Archaeology News: Meghalayan Age, First Bread, & more

Brian G Turner

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#1


1. Welcome to the new age!

And it's not Aquarius or the Anthropocene - but the Meghalayan Age.

Our current geological epoch - the Holocene - has been split into 3 ages: Collapse of civilizations worldwide defines youngest unit of the Geologic Time Scale

Greelandian - a period of warming that followed the last great ice age, 11,700 years ago;
Northgrippian - a warmer period from around 8,300 years ago
Meghalayan - a period beginning around 4,200 years, underlined by major droughts that caused the collapse of major civilizations worldwide, presumably due to changes in ocean and atmospheric currents.

However, as the BBC reports, a lot of people aren't happy about this - not least because there had been a long discussion about naming this period the Anthropocene.


2. Oldest bread, actually tasty

Archaeologists in Jordan have discovered traces of baked flatbread, dating from around 14,000 years ago: Archaeologists discover bread that predates agriculture by 4,000 years

What's significant about that discovery is that it predates the supposed beginnings of agriculture by a whopping 5,000 years.

The suggested explanation is that hunter-gatherers may have been harvesting and grinding wild grains for cooking, as a precursor to full-scale farming.

More from the BBC: Oldest evidence of bread discovered


3. Iceland: try before you settle

The discovery of two huge longhouses suggests Iceland was being used as a summer camp a long time before Northmen, aka Vikings, settled there permanently: New archeological research forces historians to reconsider the story of Iceland's settlement

Perhaps not everyone's first choice for a vacation, but the seas would have offered a rich harvest of fish and birds to take back home to Scandanavia.

Now the Icelanders have to figure out how all that fits into their early history.


4. Neanderthals light my fire

Marks on hand axes associated with Neanderthal use may have been from lighting fires: Neanderthal hand axes were also used as lighters for starting fires

Chipping the flint axe heads would have been one way to create sparks - which if true, helps build on a picture of Neanderthals being bigger tool users than had originally been assumed.


5. Drought reveals history

The long spell of dry weather in the UK has helped reveal new archaeology: Hidden landscapes the heatwave is revealing

This has led to the discovery of Roman Forts in Wales, as well as a new structure at Newgrange - on top of the recently discovered megalithic tomb: Ancient tomb complex 'find of lifetime'

If you have a drone, now might be a good time to do some local surveying - before forecast rains make England's pleasant lands green again. :)
 

Vertigo

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#2
I'm utterly confused by the timings in that first article:

1. ...an abrupt and critical mega-drought and cooling 4,200 years ago
2. ...were impacted severely by the 200-year climatic event that resulted in the collapse of civilizations
3. Evidence of the 4.2 kiloyear climatic event... (that's the next sentence after 2)
4. The photograph of the stalagmite has a pointer to the '4.2 interval' and the caption says "...4,200 years ago"

Was this a 4200 year or 200 year event that took place 4200 years ago?:unsure:
 

Brian G Turner

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My original reading was that there was an event lasting for around 200 years, that occurred 4,400-4,000 years ago - with 4,200 taken as the mean.

Even still, I do find it curious - "Anthropocene" is rejected as a measure of human impact, rather than geological change - and yet the argument for a Meghalayan Age seems to rest on a temporary change happening about 2,200 BC with a predominately human impact.

The dating is also a little strange, because we know there was an even bigger change around 1,000 years earlier than the date - when the Sahara changed from Savannah to desert; plus another great drought around 1,000 years later than the date, when we have the collapse of civilizations all around the Mediterranean - not least the Mycenaean, Minoan, and Hittite, which the Egyptian civilization barely survived.

So I'm not sure why they looked to 2,200 BC instead of 3,200 BC or 1,200 BC - thought admittedly my knowledge of ancient Indian and Chinese cultures is severely limited.
 

Vertigo

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Yeah that's how I red it as well, but that article definitely got their 4200 years, 4.2 KYears and 200 years a bit jumbled around.

I guess there are always going to be conflicting claims for these things but maybe the fact that this 'event' is detectable geologically is the telling point here?
 

Brian G Turner

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That's the curious thing - despite being argued as a global event, the only geological evidence offered for the Meghalayan Age is a single stalagmite from India. I presume there must be more, but that's all the article mentions specifically for it.
 

Robert Zwilling

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#6
Meghalayan Age. The last 11,000 years have been changing in a manner that looks like a series of major events in terms of human time. For the powers that be, trying to explain how we got to today, the idea that the changes we are seeing are the results of a couple of thousand years of time going by probably sounds more attractive than the birth of a new age, called Anthropocene in which people singlehandedly turned things upside down. There is a large amount of discussion about how much people can contribute to global geochemical events. On the issue of carbon dioxide I think we can say we can change the "natural" levels, but for something like oxygen, it is very apparent that our actions have very little to do with the "natural" oxygen levels. Perhaps the Meghalayan Age will end when the carbon layer of plastic bits in the last 10 feet of earth are counted for something, then people will feel comfortable with the idea Anthropocene Age which gives people credit for the continually changing world.
 

Robert Zwilling

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#7
One thing I never appreciated about anthropology was the idea that if there was no trace of a people (or animals for that matter) doing some action then they never ever did that action. No matter how basic the action was. Those people would never be credited with even being capable of thinking of doing that action. As the capabilities of ancient people get pushed back further and further in time, the idea that people might have been doing something even though it is not academically defensible might become more acceptable.
 

Vertigo

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Too late now. Apparently the recent rains have rapidly greened everything up so that all those new sites have pretty much disappeared again.

On The Today programme this morning they were talking to a 'flying archeologist' and she was saying that most will probably never get excavated. However it is important that planners and such like are aware of them for any future developments.
 

Brian G Turner

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Apparently the recent rains have rapidly greened everything up so that all those new sites have pretty much disappeared again.
My lawn disagrees - and says there's still time. Over this end of the Highlands, any way. :)

It's a shame I don't have a drone to fly some choice local sites. I might need to study them one day!
 

Brian G Turner

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Northgrippian - a warmer period from around 8,300 years ago
Just to reference this, there's a piece up today about how analysis of animal fat in jars from Catal Hyuk - possibly the first human city, by any definition - showing a marked change around 8,200 years ago: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018...s-nearly-catastrophic-period-human-prehistory

A bit more than 8000 years ago, the world suddenly cooled, leading to much drier summers for much of the Northern Hemisphere. The impact on early farmers must have been extreme, yet archaeologists know little about how they endured. Now, the remains of animal fat on broken pottery from one of the world’s oldest and most unusual protocities—known as Çatalhöyük—is finally giving scientists a window into these ancient peoples’ close call with catastrophe.
I do find it strange that the original piece refers to a "warmer period" but the second article refers to a cooler and drier period - I wonder what reference point the first was using?
 

Brian G Turner

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And coming back to this:

While it's easy to look to the Mediterranean and Near East cultures to see the effects of this, I also noted an article on Skara Brae - the famous iron age settlement on Orkney - was also abandoned around this time as Scotland became wetter and colder: Skara Brae - Wikipedia

Interesting to see that article refer to a protective freshwater lagoon - if the inhabitants there had their water supplies adversely effected by storms or similar, that would certainly provide a compelling reason to leave.
 

Robert Zwilling

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Fascinating times. The shoreline community garbage was clean enough you could use it as a safe, insulating base to build on. Were houses built into the ground for earth sheltering built above normal flood lines? That would limit where they could be built. If they were, looks like that rule should be put back into use. I wonder what shore communities would look like if the clean garbage had always been recycled into a base to build new construction on. The gradual transformation of the shells into dirt can provide a superior soil base compared to the soil that naturally forms at marine locations.
 

Robert Zwilling

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PBS is broadcasting a program about Neanderthal genes running around 2 to 2.5 percent in any human. Takes samples from millions of humans and you might get up to 70 percent of the Neanderthal genes. Everyone has a different set of genes which do different things. Before modern humans met up with Neanderthals the humans didn't have a gene set for handling the climates, foods, and diseases that the new lands offered.

The Neanderthals were around for a couple of hundred thousand years and came from a lineage that had been around the lands outside of Africa for a million or 2 years. During the time that the two populations over lapped there was much exchanging of genes. The modern humans getting the better part of the deal, being new on the scene and getting all these carefully created functional gene packages given to them to make their transitions to their new lands that much easier.

They mentioned at the end of the story that Neanderthal populations always seem to stop at places where you couldn't see land on the other side of large bodies of water. I know there are rules about how one is supposed to write to keep people's attention so they don't lose track of the scripted story, or rather so they don't change the channel in mid program, but I wish these programs had an option for info dump, replacing the carefully scripted story with glossy photographs with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back of each one explaining the whole story in a nutshell.

They went on to say that the loss of interaction of the Neanderthals as companions, friends, and lovers created holes in the newly emerging modern human genome which consequently can be seen today as problems our bodies have that can be traced back to these Neanderthal/modern human gene combos. It was put forward that Neanderthals had more on the ball early on about getting on in the lands the modern humans were just beginning to get the hang of. In not so many words, they were smarter. Because the modern humans didn't keep the whole package of Neanderthal genes intact and the concentration of Neanderthal genes in modern human bodies diminished over time, the new gene packages were at times prone to malfunctioning because of the incomplete data transfer.

They ended the program by saying that while the Neanderthals remained landlocked for a couple of hundred thousand years for who knows why, perhaps just common sense, after only 70,000 years the modern humans were looking at vast wide open bodies of water like they were nothing, a mere bump in the road. The program's left over thoughts seem to indicate that perhaps the modern humans, having inherited a fault prone neurological system, were just simply nuts, willing to try anything on a dare.
 

Vertigo

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They mentioned at the end of the story that Neanderthal populations always seem to stop at places where you couldn't see land on the other side of large bodies of water. I know there are rules about how one is supposed to write to keep people's attention so they don't lose track of the scripted story, or rather so they don't change the channel in mid program, but I wish these programs had an option for info dump, replacing the carefully scripted story with glossy photographs with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back of each one explaining the whole story in a nutshell.
Not quite sure where they get that from. I may be a little out of date but my understanding is that the only water boundary to their known range was the Atlantic to the West and, though rather more questionably described as a boundary) the Mediterranean to the South. To the East and North their boundaries were land.
 

Robert Zwilling

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#17
Unless the boundaries stopped at major rivers or water sheds I don't know either. I have to watch the programs a couple of times because for me, the scripting format of the information is done in a manner that balances entertainment with knowledge, which is entertaining but I'm trying to get as much as I can out of it. The only clue I have is visual, the lady is sweeping her arm over the map, along an arc that is north of Europe and extends as far east as China. And she definitely made the comments about crossing water as a barrier. Maybe the comment was made in reference to their eastern progress which was down the middle of the land mass far away from the north Atlantic waters and the entire Pacific. Using the genetic distribution it does appear that the Denisovans liked the water based routes more than the Neanderthals, in their expansions as far south as Australia. I'm guessing what the overall Neanderthal climate is like, perhaps the Neanderthals liked to stay near the ice, maybe they used ice for something. The Denisovans appear to be more clustered where it is a warmer climate.
 

Robert Zwilling

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The Neanderthals are all over the map on their southern and western borders where there is plenty of water, it is the eastern expansion that is strangely nowhere near the water. I'll be watching it again, see if they ever mention anything about the Mediterranean or anything else about water.
 

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