Ancient Memories

Kevin Lewis

May 27, 2023

LiDAR analyses in the contiguous Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin, Guatemala: An introduction to new perspectives on regional early Maya socioeconomic and political organization
Richard Hansen et al.
Ancient Mesoamerica, forthcoming 


LiDAR coverage of a large contiguous area within the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin (MCKB) of northern Guatemala has identified a concentration of Preclassic Maya sites (ca. 1000 B.C.-A.D. 150) connected by causeways, forming a web of implied social, political, and economic interactions. This article is an introduction to one of the largest, contiguous, regional LiDAR studies published to date in the Maya Lowlands. More than 775 ancient Maya settlements are identified within the MCKB, and 189 more in the surrounding karstic ridge, which we condensed into 417 ancient cities, towns, and villages of at least six preliminary tiers based on surface area, volumetrics, and architectural configurations. Many tiered sites date to the Middle and Late Preclassic periods, as determined by archaeological testing, and volumetrics of contemporaneously constructed and/or occupied architecture with similar morphological characteristics. Monumental architecture, consistent architectural formats, specific site boundaries, water management/collection facilities, and 177 km of elevated Preclassic causeways suggest labor investments that defy organizational capabilities of lesser polities and potentially portray the strategies of governance in the Preclassic period. Settlement distributions, architectural continuities, chronological contemporaneity, and volumetric considerations of sites provide evidence for early centralized administrative and socio-economic strategies within a defined geographical region.

How Threat Shapes Attention and Memory in the Himba, a Remote People of Namibia
Anna Blumenthal, Serge Caparos & Isabelle Blanchette
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, forthcoming 


Threatening stimuli capture our attention more rapidly than benign stimuli, and threatening experiences lead to longer lasting and more vivid episodic memories. The common interpretation of these findings is that humans share an evolved fear response that enables prioritized processing of threats, providing a survival advantage. This response is assumed to be universal; however, these findings have been documented almost entirely in WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) populations. Here, we address this gap by examining threat detection and fear memories in a remote African culture, the Himba. We found that threats captured attention more rapidly than benign stimuli, and that fear memories, despite differing in content, were shaped by threat in a similar manner to that reported in WEIRD populations.

Ancient Olmec tar trade revealed by combined biomarker and chemometric analysis
Carl Wendt & Kenneth Peters
Journal of Archaeological Science, forthcoming 


Resources such as tar, basalt, kaolin clay, and hematite are available in distinct areas near the ancient Olmec region of the southern Gulf Coast of Mexico. This uneven distribution of raw materials has led scholars to suggest that Olmec leaders controlled the sources of raw materials and regional trade, from which they derived economic and political power. The purpose of this study is to improve understanding of Olmec tar trade, which served as binder, sealant, and decoration. Our novel approach combines molecular archaeology based on the geochemistry of biomarkers (biodegradation-resistant molecular fossils) with chemometrics (multivariate statistics) to identify genetic relationships among crude oils, seep oils, modern applications, and archaeological artifacts excavated from ten Early and Middle Formative sites (1800-400 BCE) sites. Seven source-related biomarker ratios were calculated from peak heights on terpane and sterane mass chromatograms. We employed hierarchical cluster analysis dendrograms, which yield a simple view of genetic families of samples where cluster distance measures the degree of similarity. Our results illustrate patterns of Olmec commodity exchange and intra-regional interaction and the possibility of elite control of some tar procurement and distribution.

Early postglacial hunter-gatherers show environmentally driven "false logistic" growth in a low productivity environment
Mikael Manninen et al.
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, forthcoming 


Studies that employ probability distributions of radiocarbon dates to study past population size often use exponential increase in radiocarbon dates with time as a standard of comparison for detecting population fluctuations. We show that in the case of early postglacial interior Scandinavia, however, the summed probability distribution of radiocarbon dates has best fit with a S-shaped logistic growth curve. Despite the logistic growth model having solid grounding in ecological theory, we further argue that what our data indicate is not logistic growth in the population ecological sense but "false logistic" growth that mainly follows from climatic and environmental forcing. In the initial postglacial phase, 9500-7500 BCE, human settlement was located almost exclusively along the Scandinavian Atlantic coast and the use of the mountainous interior remained low. Thereafter the formation of separate inland adaptations resulted in population growth in tandem with increasing climatic warming and environmental productivity. Some millennia later, when environmental productivity started to decrease after the Holocene Thermal Maximum, hunter-gatherer population size in interior Scandinavia reached a plateau that lasted at least 2000 years. Lowering productivity prevented any population growth that would be detectable in the available archaeological record.

Environment, subsistence strategies and settlement seasonality in the Negev Highlands (Israel) during the Bronze and Iron Ages: The palynological evidence
Dafna Langgut & Israel Finkelstein
PLoS ONE, May 2023 


The Negev Highlands arid region (southern Levant) shows evidence of sharp settlement fluctuations, with several periods of strong human activity separated by centuries with no evidence of sedentary life. In this study, we used the palynological method in order to shed light on the region's demographic history in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Fifty-four samples of pollen were collected and analyzed from secure archaeological contexts in four Negev Highlands sites: Nahal Boqer 66, dated to the Early Bronze Age and Early Intermediate Bronze Age (ca. 3200-2200 BCE); Ein Ziq, dated to the Early Intermediate Bronze Age (ca. 2500-2200 BCE); Mashabe Sade, dated to the Intermediate Bronze Age (ca. 2500-2000 BCE); and Haroa, dated to the Iron Age IIA (ca. late 10th through 9th centuries BCE). Our study revealed no evidence of cereal cultivation, with some hints that the inhabitants' diets may have included plants gathered from the wild. Only one of the sites, Nahal Boqer 66, showed micro-indicators of animal dung remains, suggesting that the inhabitants herded animals. The palynological evidence did, however, emphasize that the livestock there were not fed or supplemented with agricultural by-products but rather grazed freely on wild vegetation. The pollen data also suggest that all four sites were occupied only during late winter and spring. The activity in the Negev Highlands during the third millennium BCE was probably related to the copper industry in the Arabah and to copper transportation to settled neighboring lands, especially Egypt. A relatively humid climate supported the trade through the Negev Highlands. Deterioration in both climate conditions and settlement activity was documented in the second half of the Intermediate Bronze Age.


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