Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WARFLY (Insects as Silent Witnesses to Prehistoric Warfare: Forensic Archaeoentomology as a Novel Approach to the Study of Conflict)
Reporting period: 2016-11-01 to 2018-10-31
The project focuses on Nunalleq, a pre-contact (16-17th centuries AD) indigenous (Yup’ik) site which was the scene of violence associated with a conflict referred to by Yup’ik oral historians as ‘the Bow and Arrow Wars’. The permafrost-preserved archaeology at the site includes the remains of a large sod structure, which final floor layers are burnt and overlain by charred roof sods strewn with projectile points and shafts. Excavations have also recovered the remains of several of the conflict victims. Multiple samples of fly, beetle, lice and flea subfossils recovered from house floors and from the victim’s remains are the object of high-resolution spatial and diachronic analyses. The results will form the basis for building a series of possible scenarios, which will be scrutinised through examination of other artefactual and biological evidence available at the site.
This project is the first to introduce archaeoentomology – the study of insect remains preserved in archaeological sites – into the realm of conflict archaeology. It will also contribute to the first investigation of the Bow and Arrow Wars from an archaeological perspective.
In an attempt to determine whether the entomological evidence could help reconstruct the events and scene of the attack, spatial analyses were undertaken as well. The spatial patterning of human parasites (lice and fleas) and necrophagous flies in the most recent house floors of the site (those contemporary with the attack) was thus compared with that of other types of archaeological data, including human hair, fur, coprolites, lithic points and clothing. The results suggest that the confrontation mainly took place outside the sod house. Perhaps most importantly, those results demonstrated that past conflict episodes – which caused the death of human hosts – can substantially influence insect subfossil assemblages on archaeological sites.
Publication of the main results of the project – including the list of insects recovered from human remains and associated osteological data – is pending, with the manuscript currently under construction. The results of the spatial analyses have been written into a manuscript that is currently under review.
In terms of future research, it is envisaged that the pilot study of insects sampled from around corpses will be substantiated through a more extensive and detailed analysis of the numerous samples that were collected during the 2015 field season.
It is hoped that the continued application of the new approach developed in this project, and the integration of the insect subfossils with other available data, will allow a detailed narrative of the events that preceded, defined and followed the attack on Nunalleq to be reconstructed from material evidence.