Open Access for Federally Funded Research

“The White House has moved to make the results of federally funded research available to the public for free within a year, bowing to public pressure for unfettered access to scholarly articles and other materials produced at taxpayers’ expense.”

Details are sketchy in this article, but a 12 month embargo will still be allowed.

PuAbi’s Diadem: A New Interpretation

Concisely written and plainly stated, Naomi Miller proposes a new interpretation for one specific type of ornament, gold twisted wire pendants, from what was known as PuAbi’s diadem from the Royal Cemetery of Ur in Iraq, which is about 4,500 years old.

 Miller, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, argues that the pendants “literally represent rope, symbolically reference sheep, and narratively evoke the flocks of the shepherd Dumuzi” (Miller 2013:129). Dumuzi is, among other things, a god of fertility and the husband of the goddess Inanna.  More specifically, “the wire pendants depict the rope that tethers sheep as they are milked” (Miller 2013:131). The arrangement of the loops in the pendant also evokes the appearance of a flock of sheep as they are tied together to be milked.

Other, less abstract representations in PuAbi’s diadem include date palm, apples, and animals. Miller reviews other potential interpretations of the pendants, of which the most convincing is that they represent a date palm tree, although she argues that the lack of a central stalk in the pendants makes it unlikely they represent a tree.

Miller, Naomi F., 2013    Symbols of Fertility and Abundance in the Royal Cemetery at Ur, Iraq. American Journal of Archaeology 117:127-133.

The original article is open access and can be read here: http://www.ajaonline.org/note/1497

The author, Dr. Naomi Miller, has also been responding to comments at this site.

For more on the Royal Cemetery of Ur, see: http://www.penn.museum/sites/iraq/?page_id=26

Twisted Wire Pendant from Ur. Source: University Museum/American Journal of Archaeology

Cut Marks on the Firelands Ground Sloth

Ground Sloth Femur. Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History

The role of humans in the extinction of megafauna, including mammoths, mastodons, and ground sloth, at the end of the Pleistocene is one of the more contentious issues in Paleo-Indian studies. Brian Redman, of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and his colleagues report the first direct evidence of human-made stone tool cut marks on a Jefferson’s ground sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii) bone. If the identification of the cut marks is correct, it indicates that humans likely hunted ground sloths.
Ten ground sloth bones were excavated from a swamp in Norwich Township, Ohio in the early twentieth century and were curated at the Firelands Historical Society Museum in Norwalk, Ohio. It was not until recently that researchers at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History reexamined the bones and identified possible stone tool cut marks on one of the bones, a femur. More in-depth research ensued.

The researchers first nailed down the context of the finds. Labels associated with the bones and brief mention of what appeared to be the same finds in early twentieth century paleontological reports by Oliver Hay indicated that a college student named Roe Niver discovered the specimens in a bog on his family’s property in Ohio. The researchers were able to relocate the small bog from which the bones were likely excavated.

They identified 41 individual tool marks using 15x to 100x magnification and, for a smaller sample, scanning electron microscopy, all of which are on the anterior side of a femur. None of the nine other ground sloth bones have any possible tool marks. Based on the morphology of the marks, they infer that most of the marks were made by humans using unmodified stone flakes or blades to remove meat from the leg bone. Unifacial and bifacial retouched stone tools were used to make some of the cut marks, indicating more than one tool was used on the ground sloth.
Botanical material found within the ungual sheaths of two of the bones contained fragments of conifer wood, possibly from spruce, Douglas fir, or tamarack. These tree species are consistent with the inferred environment at the end of the Pleistocene. The ground sloth bones date to 11,740 +/- 35 years before present (calibrated range of 13,738-13,435 years BP) based on an AMS radiocarbon date from one of the bones. They therefore are the “most ancient possible evidence of human activity in Ohio” (Redmond et al. 2012:94). This date is also slightly earlier than the current age range of the Clovis culture.

Cut marks or other direct evidence for human predation on most species of extinct megafauna in the Americas is surprisingly scarce. A few examples of predation on a different species of ground sloth in South America have been reported, but the Ohio example reported in this article is the first good evidence that humans preyed on Jefferson’s ground sloth. It is a small but important contribution to the larger question of whether human predation was a major factor in the extinction of the megafauna.

Reference:
Brian G. Redmond, H Gregory McDonald, Haskel J. Greenfield, Matthew L. Burr. New evidence for Late Pleistocene human exploitation of Jefferson’s Ground Sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii) from northern Ohio, USA. World Archaeology, 2012; 44 (1): 75-101.