🧐 Ancient Beat #30: Burial caves, tidal traps, and stories in stone
Happy Friday, folks! And welcome to issue #30 of Ancient Beat.
Big news: We crossed 1,000 subscribers!!! 🎉🎉🎉 That’s right, Ancient Beat is now bigger than my wife’s hometown. 😀 I am absolutely thrilled by how much this community has grown. Thank you so, so much for being a part of it!
Alright, my 1,034 friends, here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News
Story Behind a Huge Mysterious Ancient Rock Art Site in Central Queensland Revealed by Scientists — Researchers are studying a rock shelter called Marra Wonga in Queensland, Australia. The site contains over 15,000 (!) petroglyphs, including lines, grooves, drilled holes, hands, animal tracks, and even more unique features like seven large star-like designs, large snake-like designs that run through other petroglyphs, human feet with six toes, and a penis. Ten clusters of the petroglyphs appear to be placed in a particular order, from south to north, and members of the Aboriginal community recognize these clusters as parts of the Seven Sisters Dreaming story. Interestingly, the article also shares that “Seven Sisters” stories are found around the world, sharing many features, including a connection with the Pleiades star cluster and/or Orion. According to Paul Tacon, “…we know of no other rock art site anywhere in the world with a narrative that runs across the entirety of the site.”
Israeli Archeologists Discover 'Once-in-a-Lifetime Find' of Ancient Pottery Under Beach — A tractor hit a rock during construction at Palmachim National Park in Israel, revealing an artificial burial cave eight feet below the surface. It contained dozens of intact pottery and bronze vessels, and the 3,300-year-old vessels were just as they would have been at the time of burial. According to Eli Yanai, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime find. It's not every day that you see an Indiana Jones set - a cave with vessels on the floor that haven't been touched in 3,300 years. We are talking about the Late Bronze Age. These are precisely the days of the famous king, Rameses II - the one some identify with the story of the Exodus.” Among the offerings were bowls (some of which were painted red), cooking pots, jugs, and clay oil lamps with burnt wicks intact. Some of the vessels apparently hold bones.
Genetic and Archaeological Study Reveals Large-Scale Continental Migration into the East of England During the Early Medieval Period — A genome-wide analysis including DNA from hundreds of individuals from early medieval England, is providing valuable insight into migrations that took place after the Roman Empire collapsed. The study showed that 76% of people in Eastern and Southern England are descended from people originating on the continent, from regions bordering the North Sea (the Netherlands, Germany, etc.). These immigrants interbred with the existing population, though the degree varied from site to site. The study also found that females of immigrant origin were more frequently buried with artifacts than those of local origin. Wealth and prominence seem to have been evenly spread across both origins. And at some cemeteries, both origins were mixed together, while at others, their burials were kept separate.
Opium Dating Back to 14th Century BC Found in Ancient Grave Site in Israel — Residue from vessels which were previously recovered from a 14th century BCE Canaanite burial pit in Tel Yehud, Israel, have been analyzed, revealing evidence of opium in eight of the vessels. This is some of the earliest evidence of its use. The vessels themselves are shaped like poppy flowers (the plant that opium comes from), which I assume the researchers took as a hint. It is believed that the opium would either have been used by funeral-goers in an attempt to enter an ecstatic state and speak with the departed, or that it was intended to help the spirit in the afterlife. According to Vanessa Linares, “This is the first identifiable without-a-shadow-of-a-doubt opium use in the Levant — and I would say even in the Old World.” Archeologists have identified poppy at neolithic sites in western Europe, just not opium itself.
Rock Art Discovered Near Machu Picchu — Human remains and rock art were discovered in Peru, along the banks of the Vilcanota River. The paintings include camelids (llamas, alpacas), the sun, and geometric shapes. Other figures are present but they’re too worn to be identified. The paintings are said to have a funerary context, and are being associated with the cult of Apus (guardian mountain spirits).
New Archaeological Discoveries Provide Insight into Yellow River Origins of Chinese Civilization — A 3,000-year-old gold funeral mask, along with over 200 other burial objects, was found in a noble’s tomb in Zhengzhou, China. This particular mask from the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) differs from those of the Shu civilization because it covers the entire face. Gold artifacts are rare at Shang Dynasty sites, and the researchers believe this find will shed light on their burial customs and gold culture. They are also drawing connections to the slightly younger Sanxingdui finds, which I covered in issues 16 and 27, though they say more evidence is required to confirm it. Take a look at the mask… I don’t doubt that it is what they say it is, but I’ll admit it doesn’t look very mask-like to me.
Archaeologists Uncover Sarcophagus of High-Ranking Official from Reign of Rameses II — Is it just me or has Rameses II been in the news a lot lately? A burial chamber with the sarcophagus of a high-ranking official was found in Saqqara, Egypt. The official was the, “royal secretary, chief overseer of cattle and head of the treasury of the Ramesseum”, the Ramesseum being the mortuary temple of Rameses II. The lid shows the deceased with a beard and crossed arms, holding a Djed symbol of Osiris and Tyet symbol of Isis. This dates the sarcophagus to the 13th century BCE. The tomb was previously looted and the mummy is gone, but the sarcophagus itself is covered in sacred texts.
Scientists Attempt to Solve an Ancient Greek Volcano Mystery — The date of one of the largest Holocene-era volcanic eruptions, which is thought to be a pivotal event in prehistory, has been contested for years. This eruption on the Greek island of Santorini was originally thought to have taken place around 1500 BCE, but advances in radiocarbon dating put this into question back in the 70’s. Well, new research has given us a fairly precise date: between 1609 and 1560 BCE (with 95.4% probability). This rules out certain theories, such as the eruption being responsible for destroying Minoan palaces on the coast of Crete, which actually took place a century too late.
Palestinian Farmer Discovers Rare Ancient Treasure in Gaza — While planting an olive tree in the Gaza Strip, a farmer found a Byzantine-era mosaic. The mosaic appears to be about 250 square feet in size, and dates to between the 5th and 7th centuries. In one section of the mosaic, there are 17 animals and birds, while the two other sections that have been revealed to date show intricate patterns. According to René Elter, “These are the most stunning mosaic floors ever discovered in Gaza, in terms of the richness of the graphic representation and the complexity of the geometric layout. We have never seen a mosaic boasting such rich colors in Gaza before.”
Early Scottish Farmers Didn’t Use Manure to Fertilize Their Fields — Researchers analyzed grain from the 6,000-year-old site of Balbridie, which is one of the earliest known permanent Neolithic settlements in Scotland. They found low nitrogen levels, indicating that, unlike people in other parts of the British Isles and Europe, these farmers did not use manure as a fertilizer. According to to Rosie Bishop, “The large size and number of the grains recovered suggest that during this first phase of farming, the soils were productive without the need for manuring… The variability of the cropping strategies identified highlights the adaptability of early farming practices.”
Archaeologists Recover Second Ancient Canoe in Wisconsin Lake — This is a fun one for me since it’s from my neck of the woods. An ancient canoe has been found in Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. Nearly a year ago, the same lake made headlines with a 1,200-year-old canoe that was found only a few hundred feet away. This one is 3,000 years old, and it is the oldest canoe ever found in the Great Lakes region, by about 1,000 years. It measures 14.5 feet in length and was made from one piece of white oak. It may shed light on technological, cultural, and stylistic changes that occurred in First Nations canoe design.
Prehistoric Stone Tools Found in Western India — At the cave site of Koloshi in Maharashtra, India, ancient stone tools have been discovered. Dating is still in progress, but they believe it will be within the (wide) range of 5,000-48,000 years old. They anticipate that these tools will offer information about the people who created the Konkan petroglyphs, which are located nearby.
Remains of Painkillers were Found in 4500-Year-Old Vessels During Excavations at Küllüoba Höyük in Turkey — In a similar story to the one on opium above, remains of drugs were found in a 4,500-year-old vessel found in Küllüoba Höyük in Eskişehir, Turkey. In this case, the drugs are thought to have been painkillers.
Underwater Roman Remains Discovered Off Ponza Coast — A Roman structure has been discovered off the coast of Ponza, Italy. Divers found architectural slabs near Grotte di Pilato, which was a series of rock-cut caves and pools used as fish farms in Roman times. The slabs have a relief carving of the “flower woman”, which dates them to between the 2nd and 1st century BCE. The researchers believe the slabs came from the villa on the island, and they may show that the villa was constructed earlier than previously thought. Historically, Ponza was used to control the central Tyrrhenian Sea, and it was also where some important Romans were exiled.
Underwater Archaeologists Find Roman Jetty Off Croatian Coast — A 56-meter roman jetty dated to the 1st century was found off the coast of Barbariga, Croatia. The area was a center for olive oil production in ancient times.
Archaeologists Make Grisly Discovery in Vráble — The remains of 35 people have been found near the entrance of a large Stone Age settlement that dates to 5250-4950 BE in Vráble, Slovakia. The bodies were found buried together in different positions, and the individuals at the bottom of the ditch were missing their heads. Many of the dead are juveniles. Further research needs to be done to find out whether these people were buried separately or together, and whether the cause of death was disease, some kind of cult ceremony, or something else entirely.
Marble Sundial Discovered in the Ancient City of Aizanoi, Known as the ‘Second Ephesus’ in Kütahya, Türkiye — A 2,000-year-old marble sundial was unearthed at the ancient city of Aizanoi in Turkey. It is the first Roman sundial ever found in Aizanoi, and it is extremely well-preserved. Sundials like this were placed in central places in ancient times, similar to our clocktowers now.
Excavations at Ovriokastron on Greek Island of Lesvos Yield New Finds — While excavating a medieval seawall, a 3.5-meter-long marble lintel was found near the foundations of a gate at the castle of Agioi Theodoroi in Greece. The coats of arms of the House of Gattilusio and the Palaeologue dynasty are depicted on the lintel in relief. Surprisingly, next to the Palaeologue coat of arms, instead of the symbol of Byzantium, there is a castle. This depiction is thought to be the then Byzantine castle of Agioi Theodoroi, which was surrendered in 1355 CE and underwent many subsequent modifications. The castle is referenced in literary sources and travelers’ accounts, but this is the first visual representation of the castle ever found, and provides valuable insight into the castle’s form at that time.
White Lead Identified in 2,500-Year-Old Containers in China — Synthesized white lead was found in bronze containers within a tomb at the Liangdaicun site in China. The tomb is that of an aristocrat, and is dated to between 770 and 476 BCE. The substance may have been used as a cosmetic. And analysis shows that its synthesis must have been developed independently from that of similar finds from Greece in the 4th century BCE.
Hercules Statue Unearthed in Northern Greece — A large statue of a young Hercules was unearthed in the ancient city of Philippi in Greece. It is dated to the 2nd century CE, and was found in a city square. He is wearing a wreath of vine leaves, and holding a lion skin in his outstretched left hand. Pieces of his club were also found nearby.
Science Unravels Some Secrets of Mysterious Shipwreck Gribshunden — The Gribshunden, which was the flagship of the Danish-Norwegian King Hans, sank quite mysteriously in 1495. It is significant as the best-preserved ship from the Age of Exploration, which can give us a clearer view of ship construction at that time. A team recently recovered artifacts like artillery, handguns, and steering gear. And 3D modeling has indicated that traditional hierarchical divisions of space seem to have been more relaxed when the king was at sea. They also found that artillery was only present on the stern of the ship, which is odd — perhaps they were looted from the bow. They’re still not sure why it sank, seeing no indication of the explosion noted in medieval documents.
Gut Microbes and Humans on a Joint Evolutionary Journey — Many microbe species in the human gut are found in people all over the world, but the strains vary, and little is known about the origins of each strain. A new study of the gut microbiome of 1,225 contemporary individuals and 59 microbial species found that over 60% of the microbial species investigated matched the evolutionary history of their hosts. This indicates that microbes co-diversified in the human gut as we spread across the globe over the last 100,000+ years. Also notable, is that those microbes which changed with us are also the most dependent on our gut environments, having smaller genomes and being more sensitive to oxygen levels and temperature. According to Ruth Ley, “This fundamentally changes how we view the human gut microbiome.”
Did European Traders Traverse East Africa’s Trade Routes? — Glass beads and cowrie shells in northern Malawi, which is 400 miles from the Indian Ocean, are shedding light on ancient trade. The shells date to between 1150 and 1341 BP and are probably from the Indian Ocean. Three of the beads were manufactured in Europe in the mid-19th century. And one of the beads was made in South Asia between the 15th and 17th centuries. According to Jessica Thompson, “This tells you that people were already trading through very complex routes from the Indian Ocean, over mountains and around lakes to inland communities at least 1,000 years before Europeans began documenting their experiences in the region.” It also shows that Europeans later used the same trade routes, apparently to find “gum copal, ivory, and enslaved people.”
Ancient Weir Sheds New Light on Alaska Native History — Scientists have confirmed and dated what might be the oldest stone fish weir ever found. It is at least 11,100 years old! Fish weirs are essentially walls that fish swim over at high-tide, then get trapped in at low tide, allowing people to easily catch them with spears or nets. It was found in the waters of Prince of Wales island in Alaska, USA. And it means that Southeast Alaska Natives lived in the region more than 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.
❤️ Recommended Content
Time for another 1-star review of an ancient site. This one is near and dear to my heart because I find the site of Cueva de las Manos in Argentina absolutely fascinating. To me, every hand tells the story of a life lived. To whoever posted this review, though, “The place is very [monotonous] and what good is it to see hands?” 😧
As I’ve covered once or twice before, modern men studying ancient women has led to some glaring errors in our understanding of the past. This fascinating article covers this issue, along with ancient textiles, Viking women, and the importance of their weaving to the expansion of the Vikings.
Since we discussed an ancient canoe today, here’s an interesting article about what might be the world’s oldest known boat — the Mesolithic Pesse canoe.
I hear a lot about stone circles in Europe (including the new standing stones found in Spain), but not so much about those in Japan. Here’s an article about some Jomon monuments in Japan, which mostly date to between 2500 and 300 BCE. What a fascinating, enigmatic, and wide-spread practice.
Here’s a fun little article for beer lovers. It’s about a home brewer and professor who teamed up to restore ancient beer recipes. Interestingly, due to the lactobacillus found in most ancient beers, modern drinkers often don’t like them.
I love the topic of altered states of consciousness, and how they were utilized by ancient peoples. Here’s an interesting article about the Maya and the many entheogens they used.
Here’s an interesting story about the stone towers of Pengbuxi in China and a journey taken by a journalist through the Hengduan Mountains. The towers are 8-sided, star-shaped, 100-foot structures built with unworked rocks. Their age and purpose are still debated.
I loved that first one. It’s so interesting to think about the meaning and stories that petroglyphs hold. If only we had the context unlock their secrets! As always, let me know your thoughts.
And until next time, thanks for joining me.
(newish twitter: @jamesofthedrum)
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