Light years away by Edurne Rubio – a review

I have been fortunate to attend a representation of “Light years away” by Ms. Edurne Rubio in Groningen, Netherlands. The artist is the daughter of one of the explorers of the cave system of Ojo Guareña, near Burgos, Spain and has a long and intimate connection with the caves. The performance mixes monologue, surround sound, video and theatrical performance. In its basic structure, it is the representation of a guided tour of the caves, one that is imaginary and not constricted by time or space. For those not knowing the caves, it is an extraordinary long (about 110 km known) cave system, with several subterranean lakes, at least 6 levels, and multiple openings. The upper cave system was frequented by humans from the Upper Paleolithic to the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age, in different moments, before being rediscovered only in the past century. There are significant traces of human presence, including complex panels of rock art, residues of torches, burials, and even ancient... Read the rest of this entry »

Greek rock art

Interview on BBC
Several carvings (graffiti on open-air rocks) have been damaged in Kavala, near Philippi, Greece. I did some research there in 2006, published in Antiquity in 2007. The BBC has interviewed me on this for The Newsroom, a radio program part of the BBC World Service. It is available here for a month. Also attached the excerpt of my contribution. The area was in use for a long period (at least 7000 years), and the rock art is mostly dating to the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age, ca. 3000 years ago. Scenes of horsemen are unique to the area and probably produced by the Hedones, a Macedonian tribe. There may be prior carvings (up to 5000 years ago, Neolithic/Copper Age) and many are of later date. Rock art is rare in Greece, and this a great loss to culture. The graffiti have been poorly studied and published, as mostly surveys have been done. Unfortunately economic pressures to develop the area, a lack of understanding of the cultural value, no protection or conservation projects and no... Read the rest of this entry »


I presented a few days ago in Koblenz at the DEGUWA conference on “Moving across rivers and lakes in prehistory”.My presentation reviewed evidence of the use of boats from across the world (largely targeting the prehistoric period in Europe/Middle East/Northern Africa, up to the Bronze Age, and the pre-Columbian period in the Americas. What was the socio-economic significance of using boats in antiquity? Boats were often a divine or royal device, connected therefore with strong social and economic power. Seafaring was significant to ancient societies. In this presentation I focus on people removed from the seas, where boats remained a very special device for long, very likely longer than in seafaring societies. Boats were a catalyst for movement and an economic driver since they allowed the movement of people, ideas, and commodities. Read the rest of this entry »

CFP EAA 2017: Applications using Hand-Held Portable X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometers

Session: #23 Theme & Session Format Theme: The ‘Third Science Revolution’ in Archaeology Session format: Session, made up of a combination of papers, max. 15 minutes each Title & Content Title: Applications using Hand-Held Portable X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometers Content: The production and use of hand-held X-ray fluorescence spectrometers has exploded over the last decade in its use on archaeological materials around the world due to its non-destructive nature, portability, and relatively modest cost for such analyses. While initially there were issues concerning its accuracy, due to the need for standards of the same material as the artifacts being tested, there are now numerous publications and research in progress on the use of pXRF on obsidian, ceramics, metals, and other artifacts, as well as soils, paintings and human remains to address a variety of important archaeological research topics. The portability of the instrument has allowed analyses to be conducted within... Read the rest of this entry »

EAA Annual Meeting - Session: Present identities from the past

Prof. Dragos Gheorghiu and I are organising a session at the forthcoming EAA meeting in Maastricht. The session is entitled: “Present identities from the past: providing a meaning to modern communities” and will accept submissions until the 15th of March. We invite interested scholars and postgraduate students to submit papers or participate in the discussion. I am happy to answer any query you may have. Session: #233 Theme & Session Format Theme: Twenty-five Years after Maastricht: Archaeology and Europe's future Session format: Session, made up of a combination of papers, max. 15 minutes each Title & Content Title: Present identities from the past: providing a meaning to modern communities Content: The fundamental relevancy of archaeology has been increasingly questioned in recent years, because the discipline has traditionally been an intellectual investigation into the mysteries of the past, often without a purpose, even one just perceived or imagined. The present time... Read the rest of this entry »

Bruniquel Cave

In 2016, a series of structures composed of whole and broken stalagmites has been found in a French cave, Bruniquel Cave. The structures, referred to as “speleofacts”, have been dated to 176.5 thousand years (±2.1 thousand years), using Uranium-thorium dating of the regrown stalagmites. At that age, only the Neanderthals inhabited Europe, and therefore they must have been responsible for them. They are located at 336 m from the entrance, in a naturally dark spot of the cave that required some confidence in inhabiting caves and using lamps to move around. The six structures are composed of one to four layers of aligned stalagmites, proving that they are the result of deliberate planning and construction work. Traces of fire are found mostly on the structures, and not on the floor. Two structures are annular, one large and one small, there are then four smaller structures near or reinforcing the large structure. The largest annular structure is 6.7 × 4.5 m, and the smaller one is 2.2 ×... Read the rest of this entry »

Medieval cities built for a globalized world

European cities draw fascination and interest from across the world because of their histories and art. They are substantially different in layout from modern cities, for example American cities, not least because they appear more compact with a high-density population surrounding their centres. The birth of the existing European cities can be traced back to the Middle Ages, often adapting pre-existing layouts. American researchers have now tried to answer a simple question: what do the core layout of European cities tell us about the socioeconomic structure of the populations that built them? Or in other words, were the medieval cities a space for all population and acted as interconnected international hubs? Were they built with social hierarchy in mind (e.g. a castle/palace for the leaders, an inner wall section for the wealthier and rural outskirts for the poor)? Social hierarchy was defining society in all its aspects, with courts, guilds, municipal organizations and the church... Read the rest of this entry »

Bison discovered in cave art

Cave art is perhaps the apex of humanity. Nothing in the animal world or in the early prehistoric world of hominins and hominids compares to it. It is one manifestation of humanity that is truly ours, of our own species, shared with nobody else. We can be told that lithics is monkey’s business, and we might wonder at the species that separate us from the animal world, but when it comes to cave art, we are in safe human ground. Cave art represents the world as people perceived it. But most importantly, it recorded this perspective without any of the symbolism found in other forms of art. Even a simple Venus figurine, or more complex figures such as the Lion-Man from Hohle Fels, is intrinsically symbolic and open to interpretation. Venus of Hohle Fels, Germany. Credit: University of Tübingen. The subject of cave art is more recognisable, and cave art has been even compared to comics and animation (by Marc Azéma) for its detailed representation of animals, including bisons and... Read the rest of this entry »

Monkeys make stone tools

Capuchin monkeys produce unintentional stone flakes. Credit: Nature video A recent paper published by Nature has revealed that capuchin monkeys in Brazil can produce unintentionally lithic tools (flakes) similar to those attributed to early hominins. Some of the earliest stone tools have been dated about 3.4 million years ago and since then stone tools have been a staple for prehistorians. This is not the first time that monkeys and other animals have been spotted using tools, or even producing tools to achieve a simple and immediate objective. Using a stone to crack a nut, or a stick to reach some food are known behaviours. These monkeys however have been filmed smashing stones together and licking the result, probably a way to access some required minerals and salts, in a behaviour well known for elephants. Elephants digging minerals. Credit: Richard Ruggiero/USFWS What surprises of the monkey’s behaviour is that the end result, which they appear to discard as... Read the rest of this entry »

Modern humans vs. the other hominins

The discovery of possible human teeth in Flores, in the same cave where Homo floriensis lived, has opened up a debate on the colonization of our planet by anatomically modern humans. In many ways, humans are not dissimilar by other natural species, and except for the use of complex languages, the ability to create tools, and human creativity (the ability to think and imagine the abstract or what is not yet material, the human mind), it is hard to separate humans from animals from a scientific point. Increasingly, intelligence and consciousness are recognized in animals, last perhaps the dolphins, who have some form of language (The study of acoustic signals and the supposed spoken language of the dolphins) and even larger brains than humans. So it is becoming difficult to define humans, and all characteristics that are unique can be reduced to abilities in abstract and symbolic thinking. Studying hominins, the ancestors of modern humans, can offer some clues about traits that are... Read the rest of this entry »