Used to Be

Kevin Lewis

May 28, 2022

In search of the origin of inequalities: Gender study and variability of social organization in the first farmers societies of western Europe (Linearbandkeramik culture)
Anne Augereau
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, forthcoming

In this paper, a gender approach attempts to address social organization and its variability in the Linearbandkeramik (LBK). By comparing burial goods with the sex and age of the individuals, with data on origin, nutrition and health, and examining the sexual division of labor, we aim to determine the variability in social organization from 5500 to 4900 BCE in an extensive area that encompasses the Carpathian basin to the Paris basin. Four main cores emerge, central European core being the most cohesive. Human groups may have had different social and economic roles. In particular, a dominant group with the land rights and the responsibility for ensuring the social and territorial stability, was made up of local men with a higher intake of animal protein, who were buried in central places with adzes. This model collapses at the end of the LBK in the Paris basin where women in elaborate dress stand out and authority seems to be attributed to a social class. This would have led to inequalities based on the amount of material wealth and the capacity to produce and capitalize on it. This is perhaps one of the differences between hunter-gatherer societies and Early Farmers. 

Population interconnectivity over the past 120,000 years explains distribution and diversity of Central African hunter-gatherers
Cecilia Padilla-Iglesias et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 May 2022

The evolutionary history of African hunter-gatherers holds key insights into modern human diversity. Here, we combine ethnographic and genetic data on Central African hunter-gatherers (CAHG) to show that their current distribution and density are explained by ecology rather than by a displacement to marginal habitats due to recent farming expansions, as commonly assumed. We also estimate the range of hunter-gatherer presence across Central Africa over the past 120,000 years using paleoclimatic reconstructions, which were statistically validated by our newly compiled dataset of dated archaeological sites. Finally, we show that genomic estimates of divergence times between CAHG groups match our ecological estimates of periods favoring population splits, and that recoveries of connectivity would have facilitated subsequent gene flow. Our results reveal that CAHG stem from a deep history of partially connected populations. This form of sociality allowed the coexistence of relatively large effective population sizes and local differentiation, with important implications for the evolution of genetic and cultural diversity in Homo sapiens. 

Being-with other predators: Cultural negotiations of Neanderthal-carnivore relationships in Late Pleistocene Europe
Shumon Hussain, Marcel Weiss & Trine Kellberg Nielsen
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, forthcoming

Late Pleistocene hominins co-evolved with non-analogue assemblages of carnivores and carnivorous omnivores. Although previous work has carefully examined the ecological and adaptive significance of living in such carnivore-saturated environments, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the social and cultural consequences of being-with, and adapting to, other charismatic predators and keystone carnivores. Focusing on Neanderthal populations in Western Eurasia, this paper draws together mounting archaeological evidence that suggests that some Late Pleistocene hominins devised specific behavioral strategies to negotiate their place within the vibrant carnivore guilds of their time. We build on integrative multispecies theory and broader re-conceptualizations of human-nature relations to argue that otherwise puzzling evidence for purported ‘symbolic’ behavior among Neanderthals can compellingly be re-synthesized with their ecology, settlement organization and lifeworld phenomenology. This re-framing of Neanderthal lifeways in the larger context of startling carnivore environments reveals that these hominins likely developed intimate, culturally mediated, and hence varied, bonds with raptor, hyena and bear others, rather than merely competing with them for resources, space and survival. This redressing of human-carnivore relations in the Middle Paleolithic yields important challenges for current narratives on evolving multispecies systems in the Late Pleistocene, complicating our understanding of Late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions and the roles of hominins in these processes. 

Lidar reveals pre-Hispanic low-density urbanism in the Bolivian Amazon
Heiko Prümers et al.
Nature, forthcoming

Archaeological remains of agrarian-based, low-density urbananism have been reported to exist beneath the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and Central America. However, beyond some large interconnected settlements in southern Amazonia, there has been no such evidence for pre-Hispanic Amazonia. Here we present lidar data of sites belonging to the Casarabe culture (around AD 500 to AD 1400) in the Llanos de Mojos savannah–forest mosaic, southwest Amazonia, revealing the presence of two remarkably large sites (147 ha and 315 ha) in a dense four-tiered settlement system. The Casarabe culture area, as far as known today, spans approximately 4,500 km2, with one of the large settlement sites controlling an area of approximately 500 km2. The civic-ceremonial architecture of these large settlement sites includes stepped platforms, on top of which lie U-shaped structures, rectangular platform mounds and conical pyramids (which are up to 22 m tall). The large settlement sites are surrounded by ranked concentric polygonal banks and represent central nodes that are connected to lower-ranked sites by straight, raised causeways that stretch over several kilometres. Massive water-management infrastructure, composed of canals and reservoirs, complete the settlement system in an anthropogenically modified landscape. Our results indicate that the Casarabe-culture settlement pattern represents a type of tropical low-density urbanism that has not previously been described in Amazonia. 

Between the patio group and the plaza: Round platforms as stages for supra-household rituals in early Maya society
Jessica MacLellan & Victor Castillo
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, forthcoming

Low, open, circular platforms were built in residential areas at sites across the Maya lowlands during the Preclassic period (c. 1000 BCE – 300 CE). These structures were probably used for ritual performances, such as dances. Here, we describe three examples excavated at Ceibal, Guatemala. We argue that round structures were used in supra-household rituals that created overlapping communities between the levels of domestic and public. Using the principles of heterarchy and a practice-based approach to ritual, we examine the physical characteristics of the architecture. During the Late Middle Preclassic (c. 700–350 BCE), in the absence of rulers or a strong hierarchy, supra-household rituals at circular platforms in residential areas created different social relationships than did the communal ceremonies in the public plaza. At the transition to the Late Preclassic (c. 350 BCE), ritual practices and spaces were reorganized, becoming more homogeneous across residential and public contexts, and relationships among households changed. We suggest that studies of the practices that bring together social groups at levels between public and domestic can yield more complete views of social complexity that are not based solely on inequality or hierarchy. 

The dead do not unbury themselves: Understanding posthumous engagement and ancestor veneration in coastal Peru (AD1450-1650)
Jordan Dalton et al.
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, forthcoming

The study of mortuary practices encompasses a wide variety of different behaviors that are related to cultural and religious customs, sociopolitical strategies, and conceptions about personhood. In this article, we share data from archaeological excavations and osteological analyses of mortuary features from the site of Las Huacas in the Chincha Valley. Many of these features were involved in secondary mortuary rituals, which can be particularly difficult to study due to the commingled nature of the remains. Based on analyses, remains at the site became disarticulated and commingled due to various practices: (1) delayed primary burials, (2) tomb reuse, (3) selective secondary, and (4) communal secondary practices. In selective secondary practices, crania, feet, hands, and vertebrae were removed and reposited in new features. In communal secondary practices, vertebrae were placed on reed posts and pigment was applied to crania, sometimes fully covering the facial bones. These remains were involved in rituals within an elite complex (Complex N1) that had restricted access and the rituals likely created and maintained social and administrative hierarchies. The burials at Las Huacas demonstrate the importance of ancestor veneration in elite claims to authority during the Late Horizon (CE 1400–1532) and Colonial period (CE 1532–1650).


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