🧐 Ancient Beat #69: Giant ground sloth pendants, decoding the unknown Kushan script, and pushing back the peopling of the Americas (again)
Hi folks! Welcome to issue #69 of Ancient Beat. 🤭
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🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Humans Were in South America at Least 25,000 Years Ago, Giant Sloth Bone Pendants Reveal — Three pendants made from the osteoderms of a giant ground sloth have been discovered at the Santa Elina rock shelter in Brazil. The layer the bones were found in dates to between 25,000 and 27,000 years ago. If the researchers are correct about the dating, this is some of the earliest evidence of humans in the Americas — and this is South America, which would presumably take longer to reach (via the Bering Strait). Thaís Pansani told Live Science, “Our evidence reinforces the interpretation that our colleagues working on Santa Elina have been talking about for 30 years… Humans were in Central Brazil at least 27,000 years ago.” Osteoderms are bony deposits that create a protective armor (think armadillos). Many osteoderms were found, but three have small holes that were made by human hands, as indicated by traces of stone tool incisions, scraping marks, and polishing. Wow, there’s so much happening in the debate about the peopling of the Americas right now. Fascinating!
Testing Yields New Evidence of Human Occupation 18,000 Years Ago in Oregon — Archaeologists have found evidence that humans occupied the Rimrock Draw Rockshelter near Riley, Oregon in the US 18,000 years ago. They previously discovered two orange agate scrapers, one of which had bison blood residue on it. The scrapers were found beneath a layer of volcanic ash dated to 15,000 years ago, and beneath a camel tooth which has now been dated to 18,250 years ago. If confirmed, that would make this one of the oldest human-occupation sites in North America by over 2,000 years.
Archaeologists Discover Ancient 'Portal to the Underworld' In Cave Containing Skulls, Weapons — Skulls (with no other skeletal remains), lamps, coins, vessels, metal weapons (ax head and daggers), and other artifacts spanning thousands of years have been discovered in Te’omim Cave near Jerusalem. The cave was a site of devotion for pagans in the late Roman period 2,000 years ago, but some artifacts actually go back as far as 4,000 years. The skulls, lamps, and other artifacts were found wedged into crevices within the cave, possibly for a ritual purpose. According to the authors of the study, “[We] propose with due caution that necromancy ceremonies took place in the Te’omim Cave in the Late Roman period, and that the cave may have served as a local oracle (nekyomanteion) for this purpose.” In short, they believe that folks were trying to raise the dead and/or predict the future. While they have good reason for this, it does seem like a leap to me. But I do agree that this is textbook magical behavior, right down to the spring that is located within the cave.
Enigmatic Ancient ‘Unknown Kushan Script’ Deciphered By Scientists — The so-called “unknown Kushan script” has been undecipherable for 70 years, but researchers have finally cracked the code… well, 60% of it. Similar to the famous Rosetta Stone, it was the 2022 discovery of a short bilingual inscription on a rock face in Tajikistan (along with other such discoveries) that helped them decipher it, thanks to the royal name “Vema Takhtu” along with the title “king of kings” and other epithets appearing in both texts. The inscription says something along the lines of, “[Year] 279, [month] Gorpiaios, [day] 15. Of the king of kings, the great salvation, Vema Takhtu the Kushan, the righteous, the just, the god worthy of worship, who according to his own will gained the kingship.” So far they’ve used their breakthrough to analyze inscriptions in caves and on bowls and clay pots. The script was in use in Central Asia between 200 BCE and 700 CE. It’s associated with nomadic peoples like the Yuèzhī, as well as the ruling dynasty of the Kushans. What makes this a big deal is that the Kushan Empire of Central Asia was incredibly influential. Among other things, it was responsible for the spread of Buddhism to East Asia.
Tombs Rich in Artifacts Discovered by Swedish Expedition in Cyprus — Two of the richest tombs ever found in Cyprus were discovered near the Bronze Age copper trading hub of Hala Sultan Tekke. The wealth of the tombs came from the production and trade of copper. And due to the richness of the grave goods, the researchers believe these may have been royal tombs. They date to roughly the 14th century BCE. Between the two tombs, 500 complete artifacts were discovered, including many that consist of precious metals, gems, ivory, and high-quality ceramics — much of it imported from Greece, Turkey, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. Weapons, jewelry, a gold-framed hematite seal, and a bronze mirror were also found. According to the researchers, “Several individuals, both men and women, wore diadems, and some had necklaces with pendants of the highest quality, probably made in Egypt during the 18th dynasty at the time of such pharaohs as Thutmos III and Amenophis IV (Akhenaten) and his wife Nefertiti.” The diadems depicted bulls, gazelles, lions, and flowers.
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🗞 Ancient News: Deep Dive
Analysis Links Maya Canoe to Underworld Ritual — A 16th-century Maya canoe that was found in a cenote near Chichén Itzá in Mexico has been identified as having been part of a ritual. The researchers note that the prow and stern would have been very heavy, making it unlikely that the craft was seaworthy. Human foot bones, along with armadillo, dog, turkey, and eagle bones were found around the canoe as well, strengthening the claim. Armadillos had special significance, as they often represented a jaguar deity we know as “God L”. According to the researchers, the Maya believed the canoe could enter the underworld through the cenote.
Stone Knives Discovered in Ancient Maya City Near Sacrificial Altar — Sixteen stone knives were discovered near a sacrificial altar in an ancient Maya city in the state of Yucatán, Mexico. Analysis showed that the knives were never used, but they were of the type that would have been used for sacrifices. According to Cristian Hernández González, “The offering is made up of 16 pieces: three of flint and 13 of obsidian, materials that are not available in the Yucatán peninsula, brought from faraway places, such as Guatemala and central Mexico.”
Engraved Relief Could Reveal the Lost Name of the Maya City at Ocomtún — In issue #66 I covered a Maya city discovered in the jungles of Mexico that folks are now calling Ocomtún. The city dates to the Classic Period (250-1000 CE) and includes pyramidal structures, plazas, a ball court, and more. Well, the researchers have now found a megalithic engraved relief showing scenes and Maya hieroglyphs which might tell us the actual name of the city. The stone would have been part of a large monument like a stela. The scenes depict a Maya captive and a zoomorphic representation of a mountain. The hieroglyphic text is incomplete, but it shows the logogram of the word “Ajaw”, meaning “lord”, and syllabograms above it that make up the word “Maatz” — so it could mean “Lord Maatz”. According to the researchers, “‘Maatz’ could correspond to the original name of Ocomtún or to another place, as the practice of relocating monuments was common in the Maya area. Similar cases have been found in Chactún, Cobá, Calakmul or Tikal.” A bone carved into an eight-pointed star, a bifacial flint point, and ceramics were found near the block (probably offerings).
Bronze Age Wooden Comb Could be Oldest Discovered in UK — What might be the oldest wooden comb ever discovered in the UK was found in Barry, Wales. It was unearthed alongside a well-crafted hair ring in a burial pit dating back 3,000 years. According to David Gilbert, “The gold ring is the most eye-catching object to accompany the cremation. However, the most important artifact is what may at first glance seem the more mundane: the wooden comb, which is a find without parallel in Wales, if not the UK. [It shows] the attention to detail and pride in appearance missing from so many depictions of prehistoric people on television or in films.”
Ancient Earthquake Traces Discovered at a 3,000-Year-Old Historical Site in Turkey — According to a new study, an earthquake that might have exceeded a magnitude of 7.0 destroyed much of the region around the ancient city of Stratonikeia and the Lagina Hekate Sanctuary in Turkey. It occurred in 365 BCE. The researchers also found remnants of the Hellenistic, Roman, and Eastern Roman periods.
Bronze Age Human Remains Uncovered In Dorset During Excavation Of Iron Age Settlement — A Bronze-Age burial site was discovered in Winterborne Kingston, England. Previously, settlements of the Durotriges tribe had been uncovered there, dating to 100 BCE. But these burials date to 2,000 years before that, as determined by collared urns within one of the graves. The burial is consistent with practices of the time where people were mummified and kept above ground before being buried in shallow pits, often in a crouched position. They also found five Iron-Age burials, as well as animal bones in storage pits.
Greek Farmer Accidentally Discovers 3,400-Year-Old Minoan Tomb Hidden Under Olive Grove — A Minoan tomb from 1400-1200 BCE was discovered by a farmer in Crete when the ground beneath his truck began to give way. The remains of two men were entombed in larnakes (embossed clay coffins) surrounded by colorful funerary vases and sealed with stone masonry.
Elite Roman Man Buried with Sword may have been 'Restrained' in Death — The remains of an individual who may have been an elite Roman soldier were found near the Whitton Lodge Roman villa in Wales. The individual was buried facedown in a rock-cut grave and, according to Mark Collard, “The prone [facedown] position and very large nails at the back of the neck, shoulder and between the feet may indicate restraints.” While you might think this indicates an enslaved person, the sword, hobnailed boots, and silver crossbow-style brooch suggest that this person was an elite member of the military. Analysis of isotopes shows that he likely grew up farther east. It’s quite odd that he was buried with his regalia, but facedown with restraints.
Scientists Uncover Evidence of Tsunami in Ancient Israel — A new study says that medieval Caesarea Maritima (now Caesarea, Israel) was destroyed by a tsunami in 749 CE. It was then rebuilt several decades later by the Abbasid Caliphate, who built over the ruins.
Marble Head Unearthed During Works in Rome Piazza — A white marble head was discovered in the foundation of a late antique wall in Rome. The head is believed to be part of a statue of a female divinity. Reusing old works as building materials is actually quite common. No mention of what period it’s from.
Rare Bronze Hand Found at Roman Vindolanda — Vindolanda is in the news yet again. A life-like, child-sized bronze hand was found in the Roman fort in England. The hand had an “attachment” inserted into the palm, but it’s missing. An obvious emphasis was placed on the palm side, as indicated by better craftsmanship, so whatever attachment the hand was holding was likely the focus. The base of the hand is socketed so it would have been fixed to a pole. It was discovered beneath a temple dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus so it’s likely that it served a cult function. Little is known about the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus, making this all the more interesting.
Evidence of the 9th Cohort of Batavians Among New Finds at Roman Vindolanda — What’s that? Oh, it’s Vindolanda again. A copper alloy lion-head pommel from between 90 and 105 CE has been discovered. This was a time when the 9th cohort of Batavians was stationed at Vindolanda and the pommel is thought to have belonged to them. A knife with a bone handle from the same period, a sherd of a mortarium bowl, a pit containing hundreds of nuts, and Samian pottery depicting a hare were also found. Batavian soldiers were first brought to Britain during the conquest period in 43 CE and they attacked the Druid stronghold at Ynys Mon.
Roman Tombs and Aqueduct Uncovered in Serbia — Fourteen Roman tombs and 200 feet of lead pipe from an aqueduct have been discovered at the ancient settlement of Singidunum in modern-day Belgrade, Serbia. The tombs date to the 3rd and 4th centuries. Singidunum attained city status under Emperor Hadrian and was a seat of military power. The tombs have been looted but parts of a gold necklace were found, as well as a glass hairpin. All the tombs were made with bricks and two of the tombs had arched vaults. Four sarcophagi were also found. The excavation also revealed an Ottoman settlement from the 17th century and ruins of buildings that were bombed at the end of WWII.
Skeletal Remains Dating Back 1,000 Years Found on Site of Planned Dublin Hotel — The remains of roughly 100 individuals were discovered in Dublin, Ireland where an abbey known as St. Mary’s once stood. St. Mary’s was a medieval Christian institution run by the Savigniac and Cistercian orders At least two date back to the 11th century, which is 100 years before the abbey was built, indicating that there was a Christian settlement there prior to the abbey being built. Building foundations from the 17th century were also found.
Sangam-Age Stud, Bead Unearthed in Tamil Nadu — A gold stud, bone point, and carnelian bead were discovered at the site of Porpanaikottai, India, where a Sangam-age fort is thought to have existed. The stud has a floral design with six petals. The bone point was probably used for weaving. And the carnelian bead indicates domestic trade, probably from Gujarat.
Lurgan Archaeologists Find Evidence of Gold and Silver Production — Evidence of ancient metalworking, glass working, and gold and silver ingot production was discovered near Lurgan, Northern Ireland.
Kentucky Man Finds Over 700 Civil War-Era Coins Buried in His Cornfield — I don’t usually cover such “recent” news, but this was a pretty cool find. A farmer in Kentucky, US found 700 Civil-War-era coins. Most are gold dollars, but there are also $10 and $20 Liberty coins. One particularly rare coin is an 1863-P $20 1-ounce gold Liberty coin, of which there are 18 — each one could be sold for six figures at auction. It is likely that it was buried by a wealthy Kentuckian to keep it from being stolen by the Confederacy, something which reportedly happened quite a bit. It is unclear whether the landowner will allow the coins to undergo archaeological examination. He may just cash out.
Additional Mosaics Excavated at Huqoq Synagogue in Israel — A 4th-century mosaic floor was discovered just inside the entrance of the synagogue at the site of Huqoq in Israel. It features a Hebrew inscription and wreath flanked by lions with their forepaws on the heads of bulls. Names on each side of the wreath and below it probably indicate the artists or the people who funded it. A paved courtyard, a colonnade, and a mosaic depicting a Philistine horseman and a dead Philistine soldier were also found.
Prehistoric Proteins May Offer Clues to Human Evolution — Researchers successfully mapped 425 amino acids found in the enamel of four Paranthropus robustus teeth that were found in Swartkrans Cave, South Africa. One protein that was found in two of the samples is produced by a gene on the Y chromosome, so this showed that two were male. Likewise, a protein produced by the X chromosome on the other two indicated that they were female. This breakthrough will help us to understand sex-based differences within species, and there are many other exciting possibilities.
X-Ray Imaging Reveals Hidden 'First Drafts' in Ancient Egyptian Paintings — X-ray fluorescence imaging has revealed details of the painting process (drafts and revisions) used in tomb chapels at the Theban Necropolis in Egypt. The paintings that were studied date to between 1330 and 1069 BCE. An arm was removed or redrawn in one painting, probably due to some unknowable aesthetic preferences of the Ancient Egyptians. Layers of a portrait of Ramesses II revealed a “budding beard” which is very unusual in Egyptian art (especially for a king), as well as a shebyu necklace, both of which were removed from the painting.
❤️ Recommended Content
Here’s the world’s oldest known written complaint. It’s 3,800 years old and the person who wrote it did not appreciate the sub-standard copper that they received. It’s written in Akkadian cuneiform.
Here’s a video about the mysterious nine great bronze tripod cauldrons of Ancient China. We see them mentioned in ancient texts, but they disappeared in the 3rd century BCE.
Here’s a video about priceless artifacts that were destroyed out of, well, let’s say “poor judgment”. Timely with the recent headlines about tourists defacing ancient sites.
Here’s an article about how a settlement established by Erik the Red in Greenland affected Denmark’s colonization efforts centuries later.
Here’s a quick summary of a recent report about the last common ancestor of humans and apes.
Here’s an article about how AI is being used to recreate some of Pompeii’s ruined masterpieces.
Ever wondered how to make a Neolithic longbow? Here’s a video.
That’s it for this week! If you like the idea of getting some free months of Ancient Beat, the referral button is right above. ☝️