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I regularly read nature, science, PNAS, Current Anthropology, Journal of Archaeological Science, American Antiquity, Antiquity, Archäologische Informationen, Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt, (most of them on paper – my one big indulgence and luxury) and whatever tidbits I’m led to by finding them being mentioned somewhere. Whoever happens to share my particular interests can find a list of all the highlights of the current week, together with abstracts and the personal comments I feel compelled to make, here.
For the time being the archive of older entries also resides in my now defunct old blog which offers a search option.
Jens Lüning has always maintained his conviction, that the first LBK farmers settling in Central Europe had of course used their cattle to move the massive trunks used to build their impressive houses and to impress their indigenous neighbours. His hypothesis has never met wider acceptance but Gaastra et al. finally seem to vindicate him.
OSL-dating is a technique, where you draw a two-sigma-band around your result and find half or more of your plotted data points falling outside of it. I need more than the single find at Guanyindong Cave reported by Hu et al. before accepting the demand to rewrite all our text books.
I’m not really surprised that articles like Klein & O'Brien get written, but when they pass peer review and end up in PNAS, some eminent practitioners of the subjects must have mistaken them for valid science.
The real result of Bobe & Carvalho and Faith et al. is neither mentioned, far less discussed by them. It was not few and puny humans that started the decline of African megafauna five million years back, but a rather catastrophic collapse of the carbon dioxide level and the resulting rise of C4 vegetation. Climate and aridity seem to have played a secondary role, so maybe we're just witnessing the beginning of Africa's regreening.
The role of wide spread epidemics has so far been completely disregarded for the Iron Age and earlier times. Rascovan et al. have just demostrated a massive wave of the bubonic plague in the Late Neolithic. With the known connection of infection and weather the much maligned climate determinism comes up with yet another mechanism for its influence.
It seems that contrary to my expectations even a mature and established technology like batteries is still capable of considerable advances. If even some of the possibilities in Service’s overview pan out we may yet overcome the decisive hurdle towards regenerative electricity.
Roberts & Bricher provide another example of infinitely tuneable models with many parameters, that can be made to yield any desired outcome. Only in their case they not only say so openly but make it the main result of their study before looking closely at what models can and can't do. Required reading for any aspiring modeler.
Chen looks to be an important step towards the goal of affordable storage for grid electricity.
Nothing much this week.
Once more some good reads but nothing to add.
Not surprisingly I'm with Baskin nearly all the way, though I don't quite hold artistic writing to be as important as he does. Granted, a well written, legible and easy-to-understand article is worth its weight in gold, but still the scientific content and value, if any, is and remains what really counts.
Still labouring with a drawn-out head cold I'm not up to critiquing Magar et al. At first glance I fail to find any reference to blinding. Perhaps one of my readers will jump in and send me a guest review.
The Sahara has long been discussed as the ideal site for placing renewable energy plants and if Li et al.'s prediction can be shown to be right, there will be other and possibly even more beneficial side effects.
Nothing for me to add this week.
I wonder how Oxenham et al. managed to slip by current religious censorship, but it seems the establishment can't have their eyes everywhere. Contrary to the prescribed doom, gloom and catastrophe they recall a time
“where surface temperatures were 1–4°C higher and rainfall 40–100 per cent greater than today” and dare to call it
“optimal hunter-gatherer conditions [...] that could sustain large sedentary hunter-gatherer populations.”
Climate has frequently been discussed – and discounted – as the reason for the Neanderthals' demise already. In all those cases severe climate has been treated as a state and the cold phases around 40 ka ago have in no way been exceptional. In a novel approach Staubwasser et al. have now looked at climate cycling. Cold and milder phases enforce the repeated retreat into refuges and the repopulation and reconnection of dispersed groups. It might have been the readvance into the depopulated areas that gave modern humans the edge over Neanderthals and that advantage might have accumulated over several cycles.
I have absolutely no facts and data to back this up, but my gut feeling says, that fraud and fabrication are just as prevalent in other areas as in medicine. As I've said many times before, either you are an author or you are not. Basking in the glory as long as things go well and washing your hands of it when they go wrong must not be an option. Every author is and must be fully responsible for the whole article in its entirety.
There are quite a few issues with Roffet-Salque et al.. The amplitude of their signal is less than the spread inside the individual phases and no point differs from any other by more than its own standard deviation. Even the noise from their measurement precision is of the same order as their whole signal.
Admittedly Tucci et al.'s figure 4a does look suggestive and the statistical outcome is very far from chance. But does it mean anything? Do their identified genes have any measurable effect? The tiny correlation in figure 4b, such as it is, is purely driven by one or two outliers alone. Figure 4c shows the combined effect of all those genes to be essentially nonexistent.
Is king Khyan the key to solving the Thera dating conundrum? Several contributions to Forstner-Müller & Moeller seem to point that way. Ehrlich et al. is another example for the argument, that when one measurement may well be faulty, all scientific measurements can be summarily dismissed, however much they may confirm each other.
In Sweis et al.'s setup the future is precisely known from the start and never changes, so the only rational choice is to stick with the decision once made. If you do change your choice at all, you ought to do so right at the beginning. Something worth waiting 20 seconds for should certainly be worth a wait of five seconds. The result in their figure 2 is perfectly rational and nothing whatever to do with sunk costs and much less with any fallacy.
People and animals are not as stupid and irrational as all-knowing and godlike experimenters make them seem to be.
The intensive use of wild cereals since the end of the last glacial maximum has long been demonstrated. So it comes as no surprise, that one of those uses has been a kind of bread. Still, it's nice to have Arranz-Otaegui et al. supply the proof.
If Kappelman is right and Zhu et al.'s finding can be confirmed, then the genesis of the genus Homo was followed by an almost immediate spread from Africa across nearly all the world, but so thin and so patchy, that nearly nothing has been left to show their occupation. If so, how can they have managed to maintain a sufficiently connected breeding population? To survive successfully for a million years, they must have been significantly less inbred then the last Neanderthals.
Cohen supplies one more mosaic piece to the picture that it was social skills, not intelligence or technical ability, that enabled modern humans to displace Neanderthals. What is social competence? It is the ability to lie, to cheat, and successfully to manipulate others. Empathy, care, and support have amply been proven for Neanderthals, if anything it was the readiness to hurt and deceive others they lacked.
Franklin provides a very convincing solution to the riddle of Jerusalem's salvation under Hiskia.
Meyer et al. provide one more proof for real warfare already in the Neolithic. The time, when Keeley’s was an outsider position, is long gone and I'm convinced that Meller’s Bronze Age armies deserve to be taken more seriously than they often are.
Lying to people and hiding things from them is a strategy very often employed by leaders and other politicians. As has often been supposed before, Kolodinsky & Lusk now demonstrate it to be counter productive. When sensing that the facts are being withheld from them, people tend to exaggerate in their estimates of what might be going on. Being frank and telling the truth turns out to be the best way.
At the beginning of all religion stands the cult of ancestors. This statement of belief proves astonishingly long-lived and unquestioned. That the deposited and often modelled skulls at Jericho predominantly derive from children and young women, does not contradict that interpretation according to Nigro. I beg to differ. This question has far-reaching consequences for the question of ancient beliefs in an afterlife. Do ancestors live on and somehow interfere with current events? Might I also live on in a similar vein? The question of when and where the belief in an afterlife began and where it came from is far from settled and simple-minded generalizations will not help us in doing so.
Chen & Rohla's results are quite telling. There is a well documented tendency of the political left towards intolerance and totalitarianism. For them there are no differing opinions but only correct versus wrong and evil ways of thinking.
To alleviate the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide you have to reduce the burning of fossil fuels and to achieve that you need to store renewable energy. It is irrelevant for this goal, how you store it. The fixation on using the tiny concentration of carbon dioxide itself as a storage medium is purely religious in nature.
Zhu et al.'s results mirror those of Myers 2014 (list of 2014-03-13) and I stand by what I said then: People lacking essential nutrients typically are malnourished in general. Having to eat more food to get their nutrients is no hardship to them and getting more food through higher productivity is a boon.
As far as I can tell Balabanova et al.'s extrordinary result of 1992 has never been successfully repeated since. All instances where it is cited as proof for far reaching conclusions, such as Görlitz, should therefore be treated with utmost caution.
The loss of ships like the one found at Uluburun must have been a fairly regular occurrence in ancient times. So the analysis by Monroe adds important considerations about the social prerequisites to make voyages like that feasible.
Reich et al.'s conclusion as summarized by Hovenden & Newton is completely unsupported by their data. First they only measure standing biomass instead of primary production as they should have and they do not tell us, if their plots were grazed or excess growth otherwise removed instead of clogging up the plants. But even taking their results at face value, they are obviously unusable.
I have yet to see a sillier and more confusing way of presenting data than the one chosen in Pennisi. Trying to untangle the values, I can not see them to show what it is claimed they do.
If Brace et al. are right, the first British farmers arrived along the Mediterranean route via Spain and not through Hungary and the Bandkeramik. An early connection to seafaring groups is supported by a possible find of beer in the Mesolithic (Smith et al., list of 2015-03-20).
This week it's mostly methodological stuff about molecular archaeology plus an article on the extraction of carbon dioxide from air.
Ponsot et al. is another recent example where the main purpose of research is influencing people and optimizing elite-controlled state propaganda. Something in our society has fundamentally changed in my lifetime.
Lazer et al. take note of a vexing problem: Making media consumers more aware of fake news will result in them becoming more critical of and less prepared to accept state sponsored propaganda and the unified promotion of political correctness. It seems the old monopolies just can't win this one.
The archaeological literature has recently been dominated by DNA studies. Just like in all other cases of assimilating scientific data into cultural topics there will be all kinds of misunderstandings and over interpretations that we have yet to learn how to deal with.
Even after sleeping on it for several nights I still can't make my mind up, if the letter by Wimbush is satire or meant in earnest.
Hassett is popular science aimed at a very general audience, although a better acquaintance with US-American culture than mine is required to get all her jokes. Although the book succeeds in its aim, that does not excuse its lack of rigour. I have already found three serious factual mistakes and as yet I've only reached page 134 of 320. That said I've learnt a lot from those parts where she stays in her own specialty, so on the whole I'd still recommend the book.
Nowadays measurement is easy and comes out of sealed grey boxes to an apparent precision of dozens of digits. Experimenters are in danger of losing all feeling and understanding of their subject matter. Price et al. are a timely reminder of the importance of asking questions before citing numbers and the meaninglessness of measurements as such, however precise they may happen to seem to be.
Climate is changing and always has been. But climate is also a long-term phenomenon with fluctuations and short-term variability as an important constituent element, as Sun et al.'s timely reminder demonstrates.
Was there an “Israel” in some form or other already in the 13th or even 14th century bc? Zwickel & van der Veen provide strong arguments pointing in that direction.
How can Porzig assume there never was an ark of the covenant holding the tablets of law, when I have seen photographs of the chapel it is now housed and sheltered in with my own eyes?
Enrico Fermi may well have dabbled in a little physics now and then, but his most important contribution deserving first rank in any biography were his contributions to the feminist world view, at least according to Formato, that is. If you want the biography by Schwartz to be done justice, then refer to Catherine Westfall's review in nature.
For some reason I never saw Nezafati et al. before and more importantly I never saw them cited anywhere. If their result holds they may have solved the riddle of early tin.
If Marsicek et al. are right we have to drop the European climate optimum of the Bandkeramik and replace it with one at End-Neolithic / Bell Beaker time. What their reconstructions show is a steep rise towards a plateau from 5.5–3 ka BC followed by another sharp step and a higher plateau through the End-Neolithic and Bronze Age times. The implications are far reaching.
What to put here, when I’ve got nothing to add?
Brügmann et al. actually want us to believe, that at the first tentative beginnings with tin-bronze individual metallurgists in a single settlement each had their own personal long distance trading connections. On the other hand those authors have still not bothered to measure the isotopic composition of current commercial tin from sources on different continents to at least get a first picture about the size of possible variation if any. Those publications get more ridiculous by the day.
Nothing especially remarkable this week.
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