🧐 Ancient Beat #17: Hand axes, anonymous gods, and the Antikythera wreck
And speaking of ancient cultures, here’s what they were up to this week 👇
🗞 Ancient News
600,000-year-old evidence of Britain’s early inhabitants — Archaeologists have dated stone tools of early humans (H. heidelbergensis) near modern-day Canterbury in England to between 560,000 and 620,000 BP. This is not the earliest evidence of ancient humans in Britain but the hand axes are some of the oldest in Europe. During the recent excavation, new artifacts such as early flint scrapers were also found. According to Dr. Alastair Key, “The diversity of tools is fantastic. In the 1920s, the site produced some of earliest handaxes ever discovered in Britain. Now, for the first time, we have found rare evidence of scraping and piercing implements at this very early age”. The diversity also indicates that these humans were thriving, not just surviving.
Important New Findings Salvaged from Antikythera Shipwreck — The large marble head of a statue was found at the Antikythera island shipwreck, which was first discovered by sponge divers in 1900. The wreck dates to 60 BCE and is famous for the incredible Antikythera mechanism found within. The head bears a strong resemblance to the Farnese Hercules, and is therefore being called the “Heracles of Antikythera”. It is likely a fit for the headless statue that was originally found in the wreck.
Thousands of wooden objects and offerings recovered from the Aztec Templo Mayor — Archaeologists discovered ritual deposits at the foot of Templo Mayor in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Thought to be over 500 years old, the artifacts include masks, headdresses, scepters, darts, earrings, and jars, as well as the remains of birds, mammals, and aquatic animals. The wooden objects survived thanks to the anaerobic condition of the soil and the high humidity.
Archaeologists discover ‘exceptional’ ancient Roman temple in near intact condition — A relatively intact Roman sanctuary was found at a clay mine in the Netherlands. It is the first temple to be found so close to the Roman Limes — the 3,100-mile line marking the border of the Roman Empire at its height. The site was likely in use between the first and fourth centuries CE. Several temples have been found, along with an interesting well with descending stairs, which I believe may have had ceremonial significance. They’ve also uncovered idols, reliefs, votive stones, and painted plasterwork. According to the press release, “Never before has such a complete complex been found in the Netherlands with a temple building, votive stones and pits with the remains of sacrifices. In addition, the amount of limestone sculpture fragments is unprecedented.”
New Thoughts on Eastern Europe's Medieval Source of Ivory — It was previously thought that medieval Western Europeans got their walrus products from Norse settlers in Greenland, while Eastern European got them from the Barents Sea. However, analysis of nine walrus snout bone fragments found in Kyiv indicate that most of Western Europe’s walrus products also came from Greenland. The ivory probably traveled from Greenland to Scandinavia to Kyiv. From there, it may have spread even farther.
Droughts in the sixth century paved the way for Islam — A recent study discovered a previously overlooked factor in the demise of the Himyarite Kingdom (110 BCE - 520 CE) of modern-day Yemen: drought. By analyzing stalagmites, researchers were able to see a lengthy and severe drought in the sixth century CE. From there, they used historical documents to confirm the connection. According to Fleitmann, “The population was experiencing great hardship as a result of starvation and war. This meant Islam met with fertile ground: people were searching for new hope, something that could bring people together again as a society. The new religion offered this.”
Rahat excavation reveals early 1200-year-old rural mosque and ancient luxurious estate — A 1,200-year-old mosque has been found in Israel — one of the earliest rural mosques ever excavated. The mosque, which is the second found in the area, includes marble pavement, and walls with red and yellow frescos. High-status tableware and glass vessels were also found, indicating wealth. The finds shed light on the introduction of Islam in the southern Levant, as well as the new culture that came with it, replacing the Byzantine rulers and christianity. For more info, as well as a theory of how the inhabitants of the nearby estate got rich (making soap), here’s another article.
Ancient Inca tomb discovered under home in Peru capital — A 500-year-old Inca-era tomb was discovered beneath a home in Lima, Peru. It holds remains of people who were likely from the Riricancho society, as well as ceramics and finely crafted ornaments.
Inscriptions Reveal Details About Palmyra’s “Anonymous God” — For 100 years, scholars have been stumped by inscriptions on stone altars from Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra. The inscriptions say things like “He whose name is blessed forever”. Not knowing to which deity the inscriptions referred, they simply went with the “Anonymous God of Palmyra”. But recently, Aleksandra Kubiak-Schneider noticed that deities were addressed in the same manner in some of the hymns and prayers of Babylonia and Assyria. Her research shows that it wasn’t one anonymous god — the inscriptions were intended to refer to any male deity. “Every god who listened and showed favor to requests deserved an eternal praise.” Not saying the name was apparently a sign of respect, and it was probably also done because deities could have different names and titles from situation to situation.
❤️ Recommended Content
Here’s a video about the lesser-known Enclosure E at Göbekli Tepe. It discusses some of the enclosure’s peculiarities, such as the missing T-pillars, as well as possible explanations for them.
This little tidbit isn’t quite newsworthy (yet), but there is something romantic about it. Beneath Pembroke Castle in Wales is a cave which was once thought to have been dug out in medieval times. But over the last couple of years, they’ve found hints of prehistoric life. Recently, archaeologists have decided to explore a large area that has been undisturbed for over 10,000 years. I can’t wait to hear their findings. Stay tuned!
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m fascinated by the topic of domestication. Here’s an interesting article on the beginnings of agriculture, pointing to southern Turkey as the place where it all happened.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s news! Shoot me an email if you have any questions or suggestions. I got an email yesterday about an interesting article a subscriber had found, and it made my day. 😀
And by the way, we hit 300+ subscribers! I love watching this thing grow.
Until next time, thanks for joining me. Have a wonderful weekend!
(newish twitter: @jamesofthedrum)
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