🧐 Ancient Beat #26: Mounds, bipedalism, and the "Welsh Atlantis"
Hi folks, welcome to issue #26 of Ancient Beat! One quick note before we get into it today.
I’ve decided that I’ll try to monetize this newsletter in the near future. There will always be a free tier of Ancient Beat… and soon there may be a paid tier as well. I’m still trying to figure out the specifics, but I wanted to give you a heads up so that there are no surprises. If you have any suggestions or feedback on this, I’m all ears!
Alrighty, here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News
Mounds Identified as Oldest Man-Made Structures in North America — Researchers tested sediment core samples from Mound B at Louisiana State University in the U.S. They found ash from reed and cane plants, as well as burned osteons (small functional units of compact bones), which date the start of the mound’s construction to roughly 8000 BCE. I believe I’m correct in saying that this pushes the date of mound building in North America back by about 4,500 years (Watson Brake is from 3500 BCE). The mound was then apparently abandoned 8,200 years ago at a time when temperatures dropped substantially in the northern hemisphere, and was then reconstructed 6,000 years ago. The crest of the final mound may align with the star known as Arcturus. And the plants that I mentioned were likely burned ceremonially, possibly for animal cremations. I think it’s important to mention here that the vast majority of mounds (I’ve heard as high as 90%) in North America have been plowed or otherwise destroyed over the years, so there are huge holes in the data set.
Map May Confirm the Legend of the Mysterious Lost Sunken Welsh Kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod in the Black Book of Carmarthen — This is a fun one. Cantre'r Gwaelod (AKA the “Welsh Atlantis”) is a legendary lost kingdom which is said to be beneath the waters of Cardigan Bay. In a geographical study that recently made headlines, scientists examined the medieval “Gough Map”, which is the earliest surviving complete map of the British Isles, and noted that it shows two islands off the coast of Wales. According to Simon Haslett, “The Gough Map is extraordinarily accurate considering the surveying tools they would have had at their disposal at that time… The two islands are clearly marked and may corroborate contemporary accounts of a lost land mentioned in the Black Book of Carmarthen.” The Black Book of Carmarthen was written in roughly 1250 CE, about 30 years before the Gough Map was created, and contains the first known mention of Cantre’r Gwaelod. Haslett believes that the Gough Map, along with coordinates that were recorded by Ptolemy, suggests that the coastline was 8 miles farther west than today — and that the legend may be rooted in fact.
Human Ancestors Were Walking Upright 7 Million Years Ago, Ancient Limb Bone Suggests — According to a new study, a 7-million-year-old thighbone and two lower arm bones found in the Djurab Desert of Chad suggest that Sahelanthropus tchadensis walked upright. While the evidence is not conclusive, this would mean that Sahelanthropus tchadensis was walking upright 1 million years before the earliest known bipedal hominin, and that walking upright was one of the first distinguishing traits of our human lineage.
Ancient Site — With a Mysterious Purpose — Emerges from Dry Lake in Europe’s Drought — Last week I covered a complex of standing stones discovered in Spain. Well, here’s one that was recently rediscovered. The Dolmen of Guadalperal can once again be seen due to drought. It is located at the bottom of the Valdecañas reservoir in Spain, where it has (usually) been submerged since the building of a dam in 1963. It consists of 150 granite stones, many of which are engraved, but erosion from the water is causing irreparable damage.
Pottery, swords and jewelry: Rich Stone Age and early medieval graves found in Germany — About 140 graves were found near the Danube River in Germany. Most date to between 500-600 CE, while one dates to the 3rd century BCE. The former contained swords, lances, shields, combs, drinking glasses, and jewelry, while the latter contained pottery. The pottery is decorated by geometric lines created by pressing a cord into the clay, which points to the grave being that of pastoralists called the Corded Ware people — a rare find in southwestern Germany. According to Martin Numberger, “Our Gutmadingen district is probably much older than we previously assumed.”
First Roman Military Amphitheater Discovered in Israel’s Armageddon — This article is a couple of weeks old but it still made the cut. A Roman amphitheater was recently uncovered near the ancient site of Megiddo (AKA Armageddon), and it’s the first of its kind ever found in the Southern Levant. It seems to have been built for the local military base in a depression made by locals digging for clay. Side note: Maybe I’m showing my ignorance here, but did you know that “Armageddon” is an ancient city where the armies of the world were prophesied to gather at the end of times? I always thought it was just a synonym for the apocalypse — shows how much I know!
Humans Lived in the Qal-e Kord Caves 400,000 Years Ago – Oldest Settlement in Iran Found? — The oldest known settlement in Iran was recently discovered in the Qal-e Kord Caves in Qazvin province, with preliminary dating putting it at 400,000 years old. The dating and the stone tools found at the site indicate that the human species might have been Homo heidelbergensis or even Homo erectus. Animal remains were also found, including the bones of horses, deer, brown bears, and rhinoceroses.
Analysis of Everyday Tools Challenges Long-Held Ideas About What Drove Major Changes in Ancient Greek Society — Crete underwent a huge amount of cultural change about 3,500 years ago, which could be traced to the nearby Mycenaean culture. We’re talking new language, economic system, burial customs, clothing, and more. Because of this, along with the destruction of many sites, it was thought that the Mycenaeans invaded. But a new analysis of everyday obsidian tools points to something more complex. The sourcing, creation, and use of the tools indicate that the day-to-day of the Cretans remained as it had been for thousands of years. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an invasion; simply that there was demographic continuity. The researchers believe that the broad cultural changes were due to the strategic alignment of local elites with Mycenaean powers. According to Tristan Carter, “Rather than wholescale cultural change, our study has found evidence of significant continuity after the alleged invasion. While new practices can be initiated through external forces such as invasion, migration, colonialism, or cross-cultural intermarriage, we also know of examples where locals choose to adopt foreign habits to distinguish themselves within their own society.”
Life of Earliest Modern Humans in Europe Revealed by Excavations Conducted in Romania — Românesti is an important site in southeastern Europe because fossils of early Homo sapiens were found with cultural remains, providing us with a window into how they lived. And a recent study may shed new light. The stone bladelets found there are highly standardized and were probably inserted into arrows or spears. Many of them remain unused. And the unusual grindstones which were found may have actually been used to straighten wooden shafts. All of this has led researchers to suggest that Românesti was actually a projectile workshop.
Study of Ancient Skulls Sheds Light on Human Interbreeding with Neanderthals — A new study of the facial structure of prehistoric skulls supports a hypothesis that interbreeding between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals happened primarily in the Near East. After accounting for environmental variables, researchers found that they could use facial features to track the mixing of the populations, and according to Steven Churchill, “Modern Asian populations seem to have more Neanderthal DNA than modern European populations, which is weird—because Neanderthals lived in what is now Europe. That has suggested that Neanderthals interbred with what are now modern humans as our prehistoric ancestors left Africa, but before spreading to Asia… And the evidence shows us that the Near East was an important crossroads, both geographically and in the context of human evolution.”
'Extraordinary' Tunnel Found at Alfred the Great's Resting Place — Archaeologists discovered a rumored water tunnel near Hyde Abbey in Winchester, England. It is thought that the tunnel once supplied water to the refectory, kitchens, and infirmary of the abbey, as well as the latrines of the dormitory. According to Martin Biddle, “The discovery of a sophisticated example of a vaulted channel, probably late medieval, is extraordinary.”
Archaeologists Find a Prehistoric Settlement and Skeletal Remains in Southern Slovakia — A prehistoric site was discovered in Levice, Slovakia. More than 200 items have been examined, dating to several periods, the oldest being about 5000 BCE. They also discovered a ditch and several graves.
Fascinating Discovery – First Female Viking Grave Discovered In Swedish Mountains — A 1,200-year-old brooch was found by a hiker as he was securing his tent in the mountains of Sweden about a year ago. Now, he has reported the find and the site has been excavated. Burned bones were found, suggesting a cremation burial, as was another brooch. It is believed to be a woman’s grave. Only five other Viking graves have been found in the mountains (all men), making this quite rare. Further excavations may take place in a year or so.
Glacial Archaeologists Find Arrow in Melting Ice — The team that found the 1,700-year-old arrow that I covered in issue #12 has struck again. They found another remarkably intact arrow in a melting ice patch in the mountains of Norway. It has an iron arrowhead and dates to 1500 BP, which is pre-Viking.
Receding Water Levels of China's Yangtze Reveal Ancient Buddhist Statues — I’ve covered a number of ancient sites that have been revealed by low water levels lately. Well, here’s another. The Yangtze River’s levels have decreased due to drought and a submerged island has been revealed in Chongqing, China. Three buddhist statues are cut into the bedrock of the island, dating to about 600 years ago. One depicts a monk on a lotus pedestal.
Beverley: Archaeologists Unearth Suspected Medieval Pub in Dig — A large number of pottery beakers and jugs, along with sheep and cattle bones, a knife, chisels, jewelry, and traces of smaller buildings, were found in East Yorkshire, England. Researchers suggest that it is either a pub or a hostelry from the 13th century.
Ancient Idol of Lord Vishnu Found During Excavation, Huge Crowd of Devotees Gather for Darshan — Another statue of Vishnu has been found in India (see issue #24 for the other). While rebuilding a temple, villagers of Patara village came across the idol, which is about a meter tall and half a meter wide.
Burials Discovered in Peru’s Vichama Archaeological Complex — Burials and a possible dwelling were found during excavations at the Vichama archaeological complex in Peru. In the burial bundles, archaeologists found two toads, cotton-working tools, and worked mollusk shells. The toads may have been significant at Vichama, as they decorated some buildings. The grave goods have been dated to 3,800 years ago.
Luxurious 1,200-Year-Old Mansion Found in Southern Israel — A fancy home dating back to the 8th or 9th century has been found in Rahat, Israel. It is built around a courtyard, has four wings, and one section has stone floors and elaborate decorations on the walls. Shards of decorated glass serving dishes and subterranean vaults made of stone were also found.
Archaeologists Find 3,000-Year-Old Artifacts at Popular Tourist Site — Arrowheads, flint tools, an awl made of deer bone, human figurines, and ceramics dating to 1200-600 BCE have been discovered in the Bosque de Chapultepec in Mexico. Also found was a small vessel that still contains traces of cinnabar (a red form of mercury used for decoration). The artifacts had been intentionally broken and exposed to fire. These are the oldest finds at the site, doubling its known age. It’s an unusual find for the period since it is not directly related to a burial zone.
Giant Phallic Carving from Roman Period Found During Excavations in Córdoba — One of the largest phallus carvings of the Roman period was found at the base of a building in the archaeological site of El Higuerón in Spain. It’s nearly half a meter in length. The girth remains undisclosed.
A pre-Hispanic canoe or Wampo burial in Northwestern Patagonia, Argentina — A burial in a wooden structure which is either a wampo (small canoe), or a representation of one, has been discovered in the Patagonian region of Argentina. The belief that the dead must voyage across a body of water by boat to get to their final resting place continues to be held by the area’s Mapuche society today. Fascinating how common that specific belief is across cultures. This is the first such burial found in Argentinian Patagonia and the southernmost example in South America. A grave offering of pottery was also found in the grave, which is characteristic of the Late Pottery period (880 BP).
The Complex of Bilge Kagan and Kultigin’s Father, İlteriş Kagan, Was Found in Mongolia — Results of an excavation in the Ötüken region of Mongolia were announced recently. According to Darhan Kıdırali, “Based on the information obtained from the monument text, it was concluded that the Nomgon complex was dedicated to Kul Tigin and Bilge Kağan’s father, İlteriş Kutluk Kağan, who revived the Göktürk Khanate. It is accepted as the oldest written monument of the Gokturk period, where the name ‘Türk’ was mentioned for the first time.” İlteriş Kagan ruled from 682–691 CE. There is a ditch around the complex, along with the remains of a castle. The site also boasts a stone altar, stone human figures, a lion statue with two cubs, two sheep statues, and a whopping 51 balbal stones.
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These crack me up. Here’s another real 1-star review curated by the onestararchaeology Instagram account. This one is for the site of Takht-e Soleyman in Iran: “It’s too old. Just stone and wall.” 🤣 Some people just don’t get it.
Here’s a recent article about the Egyptian Book of the Dead. I learned a few things from it, including that, according to Foy Scalf, "Probably the most important function of the 'Book of the Dead,' which can only be inferred from indirect evidence, is that it helped to assuage people's fears about the unknowns of death." Honestly, from the little bit that I know of its content, I think it makes death more scary.
Here’s an article sharing a few interesting sites in Kazakhstan that you may not know about (I didn’t).
Here’s an article with curated images of interesting artifacts (among other things) from the ArchaeoHistories Twitter account. I’m seeing quite a few of these objects for the first time which is very cool.
Here’s a timely article about personhood and abortion from a historical perspective, going back to Ancient Greece.
Here’s an interesting article about the Roman superstitions, some of which are still with us today.
I love learning about the mounds of North America — fascinating stuff! As always, let me know your thoughts. 😀
And until next time, thanks for joining me.
(newish twitter: @jamesofthedrum)
P.S. If you like what you’re seeing, please consider sharing it with a friend. It would mean a lot! 🙏