Perennial Issues

Kevin Lewis

January 21, 2023

Retrospective Voting in the Premodern World: The Case of Natural Disasters in the Roman Republic
Thomas Gray & Daniel Smith
Journal of Historical Political Economy, Fall 2022, Pages 477-497


Political scientists frequently debate how “blind” retrospective voting is in the modern world, and the extent to which voters punish or reward officials for things beyond their control, such as disastrous flooding. Results vary based on the time and location of the study, as well as methodology. We test these arguments in a radically different time and place: the Roman Republic between 218 and 166 B.C.E. We articulate a clear theoretical expectation: that voters observe and reward response to local crises. We then leverage the exogenous nature of river flooding as well as the random assignment to office location in the Roman Republic to estimate the causal effect of flooding on those randomly assigned to be in the city when floods occurred. Analyzing 272 second-tier executive officials in the Republic, we find that significant flooding of the Tiber River substantially increased the ability of those randomly placed in the city to achieve the top executive office in the Republic in the near future. Among those randomly assigned to be outside of the city, we find no evidence of any effect on short-term career advancement. These results indicate that floods were opportunities to perform for city voters. This further illustrates that theories of voting and elections inductively formed based on scholars' familiarity with modern American elections may be limited in explanatory power to those contexts.

Human generation times across the past 250,000 years
Richard Wang et al.
Science Advances, January 2023 


The generation times of our recent ancestors can tell us about both the biology and social organization of prehistoric humans, placing human evolution on an absolute time scale. We present a method for predicting historical male and female generation times based on changes in the mutation spectrum. Our analyses of whole-genome data reveal an average generation time of 26.9 years across the past 250,000 years, with fathers consistently older (30.7 years) than mothers (23.2 years). Shifts in sex-averaged generation times have been driven primarily by changes to the age of paternity, although we report a substantial increase in female generation times in the recent past. We also find a large difference in generation times among populations, reaching back to a time when all humans occupied Africa.

From Empire-wide integration to regional localization: A synthetic and quantitative study of heterogeneous amphora data in Roman Germania reveals centuries-long change in regional patterns of production and consumption
Tyler Franconi et al.
PLoS ONE, January 2023


We present novel insights into trade in amphorae-borne products over a 550-year period in Germania along the frontier of the Roman Empire, derived through probabilistic aoristic methods to study temporal changes in archaeological materials. Our data analysis reveals highly detailed differential patterns of consumption and production within the German market. We show how connections to far-flung regions such as the Eastern Mediterranean or the Iberian Peninsula wax and wane through time, and how the local German producers start to compete with these imported products. These chronological patterns provide important insight into a regional market within the larger Roman economy and provide an important case study in changing economic connections over a long period, demonstrating in a transparent and reproducible way a geographical and chronological pulsation in market activity that was otherwise unknown and undemonstrated.

Homo sapiens and Neanderthals share high cerebral cortex integration into adulthood
Gabriele Sansalone et al.
Nature Ecology & Evolution, January 2023, Pages 42–50 


There is controversy around the mechanisms that guided the change in brain shape during the evolution of modern humans. It has long been held that different cortical areas evolved independently from each other to develop their unique functional specializations. However, some recent studies suggest that high integration between different cortical areas could facilitate the emergence of equally extreme, highly specialized brain functions. Here, we analyse the evolution of brain shape in primates using three-dimensional geometric morphometrics of endocasts. We aim to determine, firstly, whether modern humans present unique developmental patterns of covariation between brain cortical areas; and secondly, whether hominins experienced unusually high rates of evolution in brain covariation as compared to other primates. On the basis of analyses including modern humans and other extant great apes at different developmental stages, we first demonstrate that, unlike our closest living relatives, Homo sapiens retain high levels of covariation between cortical areas into adulthood. Among the other great apes, high levels of covariation are only found in immature individuals. Secondly, at the macro-evolutionary level, our analysis of 400 endocasts, representing 148 extant primate species and 6 fossil hominins, shows that strong covariation between different areas of the brain in H. sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis evolved under distinctly higher evolutionary rates than in any other primate, suggesting that natural selection favoured a greatly integrated brain in both species. These results hold when extinct species are excluded and allometric effects are accounted for. Our findings demonstrate that high covariation in the brain may have played a critical role in the evolution of unique cognitive capacities and complex behaviours in both modern humans and Neanderthals.

Bogs, bones and bodies: The deposition of human remains in northern European mires (9000 BC–AD 1900)
Roy van Beek et al.
Antiquity, forthcoming 


Bog body studies have focused on rich individual biographies, largely neglecting broader spatial and temporal trends. Here, the authors present the first large-scale overview of well-dated human remains from northern European mires, based on a database of 266 sites and more than 1000 bog mummies, bog skeletons and disarticulated/partial skeletal remains. Analysis demonstrates fluctuating depositions of human remains between the Early Neolithic and early modern times, significant and shifting spatial clustering, and variation in site characteristics (e.g. preservation, use frequency, cause of death). The results emphasise previously unrecognised activity phases and highlight issues with categorising motives, especially around ritual violence.

A long-term perspective on Neanderthal environment and subsistence: Insights from the dental microwear texture analysis of hunted ungulates at Combe-Grenal (Dordogne, France)
Emilie Berlioz, Eugénie Capdepon & Emmanuel Discamps
PLoS ONE, January 2023 


Large bovids and cervids constituted major components of the European Middle Palaeolithic faunas and hence a key resource for Neanderthal populations. In paleoenvironmental reconstructions, red deer (Cervus elaphus) occurrence is classically considered as a tree-cover indicator while Bovinae (Bison priscus and Bos primigenius) and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) occurrences are typically associated with open landscapes. However, insights into the ecology of extant ungulate populations show a more complex reality. Exploring the diet of past ungulates allows to better comprehend the hunting strategies of Palaeolithic populations and to reconstruct the modifications through time of past landscapes. By reflecting what animals have eaten during the last days or weeks of their life, dental microwear textures of herbivores link a population and its environment. Here we analyzed, via Dental Microwear Texture Analysis (DMTA), the diet of 50 Bos/Bison, 202 R. tarandus and 116 C. elaphus preyed upon by the Neanderthals that occupied Combe-Grenal rock-shelter, one of the most important Mousterian archaeo-sequences in southwestern France considering its long stratigraphy, abundance of faunal remains and the variations perceptible in Palaeolithic material culture. Grazers and mixed-feeders are the most represented dietary categories among Combe-Grenal’s guild of herbivores, highlighting the availability, along the sequence, of open landscapes. The absence of clear changes in the use of plant resources by hunted ungulates through time, even though palaeoenvironmental changes were well-documented by previous studies along the sequence, is interpreted as resulting from the hunting of non-randomly selected prey by Neanderthals, preferentially in open environments. Thus, these results provide further insight into the hunting strategies of Neanderthals and modify our perception of potential links between subsistence and material culture. Combe-Grenal hunters “stayed in the open” through millennia, and were not forced to switch to hunting tactics and material technology adapted to close encounters in forested environments.

Holocene variations in Lake Titicaca water level and their implications for sociopolitical developments in the central Andes
Stéphane Guédron et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 10 January 2023 


Holocene climate in the high tropical Andes was characterized by both gradual and abrupt changes, which disrupted the hydrological cycle and impacted landscapes and societies. High-resolution paleoenvironmental records are essential to contextualize archaeological data and to evaluate the sociopolitical response of ancient societies to environmental variability. Middle-to-Late Holocene water levels in Lake Titicaca were reevaluated through a transfer function model based on measurements of organic carbon stable isotopes, combined with high-resolution profiles of other geochemical variables and paleoshoreline indicators. Our reconstruction indicates that following a prolonged low stand during the Middle Holocene (4000 to 2400 BCE), lake level rose rapidly ~15 m by 1800 BCE, and then increased another 3 to 6 m in a series of steps, attaining the highest values after ~1600 CE. The largest lake-level increases coincided with major sociopolitical changes reported by archaeologists. In particular, at the end of the Formative Period (500 CE), a major lake-level rise inundated large shoreline areas and forced populations to migrate to higher elevation, likely contributing to the emergence of the Tiwanaku culture.

Newly discovered crocodile mummies of variable quality from an undisturbed tomb at Qubbat al-Hawā (Aswan, Egypt)
Bea De Cupere et al.
PLoS ONE, January 2023


A description is provided of the crocodile remains that were found during an excavation carried out in 2019 at Qubbat al-Hawā (Aswan, Egypt). The material consists of five more or less complete bodies and five heads that were in varying states of preservation and completeness. The absence of resin, which was apparently not used during the preparation of the mummies, and the almost complete loss of linen bandages, due to insect damage, allowed a detailed morphological and osteometric description of the remains. Attention was focused on the general state of preservation of the crocodiles, the completeness of their skeletons and skulls, the presence of cut or other marks that could indicate the cause of death, and the processing of the carcasses. Moreover, the possible provenance of the crocodiles, the methods of capture and killing of the animals and their possible chronological attribution are discussed. It is concluded that the manner in which these specimens were prepared, as well as the variation observed in the type of ‘final product’, are unlike any other crocodile material described so far. The preparation method suggests a pre-Ptolemaic date for the deposit. The morphological and metrical features indicate that both Crocodylus niloticus and the recently resurrected species Crocodylus suchus are present among these individuals that range from 1.8 to 3.5 m in length.


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