Archives Archaeology- Episode 1 and some news!

It was a tough decision about what to post about today I had intended to do the first Archives Archaeology as I’ve done a few news roundup lately and there hasn’t been much on television, but then some big news cropped up on Thursday. So I’ve decided to cover both.

First up, the news. An article in Science this week discloses research by Dr. David Lordkipanidze from the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, Georgia, and colleagues from Switzerland, Israel and the United States. It covers their work in Dmanisi, Georgia, which I’ve talked about before, where they have found a large sample of ancient hominids which includes the earliest fossils outside of Africa. What is interesting about these finds is that the sets of remains come from the same context and were thus in all likelihood from the same time period. This provides the first opportunity to properly compare physical traits between multiple contemporary individuals. After examining the remains they concluded that although there is a lot of variation the differences amongst the individuals amount to no more than that you would find in modern humans of chimpanzees or bonobos. One of the authors, Christoph Zollikofer, notes that had the jaw and cranium from ‘Skull 5’ been found at different sites they might have been attributed to different species.

1.8M-year-old skull

Previously most hominid fossils around the world have been found in different locations and from different time periods and variation has thus been seen as a sign of them being from different species. The conclusion is therefore that  what were previously thought to be separate species such as Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis and Homo ergaster may actually represent variation amongst the same species. This is a massive development in the study of human origins which could completely change how we view this area of research. Now not everyone agrees with the findings in this paper at the moment, but it definitely opens up a very interesting avenue for research and discussion. It is not often that a piece of research has the potential to completely change the accepted view in archaeology. This is certainly an issue which I will be watching with great interest.

And now the first episode of Archives Archaeology! This week I’ve been watching Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? This was a series that ran on the BBC throughout the 1950’s in which a panel of experts were tasked with identifying objects from museum and university collections from around the world.

Now this programme’s age certainly shows; it is full of bad editing and its rather slow and civilized. Also they say things are made of bronze, and even on television you don’t get away with that these days, it’s always copper alloy. This insistence on being very specific about how you define bronze and not allowing for the colloquial use for all copper alloy objects as was traditionally done is one of my pet peeves. It is also of note that I didn’t see any vegetables. It is still entertaining though. I found it particularly interesting to see some of the big names from the history of archaeology in the flesh as it were, having read their work.

Unsurprisingly, given that the panel are shown objects which they don’t know anything about they really struggle to get some of the details for the objects and it shows just how important context can be to know what something is. Each of them often get things very wrong. I encourage you to try and guess what the objects are for yourself (just to warn you they do show the answer for the audience, so shut your eyes) and see how many you get. I have to say I didn’t do very well! Whilst the panelists certainly had the advantage of seeing and handling the actual objects I get the impression that they may have been given some clues before hand. Although maybe they did just know that much!

It also shows how attitudes have changed in the last 60 or so years. The museums are fine with the panel to handle objects which are quite fragile and Mortimer Wheeler is quite happy to hack away at an object to find out what it is just for the sake of a quiz show! Certain comments also show a change in attitudes in society in general, such as an artefact from a tropical region which is described as “not necessarily from the amazon, but it’s all very much the same”!

So if you have half an hour to spare, I’d recommend you head over to iPlayer and give this programme a go.


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