Welcome to another news roundup!
First up a bit of news that you can all be involved in! We are right in the middle of the 2013 Festival of Archaeology and events are being held all round the country. There are tours, talks and hands on events for you to get involved in, so if you have any interest in archaeology head to http://www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk and look for events in your area.
Next we have some news about the early farmers of Europe during the Neolithic, my main period of interest. Researchers from the University of Oxford have published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which suggests that as early as 6000 BC farmers were manuring their fields to increase productivity. Charred cereal remains from sites across Europe, often produced when buildings or food are burnt, were examined for levels of enriched nitrogen found in manure. This potentially represents a deliberate investment in the arable landscape, something which has previously been disputed. Of course the presence of these nutrients does not prove that the fields were manured intentionally. If any livestock were kept in the area and grazed on the fields after a harvest, feeding on any left over plant matter then the fields would be manured as a bi-product of this practice. This study suggests that crops were differentially treated however, so there is the distinct possibility that this was deliberate.
Next we have news from an even older period the late Mesolithic. During the construction of a wind farm in Rhondda Valley in Wales 12 lengths of timber have been found in peat deposits. One of them is intricately carved, and if its attribution of 6,000 years old is correct then it is one of the oldest known carved timbers in Europe. It is really rare to find wood which has been preserved, especially pieces so old, so this really is a great find. It has been suggested that this represents a territorial marker, and although exact details haven’t been released it seems to me that a series of large timbers from the Late Mesolithic is reminiscent of the monumental line of timbers found under the Stonehenge car park a few years ago. It is often thought that little construction or alteration of the landscape happened during the Mesolithic, over the course of recent years this view has been slowly eroded however, and it is always nice to see new evidence to support developing theories.
More news from South America this week, where a temple in an area known as El Brujo in Peru is being excavated. Whist excavating a ceremonial floor the body of a sacrificed woman was found, yet up until this point it was believed that the pre-Incan Moche culture only sacrificed men. This idea was supported by art work and murals from the ruins. The woman was likely between 17 and 19 and it is claimed was killed by poison because she has no sign of injury, although there are a whole host of ways of dying without sustaining injury. It is also of note that the way in which she was buried is deemed unusual due to her head pointing to the west, her arm being extended and her being face down. Apart from this her position is apparently perfectly normal.
Well it doesn’t look it to me! It seems more like she was just thrown there, because otherwise you would have to dig a rather big pit to bury everyone in that position. Still an interesting find, showing that the idealised depictions of culture that are left to us in texts, artwork etc. often don’t actually match the reality.
Another rather interesting news story this week is that a series of pits of varying sizes and depths have been found in Aberdeenshire which have been interpreted as a prehistoric calender which tracked the solar and lunar cycles. This calender dates from 10,000 years ago, 5,000 years before any previously known calenders in the Near East. Now I am rather sceptical about this, as a lot of similar claims have been made before. Also looking at the plan of the pits that has been released to the media, it is evident that there are in fact more than 12 pits in this alignment, yet these extra ones are not explained. It may be that the journal article does explain these fully and provide compelling evidence, but as of yet I’ve not had a chance to read it. I’ll return to this story once I have had a chance to give it a read and we’ll see how these claims stand up.
The Final story for the week is a piece of community based research is being conducted by the University of Oxford in which members of the public are being asked to conduct basic recording of Iron Age hill forts in their area. It is claimed that very little research has been done on hill forts in the past and this is aimed at remedying the situation, but this is quite simply not true! A large amount of research has been dedicated to them, and many of them are well documented, at least in terms of their above ground earthworks. Trying to gather data from the public in this way is an interesting idea, but I can’t see how it is going to produce much in the way of useful information, especially as they seem to be looking for only very basic information, information which has in many cases been documented before and would be easily visible in aerial photographs. What is particularly shocking about this story though is that this project has received £1 million in funding! Quite where this money is going I don’t know but I feel that it could have been spent on things like excavation and landscape investigations which could have told us far more about these hill forts than a public walk over survey. Still if you want to take part you can head over to http://www.arch.ox.ac.uk/hillforts-atlas.html at least you could if the archaeology departments website worked. So money well spent.
That’s it for this week, check back next Sunday where I’ll have another Episode for you.