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More Archaeology in April

5 April 2021

In Current Archaeology 374 April/ May 2021, we have a piece on St Kilda [see also https://archaeologyreportsonline.com/reports/2021/ARO42.html ] … and click on the PDF link for full article. Prior to redevelopment of a Ministry of Defence site, and its surroundings, on St Kilda, there was an extensive archaeological investigation [as required by  law]. St Kilda sits in the Atlantic, west of the Scottish Hebrides islands. Large quantities of Iron Age pottery was found across the entirety of the development site. Most of the finds date between the 4th century BC and the the end of the 1st century BC. However, there are also lots of Bronze Age evidence as well, even it seems, Neolithic period occupation of these distant islands.

Science Notes, page 12 of Current Archaeology 374, concerns the timeline for the demise of Neanderthals in Europe. Earlier Neanderthal remains were dated by pre-calibration methodology, and even when calibration came into being some of the dates were suspect as they seemed to overlap with Palaeolithic modern humans. Clarification was required. The modern IntCal methodology has been applied to some of the remains, which has been useful. Modern dating, by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelrator Unit, had been used, for skeletal material from Croatia and Russia [see Current Archaeology 336] but the new results [in 374] significantly move the boundaries. It has redrawn the timeline for the demise of the Neanderthals – using samples from Belgium. See https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2022466118 … which looked at caves in Belgium, actually three caves. Belgian caves have proven to be a key region for Neanderthal finds. C14 dating had previously suggested an overlap between the two groups of people. The new findings contradict this idea – but not entirely. The disappearance has now been dated between 44,200 and 40,600 years ago – remarkably close to the Laschamp geomagnetic reversal event.

From Mounds to Monasteries, page 26-38, is about the Iron Age in Ireland [which included the early medieval period, the 5th to 7th centuries AD]. There is an interesting parallel with Britain. Pottery use was largely absent from both funerary and domestic purposes between 400BC and 700AD. The reason why is unknown but it has led to dating problems as pottery is integral to archaeological determination of time. It is fascinating to note that the pottery industry in England and Wales also retracted after the Romans left. It is usually interpreted as evidence of a decline  in British culture – or was until recently. In the last decade or so it has increasingly become evident that metal work in the 5th and 6th centuries AD was at an equivalence with the Roman era, and no doubt wood working skills also survived intact. Why was pottery abandoned by large numbers of people? The answer to that is unknown, but the same thing going on in Ireland is an interesting add on to the mystery. The author suggests it was a deliberate choice and a decline in culture is not as clear cut as previously considered. Did they revert to the use of wood, leather, cloth, metal, stone and bone and for some reason reject pottery. What about funerary urns. Were organic containers used or were the ashes scattered. Of course, this was not universal as far as Britain is concerned, as Early Saxon period urns have been discovered – whether or not they were being used by locals or newcomers. See also www.mappingdeathdb.ie

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