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Bob Bewley reports on a marvellous Prehistoric Society conference held in Exeter in honour of John Coles, April 4 -6 1997.

For those who know John Coles as a prehistorian of international standing, stalwart of the Society as a former Editor and President, friend and all round good bloke, the conference in Exeter was always going to be a good experience. In the end it turned out to be one of the best archaeological gatherings for many years; relaxed and yet the standard of the speakers and discussion was excellent. Everyone was positive and they were there to celebrate John's 65th birthday, and, I suppose, although no-one dare mention it, his retirement. John, retire? Some chance!
     Anthony Harding must be thanked for having the idea for the conference (or was it Bryony's idea?) and arranging the programme of speakers. The title 'From Somerset to Simris' gave a hint to the length and breadth of John's career so far. Bryony Coles, Tessa Machling, Sue Rouillard and a host of other helpers are also owed a huge dept of gratitude for their work in making the conference run so smoothly.

John Coles (in that tie!) in after-dinner made at Exeter, surrounded by happy prehistorians
John Coles (in that tie!) in after-dinner made at Exeter, surrounded by happy prehistorians

     For me the theme of experimental archaeology which has run through John's career also ran through the papers and the slides; if we saw the picture of a very young Coles wielding a sword once we saw it a thousand times. The message, though, seemed to sum up so much of John's approach to archaeology and life - don't sit around talking about it, get on and do it. Another theme was research; every session chairman or speaker on the first day had either been on a viva panel with John, or across the table from him. The reminiscences were not too revealing, although Bryony's mini-skirt, in her viva, was!
     The sessions and papers will, it is hoped, be published so I will not summarise them. They included the Scottish Bronze Age, museum research, wetland archaeology, art, experimental archaeology - boats, tar and music. Probably the lasting memory will be the 'presentation', more performance, by Graeme Lawson, blowing down bits of sheep or swan bone with holes in and stunning the audience with his musical abilities. It was in this performance that the palaeolithic received its only mention (Graeme had two replica palaeolithic pipes which were the cave dwellers' ghetto blaster); it was very unfortunate that Jean Clottes could not attend as originally planned.

     The after dinner speech will not, however be published (I assume) and I doubt if even colour photographs of John's green shirt and yellow and green tie (as formal dinner gear) will ever portray this combination as glaringly bright as it was (see photo). Symbols and drawings played an important part during the conference, not least the exhibition of Peter Jackson's paintings (another PhD student who saw the light and now paints). Everywhere we looked there were symbols, from rock carvings of people with oversized tennis rackets to others doing things to horses/donkeys which would be in the 'over 18 category' for the prehistoric censor. Perhaps the most important symbolic event was the point at which John, during his after dinner speech was calling for a sword with which to sweep away people who didn't publish (or something similar). There was a slight pause as two large and burly Polish friends (Wojciech and Wieslaw) stood up and ceremoniously moved across the floor brandishing a replica Bronze Age sword and leather sheath. The sword is a brass replica and for the rest of the conference everyone became even more friendly towards John, as this lethal weapon never left his side.

The receiving of the sword
The receiving of the sword

     Ireland has always been a love of John's and the paper by Barry Raferty was a masterpiece of sensitivity with the past as well as presentation of the work of the wetland unit and the numerous wooden trackways. Geoff Wainwright (chairing the session) awarded it the 'Roger Mercer Award' for the worst joke at any Prehistoric Society conference (ever). When describing one particularly large construction of wooden trackway in Ireland, Barry said it was 'truly a colossus of roads'.
     So it seems appropriate to end with a limerick, especially as John has embarrassed me so often in the pages of PAST.

A multi-talented Professor John Coles,
Respected twixt North and South poles,
After an experimental start,
Through palaeo to rock art,
Became world expert on wet holes!


(Note from Editor: this doesn't even scan, Bob! Can any Society member do better?)


I should introduce myself as the new editor of PAST, and outline some of my hopes and ideas for the newsletter. I am a prehistorian, and joined the Prehistoric Society when I was an undergradaute student in Edinburgh, where I did my MA (Hons) in Archaeology with Stuart Piggott (and yes, John Coles took my viva as well - see Bob Bewley's comments on the Exeter conference!). I did my D.Phil at Oxford with Christopher Hawkes. Since 1995 I have been a Lecturer in Archaeology in the Department of Adult Continuing Education in the University of Southampton, where I am the Course Director for Archaeology Local and Regional Studies, Classics and Music. I am the co-owner and developer of the Archaeological Resource Guide for Europe, which is the Virtual Library for European Archaeology on the World Wide Web.
     I see PAST as a very important element in the Society's activities: it can bring news of new work and discoveries quickly to members, and acts as a medium of communication as well as an attractive means of increasing interest in the Society. I hope that we will be lively enough to persuade students and others to join the Society in greater numbers. The student subscription continues to be excellent value and I would like to think that it will become as automatic to join the Society as it was when I was a student. To this end, we hope to start the Society's Web page this year, and to put PAST on-line, where it will draw in new virtual visitors who will then become aware of all that the Society has to offer.
     My intention is to include 'breaking news' of prehistory by soliciting articles from archaeologists engaged in important projects across Britain and the rest of the world, and the pieces about the Shannon Estuary, Schöningen and the early domestication of squash in Mexico are the immediate results of this policly. Please keep sending your contributions, along with photos and illustrations; we would like PAST to be the obvious place for prehistorians to bring their new work to the attention of others.

Nicholas Thomas writes with reference to the photo on the back of the last issue of PAST said to be of Stuart Piggott with a mechanical digger at Holdenhurst. We quote:

" This does not show Stuart Piggott! It shows dear old George Willmot, always, I thought, a sadly forgotten but immensely clever prehistorian. I had wondered at first, whether it showed J. B. Calkin. But no. Then, could it be Keiller himself? No: the parting to the hair is on the wrong side, and much too smooth for Alex Keiller. But of course anyone who knew George would recognise it immediately as a young him. Typical, I feel, that he is on site in a collar and tie! Just to check - but no need really - I looked up PPS III. Obligingly (and how nice) Stuart there lists his helpers at Holdenhurst, and G. Willmot occurs in it. QED!"


     Richard Burleigh would like to dispose of his set of the early volumes of PPS, complete from 1935-1984 (Vols 1-50) except for part 2 of Vol. VI (1940), and in almost mint condition. If any member would like to purchase the set, the price would be £300 (£275 to anyone willing to call and collect), which compares well with current prices listed in the Proceedings, and of course includes the 10 volumes (minus one part) which are no longer available. Please contact him at The Old George, The Square, Broadwindsor, Beaminster, Dorset DT8 2QD, tel. 01308 868966

Jill Cooke, Head of the Quaternary Section at the British Museum, gives us some background on the new permanent later prehistoric and Romano-British exhibitions. Members will see from their Winter Programme that there will be a special visit on 29 October

     From 15 July, the public will be able to see the new permanent exhibition of later Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano-British antiquities curated by the British Museum. Generously supported by the Garfield Weston foundation and Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund, a splendid array of objects has been removed from previously cramped quarters into the grandeur of the newly restored suite of mid-nineteenth century galleries designed by Smirke. Here the displays will reflect the dynamism of current intellectual debate in a manner which would not drift out of date over the next two or three decades when the exhibits will be seen by millions of visitors from all over the world.
     The new galleries will be a theme park of real antiquities mixing the exquisite with the ordinary, and familiar objects with many less well known artefacts not previously seen on permanent display. The subtle mechanisms of ritual and exchange in the Bronze Age will be suggested through aspects of its material culture, and visitors will be able to see how Celtic Europe merges almost imperceptibly into the Roman world. Some of the evidence for the very beginnings of British history will be seen against its wider European protohistoric background. However; plans for the galleries and the Department of Prehistoric and Romano-British Antiquities do not stop here.
     Once the new galleries are open the department must move out of its present offices to allow work to start on the Great Court scheme which will transform the area surrounding the circular Reading Room at the centre of the complex into usable museum space. By the end of 1999, the Department of Prehistoric and Romano-British Antiquities will he re-united under one roof in the Museum's new study centre on New Oxford Street. This centre will offer much improved opportunities for greater public access to the reserves and, from this base, we will start to work on the next phase of our galleries covering our rich holdings from the Palaeolithic to the Early Bronze Age. Our goal is a 100 metre suite of rooms dedicated to prehistory and the Romanisation of Britain.
     We hope you will support us by coming to see the first stage of our project this year. We also look forward to showing you round at your reception on 29 October.

Jan Harding (University of Newcastle) reportson a remarkable complex of Neolithic henges and other monuments under current investigation in Yorkshire

     On the western edge of the Vale of York is the remarkable Neolithic monument complex of Thornborough. Sited on a gravel plateau which flanks the River Ure are a row of three equally spaced henge monuments. Such a concentration is clearly unusual and the large size of each site also sets them apart from most later Neolithic henges. There are, however, two fundamental problems with our understanding of the Thornborough comlex, and in 1994 a research project was established to address these concerns. The first problem is the chronology of the three henges and other nearby monuments. There is no artefactual evidence or radiocarbon dates fot these sites, and a targeted programme of excavation was therefore initiated to establish a sequence for the complex. The second major limitation concerns contemporary patterns of settlement in and around the complex, and accordingly a programme of intensive surface collection was began across the Thomborough landscape.

A plan of the excavation trench at the outer ditch of the southern henge monument
A plan of the excavation trench at the outer ditch of the southern henge monument
     Earlier excavations in the 1950s had established the existence of a cursus monument at Thomborough. A part of the site had actually been built upon by the later central henge. It is therefore likely that the complex could be traced back to the earlier Neolithic. Yet, it was curious that unlike cursuses elsewhere there were no other nearby contemporary monuments. This was to change with the discovery, on an aerial photograph, of an ovate-shaped enclosure at the eastern end of the cursus. The cropmark was only 19m by 16m in size but closely resembled the 'long mortuary enclosures' which are such a characteristic feature of river gravel complexes from across much of lowland England. The existence of the enclosure was confirmed by the subsequent excavation of a 2.1-2.5m wide ditch with a maximum depth of 0.7m. The remains of an inner bank appear to illustrate that this was an open monument and not a levelled long barrow. Unfortunately, the chronology of the enclosure is ambiguous, but its appearance and close spatial association with the cursus certainly suggests an earlier Neolithic date.
     This modest monument complex was supplanted by the construction of the three massive henges. The transformation seems the more impressive because it has always been assumed that these sites were the product of one major phase of building. But the recent excavation of the interrupted outer ditch at the southern henge suggests that their construction may have been both more gradual and complex. It produced evidence for three distinct phases of construction. The first of these consisted of the digging of a shallow quarry ditch and the erection of an external bank of simple dump construction. The ditch may have been a little over 2.5m wide, while it survived to a maximum depth of 0.6m. The bank had a width of at least 2.4m. The next phase dates to when the ditch was more or less fully silted but the bank was still extant. A second and very much narrower ditch was dug which appears to have cut into the original feature. The spoil was used to extend the existing bank and effectively close-off part of the associated causeway. The upstanding earthwork was again remodelled during a third phase of construction. Shortly after the extension of the bank a narrow and steep-sided slot trench was dug into its inner side. It is evident that a number of small posts were erected within the slot, yet the feature appears both too shallow and narrow for the bedding-trench of a palisade. Rather, it is more likely that it held some form of wattle fence. It respects the original causeway which was also marked at this time by five small single uprights.
     The complexity of the monument sequence is further illustrated by the double pit alignment sited alongside the southern henge. It is assumed that this must post-date the construction of the henges since the northern end of the alignment respects the shared axis of these monuments. A round barrow is also closely associated with each of the terminals, and the excavation of one of these burial mounds in 1864 produced a primary inhumation with what appears to have been a Bronze Age Food Vessel. However, recent work undertaken at the double pit alignment suggests that its construction may actually be earlier than the two round barrows. The excavation revealed oval pits which were about 2.3m across and 0.9m deep. In the fill of one of these features was a freshly snapped leaf-shaped arrowhead which dates to the latter part of the early Neolithic. It appears that each pit originally held a timber upright, but that these had been extracted before they rotted. Their removal was associated with shallow recuts in the tops of the pits, and at the bottom of one of these had been placed 6 flakes reminiscent of industries associated with some styles of Grooved Ware and Beaker pottery.
     The establishment of this impressive monument complex during the later Neolithic was to strikingly affect wider patterns of activity across the surrounding landscape. The programme of fieldwalking has identified extremely low and evenly spread numbers of earlier Neolithic flint. The distribution of the more numerous later Neolithic and early Bronze Age material, by contrast, tends to be densely clustered in areas more distant from the henge monuments. As much as 86% of the lithic assemblage is over 600m from the complex, while only 14% is any nearer to these monuments. The evidence from fieldwalking may therefore indicate a striking contrast between the immediate vicinity of the monument complex, which social tradition effectively kept relatively clean of material culture, and those more distant areas from which the majority of the total lithic assemblage has been collected. However, these concentrations generally contain low numbers of tools and cores: rather, the majority of the collected flint is debitage, indicating that the scatters arc likely to be the product of repeated short-term occupancy and not permanent settlement. While the research programme has provided evidence about the sequence of monument construction and settlement across the surrounding landscape, there remains much to do. Future fieldwork will include additional excavation at the central and southern henges, while the programme of surface collection will also continue.

Aidan O'Sullivan of The Discovery Programme, Dublin, Ireland, brings us news of exciting discoveries of Mesolithic to Bronze Age date found in intertidal deposits on the estuary of Ireland's great river

     Between 1992 and 1995, the North Munster Project, a regional landscape archaeological research project within The Discovery Programme, carried out four brief seasons of intertidal archaeological surveys on the Shannon estuary foreshore. The archaeology ranges widely in date and form, but amongst the most exciting discoveries are a potential Mesolithic dug-out canoe, a Mesolithic/Neolithic transition wetland occupation site, Neolithic finds in submerged forests, Bronze Age huts, wooden platforms and trackways and a series of well-preserved Medieval fishtraps dating to between 450 AD and c.1350 AD. Three individual sites will be described here.

Early prehistoric reed basket in clay at Carrigdirty Rock, Co. Limerick
Early prehistoric reed basket in clay at Carrigdirty Rock, Co. Limerick
Mesolithic/Neolithic wetland occupation site
     The Carrigdirty Rock foreshore is producing the debris of a potential early prehistoric wetlands occupation site from a band of organic-rich clays which seem to have been located in a predominantly freshwater environment. Finds include a large fragment of reed basketry dated to 4880±50 BP (3780-3531 cal. BC, Beta-102087), a human skull fragment dated to 4730±60 BP (3673-3360 cal. BC, Beta 102086), struck chert flakes, hammerstones, pig, swan and cattle bone, charcoal and broken hazelnut shells. A few pieces of chopped and charred hazel roundwood have also been recovered their worked ends clearly showing the use of stone axes. The site could either be evidence for 'Mesolithic' forager-fishers active on the marshes or a pioneer Neolithic farming group who were combining a foraging economy with mixed agricultural practices on the adjacent dryland hills.

Bronze Age marshland huts
     Bronze Age sites are also known from the Carrigdirty Rock foreshore. A small oval wooden structure measuring approximately 4.70m by 3.SOm defined by spaced roundwood stakes and posts has been recorded in peats and dated to 3330±25 BP (1687-1527 cal. BC, GrN-20976). A single piece of immature calf-bone was recovered within the group of posts. A second structure to the west is represented by a similar cluster of vertical wooden posts and cattle bone. A shallow, oval pit, 80cm x 50cm, was located in the peats packed with disarticulated red deer bone and pink footed goose bone. Large (up to 5m in length) cleft oak planks have also been found on the peat shelf. Planks of this size in Bronze Age coastal wetlands have typically been found to be associated with plank-boat construction.
     The Carrigdirty Rock Middle Bronze Age structures could be interpreted as the remains of small wood and reed huts for herders tending grazing cattle on the summer marshes in the manner of early medieval Irish 'booleying'. The calf bone may be important in this regard, as historically calves were born in spring. The presence of a young calf on the marshes would therefore place the Carrigdirty Rock occupation activities in the summer or early autumn.

Bronze Age trackway
     A Late Bronze Age trackway dated to 2540±20 BP (Cal. 799-602 BC, GrN-20974) is situated on the mudflats of the upper Fergus Estuary, at Islandmagrath, Co. Clare. Woven hurdle panels were laid between two parallel rows (2m apart) of posts which also had wattle rods woven between them. The structure measures at least thirty-five metres in length, disappearing inland into the clays of the upper foreshore. A single find from this site was a length of twisted withy tie or rope. It may have been a trackway between two former islands in the coastal marshlands. The construction of trackways leading out to isolated islands in bogs and marshes is especially common in Late Bronze Age, indicating an interest in such marginal locations at a time of increased population and pressure on agricultural land.
     These and other discoveries from the Shannon estuary are currently being written up as a publication in The Discovery Programme monograph series. Further information is available on our website at

Dr Hartmut Thieme brings us up-to-date news of the remarkable discoveries at this Lower Palaeolithic site, which now include 7 wooden spears as well as flint artefacts, thousands of animal bones and evidence for hearths.

     Our knowledge of the organic component of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic technologies is extremely limited, and this applies especially to wooden tools. In Europe, only two well preserved examples from this period are known: the lance tip from Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, UK, discovered in 1911, and a lance from Lehringen, Lower Saxony, Germany, excavated in 1948, both made of yew (Taxus). These two examples have been dated to the Middle Pleistocene Holsteinian warm stage and the Late Pleistocene Eemian warm stage, respectively. This paucity of material highlights the importance of the Lower Palaeolithic sites, excavated since 1992, in the brown coal mine at Schöningen, near Helmstedt. These sites yielded finds of diverse wooden implements, in a state of exceptional preservation. Three wooden spears found in 1995, in association with stone artefacts and butchered remains of more than ten horses, provide new insights into the development and culture of early hominids about 400,000 years ago.

Schöningen 13 II-4 (Autumn 1995). View of spear II, more than 2.30m long, between butchered horse remains, with a horse skull to the right of the spear. The tip of the spear is in the foreground, the base has been broken off. On the left: archaeologist Dr. H. Thieme
Schöningen 13 II-4 (Autumn 1995). View of spear II, more than 2.30m long, between butchered horse remains, with a horse skull to the right of the spear. The tip of the spear is in the foreground, the base has been broken off. On the left: archaeologist Dr. H. Thieme
     Since 1983 the Institut für Denkmalpflege, Hannover, has led long-term archaeological excavations under the direction of the author in the area of the Schöningen brown-coal mine, situated about 100 km east of Hannover; in the northern foreland of the Harz mountains. An area in excess of 350,000 m2 has been excavated in the c. 6 km2 of the mine complex, mainly with sites from the Neolithic to Iron Age.
     The oldest Pleistocene deposits exposed in the mine are the sediments of the Elstcr Glaciation, above which a series of six major erosional channels have been identified, with an age range from the Holsteinian to the Holocene (Schöningen 1-VI). Channels I-Ill, which contain limnic sediments, date to the period between the Elster and Saale glacial sensu stricto and cover three full interglacial/glacial cycles.
     Since 1992, several Lower Palacolithic sites have been discovered in Middle Pleistocene interglacial sediments, from 8-15 m below the present ground surface. The oldest evidence of human occupation, discovered in 1994, dates to the earliest part of the Holsteinian complex (Schöningen I); it comprises flint tools, flakes and numerous burnt flints together with faunal remains of steppe elephant (Mammuthus trogontheni), bovids, horse and red deer (Schöningen 13 I).
     The Schöningen II channel is filled by sediments of the new discovered Reinsdorf-Interglacial and the ensuing Fuhne cold stage, containing five levels of organic muds and peats (1-5). Level 1 probably represents both the early and interglacial maxima of the Reinsdorf. Correlations of the Schöningen sequence to other areas suggest that the Reinsdorf was deposited during the forth last interglacial (OIS 11).
     Level 1, excavated in 1992, contained flint artefacts and three worked branches of the common silver fir Abies alba. The wooden tools (length 17-32 cm) have a diagonal groove cut into one end, probably for holding flint tools or flakes. If this supposition is correct, these implements represent the oldest composite tools in the world. More than one thousand large mammal bones have been found: straight tusked elephant Palaeoloxodon antiquus, rhinoceros Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis, red deer Cervus elaphus, Ursus sp. and Equus sp. There are also numerous small mammals: Arvicola terrestris cantiana - Trogontherium cuvieri association (Schöningen 12, find layer 1). Analysis of the Arvicola molars from Schöningen II, Level 1 (the Reinsdorf Interglacial) suggests a correlation with the Homo erectus site of Bilzingsleben (Thuringia).
     Level 4 of the Schöningen II channel (Reinsdorf-I.), excavated since autumn 1994, shows a boreal, cool-temperate climate with a mix of meadows and forest steppes. The excavation yielded more than 15,000 well preserved faunal remains, mainly horse, from an area of 2,000 m2 in June 1997 (Schöningen 13 11-4). The assemblage of flint artefacts includes some points, carefully retouched scrapers and hundreds of spalls. Some hearths were discovered. Wooden tools from Level 4 comprise an implement of indeterminate function (a throwing stick?), with both ends sharpened to a point (length 0.78 m) and three spears (length 1.82 m; 2.25 m; >2.30 m). They are all made from spruce Picea sp. and from individual trees, which were felled, debranched and debarked. The tip/distal ends are worked from the base of the tree. All three spears were manufactured with the maximum thickness and weight situated at the front end of the spear and resemble modern javelins. In 1996 parts of a fourth spear and in the first half of 1997 three other spears were excavated in Schöningen, with lengths up to 2.60 m.
     With an age of about 400,000 years, these finds constitute the world's oldest wooden throwing spears - so far the oldest complete hunting weapons of humankind. Found in association with stone tools and butchered remains of more than 15 horses, the seven spears (June 1997) strongly suggest that systematic hunting, involving foresight, planning and appropriate technology, was a part of the behavioural repertoire of pre-modern hominids. The use of sophisticated spears at these remote times necessitates rewriting of many current theories on early human behaviour and culture.

Harimur Thierne
Niedersächsisches Landesverwaltungsamt,
Institut für Denkmalpflege,
Scharnhorststraße 1,
30175 Hannover,

Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, reports on important new evidence for early agriculture in the Americas

     Recent reanalysis and direct AMS dating of remarkably well-preserved squash seeds and other plant parts that were excavated from Guilá Naquitz cave in Oaxaca, Mexico more than 30 years ago, has pushed back the age of initial plant domestication in the Americas to 10,000 cal. BP These findings, reported in the May 9th issue of the journal Science (Smith 1997) show that the transition to an agricultural way of life began at about the same time in Mexico as it did in the Near East, and counter recent indications that this major turning point in human history took place more recently in the Americas than in the Old World.
     All of the early evidence for initial domestication of corn, beans, squash and other plants in Mesoamerica comes from a series of five dry caves excavated in the 1950s and 1960s: Romero's and Valenzula's caves near Ocampo, Tamaulipas, Coxcatlán and San Marcos caves in Tehuacán, and Guilá Naquitz cave in Oaxaca. When first excavated, estimates were that the three major crop plants: corn, beans and squash, had been domesticated between about 9,000 and 7,000 years ago. These early age estimates, however, were based on conventional large-sample radiocarbon dates of associated charcoal, rather than on dating of the early domesticated plants themselves, since it would have been necessary to destroy the important specimens in order to determine their age.
     By the 1980s, however, accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) radiocarbon dating was being employed successfully in archaeology to date directly small samples of the early domesticated plant specimens, and initial results were surprising. When Bruce Benz, Austin Long, and their colleagues directly dated the earliest known maize in the Americas, from Coxcatlán and San Marcos caves in Tehuacán, it turned out to be at most only 4,700 years old, rather then 7,000 as originally proposed. Similarly, a broadscale redating by the AMS method of early domesticated bean specimens from sites throughout the Americas, carried out by Lawrence Kaplan, produced dates even more recent than those obtained for the Tehuacán maize. In addition, when early bottle gourd and squash specimens from the Ocampo caves were recently redated by the AMS method they turned out to be only about 5,500 years old, rather than 9,000 as originally proposed. These more recent AMS dates on early domesticated plants from four of these five caves led a number of researchers to conclude that plant domestication and the development of agriculture had occurred far more recently in Mesoamerica than previously thought, and that it lagged far behind the Near East and China.
     The last of the Mexican caves to be reanalysed using the new AMS dating technique, however, told a different story. When excavated in 1966 by Smithsonian Institution archaeologist Kent Flannery (now at the University of Michigan), the lower levels of Guilá Naquitz ("White Cliff") cave in Oaxaca, Mexico, had yielded abundant evidence of human occupation as early as about 9,000 years ago, including squash seeds, rind fragments, and peduncles (fruit stems). Many of these squash remains were from wild plants, based on their small size, but some larger specimens were identified as being from a domesticated species (Cucurbita pepo, the group that includes modern pumpkins). The actual age and domesticated status of these possibly early domesticated squash specimens from Guilá Naquitz cave, however, has remained in doubt for more than three decades. Some archaeologists suggested that the domesticated squash specimens were not that old, having filtered down from overlying later layers of occupation in the cave, a suspicion that seemed to be supported by the AMS dates on supposedly early corn, beans, squash and bottle gourd from other caves. Other researchers argued that it was not clear, based on the original reports, whether the Guilá Naquitz specimens were from wild or domesticated plants.

     In an effort to resolve these issues, I restudied the Guilá Naquitz collections, currently curated at the Instituto Nacional de Anthropologia e Historia (INAH) in Mexico City, and was able not only to identify clearly domesticated squash specimens, but also to document a sequence of morphological changes that trace different stages in the initial domestication of this plant species. When people begin to deliberately plant seeds for the first time in prepared garden beds, for example, they establish a new set of rules for survival and success that plants automatically respond to. One such seed-bed selective pressure favours plants that produce larger seeds, since young plants that have a larger start-up food reserve (ie larger seed) can literally shade out their competitors, and are more likely to survive to be harvested and thus contribute to next year's seed stock. Direct AMS dates on Guilá Naquitz squash seeds show that such an increase in seed size associated with deliberate human planting had occurred by 10,000 cal. BP. These early large-seeded domesticated squashes, however; remained very similar to wild squashes in most other respects: they had small stems, thin walls, and were about the size and shape of a baseball. By 8,000 cal. BR however, a number of other changes had occurred in the Guilá Naquitz squash, showing that humans were by then deliberately selecting for a number of new characteristics: squashes were larger and thicker-walled, with larger stems, and their shape had significantly changed, having a distinctive zucchini-like neck, which apparently expanded into a larger globular shape. In addition, one of the remarkably preserved 8,000 year old squash fragments retains an orange pumpkin-like colour; far different from the white to white and orange striped colour of modern wild species of squash.
     This discovery firmly answers one long-debated question by clearly confirming that plants were first domesticated in Mesoamerica by about 10,000 years ago. At the same time, however; it opens up a wide range of new questions, and highlights agricultural origins as a broad and promising arena for future archaeological and biological inquiry.

A squash seed from zone C of Guilá Naquitz 13.8 mm in length that exhibits marginal ridge and hair morphology diagnostic of C. pepo which yielded an AMS 14C date of 8910a 50 BP
A squash seed from zone C of Guilá Naquitz 13.8 mm in length that exhibits marginal ridge and hair morphology diagnostic of C. pepo which yielded an AMS 14C date of 8910a 50 BP


Clive Buckingham reports on the Prehistoric Society's research weekend at Urchfont, 9-11 May 1997

     A total of 44 participants attended this weekend course, held at Urchfont Manor; near Marden in Wiltshire. The event was co-ordinated by Dr Bob Bewley, Head of the Air Photography Unit at the NMR, and Secretary of the Prehistoric Society, who assembled an impressive team of speakers to deal with different aspects of prehistoric sites in the Avebury area, illustrated with slides and site visits.
     On the Friday evening, Roy Canham (Wiltshire Co. Council), explained the extent and contents of the Wiltshire's Sites and Monuments Record, and the significance of the World Heritage Site status which covers 22.5 sq km surrounding Avebury.
     The programme for the Saturday was substantial. Dave Field (RCHME) spoke on the Neolithic and Bronze Age in the Avebury area, showing the use made of the whole landscape, including the valleys such as the Vale of Pewsey, which would have been productive and passable, not impenetrable forest as described in some accounts. Josh Pollard (Newcastle University) presented recent research on the early Neolithic. enclosure at Windmill Hill. Of particular interest was the focus on the deposits found in the three concentric circuits of ditches, which all appear to be deliberate; analysis of the finds show patterns suggestive of a system of beliefs or symbolism of the people who used it.
     Andrew David (English Heritage) explained how soil resistivity survey techniques have brought to light previously unknown features at Avebury and Durrington Walls, and produced valuable results in attempting to trace the stone-holes in unexcavated lengths of the West Kennet Avenue leading to the Sanctuary (still no signs of the supposed Beckhampton Avenue). More intensive work involving Caesium magnetometer surveying will be carried out soon inside Avehury. Gary Lock (Oxford University) presented aspects of life on the Ridgeway, with examples of his work on the later prehistoric and Romano-British period at several of the hill-forts in Wiltshire and to the east.
     Two speakers then concentrated on the World Heritage Site status of Avebury. Duncan Coe (Wiltshire Co. Council) spoke about the practical difficulties encountered when trying to balance conservation of the heritage with the needs of the local community. At the planning level, the World Heritage Site status does not in itself create any extra statutory planning controls, but it certainly concentrates the minds of the planning authorities on the importance of conservation of the archaeological record; applications to build hotels and other major developments within the area of the Site have often been refused, citing World Heritage Site status as a reason. On non-planning issues, good examples of co-operation were presented: Thames Water agreed to lay the new sewage pipe from Avebury village in the trench of the old one, a more costly but less archaeologically damaging solution. Similarly, Southern Electricity has agreed to use a moling technique rather than trench-digging to avoid disturbance to the Romano-British site at Waden Hill.
     Melanie Pomeroy (Management Plan Officer for the World Heritage Site) spoke about the progress made so far towards a Management Plan, which is due to be finalised next year. Work is being carried out on several levels: visitor surveys to establish the nature and movements of visitors; surveys and consultation with local residents; and discussions with the National Trust and the twelve other landowners within the Site. The actual boundaries of the World Heritage Site itself are also under review. Clare Conybeare and Ros Cleal (joint curators of the Alexander Keiller Museum) then gave an account of the work of Aubrey, Stukeley and others at Avebury, culminating in Keiller's intensive excavation and modelling of the site - "Megalithic landscape gardening" as it was described by Stuart Piggott on leaving Keiller's grand project.
     It was time for the site visit to Avebury itself: Chris Gingell (Property Manager for the National Trust) guided the party round the monument. The stones of the Cove are causing some concern, and are fenced off temporarily while an assessment is made of the likelihood of them falling on a passing visitor, and the best way to stabilise them if they are moving. But the day was not yet over! After dinner Mark Corney (Bristol University) presented recent developments on the Iron Age and Romano-British archaeology of the Avebury area. The Romano-British settlement found to the south and east of Silbury Hill seems to grow in extent with each new project carried out. Pits containing Romano-British artefacts found close to Silbury Hill itself raise the interesting possibility that here, as at certain other sites in Britain, offerings may have been made in Roman times to an already-ancient shrine or holy place.
     On the Sunday, Professor Peter Fowler led site visits to Knap Hill, Overton and Fyfield Down. Complexity of the archaeological record emerged as a main theme; at several locations on these sites early Bronze Age, late Bronze Age, Romano-British and even medieval elements lie in strata which are often thin, hut nevertheless clearly discernible after the rigorous and extensive excavation which had been carried out. One site attracted great interest: the experimental earthwork high on Overton Down. This was dug in 1960, the idea of Richard Atkinson, Peter Fowler and others. The aim is to monitor the natural maturing process of the earthwork; changes are monitored in sections cut at specified chronological intervals. Peter Fowler, one of the original team who set up the project, cut the last section in 1992, 32 years after construction; the next section is due to be cut 64 years after construction …in 2024!
     Having braved biting wind and regular bouts of driving rain on the downs for long enough, the party returned to Urchfont Manor, and the end of a very interesting and informative weekend.

Rick Schulting from Reading University received a grant from the Prehistoric Society to help him attend the SAA conference in Nashville. This is his report.

     The 62nd annual meetings of the Society for American Archaeology were held in Nashville, Tennessee from April 2-6. To be more precise, the meetings were held in the somewhat surreal atmosphere of the Opryland Hotel, some 20 miles from Nashville proper. I can not forbear describing this edifice at least briefly, since to a large extent it did structure one's experience of the conference. Despite being given maps of the hotel upon our arrival, finding our rooms turned out to be quite a chore. The Opryland is a sprawling complex, containing some 2,800 rooms in separate wings that connect on some floors and not others. The wings join in one of two huge, glass-covered biospheres, each with its palm trees, bars, waterfalls (conference goers in the expensive rooms had balconies from which you could feel the spray) and fountains set to music (in one case, annoyingly, to the theme from Star Wars). But the star attraction was the evening show, featuring a performer on a grand piano on a balcony, accompanied by dancing fountains on which a laser light show played. Over the top? Surely not. Pretty tough competition to those of us presenting papers though. The hotel also had some connection to the famous (to country and western fans anyway) Grand Ole Opry, although what exactly this connection was we never did quite figure out.

The Opryland Hotel, in all its decadent antebellum splendour
The Opryland Hotel, in all its decadent antebellum splendour
     The SAA meetings are huge. Some might say unwieldy. The event actually began on March 31-the next week involved an endless series of business meetings, Park Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers meetings (the agencies responsible for most of the archaeology on lands owned by the U.S. government), executive committee meetings, public education committee meetings, workshops, forums, excursions, task force meetings, receptions (for student members and 'Women in Archaeology'-cash bar in both cases), roundtable luncheons, and so on and so forth. Much of this activity is, fortunately, quite invisible to those not directly involved. And then of course there were the sessions -over 120 of them, each with anywhere from five to 14 speakers. Sessions were even held in the evenings on Thursday and Friday. Despite the acceptability of session-hopping and attempts to stick firmly to the programme, it is almost impossible to schedule one's time to see the papers that one is interested in. That being said, the organisers did a good job of trying to match like sessions so that session-hopping was often achieved quite smoothly.
     In terms of American archaeology, the SAAs cover an enormous range of topics, from seminars dealing with the study of fire-cracked-rock to iconographic studies of rock art and Mayan wall murals. There were seminars dedicated to such specialist sub-disciplines as archaeomalacology (the analysis of molluscs from archaeological contexts), phytolith analysis and molecular archaeology. The politics of doing archaeology also received attention, as did programmes relating to increasing public awareness and participation. The dominant theoretical framework in American archaeology is still processualist, or at least a modified form of it, but this statement hardly does justice to the plurality of approaches represented. Sessions with a more theoretical bent included those on agency, gender, political dynamics, ritual and Darwinian theory. Naturally enough, a disproportionate share of sessions will usually relate to the archaeology of the region in which the conference is being held. Thus there were many contributions on the archaeology of the Southeast. Given their rich archaeological record and long history of research, Mesoamerica and the Southwest are invariably well-represented, while other regions, such as the Pacific Northwest, were poorly represented this time around. This can be partly attributed to sheer distance-I am sure an archaeological model could be developed-and no doubt will he redressed next year, when the conference will be held in Seattle. European archaeology was not neglected, and there were sessions devoted to the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age, Classical, Roman and Medieval periods. Thanks to the session organised by Dr Steve Mithen, the Scottish Mesolithic was particularly well-represented!
     In the end it is simply not possible to sit through so many papers. As I go through the list of abstracts for this review I continue to find interesting papers that I never realised were being presented. Even picking and choosing carefully only works for so long, before one is overwhelmed with information overload. As David Anderson and Kevin Smith noted in the SAA Bulletin for March 1997, "remember to pace yourself-meetings of this size and length are a marathon. . ." The poster session format is one that appears to be gaining in popularity and it does at least allow interested individuals to enter into a discussion (the posters are attended by their originators while they are on display), something that is not easily done in the sessions, where typically little or no time is given for discussion. and the speakers themselves as often as not hustle off to another session as soon as they finish.
     One of the reasons for the massive size of the SAAs, other than that there simply are a lot of archaeologists in the United States (plus the relatively few that trickle in from other countries), is that the meetings combine the academic and the contractor or cultural resource management (CRM) communities. In Britain of course these are quite firmly separated into meetings for the Theoretical Archaeology Group and the Institute of Field Archaeologists. While in theory there is much to be said for the American position of combining these two facets of modern archaeology, in practice I suspect that there is actually very little contact between the two groups in any case. The academics attend the academic sessions, and the field archaeologists attend their sessions. Still, the potential for interaction is certainly greater. Might it not be worthwhile mixing things up between TAG and the IFA? Perhaps holding them jointly every few years, or holding a relevant 'TAG' session at the IFA meetings and vice versa?

Dr. Steve Mithen unwinding with a pint at the Bar and Grill
Dr. Steve Mithen unwinding with a pint at the Bar and Grill

A regular column featuring the best of Prehistory on the Web: in each issue of PAST we highlight five of the most interesting places to visit on the World Wide Web, chosen mainly on the grounds of content but also noting innovative and attractive presentation of prehistoric material from around the world. Sonic will come from professional archaeological sources, others from gifted amateurs. In the electronic version of PAST the URLs will be HotLinks.

Late Neolithic Human Remains from the River Trent in Nottinghamshire: From the Trent and Peak Archaeological Trust, a report on the discovery and excavation of Neolithic human remains in a Nottinghamshire quarry, with photos and discussion. A good example of how the Web can be used to relay news of important discoveries.

Ancient Celts Page: Simon James presents a set of pages about the Celts, including both 'conventional' and 'alternative' views of Celtic history and archaeology. He discusses such questions as "Who were the Celts?" and challenges some long-held assumptions. With an annotated bibliography and a range of illustrations.

The Discovery Programme: Ireland's Government-funded programme presents details of current research projects, most of which are focussed on later prehistory, with regularly updated details of results, pictures and maps, and good illustrated sections on the survey, mapping and geophysical techniques employed.

Hunebedden in Nederland: A presentation of all 54 megalithic tombs from Holland, with colour photographs and descriptive text together with pictures of associated pottery types and a distribution map. Introductory pages with English translations, the text of the descriptive guide currently available in Dutch only.

The Fossil Evidence for Human Evolution in China: A fascinating and scholarly presentation, including an illustrated catalogue, a table of all known fossil hominids from China, maps, an interactive timeline and a number of on-line research articles. An excellent example of serious publication on the Web.


IFA Archaeology in Britain 1997: 9.9.97-11.9.97
The eleventh annual conference of the IFA will be held at the University of Manchester. Details from Joint Conference Conveners, c/o The Institute of Field Archaeologists, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, tel/fax 0161 275 2304.

European Association of Archaeologists: 24.9.97- 28.9.97
The third annual meeting of the Association will be held in Ravenna (Italy). Further details from the Meeting Secretariat, Casa Saffi, via S Marchesi, 12 -47100 Forli, Italy, tel +(39) 543 35725, fax +(39) 543 35805

Cadbury Castle: 18.10.97
A day conference at North Cadbury. Village Hall. Speakers include Chris Musson5 John Barrett, Ann Woodward, Peter Leach & David Morgan Evans. Guided tours of the hillfort available. Further details from Pat Ellson, SAHNS, Taunton Castle, Taunton, Somerset, or email Richard Tabor at

Neolithic Studies Group meeting: 10.11.97
The autumn meeting will be held at the British Museum; the subject is cursus monuments. Further details from Prof Tim Darvill, Dept of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University, Fern Barrow, Poole BH12 SBB.

TAG (Theoretical Archaeology Group) Conference: 16.12.97-18.12.97
The 1997 annual TAG conference will be held at Bournemouth University. Further details from TAG '97 Organising Committee, School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University, Fern Barrow, Poole, Dorset BH12 SBB, fax 01202 595478


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