🧐 Ancient Beat #25: Gladiator tombs, knucklebone divination, and newly discovered standing stones
Hi folks, I hope issue issue #25 of Ancient Beat finds you well! Something cool happened on my end over the last few days — one of you reached out and suggested collaborating on a project! Super excited to see where that leads. 😀
I figure it’s worth mentioning… if you ever have an idea about teaming up, or if you have some solid content that you’d like to see in Ancient Beat, or if you just generally want to geek out about our ancient past, reply to these emails. I’m all about it.
Ok, ok, let’s get into it. Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News
Huge Megalithic Complex of More than 500 Standing Stones Discovered in Spain — I had to start with this one because I find it so exciting! A megalithic complex of standing stones (526 of them), dolmens, mounds, cists, and enclosures was found in the province of Huelva, Spain while surveying for an avocado plantation. It takes up about 1,500 acres and each stone is between one and three meters tall. The site probably dates to the 5th or 6th millennium BCE. According to José Antonio Linares, “This is the biggest and most diverse collection of standing stones grouped together in the Iberian peninsula.” And according to Primitiva Bueno, “Finding alignments and dolmens on one site is not very common. Here you find everything all together – alignments, cromlechs and dolmens – and that is very striking.” The standing stones were grouped in to 26 alignments and two circles, with a clear view of sunrise during the solstices and equinoxes. Excavations are scheduled to run until 2026, so I’m sure there’s more to come.
7,800-Year-Old Female Figurine Discovered in Ulucak Höyük in Western Turkey — A clay statuette was uncovered at the 8,850-year-old site of Ulucak Höyük in Turkey. The female figure with a pinched, bird-like (IMO) face is thought to have been used in rituals of abundance, fertility, and death. Interestingly, similar figurines have been found in middens, indicating that they probably weren’t sacred in themselves; they were only sacred within certain contexts. According to Özlem Çevik, “During the excavations of a house this year, we found a whole female figurine made of clay. We have identified such figurines before… But we usually find it broken. This figurine is important to us as it is the third complete figurine we have ever found in Ulucak Mound. It is a very rare work."
Traces of Prehistoric Hunters Found in Slovakian Cave — This study is actually a couple of months old but it’s making headlines now. Hundreds of blades, as well as bone needles and a hearth with animal remains have been found in Hučivá Cave in Slovakia. The finds date back to the Paleolithic, making these hunters part of the Magdalenian culture. This is significant because we previously had no Paleolithic evidence of humans in the Tatra Mountains of Eastern Europe. The animal remains in the cave include the bones of deer, wild horses, and a species of chamois, many of which have traces of cut marks, cracking, and smoothing. The researchers suggest that these hunters probably specialized in hunting alpine ibex.
Archaeologists Find Ancient Game Made from Bones — Excavations in Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park in Israel revealed a collection of astragaloi. Astragaloi are ankle or hock bones from animals like goats and sheep (though bronze and wood imitations have been found too) which are used in a form of divination called astragalomancy, where five such bones are rolled and then interpreted. The pieces date to 2,300 years ago and were found in artificial caves. They feature inscriptions of Greek gods and goddesses. Some also have inscriptions that say things like “robber”, “stop”, and “you are burnt”. According to Lee Perry-Gal, “The large assemblage of astragaloi from Maresha is unique in quantity and quality, as well as in the many inscriptions.”
Roman Gladiator Tombs Found By Team of 54 “Dig Hunters” in Turkey — Gladiator tombs have been discovered near a Roman amphitheater in the ancient city of Anavarza in modern-day Turkey. The settlement was founded in the Hellenistic period (323-33 BCE). No human remains have been found yet, but the researchers are hopeful that they will find some. Since the tombs were found so close to the amphitheater, it is thought that whoever might be entombed fought (or competed) there.
Bible Breakthrough as Experts Pinpoint Birthplace of St Peter Near Jesus Miracle Site — Archaeologists have been excavating the site of el-Araj, a contender for the biblical site of Bethsaida, the birthplace of Saint Peter. It is located just northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Backing up the theory that the site was once Bethsaida, they found evidence that occupation of the site dates back to the 1st century CE. And they also found a byzantine church with an inscription dedicating it to St. Peter, which is particularly significant in light of the words of the 8th-century bishop, Willibald, “Bethsaida from which came Peter and Andrew. There is now a church where previously was their house.”
Uniquely Well-Preserved Medieval Kitchen Unearthed North of Moravia — A remarkably well-preserved kitchen which is thought to date to the early 15th century was uncovered in the Czech/Polish/Slovak borderlands. It contained a hearth, ceramic dishes, a wooden spoon, and a brick oven. The kitchen was part of a log house with a stone foundation, and since it was located near the town walls, it probably housed a less-wealthy family. The researchers believe the family may have left in a rush, as the ceramic pots seem to have been washed and left to dry on the hearth. They may have fled during the Hussite Wars.
Howard Carter Stole Tutankhamun’s Treasure, New Evidence Suggests — A letter has come to light which adds credence to rumors that Howard Carter stole from Tutankhamun’s tomb before officially opening it. The letter was written by Sir Alan Gardiner, who helped Carter interpret hieroglyphs found in the tomb. Apparently, Carter had given him a “whm amulet” and assured him that it had not come from the tomb. But Gardiner then had it inspected and found that it was made from the same mold as others in the tomb. The letter said that the amulet was undoubtedly from Tutankhamun’s tomb, and indicated that Gardiner was not happy about it. But Gardiner also adds that he did not reveal where he got the amulet.
17th-Century Coin Unearthed at a Castle in Slovakia — A coin, pottery, and a knife were unearthed where the gates once stood at the 14th-century castle of Sivý Kameň in Slovakia. According to Dominika Andreánska, “It is interesting that [the coin] dates from the end of the seventeenth century, when Sivý Kameň castle functioned only as an occasional prison, or was a ruin, because it was burnt down during the anti-Habsburg uprisings.”
Unique Ancient Gold Cloth Found in the Necropolis of Saint-Pierre-l’Estrier is the Largest Antique Piece Found to Date — A piece of luxurious gold cloth, made with obvious skill and precision, was uncovered in a lead tomb at the necropolis of Saint-Pierre-l'Estrier in France. It is one of the largest such pieces found to date.
Wood Sharpens Stone: Boomerangs Used to Retouch Lithic Tools — According to a new study which investigated use-wear on boomerangs, the wear is similar to that of Paleolithic bone retouching tools. This indicates that these hardwood objects were used by Australian Indigenous communities to sharpen stone tools. As a side note, did you know that the oldest boomerang ever found was from Poland (20,000 BP)? I learned that recently and thought it was an interesting little tidbit. 😀
Chicken Bones and Snail Shells Help Archaeologists to Date Ancient Town's Destruction — Dating methods are becoming more and more sophisticated every year, and this example involved some impressive detective work. We knew that the Greek town of Tell Iẓṭabba in modern-day Israel was destroyed by the Hasmoneans sometime between 111 and 107 BCE. But now, researchers have found residues containing medullary bone deposits in the marrow of chicken bones, indicating that the chickens were slaughtered during the laying season. Field snail shells were also found, which are usually eaten in spring. “Now, using our multi-proxy approach that makes use of several analytical methods, we can for the first time date the events with certainty to the spring of 107 BC.”
Archaeologists Find 2,200-Year-Old Roman Fountain in Türkiye's Assos — Excavations uncovered a Roman fountain dating to 2,200 BP at the ancient site of Assos in Turkey. Says Nurettin Arslan, “According to our initial findings, we learned that it was a magnificent fountain structure. We know of many cisterns in Assos, but this is the first time we've come across a monumental fountain structure.”
Monumental Rampart Uncovered in Cyprus — A monumental rampart was found within the tumulus of Laona in Cyprus. The structure is made of mudbricks and stones on leveled bedrock, with a layer of river pebbles, red soil, and pottery on top of the bedrock. The walls were 15 feet thick, enclosed over 2,000 square feet (though another source said over 1,740 square meters), and included three staircases. It is thought to have been built at the end of the 4th century BCE, and covered with a mound in the 3rd century BCE.
Roman Glass Factory Discovered at Site Where Hundreds of New Homes Could be Built — Evidence of a small-scale Roman glass-making industry was found in Bristol, England. The evidence includes a crucible fragment, 72 glass beads, glass vessel fragments, and glass waste. According to Alex Thomson, “The forms and colours of the beads suggest a date no earlier than the 4th century. It’s of note that similar glass beads have previously been recovered from the site of Brislington Roman Villa, approximately 900m west of our site, which was occupied during the late 3rd and 4th centuries AD.”
Heat Wave Reveals 17th-Century English Gardens — Elizabethan garden design has been revealed in Wiltshire, England due to extreme heat and drought. Details include fountains, walls, a maze, a bowling green, and more. According to James Ford, “These parch marks, that will entirely disappear again when the rain and cooler weather return, provide us with an invaluable window into a lost world…”
DIY Fertiliser may be Behind Monks’ Parasite Torment, Say Archaeologists — Compared to peasants, nearly twice as many clergymen died with worms in medieval England, which is the opposite of what researchers expected. The reason? They suggest that the monks used contaminated human feces as fertilizer. But others says that, since monks were supposed to beg for a living rather than grow food, perhaps the townspeople simply gave them questionable bites.
Human Y Chromosome Sequences from Q Haplogroup Reveal a South American Settlement Pre-18,000 Years Ago and a Profound Genomic Impact During the Younger Dryas — If that title is a mouthful, it’s because it belongs to the study itself — I haven’t seen any news articles covering it yet. A new study is the first to contrast current knowledge about Q Haplogroup with historical, archaeological, and linguistic data. Nearly all First Nations people in Mesoamerica and South America belong to Q Haplogroup. And analysis of Y chromosome sequences supports there being a South American settlement prior to 16,000 BCE. Further, the study explores how the Younger Dryas period may have affected First Nations peoples. Unsurprisingly, they found that it could have caused a significant loss of lineages. This may have then caused the expansion of the Q-M848 sub-lineage. Not a geneticist? Me neither, so I did some digging into what the heck the Q-M848 sub-lineage is. Another study had this to say: “Q-M848, the most represented Q-M3 sub-lineage, is by far the most frequent and widespread haplogroup throughout the Americas.”
Kalahari Site Points to Water-Rich Periods that Attracted Early Humans — Researchers found tufa deposits at the archaeological site of Ga-Mohana Hill in South Africa, indicating that the southern Kalahari has had streams, pools, and waterfalls over the last 110,000 years. Tufas are porous sedimentary rocks that are formed by the evaporation of springs. The researchers also found connections between this water and a human presence, indicating that Homo sapiens survived in the Kalahari Desert more than 20,000 years ago. This study pushes against coastal-centric hypotheses of the evolution of Homo sapiens. And it builds on a previous study that provided evidence of “innovative technological behaviors” and the collection of non-utilitarian objects indicating that humans were thriving in the same area 105,000 years ago.
Scientists Caution Against Over-Interpreting Influence of Climate on Cultural Change and Catastrophe — A new study says we might be over-emphasizing the role that climate change plays in societal and cultural transitions. Investigating the abandonment of three ancient sites in Peru and comparing the findings to ice core and sediment data, researchers found that climate contributed to two of the sites being abandoned, but not the third. I assume that all three sites were previously thought to have been abandoned due to climate change, but this is not specifically stated in the articles I’ve found. According to Kirk Maasch, “Our study shows that equifinality—similar outcomes from different causes—likely happened in Peruvian prehistory. This urges caution in seeing a single process such as climate change as the prime driver of all abrupt change.” If you’ve been with Ancient Beat for a while, you may remember that we’ve covered the impact of climate on cultures a number of times (for example, issues #8, #18, and #21).
Trove of Gold Rings is Uncovered in ‘Sensational’ Prehistoric Grave in Romania — A grave thought to be from the Tiszapolgár culture (4500-4000 BCE) was found in Romania with 169 gold rings, a copper spiral bracelet, two gold beads, and about 800 bone (though other sources say mother-of-pearl) beads. The gold rings would have adorned the high-status woman’s hair. According to Călin Ghemiş, “The gold hoard is a sensational find for the period, considering that all the gold pieces from the Carpathian Basin total around 150 pieces. Well, here there are over 160 in just one inventory.”
❤️ Recommended Content
Ever wanted to go to the Acropolis of Athens? Maybe this 1-star review will save you the trouble: “Obviously didn’t build it good enough. It’s mostly gone.” 🤣
Here’s a video about the Y-chromosome bottleneck, which seems particularly topical given the genetic study covered above. In a nutshell, 7,000 years ago, the relative number of males decreased drastically worldwide. In the video, Matt from Ancient Architects reviews the evidence and offers his opinion about a theory connecting the bottleneck to the Younger Dryas (he disagrees).
Here’s a list of interesting things which have been found due to high heat and droughts recently. It includes Roman remains, a Spanish ghost village, shipwrecks, the gardens I covered above, and more.
Here’s a video about why Stonehenge isn’t actually a henge. I was aware of this but, as always, the Prehistory Guys taught me a thing or two.
Here’s a video about the fascinating Cuina Turcului rock shelter in Romania. The video looks at two periods of occupation, and their respective foods, arts, and jewelry. The images alone are worth a look.
This article isn’t earth-shattering by any means, but if you need some inspiration for your next trip, here’s a list of some of the top archaeological sites in the world. Skara Brae (#20) is right up there for me. Not sure how the Acropolis of Athens (#6) made the cut after that review, though. 😉
And I enjoyed this article which discusses toys and the role of play in ancient times.
Well, I think my brain just got a little bigger… particularly after chewing my way through (parts of) those genetic studies. And how about those 500+ standing stones?! So cool. Let me know your thoughts. 🧐
And until next time, thanks for joining me.
(newish twitter: @jamesofthedrum)
P.S. If you like what you’re seeing, please consider sharing it with a friend. It would mean a lot! 🙏