🧐 Ancient Beat #33: Poseidon's temple, unexpected iconography, and legends proven true
Hi folks! Welcome to issue #33 of Ancient Beat, and happy Archaeology Day (tomorrow)!!! I hope you unearth some interesting things about whatever you’re exploring.
Maybe I can help… here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Archaeologists may have Uncovered the Sanctuary of Samian Poseidon at Samicum — According to ancient texts, a celebrated temple was located near the ancient Greek city of Samicum. Well, a temple-shaped building has now been located in the foothills near the city, and it might be the very same temple: the Sanctuary of Samian Poseidon. The building is 9.4 meters by 28 meters. The team has found a pronaos (a type of vestibule), two inner rooms with tiles, a marble basin associated with cultic use, and fragments of a laconic roof. The latter may date the temple to 700-480 BCE.
Scientists Prove Legends of Small, Dark-Skinned People in Taiwan — A 6,000-year-old female skeleton buried in a squatting position was discovered in the Xiaoma Caves in Taiwan. This, for the first time, validates that there was once a small-stature hunter-gatherer people living there — something which local legends have long held. According to the study, “This female individual shared remarkable cranial affinities and small stature characteristics with the Indigenous Southeast Asians, particularly the [small, dark-skinned people] in northern Luzon. This study solves the several-hundred-years-old mysteries of ‘little black people’ legends in Formosan Austronesian tribes and brings insights into the broader prehistory of Southeast Asia.” While it was traditionally thought that any hunter-gatherers in Taiwan were absorbed by Austronesian farming communities 4,800 years ago, there has been some evidence that non-Austronesian people still lived in the mountains until the 1800s.
New Insights Revealed During Underwater Excavation of Maya Salt Mines — A submerged residential structure was found at the site of Ta’ab Nuk Na in Belize, along with hundreds of wooden posts which would have been pole-and-thatch buildings. This salt-mining site was active from 600-1000 CE. During the 6th century, there were a few residential buildings, but by 650 CE, these increased due to the addition of three salt kitchens. Excavation of the structures showed evidence of household activities like cooking, spinning cotton, and woodworking, which suggests that salt miners lived on site, using the salt for themselves and trading the surplus. They could have made a (literal) ton of salt per week. And since these people lived there and had indoor salt kitchens, they could have produced salt all year round to meet demand from other Maya cities.
Pre-Hispanic Images Revealed on Early Convent Walls in Mexico — While removing lime from the walls of a former Christian convent in Tepoztlán, Mexico, a mural with pre-hispanic iconography was revealed. It was dated to the 16th century. There was a plume, an axe, a chimalli (shield), and a flower stick, which is often attributed to Tepoztécatl, the god of pulque, drunkenness, and fertility. This may help us to understand the relationship between pre-hispanic culture and Christianity after the Spanish invasion.
Flint Tools Found in Tunel Wielki Cave have been Dated to Half a Million Years Ago — Stone tools that were found in Poland 50 years ago, and which were originally thought to be 40,000 years old, have now been redated. They’re… wait for it… half a million years old. And that makes them some of the oldest artifacts ever found in Poland. The redating occurred because small animal bones found in the same layer of the cave were much older, including extinct species which inhabited the area 450-550,000 years ago. The tools were likely made by Homo heidelbergensis.
🗞 Ancient News: Deep Dive
Human Skull Found at Site of Bronze Age Treasure Discovery — In 1943, copper alloy objects were discovered in an embankment in Kaliszany, Poland. There were 44 artifacts total, including axes, jewelry, and a pin. The site dates back to 800-750 BCE. Archaeologists resumed excavations in August, and it was confirmed that the embankment is manmade. They also found a human skull, animal bones in anatomical order, pottery, and tools that may have been used to process the stones that form the embankment. The embankment is located on a boundary of an area that was inhabited, indicating that the objects were likely buried to mark and sanctify boundaries. The skull likely came from a later burial.
Blue Fibers Found in Teeth of Ancient Mayans Suggest Sacrificial Victims were Gagged Before Being Killed — Fibers were found on the teeth of sacrificed Mayans at the site of Belize’s appropriately named Midnight Terror Cave. The white and blue fibers indicate that these people were probably gagged before being sacrificed, and for quite a while too. A bit macabre, but there you have it. It’s worth noting that blue was a special color to the ancient Maya, and they often used it to decorate ritual items.
Pendant with the Figure of St. Nicholas Found in the Sunken Church in Lake İznik, Türkiye — A basilica was found beneath the waters of a lake near Bursa, Turkey eight years ago, and new excavations just wrapped up after two months. The basilica may have been lost to the lake during an earthquake that occurred in 1065 CE. Among many finds, a pendant with the name and depiction of St. Nicholas was found, indicating that at least one pilgrim came there, probably after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But more interestingly, at least to me, a U-shaped pool or well was found to be intentionally buried with architectural blocks, indicating its importance. If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that I have a particular fascination with springs and wells, as they so often held spiritual significance to ancient peoples as places where they hoped to communicate with their gods.
First Look at Mysterious 2,700-Year-Old Underground Frescoes Hidden Inside an Urartu Structure — Treasure hunters found a 2,700-year-old Urartu structure in Van, Turkey. Authorities were notified and the site is being investigated. The structure includes beautiful blue and burgundy frescoes. And a large group of buildings has now been discovered 6-7 meters underground, and connected by corridors. Many of these walls are decorated too.
Researchers Scour Australia’s Desert Outback to Save Ancient Aboriginal Tree Carvings — Aboriginal people of Australia once carved long, looping images of what might be creation stories into massive baobab trees. Researchers are searching for these trees in order to document them before the trees die, as their soft inner wood means that they tend to collapse quickly. So far, they’ve found 12 with carvings in the last two years, some of which likely date back several hundred years. We don’t know how long this specific species of baobab tree lives, but South African baobabs can live for 2,000 years.
Syria Unveils Ancient Roman Mosaic Deemed Most Important Find Since Conflict Began — A 1,300-square-foot mosaic from the 4th century has been uncovered in Rastan, Syria. It is rare due to its preservation and unusual depictions, including scenes of the Trojan War, Amazon warriors, Neptune, and more. It is unclear what type of building it is yet (possibly a bath), but excavation continues. From what I can tell, the mosaic was discovered while rebels controlled the area, and it has been excavated since the government regained control. A significant portion has now been uncovered and journalists have been allowed to take photos, hence the headline.
Ancient Greeks Used Mercenaries from Distant Lands, DNA Analysis Reveals — According to DNA analysis from a mass grave in the ancient colony of Himera, mercenaries in ancient Greece were not always Greek. They came from all over, and as far as the Caucasus mountains and central Asia. In fact, the majority were foreigners.
Centuries-Old Sandstone Naga's Head Unearthed in Cambodia's Famed Angkor Park — The head of a Bayon-style naga statue was found at the ancient site of Angkor Thom in Cambodia when a tree fell and revealed it from within its roots. It measures 1.2 meters by 1 meter and may be from the late 12th or early 13th century.
Monumental Synagogue Emerges from Ancient Ruins in Turkey — A terracotta statue of Athena was unearthed near Temple D at the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Italy. Though more evidence is required, this discovery may mean that the temple should be attributed to Athena, not to Hera as has been done since 1558. The figure dates to the 5th or 6th century BCE.
2,000-Year-Old Bronze Coins Unearthed in Xi'an — Thousands of bronze coins have been found in what remains of a 2,000-year-old mint in Xi’an, China. In addition to the coins, they found the remains of over 100 ash pits, 3 houses, 11 kilns, 18 wells, and three smelting/casting sites. Most of these are attributed to the Western Han Dynasty, while some belong to the Xin Dynasty. The discovery is important to the study of coinage technology and the understanding of economic policies of the time.
Archaeologists Unearth Eight Colonial-Era Mummies in Peru — Eight mummies have been discovered in Lima, Peru, dating back a few centuries to colonial times. This follows the discovery of three mummies at the same site in August, one of which was holding a cross, indicating that this was probably a cemetery from the time of conversion to Christianity.
Drought in the French River Reveals Medieval Fishery — Add this to the long list of ancient finds that have come to light due to drought this year. A 12th-century fishery has been located in the Loire River of western France. The discovery apparently happened back in August but this is the first headline I’ve seen on the topic. It was a W-shaped dike that channeled salmon and other upstream-swimming fish into nets and traps.
A 2,400-Year-Old Tomb was Unearthed in Southwestern Turkey — A citizen of the province of Mugla in Turkey noticed a large stone in his field. He believed it to be an ancient artifact, so he contacted the authorities who then uncovered a tomb from the 4th century BCE. The tomb, which is thought to be that of a noble, had a marble cover. Ceramics were also found nearby.
Traces of Original Manor Found at Poland’s Branicki Palace — A field-stone floor from the 15th or 16th century has been located at the 18th century Branicki Palace in Poland. It is probably part of a wooden building constructed by the initial owners of the estate. It was large and may have been located near the manor house.
Cobbled Ford Uncovered in England — A cobbled path, which was once used as a ford to cross a brook, was found in southwestern England. It dates to the 1st century and is 30 feet long. Markings indicate that it was used by carts. According to Aidan Smyth, “If it is of a Roman date, it’s the only one of its kind in Britain.”
Pottery Unearthed at Peru’s Huaca la Palma — Pottery dating to between 1470 and 1532 CE has been uncovered in Lima, Peru, at the site of Huaca la Palma. Four bottles and a small, bird-shaped jug were found. They were probably crafted by the Ychsma culture.
Nanomaterial from the Middle Ages — “Zwischgold” is a material used in the Middle Ages to cover something in what looks like gold leaf, but is actually much cheaper. It is an ultra-thin layer (30 nanometers) of gold on top of a supporting layer (140 nanometers) of silver. There was a clear hierarchy of usage; for example, gold leaf might be used on the halo of a figure, while the Zwischgold was used on the robe. Little was known about the material until now, but new analysis showed just how advanced the process was. According to Qing Wu, “Many people had assumed that technology in the Middle Ages was not particularly advanced. On the contrary: this was not the Dark Ages, but a period when metallurgy and gilding techniques were incredibly well-developed.”
Easter Island Statues Damaged by Fire — I don’t know about you, but the ancient Moai of Easter Island have filled me with wonder since I was a kid. Well, a large bummer of a fire burned about 148 acres of the island, damaging an unknown number of the megalithic statues. The charring on some may be irreparable.
Research Attributes Pseudonymous Astronomical Treatise to Galileo Galilei — New research confirms suspicions that a controversial astronomical treatise was written by Galileo under a pseudonym… despite the original evidence of this (a letter) being declared a forgery. The treatise was titled Considerazioni Astronomiche di Alimberto Mauri. In short, a researcher was reviewing Galileo’s private, unpublished notes and saw that the mathemetician spoke of, “places where [Lodovico Delle Colombe] speaks of me with contempt.” Turns out, the personal attacks that he is referring to were directed at Alimberto Mauri, not Galileo. So, of course, this indicates that “Mauri’s” works were written by Galileo. It is thought that he used the pseudonym so that he could gain patronage beyond the borders of the Venetian Republic.
❤️ Recommended Content
Want to check out the amazing site of Newgrange? This one-star review might save you the trouble, “So boring! Stone room. Better take a trip to the Irish pub.” Well, I do like Irish pubs…
Check out these beautiful (and informative) photos exploring the ruins and indigenous culture of Mexico’s Maya Ka’an region.
Here’s a video about the poorly understood “grotto” of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. It’s essentially a small cavity in the limestone hill that the pyramid was built on, and nobody’s quite sure why it’s there.
Here’s a video about predynastic Egypt, which often gets short shrift IMO. Interesting stuff.
Here’s an article about an impressive irrigation network built by the Moors in Spain’s Sierra Nevada between the 9th and 10th centuries.
Here’s an article about ancient sea gardens, where indigenous people of the Americas (and beyond) were able to harvest huge amounts of oysters and clams — and did so sustainably.
I love the topic of domestication. Here’s an interesting article about fox domestication. In short, they probably weren’t ever fully domesticated, but we did have a special relationship with them, as indicated by burials, evidence that some lived on a more human diet (high vegetable content), and the discovery of fractured fox bones which had been healed by immobilizing the bones.
Here’s an article about the currency of the Aztecs, exploring their use of cacao seeds, the pros and cons of doing so, and their transition to copper hoe or axe money.
Well, that’ll do it for this week. Isn’t it cool when evidence is found that supports old legends? Love it. As always, let me know your thoughts!
And until next time, thanks for joining me.
(newish twitter: @jamesofthedrum)
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