Good Old Days

Kevin Lewis

February 25, 2023

The Premium for Skilled Labor in the Roman World
Seth Bernard
Explorations in Economic History, forthcoming 


Romans rewarded skill in material terms, and wage data reflects this. This study develops a method for understanding the return on skilling in the Roman period by focusing on internal pay scales observed in Egyptian documents. These data reveal a modal premium of 100 and mean of 74. Roman-period returns on training compare favorably with evidence from outside Egypt, especially detailed pay scales in Diocletian's Price Edict, thus suggesting a broader Empire-wide premium. This Roman skill premium is then compared with a selection of data from other premodern periods, which show that the relative price of skill in ancient Rome was not historically atypical, despite the particularly high levels of enslavement and urbanization characteristic of the Roman economy. The return on investments in training during the Empire can be seen to reflect both numeracy practices and developing market conditions for skill.

Touch wood: luck, protection, power or pleasure? A wooden phallus from Vindolanda Roman fort
Rob Collins & Rob Sands
Antiquity, forthcoming 


The anaerobic conditions at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, close to Hadrian's Wall in northern Britain, have famously preserved a variety of finds made of organic materials, including wooden writing tablets and a pair of leather boxing gloves. Here, the authors re-examine a wooden object originally recovered in 1992, re-interpreting the find as a large, disembodied phallus. Stone and metal phalli are known from across the Roman world, but the Vindolanda example is the first wooden phallus to be recognised. Combining evidence for potential use-wear with a review of other archaeological and contextual information, the authors consider various possible interpretations of the function and significance of the Vindolanda phallus during the second century AD.

Cranial trephination and infectious disease in the Eastern Mediterranean: The evidence from two elite brothers from Late Bronze Megiddo, Israel
Rachel Kalisher et al.
PLoS ONE, February 2023 


Here we present the paleopathological profiles of two young adult males, identified as brothers through ancient DNA analysis, who were buried together beneath the floor of an elite early Late Bronze Age I (ca. 1550–1450 BC) domestic structure at the urban center of Megiddo (modern Israel). Both individuals displayed uncommon morphological variants related to developmental conditions, and each exhibited extensive bone remodeling consistent with chronic infectious disease. Additionally, one brother had a healed fracture of the nose, as well as a large square piece of bone cut from the frontal bone (cranial trephination). We consider the potential etiologies for the appearance of the skeletal anomalies and lesions. Based on the bioarchaeological context, we propose that a shared epigenetic landscape predisposed the brothers to acquiring an infectious disease and their elite status privileged them enough to endure it. We then contextualize these potential illnesses and disorders with the trephination procedure. The infrequency of trephination in the region indicates that only selected individuals could access such a procedure, and the severity of the pathological lesions suggests the procedure was possibly intended as curative to deteriorating health. Ultimately, both brothers were buried with the same rites as others in their community, thus demonstrating their continued integration in society even after death.

Ancient DNA reveals admixture history and endogamy in the prehistoric Aegean
Eirini Skourtanioti et al.
Nature Ecology & Evolution, February 2023, Pages 290-303 


The Neolithic and Bronze Ages were highly transformative periods for the genetic history of Europe but for the Aegean -- a region fundamental to Europe’s prehistory -- the biological dimensions of cultural transitions have been elucidated only to a limited extent so far. We have analysed newly generated genome-wide data from 102 ancient individuals from Crete, the Greek mainland and the Aegean Islands, spanning from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. We found that the early farmers from Crete shared the same ancestry as other contemporaneous Neolithic Aegeans. In contrast, the end of the Neolithic period and the following Early Bronze Age were marked by ‘eastern’ gene flow, which was predominantly of Anatolian origin in Crete. Confirming previous findings for additional Central/Eastern European ancestry in the Greek mainland by the Middle Bronze Age, we additionally show that such genetic signatures appeared in Crete gradually from the seventeenth to twelfth centuries BC, a period when the influence of the mainland over the island intensified. Biological and cultural connectedness within the Aegean is also supported by the finding of consanguineous endogamy practiced at high frequencies, unprecedented in the global ancient DNA record. Our results highlight the potential of archaeogenomic approaches in the Aegean for unravelling the interplay of genetic admixture, marital and other cultural practices.

The emergence of monumental architecture in Atlantic Europe: A fortified fifth-millennium BC enclosure in western France 
Vincent Ard et al.
Antiquity, February 2023, Pages 50-69


The earliest monumentality in Western Europe is associated with megalithic structures, but where did the builders of these monuments live? Here, the authors focus on west-central France, one of the earliest centres of megalithic building in Atlantic Europe, commencing in the mid fifth millennium BC. They report on an enclosure at Le Peu (Charente), dated to the Middle Neolithic (c. 4400 BC), and defined by a ditch with two ‘crab claw’ entrances and a double timber palisade flanked by two timber structures -- possibly defensive bastions. Inside, timber buildings -- currently the earliest known in the region -- were possibly home to the builders of the nearby Tusson long mounds.

Revision of the cultural chronology of precolonial Puerto Rico: A Bayesian approach
Reniel Rodríguez Ramos, Miguel Rodríguez López & William Pestle
PLoS ONE, February 2023


Puerto Rico has played a pivotal role in the building of cultural chronology for the insular Caribbean, and yet little systematic work has been conducted in recent decades to assess the validity of the system(s) produced. To resolve this issue, we assembled a radiocarbon inventory comprised of more than a thousand assays, drawn from both published sources and grey literature, which was used to assess and revise (as necessary) the received cultural chronology of Puerto Rico. The application of chronological hygiene protocols and Bayesian modeling of the dates yields an initial arrival of humans to the island more than a millennium earlier than previously established, making Puerto Rico the earliest inhabited island of the Antilles, following Trinidad. The chronology of the different cultural manifestations that have been identified for the island, as grouped by Rousean styles, also is updated, and in some cases heavily modified, as a result of this process. While admittedly limited by several mitigating factors, the image that emerges from this chronological revision suggests a much more complex, dynamic, and plural cultural scenario than has been traditionally assumed, as a result of the myriad of interactions that took place between the different peoples that coexisted in the island through time.

Were timbers transported to Chaco using tumplines? A feasibility study
James Wilson et al.
Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, forthcoming 


Between 850 and 1200 CE, approximately 200,000+ large timbers were transported >75 km to Chaco Canyon using only human power. Researchers have proposed various load-carriage methods, speculated about how many porters would be needed and their speed of transport, but none have conducted empirical investigations. Here, we explore the feasibility of long-distance timber transport using tumplines, a technology well-evidenced in Chaco’s archaeological record. Two authors trained themselves to use tumplines and together carried a 60 kg timber 25 km with the timber oriented transverse to the walking direction. Total elapsed time was <10 h and walking speed averaged 4.5 km/hr. Individual walking speed with a 30 kg tumpline load was only ∼10 % slower than the preferred unladen walking speed. Timber transport to Chaco using tumplines is clearly feasible. We close by considering the implications of tumpline timber transport on the socio-political dynamics of Chacoan society.

Magical practices? A non-normative Roman imperial cremation at Sagalassos
Johan Claeys et al.
Antiquity, February 2023, Pages 158-175 


Many thousands of burials have been excavated from across the Roman world, documenting a variety of funerary practices and rites. Individual burials, however, sometimes stand out for their atypical characteristics. The authors report the discovery of a cremation burial from ancient Sagalassos that differs from contemporaneous funerary deposits. In this specific context, the cremated human remains were not retrieved but buried in situ, surrounded by a scattering of intentionally bent nails, and carefully sealed beneath a raft of tiles and a layer of lime. For each of these practices, textual and archaeological parallels can be found elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean world, collectively suggesting that magical beliefs were at work.


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