Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Evidence for Time Keeping Among Pre-Neolithic Hunter Gatherers: What I Left Out

The goal of the Time Keeping presentation I gave at the 2014 ESHE conference is to establish a framework of data toward understanding the time keeping methods of Pre-Neolithic people.  Geographically, I focus on Europe, Northern Asia and North America in order to limit the scope.

Not covered in the presentation are solar, lunar and astral alignment sites and artifacts in Africa, most sites in Central and South America, Australia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and India.  I also left out many Neolithic and Bronze Age sites in Europe, Northern Asia and North America.

In terms of the ethnographic record, there is cultural astronomy data on many autochthonous groups in parts of the world that I did not cover.  On every continent, people kept time from an ancient date.

A number of very good books have been written that describe ancient time keeping cultures across the continents. For those interested in exploring archaeoastronomy further, I highly recommend the books, conference proceedings, and summary papers in the list, below.

I'll occasionally refer to some of these references in my blog posts in the coming weeks, in order to place in context the "framework" time keeping cultures mentioned in the presentation.

So, again, my intention isn't to suggest that the only ancient people to keep accurate time were in Europe, Siberia, or North America, but only to limit the scope of the discussion (for now, anyway).

Archaeoastronomy Reading List

Aveni, Anthony, “Archaeoastronomy in the Ancient Americas”, Journal of Archaeological Research, June 2003.

Clarke, P.A., "An overview of Australian Aboriginal ethnoastronomy" in Archaeoastronomy: The Journal of Astronomy in Culture. Vol. 21, pp.39-58. (Link)

Esteban, Cesar, "Archaeoastronomy of North Africa", Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, 2008, pp 180-187. (Link)

Holbrook, Jarita C. (Chairman), "African cultural astronomy : Current Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy rsearch in Africa", Astrophysics and space science proceedings, 2008 (Link)

Kelley, David H., Eugene F. Milone, Exploring Ancient Skies: A Survey of Ancient and Cultural Astronomy, Springer, 2011 (Link)

Penprase, Bryan E., The Power of the Stars: How Celestial Observations Have Shaped Civilization, Springer, 2010 (Link)

Ruggles, Clive (Editor) and Michel Cotte (Editor), Heritage Sites of Astronomy and Archaeoastronomy in the context of the UNESCO World Heritage, August 10, 2012 (Link)

Ruggles, Clive L. N., Ancient Astronomy: An Encyclopedia of Cosmologies and Myth, 2005 (Link)

List of archaeoastronomy sites by country (wiki Link)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Evidence for Time Keeping Among Pre-Neolithic Hunter-Gatherers

Marnie Dunsmore
Conference presentation, ESHE 2014, Florence


This conference presentation synthesizes data from archeology, human ecology and ethnohistory to build a picture of time keeping among hunter-gatherer cultures of pre-Neolithic Northern Europe, Northern Asia and North America. Recent analysis of the pit alignment archeological site at Warren Field, Scotland, dated to 10,000BP, suggests that hunter-gatherers in Scotland were able to correct for the misalignment between lunar months and the solar year [18]. This ability, alignment to solar or stellar events using built structures, has been proposed as a hallmark of the cultural means to measure and maintain accurate time [11]. In North America, analysis of pit houses and stone wheel observatories shows that prior to European contact, hunter-gatherer groups were able to align built structures to the solstices, and to other events in the sky, and calibrate the observable lunar month to the solar year [13][24]. Evidence of counting is another important indicator of the potential to track time. For instance, to count days, and the length of the month, the Blackfoot are recorded to have used knot tying to mark off days from the new moon. Several important artefacts in France, including those found at L’abri Blanchard and at Bruniquel, also suggest that hunter-gatherers could count [18]. Some evidence indicates that hunter-gatherer groups maintained pictographic calendars recorded on various media, including birch bark and animal hide. The naming of months for seasonal hunting and gathering patterns is another indication of the longevity of time keeping: the naming of months in the calendar of Todja reindeer hunters of South Siberia, of the Ojibwe and of the Blackfoot, of Canada, reflect naming according to hunting and gathering patterns as they were practiced. Pictographic-mnemonic systems were also used to communicate information inter-generationally among elite groups. For instance, after eighty years, four independent Blackfoot Winter Counts, a pictographic-mnemonic system, recorded a meteor shower which occurred in 1833 with an accuracy to within two years [3].

Given this data, within this paper, a categorized framework is constructed to document and compare time keeping among different hunter-gatherer cultures. The key categories are: (1) solar alignment using built structures, (2) evidence of counting artefacts and counting customs, (3) use of pictographic calendars, (4) months named according to hunting and gathering functions, and (5) evidence of inter-generational communication using pictographic-mnemonic systems. Archaeological dates, specific cosmology and time symbols, and lithics associated with alignment structures or artefacts are categories that augment the framework. Finally, documentation of game (species, regional extinction dates, and migratory or non-migratory) are noted.

From the official dates available for man-made alignment structures discussed herein, it can be inferred that accurate monthly time keeping, to within several days of the solar year, was well established on the Northern Plains of North America by 5,000BP, and in Northern Europe, by 10,000BP. Using the information presented in this framework, it is possible to compare time keeping practices of these hunter-gatherer groups. The overall picture, in Northern Europe by 10,000BP, and in North America by at least 5,000BP, are of fully developed time aware cultures that could keep accurate time in order to coordinate their hunting and gathering strategies with the seasons.

The Evidence for Time Keeping Among Pre-Neolithic Hunter-Gatherers (Powerpoint Slides)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sioux Worshiping at Red Boulders

“A large boulder and two small ones, bearing some resemblance to a buffalo cow and two calves, painted red by the Indians, and regarded by them with superstitious reverence, near the ‘Coteau des Prairies.’” George Catlin (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Butte de Mort, Sioux Burial Ground, Upper Missouri







1837-1839, George Catlin

Smithsonian American Art Museum (Link)

"In his 1848 Catalogue, Catlin noted that the French called this Sioux burial ground Butte de Mort, or “Hill of Death,” and that the Indians regarded the site “with great dread and superstition. There are several thousand buffalo and human skulls, perfectly bleached and curiously arranged about it.” (Catlin, 1848 Catalogue, Catlin’s Indian Gallery, SAAM online exhibition)"

Kurgans and Solar Alignment Structures in South-East Kazahkstan

This video captures a number of different burial mound formations and solar alignment structures in South-East Kazahkstan. You can see from the video that most of these features have received very poor archaeological attention.

The speaker notes some "early" cairn type structures.

The rock art shown is remarkably similar to that of Ughtasar Mountain in Armenia. Male wild goats are a common subject of this rock art.

Some of the Kazahkstan features are similar to those at Native American sites in the United States, as the speaker describes.

In fact, there is a whole session on one of these mound sites, Cahokia, at the 2015 AAPA Meeting in St. Louis next mouth. Cahokia is thought to not only be a complex of burial mounds, but also a site where people made astronomical observations.

One take away that I have from this video is that these Kazahkstan structures cannot be assumed to occur only at a recent time. Some appear to be very old, yet we don't know how old, because very few of them have been properly dated.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

No Basis for the Assertion that Half of European Ancestry is Derived from the Ponto Caspian Steppe since the Neolithic

As many of you know, I've been following with bemused interest the Grand Invasion of Europe hypothesis that Wolfgang Haak is trying to construct over on this Eurogenes Blog.

The latest is that Wolfgang, AKA "Davidski", has declared that half of European ancestry arrived from the Ponto-Caspian Steppe.

Way down in the comment thread, on February 1, 2015 at 1:22 PM, we finally get some hard references for his assertion: He comments regarding this paper that:

"The authors argue that the Kurgan people most likely came from Europe, and their mtDNA became increasingly Asian as they mixed with Asians."

Wolfgang and his cohorts have tried to use autosomal DNA to "prove" that "Kurgan people" migrated from the Steppe into Europe during the Bronze age on one massive sweeping invasion.

This is what the Keyser et al paper to which "Davidski" refers says:

"Our autosomal, Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA analyses reveal that whereas few specimens seem to be related matrilineally or patrilineally, nearly all subjects belong to haplogroup R1a1-M17 which is thought to mark the eastward migration of the early Indo-Europeans."

Wolfgang doesn't mention it, but the archaeological sites discussed in the Keyser et al paper are in the Altai, about a thousand miles east of the Caspian Sea.

That being said, the idea of an eastward migration from Eastern Europe into areas such as Moldova and the Ukraine is supported by another paper, the Varzari et al paper:

"Our results show that a significant majority of the Moldavian paternal gene pool belongs to eastern/central European and Balkan/eastern Mediterranean Y lineages. Phylogenetic and AMOVA analyses based on Y-STR loci also revealed that Moldavians are close to both eastern/central European and Balkan-Carpathian populations. The data correlate well with historical accounts and geographical location of the region and thus allow to hypothesize that extant Moldavian paternal genetic lineages arose from extensive recent admixture between genetically autochthonous populations of the Balkan-Carpathian zone and neighboring Slavic groups."

Autosomally speaking, groups from Western Russia and the Ukraine can only be discerned from other European populations by very low level admixture components, which appear to be associated with Northeast Asian populations at less than about the 5% level. You can see these low level components in populations such as Mordovinians and Ukrainians. See, for instance, the Rasmussen et al paper discussed in this post. These low level components are the only thing that differentiate, for instance, a Bulgarian from a Mordovinian. Otherwise, autosomally, groups from the Balkans are very similar to groups from eastern/central Europe.

Moreover, groups from eastern/central Europe are very similar, autosomally, to populations from Western Europe such as Orcadians and the French.

Most Western Europeans also have, at very low level (< 1%) some Northeast Asian ancestry.

From the Varzari et al paper, it is also clear that the Balkans and eastern/central Europe show many of the same ydna hg and mtdna hg lineages.

So here's the problem: Wolfgang makes the definitive statement that "Half of our ancestry comes from the Pontic-Caspian steppe". Further, he asserts that this occurred in one massive wave during either the Bronze or Copper age (at this point, I'm not sure which. It keeps changing.)

Given the apparent homogeneity between the Balkans and eastern/central Europe, and only very low level trace differences between Steppe groups such as Mordovinians, and many populations in Europe, how are Wolfgang Haak and his colleagues are able to discern, with razor sharp accuracy in time and place, the difference between Ponto-Caspian Steppe populations, Balkan populations and eastern/central European populations?

A few ancient DNA samples, with nothing from the Balkans, I might add, cannot be sufficient to support the grand assertion of a 50% displacement of the population of Europe in the last five thousand years.

From available data, there is no basis on which to make a sweeping statement like Half of European ancestry arrived from the Ponto-Caspian Steppe.