🧐 Ancient Beat #90: Petroglyphs, geoglyphs, and Scythian quivers made of human leather
Hi folks, I’m back with issue #90 of Ancient Beat! I enjoyed a week with family celebrating my daughter’s birthday (1 year old! 🎉🎉🎉) and then we all caught a bug that wiped us out for another week. 🥴
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Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Archaeologists Find Ancient Native American Calendar on Colorado Border — Numerous petroglyphs have been discovered on the border of Colorado and Utah in the US. The carvings were created by Ancestral Puebloans, who are known as one of the most advanced Pre-Columbian cultures in North America. According to the researchers who discovered the petroglyphs, they had heard hints from locals that there was more to find in less accessible parts of nearby canyons, so they went looking. They found multiple examples on large rock panels located around a large plateau. According to Radoslaw Palonka, “Our findings from the current year completely change our perception of this settlement area in many different aspects. Definitely, we have underestimated the number of inhabitants who lived here in the 13th century and the complexity of their religious practices, which must have also taken place next to these outdoor panels.”
Analysis of Ancient Scythian Leather Samples Shows Two Were Made from Human Skin — Researchers analyzed 45 leather samples from 14 Scythian sites in Ukraine, using paleoproteomics techniques. Two pieces were identified as human skin, confirming (at least in part) Herodotus' writings about Scythian warriors using skin from the right hands of their enemies for their quivers. The human skin was used on the top of the quivers, while the rest was animal skin. This discovery provides a deeper understanding of Scythian culture and their practices, indicating that they crafted their own quivers using materials that were readily at hand. Two notes here. First, the article really nailed it with that “at hand” comment, though I doubt it was intentional 😂. Second, I think it’s safe to assume that there was more significance to the practice than simply having human skin readily available.
Archery Technology Emerged in the Americas 5,000 Years Ago — According to a new study, archery technology in the Americas dates back to around 5,000 years ago, which is about 2,000 years earlier than previously thought. Analyzing 1,179 projectile points from the Lake Titicaca Basin of Bolivia, researchers found a significant decrease in size around 5,000 years ago, suggesting a shift from spear-throwing to bow-and-arrow technology. This coincided with a growing tendency to reside in villages. According to Luis Flores-Blanco, “Based on our discovery, we can suggest that bow-and-arrow technology could have maintained and ensured adherence to emerging social norms that were crucial, such as those observed in the development of new social institutions, like obsidian exchange hubs or among individuals establishing residence in expanding villages.”
Ancient Sahul's Submerged Landscapes Reveal a Mosaic of Human Habitation — New research highlighted Sahul's submerged landscapes, revealing ancient human habitation patterns in Australia and New Guinea. Using high-resolution bathymetric data, the study showed that during the Pleistocene, lower sea levels exposed vast lands, forming an archipelago 71,000-59,000 years ago and a large dry shelf 29,000-14,000 years ago. These areas supported significant human populations, up to 500,000 people on the latter “shelf”, but rapid sea level rises led to profound changes in habitation. The researchers also mentioned that the archipelago probably facilitated the dispersal of the first maritime explorers in the area 60,000+ years ago, which is very cool. The findings emphasize the importance of continental shelves in early human expansions and the impacts of climate change on ancient populations.
Archaeologists Discover Feline and Anthropomorphic Geoglyphs in Ica — 29 geoglyphs have been discovered in the Ica region of Southern Peru. They date to between 300 BCE to 100 CE and relate to the late Paracas and early Nasca periods. The figures include felines and human-like forms. The feline figures, associated with water deities and fertility, measure up to 37 meters long, representing a blend of cultures.
🗞 Ancient News: Deep Dive
Chinese Texts Written on Bamboo Slips Translated — Five sets of bamboo slips from the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE) and Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) have been translated, and they include the earliest multiplication formulas found to date. Two of the texts describe rites and ceremonial etiquette for the meals of a high official. And two discuss a ritual music system that we don’t fully understand, but it includes the five traditional Chinese musical notes. Interestingly, one of these musical texts depicts a pentagram when the bamboo slips are placed together. The final text is about philosophy, and specifically human subjectivity and the relationship between heaven and man. Fascinating stuff - I’d love to read these.
Archaeologists Uncover a Bronze Belt Fitting from an Unknown Pagan Cult — In the village of Lány, Czech Republic, archaeologists from Masaryk University discovered a unique 8th-century CE bronze belt fitting, depicting a snake devouring a frog-like creature. This imagery, found in Germanic, Avar, and Slavic mythology, hints at cosmogonic myths and fertility cult practices. The Avar fitting suggests a previously unknown pagan cult that bridged various cultures before Christianity's rise in the 9th century.
1800-Year-Old Surgical Instruments Found in Zerzevan Castle — Archaeological excavations at Zerzevan Castle in Turkey revealed 1800-year-old surgical instruments near an underground Mithras temple. These tools, including dual-purpose instruments for piercing and cutting, indicate advanced medical practices in this Roman military settlement. The discovery also included findings of a high fortification wall, watch tower, church, and underground shelter.
Fractured Human Bones From Neolithic Tombs in Spain Analyzed — Re-examination of 6,000-year-old bones from Los Zumacales and La Cabaña, two large Neolithic stone tombs in Spain, reveals new insights. Many bones showed signs of being defleshed and fractured at the time of death, including arm bones with "butterfly-shaped" fractures that come from perpendicular force on fresh bone. Until now, the bones were thought to have been manipulated after time had passed. Marks on the bones suggest percussive force and use of stone tools, indicating possible funerary practices like decomposition acceleration or funerary cannibalism.
Mesopotamian Bricks Unveil the Strength of Earth's Ancient Magnetic Field — Researchers used archaeomagnetism to study Mesopotamian bricks inscribed with kings' names. Essentially, they analyzed the magnetic signature in grains of iron oxide embedded in the bricks, revealing changes in Earth's magnetic field strength over time. The technique, along with the inscriptions, have helped in dating artifacts and understanding Earth's magnetic history, including confirming the "Levantine Iron Age Geomagnetic Anomaly" around 1050-550 BCE in modern-day Iraq.
DNA Sleuths Solve Mystery of the 2,000-Year Old Corpse — Archaeologists uncovered a 2,000-year-old Sarmatian skeleton in Cambridgeshire. Originally thought to be a local Roman-British man, DNA analysis revealed his origins from southern Russia, Armenia, or Ukraine. Sarmatians were an Iranian-speaking group known for their horsemanship. Tooth analysis indicated a gradual dietary change from Eastern to Western European foods. This discovery provides the first biological evidence of Sarmatians in Britain, suggesting greater mobility during the Roman period, even in rural areas.
Experts Could Only Find Copies of this Famous 2,175-Year-Old Sculpture Until Now — Archaeologists in Turkey have unearthed the original sculpture of a dancing muse in the ancient city of Stratonikeia. The statue, crafted by the renowned second-century B.C. sculptor Philiskos, was found in the ruins of a Roman bath. Before this, only copies of the statue had been found.
Organic Material Blend Said to Strengthen China’s Great Wall — Researchers have found that sections of China's Great Wall built between 1368 and 1644 were strengthened by a layer of organic materials. The the rammed earth was constructed with clay, sand, and adhesives like lime, all of which apparently support the growth of cyanobacteria, mosses, and lichens. This “biocrust”, in turn, contributes even more to the wall's durability by forming a cohesive network that binds the rammed earth together. The presence of these organisms creates a natural cement, enhancing the wall's resistance to erosion and making biocrust sections up to three times stronger than bare earth ones. Moss improved durability the most.
Hidden Burial Chamber Discovered at Tulum Maya Site in Mexico — Archaeologists found a Maya burial site in Tulum. The tomb, hidden in a cave, held the remains of eight humans and various animals (dogs, deer, tiger sharks, and more), indicating funeral ceremonies. There was also a snail glued on the front wall of the cave.
First High Mountain Settlers at the Start of the Neolithic Already Engaged in Other Livestock Activities Apart from Transhumance — Researchers utilized a combination of carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis and archaeozoological analyses to study the livestock management strategies and feeding practices of early Neolithic high mountain societies in the Pyrenees. They found that they engaged in complex livestock and farming activities beyond transhumance (seasonal cycle of moving grazing lands). According to the study, they adapted their flocks to cave environments, where there were storage structures and evidence of advanced processes with dairy.
Viking Dentistry Was Surprisingly Advanced And Not Unlike Today’s Treatments — The analysis of 3,293 teeth from 171 individuals showed that Vikings suffered from caries and tooth loss, but also attempted advanced dentistry practices comparable to modern techniques. These practices include drilling into infected teeth to alleviate pain and front teeth filing possibly as identity markers. And in case you were wondering, yes, the study did find that Viking used toothpicks. 🤯
Archaeologists Uncover Ancient City of Changgan — Excavations in Nanjing, China, unearthed the ancient city of Changgan. The city, mentioned in Li Bai's "Ballad of Changgan," dates back over 3,000 years to the Shang and Zhou dynasties. The findings included wall foundations, circular trenches for defense, water wells, kilns, and a sacrificial pit, providing valuable insights into the city's history and its inhabitants.
Study Finds Fires of War Overtook Climate-Controlled Fires Along the Eastern Silk Road — A study found that, along the Eastern Silk Road, warfare had a greater impact on fire frequency than climate change. From 2,000–400 years ago, intense fires were more closely aligned with periods of warfare, indicating human activities significantly influenced fire regimes in the region.
Terracotta Figurines Found During Excavations at Pompeii — Archaeologists excavating a domus in Pompeii discovered 13 terracotta figurines, which may relate to the Phrygian story of Cybele and Attis. The figurines, found in a decorated atrium, include a clay rooster head and a glass pine cone, suggesting ritual significance. This find enriches our understanding of religious practices and artistic expressions in ancient Pompeii.
Ancient Statues Unearthed at Ta Prohm Temple in Cambodia's Angkor Park — Archaeologists in Cambodia's Angkor Archaeological Park have discovered six sandstone statues at the Ta Prohm temple. These statues include two Buddha statues sheltered by a Naga, two Buddha statues with damaged heads and hands, an Avalokitesvara deity, and a pediment with a Buddha carving.
Republican-Era Domus Discovered in Rome — A luxurious Roman dwelling, built in three phases from the late 2nd century to the end of the 1st century BCE, has been uncovered in Rome. Thought to have been owned by a noble senator, the domus features a late 2nd-century BCE mosaic with scenes depicting maritime and land battles, possibly reflecting the owner's victories. The structure, likely several stories tall, included a grotto-like banquet room with lead pipes for water effects and a reception room adorned with high-quality white stucco.
2,500-Year-Old Domesticated Yak Identified — A groundbreaking study revealed the earliest known evidence of domesticated yaks: 2,500 years ago. The research, conducted on the Tibetan Plateau, examined over 10,000 mammal bones, identifying domestic cattle, yaks, and hybrids. DNA analysis of five of these bones affirmed the domestication, offering insights into ancient animal domestication pathways. The discovery also underscores the significance of yak-cattle hybrids in providing more meat and milk in challenging environments.
Baths From Diocletian’s Palace Uncovered in Croatia — Roman bath remains were discovered during repair work at the Split City Museum in Croatia. These baths, part of Diocletian's Palace, include a pool, mosaic floors, a furnace with a heating system, and an oil and grape press. Fun fact: Diocletian was born in modern-day Croatia, became emperor in 284 CE, then moved back to Croatia when he abdicated.
2,200-Year-Old Tiles Found in Jerusalem Provide Direct Link to the History of Hanukkah — In Jerusalem's City of David National Park, archaeologists found 16 ancient ceramic roof tiles from the 2nd century B.C., the oldest in Israel. Linked to the Hellenistic period and Antiochus IV Epiphanes, these tiles offer evidence of Seleucid Greek presence in Jerusalem, corroborating the Hanukkah story's historical background. This unique find highlights the influence of foreign construction techniques during Antiochus's invasion.
National Trust Archaeologists Find Medieval ‘Gift Token’ in Norfolk — Archaeologists discovered a medieval token near Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk, dating from 1470 to 1560. Likely given by the church to the poor for food, it features a bishop's head and a long cross. The token, linked to "boy bishops" during Christmas, reflects medieval religious practices and cultural richness, even among the poor.
Archaeologists Find Remnants of Tewkesbury’s Medieval Past — Archaeologists in Tewkesbury, England, uncovered a medieval farmhouse at Cowfield Farm. The site, originally part of a 12th or 13th-century farm, revealed a range of artifacts, including a ceramic meat-dripping tray and a pilgrim badge. The badge, possibly from Mont St Michel, France, depicts the archangel Michael. The finds provide insights into the farm's historical role in cattle farming and its importance to Tewkesbury Abbey.
Centuries-Old Tombs Discovered in South China Metropolis — Over 70 tombs were discovered in Guangzhou, China. They were found near nine ash pits, three wells, seven drainage ditches, and 108 artifacts including pots, bowls, ink slabs, and jars. The tombs date as far back as 265 CE and as recent as the turn of the 20th century.
Revealing Close and Distant Relatives in Ancient DNA with Unprecedented Precision — Researchers have developed a new method called "ancIBD" to identify biological relatives in ancient DNA with unprecedented precision. This tool overcomes the challenge of analyzing degraded ancient genomes by filling gaps with modern DNA references. Applied to 4,248 ancient Eurasian genomes, it identified hundreds of new pairs of relatives, revealing migration patterns and links between ancient cultures over vast distances and times. Excited to see what comes of it!
How Early Farmers In Scandinavia Overcame Climate Change — A study revealed a number of strategies used by Neolithic and Early Bronze Age societies in Scandinavia to cope with warming and cooling periods. These strategies included diversifying crops and modifying housing for long-term food storage. Interestingly, in northern areas, people turned to foraging instead of large-scale farming during cooling periods. According to Magdalena Bunbury, “Rather than intensifying their agricultural pursuits, Arctic Norwegian communities demonstrated strategic acumen by diversifying their economic activities to mitigate risks.”
6,000 Years Ago, Europe's Oldest Cities Relied On Fertilizer And Plant Protein, Isotope - Analysis Shows — A study on the Trypillia societies, which thrived 6,000 years ago in present-day Ukraine and Moldova, revealed they were largely vegetarian, relying on peas and grains for nutrition, probably because meat took too much labor and resources. This early agriculture, coupled with sophisticated food and pasture management, allowed these mega-sites (15,000 inhabitants!) to sustain large populations. Their settlements were meticulously planned, with neighborhoods, meeting houses, and the integration of crop production with stockbreeding. Fun fact: These were the largest settlements in the world at the time.
❤️ Recommended Content
Here’s an article about how ancient peoples dealt with the trauma of war.
I thought this post was neat — the Ancestral Habits account looked at a study about what people do for vacation, and showed that many of the activities were just what we did back in the day. Hanging out on beaches, dancing, relaxing, exploring, hiking, hunting, taking in a good sunset…
Here’s a list of the most impactful archaeological discoveries in 2023.
Here’s an article reviewing the highlights of Southeast Asian archaeology in 2023.
Here’s a list of the top archaeological discoveries in Scotland in 2023.
Here’s an article discussing new research into the “Swiss Stonehenge” — 200 stone cairns at the bottom of Lake Constance. Consisting of 80,000 tons of rock, this is one of the largest prehistoric construction sites in Europe.
Here’s a video about modified human skulls at Göbekli Tepe — this was news to me. The modifications happened after death.
Here’s a photo of the world’s oldest intact carpet. It’s really something!
Here’s an article about the stone walls of New England.
And here’s an article about ancient holiday traditions and how they’ve changed. 🎄
There you have it. Happy holidays everyone!!! We’ll chat again in the new year.