Welcome to the 27th installment of the four-field anthropology blog carnival, the Four Stone Hearth. There’s lots of interesting material to work our way through, so let’s just jump right in, shall we?
After a few thousand years out of the limelight, it looks like the biblical Queen Jezebel is getting some press again. Archaeology News brings the news of how a seal found in 1964 has been determined to belong to the naughty (or possibly just misunderstood) queen; you can get a variant of the same from Science News too. Elsewhere in Israel, the International Herald Tribune covers some discoveries linked to the first Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
There’s plenty of news next door in Egypt, as well. Archaeology News covers a Daily Mail article on King Tut — it seems that during World War II, not only were some riches taken from his tomb, but also some body parts most men would rather retain. Cronaca points out that these were hardly the only abuses inflicted on Tut’s body, and that the king’s face that is now on display had to have more than a little “work done” on it as a result. By the way, National Geographic has both a photo gallery and video of Tut’s unveiling.
Meanwhile Mediterranean Archaeology and the Stanford News Service describe how that institution has acquired what is likely the last great private Egyptology library. And ArchaeoBlog and Daily News Egypt fill us in on a pioneering entrepreneur — who’s providing historical and archaeological consulting services for crews filming documentaries on the country’s historical legacy. Wrapping things up for Egypt, Archaeozoology discusses early cat taming there — although anybody that’s ever lived with a cat knows full well that they just want humans to think they’re tamed.
Across the Mediterranean, there’s new news on the return of material that was acquired illicitly. Most of the latest batch seems to have been held by Princeton, and the details on how items were obtained still largely seem to be under wraps. Still, Looting Matters provides what information is available in six posts (to date) here, here, here, here, here, and here. CultureGrrl also chips in as well.
Not to be left out, the British isles provide plenty of good reading material as well. Of course, there are Stonehenge contributions — a nice long one from Eternal Idol, with Remote Central providing commentary on it. Remote Central also gives us a review of a recent BBC Radio 4 program on recent excavations a few kilometers northeast of Stonehenge. Basically, archaeologists on site think they’ve found the largest Neolithic settlement ever found in Northern Europe. I’d definitely recommend that you check out the audio program, but if you’re in a hurry, there’s a print version too.
Further down the road, it seems Silbury Hill may have been on the verge of being studied to death — parts of the 4,400 year old site were felt to be nearing collapse due to the sheer volume of tunnels dug into it in order to study it. Before one tunnel was refilled, the BBC was allowed in to take some pictures, and Remote Central ponders why it appears the top of the hill was lopped off at some point. A bit to the west in Wales, it seems that the “Red Lady” burial site (the earliest known human burial in Britain) has been pushed a few thousand years further into the past — Remote Central, and Greg Laden at Evolution point out how this news is being overblown in some quarters.
Moving on to the western hemisphere, a large pre-columbian settlement has been unearthed in Puerto Rico. National Geographic provides the main source of news, while Archaeology News and ArchaeoBlog pile on. Meanwhile, John Hawks asks if a 10,000 year old skeleton in Alaska is really being “re”patriated, when it’s being given to locals who are likely unrelated to the skeleton’s original owner / occupant.
Leaving this geographically segmented mindset entirely, Archaeozoology has started a series titled “Know Your Pathology,” discussing pathologies that can be found in archaeological material. First out of the gate is Osteoarthritis.
BTW, there’s a relatively new archaeology blog online — it represents the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project, just a hop, skip, and a jump down the Potomac river from Washington, DC. But of course, some other blogs must be delicately referred to as “blogs of a certain age,” as is the case for Testimony of the Spade, which just turned 100 — 100 posts old, that is — so everybody head on over and have some cake. Greg Laden, meanwhile, has joined forces with the ScienceBlogs folks, so his blog is now here.
As is so often the case, another interesting find is getting a bit overhyped in the popular press — this time at Pinnacle Point on the coast of South Africa. It’s got early evidence of shellfish consumption, and attention-getting red ochre — but is it really the “earliest evidence of modern humans?” Remote Central points out earlier examples of symbolic behavior, while the paper’s inclusion of this in a “behavioral package” is discussed at A Very Remote Period Indeed, while Hot Cup of Joe ponders the hunger that must have prompted the first consumption of an oyster. In a similar vein (sorry, bad pun), John Hawks gives us a bit of history on the mining of and use of red ochre in middle stone age Africa.
Across the world in Vanuatu, work continues on a Lapita cemetery found back in 2003 — the first found with more than a dozen or so individuals. The Lapita are believed to be ancestral Polynesians, moving east from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to eventually colonize islands scattered over millions of square miles of oceans. The archaeology of the site is revealing some unusual mortuary practices, while isotopic analysis of teeth from the site is helping to uncover the pace and order of the Lapita’s expansion through the south Pacific, as well as some hints of the social contacts maintained during the colonization. Afarensis comments on the recent work, as a followup to a post earlier this year. And of course, National Geographic has a picture gallery too.
In a more modern context, Aardvarchaeology provides a little modern cultural exploration with his Impressions of Luoyang, on China’s Yellow River.
Much ink has been shed of late on the U.S. military’s initiative to use anthropologists to help smooth things over with the locals in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anthropology.net provides a first-hand account of this, while an article in CNN (via Archaeology News) discusses the use of playing cards to sensitize troops to the importance and fragility of ancient artifacts.
Things have settled down a bit now, but the blogosphere really got chattering in late October on the subject of red-headed Neanderthals. An international team was able to extract some relatively clean DNA from Neanderthal bones from Italy and Spain, and found a Neanderthal-unique variant of the MC1R gene — the same gene that in modern humans plays a large part in determining hair and skin pigmentation. It seems that this MC1R variant would have given the Neanderthal (some of them, anyway) light skin and red-to-blonde hair. The abstract to the source paper in Science is here (click through to the paper if you have an account). Meanwhile, good discussion of the paper’s results abound on Anthropology.net, Gene Expression, Ontogeny, and Palaeoblog.
DNA is also shedding some new light on how the Americas were first peopled. A team of 21 researchers wrote up the results of their recent mtDNA study in PLoS ONE — the short version being that humans likely didn’t promptly migrate from Asia to the Americas. On the way between the continents, the founding population apparently cooled their heels in Beringia (a.k.a. the Bering land bridge) for up to 15,000 years. Good discussion of this paper is available at Anthropology.net, Gene Expression, and Remote Central.
Shifting into CSI mode, Bill Bass’ body farm (formally, the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center) was the subject of a good, in-depth writeup by Damn Interesting. Boing Boing and Anthropology.net also chime in on the article.
Providing an unfortunate balance to all this good science, Oliver Curry is back again — and getting a little ink, at least in some quarters. If you can’t quite recall the name, Curry is an economist and self-described “evolutionary theorist” who has taken to predicting that humans will diverge into two separate species by the year 3,000. In time-honored style, he says the split is to be between a tall breed of intelligent and attractive creatures, vs. a squat, unattractive, and dull-witted one. Maybe it’s just a “Halloween thing” — as Pharyngula points out, this same material got dredged up about the same time last year. At least this time, the BBC didn’t get into the act. More wood is tossed on the fire at Bad Science, The Corpus Callosum, and at John Hawks’ place.
Sadly, one of the biggest recent stories in the use and evolution of language has to do with the passing of a guiding light in the field. On October 30, Washoe — a chimpanzee that became the first non-human to acquire a human language — died of natural causes at the age of 42. After retiring from military service in 1966, Washoe learned American Sign Language, eventually building a vocabulary of some 250 signs, and teaching some to three younger chimps. Afarensis passes along a few last words (not in ASL) here…
In a similarly simian vein, make sure to drop in at Shared Symbolic Storage — the host has just started a series of articles titled Baboon Metaphysics, summarizing the new book of the same name by Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth, and what baboons can teach us about the evolution of language.
Well, that wraps things up for this edition of Four Stone Hearth. If you’d like to host an edition yourself, opportunities are available beginning in December — check out the carnival’s home page for instructions. Next up will be Hot Cup of Joe, hosting vol. 28 on the 21st of November. See you there!