🧐 Ancient Beat #83: 250,000-year-old meet-cutes, stone treasure maps, and highlander Homo erectus
Hi folks! Happy Archaeology Day (tomorrow)! And welcome to issue #83 of Ancient Beat.
To celebrate this little-known day, here’s 30% off a premium subscription that gets you all the latest ancient news in your inbox each week.
Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Humans First Interbred with Neanderthals 250,000 Years Ago — It was thought that Neanderthals and sapiens first met (and mixed) during a migration of sapiens from Africa to Eurasia 75,000 years ago. But according to a recent study, Neanderthals already carried sapiens DNA as far as 250,000 years ago. According to the researchers, the interactions must have taken place in Eurasia, because the sapiens DNA that was detected in Neanderthal remains originated from sub-Saharan Africa, and there is no evidence of Neanderthal activity there. This is significant because it means that there was likely an earlier migration out of Africa, and it was a large enough group to leave a genetic trace. Some Neanderthal DNA was also found in sub-Saharan Africa, indicating that descendants of the migration may have gone back at some point before 75,000 years ago.
A 15th-Century French Painting Depicts an Ancient Stone Tool — This one’s kinda neat. These days, folks are fascinated by the Acheulean handaxes that were used by our ancestors 500,000 years ago, but this fascination is not a new thing; the handaxes have been referred to as “thunderstones shot from the clouds” and have been discussed in texts going back to the mid-1500s. Well, an Acheulean handaxe has been identified in a famous painting from about a century earlier in 1455. The painting is “The Melun Diptych” by Jean Fouquet, and it depicts Étienne Chevalier with Saint Stephen, with the latter holding the New Testament with a stone — apparently a handaxe — on it. The stone symbolizes the death by stoning of Saint Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr. The researchers analyzed the shape, color, and number of flake scars and compared their findings to handaxes that had been discovered in France. They found that it was a match.
How a Bronze Age Rock Became a 'Treasure Map' for Researchers — The 4,000-year-old Saint-Belec slab is an engraved stone that was discovered in France around 1900, before being lost until 2014. In 2021, it was hailed as Europe’s oldest map and now, archaeologists are using the map to find other archaeological sites. Pretty cool, if you ask me. They’ve been able to match it with modern maps, though some geometric symbols are still a mystery. And there are tiny hollows which the researchers believe could indicate something like burial mounds or dwellings. If they’re right about that, the map could lead to big finds. Their first step is to better contextualize the slab by digging where it was originally discovered, and they’ve already found portions of the slab that broke off and were used as building material — probably after the kingdom that it depicted fell.
New Dating of Cave Art Reveals History of Puerto Rican People — Researchers re-dated pictographs in the karstic caves of Puerto Rico. They found that the oldest pictographs, which featured abstract geometric shapes, were created between 700 and 400 BCE. This is important because it’s very different from what colonists documented when they arrived in Puerto Rico, which was that the population had only been there for 400-500 years. In addition to the abstract pictographs, depictions of humans were drawn between 200 and 400 CE, and again between 700 and 800 CE. And interestingly, they also found a depiction that looks like a lion (there aren’t any lions in Puerto Rico). It’s from around 1500 CE, and the researchers believe it’s the first art created by enslaved Africans in the caves of Puerto Rico. The re-dating effectively pushes back the date of the peopling of Puerto Rico.
Two Million Years Ago, This Homo Erectus Lived the High Life — Researchers have analyzed a 2-million-year-old fossilized jaw and teeth that were found 40 years ago at the Melka Kunture complex of the Ethiopian highlands. The remains were originally dated to 1.7-1.8 million years ago, but this new study pushes that back by a couple of hundred thousand years. The researchers also identified the remains as being from Homo erectus. If they’re right about that, these would be the first known remains of the species in East Africa — but not everyone is convinced. The discovery means that our ancestors were not confined to the warmer African lowlands as was once thought. Highland conditions would have been cooler and more rainy, with very different vegetation. And the researchers noticed a quick shift from Oldowan stone tool technology to the more advanced Acheulean, suggesting a quick adaptation to the high-altitude environment. According to Richard Potts, “Not only is it bipedal, not only does it make and depend upon stone tools, but it’s also moving into all sorts of non-tropical environments. Here we are really dealing with the makings of who we became.”
That’s it for the free Top 5! If you’re a free subscriber, sign up for the paid plan for another 25 stories and 10 recommended pieces of content covering Neanderthal fires, burnt scrolls, Roman recycling, seafood, Sahara groundwater, a couple of stunning treasure hoards, cannabis, cycles of violence, and the most pivotal historians of our time.
Until next time, thanks for joining me!
P.S. If you like what you’re seeing, please consider forwarding it to a friend. It would mean a lot! 🙏
P.P.S If you want access but it’s a little too steep for you right now, just email me — I want this to be accessible.
P.P.P.S. Paid members, read on!