🧐 Ancient Beat #35: Hominin sinuses, dual stelae, and new dating methods
Hi folks, and welcome to issue #35 of Ancient Beat!
Happy (almost) Halloween, Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, and whatever else you might be celebrating. 😃 The leaves are falling and it’s getting chilly in my neck of the woods. A perfect time to grab a cup of something hot, cozy up, and discover the world of our ancestors.
Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Biblical Military Campaigns Reconstructed Using Geomagnetic Field Data — New discoveries and a new dating method… this is a good one. Researchers dated 21 destruction layers at archaeological sites in Israel, and they did it by reconstructing the direction and intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field at the time of destruction. The short of it is this: When burned, magnetic minerals record the magnetic field as it was during the time of the fire, and researchers can then date an object by checking these records against a geomagnetic dataset that they’ve created. Because of this, they were able to verify Old Testament accounts of military campaigns. For example, the findings show that King Hazael was responsible for destroying several cities, but they refute the theory that he conquered Tel Beth-Shean. As another example, the findings indicate, “that the Babylonians were not solely responsible for Judah's ultimate demise. Several decades after they had destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple, sites in the Negev, which had survived the Babylonian campaign, were destroyed — probably by the Edomites who took advantage of the fall of Jerusalem. This betrayal and participation in the destruction of the surviving cities may explain why the Hebrew Bible expresses so much hatred for the Edomites — for example, in the prophecy of Obadiah,” according to Erez Ben Yosef.
Dual Maya Stela Uncovered at Uxmal — An impressive stela was discovered in a sunken patio in the complex called El Palomar at the ancient site of Uxmal in Mexico. It is carved on both sides. On the north side, it depicts a female deity wearing a pectoral, bracelets, and a skirt, and holding a quetzal (a type of colorful bird) in her left hand. The south side depicts a male deity with a feather headdress (which includes what might be an owl’s head), loincloth, cape, and a cane in his left hand. It was probably created in the second half of the first millennium.
UK's Oldest Human DNA Obtained, Revealing Two Distinct Palaeolithic Populations — According to a new study that analyzed the oldest DNA obtained to date in the UK, at least two distinct groups migrated to Britain at the end of the last ice age. One of the individuals who was studied lived 15,000 years ago and was found in Somerset, England. Her ancestors were part of a migration to northwest Europe 16,000 years ago. Another individual lived 13,500 years ago and was found in Wales, and his ancestry is from a group that originated in the Near East and migrated to Britain 14,000 years ago. Both migrations occurred after the last ice age, when people were moving back to northern Europe. The two groups were not only genetically distinct, but their cultural practices (diet and burials) were distinct as well. One may have even practiced ritualistic cannibalism.
New Discovery of 2,200-Year-Old Stargazing Map Sheds New Light on Ancient Astronomy — Fragments of a 2nd-century BCE star catalog created by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus have been found in old manuscripts. This is one of the first known star catalogs. Four constellations of the catalog were found using multispectral imaging on a collection of parchments from Egypt that were overwritten in the medieval era. Hipparchus’ calculations of Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, and Draco are apparently very accurate — more so than Ptolemy’s centuries later, which indicates that Ptolemy did not base his work on Hipparchus as had been thought.
Sinuses Offer New Way of Studying the Evolution of Ancient Humans — A recent study showed that the size and shape of sinuses are linked to the size of the frontal lobe, the area responsible for things like speech, emotion, and planning. This means that scientists can use sinuses to study the development of the brain in ancient hominins. The study also showed that sinus size could distinguish between recent Homo species from the past two million years, making identification easier. And it lends support for Homo naledi being a part of our genus, which has been uncertain due to some prehuman features. Until now, sinuses have received short shrift, so the researchers hope this paper will change that.
That’s it for the free Top 5! If you’re a free subscriber and you’d like to read another 16 headlines and 8 pieces of content covering ancient migrations, Elamite tombs, radiation storms, 2,000-year-old whistles, mysteries in the Azores, enigmatic stone walls, new understandings of trade routes, sacred butterfly migrations, kids discovering ancient artifacts, and more, sign up for the paid plan below.
🗞 Ancient News: Deep Dive
Central Asia Identified as a Key Region For Human Ancestors — A new study compiled the largest dataset of paleolithic sites (132 of them) across Central Asia, analyzing lithic tools and mineral deposits. This is an area where we know little about the early occupation. The researchers identified the interior of Central Asia as a primary migration route for early hominins. According to Emma Finestone, “We argue that Central Asia was a favorable habitat for Paleolithic toolmakers when warm interglacial phases coincided with periods when the Caspian Sea was experiencing consistently high water levels, resulting in greater moisture availability and more temperate conditions in otherwise arid regions. The patterning of stone tool assemblages also supports this.”
Tree Rings Offer Insight into Devastating Radiation Storms — This one isn’t about humans, per se, but the topic has affected us in the past, so it made the cut. Researchers are looking at tree rings to get insight into Miyake Events, which are burst of cosmic radiation that tend to occur every thousand years or so. It was thought that they were huge solar flares. But according to Qingyuan Zhang, “We've shown they're not correlated with sunspot activity, and some actually last one or two years. Rather than a single instantaneous explosion or flare, what we may be looking at is a kind of astrophysical 'storm' or outburst.” The most recent confirmed global event like this was in 993 CE. There do seem to be some ancient records of these events.
Fossil Determines Who First Inhabited the Dominican Republic — Human remains, which were recently found at the site of Samaná in the Dominican Republic, were thought to be about 3,000 years old, but carbon dating revealed that they’re actually about 5,300 years old. These ancient people would have mixed with others who came to the island, eventually becoming the Taino culture that Columbus encountered.
Archaeologists Find Relics from Elamite Tomb Chambers — A large number of burial relics from the Elamite era were found in the basin of a new dam in southwest Iran. Finds include bones (human and animal), vessels (clay, marble, soapstone, and bronze), bronze sarees, bronze axes, bronze daggers, bronze tools, and agate beads. Previous excavations date the site to 2650-4500 years old. An important find was cultural-commercial connections and stylistic similarities with southeast Iran. There is a rush to complete excavations before the dam is filled.
Early Greenlanders Enjoyed a Varied Diet — Researchers have found that the Saqqaq people who lived in Greenland 4,500 years ago, ate a more varied diet than they previously thought. Analysis of middens showed 42 different creatures that they ate: 20 mammal species (including whales and an extinct species of small reindeer), 13 types of birds, and 9 types of fish. This sheds light not only on their diet, but also on their technologies.
Ancient DNA Pushes Herring Trade Back To The Viking Age — While extensive herring trade was believed to have started in 1200 CE, a recent study showed that it actually started in 800 CE, possibly with the Vikings. Herring was difficult to trade from a technological perspective because it required curing with salt or smoke to avoid decay.
Archaeologists Unearth Two Viking Age Swords in Burial Ground — Two swords were found in a burial ground near Köping, Sweden. The burial dates to 600-1000 CE. The swords were placed standing upright. Swords have been found in the area before, but this is the first time two swords have been found left standing. They may have been placed on the mound to honor and remember a relative.
Rare 1,000-Year-Old Viking Wooden Bowl Found by Young Boy — A 1,000-year-old Viking bowl was found in Glomma, Norway by a 10-year-old boy. He found it on a sandbank in a river. Apparently, it might be the only intact bowl of its age found in Norway.
2,000-year-old whistle found at child’s grave in Türkiye's Assos — A terracotta whistle dating back 2,000 years has been discovered near the Ayazma Church in the ancient city of Assos in Turkey. According to Nurettin Arslan, “In ancient times, such objects were used as children’s toys and left as gifts, especially in kids’ graves. It is known that this object, which still functions as a whistle, was used from the Classical Age to the Roman Age. Since the find layers of this object are not known, it is not possible to give an exact date. But we guess it’s the Roman period or before.”
Roman Observation Tower Uncovered in Ancient City Volubilis — A Roman military tower dating to between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE has been found in Volubilis, Morocco. Foundations and walls were preserved up to 80 centimeters. An internal staircase, fragments of cobblestones, javelins, nails from Roman sandals, and fragments of legionnaire belts were also found.
Archaeologists Find Ancient Artifacts in Southern Türkiye — New excavations around the Church of St. Pierre in the ancient city of Antiocheia in Turkey have uncovered rooms with vessels from the late Roman era. The researchers believe that pilgrims bought vessels there and filled them with holy water at the church.
Archaeologists Unearth Cottage Between Reykjavík and Mosfellsbær — A cottage was unearthed in Iceland during a survey conducted prior to the construction of a shopping center. It was inhabited from roughly 1850-1920. A knife, pottery, plates, cups, bottles, and agricultural tools were also found.
'Complete Lack of Sunlight' Killed a Renaissance-Era Toddler, CT Scan Reveals — A new study showed that an aristocratic toddler who lived sometime between 1550 and 1635, and was buried in a family crypt in Austria, apparently died from extreme vitamin D deficiency and pneumonia. The child was also overweight, so he was not underfed — the issue was apparently a lack of sunlight. According to Andreas Nerlich, “We have to reconsider the living conditions of high aristocratic infants of previous populations.”
Skaftö Wreck's Cargo Tells a Tale of 15th-Century Trade Routes — A new study of cargo in the Skaftö wreck, a ship that foundered in the Lysekil archipelago of Sweden in 1440, is shedding new light on trade in the Middle Ages. The researchers have been able to map the origins of the cargo and its probable route. The cargo included copper, oak timber, quicklime, tar, bricks, and roof tiles. The ship likely took on cargo in Gdańsk, Poland. It was headed for Bruges in Belgium. And the cargo originated in both Sweden and Slovakia.
Cartography Shows that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was Used as an Inter-Oceanic Passage in the 16th Century — A region in southern Mexico known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the shortest distance between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in Mexico. According to a new cartographical study, the Spanish used this region as an inter-oceanic passage, using the Coatzacoalcos River to get two-thirds of the way across, then going overland the rest of the way.
Archaeologists Uncover Roman Villa Complex in Kent — A Roman villa was discovered in the county of Kent, England, using Google Earth. A team has now excavated the wall foundations and a pilae stack. A pilae stack is a type of pillar that would have been part of a hypocaust system (an early form of in-floor heating) of an adjacent bathhouse. Only the wealthiest could afford this luxury, so the villa inhabitants were probably high-status farmers. Due to pottery and coins found at the site, the villa is dated to the 3rd or 4th century CE. But the site was used long before that, as seen by the nearby Coldrum Long Barrow from 3900 BCE.
❤️ Recommended Content
Here’s another one-star review — this one about the fort of Eketorp in Sweden: “From a distance, it looked quite interesting.” For a moment there, I almost thought they liked it. 🤣
Here’s an interesting video about structures and artifacts located in the Azores which may date back thousands of years before the Portuguese “discovered” the islands. These are new to me and I found the sites fascinating — one is a ritual complex with alignments and water elements.
Here’s an article about the Kariv group, a group of distinct “barbaric” cultures, and the ancient cemetery (Kariv I) where their elites seem to have been buried together. It talks about artifacts found there, the practices of these cultures, and their relationships with Rome (some say they’re actually the Vandals — the people that sacked Rome).
Here’s an article that shares insights into archaeology’s “third science revolution” as well as the site of Uppåkra in Sweden.
Here’s a video about ancient indigenous practices in North America that provide solutions to modern problems — ways that humans can work with nature instead of against it. My favorite parts were her revelation about buffalo migration (they followed people, not the other way around), along with her share about how one indigenous group tended a chestnut forest for 3,000 years! In short: Work with the forces of nature, expand habitats, decenter humans, and design for perpetuity.
Here’s an article about Jordan’s ancient wall called Khatt Shebib which runs for 93 miles. It once stood three feet tall and had about 100 six- to twelve-foot towers. The purpose and date of construction are unknown.
Here’s an article about the first known paved roads, which were made between 2600 and 2200 BCE, probably for the transport of quarried stone for the pyramids of Egypt.
Here’s an article about the monarch butterfly migration to central Mexico, and how it was a sacred event to ancient peoples. The monarch population has decreased by 84% in the past 20 years, thanks largely to pesticides and modern farming practices, but the migration is still a sight to see — there are 25 million monarchs per acre at their reserve every October. The Aztecs viewed butterflies as the souls of warriors who died in battle. And monarchs became symbolic of dead warriors returning each year, possibly because they come from the north, which is the direction associated with death.
How about that new form of dating? Super excited to see what else comes to light with that. As always, 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! 🙏