The Footsteps of Foote: Recent Excavations in South India
In the summer of 1863, deep in the heart of South India, the British geologist,
Robert Bruce Foote, made a spectacular discovery. This was of a stone
tool; the first in the Subcontinent to be conclusively identified. The
discovery overturned concepts of human antiquity in India and paved the
away for new avenues of research. Soon after, in the basin of the river
Kortallayar, Foote and his colleague, William King, documented hundreds
of stone tools eroding out of laterites in dry gully beds, near the tiny
hamlet of Attirampakkam, 60 km northwest of the city of Chennai (Madras).
Struck by the abundance of tools and their extreme freshness, they debated
on past 'human' and natural factors which could have led to the concentration
of artefacts at this site. More than a century later, these questions
remain equally relevant. Our ongoing excavations at this site aim at addressing
issues related to the age and nature of hominid occupation, in relation
to changing Pleistocene environments.
In the 1930's, scholars working in this river basin, identified a sequence of four river terraces with associated 'evolving' archaeological cultures. This scheme drawing on similar models developed in the river valleys of France and England, dominated Indian Palaeolithic research for more than half a century. Over the last decade, new developments in archaeological theory and methodology were increasingly influencing Indian prehistorians. In Pakistan, similar sequences of river terraces and cultures, developed earlier, were being proved wrong (Rendell et al. 1989). It was thought necessary to reinvestigate the Kortallayar basin, (Pappu 1996, 1997) with a multidisciplinary approach aimed at understanding hominid settlement strategies and Quaternary environments. Within an area of 200 sq km, an 'off-site' approach was adopted with Lower and Middle Palaeolithic assemblages being mapped across the landscape. The river basin, bounded by the hills on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, yielded evidence of numerous Lower and Middle Palaeolithic sites. Studies of the Quaternary deposits, revealed that although terraces existed, they did not in any way correspond to sequences built up earlier. Instead, a complex picture emerged of weathering of older deposits and their transport across the landscape via sheet and stream flood and stream channel processes. Lower to Middle Palaeolithic sites occur in caves, and in deposits of laterites and ferruginous gravels. Studies of site formation processes aided in identifying sites in different sedimentary contexts and helped in isolating well-preserved sites (Pappu 1999), suitable for further study. Variability in site size, artefact density and assemblage composition at different sites was revealed, and alternate models of hominid settlement patterns were built up from ecological and ethnographic studies. One hypothesis put forward was the possible dry season congregation of hominids from sites like Attirampakkam, situated near the river, to the hills during the wet season.
| Preliminary surveys
carried out in the surroundings of the town of Thari, in the Thar Desert
by members of the "Joint Rohri Hills Project", have revealed
the presence of Mesolithic, early Holocene, stations on the top of the
sand dunes bordering the salt lakes that characterise the region (fig.
1). The first discovery of a Mesolithic site in the area was made in March
1995, when a rich lithic assemblage, including trapezoidal arrowheads,
was collected from the surface of a fixed dune facing the lake of Sain
Sim (LS1). An assemblage of 462 artefacts made from Rohri Hills flint.
It was collected from close to the top of the southern slope of a sand
dune facing the lake. Pieces were scattered over a surface of some 2000
The surveys carried out in January 1999 along the shores of lake Lunwaro Sim (fig. 2) led to the discovery of another Mesolithic site located on the top of the south-western dune that delimits the basin to the south (LS2). Its co-ordinates are 27º01'30" Lat. N. and 68º39'12" Long. E. The assemblage collected from the surface includes a few geometric microliths, among which are a backed blade and truncation, a probable lunate, a truncated bladelet and two microburins. The flint assemblage comes from the top of a stabilized dune some 13 m high, while the present surface of the lake basin lies some 10 metres below the sea level. Along the eastern shore of the lake, a sand terrace was observed 1 metre above the present shoreline in the exact location of 27º02'02" Lat. N. and 68º40'00" Long. E. Several freshwater molluscs belonging to the species Parreysia triembolus (Benson) were collected from the top of this terrace indicating the presence of an ancient shoreline. A sample of these bivalves was submitted for radiocarbon dating to the University of Groningen. They produced a result of 2460±50 BP (GrN-24967). Even though this date needs to be corrected for the reservoir effect, and the reservoir effect for the area is absolutely unknown, it is interesting to observe that the lake table has most probably fluctuated through time and that other samples are to be collected and dated in order to understand the variations in the extension of the lake basin in historic and prehistoric times.
The last lake to be summarily surveyed in February 2000 is that of Jamal
Shah Sim, some 8.5 km northeast of Thari. A very quick visit to the
eastern shores of this lake has demonstrated that also the last Mesolithic
hunter-gatherers have settled this basin. A rich station has been discovered
along the eastern shore of the lake along the slope of a fossil dune
covered with kankar, a cemented crust of sand grains. This pedological
situation is identical to that recorded for some Mesolithic sites of
the Thar Desert of Rajastan. It is further proof that the sand dunes
were already stabilized by the beginning of the Holocene, when the last
hunter-gatherers settled in the region. As already suggested, the sand
dunes that surround it were undoubtedly stabilized after 9250 BP. Given
the short time at our disposal most of the finds have been left in
situ for future research.
| Between May and
December 2000 a programme of evaluation and excavation ahead of a 35 ha
housing development revealed an extensive set of archaeological features
ranging from a possible Neolithic barrow to over 120 Roman ovens. The
excavations at Forest Road, Kintore, Aberdeenshire stripped an area of
9 ha, and represented one of the largest excavations ever undertaken in
Scotland. The development area covered roughly the central quarter of
Deer's Den a 44 ha Roman marching camp thought to relate to Agricola's
campaign. The village of Kintore lies roughly in the eastern half of this
substantial camp. The marching camp's ditch and bank had been upstanding
until the middle of the 19th century
but are now only visible as a cropmark. Prior to these works the only
other known site in the development area was the cropmark of a possible
The evaluation works revealed a greater density of both features and artefacts than would have been expected from either a marching camp or a plough-truncated landscape. The reasons for this are two fold: firstly a greater proportion of the camp's interior was stripped than normal and secondly a considerable amount of topsoil appears to have accumulated on the northern portion of the site leading to pockets of better preservation. This led to the survival of the possible barrow to a height of around 0.7 m. The post-excavation programme is about to start, however, it is possible to make a few introductory observations on the field results. It is clear that several broad periods of activity are present on the site: Early Prehistoric, Later Prehistoric, Roman and Medieval/Post-Medieval. The Early Prehistoric activity was dominated by Neolithic material and includes the usual variety of pits containing Grooved Ware, polished stone axes (at least five were recovered), and flint tools. However, there were also less common features, for example two shallow sub-rectilinear pits, measuring approximately 3m wide by 1.5 m long, which each contained dozens of Neolithic pottery sherds. These pits may be eroded hollows formed within structures, but there were no extant associated structural remains to confirm this.
excavation also identified an artificial mound defined by a rectilinear
segmented ditch, from which late Neolithic pottery was recovered. The
eastern end of the barrow had been truncated by a 19th century quarry
but the extant section was approximately 44 m long by 9 m wide and up
to 0.7 m high. The barrow had been modified on at least three occasions,
but it is hoped the full sequence will be elucidated during post-excavation
In addition to the above, an inhumation within a large pit appeared to have also contained some kind of organic 'box' which held both a flint scraper and a Beaker. Based on the size of the capstone the box is assumed to have measured approximately 1 m long by 0.5 m wide and had a pebble floor. Over time the organic structure rotted away and the capstone fell and crushed the Beaker.
the centre quarter of the marching camp was excavated, which covered a
260 m stretch of the southern ditch including the south west corner. While
no entrance was found in the south (immediately to the south lies Rollo
Mire, a bog), the ditch did contain a gap which respected the course of
a now dried-up stream. The ditch was U shaped and had an ankle breaker
at its base, possibly indicating a re-cut. Only one artefact was recovered
from the ditch: a blue melon bead. Within the interior of the camp over
120 bi-partite 'ovens' (ie figure-of-8 shaped pits, filled with charcoal
and ash) were excavated. These ranged in size from 0.5 m wide by 1 m long
to 1.5 m wide and 3 m long. In addition to these ovens there were a limited
series of small sub-rectangular pits measuring on average 0.6 m long and
0.4m wide, and up to 0.5m deep. A considerable variety of Roman material
was recovered from the features including shoe tacks, barrel hoops, a
finger ring, numerous nails, the remains of two carbonised bowls and two
possible iron ingots.
There was also a limited range of Medieval and Post-Medieval activity, which appears to be connected with agricultural processing of some sort. However, prior to the completion of the post-excavation works more detailed comments are not possible.
In conclusion the large scale nature of the excavation works at Kintore has allowed a considerably more in-depth look at what are staples of contract archaeology: Roman marching camps and plough truncated round-houses. While at present interpretation is limited by the lack of post- excavation works it is to be hoped that these works will offer considerably more insight into the nature of the activity on site.
comprising three oval ditches identified as a cropmark site at Braehead,
Glasgow; the location of a large modern shopping and commercial complex.
The site lies on a low, hardly discernible sandy knoll on the floodplain
of the river Clyde. The site is threatened by further commercial development
and was therefore subjected to an archaeological evaluation carried
out by AOC Archaeology Group in April to May 2000.
Prehistoric Society members are asked to help a study of erosion at this site.
|The Nine Ladies stone-circle on Stanton Moor, Derbyshire, has been suffering serious problems of erosion in recent years, largely due to the increasing number of visitors trampling among the orthostats, but partly caused by vandalism. Trent & Peak Archaeological Unit (working on behalf of English Heritage and in conjunction with the Peak District National Park Authority) has been compiling data to illustrate the rate of erosion in the hope of defining its causes more closely and thereby arriving at some means of managing the problem more effectively (see Derbyshire Archaeological Journal 119 (1999), 288-90). As a result, there are plentiful photographs (in addition to metrical records) for the period since the late-1980s, but far fewer to help in understanding the patterns of wear that may have been inflicted upon the monument before then. Many prehistorians will have walked over Stanton Moor at various times during the 20th century, and many will have been armed with a camera. So this note is by way of an appeal to members of the Prehistoric Society to aid attempts to preserve Nine Ladies, by dipping into their personal archives and letting us know of any photographs they own that might be informative. We are particularly interested to see photographs of either the stone-circle or the outlying orthostat (the 'King') before 1985, when Victorian walls, built to encompass the circle and the outlier separately, were demolished. A few published photographs include the wall around the circle (e.g. Archaeological Journal 123 (1966), pl. I.A), but none, so far as we are aware, depict the wall around the King. Your photographs that include either wall, or indeed those taken immediately after their demolition, would be especially welcome.|
In the December issue of PAST, there was an interesting report of the investigations of prehistoric settlements and social organisation in the Lesser Antilles. This stimulated a French reader to offer information on another Caribbean site since they participated in the fieldwork in 2000.
| Dominique Bonnissent
has conducted a large exploration of the site of "Hope Estate"
on the Island of St-Martin from 1997 until last year. This Saladoïd
inland settlement is located in the north-east part of the island. A topographical
survey of the whole site has revealed the spatial organisation of the
settlement. The oval dwelling area has post holes and pits containing
abundant ceramics and burials. The midden material was deposited on the
peripheral belt of this surface and 14C
dates indicate a chronological occupation from 500 BC to 700 AD. A first
stratified level belongs to the Huecan-Saladoïd period followed by
a major Cedrosan-Saladoïd occupation. Environmental and sediment
analyses are underway on samples issued from well-stratified, but complex,
levels. Studies on the botanical and faunal assemblages (vertebrate and
invertebrate, mollusc etc.) are part of the research. The project is supported
by the Ministère de la Culture (DRAC Guadeloupe) and by the local
archaeological association (AAHE) with the collaboration of undergraduates
and specialists belonging to various universities and laboratories (Institut
du Quaternaire à Bordeaux; Institut de Botanique à Montpellier,
URA 1415 CNRS; Department of Anthropology, University of Florida, Gainesville,
etc.). In 2000, as part of the research program on Saint-Martin, an evaluation
was conducted by Dominique Bonnissent on a post-Saladoïd site, Baie
aux Prunes, on the western coast and two others were rescued at Baie Orientale.
The first one (preceramic, dated between 800 and 400 BC) offers evidence
of several camping places where all sort of activities were performed:
sea-shell consumption, working of volcanic stone and shell tools. The
second site, post-Saladoïd, consists of midden deposits with abundant
artefacts. In 2001 evaluations will be conducted by D. Bonnissent on four
other Amerindian sites whose existence has been demonstrated by preliminary
surveys. The research aims to obtain evidence of the phases of human occupation
of the island of Saint-Martin and thus indirectly of the whole of the
central aim of the project is to examine and quantify the physical and
chemical impact of bracken rhizomes on sensitive archaeological deposits.
Much of Dartmoor's rich archaeological landscape is often perceived
as being generally stable, with only occasional damage as a result of
visitor or agricultural pressures. The picture is however, probably
much more complex, and in particular, work carried out by botanists
indicates that bracken is causing both physical and chemical damage
to the areas which it colonises. The impact of the plant on underlying
geology and geomorphology is now being appreciated, whilst in Scotland,
work at Lairg has indicated the often considerable physical impact of
the rhizomes on archaeological deposits. Bracken establishes itself
on relatively well drained ground and on Dartmoor this often coincides
with archaeological remains, which means that large numbers are seasonally
obscured, and the clearance of the plant could be justified on aesthetic
grounds alone. The potential problem is however possibly much greater
than the inconvenience of being denied access and past work has suggested
that the archaeological information held within each site maybe being
severely compromised or even destroyed. Given the nature of this threat
to such an important archaeological resource it is clearly of paramount
importance that the scale of the problem be assessed and quantified.
The central aim of the Dartmoor Archaeology and Bracken Project
is to accurately quantify the scale of the problem and establish the
precise nature of the impact on archaeological remains.
3. Current damage caused by the rhizomes is not limited to the mat
and the area affected by the stipes. Rhizomes were encountered at depth
extending into and through the site of the prehistoric occupation surface.
At this level an average of 1.5% of the current volume of deposits had
been displaced by active rhizome activity with this figure rising to
5% in places. These figures may suggest that active damage to the archaeological
deposits at this level is insignificant, but clear indications of much
more extensive disturbance in the past indicate that this is cumulative.
archaeological management strategies rightly favour the preservation
of archaeological structures and deposits. Excavation is destructive
and consequently many archaeologists consider it inappropriate to dig
unthreatened sites. Dartmoor's archaeology is generally perceived as
unthreatened and this probably in a large part explains why so few sites
have been excavated in recent years. It is argued that the excavation
and consequent destruction of sites should be left until our methods
are as near perfect as possible and until then all our efforts should
be extended to protecting the sites for future generations, who will
undoubtedly have a range of available techniques which make ours seem
primitive. This sentiment is one with which this writer wholeheartedly
agrees, but at the same time we must be sure that the sites are truly
stable and that we are not merely overseeing the gradual destruction
of important evidence, which not even the most sophisticated of future
techniques will be able to retrieve.
warfare has become a hot topic in recent years. In the early days of archaeology
the prehistoric past was perceived as an appallingly dangerous place,
full of violence and savagery of all kinds. Over time, concepts of prehistoric
warfare formalised into models of culture change based on invasion, displacement
and colonisation. Since the demise of invasionist explanations, however,
warfare has faded dramatically from archaeological accounts of the past,
creating what Keeley (1996) has dubbed a 'pacified past', where violence
and aggression were eerily, and rather unconvincingly, absent.
A host of recent publications have begun to re-establish the importance of warfare and aggression in prehistoric societies (e.g. Keeley 1996, Carman 1997, Carman and Harding 1999, Osgood and Monks 2000), although there are wide differences in opinion over the scale, nature and ubiquity of pre- state conflict. Keeley's work, in particular, excites considerable debate, and it is a pity that it has not yet been subject to thorough discussion in print. The conference, organised by Mike Parker Pearson and Ash Lenton, was thus a useful chance to air some of the key issues that have emerged over the last few years.
The conference began with a useful scene-setting presentation by Robert Layton on the various attempts to explain warfare from an evolutionary psychological perspective. Layton concludes that warfare was an emergent, rather than innate factor in human societies, thus its occurrence has to be seen as dependent on particular sets of circumstances. Pia Nystrom followed with an examination of aggression in non-human primates which highlighted some of the complexities which underlie popular accounts of 'chimp warfare'.
John and Patricia Carman followed with a review of archaeological and anthropological approaches to the study of warfare, including some of the results from their ongoing 'Bloody Meadows' project, which focuses on documented battles. They presented an interesting case study on the Battle of Kadesh, where a Hittite army was routed by the Egyptians under Ramesses II, although both sides seemed to have bumbled around in a rather inefficient way. The aim was to show the formal, even ritualised, aspects of ancient battles, which contrast with the cold, rational analysis of conventional military historians. The point is an important one, although Kadesh was perhaps not the best illustration, reliant as it was on size estimates for the Hittite army provided by none other than the victorious Ramesses.
Next came Chris Knüsel with an analysis of the well-publicised mass grave from the Battle of Towton (not exactly pre- or protohistoric, but with a site this good, who cares?). This was followed by Nick Thorpe on Mesolithic warfare, highlighting the wide geographical and chronological range of generally unambiguous evidence for organised aggression in prehistory. Roger Mercer then presented a careful consideration of the criteria available for the identification of warfare in prehistory, showing how these are all present in the British Neolithic. Indeed it is increasingly striking that the evidence for Neolithic warfare now tends to outweigh that for the Iron Age in Britain.
Regional studies by Harry Fokkens and David Fontijn dealt usefully with the north European Bronze Age, while a comparable study of the Slovakian and Moravian Nitra culture was provided by Andreas Hårde. A detailed presentation of the Dutch MBA Wassenaar multiple burial by Leendert Louwe Kooijmans highlighted the way in which one-off finds can occasionally shatter our pre-conceptions; in this case of an apparently peaceful and largely undifferentiated society. This paper raised one of the few points of active disagreement when Chris Knüsel suggested that the disposition of some of the dead appeared to result from natural post-mortem processes rather than the careful arrangement of the bodies suggested by the excavator.
Further emphasis on the potential impact of individual sites came from Richard Osgood, who opened Day 2 with an account of his re-excavation at Tormarton in south Gloucestershire (as aired on a recent Meet the Ancestors). The skeletal remains with embedded bronze spear-points, well-known since the late 1960s, can now perhaps be set in the context of a LBA boundary dispute which got rather out of hand (although, as Mike Parker Pearson suggested, the apparent disarticulation of some of the body parts from the recent excavations may be hard to reconcile with the single episode of aggression, death and deposition favoured by Osgood).
Sue Bridgford's analysis of British and Irish LBA weaponry stressed the extent to which our understanding is limited by variable patterns of deposition. Bridgford believes that more or less every male in the period may have possessed a sword although only rarely will such items find their way into recoverable contexts. Melanie Giles' presentation on the Iron Age square-barrow cemeteries of East Yorkshire again highlighted the male associations of 'warrior' paraphernalia, setting these in opposition to an equally structured set of material associations associated with female burials.
A particularly notable feature of the conference was the strong representation of Iberia, where there has been much recent emphasis on the study of prehistoric and protohistoric warfare. Papers by Jose Freire and Eduardo Sanchez-Moreno explored aspects of Iron Age warfare in western Iberia, highlighting the wealth of evidence for protohistoric violence in that region.
Only two papers focussed explicitly on slavery. Miranda Green provided an overview of issues relating to the inter-linking concepts of slavery, ritual bondage and sacrifice during the later Iron Age of Europe. This was a useful counterpoint to the overall concentration on larger-scale warfare. Timothy Taylor concluded the conference with a thought-provoking paper stressing the sheer scale of slavery in prehistory (or at least its potential scale) and the implications that this must have for all aspects of our understanding of the period. His concluding piece on the well-known Viking-Rus sacrifice of a young servant girl at her master's ostentatious funeral provided an apt reminder of the appalling individual reality behind the often rather anonymous archaeological evidence for prehistoric violence.
Several of the papers here, and much of the recent literature on the subject, have been concerned with establishing the extent of warfare and slavery at various times and places in pre- and protohistory. A very clear case has now been made that these aspects of the human past have been drastically underplayed by the last couple of generations of archaeologists. Perhaps the next step will be to assess the ways in which the reality or threat of physical violence impinged on wider processes of social change, and on the lives of individuals within past societies.
Overall, this was an extremely well-organised conference with a balanced and engaging programme. The published proceedings should be well worth the attention of anyone with an interest in prehistoric warfare and associated themes.
As PAST goes to press the epidemic is still raging with devastating consequences.
involved in fieldwork of any description have escaped the knock-on effect
of the Foot and Mouth outbreak. Contracts have been put on hold, dissertations
redirected, incomes radically cut.
Heaven and Hell and Other Worlds of the Dead, compiled and edited by Alison Sheridan. Edinburgh. National Museums of Scotland. ISBN 1-901663-41-8. Paperback, 168 pages, 126 illustrations.
This volume from
the National Museums of Scotland is a journey through the plethora of
views of mortality, death and the afterlife from around the world, both
past and present. Large colour photographs on almost every other page
place the emphasis firmly on the material culture associated with various
beliefs and practices, with commentary from 49 experts on or practitioners
of these faiths, cults and religions showing that these items, far from
being simply "museum-pieces", played and continue to play
a vital role in the ways in which people come to terms with their own
mortality and the mortality of others. Some periods in prehistory are
dominated by funerary remains so this book, accompanying an exhibition,
is a useful addition to the literature.
PAST is happy to publicise conferences on this page. Please send details to the editor following the format below. If you want to use a PAST mailing to send out flyers please contact the editor for a quote.
Iron Age Research Student Seminar: 2.6.2001- 3.6.2001
Abstracts of approx. 500 words should be sent to
or emailed by 31st March 2001.
Engendering the Landscape (6th Women in Archaeology Conference),
Sea Change: Orkney and Northern Europe in the Late Iron Age, Kirkwall:
TAG 2001 (Theoretical Archaeology Group): 13.12.01-15.12.01
|The Prehistoric Society Home Page|