Millennial History

Kevin Lewis

June 05, 2021

State Formation in Korea and Japan, 400–800 CE: Emulation and Learning, Not Bellicist Competition
Chin-Hao Huang & David Kang
International Organization, forthcoming


State formation occurred in Korea and Japan 1,000 years before it did in Europe, and it occurred for reasons of emulation and learning, not bellicist competition. State formation in historical East Asia occurred under a hegemonic system in which war was relatively rare, not under a balance-of-power system with regular existential threats. Korea and Japan emerged as states between the fifth and ninth centuries CE and existed for centuries thereafter with centralized bureaucratic control defined over territory and administrative capacity to tax their populations, field large militaries, and provide extensive public goods. They created these institutions not to wage war or suppress revolt: the longevity of dynasties in these countries is evidence of both the peacefulness of their region and their internal stability. Rather, Korea and Japan developed state institutions through emulation and learning from China. The elites of both copied Chinese civilization for reasons of prestige and domestic legitimacy in the competition between the court and the nobility.

Large-scale cooperation in small-scale foraging societies
Robert Boyd & Peter Richerson
Arizona State University Working Paper, May 2021


We present evidence that people in small-scale, mobile hunter-gatherer societies cooperated in large numbers to produce collective goods. Foragers engaged in large-scale communal hunts, constructed shared capital facilities; they made shared investments in improving the local environment; and they participated in warfare, alliance, and trade. Large-scale collective action often played a crucial role in subsistence. The provision of public goods involved the cooperation of many individuals, so each person made only a small contribution. This evidence suggests that large-scale cooperation occurred in the Pleistocene societies that encompass most of human evolutionary history, and therefore it is unlikely that large-scale cooperation in Holocene food producing societies results from an evolved psychology shaped only in small group interactions. Instead, large scale human cooperation needs to be explained as an adaptation, likely rooted in the distinctive features of human biology, grammatical language, increased cognitive ability, and cumulative cultural adaptation.

Paleo-ENSO influence on African environments and early modern humans
Stefanie Kaboth-Bahr et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 8 June 2021


In this study, we synthesize terrestrial and marine proxy records, spanning the past 620 ky, to decipher pan-African climate variability and its drivers and potential linkages to hominin evolution. We find a tight correlation between moisture availability across Africa to El Niño Southern Ocean oscillation (ENSO) variability, a manifestation of the Walker Circulation, that was most likely driven by changes in Earth’s eccentricity. Our results demonstrate that low-latitude insolation was a prominent driver of pan-African climate change during the Middle to Late Pleistocene. We argue that these low-latitude climate processes governed the dispersion and evolution of vegetation as well as mammals in eastern and western Africa by increasing resource-rich and stable ecotonal settings thought to have been important to early modern humans.

New AMS Radiocarbon Ages from the Preceramic Levels of Coxcatlan Cave, Puebla, Mexico: A Pleistocene Occupation of the Tehuacan Valley?
Andrew Somerville, Isabel Casar & Joaquín Arroyo-Cabrales
Latin American Antiquity, forthcoming


Archaeological studies at Coxcatlan Cave in the Tehuacan Valley of southern Puebla, Mexico, have been instrumental to the development of the chronology for the region and for our understanding of the origins of food production in the Americas. This article refines the Preceramic chronology of the Tehuacan Valley by presenting 14 new accelerated mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon ages from faunal bone samples uncovered from early depositional levels of the rock shelter. Although bones associated with the El Riego (9893–7838 cal BP), Coxcatlan (7838–6375 cal BP), and Abejas (6375–4545 cal BP) phase zones of the cave yielded ages similar to those of the previously proposed chronology for the region, bones from the Ajuereado phase zones at the base of the cave yielded surprisingly old ages that range from 33,448 to 28,279 cal BP, a time prior to the Last Glacial Maximum. Because these early ages are many thousands of years older than current models estimate for the peopling of the Americas, they require reassessments of the artifacts and ecofacts excavated from these early zones.

“Their corpses will reach the base of heaven”: A third-millennium BC war memorial in northern Mesopotamia?
Anne Porter et al.
Antiquity, forthcoming


Burial mounds piled high with enemy corpses are well known in Mesopotamian inscriptions as symbols of victory, but no archaeological examples have so far been recovered. Archaeological investigations of a tall mound adjacent to the site of Tell Banat in Syria have revealed an unusual, late third-millennium BC mortuary population, dominated by adult and sub-adult males. The systematic placement of these human remains and associated assemblages suggests that, rather than containing enemy combatants, this was a memorial to a community's battle dead. The authors propose that the deceased belonged to an organised army, with broader implications for state administration and the adherence or resistance to a new regime fostered by such monumentalisation.

Prehistoric Pendants as Instigators of Sound and Body Movements: A Traceological Case Study from Northeast Europe, c. 8200 cal. BP
Riitta Rainio et al.
Cambridge Archaeological Journal, forthcoming


In the Late Mesolithic graves of Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov, northwest Russia, large numbers of Eurasian elk (Alces alces) incisors have been found. These teeth, for the most part fashioned into portable pendants, seem to have formed decorative sets for the garments or accessories of the deceased. This article examines both the technologies associated with these artefacts and their uses, as well as reflecting on the sensorial experiences generated by them. Osteological analysis of a sample of 100 specimens indicates that all types of incisors were used for making the pendants. Traceological analysis indicates that the teeth were modified by scraping, grooving, grinding and retouching. Traces of wear consist of general wear and distinctive pits or pecks on the perimeters of the crowns. These traces indicate that the pendants were worn before their deposition in the graves, in such a way that they were in contact with both soft and solid materials. This pattern of pits or pecks has until now been unreported in the traceological literature. In experiments, a similar pattern emerged when pendants of fresh elk incisors were hung in rows and bunches and struck against one another. These strokes created a rattling sound. Thus, the elk incisors of Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov appear to provide insight into previously unattainable sonic experiences and activities of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, as well as the early history of the instrument category of rattles.

The first quantitative assessment of radiocarbon chronologies for initial pottery in Island Southeast Asia supports multi-directional Neolithic dispersal
Ethan Cochrane,Timothy Rieth & Darby Filimoehala
PLoS ONE, June 2021


Neolithization, or the Holocene demographic expansion of farming populations, accounts for significant changes in human and animal biology, artifacts, languages, and cultures across the earth. For Island Southeast Asia, the orthodox Out of Taiwan hypothesis proposes that Neolithic expansion originated from Taiwan with populations moving south into Island Southeast Asia, while the Western Route Migration hypothesis suggests the earliest farming populations entered from Mainland Southeast Asia in the west. These hypotheses are also linked to competing explanations of the Austronesian expansion, one of the most significant population dispersals in the ancient world that influenced human and environmental diversity from Madagascar to Easter Island and Hawai‘i to New Zealand. The fundamental archaeological test of the Out of Taiwan and Western Route Migration hypotheses is the geographic and chronological distribution of initial pottery assemblages, but these data have never been quantitatively analyzed. Using radiocarbon determinations from 20 archaeological sites, we present a Bayesian chronological analysis of initial pottery deposition in Island Southeast Asia and western Near Oceania. Both site-scale and island-scale Bayesian models were produced in Oxcal using radiocarbon determinations that are most confidently associated with selected target events. Our results indicate multi-directional Neolithic dispersal in Island Southeast Asia, with the earliest pottery contemporaneously deposited in western Borneo and the northern Philippines. This work supports emerging research that identifies separate processes of biological, linguistic, and material culture change in Island Southeast Asia.


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