Early Steps

Kevin Lewis

June 18, 2022

Riding, Ruling, and Resistance: Equestrianism and Political Authority in the Hungarian Bronze Age
Katherine Kanne
Current Anthropology, forthcoming 

Horses have had a singular impact on human societies. Beyond increasing interconnectivity and revolutionizing warfare, reconfigurations of human-horse relationships coincide with changes in sociopolitical formations. How this occurs is less well understood. This article proposes that relationships of equestrianism transform people and horses reciprocally, generating new possibilities for both species. Focusing here on human benefits, equestrianism affords differential and increased mobility, access, and experience for people, which translate horse power into human power. This has particular consequences for how political authority is negotiated. I use the tell societies of Bronze Age Hungary (ca. 2300/2200–1600/1500 BC) to model how horses were harnessed in resistance to centralized rule and social inequality as much as they were used to assert power. This interpretation challenges traditional grand narratives for the European Bronze Age, which see male elite warriors driving chariots, desirous of bronze, and instituting hierarchical, complex societies. Rather, ordinary women and men riding horses built these long-lived communities and were variously able to resist chiefly authority because of the power offered by horses. The theory starts disentangling mechanisms between local equestrianism and long-term historical changes.

Droughts and societal change: The environmental context for the emergence of Islam in late Antique Arabia
Dominik Fleitmann et al.
Science, 17 June 2022, Pages 1317-1321

In Arabia, the first half of the sixth century CE was marked by the demise of Himyar, the dominant power in Arabia until 525 CE. Important social and political changes followed, which promoted the disintegration of the major Arabian polities. Here, we present hydroclimate records from around Southern Arabia, including a new high-resolution stalagmite record from northern Oman. These records clearly indicate unprecedented droughts during the sixth century CE, with the most severe aridity persisting between ~500 and 530 CE. We suggest that such droughts undermined the resilience of Himyar and thereby contributed to the societal changes from which Islam emerged. 

The source of the Black Death in fourteenth-century central Eurasia
Maria Spyrou et al.
Nature, forthcoming

The origin of the medieval Black Death pandemic (AD 1346–1353) has been a topic of continuous investigation because of the pandemic’s extensive demographic impact and long-lasting consequences. Until now, the most debated archaeological evidence potentially associated with the pandemic’s initiation derives from cemeteries located near Lake Issyk-Kul of modern-day Kyrgyzstan. These sites are thought to have housed victims of a fourteenth-century epidemic as tombstone inscriptions directly dated to 1338–1339 state ‘pestilence’ as the cause of death for the buried individuals. Here we report ancient DNA data from seven individuals exhumed from two of these cemeteries, Kara-Djigach and Burana. Our synthesis of archaeological, historical and ancient genomic data shows a clear involvement of the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis in this epidemic event. Two reconstructed ancient Y. pestis genomes represent a single strain and are identified as the most recent common ancestor of a major diversification commonly associated with the pandemic’s emergence, here dated to the first half of the fourteenth century. Comparisons with present-day diversity from Y. pestis reservoirs in the extended Tian Shan region support a local emergence of the recovered ancient strain. Through multiple lines of evidence, our data support an early fourteenth-century source of the second plague pandemic in central Eurasia.

Is economic risk proneness in young children (Homo sapiens) driven by exploratory behavior? A comparison with capuchin monkeys (Sapajus apella)
Anthony Roig et al.
Journal of Comparative Psychology, May 2022, 140–150

Economic risk proneness is displayed by human children and some nonhuman primate species. To explore the role of attraction toward the unknown and the unexpected in economic choices, 2.5-year-old children and capuchin monkeys were presented in Experiment 1 with a gambling task in which participants had to choose between 2 options, a secure option and a risky option characterized by an unexpected event. In contrast to capuchins, toddlers showed a strong preference for the risky option over the safe option. In Experiment 2, toddlers maintained their risky choices despite the increased salience of the safe option. In contrast to toddlers, capuchins preferentially chose the safe option in this second experiment. We argue that capuchins’ risk aversion reflects an exploitation strategy of known and safe options. In human children, the attractiveness of uncertain reward appears to be linked to their novelty seeking. We argue that toddlers’ risk proneness in the gain domain reflects an exploratory search strategy.

7000-year-old evidence of fruit tree cultivation in the Jordan Valley, Israel
Dafna Langgut & Yosef Garfinkel
Scientific Reports, May 2022

This study provides one of the earliest examples of fruit tree cultivation worldwide, demonstrating that olive (Olea europaea) and fig (Ficus carica) horticulture was practiced as early as 7000 years ago in the Central Jordan Valley, Israel. It is based on the anatomical identification of a charcoal assemblage recovered from the Chalcolithic (7200–6700 cal. BP) site of Tel Tsaf. Given the site’s location outside the wild olive’s natural habitat, the substantial presence of charred olive wood remains at the site constitutes a strong case for horticulture. Furthermore, the occurrence of young charred fig branches (most probably from pruning) may indicate that figs were cultivated too. One such branch was 14C dated, yielding an age of ca. 7000 cal. BP. We hypothesize that established horticulture contributed to more elaborate social contracts and institutions since olive oil, table olives, and dry figs were highly suitable for long-distance trade and taxation.

The biocultural origins and dispersal of domestic chickens
Joris Peters et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 14 June 2022

Though chickens are the most numerous and ubiquitous domestic bird, their origins, the circumstances of their initial association with people, and the routes along which they dispersed across the world remain controversial. In order to establish a robust spatial and temporal framework for their origins and dispersal, we assessed archaeological occurrences and the domestic status of chickens from ∼600 sites in 89 countries by combining zoogeographic, morphological, osteometric, stratigraphic, contextual, iconographic, and textual data. Our results suggest that the first unambiguous domestic chicken bones are found at Neolithic Ban Non Wat in central Thailand dated to ∼1650 to 1250 BCE, and that chickens were not domesticated in the Indian Subcontinent. Chickens did not arrive in Central China, South Asia, or Mesopotamia until the late second millennium BCE, and in Ethiopia and Mediterranean Europe by ∼800 BCE. To investigate the circumstances of their initial domestication, we correlated the temporal spread of rice and millet cultivation with the first appearance of chickens within the range of red junglefowl species. Our results suggest that agricultural practices focused on the production and storage of cereal staples served to draw arboreal red junglefowl into the human niche. Thus, the arrival of rice agriculture may have first facilitated the initiation of the chicken domestication process, and then, following their integration within human communities, allowed for their dispersal across the globe.

Redefining the timing and circumstances of the chicken's introduction to Europe and north-west Africa
Julia Best et al.
Antiquity, forthcoming

Little is known about the early history of the chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus), including the timing and circumstances of its introduction into new cultural environments. To evaluate its spatio-temporal spread across Eurasia and north-west Africa, the authors radiocarbon dated 23 chicken bones from presumed early contexts. Three-quarters returned dates later than those suggested by stratigraphy, indicating the importance of direct dating. The results indicate that chickens did not arrive in Europe until the first millennium BC. Moreover, a consistent time-lag between the introduction of chickens and their consumption by humans suggests that these animals were initially regarded as exotica and only several centuries later recognised as a source of ‘food’.


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