For various reasons increased effort has recently been made to detect the early use of mechanically-projected weaponry in the archaeological record, but little effort has yet been made to investigate explicitly what these tool sets could indicate about human cognitive evolution. Based on recent evidence for the use of bow-and-arrow technology during the Middle Stone Age in southern Africa by 64 kya, we use the method of generating and analysing cognigrams and effective chains to explore thought-and-action sequences associated with this technology. We show that, when isolated, neither the production of a simple bow, nor that of a stone-tipped arrow, can be reasonably interpreted to indicate tool behaviour that is cognitively more complex than the composite artefacts produced by Neanderthals or archaic modern Homo. On the other hand, as soon as a bow-and-arrow set is used as an effective group of tools, a novel cognitive development is expressed in technological symbiosis, i.e. the ability to conceptualize a set of separate, yet inter-dependent tools. Such complementary tool sets are able to unleash new properties of a tool, inconceivable without the active, simultaneous manipulation of another tool. Consequently, flexibility regarding decision-making and taking action is amplified. The archaeological evidence for such amplified conceptual and technological modularization implies a range of cognitive and behavioural complexity and flexibility that is basic to human behaviour today.
Objective: The Newest Vital Sign (c) (NVS) was developed in the USA to measure patient health literacy in clinical settings. We adapted the NVS for use in Canada, in English and French, and created a computerized version. Our objective was to evaluate the reliability of the Canadian NVS as a self-administered computerized tool. Design: We used a randomized crossover design with a washout period of 3-4 weeks to compare health literacy scores obtained using the computerized version with scores obtained using the standard interviewer-administered NVS. ANOVA models and McNemar's tests assessed differences in outcomes assessed with each version of the NVS and order effects of the testing. Setting: Participants were recruited from multicultural catchment areas in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Subjects: English- and French-speaking adults aged 18 years or older. Results: A total of 180 (81%) of the 222 adults (112 English/110 French) initially recruited completed both the interviewer-NVS and computer-NVS. Scores for those who completed both assessments ranged from 0 to 6 with a mean of 3-63 (SD 2.41) for the computerized NVS and 3.41 (SD 2.21) for the interview-administered NVS. Few (n 18; seven English, eleven French) participants' health literacy assessments differed between the two versions. Conclusions: Overall, the computerized Canadian NVS performed as well as the interviewer-administered version for assessing health literacy levels of English- and French-speaking participants. This Canadian adaptation of the NVS provides Canadian researchers and public health practitioners with an easily administered health literacy assessment tool that can be used to address the needs of Canadians across health literacy levels and ultimately improve health outcomes.
Archaeologists are familiar with the concept of assemblage, but in more recent years they have started problematizing it in interesting and innovative ways, beyond its common connotations of aggregation. Sociologists such as Manuel DeLanda and political philosophers such as Jane Bennett have been key influences in this move. These authors had adapted and modified the assemblage thinking of Deleuze and Guattari. In this article, an assemblage of sorts itself, I propose that we need to return to that original Deleuzian body of thinking and explore its richness further. Assemblages, temporary and deliberate heterogeneous arrangements of material and immaterial elements, are about the relationship of in-betweenness. I further suggest that sensoriality and affectivity, memory and multi-temporality are key features of assemblage thinking, and that assemblages also imply certain political effects. The omission of these features in the archaeological treatments of the concept may lead to mechanistic reincarnations of systems thinking, thus depriving the concept of its potential. Finally, I explore these ideas by considering communal eating and feasting events as powerful sensorial assemblages.
Cognitive complexity is defined here as the capacity for abstract thought, analogical reasoning, cognitive fluidity, innovative thought, complex goal-directed actions, flexibility in problem-solving, multi-tasking, task switching, response inhibition and planning over long distances or time. Some of these attributes are archaeologically recognizable in transformative technologies such as heat treatment of rocks and ochre, and the manufacture of compound adhesives and paints. Advanced executive functions of the brain are also required for remote capture during snaring, which is implied by circumstantial archaeological evidence. Some technologies seem good indicators of complex cognition and the emphasis here is on making the connection, but this does not mean that cognition necessarily drove innovation in the past any more than it does today. The recursive relationships between cognition, social behaviour and technology mean that change cannot be attributed to a single stimulus.
Assemblage is a concept common to a number of academic disciplines, most notably archaeology and art, but also geology and palaeontology. Archaeology can claim a special link to the term assemblage, though novel approaches to the concept of assemblage have recently been adopted from the fields of philosophy and political theory. These approaches, bracketed under the term 'new materialism', are discussed here. The introduction to this collection of papers outlines these approaches and evaluates their usefulness for archaeological practice and interpretation.
The Aboriginal cultural traditions of Australia, their histories, philosophies and characteristics, have fascinated and intrigued European observers and scholars for a very long time. This paper explores some implications of recent ethnographic information and engagements related to the themes of Indigenous rock art, knowledge and the understanding of Country in the Kimberley region, Western Australia, for the interpretation of archaeological evidence. It is argued that the Aboriginal understanding of cultural features and practices, rock art and the natural environment is best described within a framework of relational ontology. This orientation has important consequences for the conceptualization of a range of interrelated key themes, most importantly 'space and place', 'story and narrative' and 'knowledge and representation'. Thus, the paper calls for the development of opportunities of intellectual engagement and exchange as well as collaborative and creative responses, which should also include new forms of expression in academic contexts that themselves reflexively engage with the limitations of writing and representation.
The importance of chronology is reasserted as a means to achieving history and a sense of temporality. A range of current methods for estimating the dates and durations of archaeological processes and events are considered, including visual inspection of graphs and tables of calibrated dates and the summing of the probability distributions of calibrated dates. These approaches are found wanting. The Bayesian statistical framework is introduced, and a worked example presents simulated radiocarbon dates as a demonstration of the explicit, quantified, probabilistic estimates now possible on a routine basis. Using this example, the reliability of the chronologies presented for the five long barrows considered in this series of papers is explored. It is essential that the 'informative' prior beliefs in a chronological model are correct. If they are not, the dating suggested by the model will be incorrect. In contrast, the 'uninformative' prior beliefs have to be grossly incorrect before the outputs of the model are importantly wrong. It is also vital that the radiocarbon ages included in a model are accurate, and that their errors are correctly estimated. If they are not, the dating suggested by a model may also be importantly wrong. Strenuous effort and rigorous attention to archaeological and scientific detail are inescapable if reliable chronologies are to be built. The dates presented in the following papers are based on models. 'All models are wrong, some models are useful' (Box 1979, 202). We hope readers will find them useful, and will employ 'worry selectivity' to determine whether and how each model may be importantly wrong. The questions demand the timetable, and our prehistories deserve both.
The production and use of masks at multiple scales and in diverse contexts is a millennia-long tradition in Mesoamerica. In this paper, we explore some implications of Mesoamerican masking practices in light of materiality studies and the archaeology of the senses. We also discuss a collection of 22 masks, miniature masks and representations of masks from the lower Río Verde valley of coastal Oaxaca, Mexico. The iconography of these artefacts as well as their recovery from well-documented archaeological contexts inform our interpretations of masking practices during an approximately 2000-year span of the Formative period (2000 bc–ad 250). Specifically, we argue that these masking-related artefacts index sociocultural changes in the region, from the first villages and the advent of ceramic technology during the Early Formative period (2000–1000 bc) to a time of increasing consolidation of iconographic influence in the hands of the elite in the final centuries before the Classic period. As indicated by their continued use today, masks have long been intimates of communal activities in Oaxaca.
To remain in place in the immediate aftermath of the ninth-century Maya collapse, Maya groups employed various resilient strategies. In the absence of divine rulers, groups needed to renegotiate their forms of political authority and to reconsider the legitimizing role of religious institutions. This kind of negotiation happened first at the local level, where individual communities developed varied political and ideological solutions. At the community of Actuncan, located in the lower Mopan River valley of Belize, reorganization took place within the remains of a monumental urban centre built 1000 years before by the site's early rulers. I report on the changing configuration and use of Actuncan's urban landscape during the process of reorganization. These modifications included the construction of a new centre for political gatherings, the dismantling of old administrative buildings constructed by holy lords and the reuse of the site's oldest ritual space. These developments split the city into distinct civic and ritual zones, paralleling the adoption of a new shared rule divorced from cosmological underpinnings. This case study provides an example of how broader societal resilience relies on adaptation at the local level.
Prevalent as bird imagery is in the ritual traditions of eastern North America, the bony remains of birds are relatively sparse in archaeological deposits and when present are typically viewed as subsistence remains. A first-millennium ad civic-ceremonial centre on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida contains large pits with bird bones amid abundant fish bone and other taxa. The avian remains are dominated by elements of juvenile white ibises, birds that were taken from offshore rookeries at the time of summer solstices. The pits into which they were deposited were emplaced on a relict dune with solstice orientations. The timing and siting of solstice feasts at this particular centre invites discussion of world-renewal rituality and the significance of birds in not only the timing of these events but also possibly as agents of balance and rejuvenation.
Against the Grain is both a wide-ranging voyage of discovery and a regionally focused study of the trajectory of agriculture from its earliest appearance until historical times, coupled with discussion of the mechanisms that maintained early states. For Scott, the state is a fragile entity (pp. 21, 23, 118, 125) based on the production of grain, along with water transport, city walls, tax collection, specialized administrators, monumental centres, kings, social hierarchy, filth, epidemic disease and an insatiable demand for enslaved labour. With such a definition, there is a little hope that the societies of Eurasian pastoral nomads can be seen as anything other than ‘barbarians’ living outside the laws and hierarchies of agricultural states. It is these Eurasian nomadic pastoralists and their relations with the state that will form the focus of this commentary.
Cultivars domesticated and organized people. Cereal grain-growing agriculturists—at least those lucky enough to live in floodplains—exploited others in order to sustain themselves. From such preconditions, states were born, the organizational fragilities of which routinely led to their dissolution, and to other sorts of social forms in peripheral locations. This is James Scott's Against the Grain in a nutshell.
During the Early-Middle Bronze Age, a new package of technological knowledge, including high-fired 'proto-porcelain' products and specialized 'dragon' kilns, entered Lingnan in South China from neighbouring cultures. This enabled the first local production of proto-porcelain in Bronze Age communities of Guangdong province that later became concentrated in ceramic workshops in the Dongjiang valley. Through a holistic approach towards ceramic production and consumption that integrates elements of functionalist and social perspectives, this study will explore the technological and socio-political conditions underlying the value creation and consequent social usage of proto-porcelain. It will be argued that proto-porcelain was a suitable medium for the simultaneous expression of different social roles that might have included its use as serving ware in community rituals as well as its involvement in politico-economic strategies of elite groups.
Against the Grain is an approachable book that explores the world of the earliest states, found in Mesopotamia. It is framed by the rationale that a study of the state's deep history might give us insight into contemporary concerns via an understanding of the deep causal links between sedentism, agriculture and state control.
Southeast Asia is a paradox to Western scholars. Few are familiar with its history, yet Southeast Asia has been a veritable intellectual resource extraction zone for twentieth- and twenty-first-century social thought: imagined communities, galactic polities, agricultural involution and the moral economy of peasants all emanate from work done in Southeast Asia. The region's archaeological record is equally paradoxical: late Pleistocene ‘Hobbit’ hominins disrupt models of human origins, the world's largest Buddhist monument of Borobudur now sits in a wholly Muslim land mass in central Java, and the world's largest premodern city of Angkor is located in Cambodia, a country that remains resolutely rural. So we should not be surprised that Scott's Against the Grain: A deep history of the earliest states draws from a career in Southeast Asian studies to study human history (the entire Anthropocene). This essay concentrates on how Scott believes early Mesopotamian states became legible.
In his most recent book, James Scott presents us with a ‘deep history’ of the alluvial lowlands of Mesopotamia, from early domestications in the Neolithic to the emergence and consolidation of early states. Although the focus lies on Mesopotamia in these periods, Scott delves into the beginnings of the human use of fire in the Palaeolithic and draws on comparative developments in Southeast Asia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and elsewhere. He poses large questions: Why did people move into densely packed villages—‘Neolithic multispecies resettlement camps’—accompanied by the plants and animals they domesticated, but also by an exponentially increased disease load and a substantial portion of drudgery? Why did states emerge when they did, despite the fact that the main ecological and demographic conditions were present millennia earlier? What accounts for the fragility of these early states, and why do our standard histories obscure that fact? Guiding themes are ecological and demographic, but also draw explicit attention to the unintended consequences of human actions. Indeed, reflections on the Anthropocene underpin the book's arguments, and, like many others who write on this topic, Scott is motivated by deep-seated concerns about the sorry ecological state of our contemporary world and connections to long-term effects of human activity.
In both public and professional accounts of the grand sweep of human history, a few questions recurrently beg for attention. How did technology—broadly understood to encompass everything from control of fire to domestication of food sources, to craft manufacture, to communication and transportation—transform human life? How did social complexity come into being: e.g. classes, formal institutions and the state? Why did some ancient societies invest so much effort in corporate constructions such as pyramids, temples and other monumental architecture? What were the effects of warfare and disease on the human condition? And why did the early societies of so many regions cycle between eras of concentrated power and its apparent dissolution?
The likelihood that Palaeolithic artisans sometimes used natural objects as models for their image-making has long been suggested, yet well-contextualized and stratified examples have remained rare. This study examines a series of natural and fabricated items from the Natufian settlement of Wadi Hammeh 27 in Jordan (12,000-12,500 cal. BC) to propose that the site occupants collected a variety of found objects such as fossils, unusually shaped stones and animal bones, which they utilized as templates in the production of geometric art pieces. Natural and fabricated objects were woven into complex schemes of relation by Natufian artisans. Existing patterns were copied and applied to a variety of representational images. Found objects were sometimes subtly modified, whereas at other times they were transformed into finished artefacts. The scute pattern on the tortoise carapace, in particular, appears to have formed the basis of important ritual beliefs across the Natufian culture area. At Wadi Hammeh 27, it was evoked in various media and at various scales to form interrelating tableaux of representation.