🧐 Ancient Beat #71: Celtic glass, tiny stamps, and female war leaders
Hello and welcome to issue #71 of Ancient Beat, folks! Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Isles of Scilly Remains are Iron Age Female Warrior, Scientists Say — A 2,000-year-old grave on the Isles of Scilly in the UK was discovered back in 1999 but due to poor preservation, it was unclear whether the individual was male or female. A shield and a sword in a copper alloy scabbard made it clear to many that this was a man’s grave. But to muddy the waters a bit, a brooch and a bronze mirror were also found, both of which would generally be associated with a woman. Interestingly, this is the only grave in western Europe with both a mirror and sword. Though DNA extraction wasn’t previously possible, researchers were now able to test tooth enamel thanks to a new technique, and they found that this individual was almost certainly female. And if you’ve got an image in your head of a woman primping before kicking butts, the researchers actually believe the mirror was used in warfare as a way of signaling and coordinating attacks. They also note that there could have been ritualistic functions for cleansing and/or otherworldly communication, perhaps in order to ensure success in battle. According to Sarah Stark, “Although we can never know completely about the symbolism of objects found in graves, the combination of a sword and a mirror suggests this woman had high status within her community and may have played a commanding role in local warfare, organizing or leading raids on rival groups.” I recently covered the incredible discovery of the Ivory Lady, previously identified as the Ivory Man, in issue #68.
Seven Generations of a Prehistoric Family Mapped with Ancient DNA — About 20 years ago, a 6,500-year-old site was discovered in France with 128 burials. Oddly, one woman’s grave had a few bones in it that seemed to have come from another grave. A new study has now found that these other bones were those of a male buried nearby. In fact, the researchers tested the DNA of 94 out of 128 individuals at the site and were surprised to find that two-thirds belonged to a single family tree spanning seven generations — and they all descended from this man. Surprisingly, no grave goods (or anything else for that matter) indicated that he had high status. And the researchers aren’t sure why this ancestor was exhumed or why some of the bones were added to this other burial. Other genetic findings indicate that the community was patrilocal. And interestingly, every sibling was a full sibling, indicating a practice of monogamy. This contrasts with some later Neolithic burials in the UK.
Rare and Tiny Ancient Stamps Found in Falster May Show the Way to an Unknown King’s Home — A metal detectorist on the Danish island of Falster found 28 tiny stamps at the site of what must have once been a large settlement. According to Marie Brinch, “This indicates that we are standing in a place that has meant some trade and probably also had some form of cultic activity. And although it's a bit wild to say, it could also indicate that it was once a center of power on Falster.” Apparently, these types of stamps are only found in places associated with great magnates and kings. This is significant because, while activity from the Iron and Viking Ages has been discovered there, including a shipyard, there’s not much to indicate where the elite lived. The figure in the stamp is wearing fine clothes and has hands down, palms out, in a sign of submission or revelation. According to Margrethe Watt, “This means that it is either a royal figure who submits to a god - or that it is a god who reveals himself to a human being.” Note the use of the gender-neutral “royal figure” — Watt believes the figure may represent a woman.
Earliest Glass Workshop North of the Alps Discovered — Archaeologists have discovered the earliest glass workshop north of the Alps at the Iron-Age site of Němčice in the Czech Republic. In fact, it’s one of the oldest in the world. Němčice is one of the most important settlements of the La Tène Period (3rd-2nd century BCE). Glass beads, bracelets, and amber pieces were all found in various stages of completion, along with some Celtic coins. Interestingly, no one knows how the Celts made glass bracelets, as the process has been lost. The researchers also did a geophysical survey of the site and found that some structures have similarities with possible ritual structures in Austria, indicating shared beliefs. According to Ivan Čižmář, “The presence of these likely sacred features at Němčice indicates the character of the site not only as a trade and production center, but also as a seat of an elite and a ritual center.” The site may have been part of the “Amber Road”.
Neolithic Beginnings in Herefordshire, England Revealed — New radiocarbon dating showed that Neolithic monuments at the site of Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire, England are older than previously thought. They date to at least 5,800 years ago, and that makes Dorstone Hill the earliest known culturally Neolithic site in the region. It also makes the monuments at the site some of the oldest in Britain despite being located far from where migrants from the continent were believed to have arrived. This means that Neolithic practices didn’t spread evenly as is often suggested; they moved irregularly. According to Julian Thomas, “Dorstone Hill appears to have been a location in which a series of phenomena seem to have occurred at an unusually early date. This marks it out as an important regional center, a place of origins and beginnings, which acquired and retained a particular significance through the earlier fourth millennium BC.”
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🗞 Ancient News: Deep Dive
Ruins of Ancient Nero's Theater Discovered Under Garden of Future Four Seasons Near Vatican — The ruins of what might be Nero’s Theater, a lost imperial theater mentioned by Pliny the Elder, near the Vatican in Rome. The researchers believe this to be the case based on gold-leaf decorated plaster and marble columns. Excavations also uncovered 10th-century glass goblets, pottery pieces, and more.
Bronze Age Discovery Made at Shetland Spaceport Site — A cremation cemetery from 2200-1800 BCE was discovered at a soon-to-be spaceport in the Shetland islands of Scotland. Excavations are only beginning but a white quartz setting has already been discovered. White quartz was significant in prehistory, and was often associated with tombs and possibly offerings. That, along with the burials, large stones, and the alignment of the pits suggests that this was some kind of ritual complex. According to Frank Strang, “Now we know there has been activity on our site for more than 4,000 years [from] the Bronze Age to the Space Age.”
1,800-Year-Old Spices are Earliest Evidence of Curry Making in Southeast Asia — A study found that the arrival of nonnative spices and culinary traditions into Southeast Asia occurred 1,800 years ago, hundreds of years earlier than previously thought. Researchers found traces of turmeric, ginger, fingerroot, sand ginger, galangal, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon, most of which are from distant islands, on sandstone mortars, pestles, and grinding slabs at the site of Óc Eo in Vietnam. This indicates long-distance maritime trade. According to Hsiao-chun Hung, “Before this study, we had only limited clues from ancient documents in India, China, and Rome about the early spice trades. However, this research is the first to confirm that these spices were indeed traded commodities that existed within the global maritime trading networks nearly 2,000 years ago.” The sandstone tools were likely imported too. Hung went on to say that this indicates entire culinary cultures were being transferred between regions. Anyone else suddenly craving curry? 🤤
Ancient DNA Reveals Diverse Community in 'Lost City of the Incas' — Genetic testing has been done for the first time on retainers and workers who were buried at Machu Picchu 500 years ago. The results showed that these individuals came from all over the Inca Empire, with some from as far away as Amazonia. Few shared DNA, so they must have come as individuals instead of family units. The findings support historical documentation and artifacts found at the site.
New Underwater Discoveries Made Around the Antikythera Shipwreck — The Antikythera Mechanism is pretty much legendary at this point, to the point that the most recent Indiana Jones movie was loosely based on it. Well, the wreck (from between 70 and 60 BCE) where it was found is making headlines again. It’s still being excavated and researchers have found human bones, bronze pins, pottery, glassware, and metal and wooden elements of the ship. A sculpture fragment was also found that would have been part of the beard of the Herakles sculpture that was previously found. I covered this sculpture way back in issue #17.
Archaeologists Recover Ornate Glassware from Roman Shipwreck — Ornate glassware was discovered in the Capo Corso 2 shipwreck, which was discovered in 2012 between the Italian islands of Corsica and Capraia. It dates to the 1st or 2nd century CE. The ship was exclusively carrying glass, both raw and worked. The researchers recovered glass bottles, cups, bowls, and two bronze basins and several amphorae. Analysis showed that the ship probably came from a port in the Middle East.
Archaeologists Uncover Roman Mosaic Depicting Medusa — A mosaic depicting Medusa was discovered in a Roman domus at La Huerta de Otero Archaeological Zone of modern-day Mérida, Spain. Apparently, it is a prophylactic representation of Medusa, meaning that it’s meant to protect the inhabitants of the home. The depiction is surrounded by images of peacocks that embody the four seasons, as well as other floral and animal motifs. The paintings and sculptural motifs of the house are also noteworthy.
Tiny Roman Dog Remains Found During Oxford Archaeological Dig — The remains of a tiny, 1,800-year-old pupper were found during excavations of a Roman villa in Oxfordshire, England. The little buddy stood about 8 inches tall, making it one of the smaller found in the UK. By this time, Romans were breeding small dogs as companions; not just hunting dogs. And this one, being tiny and bow-legged, was almost certainly a lap dog. A brooch and a copper bracelet were also found.
Rebel Jewish Coin Dating to Anti-Roman Revolt Discovered in Israel — A rare coin was found in the Ein Gedi nature reserve of Israel. It’s a half-shekel with a Hebrew inscription that translates to, “The Holy Jerusalem”. It also has three pomegranates in the center of the coin, which is a symbol that was used on old Israeli lira coins until 1980. On the other side is a chalice with the letter “Aleph”, marking the value of the coin and the year — the first year of the First Jewish Revolt (66-73 CE) against the Romans. Minting their own coins was a sign of Jewish defiance. If you’re an aspiring numismatist, check out the article for lots more on the coin.
Huge Ancient Roman Public Baths in ‘Excellent’ State Discovered — Here’s another about August Emerita. A large public bath from the Roman era was discovered at the Roman colony of Augusta Emerita in Mérida, Spain. Augusta Emerita was founded in 25 BCE by Augustus to resettle Emeriti soldiers from veteran legions of the Cantabrian Wars. The baths are remarkably well-preserved, with marble plaques, moldings with cornices, paintings, and underground structures intact.
USF Team Discovers 2,000-Year-Old Roman House During Excavation in Malta — A Roman domus from the 1st or 2nd century was discovered in the ancient city of Melite in modern-day Malta. It was decorated with mosaic floors and wall frescoes. It was likely the home of a wealthy individual close to the imperial court or a representative of the emperor. So far, archaeologists have uncovered terracotta floor tiles, frescoed plasters, glass vessels, a waste disposal system full of pottery, and much more. One piece of pottery has the letters DAOI on it, which may hint at a name.
Archaeological Remains of Disabled Teen Discovered in Brazil — Remains were found at the site of Toca do Olho d'Água das Andorinhas in Brazil. They belong to a teenager who had such severe spina bifida that she was probably unable to walk. It’s not clear when she died, but it’s definitely over 300 years ago and possibly much older. She was buried with a bracelet with roughly 1,000 small beads, probably made of seeds. The skull of a tapir was found nearby, so that may be related to the burial as well.
Fossilized Human Skull Fragment Discovered Near Peking Man Site — A human parietal bone was discovered at the Zhoukoudian site near Beijing, China. No word on how old it is, but other mammal fossils and stoneware nearby were dated to 200,000 years ago. Interestingly, this is only a couple of hundred feet from where Peking Man (a Homo erectus) was found back in 1973. Peking Man dates to anywhere from 230,000 - 780,000 years ago, depending on who you talk to.
Roman-Era Sarcophagus Uncovered in Gaza — The second sarcophagus of the year has been found in Gaza. It’s from the Roman era roughly 2,000 years ago and it’s made of lead. Both sarcophagi were found in a cemetery that includes about 125 burials.
Bronze Age Dwellings Unearthed in Romania — Three Bronze-Age dwellings were discovered in western Romania. They date to between 1700 and 1550 BCE. Mudbricks, ceramics, bones, tools, hearths, and storage pits were also found.
A Granary was Found in the Ancient City of Sebaste, Founded by the First Roman Emperor Augustus — A granary was discovered near the “Small Church” at the ancient city of Sebaste in Turkey. It dates to the Eastern Roman Empire period.
More Secrets of Mystery Norman Castle Uncovered — Here’s another one from Herefordshire. A fortified concealed gate (AKA a postern gate) and marks left by a stone mason were discovered at Snodhill Castle. The gate should give researchers an idea of the strength and cost of the castle. And the marks should allow them to figure out who these masons were.
Mississippi’s Mounds Built by Indigenous Peoples are Incredibly Important Landforms — According to a new study, earthen and shell mounds built in the Mississippi River Delta of modern-day Louisiana, US, added to biodiversity and the area’s resiliency to erosion. In short, they offer more space for vegetation that resists erosion. Be that as it may, these mounds are rapidly deteriorating and are in need of protection.
Medieval Sword Found on Seabed was likely Lost During Naval Battle — A couple of years ago, a medieval sword was discovered off the coast of Israel. According to a new study, it was covered in a thick marine concretion which makes it look like something out of a fantasy novel. The concretion can’t be removed without damaging the sword, but the plus side is that it preserved the sword. The researchers believe that this would have belonged to a knight or wealthy soldier and that it fell into the sea during a naval battle. It seems to be bent, which may have happened in battle.
These bones were made for walking — Six million years ago (or maybe 7 million, according to a study I covered in issue #26), our ancestors started walking on two legs. It was a big step forward, and you can consider that pun to be proudly intended. Well, using AI and genome-wide association studies, a new study has identified the genetic changes that affected skeletal development and made this transition possible. In fact, they found 145 regions associated with these genes, only a few of which were previously known. According to Vagheesh Narasimhan, “What we're seeing is the first genomic evidence that there was selective pressure on genetic variants that affect skeletal proportions, enabling a transition from knuckle-based walking to bipedalism.” The researchers say that natural selection had a big role to play, as bipedalism gave early humans a big advantage. One might say the mutation offered a leg up on the competition 🥁 (last one, I promise). If you’re interested, I also covered bipedalism in Homo erectus recently in issue #65.
❤️ Recommended Content
If you enjoyed the news about the ancient family tree in France, here’s an article about the world’s oldest documented family tree.
Here’s a video from Inside Archaeology for “ask an archaeologist day”. Rachel answers lots of questions and shares interesting tidbits while playing with legos.
Here’s an article about pioneering women in archaeology.
Here’s a listicle about four ancient women who changed the world.
Here’s a video about the Dolmen of Viera and the Dolmen of Menga in Spain, which I’ve touched on previously.
Here’s an article about antiquities on the black market and how unfounded numbers (e.g. that it’s the third largest illicit trade in the world) are causing more issues.
Here’s an article about the stone circles of northwest Arabia.
Here’s an article about the eye idols found at Petra.
And here’s an article about what we can learn from ancient city planning. “Part of this article is trying to correct the misbelief that the Mesoamerican cities were riddled with collapse, that rulers were purely despotic and that there was no such thing as economic growth and prosperity. That's why this era is not looked at as a source of information. By clearing up some of these misbeliefs that are broadly held, we can make this information more accessible to city planners and policy makers.” According to the article, the potential for cities to withstand anything comes primarily from human cooperation.
Thanks, friends! Until next time, have a wonderful week.