🧐 Ancient Beat #75: Mysterious passages, painted gatherings, and archaic human love
Hi folks! Welcome to issue #75 of Ancient Beat. It’s a hot one in my neck of the woods (over 100°F!). And our ancient past was bringing the heat too — I’ve got 36 discoveries to share with you today, which might be a record. And that’s not even including the recommended content. 😅 Let’s get into it.
Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Archaeologists Find Perplexing 4,000-Year-Old Canaanite Arch in Northern Israel — A 3,800-year-old mudbrick structure is being excavated in the Bronze Age acropolis at Tel Shimron in Israel, and it’s pretty strange. There are no rooms. It has walls up to four feet thick and just one passageway wide enough for one person. At the end of the passage, it takes a sharp left and then broadens into a monumental corbelled arch that supports the ceiling as stairs go underground. Where the stairs go has not yet been determined, as removing the rubble covering them could be dangerous. The sediments that filled the corridor and archway date to 1800-1750 BCE, so the building was likely intentionally sealed soon after it was built. This is responsible for a high state of preservation, and the researchers believe it also hints at a cultic significance. They plan to dig from the outside to see where the stairs lead. I’m excited to find out what’s down there!
Atlatl Weapon Use by Prehistoric Females Equalized the Division of Labor While Hunting — An atlatl is a rod that ancient humans used to create leverage when throwing a spear or dart. They’ve been around for tens of thousands of years and represent a major technological innovation. A new study has demonstrated that atlatls were capable of functioning as an equalizer that could support the role of women as prehistoric hunters, something that I covered in issue #67. The study found that the atlatl not only increases the velocity of a thrown spear, but it also equalizes the velocity of spears thrown, as females appear to benefit the most from the atlatl. According to Michelle Bebber, “This result indicates that a javelin to atlatl transition would have promoted a unification, rather than division, of labor.”
A Climate-Orchestrated Early Human Love Story — According to a recent study, interbreeding between Neanderthals and Denisovans was affected by changes in atmospheric CO2 and corresponding shifts in climate. Neanderthals enjoyed warmer weather while Denisovans were adapted to colder environments, so they stayed in their separate regions. But the study found that in warmer interglacial periods, their habitats overlapped, and this led to interbreeding. Their climate model lined up with episodes of interbreeding 78,000 and 120,000 years ago.
A Volcano Eruption Changed Lives in Fiji 2,500-years-ago. 100 Generations Have Kept the Story Alive — New research showed that the people of Fiji used the power of oral storytelling to pass knowledge down to new generations for at least 2,500 years. The study looked at a volcanic eruption and the stories related to it. The most common story involves a deity named Tanovo. A mountain (Nabukelevu AKA Mount Washington) formed during the eruption, and Tanovo’s view of the sunset was blocked by it. So he started to tear down the mountain (hence the crater at the summit), but was interrupted by another deity of the mountain, Tautaumolau, and they started fighting. The earth Tanovo was carrying became islands, and the researchers believe the sequence of islands being built fits with the ash plume as it moved. The tsunami caused by the event is also included, which we wouldn’t have known about if not for these legends. According to the researchers, “Our study adds to the growing body of scientific research into ‘myths’ and ‘legends’, showing that many have a basis in fact, and the details they contain add depth and breadth to our understanding of human pasts.”
Archaeologists Reveal Evidence of British Festival Held 6,500 Years Ago — By far the largest collection of pieces (610) of red ochre ever found in Britain was just discovered, along with grinding stones that would have ground the pieces into powder so that they could be used as pigment. It was discovered on what had been a 1.2-acre island in the River Eden in England, which would have been an important fishing site during the spring’s salmon run. But it was probably also used for ritual and economically significant communal gatherings. Beyond the ochre, there is evidence of extensive arrow manufacture at the site. Due to the number of arrowheads that were being made, the researchers hypothesize that over a hundred people were gathering at a time, meaning that members of up to six different bands and families were likely in attendance. And the artifacts show that they came from a wide geographical area. According to Fraser Brown, “The Carlisle site is important because it demonstrates the social complexity of Mesolithic hunter-gatherer society - and the remarkable extent to which widely dispersed communities interacted across much of Britain.” The word Britain comes from the Celtic word “Pritani”, which means “the painted one”. We also know that Julius Caesar spoke of the propensity of Brits to paint themselves. It seems that this tradition had deep roots… though, of course, we don’t know what they were actually doing with the ochre.
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🗞 Ancient News: Deep Dive
Bronze Age Family Systems Deciphered: Palaeogeneticists Analyze a 3,800-Year-Old Extended Family — The DNA of 3,800-year-old remains that were found in a burial mound on the Russian steppe is shedding light on the structure of Bronze-Age families. The mound was the grave of six brothers, their wives, children, and grandchildren. The oldest brother had eight children and two wives. The younger brothers each had one partner and fewer children. This may indicate that the first-born had a higher status. Most of the women found were immigrants, indicating that the culture was patrilocal (men stay put; women marry elsewhere). The researchers believe this small data set may be relevant to a much larger area.
Early Neolithic Time Capsule – Intriguing Ancient Funeral Discoveries in the Galería Del Sílex Cave, Spain — A new study of human remains at Galería del Sílex Cave in Spain is shedding new light on early Neolithic funerary practices. Two sets of remains were deposited in pits located 300 meters from the entrance, so this may have been an area reserved for funerary practices. The individuals were likely placed into the pits soon after death, and one of the pits had grave goods. The discovery is an important addition to the limited data set about early Neolithic burial practices in the Iberian Peninsula. To date, the site boasts 53 panels of engravings and paintings, thousands of human and animal remains, dozens of hearth remnants, many fragments of ceramics, and some faunal remains.
Roman Capitolium Temple Discovered in Sarsina — A Roman temple was discovered in Sarsina, Italy, which was once a settlement of the Italic Umbri people. The temple is large and quadrangular, dating to roughly the 1st century BCE. It includes sandstone blocks that rise to a podium, as well as sandstone flooring. And it is likely a capitolium, a temple dedicated to the Capitoline Triad of gods (Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva). Fun fact: Sarsina is also the birthplace of the Roman playwright, Plautus, whose comedies are some of the earliest Latin literary works to have survived in their entirety.
Pipeline Work Leads to Vast Megalithic Site in Kerala — A number of megalithic lids for burial urns were discovered at a site in Kerala, India, along with a unique rock-cut burial chamber and iron implements. The site is thought to date back around 2,000 years.
Roman Fragments Offer Glimpse of Emperor Hadrian’s Daily Events Calendar — Two marble slabs were discovered at the site of Ostia Antica, which once served as Rome’s harbor. The inscriptions detail the daily activities of Emperor Hadrian on “fasti ostienses”, a type of calendar chronicling events that involved emperors and officials. The slabs date to 128 CE and include January 10, when Hadrian received the title of “Pater Patriae” (father of his country), and his wife, Sabina, received the title of “Augusta”. According to the inscription, Hadrian celebrated his title by donating money to the people. On April 11, there is a reference to a trip to Africa. And later, he went to Athens to consecrate a building. The slabs match perfectly with two others that were previously found at the site.
New Find Throws Light on Life of Enslaved People in Ancient Rome's Pompeii — A small bedroom that is thought to have been used by enslaved people was discovered at the Civita Giuliana villa near Pompeii. It held two beds, only one of which had a mattress, two small cabinets, and some urns and ceramic containers that held two mice and a rat. There were no chains or locks, so control was likely exerted through “internal organization of servitude”. This discovery sheds light on how enslaved people lived in Pompeii.
Forgotten Graves of the Knights Templar in Staffordshire Discovered by a Historian? — In 2021, a historian discovered a grave that he believed held the remains of a member of the Knights Templar at St Mary’s Church in Enville, England. He recently found five more. Each of the graves features a Templar cross within double circles, which is apparently standard* Templar design. The historian believes that the church was under the Knights Templar’s patronage. *Other historians say that this may not be the case, as the Templar cross was not standardized.
A Nymphaeum was Discovered in the Ancient Thracian City of Perperikon — What was once thought to be a simple reservoir is actually a huge water sanctuary known as a Nymphaeum. It was discovered in the ancient Thracian city of Perperikon in Kardzhali, Bulgaria. Parts of cornices, columns, and possible bases of statues were also found.
Navan Fort: Dig Sheds New Light on Home of the Kings of Ulster — Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that the site of Navan Fort outside of Armagh, Northern Ireland, which was the seat of the kings and queens of Ulster, was in use as early as the 4th century BCE. The researchers say that it is unique on the island in its complexity, and that it is rare to find such monumental structures from the Iron Age. According to Patrick Gleeson, “When you come to the site today everything that you see dates to around 95 BC or later. What we have discovered is that some of the buildings that were excavated in the 1960s sit within a huge series of timber palisaded enclosures from the 4th to 1st Century BC in terms of date range. They consist of large buildings on the crest of the hilltop, situated within a large figure of eight shaped enclosure about 160m in diameter stretching across the crest of the hill with huge timber posts defining the edges of the site.” The short of it is that this was not just a place where the Kings of Ulster lived; it’s a very important ceremonial center.
Evidence that the Great Byzantine Emperor was of Dardanian Origin — A monumental inscription that was dedicated to Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565 CE) has been uncovered at the site of Ulpiana in Kosovo. The inscription implies that this was “a Dardanian city built by an emperor of Dardanian origin,” according to Milot Berisha. And according to Arben Hajdari, “This is very important, considering the fact that archaeological literature has invested a lot, with many articles and studies attempting to argue that the Dardanians had lost their identity, were Romanized, and disappeared in the Middle Ages. This discovery holds great significance from this perspective.”
Archaeologists Uncover Vestiges of the Tepuztecos — A 34-meter wall which is the first of three stepped levels of a larger structure, was discovered during roadworks near Tlacotepec in Mexico. The structure was built by the Tepuztecos, of which little is known. Human and animal bones were used as construction “fillers” in the wall. They also found a burial, walls made from large limestone blocks covered in stucco, stucco floors with red pigments, and obsidian at the site.
Blood-Red Walls of Roman Amphitheater Unearthed Near 'Armageddon' in Israel — A combat arena has been discovered at Legio, a military base near Tel Megiddo in Israel that was in use during the 2nd century. Its walls were “blood-red” and it would have been used for combat training. This is the first amphitheater of its kind to be found in the region. Interestingly, dozens of lamps related to the cult of Nemesis were found within its gate, indicating cultic activity.
Ancient Metal Cauldrons Give Us Clues About What People Ate in the Bronze Age — A study analyzed protein residues on large metal cauldrons and found that the people of Caucasus ate deer and bovids during the Maykop period (3700-2900 BCE). Milk proteins from sheep or goats were also found. According to Shevan Wilkin, “This is the first evidence we have of preserved proteins of a feast—it's a big cauldron. They were obviously making large meals, not just for individual families.” The cauldrons show signs of extensive repair, indicating that they were valuable and possibly important status symbols.
Archaeologists Uncover Maya Dish Depicting Wahyis Spirit — A funerary offering in the form of a dish was discovered at the site of Cansacbé in Mexico. It depicts a wahyis spirit, which was a spirit that rested in the heart of its wahyaw (essentially what we would call a shaman today) during the day and then projected into animals, comets, wind, lightning, etc. at night. The dish depicts a man dressed in a jaguar skin surrounded by boxes that represent turtle shells. It dates to between 600 and 900 CE.
2,000-Year-Old Roman Walls Discovered in Swiss Alps — Remnants of Roman walls encircling buildings have been discovered in Cham, Switzerland, in the foothills of the Alps. The wall dates to 2,000 years ago. Iron nails, possible gold jewelry, bowls, millstones, glassware, crockery, and amphorae were also found.
Mystery of the Roman Tile Kiln at Brandiers Farm Solved! — A Roman tile kiln was discovered in the Cotswolds, England last year. While it should have been symmetrical, the back edge was missing. While searching for it, they found evidence of an earlier kiln that may have been used to fire the tiles that built the newer one. Now, according to a press release, “We’re even floating the idea of a chain of kilns, each sharing walls and flues [as] time went by.”
2,300-Year-Old Roman Lead Weight In Assos Is The Largest Ever Discovered — A 2,300-year-old lead weight was discovered at the ancient Greek city of Assos. It is of Roman origin and, at 320 grams (0.7 lbs), it’s the largest such weight ever discovered. It bears a depiction of a griffin and the name of the city, shortened to “ASS”. It would have been used in trade and measurement.
Naked Kouros Statue Among New Finds at Despotiko — A statue was discovered on the Greek island of Despotiko in a late Archaic sanctuary dedicated to Apollo. It is a Kourous statue (free-standing statue of a male youth) and it dates to 480 BCE. Also found were 40 marble bases, 88 marble kouroi, and lots of ceramics from the archaic and classical periods.
Archaeologists Find Remains of a Medieval Tower in Lublin’s Old Town — Remains of a medieval tower were discovered in Lublin, Poland. The tower has four sides and was depicted in a panorama of Lublin from 1618. It was built in the 14th century near the “Dung gate”, so probably a really great part of town.
Huge Ancient Sarayini Underground City is Twice as Large as Previously Thought — The underground city of Sarayini in Turkey is now thought to be 20,000+ meters in size, which is twice as big as previously thought, according to recent investigations. The tunnels are thought to date to the Roman era, though they seem to have been used more recently by Christians escaping raids.
İnkaya Cave Study Brings To Light 86,000-Year-Old Traces Of Human Life — Flint tools dating back 86,000 years were discovered in Inkaya Cave, the only known cave in Western Anatolia. It seems that people of the Middle Paleolithic resided in the region for extended periods of time due to its abundant water and flint. An unusual toothed tool that was discovered may have been a sort of saw.
Archaeologists Find Muromian Burial Ground in Muroma — A burial ground with the remains of 13 individuals was discovered on the bank of the Oka River in Murom, Russia. The male burials include grave goods of spears, axes, ice picks, coins, lead weights, and more. The burials are likely of Muromians, who were a Volga-Finnic people who were later assimilated by the East Slavs in the 11th and 12th centuries CE.
Archaeologists Find Hecate Figurine at Ancient Kelenderis — A figurine depicting Hecate, the goddess of magic, witchcraft, the night, and more was discovered in the ancient Greek city of Kelenderis in modern-day Aydıncık in Turkey. It dates to 2,300 years ago.
Roman Caistor: Town's Iron Age Past Being Unearthed in Dig — A road and Iron-Age objects have been discovered in Caistor, Norfolk, England, which was the largest Roman town in East Anglia.
Medieval Discovery Delays Swimming Pool Work — Five 13th-century buildings, along with some ceramics, have been unearthed in Kenilworth, England. They may be connected with Kenilworth Abbey
Archaeologists Discover 1,000-Year-Old Silver Coins at Medieval Fortress — Twelve silver coins dating back 1,000 years were discovered at a medieval fort in Wiślica, Poland, which was once a religious and political center in Poland. Eleven of the coins are from the reign of Boleslaw the Bold (1058-1079). The other coin was minted during the reign of Władysław Herman (1079-1102).
Ancient Deer Sacrifice Found by Water Workers in Village — Two red deer that were likely sacrificed 4,000 years ago have been discovered in a pit in Navenby, England. They show no signs of butchery, but were found alongside some Beaker pottery. Post-built structures which may have been granary stores, were also found at the site.
Lidar Reveals New Structures Around the Si Thep Historical Park — New LiDAR images reveal that the Thai historical park of Si Thep was more than a religious site; it may have also been a center for learning.
Three Grave Steles Unearthed At Istanbul’s 1,500-Year-Old St. Polyeuktos Church — The dig at St. Polyeuktos Church in Istanbul just keeps unearthing cool things (I covered other finds in issues #56, #59, and #64). This time, three grave steles were found. They’re decorated with various symbols relaying the status, profession, and interests of the deceased. At least one of the steles dates to between the 3rd and 5th centuries.
Study Finds Evidence of the Formation and Structural Evolution of Prehistoric Agricultural Economy in Central China — A new study found that three kinds of crops were prominent in the Yangshao culture at the Shigu site of China: broomcorn millet, foxtail millet, and to a lesser extent, rice. They also found that the agricultural economy was established 6,400 years ago and that agricultural production was the primary subsistence strategy of the region. This is the first time that archaeobotanical evidence has been available to answer certain questions about the region’s agricultural origins.
Rare Stone Age Discovery in Mid-Norway — While excavating in Vinjeøra, Norway, large pieces of flint made it look like the site was that of the first people to settle along the Norwegian coast — migrants from the Iberian Peninsula in roughly 10,000 BCE. But they soon found flint objects with straight and parallel edges, as well as a conical lithic core, all of which made it clear that this was not the technology of this pioneer culture. What they were seeing was evidence from people who came from Finnmark around 1,000 years later and mixed with the culture. Very little evidence of this wave (which was found via DNA) has been discovered until now, so this is an important discovery.
❤️ Recommended Content
Here’s an article detailing why Jerusalem is an archaeologist’s nightmare (and dream) — largely due to reverse stratigraphy, where chronological layers are out of order. It also details the latest finds from 2023 digs.
Here’s a video with an update about the latest void discovered in the Great Pyramid.
We covered a family tree today, so here’s a video about the largest handwritten family tree in the world.
Here’s a video about a team that sailed around the world on a replica of a Polynesian voyaging canoe. There’s no metal used, no motors, no GPS; essentially just wood, rope, and knowledge of the tars.
Here’s a listicle of “proof” that humans have always been childish. I, for one, did not realize that Pythagoras invented a prank wine goblet.
Here’s an article about people using old spy satellite footage to find 10,000 archaeological sites in the Middle East.
And here’s a video about the “alpha male myth”, and how it has been misinterpreted.
There it is! Stay cool if you’ve got a heat wave on your end as well. And thanks for reading!