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Concept: Bronze Age


The antiquity and decline of the Bronze Age Harappan civilization in the Indus-Ghaggar-Hakra river valleys is an enigma in archaeology. Weakening of the monsoon after ~5 ka BP (and droughts throughout the Asia) is a strong contender for the Harappan collapse, although controversy exists about the synchroneity of climate change and collapse of civilization. One reason for this controversy is lack of a continuous record of cultural levels and palaeomonsoon change in close proximity. We report a high resolution oxygen isotope (δ(18)O) record of animal teeth-bone phosphates from an archaeological trench itself at Bhirrana, NW India, preserving all cultural levels of this civilization. Bhirrana was part of a high concentration of settlements along the dried up mythical Vedic river valley ‘Saraswati’, an extension of Ghaggar river in the Thar desert. Isotope and archaeological data suggest that the pre-Harappans started inhabiting this area along the mighty Ghaggar-Hakra rivers fed by intensified monsoon from 9 to 7 ka BP. The monsoon monotonically declined after 7 ka yet the settlements continued to survive from early to mature Harappan time. Our study suggests that other cause like change in subsistence strategy by shifting crop patterns rather than climate change was responsible for Harappan collapse.

Concepts: India, Tin, Monsoon, Archaeology, Bronze Age, Indus Valley Civilization, Harappa, Thar Desert


Caldera-forming eruptions of island volcanoes generate tsunamis by the interaction of different eruptive phenomena with the sea. Such tsunamis are a major hazard, but forward models of their impacts are limited by poor understanding of source mechanisms. The caldera-forming eruption of Santorini in the Late Bronze Age is known to have been tsunamigenic, and caldera collapse has been proposed as a mechanism. Here, we present bathymetric and seismic evidence showing that the caldera was not open to the sea during the main phase of the eruption, but was flooded once the eruption had finished. Inflow of water and associated landsliding cut a deep, 2.0-2.5 km(3), submarine channel, thus filling the caldera in less than a couple of days. If, as at most such volcanoes, caldera collapse occurred syn-eruptively, then it cannot have generated tsunamis. Entry of pyroclastic flows into the sea, combined with slumping of submarine pyroclastic accumulations, were the main mechanisms of tsunami production.

Concepts: Volcano, Tsunami, Flood, Bronze Age, Volcanology, Caldera, Santorini, Ignimbrite


China’s historiographical traditions tell of the successful control of a Great Flood leading to the establishment of the Xia dynasty and the beginning of civilization. However, the historicity of the flood and Xia remain controversial. Here, we reconstruct an earthquake-induced landslide dam outburst flood on the Yellow River about 1920 BCE that ranks as one of the largest freshwater floods of the Holocene and could account for the Great Flood. This would place the beginning of Xia at ~1900 BCE, several centuries later than traditionally thought. This date coincides with the major transition from the Neolithic to Bronze Age in the Yellow River valley and supports hypotheses that the primary state-level society of the Erlitou culture is an archaeological manifestation of the Xia dynasty.

Concepts: China, Neolithic, Yellow River, Flood, Bronze Age, Xia Dynasty, Erlitou culture, Deluge


The Late Bronze Age world of the Eastern Mediterranean, a rich linkage of Aegean, Egyptian, Syro-Palestinian, and Hittite civilizations, collapsed famously 3200 years ago and has remained one of the mysteries of the ancient world since the event’s retrieval began in the late 19(th) century AD/CE. Iconic Egyptian bas-reliefs and graphic hieroglyphic and cuneiform texts portray the proximate cause of the collapse as the invasions of the “Peoples-of-the-Sea” at the Nile Delta, the Turkish coast, and down into the heartlands of Syria and Palestine where armies clashed, famine-ravaged cities abandoned, and countrysides depopulated. Here we report palaeoclimate data from Cyprus for the Late Bronze Age crisis, alongside a radiocarbon-based chronology integrating both archaeological and palaeoclimate proxies, which reveal the effects of abrupt climate change-driven famine and causal linkage with the Sea People invasions in Cyprus and Syria. The statistical analysis of proximate and ultimate features of the sequential collapse reveals the relationships of climate-driven famine, sea-borne-invasion, region-wide warfare, and politico-economic collapse, in whose wake new societies and new ideologies were created.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Turkey, Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Bronze Age, Levant, Nile, Mesopotamia


We extend the scope of European palaeogenomics by sequencing the genomes of Late Upper Palaeolithic (13,300 years old, 1.4-fold coverage) and Mesolithic (9,700 years old, 15.4-fold) males from western Georgia in the Caucasus and a Late Upper Palaeolithic (13,700 years old, 9.5-fold) male from Switzerland. While we detect Late Palaeolithic-Mesolithic genomic continuity in both regions, we find that Caucasus hunter-gatherers (CHG) belong to a distinct ancient clade that split from western hunter-gatherers ∼45 kya, shortly after the expansion of anatomically modern humans into Europe and from the ancestors of Neolithic farmers ∼25 kya, around the Last Glacial Maximum. CHG genomes significantly contributed to the Yamnaya steppe herders who migrated into Europe ∼3,000 BC, supporting a formative Caucasus influence on this important Early Bronze age culture. CHG left their imprint on modern populations from the Caucasus and also central and south Asia possibly marking the arrival of Indo-Aryan languages.

Concepts: Europe, Asia, Turkey, Neolithic, Russia, Pleistocene, Georgia, Bronze Age


Fifty-nine dental non-metric traits were scored using Arizona State University Dental Anthropology System on a sample of teeth from 350 human skeletons excavated at three sites in the lower middle Euphrates valley. The dataset was divided into six chronological subsets: Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age, Early Iron Age with Neo-Assyrian period, Classical/Late Antiquity, Early Islamic (Umayyad and Abbasid) period and Modern period. The matrix of Mean Measure of Divergence values exhibited temporal homogeneity of the sample with only dental non-metric trait scores in the Modern subset differing significantly from most other subsets. Such a result suggests that no major gene flow occurred in the middle Euphrates valley between the 3rd millennium BCE and the early 2nd millennium CE. Only after the Mongolian invasion and large depopulation of northern Mesopotamia in the 13th century CE a major population change occurred when the area was taken over in the 17th century by Bedouin tribes from the Arabian Peninsula.

Concepts: Bronze, Iraq, Bronze Age, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures, Mesopotamia, Iron Age, Tumulus, Ancient Near East


Attributing a season and a date to the volcanic eruption of Santorini in the Aegean has become possible by using preserved remains of the bean weevil, Bruchus rufipes, pests of pulses, from the storage jars of the West House, in the Bronze Age settlement at Akrotiri. We have applied an improved pre-treatment methodology for dating the charred insects, and this provides a date of 1744-1538 BC. This date is within the range of others obtained from pulses from the same context and confirms the utility of chitin as a dating material. Based on the nature of the insect material and the life cycle of the species involved, we argue for a summer eruption, which took place after harvest, shortly after this material was transported into the West House storeroom.

Concepts: Insect, Ancient Egypt, Volcano, Minoan civilization, Bronze Age, Santorini, Cyclades, Mycenaean Greece


Present day lead pollution is an environmental hazard of global proportions. A correct determination of natural lead levels is very important in order to evaluate anthropogenic lead contributions. In this paper, the anthropogenic signature of early metallurgy in Southern Iberia during the Holocene, more specifically during the Late Prehistory, was assessed by mean of a multiproxy approach: comparison of atmospheric lead pollution, fire regimes, deforestation, mass sediment transport, and archeological data. Although the onset of metallurgy in Southern Iberia is a matter of controversy, here we show the oldest lead pollution record from Western Europe in a continuous paleoenvironmental sequence, which suggests clear lead pollution caused by metallurgical activities since ~3900cal BP (Early Bronze Age). This lead pollution was especially important during Late Bronze and Early Iron ages. At the same time, since ~4000cal BP, an increase in fire activity is observed in this area, which is also coupled with deforestation and increased erosion rates. This study also shows that the lead pollution record locally reached near present-day values many times in the past, suggesting intensive use and manipulation of lead during those periods in this area.

Concepts: Copper, Erosion, Tin, Neolithic, Prehistory, Bronze Age, Smelting, Iron Age


Although in many cases Pb isotopic analysis can be relied on for provenance determination of ancient bronzes, sometimes the use of “non-traditional” isotopic systems, such as those of Cu and Sn, is required. The work reported on in this paper aimed at revising the methodology for Cu and Sn isotope ratio measurements in archaeological bronzes via optimization of the analytical procedures in terms of sample pre-treatment, measurement protocol, precision, and analytical uncertainty. For Cu isotopic analysis, both Zn and Ni were investigated for their merit as internal standard (IS) relied on for mass bias correction. The use of Ni as IS seems to be the most robust approach as Ni is less prone to contamination, has a lower abundance in bronzes and an ionization potential similar to that of Cu, and provides slightly better reproducibility values when applied to NIST SRM 976 Cu isotopic reference material. The possibility of carrying out direct isotopic analysis without prior Cu isolation (with AG-MP-1 anion exchange resin) was investigated by analysis of CRM IARM 91D bronze reference material, synthetic solutions, and archaeological bronzes. Both procedures (Cu isolation/no Cu isolation) provide similar δ (65)Cu results with similar uncertainty budgets in all cases (±0.02-0.04 per mil in delta units, k = 2, n = 4). Direct isotopic analysis of Cu therefore seems feasible, without evidence of spectral interference or matrix-induced effect on the extent of mass bias. For Sn, a separation protocol relying on TRU-Spec anion exchange resin was optimized, providing a recovery close to 100 % without on-column fractionation. Cu was recovered quantitatively together with the bronze matrix with this isolation protocol. Isotopic analysis of this Cu fraction provides δ (65)Cu results similar to those obtained upon isolation using AG-MP-1 resin. This means that Cu and Sn isotopic analysis of bronze alloys can therefore be carried out after a single chromatographic separation using TRU-Spec resin. Tin isotopic analysis was performed relying on Sb as an internal standard used for mass bias correction. The reproducibility over a period of 1 month (n = 42) for the mass bias-corrected Sn isotope ratios is in the range of 0.06-0.16 per mil (2 s), for all the ratios monitored.

Concepts: Scientific method, Zinc, Copper, Analytical chemistry, Isotope, Bronze, Tin, Bronze Age


OBJECTIVE: Paleoneurosurgery represents a comparatively new developing direction of neurosurgery dealing with archaeological skull and spine finds and studying their neurosurgical aspects. Trepanation of the cranial vault was a widespread surgical procedure in antiquity and the most convincing evidence of the ancient origin of neurosurgery. The present study considers a case of trepanation from the Middle Bronze Age Greece (1900- 1600 B.C.). METHODS: The skull under study belongs to skeletal material unearthed from Kirra, Delphi (Central Greece). Macroscopic examination and palpation, as well as three-dimensional Computed Tomography were used in this study. RESULTS: There is osteological evidence that the skull belongs to a male individual that died 30-35 years old. The procedure of trepanation was performed on the right parietal bone. Both macroscopic and CT evaluation demonstrate an intravital bone reaction at the edges of the aperture. Projected on the right surface of the brain, the trepanation is located on the level of the central groove. The small dimensions and the symmetrical shape of this hole give us an indication that it was made by a metal tool. CONCLUSION: The authors conclude that this paleopathological case provides valuable information about the condition of life and the pre-hippocratic neurosurgical practice in Bronze Age Greece.

Concepts: Bone, Surgery, Skull, Slovakia, Neurosurgery, Tin, Ancient Egypt, Bronze Age