Science and Archaeology (Humanities): collaboration or confrontation?

Allentoft Corded Ware

Another discussion on the role of Science for Archaeology, in The Two Cultures and a World Apart: Archaeology and Science at a New Crossroads, by Tim Flohr Sørensen, Norwegian Archaeological Review, vol. 50, 2 (2017):

Within the past decade or so, archaeology has increasingly utilised and contributed to major advances in scientific methods when exploring the past. This progress is frequently celebrated as a quantum leap in the possibilities for understanding the archaeological record, opening up hitherto inaccessible dimensions of the past. This article represents a critique of the current consumption of science in archaeology, arguing that the discipline’s grounding in the humanities is at stake, and that the notion of ‘interdisciplinarity’ is becoming distorted with the increasing fetishisation of ‘data’, ‘facts’ and quantitative methods. It is argued that if archaeology is to break free of its self-induced inferiority to and dependence on science, it must revitalise its methodology for asking questions pertinent to the humanities.

Commentators in the discussion include:

The answer of Sørensen to them is on Archaeological Paradigms: Pendulum or Wrecking Ball?. Excerpts:

Thus, I argue that what we are witnessing with ‘the third science revolution’ (Kristiansen 2014) is precisely the proliferation of an already very authoritative science ideal in archaeology. And I worry that this dominance will limit research possibilities and potentials rather than encouraging plurality and radical experimentation with different forms of knowing.
(…)
I do believe in the coexistence of disparate academic principles and that collaboration is very often necessary, but I am also of the conviction that some degree of epistemological friction keeps both fields of research progressing. Nurturing distinctions, in other words, is no less useful than aiming for assimilation. What I am arguing for is thus a more respectful friction than the one characterising the processual/post-processual collisions, hoping for an academic environment where differences between research ideals are humbly accepted and cultivated precisely for their disparate strengths.
(…)
So, what I am arguing for is a more kaleidoscopic academic landscape, where different positions do not always have to assume a defensive or compromising stance, especially in confrontation with paradigms that are prospering politically. This also implies that science is not simply in the service of archaeology, as Lidén argues, but that we need to consider how archaeology may benefit science more generally by continuing to debate epistemological grounds, methodology and our modes of inquiry. And so, my fellow archaeologists: ask not what science can do for us, but what we can do for science.
(…)
In my original article, I addressed the widespread tendency in archaeology to disseminate research findings with sometimes too much conviction, where ambiguous results (and limited statistical data) are adopted with little concern for the inherent uncertainties. It is precisely this valorisation and authority of scientific observations that I claim to lead to an implicit devaluation of studies based in the humanities. The problem is – as stated numerous times in my original article – not science, but the consumption of scientific observations in archaeology, where the subtleties and not least ambiguities of scientific results are filtered out, leaving space almost exclusively for scientifically ‘proven’ facts and unequivocal results. This mode of consumption stands in direct contrast to the epistemological observation in the sciences, dictating that ‘“proof” and “certainty” are actually in short supply in the world of science’ (Freudenburg et al. 2008, p. 5). Hence, the risk is that archaeology somewhat uncritically adopts scientific observations that are in fact ‘empirically underdetermined – based largely on evidence that is in the category of the “maybe,” being inherently ambiguous rather than being absolutely clear-cut’ (Freudenburg et al. 2008, p. 6).

As I said recently on the article Massive Migrations…, by Martin Furholt, we are living a historical debate on essential questions for the future of all these disciplines.

And, as always, there is no shortcut to reading the texts. Unlike in Science, you cannot write a table with a summary of findings…

Discovered (again) via a comment on this blog by Joshua Jonathan.

Featured image from Allentoft et al. “They conclude that the Corded Ware culture of central Europe had ancestry from the Yamnaya. Allentoft et al. also show that the Afanasievo culture to the east is related to the Yamnaya, and that the Sintashta and Andronovo cultures had ancestry from the Corded Ware. Arrows indicate migrations — those from the Corded Ware reflect the evidence that people of this archaeological culture (or their relatives) were responsible for the spreading of Indo-European languages. All coloured boundaries are approximate.”

Related:

Recent archaeological finds near Indo-European and Uralic homelands

eneolithic-forest-zone

The latest publication of Documenta Praehistorica, vol. 44 (2017) is a delight for anyone interested in Indo-European and Uralic studies, whether from a linguistic, archaeological, anthropological, or genetic point of view. Articles are freely downloadable from the website.

The following is a selection of articles I deem more interesting, but almost all are.

On the Corded Ware culture

Do 14C dates always turn into an absolute chronology? The case of the Middle Neolithic in western Lesser Poland, by Marek Novak:

In the late 5th, 4th, and early 3rd millennia BC, different archaeological units are visible in western Lesser Poland. According to traditional views, local branches of the late Lengyel-Polgár complex, the Funnel Beaker culture, and the Baden phenomena overlap chronologically in great measure. The results of investigations done with new radiocarbon dating show that in some cases a discrete mode and linearity of cultural transformation is recommended. The study demonstrates that extreme approaches in which we either approve only those dates which fit with our concepts or accept with no reservation all dates as such are incorrect.

baden-corded-ware-culture
Territory of western Lesser Poland and the main archaeological units in the late 5th, 4th and early 3rd millennia BC: 1 borders of the area discussed in the paper; 2 sites of the Lublin-Volhynian culture; 3 the Wyciąże-Złotniki group; 4 the Funnel Beaker culture (a dense settlement typical of ‘loess’ upland; b more dispersed settlement typical of foothills, alluvial plains/basins and ‘jurassic zones; c highly dispersed settlement typical mainly of mountainous zone); 5 sites with the Wyciąże/Niedźwiedź materials; 6 the Baden culture, 7 the Beaker/Baden assemblages; 8 Corded Ware culture (a relatively dense settlement typical mainly of ‘loess’ upland; b highly dispersed settlement typical of other ecological zones).

This article brings new data against David Anthony’s new IECWT model, suggesting later dates for the Corded Ware Culture group of Lesser Poland, and thus an earlier origin of their nomadic herders in the steppe, forest-steppe or forest zone to the east and south-east.

On the Pontic-Caspian steppe and forest-steppe

First isotope analysis and new radiocarbon dating of Trypillia (Tripolye) farmers from Verteba Cave, Bilche Zolote, Ukraine, by Lillie et al.:

This paper presents an analysis of human and animal remains from Verteba cave, near Bilche Zolote, western Ukraine. This study was prompted by a paucity of direct dates on this material and the need to contextualise these remains in relation both to the transition from hunting and gathering to farming in Ukraine, and their specific place within the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture sequence. The new absolute dating places the remains studied here in Trypillia stages BII/CI at c. 3900–3500 cal BC, with one individual now redated to the Early Scythian period. As such, these finds are even more exceptional than previously assumed, being some of the earliest discovered for this culture. The isotope analyses indicate that these individuals are local to the region, with the dietary stable isotopes indicating a C3 terrestrial diet for the Trypillia-period humans analysed. The Scythian period individual has δ13C ratios indicative of either c. 50% marine, or alternatively C4 plant inputs into the diet, despite δ18O and 87Sr/86Sr ratios that are comparable to the other individuals studied.

trypillia-steppe-forest-steppe
Map showing the extent of the Trypillia culture of Ukraine and
neighbouring countries, key sites and the location of Verteba Cave ©WAERC
University of Hull.

New data on one of the cultures that was very likely a close neighbour of Corded Ware peoples.

Chronology of Neolithic sites in the forest-steppe area of the Don River, by Smolyaninov, Skorobogatov, and Surkov:

The first ceramic complexes appeared in the forest-steppe and forest zones of Eastern Europe at the end of the 7th–5th millennium BC. They existed until the first half of the 5th millennium BC in the Don River basin. All these first ceramic traditions had common features and also local particularities. Regional cultures, distinguished nowadays on the basis of these local particularities, include the Karamyshevskaya and Middle Don cultures, as well pottery of a new type found at sites on the Middle Don River (Cherkasskaya 3 and Cherkasskaya 5 sites).

Radiocarbon chronology of Neolithic in the Lower Don and North-eastern Azov Sea, by Tsybryi et al.:

So far, four different cultural-chronological groups of sites have been identified in the North-eastern Azov Sea and Lower Don River areas, including sites of the Rakushechny Yar culture, Matveev Kurgan culture, Donets culture, and sites of the Caspian-Ciscaucasian region. An analysis of all known dates, as well as the contexts and stratigraphies of the sites, allowed us to form a new perspective of the chronology of southern Russia, to revise the chronology of this region, and change the concept of unreliability of dates for this area.

On the Forest Zone

The past in the past in the mortuary practice of hunter-gatherers: an example from a settlement and cemetery site in northern Latvia, by Lars Olof Georg Larsson:

During excavations of burials at Zvejnieki in northern Latvia, it transpired that the grave fill included occupation material brought to the grave. It contained tools of a type that could not be contemporaneous with the grave. This is confirmed by the dating of bone tools and other bone finds in the fill. The fill was taken from an older settlement site a short distance away. The fill also included skeletal parts of humans whose graves had been destroyed with the digging of the grave for a double burial. This provides an interesting view of the mortuary practice of hunter-gatherers and an insight into the use of the past in the past.

zvejnieki-site
The Zvejnieki site with the location of the burial ground, the settlements,
the farmhouse on the site and the gravel pit.

I keep expecting that more information is given regarding the important sample labelled “Late Neolithic/Corded Ware Culture” from Zvejnieki ca. 2880 BC. It seems too early for the Corded Ware culture in the region, clusters too close to steppe samples, and the information on it from genetic papers is so scarce… My ad hoc explanation of these data – as a product of recent exogamy from Eastern Yamna -, while possibly enough to explain one sample, is not satisfying without further data, so we need to have more samples from the region to have a clearer picture of what happened there and when. Another possibility is a new classification of the sample, compatible with later migration events (a later date of the sample would explain a lot). Anyway, this article won’t reveal anything about this matter, but is interesting for other, earlier samples from the cemetery.

Other articles on the Forest Zone include:

Other articles include studies on Neolithic sites, potentially relevant for Indo-European migrations, such as Anatolia, Greece, southern or south-eastern sites in Europe. Check it out!

Related:

New monograph on The Tale of Igor’s Campaign (in Russian)

tale-igor-svyat-campaign

Sergej Nikolaev has published a new monograph on The Tale of Igor’s Campaign (you should download and open it in a PDF viewer to view some special characters correctly):

Слово о полку Игореве»: реконструкция стихотворного текста, by С.Л. Николаев (2018).

Abstract (in Russian).

Текст «Слова о полку Игореве» (далее «Слово») дошел до нас в двух неточных (отредактированных) копиях со списка нач. XVI в. и нескольких выписках из него. Наслоения, привнесенные переписчиком нач. XVI в. (или несколькими переписчиками) – редактура в русле 2 го южнославянского влияния и поздние диалектизмы – непоследовательны (§9.3.1) и не настолько исказили стихотворный текст рубежа XII–XIII вв., чтобы сделать невозможной его реконструкцию. «Слово» по своему жанру (светская поэзия) не принадлежит к текстам, которые по многу раз переписывались в монастырских скрипториях. Поэтому не исключено, что рукопись нач. XVI в. является хотя и небрежной, но первой по счету копией древнерусского оригинала.

«Слово» могло звучать приблизительно так, как я предлагаю в своей реконструкции, морфология и акцентология языка его автора могли быть устроены так, как я предполагаю, и оно могло быть создано в реконструируемой мною системе стихосложения. Однако в действительности многое могло быть устроено иначе. Реконструкция акцентологической системы и две другие гипотезы (о неравносложной силлаботонике и об опциональном прояснении слабых редуцированных) замкнуты друг на друге и образуют circulus in probando. Реконструируемая для «Слова» акцентологическая система выводится из праславянской реконструкции и подтверждается данными современных диалектов, однако она не засвидетельствована в древнерусских памятниках. Слабым местом моей реконструкции является прояснение слабых редуцированных в позициях, где оно нужно исключительно из метрических соображений. В работе, подобной этой, невозможно избежать домыслов и рискованных допущений, ряд выдвинутых гипотез находится «на грани фола», однако в целом моя реконструкция построена на фактах и их интерпретациях, являясь таким образом научным исследованием. В работе используютмя результаты смежных наук ‒ в первую очередь стиховедения. Представленная в настоящей книге реконструкция «Слова» является первым опытом системного моделирования стихотворного текста на гипотетическом древнерусском диалекте XII‒XIII в., существование которого весьма вероятно. Мне хотелось бы надеяться, что моя работа внесет свою скромную лепту в изучение великого памятника древнерусской литературы.

The Tale of Igor’s Campaign is probably the oldest Slavic epic available, recorded later than what oral tradition and linguistic details reflect, like the oldest Indo-Iranian texts. It contains many details interesting for Proto-Slavic (and North-West Indo-European) language and culture reconstruction.

For those confusing recent attestation of languages with their relevance for comparative grammar, I would suggest Martin Joachim Kümmel‘s article Is ancient old and modern new? Fallacies of attestation and reconstruction (with special focus on Indo-Iranian).

Featured image: Viktor Vasnetsov. After Igor Svyatoslavich’s fighting with the Polovtsy (Photographer, referenced in Wikipedia).

Related:

We are all special, which also means that none of us is

Europe_around_800_Charlemagne

Adam Rutherford writes You’re Descended from Royalty and So Is Everybody Else – Anybody you can name from ancient history is in your family tree, which I discovered via John Hawks’ new post The surprising connectedness of human genealogies over centuries.

Excerpt:

One way to think of it is to accept that everyone of European descent should have billions of ancestors at a time in the 10th century, but there weren’t billions of people around then, so try to cram them into the number of people that actually were. The math that falls out of that apparent impasse is that all of the billions of lines of ancestry have coalesced into not just a small number of people, but effectively literally everyone who was alive at that time. So, by inference, if Charlemagne was alive in the ninth century, which we know he was, and he left descendants who are alive today, which we also know is true, then he is the ancestor of everyone of European descent alive in Europe today.

Since most of this blog’s posts support academic disciplines looking for answers to the Indo-European question, and gives constantly reasons against modern genetic (and phylogenetic) identification, I think it is worth at least a quick read for anyone interested in the field.

I recently referred to the interesting series of posts by Graham Coop on this matter.

Featured image: Europe around 800 – the map is public domain from from the Historical Atlas (New York, 1911)

Related:

Eneolithic Ukraine cultures of the North Pontic steppe and southern steppe-forest, on the Left Bank of the Dnieper

eneolithic-forest-zone

As I said before, Yuri Rassamakin is one archaeologist to follow closely for those interested in Neolithic and Chalcolithic Ukraine (ca. 5000-3300 BC), including Sredni Stog, and their potential connection with the Corded Ware culture, as well as the later expansion of Yamna into the region (and Yamna settlers into south-eastern Europe).

His recent studies include important sites (for Archaeology and recently also for Genomics) such us Dereivka and Alexandria, part of the North Pontic steppe and southern steppe-forest zone, on the Left Bank of the Dnieper river. According to him, many of these sites seem to form part of a common and distinct cultural group.

1) Ohren and Alexandria Burial Grounds of Chalcolithic Period: Problems of Dating and Cultural Inheritance (in Ukrainian), Археологія (2017, Nº 4)

English abstract (sic):

The author discusses the issues of chronology of the known burial grounds. In this article, first of all, the location of a series of burials at Ihren 8 cemetery is revised and the earlier proposed point of view of the author himself is refined. An important moment for that was a revision of a paired bi-ritual burial 7-8 from the excavations in 1932 with the Trypillian painted cup of the second half of the Trypillia B/2. The author presents the arguments for the assumption that the two burials were made not at the same time. As a whole, singled out are the Early Chalcolithic burials with the peculiar for them position on a back with bended knees, accompanied by flint products, first of all tools made on long blades. The second later group is represented by two supine burials which date is determined by a Trypillian cup. Concerning Oleksandriia burial ground, the author confirms his earlier expressed position on the Early Chalcolithic age of the burials with long flint blades, presenting additional arguments, one of which is a publication of a new radiocarbon date for one of the burials. Based on the author’s terminology, graves of the both burial grounds are considered within the borders of the so called Skelianska culture existence, while in Ihren burial ground several burials could be made in the period of so called «hiatus» when there were the Stohivska group sites in the Dnipro River region.

burial-eneolithic-ukraine
Карта розповсюдження ґрунтових могильників: 1 — Ігрень 8; 2 — О. Виноградний; 3 — Дереївка ІІ; 4 — Молюхів Бугор; 5 — Госпітальний Холм; 6 — Олександрія

2) The Burial of the Early Eneolithic in Luhansk Region (in Ukrainian), by Y. Rassamakin and E. Chernih, Археологія (2017 Nº 2):

English abstract (sic):

A new burial complex is publishing by authors. This burial complex finds analogies among the Early Eneolithic burials of the Siversky Donets basin according to the rite and inventory (long flint blade). In addition, a set of specific flint products (long blades, triangular «spear heads» and flat adzes) finds analogies at the Aleksandriia settlement, where Skelia-type ceramics are represented. Therefore, there is a reason to combine in the same cultural and chronological context the relevant materials of the Aleksandriia settlement and the Early Eneolithic burials, and consider their as a part of the phenomenon that one of the authors conventionally calls Skelia culture.

burial-neolithic-ukraine
Карта розповсюдження поховань доби раннього енеоліту в басейні Сіверського Дінця та прилеглих територій: 1 — Олександрія (могильник); 2 — Яма (Сіверськ), могильник; 3 — Ольховатка; 4 — Орловське; 5 — Олександрівськ (могильник); 6 — Ворошиловград; 7 — Луганськ 2010; 8 — Ребриківка ІІ ІІ (РФ); 9 — Донецьк (номери на карті у відповідності до табл. 1)

It remains to bee seen how this new data is interpreted with more complex anthropological models, of potential cultural-historical groups that might have shaped posterior migrations.

Related:

Long-term genetic structure in ancestral Native Americans, consistent with the Beringian ‘standstill model’

New article, Terminal Pleistocene Alaskan genome reveals first founding population of Native Americans, by Moreno-Mayar et al.

Abstract:

Despite broad agreement that the Americas were initially populated via Beringia, the land bridge that connected far northeast Asia with northwestern North America during the Pleistocene epoch, when and how the peopling of the Americas occurred remains unresolved. Analyses of human remains from Late Pleistocene Alaska are important to resolving the timing and dispersal of these populations. The remains of two infants were recovered at Upward Sun River (USR), and have been dated to around 11.5 thousand years ago (ka). Here, by sequencing the USR1 genome to an average coverage of approximately 17 times, we show that USR1 is most closely related to Native Americans, but falls basal to all previously sequenced contemporary and ancient Native Americans. As such, USR1 represents a distinct Ancient Beringian population. Using demographic modelling, we infer that the Ancient Beringian population and ancestors of other Native Americans descended from a single founding population that initially split from East Asians around 36 ± 1.5 ka, with gene flow persisting until around 25 ± 1.1 ka. Gene flow from ancient north Eurasians into all Native Americans took place 25–20 ka, with Ancient Beringians branching off around 22–18.1 ka. Our findings support a long-term genetic structure in ancestral Native Americans, consistent with the Beringian ‘standstill model’. We show that the basal northern and southern Native American branches, to which all other Native Americans belong, diverged around 17.5–14.6 ka, and that this probably occurred south of the North American ice sheets. We also show that after 11.5 ka, some of the northern Native American populations received gene flow from a Siberian population most closely related to Koryaks, but not Palaeo-Eskimos, Inuits or Kets, and that Native American gene flow into Inuits was through northern and not southern Native American groups. Our findings further suggest that the far-northern North American presence of northern Native Americans is from a back migration that replaced or absorbed the initial founding population of Ancient Beringians.

Related: