Bronze Age Lost Its Cutting Edge Before Climate Crisis
Climate change—so often and so recently coupled with the decline of early civilizations in the Near East, the Indus Valley and the Mediterranean—may not have ushered in the collapse of the late Bronze Age after all.
A new study suggests that Bronze Age cultures everywhere collapsed not because of sustained drought or flooding, but because of technological change. The gradual spread of iron foundries and smithies, they say, undermined the economic strengths of those centres with monopolies on the production of, and trade in, copper and tin—the elements in the alloy bronze.
It’s only Ireland, mind you. Changing climate can have different effects in different places and it’s not always bad, though cooler is usually worse. Plus many of these “collapses” aren’t necessarily what we think of as collapses, but simply major changes in settlement patterns.
Oh, shut up.
‘Lives in Ruins’ by Marilyn Johnson
The largest cemetery of Revolutionary War soldiers in America lies roughly five miles from the Hudson River, beside a commercial stretch of Route 9 in Fishkill, N.Y. What was once a 70-acre military city and the Continental Army’s largest supply center now hosts a Blimpie, a McDonald’s, and a Godfather’s pizza. The old headquarters for Washington’s generals is a small museum, but most of the site’s original history has been forgotten.
A contract archaeologist named Bill Sandy found seven graves in 2007 while surveying the land for commercial development, and later studies found evidence of hundreds more graves. Sandy has partnered with historic preservation societies that hope to buy the land and commemorate the site. But for now the area is in a state of limbo, partially developed and partially preserved.
At least from the description, it sounds like a pretty good read. At least, I agree with a lot of the sentiments expressed there.
New Preservative Could Save Ancient Ships for Archaeologists
A novel polymer network that soaks into wood and provides artefacts with structural support while simultaneously protecting against biological degradation has been developed by scientists in the UK. The team say the polymer network could be a ‘one-stop’ material for tackling the main issues conservators face when treating and drying historical objects.
. . .
The treatment contains the natural polymer chitosan, sourced from shrimp shells leftover from the seafood industry, and guar, derived from the plant, functionalised with a host molecule, cucurbituril, to form a cross-linked polymer network which can lock together and provide structural stability within damaged wood.
I don’t have much experience with conservation and didn’t know any of the problems associated with PEG. Nice that the new stuff can be made from waste materials, though the big thing will be whether it can be made cost effectively.
Bronze Age Razor Unearthed in Siberia
Excavations at a 4,000-year-old site in Siberia have revealed a thin bronze plate that could have been used as a shaving implement, reports the Siberian Times. Expedition leader Vyacheslav Molodin of the Siberian Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography says that while his team has provisionally identified the artifact as a razor, it was probably also used as a knife.
Dunno how likely that is. I’ve always thought that razors had to be generally much sharper than regular/general purpose knives, but then I’ve never tried to shave with a jackknife or anything. I imagine anything would probably do in a pinch. If they had obsidian you could make spectacularly sharp razors.
How DNA Is Reshaping How We See Ourselves—and Our History
That was one of the most fascinating parts of writing this book. When I first started talking about it to people, I kept coming up against this attitude, which was very perplexing to me, because genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the world.
At the same time there’s this widely held notion that genealogy is a ridiculous, self-indulgent pastime. I think that comes from a few different things. First I think it comes from the misuse of genealogy and our ideas of inheritance. Not just in the eugenics of Nazi Germany. Many other countries had ideas about lineage and genealogy, and biology, which they believed made them superior to others. Some pockets of the world are also still very much class-based, and people don’t want to return to that.
There’s also a notion in America whereby we want to see ourselves as completely in charge of who we are. We don’t want to think of ourselves as having been shaped by the past.
Interesting little article. I’ve always not cared too much about my ancestry for the reasons given there: It won’t affect me in the here and now very much. Well, there was some lore that one of my ancestors was an “Indian princess” and I was rather keen on getting some of the Native American Minority status goodies, but it looks not to be the case. On the one hand, it’s kind of a trivial observation: yeah, we’re a product of our ancestry since our parents taught us a lot of what they were taught, etc. OTOH, so what if one of my ancestors was a war criminal or something? They’re dead, I had nothing to do with it, so it doesn’t really matter what someone did in the world of, say, 150 years ago.
Still, it is a rather fascinating hobby, I won’t deny that. We’d all like to know more of our personal stories.
Lots of good photos (and some really dumb ones) here.
No remains discovered within Alexander the Great-era tomb – but experts hope the burial room is hidden below ground
The world has been waiting with bated breath to see whether one of Alexander the Great’s relatives lies in a mysterious ancient tomb in Greece.
But it appears, for now, that archaeologists have come to a dead end, because the tomb’s third chamber, which has yielded no remains, is its last.
Despite this disappointment, some experts are cautiously optimistic that the burial chamber is hidden below ground, while others caution that the tomb, which dates back to between 325 and 300 BC, was robbed years ago.
Some nice photographs but the video is kind of useless.
On the steppes: Amazon Warriors Did Indeed Fight and Die Like Men
The real Amazons were long believed to be purely imaginary. They were the mythical warrior women who were the archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Every Greek hero or champion, from Hercules to Theseus and Achilles, had to prove his mettle by fighting a powerful warrior queen.
We know their names: Hippolyta, Antiope, Thessalia. But they were long thought to be just travelers’ tales or products of the Greek storytelling imagination. A lot of scholars still argue that. But archaeology has now proven without a doubt that there really were women fitting the description that the Greeks gave us of Amazons and warrior women.
The Greeks located them in the areas north and east of the Mediterranean on the vast steppes of Eurasia. Archaeologists have been digging up thousands of graves of people called Scythians by the Greeks. They turn out to be people whose women fought, hunted, rode horses, used bows and arrows, just like the men.
I linked to something else like this a few weeks ago, IIRC. I’m not sure if we know anywhere else where female graves were associated with weapons? OTOH, this may be from a lack of available evidence; we mostly have a large amount of formal grave data from sedentary populations, so perhaps this was more common than we think. Or perhaps it was just more possible for a horse-centered population to have relatively mobile pregnant women? I don’t really know, but it raises lots of interesting questions.
Oh, what the heck: Artist’s conception of what an ancient Amazon warrior woman may have looked like:
Were Chinese workers cheaper than English horses?
I calculate, the unit labour cost (wage relative to productivity) of horse haulage in England, compared with the in extremis case of human-only portage in China, would have been 2:1 in silver-money terms and 3:1 in PPP terms. (See the first post in the comments section for my calculation.) This implies that for any given acre’s worth of goods made accessible by human portage, horse haulage was 2-3 times as cheap/productive. No, this does not take into consideration that using horses probably saved on the number of wagons/carts. And presumably you could not produce 5 hp with 50 men because, as a speculative example, the canal walkways weren’t wide enough. (As with most input substitutes, the isoquant curve for horses/substitutes is convex to the origin, and there is a diminishing marginal rate of technical substitution — but not inordinately.) But the point is, the 20:1 ratio is in no way plausible, especially since the Chinese also must have driven oxen, mules and donkeys.
Interesting read if you’re at all interested.
Archaeologists in Peruvian Andes Find Highest Known Ice Age Settlement
Archaeologists exploring the Peruvian Andes have uncovered perhaps the highest Ice Age settlement in the world, a tool-littered campground reaching up to 14,700 feet above sea level, according to new research.
Despite the cold and dangerously thin air, prehistoric men and women made themselves at home in these dizzying heights starting about 12,400 years ago, only 2,000 years or so after people first arrived in South America, the scientists reported Thursday in Science.
Video at the link that describes the whys and hows in more detail so it’s worth watching. It actually seems to be a quarry site but the video makes it sound like it was continuously inhabited.