🧐 Ancient Beat #64: New Nazca geoglyphs, 250 newly discovered carvings, and the oldest burials in the world (Homo naledi!)
Hi folks! Welcome to issue #64 of Ancient Beat.
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And here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Small-Brained Ancient Human Cousins May Have Buried Their Dead, According to a Surprising Study — So this study is understandably controversial, but it’s fascinating and, truth be told, I enjoy a little controversy. According to the study, Homo naledi may have buried their dead in caves and carved symbols into the cave walls roughly 300,000 years ago. That’s well over 100,000 years before the first evidence of Homo sapiens burying their dead. And it’s the oldest known burial in the world. If you’re unfamiliar with Homo naledi, they’re cousins who were in Africa 335,000–236,000 years ago, and this discovery is surprising due to the small size of their brains (a third the size of sapiens) — it was not thought that they would be capable of such complex behavior. But recent investigations at the Rising Star cave system near Johannesburg, South Africa found the remains of Homo naledi adults and children in the fetal position in shallow holes in the ground, which the researchers interpret as intentional burial sites. The researchers also found geometric patterns and cross-hatched lines carved into the corridor and entry into the chamber. However, it’s important to note that these engravings have not been dated. The study is not yet peer-reviewed and more evidence is required for this extraordinary claim. Critics say that the remains that have been found may have just accumulated in the cave shafts and fell into the chambers, and then water seepage in the cave could have moved the remains along sloping floors into natural depressions. But if the study’s claim is accurate, this would be yet another data point that says another one of our cousins was capable of much more than we give them credit for.
Nazca Geoglyphs Discovered Using AI Deep Learning — I did a double-take on this one because it’s not every day that new geoglyphs are found in Nazca, Peru, and I just covered some not too long ago in issue #39. But these are indeed newly discovered geoglyphs! Using artificial intelligence to speed up the process of analyzing photographs, researchers have found four new figures: a humanoid holding what appears to be a club in their left hand, a fish with an open mouth, a pair of legs, and a bird. The former two are in the relief-type, while the latter two are in the line-type. Linear geoglyphs are generally thought to have been created by the Nazca culture (200 BCE - 600 CE). Reliefs are thought to be from the earlier Paracas culture (900 - 400 BCE). The pair of legs measures an impressive 78 meters, while the others are much smaller (in the teens). I covered a theory about the Nazca lines in issue #44. And I’ve covered other discoveries made using AI in issues #16, #47, #49, and #60.
Ancient Genomes Suggest Farming in Africa Was Ignited by Oversea-Migrants From Iberia 7,400 Years Ago — While it has been unclear what sparked the change from foraging to farming in northwestern Africa 7,400 years ago, a new study suggests that farming was brought to modern-day Morocco by European and Levantine migrants who were adopted by local groups. Until this happened, there was “remarkable” population continuity for 8,000+ years in this isolated group of hunter-gatherers. According to Cristina Valdiosera, “Inspired by their new neighbors, within a few hundred years, the local foragers started to change their way of life to farming and the two groups lived side by side for at least another century.” Torsten Günthe adds, “This phenomenon has not been seen in any other part of the world.” Then about 6,300 years ago, genetics from the Levant showed up right around the time that pastoralism started. And finally, all three lines mixed in the Late Neolithic. The results are corroborated by ceramic decoration that points to diffusion from Europe.
Archaeologists Discover Hundreds of Ancient Carvings — Roughly 250 carvings were found at the site of Roca de les Ferradures, near Cogullons, Spain. The carvings date as far back as about 4000 BP and are spread over hundreds of meters on a red sandstone formation. The figures and motifs were made using a pecking process and sometimes form scenes. The most common depiction at the site is a horseshoe shape that is thought to be a stylized human figure. There are also several anthropomorphic figures with crossed arms and disproportionately large, open hands.
Ancient Egyptian Queen's Bracelets Contain 1st Evidence of Long-Distance Trade Between Egypt and Greece — New info has been revealed regarding trade networks between Old Kingdom Egypt and Greece, thanks to the analysis of bracelets that were discovered previously in the tomb of the influential queen Hetepheres I (the mother of Khufu). The 4,600-year-old bracelets were made of copper, gold, lead, and semi-precious gems. But in the butterfly depictions, there were also traces of silver, for which there were no local sources. It was previously thought that silver was taken from local gold sources, which were high in silver content. But the researchers found that the ratio of isotopes in the lead consisted with ores from a group of Greek islands known as the Cyclades, as well as from the town of Lavrion in Greece. The silver probably originated there too before traveling through the port of Byblos (Lebanon), which had plenty of silver objects and a connection with Egypt. According to Karin Sowada, “This new finding demonstrates, for the first time, the potential geographical extent of trade networks used by the Egyptian state during the early Old Kingdom at the height of the Pyramid-building age.” She also mentioned that the study of these trade networks gives us insights into the emergence of the Egyptian state.
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🗞 Ancient News: Deep Dive
Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens Invented Different Fire Techniques — Researchers analyzed two firemaking techniques to understand the cognition behind them. The first was the strike-a-light technique, which is pretty much what it sounds like (striking flint). The researchers suggest that this was invented by Neanderthals in Eurasia, based on geographic distribution, archaeological and ethnographic information, as well as their cognitive interpretation. The second was the manual fire-drill technique (spinning/rolling a stick quickly). They say that this represents a simple form of symbiotic technology, and would therefore require more elaborate prospective and causal reasoning skills. They suggest that this must mean it was invented by Homo sapiens in Africa. It then spread around the globe, becoming the most popular method — one which is still used by hunter-gatherers today. It’s worth noting that neither technique is necessarily better than the other. In fact, the researchers note that either could have been optimal, depending on the environment.
Pre-Columbian Sculpture Found in Veracruz May Depict Female Ruler — A statue was discovered that may depict the same Huasteca ruler as another statue previously found in the village of Amajac, Mexico. Both statues have headdresses and decorations. According to María Eugenia Maldonado Vite, “In Huasteca tradition, important characters appear in various relief images or sculptures, but always with an identifying attribute.” In this case, presumably the headdress and decorations. The new statue, however, is likely a few hundred years older, dating to roughly 1100-1200 CE. That seems a little odd to me, as statues of rulers are usually built during, or shortly after, their reign. So either the researchers are incorrect about the connection or the dating, or this was a very influential person who had an impact for centuries.
Greek Island Temple Complex Reveals 'Countless' Offerings Left by Ancient Worshippers — Over 2,000 clay figurines that were likely left as offerings have been discovered at the site of a hilltop sanctuary on the Greek island of Kythnos. The figures were mostly human, but also included tortoises, lions, pigs, and birds. Pottery vessels were also found which the researchers are linking with the worship of Demeter and Persephone. The sanctuary was in use for a thousand years, from the 7th century BCE. Fun fact: The famous sanctuary at Eleusis (AKA the Eleusinian mystery cult) apparently owned land on Kythnos, but it’s unclear how related the sanctuaries were.
1,700-Year-Old Roman Shoes and an Exceptional Glass Workshop Unearthed in France — Roman shoes in good condition dating to 1,700 years ago have been discovered at a site that’s being excavated on the river Lys in Thérouanne, France. And according to the press release, “Even more exceptional, [is] the workshop of a glassmaker. A cylinder of blue glass was also discovered, intended to be melted down, and a “drip” of equally blue glass was in a furnace's filling. The excavation of the building (still in progress) has identified several phases of occupation related to ovens. The rearrangements of the space (including one following a fire) seem to indicate an activity extended over time.” The site seems to be a craft district. And a shoemaker would have been one of the craftspeople, as evidenced by the shoes and some scraps of leather. Coins, brooches, gaffs, keys, plates, metal rods, and more were also found.
Rare Neolithic Underwater Textiles And Dwellings Discovered At La Marmotta Near Rome — A recent paper shared the textiles, basketry, and cordage found at the submerged settlement of La Marmotta near Rome, adding to our understanding of the technologies and crafts of Neolithic societies. Rare, well-preserved scraps of cloth, as well as dwellings, baskets, weaving swords, five wooden canoes that are the only known examples from the Neolithic Mediterranean, and, well, too many other artifacts to list here. Check out the article for more on this fascinating site. But I will say that the finds revealed an extensive trade network spanning hundreds of miles. The reason the site is so rich is that the residents left all of their possessions behind for some reason when they abandoned the site.
3D Scans Reveal Details of Roman Burial in Britain — Researchers are 3D scanning Roman gypsum burial casings. The remains of wealthy individuals were sometimes placed in gypsum, which then hardened and, as the bodies decayed, a cavity was formed in the shape of the deceased. Not only did this outline the body of the deceased, but also the shrouds, clothing, and footwear. The types of clothing and even the weaves of the fabric are evident. The first scan was of two adults and an infant who died about 1,600 years ago. All of them were wrapped in textiles.
Statue Depicting Pan Found in Istanbul — Excavations in Turkey’s Saraçhane Archaeology Park revealed a statue of Pan, the Greek god of the wild, meadows, forests, shepherds, and flocks. He was also connected with fertility. The centimeter statue dates to roughly 323 CE. It was found at the site of the Church of St. Polyeuktos, which I covered in issues #56 and #59 — lots happening there!
2,300-Year-Old Elephant Sculpture Discovered in India — A Buddhist elephant statue was discovered on the banks of the Daya River in India. It dates to the 3rd century BCE. Nearby, a laterite pillar and stone blocks were found. And architectural fragments of a Buddhist temple were also found in the surrounding area, while a similar elephant statue was discovered previously about 12 miles upstream.
Roman Leather Toy Mouse Found at Vindolanda — A mouse or rat cut out of leather was found at the Roman fort of Vindolanda in England and was heaped into a whole bunch of other leather artifacts for a few decades. They were recently dusted off and one find was a 12-centimeter mouse toy cut out of leather. It is dated to between 105 and 130 CE. I can so easily imagine some little rascal hiding that in dark corners for their mother to see out of the corner of her eye. That’s what I would have done, so apparently things haven’t changed much. 😂 I have to say, folks in Vindolanda were up to some shenanigans — I covered 3rd-century penis graffiti found at Vindolanda back in issue #14.
Ancient Graves With 1,500-Year-Old Human Remains Found Below City Streets — According to a recent press release, the remains of nine individuals were found below the streets of Barcelona, Spain. Seven were from the Roman era (4th and 5th centuries), while two were from Late Antiquity (6th and 7th centuries).
Bronze Age Artifacts Found in Dak Nong — Axes, blade fragments, grinding tables, chisels, saws, and pottery have been discovered in Dak Nong, Vietnam. They date back 3,500 years.
Archaeology Lab at UNF Unveils New Finds About the Lost Indigenous Town of Sarabay — After a couple of years of excavation, a lost First Nations town has been unveiled at Big Talbot Island State Park in Florida, US. The town was mentioned in old French and Spanish documents. Large amounts of pottery from between 1580 and 1620 CE were found, as well as pieces of a Spanish olive jar, Spanish tableware, bone and shell tools, stone arrowheads, and a glass bead from Spain. The town would have been that of the Mocama-speaking Timucua people who lived on the coast of northern Florida when the Europeans arrived in 1562.
Newly Unearthed 6,000-Year-Old Archaeology Site Near Newport Reveals History of Kalispel Tribe — Evidence of 6,000-year-old earth ovens were discovered by the Kalispel Tribe in Newport, Washington in the US, along the Pend Oreille River. These are some of the oldest ovens ever discovered in North America. The site was repeatedly used from about 6,000 years ago until as recently as 700 years ago. According to Kevin Lyons, “That is a fairly continuous history of food processing on the same land that speaks to both ecological and cultural stability.” They’re currently looking into why this place was so special that people kept coming back. Curt Holmes said, “It makes me feel proud. We’ve been here for a long time.”
Why the Earliest Alaskans Didn’t Eat Fish for 1,000 Years — Hominins have been eating fish for at least 2 million years. Strangely, though, there’s no record of folks in (inland) Beringia eating fish from roughly 14,000 years ago until about 13,000 years ago. Researchers now believe this is due to calories and climate. In other words, these people hunted animals that gave them more bang for their buck while they could. And then they returned to fishing due to nutritional stress as herbivores thinned out with the change in climate.
Looted Rare Coin from Last Hasmonean King Seized in Raid on Suspected Thief — Police have recovered a stash of ancient coins that were allegedly illegally excavated, and it includes a rare coin from the time of the last Hasmonean king of Judea 2,000 years ago.
Paleolithic People Used Shells to Decorate Their Bodies — Excavations of the Cave of Ardales in Spain have revealed 13 shells dating to 25,000-30,000 years ago. The researchers believe the shells were used for body adornment. The shells included local freshwater shells, but also seashells that would have been transported over 30 miles. According to Juan Jesús Cantillo, “It is unusual to find this type of marine remains in caves located so far inland and with such ancient chronologies. On the Mediterranean slope, only a little more than a hundred remains were known and all of them are located on the coast.” The researchers also note that the cave was used as a place of specialized symbolic activities. And it’s worth noting that 66,000-year-old Neanderthal art and Neolithic funerary deposits from 5,000 years ago were also previously found there.
Archaeologists Discover Site Dating Back to the Ice Age in Kisatchie National Forest — A site dating back 10,000-12,000 years was excavated in Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana, US. Stone tools and pieces of pottery were found across layers, indicating continuous occupation. Williams Point and San Patrice Point arrowheads were found, as well as an arrowhead made of petrified wood. And there were stains in the ground that indicated wooden structures were once present.
Rare Discovery of 4,300-Year-Old Copper Ingots Left by Mistake in a Settlement in Oman — Thanks to tips from locals, archaeologists discovered several settlements near Ibra, Oman. And while trying to find charcoal for dating purposes, they unearthed 1.7 kilograms of copper ingots. This is an extremely rare find, and the researchers believe they must have been left behind by mistake when the settlement was abandoned roughly 4,300 years ago. Pottery sherds of “black-slipped jars” (large Indus-culture storage vessels) were discovered as well, indicating a close connection with the Indian subcontinent. This region was one of the most important sources of copper for Mesopotamia and the Indus culture — I actually covered another story on copper in Oman in issue #37.
Maya Ritual Offerings Discovered at Uxmal — Ritual offerings were discovered at the Maya city of Uxmal in Mexico. The offerings date to the Late Classic Period (750-900 CE) and include a tripod bowl and four vessels. They were found where a stela was recently discovered. The stela depicted a god and goddess, apparently signifying life and death. And according to the researchers, the four vessels represented the four corners of the universe and the cardinal directions. The tripod bowl may have represented the cosmos and harmony of the universe.
❤️ Recommended Content
Here’s a short article about the oldest carved piece of wood ever found in Britain. It’s 6,000 years old and 3 feet long. No one is sure what the markings mean.
Here’s a fascinating video about luxury in the ancient world. It dives into some really incredible wine vessels and what we can learn from them.
Here’s an article about the Etowah Mounds of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture in modern-day Georgia, US.
Here’s an interesting photo of a Sythian trident with birds where the points would usually be. Quite unusual so I thought I’d share it.
Here’s a cute video about Inca quipus — the knotted cords used for accounting.
Here’s an interesting video about a silver diadem found at La Almoloya in Spain. It discusses what power women may have held in the Agaric civilization 4,000 years ago.
Here’s a video with some wonderful footage of the 7,000-year-old Almendres Cromlech in Portugal. Definitely on my travel list!
That’s it for this week, my friends. Thanks for being my paid subscribers, I appreciate each and every one of you for supporting this newsletter. As always, let me know your thoughts!