🧐 Ancient Beat #54: Stone ships, shark fishing, and the benefits of hunter-gatherer admixture
Hi folks! Welcome to issue #54 of Ancient Beat. We’ve got lots of little treasures, strange stone structures, old tools, and archaic social dynamics to explore this week, so let’s dive right in.
Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Evidence for Large Land Snail Cooking and Consumption at Border Cave c. 170–70 ka Ago — Fragments of land snail shells found at Border Cave in South Africa have colors ranging from beige to brown to gray. While that may not sound overly important, it turns out that this color variability happens when the shell is heated. The researchers concluded that the snails were systematically brought to the site by humans, then roasted and consumed. And since the shells date back as far as 170,000 years ago, this is the earliest known evidence of this subsistence strategy. The shells, along with remains of rhizomes and tubers, show that members of a group were provisioning others who used the cave as a home base. So not only is this a “first-ever” type of find, but it gives us a nice little peak at how early Homo sapiens lived too.
Radar Discovery of Unknown Viking Age Stone Ship, Burial Mounds and Houses in the Trondheim Fjord — Traces of graves and settlement activity were located along Norway’s Trondheim Fjord using ground-penetrating radar. The finds point to the presence of sizable Late Iron-Age farms. In total, they found several longhouses and 31 burial mounds, 8 of which were star-shaped. They also believe there may be a stone ship measuring 48x17 meters.
An Ancient Structure of Unknown Purpose Discovered in Northeastern Italy — It looks like a cist burial, but it isn’t. A rectangular stone structure was discovered during the laying of fiber optic cable in Torreano, Italy. It has two long walls topped by a roof. No remains were found inside, so no one is quite sure what it is. The best guest at the moment, since it is surrounded by silty soil typical of waterways, is that it was used to allow carts to pass over an ancient water course that flowed through it. The date of the structure is uncertain.
Hunter-Gatherer Genes Helped Early European Farmers Survive Disease – New Study — A genome-wide study of 677 people living in Mesolithic and Neolithic Europe found more hunter-gatherer ancestry in adaptive-immunity genes than can be attributed to chance. According to Tom Davy, “This tells us that these regions of the genome were experiencing natural selection. The genetic variants predominantly carried by hunter-gatherers in the MHC region and by farmers in SLC25A5 increased in frequency in the descendant population.” The “MHC region” he’s referring to is a cluster of genes that helps our immune systems recognize pathogens, while “SLC24A5” is a gene involved in skin pigmentation. According to Pontus Skoglund, “A longstanding idea is that farming lifestyles drove immune adaptation due to denser settlements, new diets, and proximity to livestock. When farming groups expanded from the Near East into Europe and mixed with local hunter-gatherers, the natural prediction would be that the farmers' immunity genes would be best adapted to the farming lifestyle and thus selected for. However, we see the opposite, that hunter-gatherer ancestry is enriched at the MHC immunity locus. This could, for example, be because the hunter-gatherers were already adapted to pathogens found in Europe, or it could be the result of natural selection favoring diversity in immunity genes.” As for the SLC24A5, it’s possible that lighter skin pigmentation allowed farmers to get Vitamin D from the sun, while hunter-gatherers got enough of it from their diets. So the short of it is that hunter-gatherer admixture facilitated natural selection in farmers during the 8,000-year period when farmers moved to Europe from the Near East.
Israeli Archaeologists Find 6000-Year-Old Metal Fishhook, and It’s for Sharks — The oldest metal fishing hook ever discovered was unearthed in an ancient residential area of the coastal city of Ashkelon, Israel. The copper hook is 6,000 years old and 6.5 centimeters long. The size indicates that it was probably used for sharks or other large fish. As I understand it, this may be the earliest evidence of shark fishing to date. Fun little tidbit: The oldest (non-metal) hooks ever found are from 20,000 years ago and they were found in Japan and East Timor. They were made of shells.
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🗞 Ancient News: Deep Dive
New Clues To Behavior Of Neanderthal Hunting Parties — Spatial analysis was done on faunal remains and stone tools found at Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter in Spain, a hunting site used by Neanderthals 76,000 years ago. The results showed that the occupants brought large bovids, deer, and other animals to the site for initial use before bringing them to the rest of their community. According to the study, the site was only used sporadically, but when it was used, it was used very intensively. And even in successive visits, specific activities were performed in specific areas, probably due to the convenience of those areas. For example, collaborative and repetitive tasks were done at the main cluster of tools which were related to nearby hearths — the most important features of the space. There were also small, isolated areas where carcasses were probably processed, and an area that was altered by water. This is different from what we see at other sites, indicating that Neanderthals changed their approach according to the space. This is an important study because, while spatial analysis has been used extensively at some Pleistocene sites, little is known about the distribution patterns of hunting sites.
Ancient DNA Provides ‘Solomonic Solution’ to Mystery of Swahili Origins — Until now, there has been a debate about whether the civilization of the Swahili Coast that created so many monumental medieval stone cities from Somalia to Mozambique was a native African population or foreign. Luckily, a new study of DNA from bones unearthed at six medieval towns indicates that its inhabitants underwent an admixture 1,000 years ago, with a roughly equal contribution from local populations and Asian immigrants. Most people thought it would go one way or the other, but no one expected it to be roughly 50-50. Inhabitants of these stone towns got African ancestry from females and Persian ancestry from males. This would normally indicate foul play by an invading force, but the archaeology does not back this up. Instead, the researchers believe that Persians set up trade posts in the area and alliances resulted in marriages. Unsurprisingly, both the admixture and the time are corroborated by existing Swahili oral traditions. A nice little reminder that when trying to understand a people’s history, it’s a good idea to heed their stories.
Pottery Unearthed at Pompeian Villa — A collection of pottery was found in what may have been the servants’ quarters of a villa in Civita Giuliana, just north of Pompeii. The artifacts were turned upside down along the walls of the room for some reason. Maybe they were drip-drying after a wash? I haven’t found an explanation in any of the articles I’ve read on it.
A Reconstruction of Prehistoric Temperatures for Some of the Oldest Archaeological Sites in North America — A new study reconstructed temperatures over the last 14,000 years at the site Tanana Valley, Alaska, with surprising results. It was previously thought that temperatures changed dramatically over this time period, causing humans to settle in new areas. But according to Jennifer Kielhofer, “The region wasn't really responding to these global scale climate changes as we might expect… we can't necessarily use temperature as a way to explain changes in human occupation or adaptation through time, as scientists have previously tried to do.”
Thousands of Mummified Ram’s Heads Uncovered in Abydos — This is all over the news so I’ll include it, but it really isn’t news. Way back in issue #34, I covered a cult bell found in Egypt with a lot of ram skulls. While my writeup focused on the bell, the skulls were clearly present (though at the time the count was 1,200 skulls). Now, word has gotten out that 2,000 mummified ram’s heads dating to about 2,000 years ago were discovered in the ancient city of Abydos, Egypt, along with the remains of ewes, dogs, wild goats, cows, gazelles, and mongooses. The rams are indicative of practices performed by a ram cult in memory of Ramesses II, who lived roughly 1,000 years earlier. They also found statues, papyri, the remains of trees, leather garments, shoes, and a palatial structure that dates to 2181 BCE. No mention of a bell this time around. 🤷♂️
What is the Roman Silver Fragment Found in Norfolk? Experts are Baffled — A tiny fragment of gilded Roman silver was discovered in Norfolk, England, but no one is quite sure what it is a fragment of. It was found about a year ago, but the mystery (and frustration) was only recently shared with the public. The researchers mention that they can’t find a parallel in any collection and they’re hoping someone will reach out to them with an answer. Let’s hear your theories in the comments!
Unique 1,000-Year-Old Medieval Golden Treasure Unearthed by Dutch Historian Using Metal Detector — A metal detectorist found 39 silver coins, two gold leaf strips, and four golden ear pendants in Hoogwoud, Netherlands. The most recent coin dated to roughly 1250 CE, so it was probably buried around then. But interestingly, the gold pieces would have been created 200 years before that, indicating that they were “an expensive and cherished possession.” Burying this treasure may have had something to do with a war taking place between Dutch regions of West Friesland and Holland in the mid-13th century. The discovery actually took place in 2021 but the museum wanted time to clean and investigate the items before making the discovery public.
Bronze Age Treasure Found in Poland — 2,500-year-old bronze artifacts were discovered in Zalewo, Poland. The find included an ax and two bronze hoop ornaments which may have been bracelets, armlets, or greaves. There were no human remains, so these probably weren’t grave goods — they may have been deposited for safekeeping at a time of conflict. The artifacts are attributed to the Lusatian culture (1700-500 BCE).
800-Year-Old Tomb Discovered in Central China — A beautiful Jin Dynasty tomb was discovered in Shanxi Province, China. It consists of a stepped passageway and a main chamber. The remains of a child and two men were discovered within. Carved bricks on the walls mimic lattice windows, and one wall is carved to mimic wood and displays a man and his wife. Porcelain bowls, jars, pottery, and a stone block documenting the purchase of the land for the tomb were also found within. The block dates the tomb to the 1190s CE.
Lost Astronomical Treatise By Claudius Ptolemy Discovered — A 2nd-century BCE text by astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, which was thought to have been lost, has now been recovered. This particular copy was erased in the 8th century and replaced by the text of the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, but multispectral imaging techniques were able to recover much of the previous text. It describes the construction of the “meteoroscope” that Ptolemy invented, and it is apparently the oldest known text to describe a scientific instrument.
Tartan Recovered from Scottish Bog Dated to 16th Century — A tartan that was found in a Scottish peat bog 40 years ago was recently radiocarbon dated. Turns out it’s the oldest tartan ever found in Scotland — between 1500 and 1655 CE. The original colors were green, brown, and possibly red and yellow. Clan Chisholm controlled the area, but it is unclear who this belonged to.
Rare 1,000 Year-Old Crusader-Era Bird Pendant Discovered — A Crusades-era pendant of a bird was discovered in a cow pasture in Lappajärvi, Finland back in the 60s, but the finder did not realize the significance and therefore did not notify the authorities. It has now been examined and cataloged. Only one similar pendant has ever been found during this period — a diving duck known as the “Uhtua pendant”. This, along with a Karelian-style knife recently found nearby, could be evidence of a permanent settlement in the area.
Bamboo Slips Unearthed in China's Yunnan Bear High Historical Value — A whopping 10,000 bamboo slips were discovered in Yunnan Province, China. The slips have characters dating back to the Han Dynasty (202 BCE - 220 CE). They include proclamations, official documents, books, and letters. The researchers believe the discovery may shed light on the administrative power of the Han Dynasty government.
Roman Remains Uncovered at Exeter Cathedral — An early Roman street, timber buildings, and the wall of a Roman townhouse were discovered in the gardens of Exeter Cathedral in Exeter, England. The street and timber buildings are thought to date to 50-75 CE, while the wall is from the 3rd or 4th century.
The Untold History of the Horse in the American Plains: A New Future for the World — A new study found that by at least the early 1600s, horses were no longer exclusively kept by Spanish people in the Americas. First Nations peoples of North America kept them as well, which goes against the general belief that the adoption of horses happened after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The study also found that their horses were not related to Viking horses or horses that inhabited the Americas 12,000+ years ago; they had primarily Iberian ancestry in the beginning, then British ancestry later.
The 'Stonehenge Calendar' Shown to be a Modern Construct — In 2022, a new theory suggested that Stonehenge was a 365-day calendar that was divided into 12 months, 30 days, and 5 epagomenal days (and a leap year). Without getting too far into the weeds, the idea was that the number of different types of stones, when multiplied or added to other numbers, would make up this number of days, months, and years. Anyway, according to a recent analysis, this theory doesn’t hold water. The researchers state that: 1. Stonehenge would not be accurate enough to control the correct working of a calendar (it would need to be accurate to less than 1/10 of a degree). 2. The numerology used makes big leaps with some numbers and ignores other numbers entirely. It therefore displays the selection effect. And 3. The first elaboration of the 365-plus-1-day calendar doesn’t show up until two millennia later in Egypt. The researchers conclude that the theory is purely based on modern constructs and flawed logic. Ouch. 😬 I remember when that theory came out and the connections to ancient Egypt in particular were pretty exciting. But unless a rebuttal is impending, I think that parade has been thoroughly rained on.
❤️ Recommended Content
While we’re on the topic, I thought this was a pretty tasty discovery 🤤:
Here’s a video about a missing pyramid that was once present on the Giza plateau. It also discusses an odd sealed wooden box that was carefully buried beneath it.
Here’s a video about another missing pyramid that was once present on the Giza plateau.
Here’s an article about a project that is analyzing the importance of, and the meaning behind, ancient Roman games. It’s worth a read, as depictions of these games can tell us more than you might think.
Here’s a short video about the 5-story pyramid at the site of Montegrande in Peru. It has a spiral in the center of it and was built an incredible 5,000+ years ago.
Anyone else have a sudden hankering for a scone?
Until next time, thanks for joining me.
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