🧐 Ancient Beat #16: Mass (frog) burials, artificial intelligence, and the Black Death
Happy Friday, folks — and welcome to issue #16 of Ancient Beat! Let’s get right into the latest ancient news 👇
🗞 Ancient News
Mass frog burial baffles experts at iron age site near Cambridge — Archaeologists have uncovered a huge number of frog and toad skeletons in a 14-meter ditch near an iron age roundhouse in the UK. According to Dr. Vicki Ewens, “To have [over 8,000] bones coming from one ditch is extraordinary.” As to why they are there, no one knows. The bones have no cut or burn marks, so they probably weren’t eaten (though they could have been boiled). Many ancient civilizations saw the frog as a symbol for fertility, so it’s possible that it was ceremonial. Or the frogs could have simply been trapped by chance. It’s a mystery.
AI finds hidden evidence of ancient human fires 1 million years ago — A team of researchers used artificial intelligence to look at 1-million-year-old flints from Evron Quarry in Israel. The AI successfully identified subtle variations in the flints indicating that they had been heated to about 400°C. There is no evidence of wildfires. With this in mind, they took another look at the site’s bones and found that they had actually been heated too, demonstrating that archaic humans likely had control over fire at this point in time at Evron Quarry. There is already evidence for earlier control of fire, but the researchers’ achievement creates new possibilities in the testing of hypotheses regarding the use of fire. For more information on this, and fire control in general, here’s another interesting article.
Israeli study shows olive trees were domesticated in Jordan Valley 7,000 years ago — 7,000-year-old evidence of tree domestication has been found at the archaeological sit of Tel Tsaf in Jordan Valley, Israel. Remnants of charcoal were analyzed and the researchers found that it came from olive and fig trees. Olive trees are not native to Jordan Valley, indicating that they were planted intentionally. And fig trees are not good sources of fuel, so the twigs probably came from pruning. This is not the earliest evidence of such cultivation, but it is significant nonetheless. According to Dr. Dafna Langgut, “Trees give fruit only three to four years after being planted… Since groves of fruit trees require a substantial initial investment, and then live on for a long time, they have great economic and social significance in terms of owning land and bequeathing it to future generations – procedures suggesting the beginnings of a complex society.”
Archaeologists in eastern Iran excavate relics from 4th millennium BC — Evidence of early urbanization in the Uruk period (4000-3100 BCE) was discovered in the Kale-Kub archaeological site of Iran. Finds include early cuneiform script, pottery fragments, industrial architecture, and adobe brick walls — all of which offer evidence of “social complexity and an administrative management system.” This, along with the existence of nearby mines, indicates that Kale-Kub may have been a significant site within ancient interaction networks.
New findings support location of lost Indigenous settlement of Sarabay — Sarabay, a First Nations village which was thought to be the first encountered by 16th-century European explorers, was considered lost until recently. Researchers have now identified the site as Big Talbot Island. A large Indigenous structure with a 50-60 foot diameter has been found, as well as lots of pottery, Spanish storage vessels, and tools made from bone and shells — including one shell with Catholic imagery.
Ancient remains to be returned to local tribes — After nearly 60 years, bone fragments which were unearthed in Santa Fe, New Mexico will finally be returned to local tribes.
Intact Ancient Tombstone Discovered on Riverbed in Western Greece — A tombstone from the Hellenistic era was found in the Arachthos river in Greece. It has an embossed floral decoration and includes names and national origin. This is a new find in a series of discoveries from the ancient city of Ambrakia.
Stone blocks from reign of King Khufu discovered at Heliopolis — Archaeologists have found stone blocks from Khufu’s time in Heliopolis, Egypt. Khufu is a well-known pharaoh who is thought to have commissioned the construction of the Great Pyramid. They found large blocks of granite which may have come from a building that was once located near the Pyramids of Giza, but was later repurposed during the Ramesside era.
‘Stunning’ Anglo-Saxon burial site found along HS2 route — One of the largest Anglo-Saxon burial sites ever found was uncovered in Buckinghamshire, England. The dark-age find contains 138 graves, 141 inhumation burials, and five cremation burials. Artifacts include a grooming kit, jewelry, knives, and much more. According to Dr. Rachel Wood, “The fifth and sixth centuries are not ones we know a lot about, and all the objects we found will be able to tell us a lot about these people. It gives us a great snapshot of society.”
Archaeologists find Viking Age shipyard — Researchers uncovered a stone-lined depression with a wooden boat slip on the shore of a lake in Birka, which is known as Sweden’s first town. This, along with large quantities of woodworking tools and boat rivets, suggests that they’ve found a shipyard from the Viking age. According to Sven Isaksson, “A site like this has never been found before, it is the first of its kind, but the finds convincingly show that it was a shipyard.”
Fossils May Represent China’s Earliest Hominins — Recent examination of the 1.6 million-year-old Homo erectus teeth from Gongwangling, China, revealed that they were similar to those of later sites in China. According to José María Bermúdez de Castro, “The Gongwangling site helps to plug this enormous lapse of time and suggests that Asia might have been settled by successive populations of the species H. erectus at different moments of the Pleistocene.”
Ancient DNA solves mystery over origin of medieval Black Death — DNA analysis of remains found at cemeteries along the Silk Road have revealed that the 14th-century “black death” — the deadliest pandemic on record — started in northern Kyrgyzstan. The scientists found traces of the Yersinia pestis plague bacterium on the teeth of individuals who died about seven years earlier than the earliest known victims of the black death, leading them to believe that this strain gave rise to it. According to Philip Slavin, "Our finding that the Black Death originated in Central Asia in the 1330s puts centuries-old debates to rest."
Newly found Chinese artifacts illuminate mysterious ancient kingdom — On Monday, archaeologists announced the discovery of thousands of items dating back 3,000 to 4,500 years at the Chinese archaeological site of Sanxingdui. The finds include 1,238 items of bronze, 543 of gold, and 565 of jade. Among the most notable are a bronze altar and a one-of-a-kind bronze box with a tortoise lid. The purpose of the pits where they were found is unclear, but they may have been a sort of burial. According to Ran Honglin, “More cultural relics unearthed at Sanxingdui have also been seen in other locales in China, giving evidence of the early exchange and integration of Chinese civilization.”
❤️ Recommended Content
If you’ve got a couple of spare hours that you’d like to devote to prehistory, here’s a video Q&A hosted by The Prehistory Guys. They cover a lot of ground, from whaling to ancient graffiti to dolmen similarities across large distances.
Here’s a short video detailing the five oldest ruins in the world.
Did you know that 10,000 grinding stones have been found at Göbekli Tepe? Here’s a video on the topic.
That’s it for this week! That frog burial was weird, huh? My favorite tidbit might have been the news about tree cultivation, though — I find the subject of domestication endlessly fascinating.
Shoot me an email if you have any questions or suggestions. I’d love to hear from you. 😀
Until next time, thanks for joining me.
(newish twitter: @jamesofthedrum)
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