🧐 Ancient Beat #27: Symbolic tusks, pyramid construction, and maybe waterslides
Hi folks, welcome to issue #27 of Ancient Beat! There were a ton of interesting stories to cover this week, so there’s no time to waste — let’s get right in to it. 😀
Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News
Evidence The Khufu Channel Aided The Construction Of The Giza Pyramids Found – Scientists Say — A new study reconstructed the flow of the Khufu branch of the Nile River going back 8,000 years by analyzing fossilized pollen found in sediment cores. They found flowering grasses and marsh plants, indicating that, while the Nile is currently about four miles away, water levels were once high enough that this branch would have been very near to the pyramid complex. And since the timing coincides with the accepted dating of the pyramids, researchers believe that the Khufu branch may have been used to carry stones to the building site. This is backed up by the Wadi al-Jarf papyri, which described the transport of stone to Giza via the Nile. According to the study, “The Khufu branch remained during the reigns of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, facilitating the transportation of construction materials to the Giza Pyramid Complex.”
Chinese Archaeologists Unearth Biggest Bronze Beast from Sanxingdui Ruins — In issues #16 and #18, I covered the huge number of artifacts which had been found in sacrificial pits at the site of Sanxingdui in China. Now, a large bronze statue of an unknown creature has been unearthed, a year after archaeologists first spotted it in a pit. It weights an impressive 300 pounds and is dated to 3,000 years ago. It has a large mouth, large ears, a horn, and hooves. A tree is engraved on its chest, which researchers believe may be a sacred tree. Take a look at the photo in the article — it’s really something.
Anglo-Saxon Trade Hub Found at Monastery Site in England — At an ancient monastery site in Cookham, England, an early medieval “hub of trade and production” has been discovered. Findings include a waterside loading area on the Thames River. I’ll be honest, I initially thought the article said “waterslide” and I got unreasonably excited. Would’ve been cool, right — a bunch of medieval monks having the time of their lives in the Thames? Alas, the waterslide, as we know it, debuted in 1906. Anyway… they also found streets, industrial workshops, and
Israeli Archaeologists Dig Up Large Tusk of Ancient Elephant — An 8-foot tusk from an extinct straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) was recently unearthed in southern Israel, in an area where flint tools and other animal remains had been discovered. It is the largest complete tusk ever found at a prehistoric site in the Near East, and it was dated to roughly 500,000 years ago. It is unclear whether it was killed by ancient people where it lies, or if the tusk was carried there. Interestingly, the researchers believe that it was likely hunted for both food and symbolic purposes — the reasoning for the latter being that if it was transported, it must have held special significance.
Traces of 2,000-Year-Old Banana Farm Found in Australia — Researchers have unearthed fossilized traces of fruit, as well as stone tools, charcoal, and retaining walls at the Wagadagam site on Mabuyag Island in Australia. The finds indicate that indigenous communities have been cultivating bananas for at least 2,000 years, challenging the view that these people were exclusively hunter-gatherers. Interestingly, some say that British colonizers ignored clear evidence of agriculture so that they could claim that the land was unsettled and unoccupied. Since bananas are not native to the Torres Strait, it’s likely that these farmers traded with people from Papua New Guinea. According to Robert Williams, “The Torres Strait has historically been seen as a separating line between Indigenous groups who practiced agriculture in New Guinea but who in Australia were hunter gatherers… [R]ather than being a barrier, the Torres Strait was more of a bridge or a filter of cultural and horticultural practices going both north and south.”
Study: Vikings were not the first to settle the Faroe Islands — It was previously thought that the Vikings were the first to settle the Faroe Islands, but a recent study of sediment cores taken at the ancient Norse farm settlement called Argisbrekka begs to differ. Researchers have revealed “unequivocal” evidence that the land was settled in 500 CE, three centuries before the Vikings had the requisite sailing technology. The cores had distinct fecal biomarkers belonging to sheep, and sheep could only have been brought to the island by humans. This also affects the view that climate change caused vegetation in the Faroe Islands to change from shrubs to grass, as it may have actually been caused by grazing (or a combination of both). It is unknown who the first settlers were, though signs point toward a Celtic population.
Neanderthal Skull Reveals Secrets of Ancient Community — Neanderthal skull fragments dating to 60,000 years ago were discovered at a site called Abric Romani, a Neanderthal deer hunting camp near Barcelona, Spain. Remains at other nearby sites date to 72,000 years ago. The find has led researchers to believe that Neanderthals were in the area longer than previously thought. They also expect to learn about Neanderthal communication and life, as well as climatic conditions of the time.
Bronze Age structure and Scythian arrowheads were discovered in Ukraine — Arrowheads, spinning wheels, and ceramics were found in Bilsk, Ukraine. They date to the 5th or 6th century BCE and are attributed to the Scythians. Also found, were Greek tableware, middens, and “different economic buildings”.
Excavation Reveals New Insights into Iceni People During Roman Period — The Iron Age Iceni Tribe of east (modern-day) England was defeated by the Romans when they revolted in roughly 60 CE. But new evidence indicates that the Iceni continued to inhabit the area after this, and that they adopted the Roman lifestyle. The evidence includes pottery vessels, grindstones, pins, and animal bones which were ritually buried in keeping with their traditions. According to Will Bowden, “We tend to think the Iceni disappear from history after the Boudiccan revolt, but they are absolutely still here in Norfolk and are using the new things they are getting from the Roman world, either in Roman ways or in ways to suit them.”
Archaeological Site Reveals New Insights into Etruscan Identity — Speaking of cultural assimilation, researchers opened three Etruscan tombs which (quite remarkably) were untouched by looters. They found gold earrings, gold crowns, bronze rings, iron strigils (a bathing tool), and pottery. The distinct Etruscan characteristics of the population were impressively persistent in the midst of Roman power. According to Alessandro Sebastiani, “These findings show us how we should speak more of cultural and social osmosis rather than a subordination of one population to another… The analysis reveals the interesting and sophisticated relationship between the Etruscans and the Romans, where the Etruscan communities are both surviving and adapting themselves into the Roman world.” The site was discovered and investigated back in 2017, but the findings weren’t published, so it’s only now making headlines.
The Last Person Who Touched this Three-Bladed Arrowhead was a Viking — A rare, three-bladed arrowhead was found in the Jotunheimen Mountains of Norway. It dates to the age of the Vikings and was found in what appears to be a hunting camp. Other such arrowheads have been found, including four in a burial mound in Sparbu in Trøndelag, but they are rare. It was found by the same team that discovered intact arrows covered in issues #12 and #26.
Traces of 9,300-Year-Old Settlement Unearthed Near Volcanic Cappadocia — A permanent settlement that dates back to between 9,300 and 9,600 years ago was found at Sırçalıtepe Mound in Turkey’s Niğde province. Bone and obsidian tools have been found, as well as oval arrowheads, beads, ornamental objects, and an obsidian working area. According to Semra Balcı, “Another important point is that no other site has so far been excavated with an obsidian working area and settlement together.”
Jewish Remains Found in Norwich Well Were Medieval Pogrom Victims – Study — In 2004, the remains of 17 individuals were found in a disused well in Norwich, England. They died between 1161 and 1216 CE. There was no sign of trauma on the bones, but the dating ruled out famine or disease. New investigations have led researchers to believe that they were victims of a medieval pogrom (organized killing). They were able to piece together the whole genome of six individuals and found that they were closely related to modern-day Ashkenazi jews. According to Ian Barnes, “When you study ancient DNA from people who've died hundreds to thousands of years ago, you don't often get to work with a living community at the same time… It's been really satisfying to work with this community on a story that's so important to them.”
Dendrochronology Applied to Shipwreck Off Argentina’s Coast — A shipwreck off the coast of southern Argentina has been tentatively identified as the Dolphin, a whaling ship that was last seen in 1858. The captain survived the wreck and wrote that they had struck rocks in a place which was likely Golfo Nuevo in Patagonia. Tree rings of the recovered timber were compared with a database of North American trees to identify when and where the timber was felled, and the information lined up nicely. Other artifacts that were found nearby also support the identification.
Researchers Document 1,000-Year-Old Paintings Excavated in Sudan — Paintings which were found in a church southwest of the 3rd cataract of the west bank of the Nile River in Sudan have been analyzed. Dating back 1,000 years, the paintings are thought to depict Christ Emmanuel against a standing figure which is believed to be the Virgin Mary. The image is flanked by two archangels. The specific type of representation seen here is unknown in Nubian art, confirming a Byzantine influence.
Ancient Ironware Production, Processing Workshop Discovered in Central China — An ironware production and processing workshop has been found in Hunan province in China. The site dates to the Han and Jin dynasties (202 BCE - 420 CE). Metallurgical remains like copper ingots and furnaces have been unearthed, along with iron knives. Melting, casting, and forging were all done at the site. According to Mo Linheng, “These relics are unique in form and have certain local characteristics, which have helped fill in the gaps in the study of ancient iron processing.”
Food in Ancient Roman Funerary Meals was Similar to that Consumed During Life — A new study analyzed archaeozoological and anthropological material from the necropolis of Vila de Madrid in Barcelona, Spain. The researchers originally expected that sacrificed animals would be special in some way, but they found that they were the same as those eaten in day-to-day life. They also observed differences in funerary meals associated with age, sex, offerings, and diet. The study came to three conclusions: 1. Funerary rituals were not common at the necropolis, 2. The most common meats that were offered were the same as those consumed in life, and 3. Despite offerings and banquets being stipulated by law, not everyone could afford it.
Statue Of Apollo Discovered in Ancient City Of Prusias ad Hypium, Turkey — Several statues, including one of Apollo, were found when excavating a theater in the ancient city of Prusias ad Hypium in Turkey.
US Agents in Memphis Seize Shipped Ancient Egyptian Artifact — An Egyptian canopic jar lid depicting the funeral deity, Imsety, was seized in Memphis, Tennessee in the U.S. after being shipped from Europe. The artifact likely dates to between 1069 and 653 BCE. It was subject to seizure under the Convention of Cultural Property Implementation Act of 1983.
A Rare Late Neolithic Period Seal found in Domuztepe Mound — A seal made of serpentine was found in Domuztepe Höyük (7000-5400 BCE) in Turkey. It apparently features two horned animal heads mirroring each other, though I’m having difficulty seeing it. Let me know if you can make that out.
The Talking Dead: Burials Shed New Light on Earliest Humans in Indonesia — Three burials dating to between 7,500 and 12,000 years ago are revealing information about migration through Indonesia and the evolution of burial practices in Southeast Asia. According to Samper Carro, “The three quite unusual and interesting burials show a different mortuary practice, which might relate to recent discoveries of multiple migratory routes through the Wallacea Islands from thousands of years ago.”
Rare Genetic Condition Identified in 1,000-Year-Old Remains — New analysis of a skeleton found in Portugal indicated that the man had Klinefelter syndrome, as he had an extra X chromosome. This find could help researchers to understand the history and frequency of the condition.
Extremely Rare 1,400-Year-Old Folding Chair Discovered in a Woman’s Grave — A rare medieval folding chair was found in a woman’s grave in Steinsfeld, Germany. The iron chair is the second of its kind from the early Middle Ages ever found in Germany, and only six have been found in all of Europe. It dates to 600 CE and was placed at the feet of the deceased. According to Mathias Pfeil, “This find, which at first glance seems so modern, is an absolute rarity and of the greatest cultural-historical interest because it gives an insight into the burial equipment of prominent sections of the population and into the early use of furniture.”
‘Phenomenal’ Ancient DNA Data Set Provides Clues to Origin of Farming and Early Languages — This trio of papers came out right before I published issue #26, but I wanted a little time to get my head around the info… and if I’m being honest, to give more genomically-minded people than myself a chance to distill it! So, the papers presented a genome-wide sequencing of 727 ancient people who lived in the Near East over the course of 10,000 years. The 200+ co-authors found that the people who were experimenting with domestication 10,000 years ago were not actually descended from the area’s earlier hunter-gatherers. Instead, there were actually two migrations into the area— one from Iraq and Syria, the other from from the Eastern Mediterranean coast — which created a distinct genetic signature. They were also able to trace further genetic contributions that came later. The evidence suggest that agriculture came to be through a network of people who interacted with, and migrated to the region. The study also pushes against Indo-European languages coming from Bronze Age Yamnaya because no Yamnaya ancestry is present in ancient Anatolians. Though it is hotly contested, the researchers say that the root of the languages can be traced back earlier and farther south — possibly to Armenia. As can be expected with a study of this size, there are plenty of holes yet to be filled, and according to Barbara Horejs “It’s our task now, and obligation as archaeologists, to use this new data to rethink archaeological models.” If you’re interested in diving deeper, check out the article and/or papers (1, 2, 3).
Greece’s Griffin Warrior Was Likely a Local Aristocrat — Here’s another little tidbit that’s making headlines from the three genomic studies mentioned above. The 3,500-year-old “Griffin Warrior” who was found in a Mycenaean tomb in 2015 has been identified as coming from the local population, rather than being a foreigner who invaded as had been suggested by some scholars.
❤️ Recommended Content
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that one of you reached out to me about collaborating — well, here’s the first video of the series, in which we discussed five topics from issue #25. I’m accustomed to being behind a keyboard, not a camera, so cut me a little slack if you watch it 😅. Huge thanks to David for inviting me! Btw, even if you don’t want to see my mug, check out the SAMA channel (Study of Antiquity and the Middle Ages) for some excellent, in-depth information about the ancient world.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still highly entertained by these 1-star reviews of archaeological sites, so let’s keep it going. This one is about the beautiful archaeological site of Olympia: “There wasn’t even a bar.” I mean, I guess they’re not wrong.
This video discusses the Queen’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid in Egypt and the (significant) evidence that there is a chamber beneath it. It also goes into why Zahi Hawass doesn’t think the King’s Chamber was the resting place of Khufu.
I’ve often noodled on the human fascination with tombstones. Here’s an article about the history of tombstones and what we can learn from them.
Here’s an article which depicts how seven ancient bath houses would have looked in their prime. Pretty interesting, though I can’t speak to the accuracy.
This article explores the origins of dragons. The author concisely covers the myths and beliefs of an impressive number of cultures/regions. It really was a worldwide phenomenon.
Phew, that’s a lot of content! Let me know which story got your imagination going — I’d love to hear your thoughts (and theories). 😀
And until next time, thanks for joining me.
(newish twitter: @jamesofthedrum)
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