🧐 Ancient Beat #28: Prehistoric surgery, hidden carvings, and water births
Hi folks, welcome to issue #28 of Ancient Beat! Anyone interested in pushing back the date of advanced surgical procedures by 20,000+ years? Read on. 😀
Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News
31,000-Year-Old Skeleton Missing Lower Left Leg is Earliest Known Evidence of Surgery, Experts Say — A 31,000-year-old skeleton, which was found two years ago in a cave in East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, has revealed something truly fascinating. The individual was missing his lower left leg, and analysis of the stump showed that the bone healed after the leg was lost, several years before the individual died. Even more startling, it was a clean cut, meaning that this was no accident or animal attack — it was a deliberate amputation. And it must have been amputated by someone with deep knowledge of human anatomy, necessarily including blood vessels and nerves. After the surgery, the wound likely needed to be disinfected regularly, again indicating impressive knowledge. According to Tim Maloney, “[The individual] survived not just as a child, but as an adult amputee in this rainforest environment… Importantly, not only does [the stump] lack infection, but it also lacks distinctive crushing.” I think his note about surviving in the rainforest is important, as it suggests that the person in question had a community that cared for him while he healed, and possibly assisted him with certain tasks afterward, showing deep care and connection in stark contrast to the Hobbesian narrative. Until now, the oldest evidence of a successful amputation was 7,000 years ago in France, and most experts thought amputation would have been a sure death sentence before about 10,000 years ago. Back to Maloney, “This finding very much changes the known history of medical intervention and knowledge of humanity… It implies that early people… had mastered complex surgical procedures allowing this person to survive after the removal of a foot and leg.” I’ll stop there because this summary is getting too long… but it’s just so interesting! 😅
New Carvings Discovered at Prehistoric Stone Circle in Limerick — An Irish photographer has developed a technique for lighting stone which allows him to get more detail in his photos. Thanks to this technique, he found previously unknown carvings on a stone at the north entrance of Grange Stone Circle in Limerick, Ireland. The carvings include concentric circles and arcs. According to Shee Twohig, “It is possible that the stone is contemporary with the banked enclosure henge at c.3000 BC and was incorporated into the circle built inside the enclosure at a slightly later date.”
Archaeologists Discover Monumental Evidence of Prehistoric Hunting Across Arabian Desert — A recent study identified 350 previously undocumented star-shaped kites in northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq. Desert kites are structures made from low stone walls which are generally thought to have been used for hunting, though they also seem to have had symbolic and ritual significance, as indicated by rock art in Jordan. The new structures may date as far back as 8,000 BCE. According to Michael Fradley, “The structures we found displayed evidence of complex, careful design… In some of these new examples, the surviving portion of walls run in almost straight lines for over 4 kilometers, often over very varied topography. This shows an incredible level of ability in how these structures were designed and built.” Further, the new sites indicate a high level of cultural connection in the area, and may have implications on the paleoenvironment and faunal dispersals of the region.
A Stone Bathtub, Which is Considered to be the First Example of ‘Water Birth’, was Found in Ani Ruins — A stone tub was discovered in a bathhouse at the archaeological site of Ani in Turkey back in 2020, and excavations are now nearing completion. It is believed to be the same tub that the scholar and poet, Kadı Burhaneddin, described as his birthplace (1143 CE). This was apparently one of the first known mentions of a water birth. According to Muhammet Arslan, “Although it is stated that there are scenes related to water birth in Egyptian hieroglyphs, the scenes in question include normal birth scenes, not water birth. The claims that Egyptian pharaohs were born by water birth method cannot go beyond legends. It is known that the first water birth in the world took place in France in 1803. However, both the information about the birth of Kadı Burhaneddin and the stone bathtub we uncovered during our excavations reveal that one of the first examples of water birth in the world was practiced in Anatolia in the 12th century.”
What Fossils Reveal About Hybridization of Early Humans – History of Humankind is More Complex than Previously Thought — We know that many of us are the result of Neanderthal or Denisovan hybridization with Homo sapiens. Well, in a new study, researchers analyzed the impact of hybridization and identified possible hybrid fossils. Several of the 20,000-40,000-year-old fossils were found to have Neanderthal ancestry, and these were then compared with full Neanderthal bones. They found that hybridization was evident in the cranium and jaw, but not faces. They also found that the result was less about the proportion of Neanderthal ancestry, and more about specific genetic variants. It is known that hybridization makes for rapid evolution, as seen in other animals, so this may have been advantageous to our development in deep prehistory.
Archaeologists Uncover Remains of Roman Turret at Hadrian’s Wall — A turret, a wall ditch, and six berm-obstacle pits were found at Hadrian’s Wall near Newcastle, England during a construction project. The turret has a length of 12 meters and a width of 2-2.5 meters.
A Family, in the Backyard Discovered a Viking Sword — While digging in his daughter-in-law’s garden, a man found the remnants of a viking sword in Møre og Romsdal, Norway. It sat in a garage for two years before word got out. Archaeologists are now hoping to excavate, as they believe there may be a burial nearby. The style of the sword dates it to between 775 and 925 CE.
DNA in Viking Poop Sheds New Light on 55,000-Year-Old Relationship Between Gut Companions — A recent study of Viking latrines offered a complete genetic mapping of the whipworm (one of the oldest parasites found in humans), shedding light on the parasite’s development and prehistoric dispersal. The results showed that whipworm, spread from Africa about 55,000 years ago, which may support the “Out of Africa” theory.
Gold Coin Hoard Worth $300K Found Beneath Kitchen Floor in England — A cache of gold coins were found beneath the floorboards of a kitchen in England during renovations. With over 260 coins dating to between 1610 and 1727, it is one of the largest 17th and 18th century gold coin hoards ever found in Britain. It was found a while back, but it’s about to go on auction, which is why it’s making headlines. It is expected to sell for about $300K. Not the typical news that I share, but can you imagine stumbling upon something like that in your own home?!
Possible Priest’s Grave Discovered at Pacopampa — A tomb dating back 3,000 years has been found at the archaeological site of Pacopampa in Peru. It contains the remains of a man, musical instruments, and shells from Ecuador. According to Yuji Seki, “[The shells] were brought from a faraway place, it could mean this person had a quite important religious power back then.” Two other (more recent) tombs were previously found at the site.
Kosovo Archaeologists Unearth Lost City’s Ancient Basilica — A 5th-century basilica was found in Pristina, Kosovo. It may have been the cathedral for the ancient city of Ulpiana.
UC Uses Science to Solve Ancient Chinese Art Mystery — A 1,300-year-old Chinese statue of a dancing horse has been reexamined due to a tassel on its forehead, which is unusual for this type of statue. The tassel is horn-like, making the figure look like a unicorn. Researchers found that the tassel was made of plaster (as opposed to terracotta) and was added to the sculpture using animal glue, indicating that it was not part of the original artwork. They also discovered other repairs that took place, showing that the sculpture underwent multiple restoration efforts.
What Neolithic Scots Were Eating on Artificial Islands 5,500 Years Ago — Though there is evidence of Neolithic people in Britain consuming dairy, there has been little evidence of the consumption of cereals. But a new study found cereal signals in residue from 6,000-year-old clay pots that were found in crannogs (artificial islands) of the Scottish Outer Hebrides. These pottery fragments also happen to be some of the oldest ceramics found in the British Isles. The wheat seems to have been cooked with milk (or animal fat in one case) and eaten as gruel. According to Lucy Cramp, “This research gives us a window into the culinary traditions of early farmers living at the northwestern edge of Europe, whose lifeways are little understood.” On a related note, I covered the recent discovery of crannog is issue #19.
“Royal dumpster” unearthed during excavations at Ayanis Castle in Van — Ongoing excavations at Ayanis Castle in the city of Van, Turkey have uncovered an ancient midden used by the royal family of the Urartu Kingdom. The archaeologists found seals, bulla (seal stamps), hooks, bones, and ceramics, all of which should provide insight into the economics, social life, and nutrition of the royal family.
Trapped 70,000-Year-Old Artifact Reveals Hidden Information About Early Humans — After slicing through a block of sediment collected from Blombos Cave in South Africa, a researcher realized he had cut through a large piece of ochre. Though he worried that he had destroyed a potential artifact, the accident may actually aid our understanding of the use of ochre. According to Elizabeth Velliky, “Now we know that there are a lot more subtleties to these marks, and that previously we may have been looking at, and analysing them the wrong way.” She went on to explain the importance of improving our understanding of ochre, saying, “I think we need to create a universal way of talking about how humans used ochre and from there we can really start to discuss what that means for human cultural and symbolic evolution.”
11th-Century Settlement Uncovered in Zanzibar’s Stone Town — A settlement from the 11th century has been discovered at the Old Fort in Stone Town, which is the oldest part of Zanzibar, Tanzania. So far, homes, cooking pits, and pottery have been found. They come from the local Swahili people, in a time before they started constructing buildings with stone. It was previously thought that Stone Town was built as a trade hub by Portuguese explorers and the Sultanate of Oman, but according to Tim Power, “We can now say that the town was built centuries before the Omanis arrived.”
In First, Ivory Panels Mentioned in Bible Found in Jerusalem — Tiny ivory panels from the First Temple Period (1006-586 BCE) have been discovered in Jerusalem. According to the researchers, “The ivories may have come to Jerusalem as a gift from Assyria to Jerusalem’s nobility… We suggest that the ivory plaques from Jerusalem were originally inlaid in a couch-throne, and we may imagine that it had been situated on the second floor of the opulent structure.” This is the first such find in Jerusalem. The panels are in rough shape, as they were found in a monumental building that had been destroyed during the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.
Israel Regains Rare Ancient Hebrew Papyrus from First Temple Period — A rare papyrus featuring proto-Hebrew writing has been repatriated to Israel after being sold to an American woman in the 1950’s. It’s a missive with the words, “To Ishmael send…”. The writing. is hard to make out so it seems to have been written in a hurry. Dating to 2,700 years ago, it is one of three papyri found to date from the First Temple period. Where exactly it was originally found is unknown.
Archaeologists Dig Up New Details About Maine Islands and Native Peoples — Animal bones, stone tools, bone tools, shells, and pottery have been unearthed on Little Chebeague Island and Littlejohn Island off the coast of Maine in the US. Some of the pottery dates back as far as 1,500 years ago and even 2,800 years ago. Stones uncovered at the site are from Newfoundland, indicating that these islands may have been parts of a trade network.
1800-Year-Old Inscription Pointing to the Existence of ‘Asclepius’ Found in Hadrianopolis — Excavation of a structure at the site of Hadrianopolis in Greece has revealed an 1,800-year-old inscription that says, “Ailios Deiotaros presented to Asclepius the savior”. According to Ersin Çelikbaş, “We had guessed the existence of Asclepius here, but with the emergence of the inscription, we have now clearly identified the existence of the Asclepius culture in Hadrianaupolis. Asklepios is the god of health in ancient times. In places where the Asclepius culture exists, there are usually hospitals of the ancient period.”
Ancient Tomb Of ‘Bird Oracle Markos’ Unearthed In Bergama (Pergamon), Turkey — A 2nd-century tomb was found in the ancient city of Pergamon in Turkey, with an inscription indicating that it was the final resting place of the priest, Markos. According to another inscription that was previously found, Markos was known in ancient Rome for his divinations using bird behavior, flight, and songs. Grave goods included a perfume bottle, plate, candle, and strigils.
Burials of Elite Wari Craftsmen Found in Peru — Several burials of craftsmen have been found in Castillo de Huarmey in the Ancash region of Peru. Also found were hundreds of tools, an axe, knives, and raw materials that would have been used to make baskets. While the site was previously thought to be a cemetery for royalty of the Wari culture (500-1000 CE), it may have also been a place of handcraft production and the resting place of elite craftspeople. According to Miłosz Giersz, “This discovery confirms what we expected from previous years: both men and women buried in Castillo de Huarmey were devoted to the highest-class craftsmanship and produced elite products of their era.”
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When I think “low-brow”, I don’t generally think “ancient illuminated manuscripts”, but maybe I should. Here’s a compilation of bizarre, and frequently crude, illustrations. I’d seen manuscript illustrations of snail-slaying and murderous bunnies, but many of these came as a surprise.
Did you know that there is more Neanderthal DNA on Earth now than there was when Neanderthals were still around? Here’s an interesting article on the topic, and about Neanderthals in general. And if you’re tired of reading, here’s a short video that shares the basics.
Here’s an interesting article about the extensive 180-mile canal system which dates to 500-600 CE in Phoenix, Arizona in the US. Other canals in Tucson date all the way back to 1500 BCE. I didn’t know anything about these canals until now — fascinating stuff.
If you’ve been with Ancient Beat for a while, you’ll know that I love discoveries that point to just how knowledgable and capable our ancestors were. That amputation was such a good example, wasn’t it? So interesting. As always, let me know your thoughts!
And until next time, thanks for joining me.
(newish twitter: @jamesofthedrum)
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