🧐 Ancient Beat #59: Bent swords, megalithic hypogea, and wave after wave of Homo sapiens migrations
Hello, you 2,012 beautiful humans! Yep, that’s right, we crossed 2,000 members!
That’s a lot of people. It’s the size of the town I grew up in. Heck, about 70,000 years ago, there weren’t many more humans alive on the entire planet!
Point being, I’m really, really excited about this milestone! Thank you all so much for being a part of it. It means a lot. Like, a lot a lot. 😀
I’m giving everyone access to the full shebang this week to celebrate. Free-tier folks, if you want to go beyond the Top 5 and see every single piece of ancient news that made headlines this week, plus recommended content, then this issue is your oyster.
Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Sapiens from the Levant Made Three Attempts to Settle in Europe, Study Shows — According to a study of lithic artifacts at multiple sites, there were three waves of Homo sapiens migrations into Europe starting around 54,000 years ago. The first wave is indicated by light standardized points that are thought to have given our ancestors an advantage over Neanderthals. According to the researchers, this stone tool industry has been given varying labels since they show up in distant locations (“Initial Upper Paleolithic” in the Levant, “Neronian” in France, “Bohunician” in eastern Europe), but they actually appear to be one and the same, showing that it was a wave of sapiens migration. This first wave didn’t last long; at Mandrin Cave in France, for example, it only lasted about 40 years. The Mandrin “colony” probably tried to mix with the local Neanderthals, but according to Ludovic Slimak, “My guess would be the two populations were so divergent that the fertility was very partial, and in the first two waves the attempt to build social networks with the locals didn’t work out.” The second wave occurred 45,000 years ago, when the Initial Upper Paleolithic industry produced two-sided points at sites like Ksar Akil in Lebanon, which were also found in France and Spain. The researchers believe these to be sapiens sites, which is controversial, as most believe them to be Neanderthal sites. The paper has therefore met some pushback. The third and final wave took place 42,000 years ago. This was a time when sapiens spread all over Europe, and Neanderthals declined. From this wave, came the famous Aurignacian industry. Not everyone is convinced, however. According to Yossi Zaidner, “Although the similarities between stone tools are clear, it is always difficult to draw direct parallels and suggest migrations on the basis of lithic data alone – especially given the absence of similar sites between the Levant and western Europe. Cultural convergence could be another explanation here.” Regardless, fascinating stuff. I’ll end with a quick note: The beginning of this article pushes pretty hard on a sapiens-battling-Neanderthals-for-control-of-Europe narrative. That makes sense when looking at the past through the lens of present-day politics, but I don’t believe the archaeology supports it. And this paper doesn’t support it either: “With the social and technological efficiency of Homo sapiens you didn’t even need any conflict to create an imbalance that would ultimately lead to the disappearance of the Neanderthals.”
Recovery of Ancient DNA Identifies 20,000-Year-Old Pendant’s Owner — So this is nuts — not so much the discovery, but the new method that was used to discover it. A new non-destructive method for extracting ancient DNA allows researchers to isolate DNA from skin cells, sweat, and other fluids if the fluid was absorbed by certain types of porous material (bones, teeth, etc.). Well, a wapiti deer tooth found in the famous Denisova Cave was fashioned into a pendant 19,000-25,000 years ago, and researchers were able to extract not only the deer’s DNA, but the DNA of the person who wore (or possibly created) the pendant. Let’s pause there. We can now extract DNA from 20,000-year-old sweat! 🤯 The woman’s precise genetic profile has been reconstructed and she was closely related to a population of hunter-gatherers who lived farther east in Siberia. This is the first time this sort of link has ever been made. The new technique could help us to better understand prehistoric social roles, division of labor between sexes, whether certain objects were created by Homo sapiens or other species, etc.
Amazingly Well-Preserved 2,300-Year-Old Celtic Scissors and Curious Folded Sword Found by Archaeologists — A 2,300-year-old pair of scissors, a sword, lance tips, a shield, and a razor were discovered in a Celtic grave in Munich, Germany. It’s all in surprisingly good condition; particularly the scissors, which could apparently still be used today. The individual had been burned and buried with grave goods, as was the Celtic custom. Oddly, though, the sword was heated and folded a couple of times. It’s unclear why this was done, but theories range from saving space in the grave (which is ridiculous IMO) to disarming a restless spirit (also 👎) to serving the dead in the afterlife or protecting the tomb. The individual likely held high social standing, based on the grave goods. The scissors would likely have been used for cutting hair and textiles, or shearing sheep.
Rare Statue of Maya Lightning God Found in Mexico — K’awiil was the Maya deity associated with lightning, strength, serpents, fertility, and maize. A statue of the head of K’awiil, was discovered during the construction of the Maya Train project in Mexico. The statue is on the lid of an urn. The urn itself shows the face of a possible solar deity. While reliefs and codices often depict the deity, this is the fourth statue ever found, and the first in Mexico. Platforms and vaulted buildings were also discovered, which will soon be excavated, so stay tuned.
Ancient Stone Monument in Spain Hid a 5,000-Year-Old Secret — Until Now — Antequera, Spain is known for its rock structures; both natural and artificial. Recently, a new megalithic monument was found, now referred to as Piedras Blanca tomb. According to the study, “[It is] a complex funerary monument that is part natural, part built, part hypogeum, part megalith.” The stone slabs coincide with the sunrise on the summer solstice and some of the engraved slabs were apparently designed to funnel light to the back of the chamber. There’s also a triangular stone that points in the direction of the rising sun. According to the researchers, the tomb once had a platform where bodies would have been placed to decay before being relocated to a space where 40 teeth and 95 bones were found, along with ceramic vessels that were probably left as offerings. The structure was first built at least 5,000 years ago and was used in three distinct phases. Niches were added for two high-status burials in 2500 BCE. And later yet, it was sealed with stones after at least two children and three women were placed inside. According to the researchers, “The discovery of a new megalithic monument at La Peña de los Enamorados considerably expands our understanding of the Antequera World Heritage site. Antequera illustrates the power by which nature presided over the Neolithic worldview, inspiring and guiding the creation of monuments.”
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🗞 Ancient News: Deep Dive
‘Arabian Stonehenge’ — a 2,000-Year-Old Mysterious Monument — Unearthed in Oman Desert — A monument which is being dubbed the “Arabian Stonehenge” has been discovered in the Sultanate of Oman, along with a number of other finds from different periods of human occupation. I’ll be honest, the official press release was a few weeks back and I remember seeing it, but for some reason, I decided not to cover it. No idea why. Maybe I thought I had already covered it? 🤦♂️ Anyway… Excavation at a site in Oman’s Dhofar Governorate revealed stone axes dating to between 300,000 and 1.3 million years ago, meaning that they may provide clues to migration out of Africa. Eggshells from extinct Ostriches were also found. And then there were the 2,000-year-old triliths! It is not clear who raised them, but this site is one of 500+ trilith sites on the Arabian Peninsula. A second excavation took place in Duqm province and a Neolithic tomb was discovered in a megalithic structure with two circular burial chambers. The remains of several dozen individuals were found within. And rock engravings dating to between 5000 BCE and 1000 CE were also discovered.
6,000-Year-Old Settlement Full of Tools and Granite Structures — Found in France — Two Neolithic sites have been found on the French island of Corsica. One site was an obsidian knapping workshop that includes a variety of obsidian tools that were made roughly 6,000 years ago. On top of the workshop is a settlement in a better state of preservation. It dates to roughly 4,000-5,000 years ago. There is a system of terraces topped with a 3-foot wall of granite blocks. Within the terraced structure, the researchers found an arc, a corridor, and a staircase. There were also thousands of unusual copper and metal artifacts, as well as ceramics, flint, obsidian, quartz, arrowheads, polishers, axes, wheels, and burnt cattle teeth and cranial remains.
Spanish Cave Was a Popular Destination in Prehistory — Last week, I covered a cave in Spain that has been visited by humans for 41,000 years (10,000 years earlier than previously thought). I mentioned that it has, “the highest number of confirmed and recurrent prehistoric visits of any cave featuring Paleolithic art in Europe.” But I missed something that I saw this week: The reason people were visiting the cave so frequently. Soot from torches indicates that people were going into the cave specifically to view the art that I mentioned! I just think it’s cool that this was a special place that was probably known about, then forgotten, then rediscovered, and so on for tens of thousands of years. Thought I’d share (again). 😀
Variety of Rare Clay Figures Found at Ancient Tomb in Osaka — Clay figures known as “haniwa” were unearthed in a 60-foot Kofun burial mound dating to the late 5th century in Osaka, Japan. There were 17 figurines found in total. Some are cylindrical, there were six human figures (shrine maidens and warriors), as well as horses, birds, houses, shields, “kinugasa” (umbrellas used for nobles), “yugi” (quivers), and a rare specimen in the form of someone playing a “koto” (harp). According to Katsuhisa Takahashi, “The unearthed haniwa are believed to be a simplified reflection of haniwa rituals of a king’s tomb at that time… Since there are several human-shaped haniwa, I imagine the haniwa were used to re-create the ritual-like scene in which shrine maidens made offerings to a king.”
Oldest Cyrillic Inscriptions Dated To The Time Of King Simeon the Great – Discovered — A lead plate thought to be an amulet was discovered in the Balak Dere fortress near Ivaylovgrad, Bulgaria, and it features one of the oldest Cyrillic inscriptions ever discovered. While attempting to read it, the researchers noticed that the beginning of the text was applied on the inner side of the plate, so they unfolded it and found a long inscription of seven lines on the inside. There are four lines on the outside. Other artifacts in the same layer date the amulet to the 10th century. No word on what it says, other than that it is canonical and includes the names Nicholas and Pavel.
Skeleton Found in Rock Shelter Corresponds With the Relatively Unknown Janambre Culture — Human remains were discovered at a rock shelter in Huizachal Canyon, Mexico. They are from a man between 35 and 40 years old and may belong to the Janambre Culture. He was buried in a shroud made from vegetable fibers and wooden rods. Three arrowheads and carving debris were also found, indicating a lithic industry. Little is known about the Janambre because they were nomadic and used perishable goods, but they opposed the colonization of what is now Mexico between the 17th and 18th centuries.
Rome’s Renaissance-Era Medical Waste Studied — Waste from Ospedale dei Fornari (AKA Baker’s Hospital) was discovered in a cistern in Rome’s Forum of Caesar. The refuse dates to 500 years ago and includes medicine bottles, rosary beads, glass jars, coins, a ceramic camel figurine, and matula (flasks/vessels), which were used for smelling/tasting pee in order to diagnose and treat disease. Carbonized wood and lead furniture clamps were also found, and these may have been taken from the homes of plague victims to be burned. The cistern was covered in clay, probably to keep the grody waste sealed off.
Highway Construction in Crete Reveals Ancient Pipelines — A Roman water pipeline was discovered on the island of Crete during the construction of a new highway. It was part of the Roman aqueduct of Hersonissos. It would have carried water from Kalo Chorio and Krasi to a large tank on a hill located south of the Port of Hersonissos, amazingly passing through gullies, ravines, and even inclined slopes.
Remains Unearthed of One of America's First Colonists, a Teenage Boy — The remains of a 15-year-old boy with a broken leg were discovered in the Chesapeake region of the US. The boy apparently arrived from Europe in 1634 as one of the first European settlers. He was buried right outside of a fort. His arm was pulled awkwardly across his chest and his fist was clenched. It’s unclear why his arm was in a strange position or what killed him (unless his broken leg became infected). He had no coffin or shroud, so the researchers believe he was a cabin boy or indentured servant without family in the area.
Peruvian Gas Workers Accidentally Stumble Upon 600-Year-Old Tomb — A 600-year-old funeral bundle was discovered in Lima, Peru. It dates to the pre-Hispanic Chancay culture. This is one of 1,700 items that have been discovered during the installation of gas pipes by one gas distributor alone.
Ancient DNA Analysis Shows Eurasian Genetic Imprint in Kerala’s Pattanam — West Eurasian and Mediterranean genetics have been confirmed at the ancient port city of Pattanam in India, showing an influx of traders and multicultural interaction at the port. According to Vinay Kumar, “This is the first generated genetic data to infer origin and genetic makeup of Pattanam archaeological site. And the findings reinforce early historical occupation of culturally, religiously, and ethnically diverse groups at the site.”
Possible Burial Pits from Battle of Marston Moor Identified Using Drones — During an aerial survey of the battlefield from the 1644 Battle of Marston Moor in England, three features were discovered which appear to be artificial. It is thought that they may be burial pits that contain the remains of those who died in the battle. During the battle, Scottish Covenanters and English Parliamentarians fought against the Royalist army. While the bodies of people from wealthy families would have been retrieved, thousands would have been buried at the site. According to Tony Hunt, “We have these shapes showing up on the thermal imagery and the infrared. There have been changes in the chemistry of the ground. That changes the growth patterns of plans showing human intervention.”
Varna Archaeologists Report Rare 5th Century BCE Find — Pieces of a rare red-figure askos (Greek pottery vessel) were discovered at the sanctuary of ancient Odessos in Varna, Bulgaria. It dates to the beginning of the 5th century BCE. Only one other such askos has been discovered.
Archaeologists Excavate Historically Important Byzantine Church —Architectural elements and decorative stone pieces were found during excavations at the Church of St. Polyeuktos in Istanbul, Turkey, the most important of which being a partial statue of a male figure in marble. The statue dates to the Late Roman period in the 3rd or 4th century CE. The church was constructed between 524 and 527 CE and at the time, it was the largest church in the city - until the famous Hagia Sophia took that title. It remained standing until the 11th century. The architectural elements are also important, as the church is thought to have pioneered the style of the domed basilica, which was later perfected in the Hagia Sophia. I recently covered a marble-lined tunnel discovered beneath the same church in issue #56 — lots happening there!
‘Lost’ Microbial Genes Found in Dental Plaque of Ancient Humans — Researchers have recovered and reconstructed the genetic material of bacteria that lived in the mouth of the woman known as the Red Lady, who was discovered in the cave, El Mirón, in Spain. What they found (chlorobium, which use photosynthesis and survive in anaerobic conditions) seems to have vanished from ancient humans 10,000 years ago. The reconstructions were accurate enough to replicate the actual enzymes that the bacteria produced, and which would have helped her digest her food. If that doesn’t sound overly impressive to you, take it from Gary Toranzos who, in a very scientific manner, said, “Just the fact that they were able to reconstruct the genome from a puzzle with millions of pieces is a great achievement. It’s ‘hold my beer, and watch me do it,’ and boy did they do it.” One reason this is big news is that it will help us to understand functions that our microbiome might have had at one point, which we’ve since lost. And that may open doors for new treatments for various diseases.
❤️ Recommended Content
I found this article absolutely fascinating. It shares the story of a female shaman whose remains were discovered in Dürrenberg, Germany in 1934. The multiple digs were really interesting to read about, and I really enjoyed hearing about the shaman’s life. One interesting little tidbit: A lot of evidence shows that this was a highly respected person, but the craziest thing is that there were offerings made near the burial six centuries later, meaning that these people still knew of this shaman, and even knew where she had been buried. That’s impressive. And now we’re talking about her 10,000 years later. 🤯
Here’s a poignant poem from poet-anthropologist and Passamaquoddy tribal member, Natalie Dana-Lolar about healing the relationship between the discipline of archaeology and Indigenous peoples.
Here’s an article that covers all the latest in the world of Neanderthals, indicating that they were, as I hope most of us are picking up on, a cultured and intelligent species.
Here’s a short video about the 1,000-year-old Nashtifan windmills in Iran that still function today.
Here’s a video about the origins of the Sphinx Temple, and the controversy behind it. I don’t personally have an opinion on this, but it’s interesting.
Here’s a pretty cheeseball video that has some beautiful footage of the stunning site of Nan Madol in Micronesia.
Here’s a cute little listicle about some of the most amazing accidental discoveries about our ancient past.
Here’s a fun thread of minds being blown. (Note: I’m not sure of the original source)
Free-tier members don’t usually see my signoff, which is a bummer — I’ll have to figure out how to remedy that! For now, though… Hey folks! Good to see you all the way down here at the end of the issue! 😀
As always, let me know your thoughts. I want to hear your feedback, opinions, and crackpot theories! And until next time, thanks for joining me.
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