February 17, 2012

Echoes from the Past (Feb 17)

And again a quick look to many things which have been showing up around the Net these last few days:


Neanderthal society

Bryan Hayden has a very interesting (and freely accessible!) paper at the Oxford Journal of Archaeology on reconstructing Neanderthals society, which was apparently much like ours for similar conditions (small operative bands of 12-30 people linked in larger ethnic and/or clannic groups through seasonal meetings and general social networks). M. Mozota has a quite interesting review at his blog as well for those who can read in Spanish.


Natufian Mesolithic Syrian site dug

The site of As-Suwayda (or Sweida), dated to c. 14-9 thousand years ago, had 12 circular huts, two of which were more complex, suggesting to some the beginnings of social stratification (or could be communal buildings?)  The two more complex (not larger) huts were located to the south of the village and show, one, inner divisions and an internal elevated platform, and, the other, external platforms and a trench. All huts are 4-5m. round.

The Natufian culture is one of the beginnings of sedentarism, as their members lived largely on recollection of wild cereals, although it is generally understood that there was no productive agriculture yet.



Neolithic driven by aridification in South Asia

D. Fuller at Indian Ocean Corridors discusses how an increasingly drier climate may have aided the expansion of agriculture in the Indian subcontinent:

The significant aridification recorded after ca. 4,000 years ago may have spurred the widespread adoption of sedentary agriculture in central and south India capable of providing surplus food in a less secure hydroclimate.

Relevant paper: Holocene aridification of India (C. Ponton et al. 2012, PPV)


Chalcolithic oxen traction in Iberia

A very interesting article in Spanish language by J.M. Arévalo discusses the use of animal traction in the Chalcolithic of Mucientes in the Northern Iberian Plateau during the 3rd millennium BCE (c. 2830-2290 BCE). Article available at Periodista Digital[es] and Asociación los Dólmenes[es].

The production, use and export of threshing teeth, made on flintstone at Cantalejo, emphasizes the almost necessary use of ox traction (horse domestication is unclear for the period while oxen remains are consistent with such kind of work). Interestingly the article is accompanied by an image of what may well be the oldest preserved wheel in Europe (Ljubljana, 4th millennium BCE, many centuries before Indoeuropean arrival, pictured).


Other archaeology/prehistory

Nerja rock art will be directly dated: the calcite layer over them will be dated so the doubts on authorship may be clarified. ··> Pileta[es].

East Asturian Magdalenian cave sites Tito Bustillo and El Buxu were used by the same group ··> Pileta[es].

Rock art found at Paleoindian site in Clarke Co., Virginia (USA) ··> Clarke Daily News.

England's Neolithic submerged town had market street ··> BBC

The IVC seal represents a goat
Rare Indus Valley Civilization seal found at Cholistan (Punjab) ··> Dawn.

20 megalithic cairn circles and an apparent fortification from the Iron Age found at Andrah Pradesh, India ··> Firstpost.

Conservation plan to protect the Hill of Tara (Ireland) ··> The Meath Chronicle.

Spanish language specialized open access e-magazine Trabajos de Prehistoria vol. 68, no. 2 is available.


Human genetics

You may want to take a look at the latest exploration of Northern Europe's autosomal genetics by Fennoscandia Biographic Project, using the most advanced analysis tools available (it seems): as always Scandinavians are somewhat distinct within Western Europe but Finnic peoples are a world on their own.


Other genetics

Rice varieties indica and japonica may have been independently domesticated (paper): Independent Domestication of Asian Rice Followed by Gene Flow from japonica to indica (Chin-chia Yang et al. at MBE, PPV).

32 comments:

  1. "Rock art found at Paleoindian site in Clarke Co., Virginia (USA)"

    It is a tragedy that there are so many layers of politics and opportunism involved with so many possible paleo sites in N America, that the good scientific work some are doing is being swamped by much too much dodgy work. I have serious doubts these alleged petroglyphs are even man made.

    And as to the claim that human hands are common subjects in rock art, that is very misleading. Hands are common in rock paintings. I am not aware of any site where anyone bothered to carve life sized handprints as petroglyphs.

    I don't doubt that any diligent hunt could turn up some paleo stone artifacts in the area, but that is true of anyplace east of the Mississippi. This does not support the petroglyph claims at all.

    Finally, colour me EXTREMELY skeptical about any claims of solstice sites in paleo N America. Certainly astronomy was central to the much later neolithic farming cultures of Mexico, but no reason for paleo Virginia to have astronomical sites. The North American SE in particular suffers from an inferiority complex regarding the great civilizations of Mesoamerica. Numerous cranks abound, (often at least in part native descendants) and claim to see things which objectively just aren't there.

    The comments section following the article on the supposed petroglyphs is very interesting and worth a read.

    Full disclosure: I am in (small) part a native descendant myself and thus feel no shame at all in being skeptical of claims from some of my distant reddish cousins.

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  2. I don't know, Joy. I find the arguments of "Skeptic" little more than venom spitting: he/she has no evidence against the authenticity and yet is calling it a fraud or illusion (not likely: engravings are not illusions, although they may be recent or even falsifications) just because.

    However the argument about it possibly being more recent than Paleoindian makes some sense. Just some.

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  3. Archaeologist Claims 12,000-Year-Old Solstice Site in Clarke County

    I find this extremely unlikely, for a host of reasons.

    Maju, I think we briefly discussed the nearby Thunderbird site here in comments, not too long ago.

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  4. @Joy: "Certainly astronomy was central to the much later neolithic farming cultures of Mexico, but no reason for paleo Virginia to have astronomical sites"...

    I'm not saying they should but I can't figure a reason why not. After all there are also quite solid theories (hard to demonstrate unequivocally but internally solid anyhow) on Paleolithic rock art being of astronomical nature (representing constellations and such). There are certainly markers of the phases of the Moon.

    There's no reason why astronomy should be restricted to agricultural societies, IMO. Although these naturally could gather more workers seasonally to build larger monuments, even something as big as Göbleki Tepe was at its beginnings at least pre-Neolithic, it seems.

    Still the finding of petroglyphs (inscriptions on rock) does not mean that the site had an astronomical intent, right?

    ...

    @VaHighlander: "I find this extremely unlikely, for a host of reasons".

    That's another site, right?

    In truth the "monument" looks rather drably. But that actually makes me think that the people involved actually believe in it, regardless of its objective authenticity. Would it be a falsification, it'd be more spectacular probably.

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  5. The Neanderthal study was interesting. More and more studies are showing that there was little difference between Neanderthal and early moderns. There have been all sorts of reasons (From M Mazota: "Conception of the time, symbolic capacity of speech, abilities, capacity to innovate or to even work material how the bone or the spear, possibility of establishing relations long-distance, a minimum social organization, space distribution of the activities, etc.")given why Neanderthals were inferior to moderns, but those reasons are being challenged by current research.

    I suspect that they will eventually find no physical, mental or cultural difference that will explain the extinction of the Neanderthal.

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  6. I personally feel inclined to see a few different traits between H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis, which may be synthesized into just one: body anatomy: they were stronger but we were lighter and styled longer legs.

    Maybe the mind also played a role but body differences are much more obvious and have direct impacts. To begin with, our longer legs and less demanding metabolism, meant that, everything else equal, we would reach farther in quite less time. This had consequences like our species being maybe in Australia and certainly in India when Neanderthals were just reaching out of Europe, it seems. Also it seems that, in equivalent conditions, we exploited larger areas, allowing maybe larger groups or at the very least a sturdier economy in the face of climatic crisis.

    Quite related is the matter of Cro-Magnon shoulders displaying deformations characteristic of throwing athletes, something that Neanderthal shoulders never did. While it's possible that Neanderthals threw weaponry, they were surely not so dedicated to this ranged kind of hunt and combat as our ancestors were, trusting more their excellent attributes for melee fighting style.

    In time this would have been a possibly critical techno-cultural advantage that, no matter how hard they tried could have found inconvenient to copy in full, because their bodies were not as good for that kind of guerrilla fight.

    Add a good dose of poison maybe an you've got the recipe for a slow but steady extinction by accumulation of punctual instances of competition, regardless of intellectual attributes.

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  7. Maju, the site described in the article that you posted and the one in the article that I posted are the same site, so far as I am aware. The article that I posted just included more detail about the alleged finds.

    I personally don't believe that anyone is advancing fraudulent claims in this case, merely that they are likely mistaken.

    While it is possible that paleolithic man took an interest in solar calendrics and astronomy, I have no evidence suggesting that they ever did so. I cannot think of a reason why it would be important, either.

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  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Aboriginal_astronomy

    "Some Aboriginal groups use the motions of celestial bodies for calendar purposes. Many attribute religious or mythological meanings to celestial bodies and phenomena. There is a diversity of astronomical traditions in Australia, each with its own particular expression of cosmology. However, there appear to be common themes and systems between the groups".

    Australian Aborigines were all the time foragers.

    Seasons (calendar) may matter as much for foragers as for farmers. Astronomy also provides navigational tools, which are definitely more important for semi-nomadic foragers than for sedentary farmers.

    Finally, practical goals apart, foragers (and to some extent some neolithic peoples but more shepherds or fishermen than farmers typically) have many open air night camps, where watching the sky and learning its secrets may be one of the few entertainments.

    http://www.atnf.csiro.au/research/AboriginalAstronomy/

    The image in the front of this page is very similar in concept to the famous Aurignacian lunar calendar.

    Make an Internet search for more info because you'll get many more hits than I can discuss here. But I think it is important to acknowledge that (1) astronomy (as calendar and navigation at least) was important for hunter-gatherers and that (2) there is at least one old huntergatherer culture (Australian Aborigines) which have retained such Paleolithic knowledge till present day.

    "the site described in the article that you posted and the one in the article that I posted are the same site"...

    You seem to be right. I thought they were unrelated. I can't but agree that this makes it all more suspicious, notably because the "stone ring" seems so weird (I see no "ring" just randomly placed pebbles) as it is the way of its "discovery" (mystical revelation).

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  9. Maju, are you suggesting a cultural connection between Australian Aborigines and paleolithic Native Americans? Common sense suggests that a sea-going people and their descendants would have an interest in astronomy. That early stone-age people were capable of astronomical reasoning is beside the point.

    Man must have been following the lunar cycle from a fabulous date. This is why I specifically said "solar".

    It makes sense for an agricultural people to use a solar calendar. Such ways of reckoning time seem linked to a structured and settled way of life. Do you associate that sort of thing with wide-ranging, hunter-gatherer types? I don't and I note that none of the examples you so thoughtfully provide suggest otherwise.

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  10. Another problem is that you imagine an environment in which these paleo hunters roamed that simply did not exist. This is not the steppes of Central Asia, as even a cursory glance at a map would show.

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  11. "Maju, are you suggesting a cultural connection between Australian Aborigines and paleolithic Native Americans?"

    Nope (not particularly, just at the OoA level, which is fairly remote). I'm stating that pre-Neolithic peoples also knew and used astronomical knowledge, at least in some cases, and that we should not be too surprised for that.

    "Common sense suggests that a sea-going people and their descendants would have an interest in astronomy".

    That's speculative (reasons for astronomy could also be others, like orienting on land, season prediction, fun, cosmology, measuring time, etc.) Anyhow what happened to the coastal route in America? I thought it was already mainstream...

    "This is why I specifically said "solar"".

    Ah, I missed that part. Still an approximate solar calendar must have been known since old, using the position of stars (Syrius for example) it is relatively easy to know when the solar year begins (precession of equinoxes is not important for human lifetimes and not too demanding precision levels). What's the point of knowing the Moon cycles if you can't predict spring?

    I rather have the feeling that Moon calendars are simplified, degenerated versions of solar (whole) ones. But whatever.

    "Do you associate that sort of thing with wide-ranging, hunter-gatherer types?"

    I don't think it's strictly necessary: there could well be forager cultures with a less perfected or even very basic astronomical knowledge. In any case, everywhere there are seasons of some sort and even the less attentive would pick patterns through life and this knowledge would become ingrained in the ethnic culture.

    Even highly nomadic foragers, tend to move through a known territory forth and back, while others were surely more semi-sedentary (example) using just a district of some 100 km of diameter maybe for most purposes, exploiting different resources in different seasons. For that purpose they had to know one way or another when seasons began and ended, which is the main practical purpose of astronomy.

    They would have used local landmarks to measure for example the position of the Sun at dawn or stars.

    "you imagine an environment in which these paleo hunters roamed that simply did not exist. This is not the steppes of Central Asia, as even a cursory glance at a map would show".

    Are you implying that the existence of these peoples was effectively immersed in forests 24/7, being even more constrained by them than Pygmies in their jungle?

    Notice in any case that I'm not judging these findings, which I do find strange, but I do defend the possibility that hunter-gatherers in general (and not necessarily in the steppes) had some astronomy, just as a matter of course. Naturally, like Australian Aborigines, some would have developed and retained better knowledge while others would be more ignorant of such matters.

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  12. Maju, you have made a number of good points. However, I am still very skeptical of the Virginia site. It is pretty vague stuff compared to the 1054 supernova pictograph at Chaco.

    If you read any of the hundreds of excellent peer reviewed papers that the University of Florida has published on proven paleo sites, there is no comparison with the quality of this site and the poorly supported assertions of the promoters Of note, glyphs can be roughly dated from the oxidation state of the stone, the promoters of this site would have better served themselves if they had gotten someone to do this first.

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  13. Sorry, me again.

    "Still an approximate solar calendar must have been known since old, using the position of stars (Syrius for example) it is relatively easy to know when the solar year begins"

    I disagree. It is very difficult to know exactly when the solstice occurrs unless you've kept a record for several years measuring the shadow of a stick in the ground. On the other hand it is very easy to note when Syrius, or any other constellation, first appears above the horizon. For most non-agricultural, and many agriculturists, their new year starts with the first New Moon after the rising of particular constellations. So Va_Highlander is correct when he writes, 'Man must have been following the lunar cycle from a fabulous date'. A remnant of a lunar calendar survives in the modern European dating for Easter: the first full moon after the equinox. But the time of a full moon is almost as difficult to determine as is the solstice. Hence most people use the first appearance of the new moon as a starting point. For example Muslims.

    "What's the point of knowing the Moon cycles if you can't predict spring?"

    You predict spring as starting a certain number of 'months' after the particular constellation first appears. No problem. Byut in such a calendar spring does not always start at the time it would using a solar calendar. It varies by up to a month. A remnant of a lunar calendar survives in the modern European dating for Easter: the first full moon after the equinox.

    "I rather have the feeling that Moon calendars are simplified, degenerated versions of solar (whole) ones. But whatever".

    On the contrary, the setting of a solar calendar pre-supposes a settled population. You may find this short article on the pre-European Maori calendar interesting:

    http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/maramataka-the-lunar-calendar/1

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  14. @Joy: agreed.

    @Terry: "It is very difficult to know exactly when the solstice occurrs unless you've kept a record for several years"...

    Luckily for our purpose people live more than just several years and their knowledge, rudimentary or advanced, new or traditional, tends to be transmitted to the new generations, which will often refine it.

    "On the other hand it is very easy to note when Syrius, or any other constellation, first appears above the horizon. For most non-agricultural, and many agriculturists, their new year starts with the first New Moon after the rising of particular constellations. So Va_Highlander is correct when he writes, 'Man must have been following the lunar cycle from a fabulous date'".

    If so, it'd be lunisolar, because the purely lunar year is not a true year but a set of months (moon cycles). A typical example is the Islamic religious calendar. The lunar year is of 154 days, a 11 days shorter than the real year.

    Lunisolar calendars are nothing but solar calendars that accommodate the lunar cycle inside them somehow. Our months and weeks are remnants of that system. Lunisolar calendars like the Chinese traditional one oscillate somewhat but don't go wild: Spring time can still be predicted with great accuracy and preparations can be done accordingly.

    Whatever the case, I do not see any evidence for the solar calendar being evolved from the lunar one but at best being independent parallel systems, forced to converge at times. Lunar cycles are convenient for the short term count of time but they are useless to count the natural cycles (other than tides), which are ruled by the Sun and are as unrelated to the lunar cycles as two things can be.

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  15. Maju, your speculations are interesting, but don't really change two basic facts: there is no evidence that paleolithic hunter gatherers were interested in solar calendrics and no compelling argument why they should be interested, either in general or specifically in this case. Possessing an accurate solar calendar solved no obvious problem for such people and would have offered no obvious advantage over other paleolithic hunters lacking such knowledge.

    You also seem confused about the physical terrain in which this site is located, the probable environmental conditions in the region during the North-American paleolithic and how both would likely affect the behavior of paleo hunter gatherers. As I say, this is in northern Virginia, not Kazakhstan, so there is no reason to imagine them navigating trackless grasslands using the sun, moon and stars. It's romantic nonsense. One would have to climb to a ridge-top in a harsh environment just to obtain an unobstructed view of the horizon -- again for no conceivable practical purpose.

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  16. If the reindeer or bison migrations depend on a solar calendar, as they do, or the moment of ripening of this or that other fruit, etc. does, then the solar calendar, more or less exact, is necessary or at the very least extremely useful for those peoples. Don't forget that agriculture and pastoralism aren't but modified foraging and hunting, nothing else. The basic rules (the seasons and solar year) are the same.

    As for the terrain, I'd think of a featureless terrain as less helpful because landmarks such as mountains and hills would act as "Stonhenge columns and voids", becoming reference points for measuring the cycles of the stars and the Sun itself. I have no idea if this was the case in Virginia but it seems at least as appropriate to me as the featureless empty flatlands of Khazakstan.

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  17. "Luckily for our purpose people live more than just several years and their knowledge, rudimentary or advanced, new or traditional, tends to be transmitted to the new generations, which will often refine it".

    But it would take a number of years to work out exactly when either solstice occurred, and you would have to observe it from exactly the same place each year. If we're talking here of mobile populations such observations are impossible. On the other hand a constellation rising above the horizon for the first time would be relatively independent of where in your home range you happen to be.

    "If so, it'd be lunisolar, because the purely lunar year is not a true year but a set of months (moon cycles)".

    It would actually have nothing to do with a solar year. It would be an astronomical year. It is possible to have a lunar year an not even be aware that a solar year is approximately 365 days long. Although if anyone bothered to count the days from one first rising to the next they would arrive at an approximate figure.

    "Lunisolar calendars like the Chinese traditional one oscillate somewhat but don't go wild: Spring time can still be predicted with great accuracy and preparations can be done accordingly".

    The same holds for the Maori calendar as well. The timing of the various 'months' varies only by the extent of one of the modern months. But, as the link shows, sometimes the Maori 'year' has 13 months. So it has the ability to adjust, unlike the Muslim calendar.

    "Whatever the case, I do not see any evidence for the solar calendar being evolved from the lunar one"

    Probably not, but the lunar calendar is far older than the solar one. A solar calendar is only possible with a settled population.

    "Lunar cycles are convenient for the short term count of time but they are useless to count the natural cycles"

    The Maoris, amoung others, managed very effectively for a very long time without any sort of solar calendar.

    "there is no evidence that paleolithic hunter gatherers were interested in solar calendrics"

    Exactly. Even the Aboriginal calendar referred to earlier mentions 'the motions of celestial bodies for calendar purposes'. Although the sun is a 'celestial body' it was probably not used by the Aborigines to mark nothing more than the passing of days. Seasons would have been marked by the appearance of constellations.

    "If the reindeer or bison migrations depend on a solar calendar, as they do, or the moment of ripening of this or that other fruit, etc. does, then the solar calendar, more or less exact, is necessary or at the very least extremely useful for those peoples".

    By that reasoning you must be claiming that reindeer and bison have some method of calculating solstices and equinoxes. Their own Stonehenge perhaps? Don't they just rely on the fact that the weather is warming up or cooling down? It is unlikely that their seasonal migrations coincide to the day each year.

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  18. How mobile? Many foragers used repeatedly the same territory, which may be rather small (100 km diameter or so). In this, the steppes have a disadvantage: being such a "basic" ecosystem, they provided limited kinds of food and force people to follow the packs (or wait for them), while more diverse eco-niches near mountain and sea (Franco-Cantabrian region but so many others, including Virginia, I guess) provided in all seasons: bisons in winter, goats in summer, seafood or seals or sea birds' eggs whenever (not sure about seafood cycles).

    "It would actually have nothing to do with a solar year".

    If it's a year, then it is solar (at least approximatively so). Otherwise "year" is a misnomer and is anyhow useless.

    "... the Maori 'year'"...

    is a Lunisolar year: a solar year measured with great approximation in terms of months. Using leap years at convenience.

    "A solar calendar is only possible with a settled population".

    There we are again with the baseless dogmatism.

    "Seasons would have been marked by the appearance of constellations".

    What is (always approximately) solar. Learn your astronomy, damnit!

    "By that reasoning you must be claiming that reindeer and bison have some method of calculating solstices and equinoxes".

    They do not use calendars for that, that's for sure. However much simpler (intellectually speaking) organisms such as corals do with great perfection (otherwise they risk extinction by effective celibacy). So it must be not so hard, when even underwater can be measured by a brainless organism with no error.

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  19. "They do not use calendars for that, that's for sure. However much simpler (intellectually speaking) organisms such as corals do with great perfection"

    Lengthening or shortening days are sufficient for such organisms, and even for birds, and probably for mammalian migrations as well. Hunter gatherer humans would also be aware of such changes but would be incapable of calculating the year correctly solely from such observations.

    "'... the Maori year'... is a Lunisolar year: a solar year measured with great approximation in terms of months. Using leap years at convenience".

    A 'leap year'? You completely misread the link. Maori did not have 'leap years'. 'Leap months' perhaps, although usually the last few days were ignored until the next rising of the Pleiades:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleiades

    "If it's a year, then it is solar (at least approximatively so). Otherwise 'year' is a misnomer and is anyhow useless".

    Perhaps the Maori 'year' could be regarded as a 'Pleiades year', but certainly not a 'solar year'. They had no way of calculating soltices or equinoxes. Surely such knowledge is the basis of any meaningful 'solar year'.

    "How mobile? Many foragers used repeatedly the same territory, which may be rather small (100 km diameter or so)".

    OK. A question, which I'm sure you will ignore: How would you go about calculating the solstice, or the equinox (even more difficult), if you were a hunter-gatherer?

    "What is (always approximately) solar. Learn your astronomy, damnit!"

    'Constellations' do not usually include the sun. Learn your terminology, dammit.

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  20. "There we are again with the baseless dogmatism" [A solar calendar is only possible with a settled population].

    So obviously you will have no problem answering my previous question: 'How would you go about calculating the solstice, or the equinox (even more difficult), if you were a hunter-gatherer?' Surely no problem to a man of your huge knowledge. Not to mention your fixed abode. But I was refering to hunter gatherers.

    You may find this little article on the Maori New Year as celebrated today (not only by Maori) interesting:

    http://www.taitokerau.co.nz/matariki.htm

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  21. "Lengthening or shortening days are sufficient for such organisms"

    Not at all: corals MUST reproduce on a single day, actually at sunset:

    "In the Indo-Pacific region, mass spawning occurs once a year, on a night in early summer, near time of a full moon"... (Hatta 1999).

    They must be able to identify the beginning of the summer and full moon, all of which is indeed in available sensorial clues but requires fine tunning (for example it's not obvious that, in the Northern hemisphere, June 24th is shorter than the 21st if you don't have a precise clock or use astronomical measures of some sort).

    "Maori did not have 'leap years'. 'Leap months' perhaps"...

    It's different than ours because they add a month instead of a day, but the concept is the same and hence "leap year" is a correct term.

    "Perhaps the Maori 'year' could be regarded as a 'Pleiades year', but certainly not a 'solar year'".

    What do you think you are measuring in the Pleiads or whatever other stars? The Solar cycle. As I said above, get your astronomy straight before you dare to throw around your always arrogant but often wrong ideas: stars don't move (for our observational purposes), Earth does around the Sun (year) and in its own seasonal wobble (year as well), as it does the whole sky seems to move and that's how we can know the year and its subdivisions by looking at the stars.

    Pleiad year = Solar year = Sirius year in the northern hemisphere, etc.

    "How would you go about calculating the solstice, or the equinox (even more difficult), if you were a hunter-gatherer?"

    You can of course estimate by noticing day length (solstices) but it's a very rough method. You need to look at the stars and/or where the Sun rises and sets in relation to fixed observation points. The pattern of the stars, notably the Zodiac, is cyclical and exactly yearly, by watching these stars and the position of the Sun you can get a very exact measure of the year. You need to watch and keep track however, and that is what has been argued that some foragers did/do.

    You probably begin with less precise measures but with time, generation after generation, if there are bright observers in that tribe, a whole astro-calendaric system should emerge.

    This is controversial but it has been argued that decorated caves in the Franco-Cantabrian region actually were selected for their astronomical orientation and hold astronomical maps, at least in part, which may have been part of the "science" of that culture.

    I'd dare say that astronomical drawings of constellations in the shape of bisons and other animals could have served as didactic stellariums, within the cosmological (religious, mythical...) beliefs of those peoples, presumably our direct ancestors (for those with Western European roots). But they could have done without them anyhow.

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  22. "Otherwise 'year' is a misnomer and is anyhow useless".

    So the Muslim 'year' is 'useless'? Watch out or you will have a fatwah issued against you.

    "They must be able to identify the beginning of the summer and full moon, all of which is indeed in available sensorial clues but requires fine tunning (for example it's not obvious that, in the Northern hemisphere, June 24th is shorter than the 21st if you don't have a precise clock or use astronomical measures of some sort)".

    The corals do not have to 'identify the beginning of the summer and full moon'. The 'full moon' is no problem, and 'early summer' just means increasing daylight past a particular day length. No need for any sort of 'solar year' here.

    "It's different than ours because they add a month instead of a day, but the concept is the same and hence 'leap year' is a correct term".

    The concept is not the same. Our calendar is based on solstices and equinoxes, although the actual dates have been shifted through historical adjustnments. Their calendar has no concept of solar patterns. And they don't just 'add a month'. Most tribes had just ten lunar months. The days between the end of that month and the rising of Matariki were just fill-ins. Not leap months.

    "What do you think you are measuring in the Pleiads or whatever other stars? The Solar cycle".

    You are getting really confused here. It is completely possible to have a Pleiades year with no knowledge whatsoever of a solar year. The Maori probably did not even realise that the solar year was approximately 365 days long. Their 'year varied in length.

    "You can of course estimate by noticing day length (solstices)"

    What kind of watch are you using? A wristwatch or a pendular clock? I realise many hunter-gatherers have digital watches these days but that has certainly not always been so.

    "You need to look at the stars and/or where the Sun rises and sets in relation to fixed observation points".

    And this while you're moving around your range. My brother is aware that the sun sets through the opening of the Hokianga harbour when viewed from the bar at Omapere, but he knows that because he knows when the equinox is. That certainly cannot be used as proof that such observation led to the idea of soltices and equinoxes.

    "The pattern of the stars, notably the Zodiac, is cyclical and exactly yearly, by watching these stars and the position of the Sun you can get a very exact measure of the year".

    Such observation will tell you nothing about solstices and equinoxes.

    "You probably begin with less precise measures but with time, generation after generation, if there are bright observers in that tribe, a whole astro-calendaric system should emerge".

    But not a solar calendar until such people have spent several years in exactly the same place.

    "This is controversial but it has been argued that decorated caves in the Franco-Cantabrian region actually were selected for their astronomical orientation and hold astronomical maps"

    Possibly so, but nothing to do with the solar timetable. Why do you think the West European Neolithic people invested such time and energy into manufacturing such places as Stonehenge? Just for fun? No. It was because it is very difficult to observe the solar year directly.

    The net result of the above is that you still haven't told me how you personally would calculate the solstices and equinoxes. The only way is to stay in the same place for a number of years and observe 'where the Sun rises and sets in relation to fixed observation points'. So, in spite of your spiteful claim, I was absolutely correct with my comment, 'A solar calendar is only possible with a settled population'.

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  23. "Watch out or you will have a fatwah issued against you".

    If you don't have a death fatwa against you these days you're a nobody. So far I am but I hope to improve. ;)

    Seriously: the Muslim lunar calendar is quite useless (except for the faithful, of course).

    "... and 'early summer' just means increasing daylight past a particular day length".

    How do you measure that without a precise clock or astronomical observations? We are already two months after solstice here and I barely notice (with clocks!) that day length is increasing. How can a coral do that with precision of mere days?!

    "Our calendar is based on solstices and equinoxes"...

    The Maori calendar as well, directly or indirectly - otherwise they would not have a Lunisolar calendar but a merely lunar one.

    In any case I do not wish to discuss the peculiarities of the Maori calendar: either it is an approximate measure of the (solar) year or it is a, mostly useless, mere count of moon cycles.

    "It is completely possible to have a Pleiades year with no knowledge whatsoever of a solar year".

    Whether you know or not it's a solar year.

    "... hunter-gatherers have digital watches these days"...

    Please focus.

    "Such observation [the Zodiacal cycle] will tell you nothing about solstices and equinoxes".

    On the contrary: it will. Ignoring the long-term change of precession of equinoxes, the Zodiacal cycle tells you the seasons and the months. You just need to be familiar with it (or a very dedicated empirical astronomer).

    "Why do you think the West European Neolithic people invested such time and energy into manufacturing such places as Stonehenge?"

    Because there was a priestly caste that exploited them. The details have been lost.

    "It was because it is very difficult to observe the solar year directly".

    No. You do not need Stonehnge to observe the solar year, Stonehenge may also be an astro-calendar but it is a ceremonial one for show. Stonehenge did not inaugurate astronomy, it is just a pharaonic construction with emphasis on astronomy. But you can do the same with a much smaller stone or wood ring or even using the natural landscape as reference.

    "you still haven't told me how you personally would calculate the solstices and equinoxes".

    I told you above!

    But looking at when the Pleiades show up if that pleases you better. There are as many methods as stars in the nightly sky probably.

    As for people moving around, they probably did not move so much in some cases. Even fixed villages of hunter-gatherers have been known to exist historically: the Mandans for instance only grew corn for immediate consumption in green form (no storage, seasonal food only) and relied on fishing, lesser hunt, vegetables and specially the seasonal migrations of bisons. When these passed near their village, they massacred them and prepared pemmican for months or even the whole year.

    So, while I can't say if this something similar was the pattern in other cases, it's not any rule that foragers are all the time on the move, many surely lived in relatively semi-sedentary conditions and this has been documented at least in the Franco-Cantabrian region, where these bands or clans seem to have exploited specific districts in more or less cyclical patterns.

    Whatever the case, if Australian Aborigines have astronomy and solar calendar, so could so many others.

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  24. "Whatever the case, if Australian Aborigines have astronomy and solar calendar, so could so many others".

    Australian Aborigines did not have a solar calendar. Perhaps you can provide evidence that they did have?

    "How do you measure that without a precise clock or astronomical observations?"

    So you're claiming that corals have precise clocks (wrist watches?) and are keen observers of astronomical phenomena?

    "We are already two months after solstice here and I barely notice (with clocks!) that day length is increasing. How can a coral do that with precision of mere days?!"

    Two things here. If you can't discern the increasing day length how do you expect hunter-gatherers to have concocted a solar calendar? And corals hardly manage to spawn with precision at some particular day in early summer. The quote includes the statement, 'near time of a full moon'. Obviously even corals can be aware of a full moon during a period of warming water.

    "The Maori calendar as well, directly or indirectly"

    Very indirectly. They had no concept of equinox or solstice. Impossible to then refer to their calendar as 'solar' or even 'lunisolar'.

    "it is an approximate measure of the (solar) year"

    It is an approximation of the seasons. And such a calendar was presumably widespread before the adoption of the solar calendar.

    "Whether you know or not it's a solar year".

    No it is not! It starts at a different period during the solar year, varying by much as a month from year to year. So it is disconnected from any meaningful use of the term 'solar year'.

    "On the contrary: it will. Ignoring the long-term change of precession of equinoxes, the Zodiacal cycle tells you the seasons and the months".

    Please remind me of how that requires knowledge of a solar year?

    "Because there was a priestly caste that exploited them. The details have been lost".

    As priestly casts always do. But they were originally almost certainly built to track the solar year. Admittedly such grand construction was not necessary for such a purpose but it did mean the construction was more permanent than a mere stick in the ground.

    "I told you above!"

    With a much smaller stone or wood ring or even using the natural landscape as reference? And you're going to remain there all year round for at least a couple of years to adjust your reckoning? I was asking for an explanation for how hunter-gatherers could have constructed a solar calendar.

    "As for people moving around, they probably did not move so much in some cases".

    You don't have to move far before the sun rises and sets over a different point in the landscape. A couple of hundred metres is sufficient to shift the reference point.

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  25. "Australian Aborigines did not have a solar calendar. Perhaps you can provide evidence that they did have?"

    Perhaps you could follow the link I posted above: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aboriginal_Astronomy

    Aboriginal calendars tend to be more complex than European calendars. Many groups in northern Australia use a calendar with six seasons, and some groups mark the seasons by the stars which are visible during them.[5] For the Pitjantjatjara, for example, the rising of the Pleiades at dawn (in May) marks the start of winter.[5][11]

    Many stories exist where the heliacal rising or setting of stars or constellations are used to tell Aboriginal Australians when it's time to move to a new place and/or look for a new food source.[5]


    "If you can't discern the increasing day length how do you expect hunter-gatherers to have concocted a solar calendar?"

    When the sunlight hits certain places, typically in well oriented caves... then you know.

    That's why the caves they decorated were those and not others. There was "solar magic" in them.

    In addition, looking at the stars is a great help, because the sidereal and solar year are almost the same.

    "With a much smaller stone or wood ring or even using the natural landscape as reference? And you're going to remain there all year round for at least a couple of years to adjust your reckoning?"

    Not necessarily (although it's not impossible, specially for revered shamans or the like, who might have lived mostly on donations) but you may move between two or three locations through the year and make your observations in them. Or you may have a number of reference locations whatsoever and your oversized human brain is able to understand at least intuitively the geometry of the problem implied.

    "You don't have to move far before the sun rises and sets over a different point in the landscape. A couple of hundred metres is sufficient to shift the reference point".

    Hunter-gatherers have plenty of free time. They can choose where to make their observations. Anyhow, sidereal observations of the kind "when the Pleiads rise over the horizon first each year" are not really subject to those small movement changes. And that may be a reason why "fixed stars" have always been a favorite theme of astronomers and mariners alike.

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  26. "Perhaps you could follow the link I posted above: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aboriginal_Astronomy"

    And when one does that this is what we find specifically concerning the sun:

    "The Yolngu say that Walu, the Sun-woman, lights a small fire each morning, which we see as the dawn.[7] She paints herself with red ochre, some of which spills onto the clouds, creating the sunrise. She then lights a torch and carries it across the sky from east to west, creating daylight. At the end of her journey, as she descends from the sky, some of her ochre paints again rubs off onto the clouds, creating the sunset. She then puts out her torch, and throughout the night travels underground back to her starting camp in the east".

    So you're claiming that as the basis of the Aborigine solar calendar.

    "Aboriginal calendars tend to be more complex than European calendars. Many groups in northern Australia use a calendar with six seasons, and some groups mark the seasons by the stars which are visible during them.[5] For the Pitjantjatjara, for example, the rising of the Pleiades at dawn (in May) marks the start of winter.[5][11] Many stories exist where the heliacal rising or setting of stars or constellations are used to tell Aboriginal Australians when it's time to move to a new place and/or look for a new food source."

    And that quote mentions the sun ... where?

    "When the sunlight hits certain places, typically in well oriented caves... then you know".

    You can only use that as an indication if you spend all year in the particular cave. In fact several years.

    "In addition, looking at the stars is a great help, because the sidereal and solar year are almost the same".

    True, but the sidereal year does not require knowledge of the sun's position. Surely this last is an absolute necessity for calling any calendar a 'solar calendar'.

    "you may move between two or three locations through the year and make your observations in them".

    Which would totally confuse your observations, and therefore your conclusions.

    "Hunter-gatherers have plenty of free time. They can choose where to make their observations".

    Yes. And they tend to move around rather a lot.

    "Even fixed villages of hunter-gatherers have been known to exist historically: the Mandans for instance only grew corn for immediate consumption in green form (no storage, seasonal food only) and relied on fishing, lesser hunt, vegetables and specially the seasonal migrations of bisons. When these passed near their village, they massacred them and prepared pemmican for months or even the whole year".

    And it is precisely people in such a situation that are most likely to invent a solar calendar. Most hunter-gatherers are far less settled than were the Mandan. But I note from that passage that you now agree with my comment, 'A solar calendar is only possible with a settled population'. So why did you write this:

    "There we are again with the baseless dogmatism".

    Once again I find you making abusive statements from an incorrect stance.

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  27. Terry, really, learn something about astronomy and what is a solar/sidereal year. I'm too tired to discuss your annoying nit-picky nonsense babbling.

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  28. "learn something about astronomy and what is a solar/sidereal year".

    a solar year is based on the position of the sun and a sidereal year is based on the position of stars. They are separarte means of concocting a calendar. Nothing nit-picky about it. It just so happens that they come up with the same period of time.

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  29. ... "the tropical [Solar] year is about 20 minutes shorter than the time it takes Earth to complete one full orbit around the Sun as measured with respect to the fixed stars (the sidereal year)".

    In 60 years the accumulated difference is a mere 20 hours. They are the same thing for all practical purposes.

    "It just so happens that they come up with the same period of time".

    LOL

    Same thing here on planet Earth, not sure on your planet. :p

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  30. "In 60 years the accumulated difference is a mere 20 hours. They are the same thing for all practical purposes".

    Of course they are. But they are arrived at by different methods. The sidereal year cannot be considered the same as the solar year as far as its use amoung hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers had no method of calculating solstices and equinoxes, which is what the solar year relies on. So stop splitting hairs.

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  31. "The sidereal year cannot be considered the same as the solar year"...

    Of course they can: they are telling you the same thing and you have no means to know the difference (before systematic written records).

    "Hunter-gatherers had no method of calculating solstices and equinoxes"...

    They had, in some cases at least, just like anyone else. Chantal Jègues Wolkiewiez, for instance, found that: "all or nearly all the caves with paintings [in Perigord] have a clear solar orientation, being illuminated in either an equinox or a solstice".

    Of course there's a lot of old school conservative academics who won't have anything of this but they are not offering alternative explanations either. They just sit on their armchairs and grunt from their fossilization process.

    "So stop splitting hairs".

    Who's splitting hairs here?! "Sidereal is not Solar"... c'mon!

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  32. "Of course they can: they are telling you the same thing and you have no means to know the difference (before systematic written records)"

    They are arrived at by completely different methods, and before writing there is no way of making any intellectual connection between them.

    "They had, in some cases at least, just like anyone else. Chantal Jègues Wolkiewiez, for instance, found that: 'all or nearly all the caves with paintings [in Perigord] have a clear solar orientation, being illuminated in either an equinox or a solstice'".

    I'm not aware of that one. I'll have to check.

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