🧐 Ancient Beat #66: "Stonehenge of the Netherlands", the oldest Neanderthal engravings, and a newly discovered Maya city
Hi folks, and welcome to issue #66 of Ancient Beat! Something cool happened yesterday. I suddenly got a bunch of subscribers in a short period of time — not sure what happened or where they came from. 🤷♂️
My best guess is that one of you kindly shared Ancient Beat. So whoever that was, thank you! It really means a lot to me.
Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Maya Civilization: Archaeologists Find Ancient City in Jungle — Ugh, enough about LiDAR already, am I right? I mean, we get it… there are lost Maya cities waiting to be found in the jungle, blah blah. 😂 Kidding. This is every bit as cool as the other recent finds — you know I love me a good “lost city” headline! So a Maya city was discovered on an elevated area surrounded by wetlands in the jungle of the Yucatán Peninsula. It has several pyramid-like structures, each about 50 feet tall. And pottery at the site dates it to between 600 and 800 CE — Late Classic. The site would have been an important regional center until it fell with the collapse of the Lowland Maya civilization in the 10th century. It’s being called “Ocomtún”, which means “stone column”, thanks to the many columns at the site.
Oldest Known Neanderthal Engravings were Sealed in a Cave for 57,000 Years — A new study analyzed, plotted, and 3D-modeled the lines and dots that were pressed into the soft chalk wall of La Roche-Cotard (a cave in France) and found that the marks were indeed done intentionally by human hands. They also found that the cave was sealed away for between 57,000 and 75,000 years (until 1846) due to flood deposits and erosion. That window is long before Homo sapiens were in the area, confirming that the marks were done by Neanderthals — something which is backed up by the many distinctly Neanderthal stone tools from the Mousterian industry that were found in the cave. Until now, the oldest confirmed Neanderthal cave engravings were the 39,000-year-old cross-hatching patterns found in Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar. It’s great to have another nail in the “Neanderthals were dumb brutes” coffin. But it’s worth mentioning that Homo erectus carved a zigzag pattern into a shell 500,000+ years ago. Oh, and then there are the 65,000-year-old cave paintings that have been attributed to Neanderthals. Interestingly, the researchers believe that it’s less a question of whether different species were capable of these behaviors and more a question of whether the social dynamics were suitable for them.
Archaeologists Unearth 4,000-Year-Old ‘Stonehenge of the Netherlands’ — A 4,000-year-old site with three burial mounds has been discovered in the town of Tiel in the Netherlands, and it’s being referred to as the “Stonehenge of the Netherlands”. The biggest mound is 65 feet in diameter, with a ditch and several passage openings that are aligned to the sun on the summer and winter solstices. It probably served as a solar calendar. The two smaller mounds were used as burial sites for 800 years. The site is believed to be a religious site or open-air sanctuary. The remains of 60 people were found there, plus offerings (animals, human skulls, and a bronze spearhead) that were placed where the sun shines during the solstices. And a glass bead was found in a grave, having traveled 3,100 miles from Mesopotamia, where it originated. The bead really would have been a site to see at the time because glass wasn’t made in the area.
Archaeologists Discover Secret to the Prosperity of the Biblical Kingdom of Israel — Tel Shikmona, an ancient Phoenician archaeological mound that was part of the Kingdom of Israel in the 8th and 9th centuries BCE, was a bit of a question mark. It’s a very small site that isn’t near agricultural areas, and the coastline doesn’t make it a good place for trade. So why was it important enough to build and rebuild? To complicate matters further, it had layers from the Iron Age, pottery from the Phoenician culture, and Israelite structures. Well, a few years back, it was identified as a place of production for a fancy purple dye — the only such place in the whole of the Levant, as far as we know. The dye was made from Murex sea snails and required a lot of know-how to create. And now, a new study filled in even more blanks, based on archaeological evidence. In short, the Kingdom of Israel took over the Phoenician dye-making site. This really shows the importance — and more to the point, the economic advantage — of the dye, that the Kingdom of Israel would go to so much trouble. It’s not clear whether it was a violent takeover or if they worked together, but either way, the Phoenicians stayed put (at least for a while), probably due to the expertise required to make the dye. According to the authors, “The story of the biblical Shikmona becomes many times more complex and fascinating than we thought at first. This is the most significant scarlet production factory found to this day from that period, with a production volume that is orders of magnitude greater than any other known site. Beyond that, it tells the story of the rise and fall of the Kingdom of Israel over the centuries, the economic interests of the kingdom, the westward expansion, and the complex relationship with the Phoenicians.” Also significant is that the site probably supplied the color to the First Temple, where it was used in the weaving of the sanctuary curtain. Fun fact: The Phoenicians got their name from Greek writers and it’s derived from “phoinix” which is a word for a purple-red color.
Ancient Pendant Found in Mongolia May Be Oldest Known Carving of a Penis — In last week’s issue, I mentioned that it’s a little crazy how often I talk about penises in this newsletter. Well, at least this penis has a claim to fame: It’s the oldest known penis carving ever found. The 4-centimeter phallus dates to roughly 42,000 years ago and was found in the Khangai Mountains of Mongolia. The stone was found a few years ago, but a new research team noticed that two carved grooves on the stone make it look distinctly penisy. Since the stone was worn smooth, the researchers believe it was likely worn as a pendant. It’s not a sure thing — some say that it could just be a tool that we don’t understand or something like that. What do you think? Fun fact: The previous oldest carved phallus is from 28,000 years ago and was found in Germany.
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🗞 Ancient News: Deep Dive
Violent Conflict Played a Crucial Role in Early Farming Societies in Neolithic Europe — "Boom-bust" cycles that took place 7,000-3,000 years ago and sometimes included the collapse and abandonment of entire regions have been a bit of a mystery in the archaeological record of Neolithic Europe. Some theories point to climate change. But a new study says that violent conflicts are to blame. According to Peter Turchin, "I confess that until recently I thought that such societies were quite resilient and not susceptible to social disintegration and collapse. There is no state or nobles to rebel against and, in any case, what’s there to ‘collapse’?" But, of course, as soon as sedentism emerged, there was plenty that could collapse. Turchin went on to say, "In fact, such cases are much more profound than the social and political breakdown of more recent societies, because archaeology indicates that substantial regions were depopulated." Other mechanisms may have been at play as well, so this doesn’t rule out climate change. The study also indicates that human dynamics are complex regardless of whether or not your culture organizes into a state. “Complex” is a kind way to put it.
Climate Change Likely Led to Violence in Early Andean Populations — This one’s in a similar vein. Climate change in the south-central Andes caused increased violence and the collapse of the area’s first states as the temperature rose between 470 and 1500 CE. A new study found that less precipitation was correlated with more cranial trauma, probably due to drought-induced resource scarcity. Interestingly, this is not seen in coastal or mid-level populations, where there was more agricultural and economic diversity. To give you an idea of the magnitude, on average, every 10-centimeter decrease in ice accumulation at the Quelccaya glacier doubled the likelihood of interpersonal violence.
Japanese Archaeologists Reveal First Settlement of Cimmerians in Anatolia — According to new research, Büklükale village in Turkey was the first settlement of the nomadic Cimmerians in Anatolia. It would have been inhabited from the Early Bronze Age to the Ottoman period. During excavations, they found a fortress that belonged to the Cimmerians, but other civilizations lived there at different times as well. According to Kimiyoshi Matsumura, “Within this fortress, we found animal motif materials belonging to the Scythians. Additionally, we discovered a small figurine of a person riding a horse, which we believe is likely associated with the Cimmerians. Hopefully, we have identified their first settlement or fortress in Anatolia.... It will be fascinating. There is no information about what they did in Anatolia.” Excavations are ongoing. Fun fact: The character of Conan the Barbarian was a Cimmerian.
Seeking the Origin of Indigenous Languages in South America — According to a recent study, Tupí-Guaraní, the largest of the Indigenous language families of South America, comes from the basin of the Rio Tapajós and Rio Xingu near modern-day Santarém, Brazil. And it originated in the 6th century BCE. There are roughly 50 languages in this language family, 40 of which are still spoken today, and distribution spans about 2,500 miles. Fun fact: The Tupí-Guaraní language family gave us words like “jaguar” and “piranha”.
Small Stone Carved With a Viking Ship May Be Oldest Picture Ever Found in Iceland — A small stone with a depiction of a Viking ship was discovered at the site of Stöð on Stöðvarfjörður, and the researchers involved believe this may be the oldest drawing ever found in Iceland. It was found in a longhouse that may predate any permanent settlements there — roughly 800 CE. The longhouse is one of the largest and most richly appointed in Iceland. 92 beads, 29 silver objects, and coins were previously found. Fun fact: Vikings often burned and buried their longhouses, indicating they may have seen a link between the human body and the house.
New Clues Why Neanderthals Visited La Cotte de St Brelade in Jersey 250,000 Years Ago — It is known that generation after generation of Neanderthals went to a cave in Jersey known as La Cotte de St Brelade for over 100,000 years. In fact, it is thought to be the most important Neanderthal site in northern Europe, though no one is quite sure what brought Neanderthals back time and again. Well, a new study adds to the significance (and the mystery). Excavations tell us that Neanderthals were there much earlier than previously thought — about 250,000 years ago.
Dad Hiking with Family Notices Unusual Rock and Finds Ancient Painting in Norway — While hiking with his family in Norway, a man found petroglyphs on a boulder. The paintings are estimated to date to the Bronze Age. One scene shows two human figures standing together (see photo) in what may be a hunting scene. Another shows a boat being rowed. And others depict animals.
Virgil Quote Found on Fragment of Roman Jar Unearthed in Spain — A fragment of a 1,800-year-old olive oil amphora was discovered at the site of Hornachuelos in Spain seven years ago. While amphorae often contained text relating to producers, quantities, and taxes, new analysis shows that the text on this specimen was something else entirely: a quote from the ancient poet, Virgil. It’s a partial quote from his Georgics: “[Earth] once changed the/Chaonian acorn for the plump wheat-ear/And mingled with the grape [your newfound gift].” This is the first time a literary quotation has been found on a Roman amphora (though Virgil has been found in building bricks). According to González Tobar, “We really can’t say for sure why the lines were written, but we do know that they appear on a part of the amphora that wouldn’t have been seen. Maybe a worker there wanted to show them to a colleague – they could have been done by an adult or a child. What we do know is that this was done inside an amphora factory, and that the lines were probably written from memory.”
Silver Phalera Depicting Medusa Among New Finds at Roman Vindolanda — A silver phalera disk was found in a barracks of Vindolanda, a Roman auxiliary fort near Hadrian’s Wall. The disk would have been worn on a breastplate during parades and it featured the head of Medusa. Previous finds include a lance head, spearhead, spoon, stamped mortarium rim, Samian pottery, and much more. Ah, Vindolanda, so many cool discoveries happening there. See issues #64, #49, #31, and #14.
Unusual Archaeological Object Reveals Traces Of Prehistoric Settlements Mikołajki — A 28-inch granite stele was found near the top of one of the biggest hills in Mikołajki, Poland. The stele had two quern stones at its base and was reinforced by other stones. Ceramic vessels were found near the stele as well. It dates to the Iron Age.
Aboriginal Cutting Tools Discovered in WA — 9,000-year-old cutting tools were discovered off the coast of Western Australia. They were found in an ancient freshwater spring which is now 42 feet underwater. They may have been deposited in the spring intentionally as an offering.
Archaeologists Find Gaming Piece with Runic Inscriptions — A gaming piece made of soapstone was discovered in Trondheim, Norway. It was found within an 11-foot pit that was dug in the 11th or 12th century CE. Uneven engravings on the piece turned out to be runes, translating to “siggifr”. According to Dag-Øyvind Engtrø Solem, “I only know of one other playing piece with runes (in the country) that was found at Bryggen in Bergen. The interesting thing is that it is also uncertain whether the inscription refers to the person who owned the object, the person who made the inscription, or whether it was the nickname of the playing piece.”
Ancient Tomb Found During Refurbishment of Gozo Ministry — During renovations, workers in Malta came across a grave that may date back to the Punic era, over 2,000 years ago. Further investigation suggested that there may actually be a number of tombs under the building. Broken pottery was found so far, but that’s it. Valuables may have already been removed by looters. It’s too early to tell.
Treasure Trove of Artifacts Found at Ancient Burial Site in Abu Dhabi — A settlement has been discovered in Abu Dhabi, UAE. It was in use from 1300 BCE - 600 CE. The settlement was found while excavating a pre-Islamic cemetery in which 20 graves and various artifacts were found including amphorae, ceramics, bronze bowls, glass vessels, alabaster vessels, and iron weaponry.
Austria’s Oldest Bronze Age Plague Victims Identified — The plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, was found in the remains of two people in Drasenhofen, Austria. The victims, both of whom were male, died around 2000 BCE. According to the researchers, the fact that the burials were in peripheral locations in relation to other burials shows that the community was probably aware that the disease was contagious. These are the oldest Bronze-Age plague victims known in Austria.
Deity of Death Statue Found During Maya Train Construction — A 10-inch statue was found near the village of Conhuas in Mexico near the Mayan ruins of Balamku. It depicts Cizin, the Maya god of death, in a seated position with a nose ring and mask.
Possible Medieval “Monk's Well” Unearthed in Slovakia — In an area in Slovakia known as Barát Kút, Mníchova Studňa, or Monk’s Well, evidence of a settlement has been found. It may date to the Bronze Age, and also the Early Middle Ages. The finds include a dam in a rectangular pond, pottery, and the iron end of a thorn-tipped arrow.
Garden Rockery Decorative Piece Turns Out to Be Rare 600-Year-Old Hand Cannon! — A small £20 cannon bought at a flea market in Hertfordshire, England and used as a decoration in a garden turned out to be a 600-year-old hand cannon worth between £2,000 and £3,000. Hand cannons were first invented in 13th-century China, and they made their way to Europe a century or so later. According to Charles Hanson, “It really is a remarkable find. Originally this cannon would have been mounted on wood with a powder bag and ram rod. It evolved to become a match-lock firearm with trigger. It’s incredible to think this historical treasure ended up in a rockery. We will never know how the original seller discovered it but, looking at remnants of soil on the cannon, we suspect it may have been dug up.”
Delighted Maori Recover ‘Hidden’ Waka Canoe in New Zealand River — A traditional Maori canoe known as a waka was discovered by several Maori while they walked along the banks of the Patea River of New Zealand. It’s more than 150 years old and it may have been deliberately hidden to prevent it from being confiscated by the British colonial government — something that was done in order to prevent Maori warriors from traveling freely.
Ancient Alaskans Were Freshwater Fishers — Researchers discovered the earliest known evidence of freshwater fishing among ancient people in modern-day Alaska. The finds included fish bones in homes and hearths at seven sites dating back over 7,000 years. No hooks or spears were found, so it’s likely that they used nets. We have evidence of humans in Alaska at least as far back as 14,000 years ago, and there was a shift from using waterfowl to augment large game to using fish between 13,000 and 11,500 years ago, during the Younger Dryas. According to Ben Potter, “This is a first in the Americas because, up until the last few decades, we haven’t had fish remains clearly associated with human activities in these very early sites.”
Little Known Neanderthal Technology Examined – Turning Bones Into Tools — A lack of evidence of bone tools and implements has led researchers to believe that Neanderthals did not create bone tools. It has even been assumed that this is due to cognitive differences between them and Homo sapiens. But new excavations at the Neanderthal site of Chez-Pinaud in France bring this into question. Bones tools there are as numerous as flint tools, and the diversity of bone tools (cutting tools, scrapers, chisels, smoothers, etc.) shows that there was a real industry happening at the site. There is a difference in how the two species made their bone tools, though: Sapiens used scraping and abrasion while Neanderthals made the tools via percussion.
❤️ Recommended Content
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Here’s a video about a guy who is studying the acoustics of Stonehenge using a scale model.
Here’s an article about a cave entrance in Turkey that spews toxic gasses, and what ancient people thought about it.
Here’s a listicle with 15 fascinating facts about the Sumerians.
Here’s an article about the role of AI in archaeology. There’s no doubt that it’s responsible for some impressive discoveries.
And I loved this post. 😂
Thanks, everyone — have a wonderful weekend!!