Archaeology Magazine’s July/August issue (#63:4) has a lot of Old World articles which made it particularly interesting to me. We get Nabataean mausolea in Arabia, Europid Bronze Age mummies in Xinjiang, the Neanderthal genome, Greek temples in southern Italy, and a great feature on new developments in the urban archaeology of Medieval Jewry in France and Germany. As it turns out, Medieval Jews are to some degree archaeologically distinct from their Christian neighbours. But more importantly, their culture turns out to be distinct from recent Jewish culture and the Medieval written ideals of that culture on a number of points. Just as I am not a Viking, a modern French Jew is not interchangable with one who lived there in the 13th century, and he in turn did not live quite like the leading rabbis of his age wanted him to. The same reasoning may be extended to NAGPRA conflicts in the United States.
Having often complained here that there’s too much about ancient state civilisations in Archaeology Magazine, I was particularly pleased to find a piece on Scandinavian Prehistory, my own field of study. It concerns Stone Age seal-hunter settlements on the coast of East Botnia in Finland. But the article is marred by terminological and chronological confusion. The author, an English free lance, refers throughout to the period and culture as “Neolithic”, but shows no awareness of the fact that this label means something altogether different here than in most of Europe. Sure, the people under study here were sedentary and made pottery, but they grew no crops and kept no livestock. In fact, both sedentariness and pottery in East Botnia pre-date the introduction of agriculture to Scandinavia, and so have nothing to do with Neolithisation as it is generally construed.
Then there’s the issue of post-glacial shoreline displacement. This is a long-lived effect of the end of the Ice Age, and it is still very much an on-going process. But the article spins it as if life in Stone Age Finland still somehow reacted to the actual ice melt several thousand years after it ended. The headline (for which the author may not be responsible) reads “Bouncing Back from the Ice Age”, as if 4th millennium BC people in Finland remembered the Ice Age and were happy to have seen the end of it. So the lay reader is confronted with an image of an extremely early agricultural population living shortly after deglaciation, when in fact the archaeology referred to concerns hunter-fisher-gatherers living about the time of the first Sumerian city states.
Danish pop-archaeo mag Skalk’s issue 2010:3 (June) is a little funny as it contains only one archaeological contribution, about the first Danish finds of Viking Period skeletons with decorative horizontal grooves on the front teeth. This custom has been surveyed by Caroline Arcini in the Swedish material, and it’s good for once to see our Danish colleagues picking up something useful from us. The rest of the issue covers historical duck-keeping, Henrik Ibsen’s inspiration for The Doll-house, marauding Swedish troops in 17th century Zealand, and Medieval church roof structures (covered in meandering and long-winded detail). More finds and sites next time, please!
Archaeology Southwest, published by the Center for Desert Archaeology in Tucson, Arizona, is behind schedule: I received issue 23:4 (Fall 2009) just the other day, and according to the Center’s web site this is the current issue. But I don’t mind: the mag is as good-looking and interesting as usual, this time concentrating on Classic Hohokam sites along the Gila River. People here subsisted on irrigation agriculture and built multi-story adobe buildings in the early 2nd millennium AD. One detail that endears this publication to me is that I seem to recognise their headline type face from one of Ursula K. LeGuin’s books.
Finally, Kinarapport, the journal of the Swedish-Chinese Assocation, takes a themed look at Chinese archaeology in issue 2010:2. The articles are largely written from the perspective of tourists, museum-goers and historians of past Swedish involvement there, but there is also a piece by Magnus of Testimony of the Spade about his work with the Yangshao culture of the Chinese Neolithic. This was a real and particularly early Neolithic with rice, millet and pigs.
[More about archaeology, Finland; arkeologi, Finland.]