes of present moorland block, Zone 4– upland activity in prominent locations, Zone 5– upper reaches of streams in upland locations, and Zone 6– highland springhead locations (Source: project summary).

Phase 3 (projected 2013)-

The majority of finds from Phase 2 of this project included extensive field walking at a number of sites to find, record and plan flint finds, whilst the 3rd Phase aims to finish trial shoveling, pitting and field walking at specific sites in conjunction with geophysical surveying, whilst testing the methodologies used in Phase 2.  The final section will bring together the lessons learnt from the project, and help produce and inform heritage management planning.  A popular booklet will be produced to help educate and inform the public.

Further Information, Publications and Reports-

A Tees Archaeology produced series of Flint Fact Sheets can be found here.  The detailed fact sheets help to provide information on the importance of flint collections, their value and how knowledge can be attained from them.  It describes the quality and the nature of flint, how to recognise different period production of flint tools (from Mesolithic microliths to Neolithic fabricators), as well as a guide on how to recognise the different functions and type of flint tools and artifacts that can be found in the area, ranging from scrapers, burins, awls to saws, knives and leaf shaped arrow heads.

The Tees Archaeology Phase 1 Final Report, from 2006, can be found here, which describes the objectives and research design in further detail.  On the project homepage further information can be found on the specific sites that have been targeted since 2006, such as Farndale Moor in 2009 or Goldborough in 2012, with yearly reports produced for each site available on the webpage.  This brief report outline both the completed Phase 1 and Phase 2, and the upcoming Phrase 3 in 2013.  A future report is expected within a year times, whilst trial trenching and test pitting on the North York Moors will be carried out in early 2013 (volunteers wanted!).

I sincerely hope I can join in with the project in the coming spring, as this seems like a fantastic opportunity to become involved with a Mesolithic project, a period I am especially interested in.

Another Quick (Neolithic) Update….

7 Jun

I haven’t updated as much as I would have liked recently for a variety of reasons, mainly due to a recent glut of essays, but I’d thought I’d add this quickly.

In my About page, I mention that two of my primary interests within archaeology are the Mesolithic and proceeding Neolithic periods, yet I’ve not wrote much about them on this blog.  However this will change (eventually), but as I have now attended the frankly excellent First Farmers conference at the University of Cardiff (see my post here about it), I’d thought I’d report that there has been some further developments concerning the main thrust of the conference.  The Linearbandkeramik culture, Central Europe’s first Neolithic Farmers (5500BC to around 4800BC), were the main topic of the talks and presentations given in Cardiff, and a recent paper by some of the organisers and presenters at the conference (Bentley et al 2012-see link below), have published the preliminary results from a large isotopic research project as a part of this.

The article is well worth a read, and concerns patterns of patrilocality, kinship and status based on the migration of female and male adults from the LBK culture, gathered from the archaeological evidence and the use of strontium isotopes gathered from human remains.  I want to draw your attention to two recently written blog entries concerning the paper.  Firstly we have Katy Meyers post at her blog ‘Bones Don’t Lie’ here, and her entry dated to the 1st of June entitled ‘The Earliest Evidence of Status Differentiation’.  Secondly, we have Rosamary Joyce’s blog, ‘Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives‘, and her entry concerning the article which is entitled ‘Men, Women and Neolithic Equality‘.

Both of these blog entries take two different approaches in evaluating the article, and it is interesting to note both pick up on different themes.  Katy’ post deals with the interesting revelations of social status and differentiation as taken from the archaeological artefacts (mainly shoe last adzes), and evidence of adult female migration. The paper by Bentley et al (2012) makes note that it was possible that farmed land was passed down via adult males from the same family, and suggest differential land use, as  practiced by the LBK.  Joyce’s article makes the point that there are several sites and individuals that do not fit the overall model that the authors propose, alongside comments of how anthropological thought is always processed through a prism of its own history.

Perhaps a salient point to consider is a remark made by Dr Guido Brandt at the Cardiff conference in the consideration of the fact that we can always do with more bioarchaeological samples, including both human and animal bone, to gather a bigger data set as archaeological possible.  We must also always define isotopic parameters, from the geology, geography,  foods used and procured, and human and faunal data.  A point was made at the conference that over 6000 LBK sites have so far been uncovered and identified in Central European countries.  The questions remains the same; how many samples do we need to gather a representative?  And at what scale do we define patterns of migration?

I will no doubt come to know the LBK culture and the use of stable isotopes in migration patterns well as I have chosen this area for my dissertation topic….

Source:

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

My Mesolithic-Neolithic Article in The Post Hole!

2 Sep

Unbeknownst to me whilst I’ve been gallivanting  in central Europe an article that I wrote for The Post Hole, a University of York student ran archaeological journal, has finally been published in the magazine and has been let loose online.

The Post Hole is an online magazine set up by the University of York archaeological students, for both students to write articles in and to promote ideas in the wider archaeological community.  Several editions of the magazine are released each academic year, often with a vast range of topics covered in the same edition.  This edition (the 17th) covers the theme of prehistory, and specifically the Mesolithic & Neolithic periods.  My article, ‘Nuances in the Archaeological Record Regarding Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition’, can be found here.

Post Hole Article

My article as it appears on the Post Hole journal site.

Also in this edition of the Post Hole are articles dealing with the media perception of prehistory, assessment and usefulness of radiocarbon dates during colonisation events & an argument for a greater integrated approach in interpreting prehistoric cultures.  Some of you who have been following the blog for a while may recognise my article from an earlier entry but there have been some time lapses between my original submission and availability online (so keep shtum!).  Writing for university student ran journals or papers can be a great way to meet new people, spread new ideas and highlight little researched areas as well as helping to practicing your writing style and presentation.  I’d encourage everyone to have a go!

Bibliography

Mennear, D. 2011. Nuances in the Archaeological Record Regarding the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition. In The Post Hole. 17: 5-9.

Article: Nuances in the Archaeological Record Regarding the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition

2 Jul

Overview

The aim of this article is two-fold; to help show the effects of an integrated multidisciplinary approach in studying and understanding the MesolithicNeolithic transition, and a discussion on the several issues that the transition had on selected archaeological sites and cultures.  Thus the article will limit itself in scope, with discussion of two European cultures and a Japanese culture, which will help to highlight the different techniques and approaches used in understanding the nuances in the archaeological record.

Key Words: Mesolithic, Neolithic, Osteology, Palaeoenvironmental, Europe, Japan, Agriculture, Palaeopathology, Stable Isotopes, Ethnography.

Introduction

The transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to farming, as means for a stable food return, varies enormously depending on which cultures are under discussion and investigation.  Nor was this fundamental transitional period an immediate or permanent change in lifestyle; the boundaries between the Mesolithic and Neolithic are becoming ever more blurred as new evidence comes to light (Price 2000: 4).  As Zvelebil (1986: 13) notes, ‘The adoption of farming must have had a number of causes which were variable from region to region and were contingent on the region environmental and socio-economic conditions’.  This is manifest in the long duration of the ever changing archaeological record.

The LBK Across the Central European Plain

For our first culture under discussion we shall turn to the Linearbandkeramik culture (LBK) of the Central European Plain.  The predominant impulse of the spread of the LBK has been pinpointed and dated from 5700 BC to 4500 BC, and has its origins ascertained to the Middle Danube, and tributaries in Hungary (Scarre 2005: 407).  Throughout the LBK culture it has been noted that the sites are often found on fertile loess soils of the CEP as they provided the optimal growing conditions for agricultural use.  This, Price notes, is in contrast to the ‘Mesolithic foragers (who) were (more) concentrated in marine, riverine and rich lacustrine environments’ and that ‘recent surveys in the interior European basins have failed to reveal substantial Mesolithic remains’ (Price 2000: 5).  The numerous LBK settlements, often located in fertile forest clearings, are very similar in both structural and material remains which suggests a relatively strong cultural coherence which ‘colonised’ its way across central Europe(although this has recently been debated).  There is also suggestion in the LBK of a movement from a communal to a later household level of organisation, as the long houses excavated are unique familiar units in the typical village layout (Keeley 1992: 86).  It must be noted however there were regional differences in lithic, ceramic and dietary choices within the composition of the LBK culture.

There is also evidence of violence in neighbouring LBK groups from osteological analysis of human remains at the both Talheim site in Southern Germany, Herxheim in SE Germany and the LBK site of Schletz in Eastern Austria, suggesting cultural in-fighting.  The evidence points towards LBK inflicted weaponry injury, and not between foraging or other farming groups, alongside selected targeting of the male population (Scarre 2005: 411).  Violence, it seems, is endemic to human populations throughout the course of human history.  The geographical predisposition for farming and intensive adaptation of fertile land for farming settlements themselves presents a key development in the nature of land use by human societies in the spread of European agriculture. Interestingly the spread laterally across the European central plain is in contrast to the later up take of agriculture around the eastern Baltic and western Russia in 3500 BC, where biologically wild resources were still heavily used up until the 3rd millennium BC (Price 2000: 16, Zvelebil & Lillie 2000).

The Jomon and Yayoi Cultures of Japan

Not all societies were exposed to agriculture so quickly, as is evident throughout the Jomon period in Japan.  Lasting roughly from 14,000 BC to 300 BC, the Jomon culture has evidence for the earliest use of pottery in the world, and made extensive use of the large variety of environments in the Japanese archipelago (Akazawa 1986, Kaner & Ishikawa 2007, Mithen 2003).  This culture has been classed as largely hunter-gather-forager in lifestyle, until roughly the Yayoi period around 300 BC, when the adoption to agriculture was fully implemented with intensive rice agriculture, weaving and the introduction of metallurgy (Mays 1998: 90).   There has long been discussion as to whether the Yayoi culture were settlers from mainland Asia who explicitly brought agriculture to the Jomon of Japan, as an integration model, or if the Yayoi superseded the Jomon as propagators of agriculture (Akazawa 1986, Kaner & Ishikawa 2007, Mays 1998).  Studies have been carried out on the measurements of skull morphology, in particular in the study of the modern-day aboriginal Ainu people located in Hokkaido, a large island north of mainland Japan, who maintain they are the Jomon’s descendents.  Craniometric and multivariate analysis of human skeletal measurements have led to results that indicate that the Jomon are distinctive in head shape from the Yayoi, whilst they share distinct similarities with the modern-day Ainu population (Akazawa 1986: 151, Mays: 90).  This has led to theories that population pressures have pushed the Jomon northwards up through Japan to the modern day island of Hokkaido, whilst the Yayoi immigration wave helped to spread agriculture across Japan.

The importance of this work highlights the movement of the adaptation of agriculture in a relatively late time frame, in comparison to mainland Asia and Europe.  Palaeoenvironmental evidence suggests the richness and diversity of the Japanese archipelago, with heavy densities of the Jomon population in 3500 BC located in central and eastern Japan (Kaner & Ishikawa 2007: 2).  Stable village sites with pits dwellings, storage areas and burial facilities have been excavated and studied, yet there is only a hint of cultivating nuts and plants.  Yet it also has to be noted that Akazawa (1986: 163) points out that

‘rice cultivation would seem redundant to those Jomon societies whose procurement was regulated by year round demands of different major food gathering activities whereas it would seem attractive to those Jomon societies characterised by a simple food procurement system, supported by a single major food gathering activity’.

Ongoing date conflicts with the Accelerated Mass Spectrometry results from human and animal bone have resulted in suggestions for the impact of the Yayoi culture to be pushed back to 1000 BC or 900 BC.  However, the results from sites located on coastal areas could be contaminated with the ‘marine radiocarbon reservoir effect’, a natural distortion of radiocarbon dates by the dissolving of calcium carbonate, which could thus require a possible need to recalibrate existing dates (Kaner & Ishikawa 2007: 4).  The outcome of the timing of adoption of agriculture in the Late Jomon/Yayoi period is still hotly debated, as outlined by a few issues discussed above. Yet the archaeological evidence presents a hunter gather society managing to thrive without agriculture in a range of diverse environments, until later cultural re-adjustment and migrations of people came into contact with the existing Jomon culture, and fostered a change towards widespread rice agriculture (Akazawa 1986, Mays 1998).

Portuguese Mesolithic to Neolithic Changes on the Atlantic Coast

Moving on to the Portuguese Atlantic coast, the evidence points to a different motivation in the timing for the implementation of agriculture.  Stable isotopic analysis and the dental attrition rate of a number of skeletons have revealed a great variety of information regarding the diet, and changes during the Mesolithic to Neolithic transition.  Work carried out by Lubell et al (at the Moita do Sebastiao, Melides and Fontainhas Roche Forte II sites in SE Portugal) demonstrate a gradual dietary change; from a mixture of terrestrial and marine resources in the Mesolithic to a diet more dependent on terrestrial food in the Neolithic (Lubell et al 1994).  The date for this transition has been dated to around 5000 BC in central Portugal, with initiation of change beginning around 6000 BC, possibly even 7000 BC (Lubell et al 1994: 201).  This indication of change in food origin is a feature of the ‘Neolithic package’; but as we have seen with the Jomon culture, key indicators of the Neolithic (such as pottery and long-term village sites) do not always show a movement or adoption towards full-blown agriculture.  This key concept, of the ‘Neolithic’ package, is being reassessed as new evidence blurs this important transitional period in the development of humanity (Zvelebil 1986).

So what other evidence is present in Portugal?  Zvelebil and Rowley-Conwy (1986: 68) note the continuing Mesolithic economy, with large shell middens present on the River Muge located at Cabeco da Amoreira and Cabeco da Arruda.  Palaeoenvironmental evidence indicates that they were located near shallow lagoon and estuary type environments, with the shell middens themselves dating back to mid 4000 BC with long periods of use.  Evidence has also been recorded of middens of fauna present with remains of auroch, roe deer,red deer, badger and lynx found, suggesting a rich environment of availability.  Evidence of cemeteries include those found at the above sites alongside Moita do Sebastiao, with evidence pointing towards a ‘probable increased group size and (increase in) social complexity’ (Zvelebil & Rowley-Conwy 1986: 68).  This suggests socially and economically complex hunter gatherer communities near the Atlantic coast, with a dependence on seasonal marine resources.  The use of cemeteries and long-lived sites suggests greater sedentism which could have opened the hunter gatherers up to pre-adaption of agriculture.

The early conservatism of the Mesolithic population is noted by the choices of marine and some terrestrial food illustrated by the narrow nitrogen isotopic range from stable light isotope studies carried out, along with a homogenous diet recorded in the earlier middens.  This is in later contrast to the wider range of carbon and nitrogen isotope averages, and the broader range of molar attrition recorded in the Neolithic skeletons, which suggests greater inclusion of terrestrial foodstuffs into the diet (Lubell et al 1994: 213).  The timing of the adoption to agriculture was culturally defined in this locality, and Lubell et al concludes that the Neolithic was ‘an intensification of a trend which started as an adjustment of food supply during an earlier period of sea level, climatic and vegetation change’ (Lubell et al 1994: 214).  This, with the above evidence cited drove the long-term changes and adoption to farming, as it was culturally embraced, implemented and practised as the trend continued.

Conclusion

Throughout this discussion it has become clear that the mechanics of the transitional period are various, and too diverse to fully discuss here.  Inevitably different timings of the adoption occur throughout the world; not one single cause can be suggested for the emergence of agriculture (Lubell et al 1994, Price 2000, Scarre 2005, Zvelebil & Lillie 2000).  It is the amalgamation of a multidisciplinary investigation that helps to clearly define and produce a record of this key prehistoric period and its outcomes for the human population, and it is hoped that this article shows but a small part of that effort.

Bibliography

Akazawa, T. 1986. ‘Hunter-gatherer Adaptations and the Transition to Food Production in Japan’. In Zvelebil, M. (ed.) Hunters in Transition: Mesolithic societies of temperate Eurasia and their transition to farming. 151-165. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kaner, S. and Ishikawa, T. 2007. ‘Reassessing the concept of ‘Neolithic’ in the Jomon of Western Japan’.  Documenta Preahistorica. 2007. 1-7.

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

Keeley, L. H. 1992. ‘’The Introduction of Agriculture to the Western North European Plain’. In Gebauer, A. B. And Price, T. D. (eds.) Transitions to Agriculture in Prehistory.  81-96. Madison: Prehistory Press.

Lubell, D. and Jackes, M. Schwarcz, H. Knyf, M. Meicklejohn, C. 1994. ‘The Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition in Portugal: Isotopic and Dental Evidence of Diet’. Journal of Archaeological Science. 21. 201-216.

Mays, S. 1999. The Archaeology of Human Bones. Glasgow: Bell & Bain Ltd.

Mithen, S. 2003. After The Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 BC. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Price, T. D. 2000. ‘Europe’s First Farmers: An introduction’. In Price, T.D. (ed.) Europe’s First Farmers. 1-19. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roberts, C. & Manchester, K. 2010. The Archaeology of Disease Third Edition. Stroud: The History Press.

Scarre, C. 2005. ‘Holocene Europe’. In Scarre, C (ed.) The Human past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies. 392-431. London: Thames and Hudson.

Waldron, T. 2009. Palaeopathology: Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zvelebil, M. and Rowley-Conwy, P. 1986. ‘Foragers and farmers in Atlantic Europe’. In Zvelebil, M. (ed.) Hunters in Transition: Mesolithic societies of temperate Eurasia and their transition to farming. 67-93. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Zvelebil, M. 1986. ‘Mesolithic prelude and Neolithic revolution’. In Zvelebil, M. (ed.) Hunters in Transition: Mesolithic societies of temperate Eurasia and their transition to farming. 5-16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zvelebil, M. and Lillie, M. C. 2000. ‘Transition to agriculture in eastern Europe’. In Price, T. D. (ed.) Europe’s First Farmers. 57-92. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.