Ground Truth

Kevin Lewis

September 24, 2022

Opium trade and use during the Late Bronze Age: Organic residue analysis of ceramic vessels from the burials of Tel Yehud, Israel
Vanessa Linares et al.
Archaeometry, forthcoming


Organic residue analysis was conducted on various vessels from burials at Tel Yehud, Israel. The analyses led to new reliable evidence for the presence of opioid alkaloids and their decomposition products. This research revitalizes a decades-old discussion on the presence and function of the opium trade across a cultural region of utmost significance in the Ancient Near East and the use and role of Base-Ring juglets during the Late Bronze Age IIA (14th century BCE). Furthermore, it was found that opium storage was not limited to Base-Ring juglets. Opium was possibly diluted into storage jars and juglets, signifying the importance of opium utilization at a larger scale during this period.

Nile waterscapes facilitated the construction of the Giza pyramids during the 3rd millennium BCE
Hader Sheisha et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 13 September 2022


The pyramids of Giza originally overlooked a now defunct arm of the Nile. This fluvial channel, the Khufu branch, enabled navigation to the Pyramid Harbor complex but its precise environmental history is unclear. To fill this knowledge gap, we use pollen-derived vegetation patterns to reconstruct 8,000 y of fluvial variations on the Giza floodplain. After a high-stand level concomitant with the African Humid Period, our results show that Giza’s waterscapes responded to a gradual insolation-driven aridification of East Africa, with the lowest Nile levels recorded at the end of the Dynastic Period. The Khufu branch remained at a high-water level (∼40% of its Holocene maximum) during the reigns of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, facilitating the transportation of construction materials to the Giza Pyramid Complex.

Migration of Alpine Slavs and machine learning: Space-time pattern mining of an archaeological data set
Benjamin Štular et al.
PLoS ONE, September 2022


The rapid expansion of the Slavic speakers in the second half of the first millennium CE remains a controversial topic in archaeology, and academic passions on the issue have long run high. Currently, there are three main hypotheses for this expansion. The aim of this paper was to test the so-called “hybrid hypothesis,” which states that the movement of people, cultural diffusion and language diffusion all occurred simultaneously. For this purpose, we examined an archaeological Deep Data set with a machine learning method termed time series clustering and with emerging hot spot analysis. The latter required two archaeology-specific modifications: The archaeological trend map and the multiscale emerging hot spot analysis. As a result, we were able to detect two migrations in the Eastern Alps between c. 500 and c. 700 CE. Based on the convergence of evidence from archaeology, linguistics, and population genetics, we have identified the migrants as Alpine Slavs, i.e., people who spoke Slavic and shared specific common ancestry.

The Anglo-Saxon migration and the formation of the early English gene pool
Joscha Gretzinger et al.
Nature, forthcoming


The history of the British Isles and Ireland is characterized by multiple periods of major cultural change, including the influential transformation after the end of Roman rule, which precipitated shifts in language, settlement patterns and material culture. The extent to which migration from continental Europe mediated these transitions is a matter of long-standing debate. Here we study genome-wide ancient DNA from 460 medieval northwestern Europeans — including 278 individuals from England — alongside archaeological data, to infer contemporary population dynamics. We identify a substantial increase of continental northern European ancestry in early medieval England, which is closely related to the early medieval and present-day inhabitants of Germany and Denmark, implying large-scale substantial migration across the North Sea into Britain during the Early Middle Ages. As a result, the individuals who we analysed from eastern England derived up to 76% of their ancestry from the continental North Sea zone, albeit with substantial regional variation and heterogeneity within sites. We show that women with immigrant ancestry were more often furnished with grave goods than women with local ancestry, whereas men with weapons were as likely not to be of immigrant ancestry. A comparison with present-day Britain indicates that subsequent demographic events reduced the fraction of continental northern European ancestry while introducing further ancestry components into the English gene pool, including substantial southwestern European ancestry most closely related to that seen in Iron Age France.

Second Intermediate Period date for the Thera (Santorini) eruption and historical implications
Sturt Manning
PLoS ONE, September 2022


The historical relevance of the Thera (Santorini) volcanic eruption is unclear because of major dating uncertainty. Long placed ~1500 BCE and during the Egyptian New Kingdom (starts ~1565–1540 BCE) by archaeologists, 14C pointed to dates ≥50–100 years earlier during the preceding Second Intermediate Period. Several decades of debate have followed with no clear resolution of the problem — despite wide recognition that this uncertainty undermines an ability to synchronize the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean in the mid-second millennium BCE and write wider history. Recent work permits substantial progress. Volcanic CO2 was often blamed for the discrepancy. However, comparison of 14C dates directly associated with the eruption from contemporary Aegean contexts — both on and remote from Thera — can now remove this caveat. In turn, using Bayesian analysis, a revised and substantially refined date range for the Thera eruption can be determined, both through the integration of the large 14C dataset relevant to the Thera eruption with the local stratigraphic sequence on Thera immediately prior to the eruption, and in conjunction with the wider stratigraphically-defined Aegean archaeological sequence from before to after the eruption. This enables a robust high-resolution dating for the eruption ~1606–1589 BCE (68.3% probability), ~1609–1560 BCE (95.4% probability). This dating clarifies long-disputed synchronizations between Aegean and East Mediterranean cultures, placing the eruption during the earlier and very different Second Intermediate Period with its Canaanite-Levantine dominated world-system. This gives an importantly altered cultural and historical context for the New Palace Period on Crete and the contemporary Shaft Grave era in southern Greece. In addition, the revised dating, and a current absence of southern Aegean chronological data placed soon afterwards, highlights a period of likely devastating regional eruption impact in the earlier-mid 16th century BCE southern Aegean.

Epipalaeolithic animal tending to Neolithic herding at Abu Hureyra, Syria (12,800–7,800 calBP): Deciphering dung spherulites
Alexia Smith et al.
PLoS ONE, September 2022


Excavations at Abu Hureyra, Syria, during the 1970s exposed a long sequence of occupation spanning the transition from hunting-and-gathering to agriculture. Dung spherulites preserved within curated flotation samples from Epipalaeolithic (ca. 13,300–11,400 calBP) and Neolithic (ca. 10,600–7,800 calBP) occupations are examined here alongside archaeological, archaeobotanical, and zooarchaeological data to consider animal management, fuel selection, and various uses of dung. Spherulites were present throughout the entire sequence in varying concentrations. Using a new method to quantify spherulites, exclusion criteria were developed to eliminate samples possibly contaminated with modern dung, strengthening observations of ancient human behavior. Darkened spherulites within an Epipalaeolithic 1B firepit (12,800–12,300 calBP) indicate burning between 500–700°C, documenting early use of dung fuel by hunter-gatherers as a supplement to wood, coeval with a dramatic shift to rectilinear architecture, increasing proportions of wild sheep and aurochsen, reduced emphasis on small game, and elevated dung concentrations immediately outside the 1B dwelling. Combined, these observations suggest that small numbers of live animals (possibly wild sheep) were tended on-site by Epipalaeolithic hunter-gatherers to supplement gazelle hunting, raising the question of whether early experiments in animal management emerged contemporaneously with, or pre-date, cultivation. Dung was used to prepare plaster floors during the Neolithic and continued to be burned as a supplemental fuel, indicating that spherulites were deposited via multiple human- and animal-related pathways. This has important implications for interpretations of archaeobotanical assemblages across the region. Spherulite concentrations dropped abruptly during Neolithic 2B (9,300–8,000 calBP) and 2C (8,000–7,800 calBP), when sheep/goat herding surpassed gazelle hunting, possibly corresponding with movement of animals away from the site as herd sizes increased. As hunter-gatherers at Abu Hureyra began interacting with wild taxa in different ways, they set in motion a remarkable transformation in the ways people interacted with animals, plants, and their environment.

Do monkeys use sex toys? Evidence of stone tool-assisted masturbation in free-ranging long-tailed macaques
Camilla Cenni et al.
Ethology, September 2022, Pages 632-646


Recent reports on tool use in nonforaging contexts have led researchers to reconsider the proximate drivers of instrumental object manipulation. In this study, we explore the physiological and behavioral correlates of two stone-directed and seemingly playful actions, the repetitive tapping and rubbing of stones onto the genital and inguinal area, respectively, that may have been co-opted into self-directed tool-assisted masturbation in long-tailed macaques (i.e., “Sex Toy” hypothesis). We predicted that genital and inguinal stone-tapping and rubbing would be more closely temporally associated with physiological responses (e.g., estrus in females, penile erection in males) and behavior patterns (e.g., sexual mounts and other mating interactions) that are sexually motivated than other stone-directed play. We also predicted that the stones selected to perform genital and inguinal stone-tapping and rubbing actions would be less variable in number, size, and texture than the stones typically used during other stone-directed playful actions. Overall, our data partly supported the “Sex Toy” hypothesis indicating that stone-directed tapping and rubbing onto the genital and inguinal area are sexually motivated behaviors. Our research suggests that instrumental behaviors of questionably adaptive value may be maintained over evolutionary time through pleasurable/self-rewarding mechanisms, such as those underlying playful and sexual activities.



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