🧐 Ancient Beat #76: Flower burials, shell dragons, and artifacts that were already relics a thousand years ago
Happy Friday, folks! I’ve got some pretty incredible artifacts for you this week, along with some studies — one of which was a little hard to swallow. 😭
So welcome to issue #76 of Ancient Beat, and here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Offerings of Anthropomorphic Figurines Found at Aztec Templo Mayor — A chest known as a “tepetlacalli” containing 15 anthropomorphic figurines, along with green stone beads, snails, shells, and marine corals, has been discovered in Temple Mayor at the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in Mexico. The figurines are in the Mezcala style, which emerged in the Middle and Late Preclassic (700-200 BCE), meaning that (and I love this part) they were already ancient when Temple Mayor was being built around 1325 CE. According to López Luján, “The figurines were already true relics, some of them more than 1,000 years old, and presumably they served as cult effigies.”
5,500-Year-Old Menhir Discovered in Portugal — A menhir dating to 3500 BCE was excavated in São Brás de Alportel in Portugal. It was originally noted in 2021 by a citizen looking for trilobites. Now known as the Menhir of Monte do Trigo, it is made of polished limestone. Its size and phallic shape are very similar to other Neolithic menhirs erected in the region during the Neolithic period. Menhirs, in general, are thought to have symbolized fertility, and sometimes marked territory, passageways, cattle crossings, etc. It’s not yet clear whether this particular example is part of a larger complex.
Neolithic Shell Dragon Discovered in Inner Mongolia — A shell dragon was discovered in the city of Chifeng, Inner Mongolia. It’s associated with the Neolithic Hongshan culture (4700-2900 BCE), which is also known for jade pig dragons and embryo dragons. It’s 20 centimeters long and consists of several mussel shells. While the jade artifacts mentioned above were deposited in sophisticated ritual edifices and ceremonial grounds, this shell dragon was found in what seems to have been a less advanced settlement.
Missing Topographical Elements of Paleolithic Rock Art Revealed by Stereoscopic Imaging — Using new digital stereoscopic recording methods at La Passiega cave in Cantabria, Spain, researchers have identified previously unnoticed animal figures within known cave art. The figures include horses, deer, and a large bovid (possibly an aurochs). Interestingly, many of the findings were originally thought to be incomplete figures, but it turns out that the artists actually used natural elements of the cave wall to complete the images while giving them a sense of dimensionality. The researchers concluded that Paleolithic rock art should be defined by more than paint and engravings — the topographical features must be considered too.
How Ancient Bee Burrows Led to a Better Understanding of Neanderthals — In the mid-20th century, a fascinating and controversial study found pollen in a Neanderthal burial in Shanidar cave, Iraq. According to the “Flower Burial” hypothesis, this individual was placed on a bed of flowers, either for medical reasons or as a mark of affection/respect. This had a big impact on our view of Neanderthals, which was (and to some extent still is) essentially that they were dumb brutes. Suddenly, with this finding, they were capable of empathy, care, and possibly even spirituality. But a recent analysis concluded that the taxonomically-mixed clumps of pollen that were found in the grave are not consistent with the deposition of whole flowers. Instead, the researchers believe that the pollen was collected and deposited by burrowing bees (which are still found in the cave today) or other animals. 🥺 As someone who loved the Flower Burial hypothesis, that’s a hard pill to swallow, but it adds up. Luckily for me, it’s made easier by the wealth of discoveries that have taken place since then, confirming that Neanderthals were indeed an incredibly capable, creative, and empathetic species. It’s worth noting that unexplained wood fragments were found within more recently discovered Neanderthal remains at the site, so once again, we have hints of grave goods.
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