Saturday, 22 May 2010

New Journal for Archaeological Sciences (& Archaeobotany !)

We are now about two years into a new journal, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, which published archaeobotany as well as a broad swathe of other scientific approaches and applications in archaeology. It about almost two years since the initial editorial board was signed up, and the first articles were published in early 2009. Our 6th issue is in production now for June, and will be a special issue on rice (some of the articles are already on-line first). It might be useful to draw attention to some of the other archaeobotany, already published over the past year. This goes back to issue 1:1,
(1) with an article by Walton Green on a novel, visual approach to apprehending and displaying multivariate archaeobotanical data;
(2) soil micromophological site formation process of a South African Palaeolithic case by Goldberg et al.-- but with evidence for non-food uses of plants and depositional processes.
(3) A methodological student on charcoal reflectance by MacParland et al.-- this is an exciting new approach to extracting a new kind of evidence from archaeological charcoal, namely the maximum temperature, and to some extent the range of temperatures, reached by charcoal in a past fire. This should allow one to judge the temperatures used in different pyrotechnic activities, and I suspect there is untapped potential to get at independent estimates of the temperature reached by carbonized grains, which might better allow us to correct for shrinkage when look at archaeobotanical seed metrics.
(4) A study of the archaeobotany and small fauna from late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Moli del Salt rock shelter by Ethel Allue et al. (2010),-- the evidence is mostly wood charcoal that indicates a mainly upland woodland was exploited for fuel, and a few seeds attest to gathering hawthorns, sloes and rosehips (not far off what we manage to gather with our undergraduate students each autumn on a trip down to Sussex), alongside a lot of hunting (or trapping) of rabbits, and fewer big game.
(5) Messager et al. (2010) report some even older seeds from the Lower Palaeolithic related site at Dmanisi, although it is not at all clear that Homo erectus/ergaster had anything to do with gathering these seeds.
(6) Weber et al. (2010) ask "Does size matter?" in this case is there some relationship between the grain size of crops (large grains like wheat or barley versus small grains of various millets) and the size of the settlements supported by those grains. They explore this through an overview of Harappan archaeobotany in which the an intriguing correlation between urban sites and dependence on large grains is indicated. An interesting approach to thinking comparatively and creatively over a wide region.

Keep archaeobotanical submissions coming. We aim to be eclectic in terms of region, period, type of plant remains (from phytoliths through charcoal), from shorter (and more speculative studies) to denser, more long-developed reviews.

More indicators of the early northern rice dispersal

More evidence from the phytolith research group at the Chinese Institute of Geology in Beijing indicates that rice dispersal rapidly northwards from its presumed Yangzte origins into the temperate Yellow River Basin. Zhang et al (2010) report in a recent BOREAS article. phytolith sequences collected from scraped archaeological sections at Quanhu, Yangguanzhai and Anban, all Yangshao sites in the Wei river tributary to the Yellow River. All three sites start from the Middle Yangshao on cultural grounds, and sediment AMS dates support the start of these sequences from 3700-3500 BC. They continue through the Longshan and sometimes later. Rice bulliforms and double peak cells occur throughout the sequences, although it should be noted that broomcorn and foxtail millet husks occur too (applying the enhanced identification criteria developed in the same lab, famously applied at Cishan), and usually millet husks far outnumber rice husks indicating that millet cropping (dry farming) dominated over presumably wet rice.

These data need to be taken alongside other, even earlier indications, that rice spread northwards already in the Early Yangshao, by ca. 4000 BC. My colleague Arlene Rosen has explored the geoarchaeological evidence for rice cultivation from the Early Yangshao onwards in the Yiluo Valley in a recent Geomorphology article (2008). In addition, towards the end of last year we published the archaeobotanical evidence from Nanjiaokou (by Qin Ling & Dorian Fuller, in Chinese in the Nanjiaokou monograph, 2009). This includes some rice, alongside the millets, from early Yangshao levels dated between 4500 and 3800 BC, although the earliest direct AMS date on a rice grain was from end of this range, 3900-3800 BC. Still all of this indicates that rice diffused rapidly from the South (in the Daxi/ Later Majiabang horizon) as it came to be intensively cultivated (and was still undergoing population-wise morphological evolution of domestication syndrome traits: see Tianluoshan links), and was adopted into the expanding economies of Yangshao millet farmers. 

Saturday, 15 May 2010

New Indian Ocean Corridors Blog

I must draw attention to new blog endeavour. This time a joint project, with an active and exciting network of scholars and research students working on different aspects of the Indian ocean and the inter-regional links between African, Arabia, India and beyond. The Ancient Indian Ocean Corridors blog, provide a forum for news and discussion of new research relevant to both the Palaeolithic and the Holocene ends of the pehistory the Indian Ocean region-- early modern human dispersals, Neolithic origins and dispersals, the exchange of domesticates between India and Africa, and research on trade (such as the spice trade) upto the Roman period (and even beyond).

Also just to note that I am back: as a busy teaching season wraps up, and after a couple of stints of fieldwork in Sri Lanka, India and China, I look forward to catching up on my archaeobotanical commentary....