Significantly, the research paper says there is strong evidence to suggest that Neanderthals disappeared at different times across Europe rather than being rapidly replaced by modern humans.
A team, led by Professor Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford, obtained new radiocarbon dates for around 200 samples of bone, charcoal and shell from 40 key European archaeological sites. The sites, ranging from Russia in the east to Spain in the west, were either linked with the Neanderthal tool-making industry, known as Mousterian, or were ‘transitional’ sites containing stone tools associated with either early modern humans or Neanderthals.
The chronology was pieced together during a six-year research project by building mathematical models that combine the new radiocarbon dates with established archaeological stratigraphic evidence. The results showed that both groups overlapped for a significant period, giving ‘ample time’ for interaction and interbreeding. The paper adds, however, it is not clear where interbreeding may have happened in Eurasia or whether it occurred once or several times.
Professor Thomas Higham said: ‘Other recent studies of Neanderthal and modern human genetic make-up suggest that both groups interbred outside Africa, with 1.5%-2.1% or more of the DNA of modern non-African human populations originating from Neanderthals. We believe we now have the first robust timeline that sheds new light on some of the key questions around the possible interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans. The chronology also pinpoints the timing of the Neanderthals’ disappearance, and suggests they may have survived in dwindling populations in pockets of Europe before they became extinct.’
In 2011, another Nature paper featuring Dr Katerina Douka of the Oxford team obtained some very early dates (around 45,000 years old) for the so-called ‘transitional’ Uluzzian stone-tool industry of Italy and identified teeth remains in the site of the Grotta del Cavallo, Apulia, as those of anatomically modern humans. Under the new timeline published today, the Mousterian industry (attributed to Neanderthals and found across vast areas of Europe and Eurasia) is shown to have ended between 41,030 to 39,260 years ago. This suggests strongly that there was an extensive overlapping period between Neanderthals and modern humans of several thousand years. The scientific team has for the first time specified exactly how long this overlap lasted, with 95% probability.
The Uluzzian also contains objects, such as shell beads, that scholars widely believe signify symbolic or advanced behaviour in early human groups. One or two of the Châtelperronian sites of France and northern Spain (currently, although controversially, associated with Neanderthals) contain some similar items. This supports the theory first advanced several years ago that the arrival of early modern humans in Europe may have stimulated the Neanderthals into copying aspects of their symbolic behaviour in the millennia before they disappeared. The paper also presents an alternative theory: that the similar start dates of the two industries could mean that Châtelperronian sites are associated with modern humans and not Neanderthals after all.
There is currently no evidence to show that Neanderthals and early modern humans lived closely together, regardless of whether the Neanderthals were responsible for the Châtelperronian culture, the paper says. Rather than modern humans rapidly replacing Neanderthals, there seems to have been a more complex picture ‘characterised by a biological and cultural mosaic that lasted for several thousand years’.
The Châtelperronian industry follows the Mousterian in archaeological layers at all sites where both occur. Importantly, however, the Châtelperronian industry appears to have started significantly before the end of Mousterian at some sites in Europe. This suggests that if Neanderthals were responsible for both cultures, there may have been some regional variation in their tool-making, says the paper.
Professor Higham said: ‘Previous radiocarbon dates have often underestimated the age of samples from sites associated with Neanderthals because the organic matter was contaminated with modern particles. We used ultrafiltration methods, which purify the extracted collagen from bone, to avoid the risk of modern contamination. This means we can say with more confidence that we have finally resolved the timing of the disappearance of our close cousins, the Neanderthals. Of course the Neanderthals are not completely extinct because some of their genes are in most of us today.’
Previous research had suggested that the Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal) and the site of Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar, might have been the final places in Europe where Neanderthals survived. Despite extensive dating work, the research team could not confirm the previous dates. The paper suggests that poor preservation techniques for the dating material could have led to contamination and false ‘younger’ dates previously.
The image shows a Neanderthal model from the Natural History Museum, London, one of the institutions that carried out the research in collaboration with Oxford.
In light of the continued legacy of the event, a new study recently published in Japanese Studies looks at how the Hiroshima story penetrated into the realm of Japanese public memory and investigates whether the trauma became a truly national one. Crucially, the research questions if the transformation from a circumscribed experience to a society-encompassing one was a natural experience or a constructed phenomenon instead.
The author of the article From Local to National Experience: Has Hiroshima Become a ‘Trauma for Everybody’?, Anna Shipilova, takes the work of American sociologist Jeffrey C. Alexander on cultural trauma into consideration in her analysis. Central to Alexander’s argument is that ‘events themselves do not create collective trauma, but that such a trauma is a socially mediated attribution’. A number of key factors – the people experiencing the tragedy first-hand, the narrative, as well as the institutionalisation of the story – come into play in constructing a ‘trauma for everybody,’ she adds. A fitting example is how the Holocaust turned into a widespread tragedy in the States only in the 1970s, not at the time; a similar transformation can be observed in the Hiroshima narrative. Looking at the years between 1945 and 1990, the study illustrates how the hibakusha’s (nuclear bomb survivors) experience was reflected and built into a tragedy for the whole Japanese society.
Even though most Japanese didn’t perceive the tragedy as relevant to their own experience in the aftermath of WWII, a shift happened in the following decades; the economic growth in the 1960s and the Cold War years were significant in turning the Hiroshima story into a national one. ‘Japan as a peaceful nation with the Hiroshima tragedy at its core became the official narrative’ explains the author. The advent of the 1990s, with the dwindling risk of an atomic war, meant the country had yet to re-think its international image; from being the guard standing against nuclear warfare, Japan turned its attention to the victims of atomic tests and included them into its narrative.
Whereas the evolution of the Hiroshima story ‘into a national trauma is similar to the process described by Alexander’ explains the author, the lack of emotional connection to the event from the majority of Japanese as well as the authorities’ deliberate refusal to identify a perpetrator, means its narrative never became a national one. So, while Hiroshima is clearly not a shared issue for the Japanese society, its message of peace extends well beyond the perimeter of the country. In a world torn by conflict, its call is truly an international one.
She is barely concerned with the identity of the man who slew and mutilated a sequence of Whitechapel women in 1888. Instead, she wants to reclaim the victims, turn a spotlight on the social conditions that led to their plight and restore to them some dignity amidst the endless procession of grisly Ripper tours that draw tourists to the East End.
Meanwhile, as a frequent and fascinated visitor to London and a witness to its dark tourism, she provides a Yorkshirewoman’s eye view of the capital.
“With Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd and attractions such as the London Dungeon it seems to be a city that thrives on the macabre and tales of murders and executions. It is all is highly profitable and entertaining but an anomaly that these topics should provide the subject matter for tourism,” says Charlotte.
“I think that being a Northerner I can look at London objectively and when I am discussing my research with locals in Whitechapel they say, yes you’re right, it is weird, but they have been spoon fed all this from birth. It is just part of their normality. But Whitechapel is an amazing place and I would happily live there. It is such a vibrant community,” said Charlotte, whose current researches have led her to meet and befriend many of the sex workers who today ply the streets once trod by Jack the Ripper.
Charlotte – a single mother of four children – was forced to quit schooling early when she became a teenage mum, holding down a succession of jobs such as bar work and cleaning. But eventually she decided she wanted more out of life and enrolled at the University of Huddersfield for a BA course covering English Literature plus heritage.
She rapidly showed an aptitude for academic work and scored First Class Honours. Then came a Master’s degree which enabled her to explore further her fascination for the heritage industry, especially its darker, more troubling dimensions, such as museums that display human remains.
Her MA dissertation argued that popular representations of Whitechapel’s infamous history amounted to a dehumanisation of the women who were brutally murdered in 1888. She claimed that this was due to discrimination, based on the victims’ gender, their ‘overt sexuality’ and their socio-economic status. Meanwhile Jack the Ripper – because he managed to evade detection – was mythologised and celebrated.
Charlotte has now developed this theme for doctoral research, for which she was awarded a bursary by the University of Huddersfield. The project means that she has become immersed in the saga and cult of Jack the Ripper – without feeling any interest in whom he actually was.
“My focus is on the women. Of all the ‘Ripperology’ books I have read, I have not once finished a last chapter in which the author reveals their theory about the killer’s identity. I cannot get drawn into that. I don’t even think it is relevant, although it is interesting that Jack the Ripper is constantly given an elite identity and the females involved are more and more dehumanised, so that you don’t even hear their names.”
Charlotte’s PhD project – supervised by historian Dr Rob Ellis – is entitled “Our History, Our Streets, Our Voice, Our Future: Reclaiming the Historiography of the Whitechapel Murders”. It will result in both a written thesis and an exhibition that will be a mixture of oral and photographic material, including evidence from current Whitechapel sex workers who will describe their lives and how they exist alongside Ripper tourism.
Charlotte has attended many Ripper tours, of which there are 17 currently in operation.
“You will be walking down Whitechapel and its tiny alleyways and have to wait in one spot while another group passes you by. The area is saturated with tourists. But there is a difference of tone,” she said.
“There are some tours that emphasises the poverty of the area and that the women were forced into prostitution. But the worst tour I went on, I had to leave early because I was grossly offended. They projected huge images of the murder victims on to the spot where they died and they ridiculed the appearance of these women – the fact that they were toothless or fat or had bad skin.
“However, the starkest tension for me – and the reason I went down the PhD route – is that tourists would sigh at the plight of the victims and poverty in the 1880s and then go round the corner and step over a group of homeless women.”
While not very far from the modern towns of Xpujil and Zoh Laguna, in the southeastern part of the Mexican state of Campeche, the two sites are located in the northern zone of the depopulated and hardly accessible Calakmul Biosphere Reserve.
One of the two sites had been visited in the 1970s by the American archaeologist Eric Von Euw, who documented several stone monuments and an extraordinary façade with an entrance representing open jaws of the earth monster, but the results of his work have never been published. His drawings, kept in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, USA, have been known to some specialists, but the exact location of the site, referred to as Lagunita by Von Euw, was a mystery. In spite of several attempts at relocating it, Lagunita remained lost until a few weeks ago, when rediscovered by Dr. Šprajc and his team.
“We found the site with the aid of aerial photographs,” Šprajc explains, “but were able to identify it with Lagunita only after we saw the façade and the monuments and compared them with Von Euw’s drawings, which the renowned Maya expert Karl Herbert Mayer made available for me.”
The other site located during the recently accomplished fieldwork had never before been reported. The archaeologists baptized it with the name Tamchén, which means “deep well” in Yucatec Maya, in allusion to the presence of more than 30 chultuns (bottle-shaped underground chambers, largely intended for collecting rainwater), some of them as deep as 13 m.
During the two-month field season, Šprajc was assisted by geodesist Aleš Marsetič, researcher at ZRC SAZU, archaeologists Atasta Flores Esquivel and Octavio Esparza Olguín, and architect Arianna Campiani, Ph. D. students at the Mexican National Autonomous University (UNAM), as well as several local workers.
Lagunita and Tamchén are situated in the southern portion of a vast, archaeologically unexplored territory in central Yucatan lowlands. Except for Chactún, the large Maya city discovered by Šprajc’s team in 2013, no other site has so far been located in this area, which extends over some 3000 sq. km, between the so-called Río Bec and Chenes regions, both known for their characteristic architectural styles in vogue during the Late and Terminal Classic periods (c. A.D. 600 – 1000).
Aside from a ball court and a temple pyramid almost 20 m high, the core area of Lagunita has a number of massive palace-like buildings arranged around four major plazas. The most spectacular feature is a profusely decorated façade with a monster-mouth doorway. Representing the gaping maws of the earth and fertility deity, these zoomorphic portals characterize both Chenes and Río Bec architectural styles, most prominent examples being those at Chicanná, Hormiguero, Hochob and Tabasqueño. “The Lagunita façade is very well preserved, and we accurately documented all the details using 3D photo scanning technique,” Arianna Campiani commented.
Also found at Lagunita were 10 stelae and three altars, some of them with well-preserved reliefs, including hieroglyphic inscriptions. “The date on Stela 2 corresponds to A.D. 711, suggesting that Lagunita flourished contemporarily with the nearby Chactún, where we also found monuments with dates falling in the eighth century,” says project epigrapher Octavio Esparza. “To judge by both architectural volumes and monuments with inscriptions, Lagunita must have been the seat of a relatively powerful polity, though the nature of its relationship with the larger Chactún, lying some 10 km to the north, remains unclear.” The importance of Lagunita is further attested by the great density of residential mounds, terraces, albarradas (low dry walls) and other settlement remains in the surrounding area.
Similarly imposing is the site of Tamchén, located about 6 km northeast of Lagunita: there are several plazas surrounded by voluminous buildings, including a pyramid temple with a rather well preserved sanctuary on top and a stela and an altar at its base, as well as an acropolis supporting a courtyard with three temples on its sides. While Tamchén seems to have been largely contemporaneous with Lagunita, both the triadic compound and surface ceramics indicate its settlement history goes back to the Late Preclassic (c. 300 B.C. – A.D. 250).
Just like Chactún, Lagunita and Tamchén have a number of aspects that make them very promising for future research. The zoomorphic façade at Lagunita does not come as a surprise, considering that Becán, the largest site in the Río Bec zone, is only 15 km away. What has not been expected, however, is the presence of so many pyramid temples and monuments with inscriptions, which are rare in the Río Bec región. Both Tamchén and Lagunita appear to have been largely abandoned around A.D. 1000, sharing the fate of other lowland Maya polities, but a few stelae were modified some time after they had been originally erected, and Postclassic offerings were found at others. These facts obviously reflect continuities and ruptures in cultural traditions, but their significance for understanding political geography and history of the region is yet to be explained.
Particularly interesting are various elements that have not been known elsewhere in the Maya area. Two altars of Lagunita have a curious nail-head shape. The third one is rectangular and has a series of Ajaw glyphs on its sides, with coefficients evidently referring to successive k’atun (20-year period) endings; such records are common in codices, but not on stone monuments. Whereas hieroglyphic texts normally appear in an even number of columns, the inscription on Stela 2 of Lagunita has three, and the Long Count date is incomplete.
At Tamchén, dozens of chultuns are scattered in two plazas; some are partially collapsed or filled-in with material accumulating through centuries, but others are even nowadays 10 or more meters deep. Whereas chultuns are common at Maya sites, their depths and high concentration within the civic and ceremonial center of the ancient settlement represent a peculiarity of Tamchén. Only future research in the extensive archaeologically unsurveyed region to the north may reveal whether such characteristics, which at the moment appear to be rather unique, were in fact common in a wider area.
Representing a follow-up of the project of Archaeological Reconnaissance in Southeastern Campeche, Mexico, directed by Ivan Šprajc since 1996, the 2014 field season was approved and supported by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), Mexico. Lead funding was provided by Ken and Julie Jones from their KJJ Charitable Foundation (USA); additional financial support was granted by private companies Villas (Austria), Hotel Río Bec Dreams (Mexico) and Ars longa and Adria Kombi (Slovenia), as well as by Martin Hobel and Aleš Obreza.
In June 2014, the southern part of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, where most of the currently known archaeological sites were discovered in field surveys headed by Šprajc in recent years, was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list as a mixed natural and cultural property.
ZRC-SAZU – Header Image : Preliminary 3D model of Tamchén, looking north (by Aleš Marsetič)
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