🧐 Ancient Beat #67: Female hunters, newly discovered rondels, and maybe some cannibalism
Welcome to issue #67 of Ancient Beat, folks!
As my paid subscribers know, I recommend content at the end of each issue. Well, today I’m putting one up top. I recently came across a newsletter called A History of Mankind and I think you may enjoy it. It’s written by historian David Roman, and wow is this guy’s breadth of knowledge impressive. One issue, you’ll read about farming vs herding (which is a topic I love), then suddenly there’s an issue about Babylonian philosophy and Hammurabi’s Code, then it’s the Sea Peoples, Zoroaster, you name it — and he goes deep into each one. It’s well worth checking out. Info below.
And of course, here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Shattering the Myth of Men as Hunters and Women as Gatherers — A new study analyzed data from 63 foraging societies around the world and found that the “men exclusively hunt, women exclusively gather” model might not actually hold water. The researchers found that women hunt in 79% of these societies, regardless of their status as mothers. They also found that 70% of female hunting is deliberate (not just opportunistic). Females are usually after big game, and they use a greater variety of weapons and hunting strategies than the men. That adds up — I’m always banging proverbial screws in with a proverbial hammer while my wife strategizes and figures out the right way to do the thing 😅. But don’t tell her I told you that. Females were also found to be more involved in teaching hunting to the next generation. And granted, the data is from societies from the past 100 years, but it’s likely to apply to ancient peoples as well, and this is backed by plenty of archaeology. Women have been found buried by tools used in hunting big game. The same goes for weapons (to the point that many women were misidentified as men). And I covered a study in issue #58 about digesta as a food source, and how it would have allowed women to hunt with men.
Signs of Butchery, Possible Cannibalism Found on Ancient Human Relative’s Bone — According to a new study, the 1.5 million-year-old bone of a hominin that was found in Kenya back in the 70s has butchery marks on it — not from animals, but from stone tools. They were first detected with a magnifying glass, then 3D computer models were made and it turned out that 9 of the marks were indeed from stone tools, while two were from the tooth of a lion-like creature. The researchers believe that this may indicate cannibalism, but two things should be noted here. First, yes the marks clearly indicate butchery, but there is no evidence of this individual being eaten — we simply cannot know what actually happened. And second, to be cannibalism, both eater and eaten would have to be the same species. At least three hominin species lived in the area at the time and we’re not even sure which one the “eaten” belonged to, let alone the “eater”. Anyway, currently, the earliest evidence of cannibalism among hominins dates to 800,000 years ago, so this would almost double that. The researchers note that since none of the other bones found at the site had such marks, cannibalism was probably not the norm. So if this was indeed cannibalism, it may have been due to dire circumstances.
Neanderthals Cannibalized Juveniles, Archaeologists Discover — Cannibalism again. A juvenile Neanderthal’s remains dating to 52,000 years ago have been discovered at the Cova de les Teixoneres in Spain. This individual is the fourth found at the site and, according to researchers, it appears as though these particular Neanderthals practiced cannibalism — something which was not common among Neanderthals. There is evidence of it happening from time to time, but not often. And apparently, only 8 to 10 cases of Neanderthal cannibalism can actually be confirmed with reliable data. The evidence comes in the form of cut marks on a clavicle bone that was previously discovered at the site. Also, the bones were mixed in with animal bones and the remains were highly fragmented (i.e. they may have been broken for marrow).
Ancient Ritual Center Discovered in Poland — A drone survey of fields near Kaczków, Poland has revealed a ritual center. It was visible due to a recent drought in the region that revealed crop marks outlining the monument. There are two partial rings of palisades within and three semi-circular rondels on the outside. Rondels are pretty common in Europe and they tend to be attributed to cultures of the mid-5th millennium BCE, but no one really knows their purpose. They often have astronomical alignments so they may be calendars, observatories, or ceremonial sites (or all of the above). This particular one lines up with the summer solstice. Previous excavations in the area revealed longhouses and lots of other structures.
Israeli Archaeologists Find Enigmatic 2,500-year-old Burials in the Desert — A large tomb dating to over 2,500 years ago was discovered in the Negev desert, Israel. It consists of two burial chambers separated by a courtyard, and ceilings supported by large pillars. The tomb contained the remains of at least 57 individuals, most (or perhaps all) female, as indicated by grave goods which included alabaster vessels (Arabia), ritually-broken stone incense burners (Arabia), copper bracelets, beads, bone rings, cowrie-shell pendants, a glass pendant (Phoenician), scarabs (Phoenician and Egyptian), a faience amulet of the Egyptian god Bes, a cylinder seal with cobras, and a copper fibula (southern Europe). As you can see, the finds are a bit of a melting pot. Very few weapons (just a couple of arrowheads) were included. But here’s the weird part: It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s at an ancient crossroads far from any known settlement. The bodies were carefully buried, not dumped — incense was burned and grave goods from distant places were deposited. So why were they buried so far from civilization? One theory suggests that these women were on their way to Arabia to become sacred prostitutes or wives. Another says that they were buried here because crossroads were sacred places associated with divine feminine powers and ritual activities. But the truth is that we don’t have a clue.
That’s it for the free Top 5! If you’re a free subscriber, sign up for the paid plan for another 16 stories and 9 recommended pieces of content covering Mesoamerican agriculture, a wannabe pizza, a king’s doodles, Caligula’s ships, treasure, shipwrecks, and a history of older generations throwing shade at younger generations. (And if you want access but it’s a little too steep for you right now, just shoot me an email — I want this to be accessible.)
Until next time, thanks for joining me!
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P.P.S. Paid members, read on!
🗞 Ancient News: Deep Dive
Lessons in Sustainability, Evolution and Human Adaptation, Courtesy of the Holocene — El Gigante rockshelter in Honduras is known for its well-preserved botanical remains spanning 11,000 years. A new study of the site looked at botanical macrofossils like maize cobs and avocado seeds/rinds and, according to Douglas Kennett, “Our work at El Gigante demonstrates that the early use and management of tree crops like wild avocado and plums by at least 11,000 years ago set the stage for the development of later systems of arboriculture that, when combined with field cropping of maize, beans and squash, fueled human population growth, the development of settled agricultural villages and the first urban centers in Mesoamerica after 3,000 years ago." Gotta love it when a researcher sums up their work so succinctly — makes my job easy! The study pushes back the date of tree fruit and squash crops in the region to 11,000 years ago, with maize starting 4,500 years ago and beans starting 2,200 years ago. The shift from arboriculture to field crops was driven by an increased reliance on maize farming.
Pompeii Archaeologists Discover 'Pizza' Painting — At first, I was surprised by how prevalent this discovery was in the news cycle, but then I remembered that pizza is delicious and everyone loves it. A 2,000-year-old fresco depicting “pizza” was discovered in Pompeii. Everyone’s calling it “pizza”, but it might be a precursor at best — focaccia covered in fruit (pomegranate, dates, etc.) and maybe pesto. Hate to break it to ya, but tomatoes came from the Americas, folks, and mozzarella was first enjoyed in the 18th century. I know what you’re thinking… a world without pizza 😱 It’s a chilling thought. Anywho, it’s on a silver plate near a wine goblet nearby, which is significant, as it was quite a frugal and simple meal depicted in a luxurious setting. The remains of three people were found near the ovens in the home.
Scholar Finds Doodles Made by Henry VIII in Ancient Prayer Book —Fourteen “doodles” were found in a prayer book, and they belonged to King Henry VIII, who ruled England from 1509-1547. The book, called “Psalms or Prayers”, was translated by his sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr. He left markings called manicules (hand with pointed index finger) and trefoils (three dots with a squiggle). The researchers are confident that Henry VIII was the creator of this marginalia because of the size, shape, design, and a distinctive cuff on the manicules. From these markings, the researchers presume to know what the king was thinking: In short, he was worried about being punished by god, and he’s also trying to show that he’s exemplary. Apparently this copy of the book, along with his notes, would have been shared with chosen courtiers, giving it a political function, in addition to apparent self-reflection.
Roman Marble Head Found In Lake Nemi Could Be From Caligula’s Legendary Ships — A marble head of Roman origin has been found in Lake Nemi, Italy. There is conjecture that the head came from ships known as the “Emperor’s Ships”; ships used by Caligula for entertainment and displays of power. They were intentionally sunk after his assassination. Two of Caligula’s ships were found in Lake Nemi back in the 1920s, which is what has everyone yelling Caligula’s name again. One of those ships had marble floors, mosaics, fountains, heating, plumbing, and baths, which is more than a little bit mind-blowing. And it’s also why people find these ships so fascinating. We’ll see whether a ship is found to go along with the head.
Discovery of a Painted Chamber Tomb in the Necropolis of Pontecagnano — A rare painted tomb was discovered in the necropolis of Pontecagnano in Italy. Iconographic comparisons date the tomb to the 4th century BCE. The paintings include a warrior scene as well as festoons and pomegranates. There were no grave goods but the individual was wearing a gold-leaf crown. The tomb consists of travertine blocks and a gabled roof, and it was accessed via a steep staircase.
Evidence of Roman Marching Camp Found in Paderborn — Fragments of wine amphorae and two field ovens dating to 2,000 years ago were discovered in Paderborn, Germany. This is believed to be an indication of a Roman marching camp, and it’s the first sign of Roman military activity in the area. Field ovens are essentially pits dug to bake bread, and they were only used at temporary camps, so that’s why this has been identified as a marching camp. Charcoal from the ovens dates to the time of the Augustan campaigns in Germania around 12 BCE, as the Romans tried to expand their territory and fought with the Germanic tribes.
Someone Buried Treasure and Vanished. Archaeologists Just Found it 3,000 Years Later — While searching for evidence of the Roman military in a valley near Oberhalbstein, Switzerland, archaeologists discovered something even older: 3,000-year-old buried treasure. After excavating the site, they found 80 artifacts dating from between 1200 and 1000 BCE. The artifacts, most of which were metal (raw copper, sickles, axes, needles, part of a saw, and jewelry), had been deliberately damaged before placing it in the box, which was then wrapped in leather and buried. “Selective dumping” (destroying and dumping metal objects) is not an uncommon practice, but this find is unique in the area. There is a known settlement nearby, as well as a transportation route.
A Treasure Trove of 119 Archaeological Pieces was Hidden in a Storage Room in Córdoba, Spain — Police recovered the marble bust of a female of Roman origin dating to the 2nd century, along with 118 other “extraordinarily valuable” pieces in a storage room in Baena, Spain. The bust is of exceptional quality. There were Roman sculptures, 7th-century architectural elements, ceramics, and Greek, Iberian, and Roman coins. A silver coin from 44 BCE stands out, as it’s the type of coin that was issued by Brutus to pay his army for the war against Octavian. Two people were arrested. I guess you could say they got busted. 🥁😂
Largest Confirmed Shang Dynasty Site in Pearl River Delta Revealed in Guangzhou — A Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) site was found in Guangzhou, China, and it’s the biggest such site in the Pearl River Delta region. The excavation covers 40,500 square feet and they found a whopping 1,500 ash pits, some of which would have been storage pits or sacrificial pits. Stone daggers and axes were also found, and some believe this was a site of stone tool production. Jade artifacts, pottery sherds, bronze ware items, and a stone medicine grinder were also found. According to Zhu Mingmin, the medicine grinder, “[Showcases] the wisdom of ancient people”.
Seal Depicting St. George Among Finds Found Near Suzdal — A 12th-13th century seal was discovered in Suzdal, Russia. It depicts St. George carrying a spear and leaning towards a shield. He has a halo and there is an inscription of “GEOR”. Excavations at the settlement where this was found have also unearthed 150 items of metal, glass, stone, bone, and ceramics, as well as household items like iron knives, a key, a whorl, weights, a whetstone, rings, beads, buttons, bracelets, belt buckles, pendants, an encolpion (medallion), and a fishing sinker. The finds indicate princely administration of the region. There’s something cool about finding a key, isn’t there? I wonder what it opened.
Remains of 400-Year-Old Wooden Ship Found in Mexico — Seven pieces of timber were found near Lake Chalco in Chalco de Díaz Covarrubias, Mexico. The timber is part of a ship that dates to roughly 400 years ago. Based on the curvature of the timbers, it is thought that they may be from a Brigantine-type vessel, which is a two-masted sailing vessel used by the Spanish. According to historical accounts, these ships were made from salvaged wood and hardware from the ships that Cortés famously destroyed. A settlement was also discovered 5 feet below the surface of Lake Chalco.
Preserved 3rd-Century Ship with Amphorae Found Off Hvar — A well-preserved ship dating to the 3rd century BCE was discovered off the coast of the Croatian island of Hvar. Lots of amphorae were found, so this was probably a merchant ship. It’s one of the earliest fully-preserved shipwrecks on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Investigation is underway.
19th Century Mass Grave With Hundreds Decapitated “Vampires” Discovered In Polish Village — A mass grave of roughly 450 individuals was discovered during roadworks near a church in Poland. They had been decapitated after death, and some had a coin in their mouths and their head between their legs. This indicates that the community was probably worried about reanimated corpses, and possibly vampirism. A coin found in the grave was from 1846.
19th-Century Archaeological Treasure Found in Hydro-Québec Parking Lot in Montreal — A stone home with wooden floors was discovered in a parking lot in Montreal, Canada. It was built between 1801 and 1825. The home was found thanks to lots of other artifacts being found: Tableware, jugs, plates, bowls, bottles, inkwells, chess pieces, bones with butchery marks, and so forth. Everything points to this being the home of an affluent person, even though it was a working-class neighborhood outside of the city’s walls. The building was torn down by the end of the 19th century.
Khmer-Period Carvings Unearthed at Buddhist Shrine in Thailand — Carvings on a decorative lintel and a stone gate have been found near the site of Prasat Ban Bu Yai in Thailand. The carvings depict the deity Indra on the back of the elephant Airavata. Other lintels were found there previously, along with all kinds of other decorated architectural elements.
Web of Biblical Cities Depicts King David as Major Ruler, Says Israeli Archaeologist — There are two major schools of thought on King David. One says there’s little evidence for cities during his reign, and that his power was likely exaggerated in the bible. This school of thought says that he was a local leader of a few thousand Bedouin shepherds near Jerusalem. A recent article backs up the other school of thought which aligns with the Bible. It presents him as a king who ruled over a well-developed kingdom complete with roads connecting its cities. The researcher, Yosef Garinkel, looked at five cities within walking distance of Jerusalem, which have now been dated to the time of King David, 200 years earlier than previously thought. According to Garinkel, “If you take all these sites, they have the same urban concept, they are all sitting on the border of the kingdom and sitting where you have a main road leading to the kingdom. These cities aren’t located in the middle of nowhere. It’s a pattern of urbanism with the same urban concept.” The paper is contested, so the debate goes on.
❤️ Recommended Content
This is pretty hilarious — a history of older generations blaming younger generations, dating back to the 4th century BCE. 😂 No, but seriously, what’s the deal with these damned hooligans these days?
Here’s a short video about the worst Egyptian sculpture ever found… and why it actually might be the coolest.
Here’s a video about a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal flute. At the end of the video there is a haunting rendition of what the flute would have sounded like. It’s beautiful and well worth a listen.
Here’s an article about how Ndee (Western Apache) communities approach archaeology and restoring balance.
This image is worth a glance. It’s the oldest biface hand ax ever discovered. It was either made by Neanderthals or Homo heidelbergensis in Spain 350,000-500,000 years ago. It’s known as “Excalibur”. And it’s the oldest reference of symbolic behavior ever found.
Here’s an article about a recent expedition to Enderby Island in New Zealand. No conclusive findings were shared, as everything’s at the lab, but it does give a peak into what such an expedition is like, and that’s pretty cool in my book!
Indiana Jones is back in theaters starting today. Not sure how I feel about that. The last one was… well, terrible, to put it lightly. But here’s an article about what Indiana Jones got right about archaeology.
The oldest known crown in the world was found as part of the Nahal Mishmar Hoard, and it dates to roughly 4000 BCE. It was found in the Judean Desert. The copper crown features vultures and building façades. Here’s an article about it. I wonder if the first crown-wearer was trying to display wealth or if they were trying to imitate their gods or if they just thought they looked cool in a metal hat or something else entirely. But that’s a rabbit hole for another time.
There you have it, folks! Thanks for reading. Thanks for being a part of our little community. Thanks for being a paid subscriber. And thanks for being you. You’re pretty great!