Hello again and welcome to the first news roundup. There are a few interesting things in the news this week, a couple of which I am going to save for another post which looks at them in a bit more depth.
The first piece of interest comes from Kingsmead Quarry in Berkshire, where Wessex Archaeology have recently uncovered a fourth Neolithic house. This site is the first in England at which more than one early Neolithic house has been uncovered, and even individually these structures are extremely rare, so the importance of this find, and the site in general is rather substantial. This site is also important for the fact that it adds to the list of sites at which I have worked where important finds/media coverage occur a few years after I have left. So anyone who wants a chance to find something amazing or get a scoop on the next big archaeology story, please get in touch and I will provide you with a list of places that I have excavated in recent years. All you have to do then is wait until someone digs there again to get your wish. Results guaranteed (please note this guarantee is not legally binding).
Next up is an interesting story about the domestication of the horse in a previously unknown civilisation in Saudi Arabia. The 135 kg carved stone artefact pictured below is one of a number of statues, the rest of them smaller, which depict horse like animals with bands across their shoulders that have been found at Al Magar, a site dated to around 7000 BC.
These bands have been interpreted as tack- equipment used for riding and controlling horses- and thus as evidence that this civilisation had domesticated the horse. Now as interesting as these finds are, I can’t help but feel that this is another case of archaeologists stretching the evidence to make something seem more exciting than it perhaps really is. Some experts believe horse domestication to have occurred around 4000 BC in the Eurasian Steppes, as indicated by an earlier BBC News article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17943974
At first my reaction was, well I trust a genetic studies results more than an assumption based on carved stone statues, but upon closer examination it seems that we have a case of the unfortunately common “not understanding what you are reporting syndrome”. If you check out the source of the latter article (http://dx.doi: 10.1073/pnas.1111122109) you will see that it doesn’t actually prove that domestication occurred around 6000 years ago, but in fact uses this date as an assumption in order to undertake the analysis which show a single place of domestication with repeated wild additions to domesticated stock throughout Europe and Asia. I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone just how important it is to check the facts on anything you read, even if it is from a reputable source, such as the BBC.
So, where does this leave us? Given that there is a great deal of evidence for domestication 6000 years ago, and that this date seems to have worked for the genetic study, I am still more inclined to take this date as more reliable (though it would be interesting to see what would happen if these tests were repeated assuming a 7000 BC date). My main reason for skepticism is that a statue of an animal proves nothing; there are cave paintings of animals dating from 40,000 years ago, but this doesn’t mean that animals were domesticated. Thus the only evidence for domestication of the horse at this site is a band upon the carvings, which if we are honest could be a whole host of things. Even if we assume that it is some form of tack, that doesn’t mean the animal is domesticated as many wild animals, including horses are tamed and made use of, and regular taming of wild animals is unfortunately a long way from domestication. So I would call the finds at Al Magar the first evidence of the taming of the horse, which is still something to shout about, let’s not dress it up anymore with sloppy assumptions.