🧐 Ancient Beat #50: A new corridor in the Great Pyramid, a new Moai on Rapa Nui, and a shift in the prehistoric narrative
Hi folks, welcome to issue #50 of Ancient Beat! Big happenings in the ancient world this week, so let’s get right into it. Here’s the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Scientists Reveal Hidden Corridor in Great Pyramid of Giza — I don’t know about you, but I’ve been eager to hear more from the Scan Pyramids project for years. Well, they finally made an announcement... But first a little context. Back in 2016 and 2017, the Scan Pyramids project used infrared thermography, ultrasound, ground-penetrating radar, cosmic-ray muon radiography, and other techniques to reveal voids within the Great Pyramid — voids which were likely unknown rooms and corridors. One of the voids was small and located behind the lower two chevron stones on the north face of the pyramid, but it was dismissed by many. Yesterday, it was announced that this “small” void is in fact a 30-foot corridor, roughly 6 feet wide and 6 feet tall. And not only did they confirm this with various fancy methods, but they were able to see inside it with an endoscope as well (see image). While I’m sure we’d all love to think that this was a walkway to a chamber filled with artifacts, it does seem to have a dead end, and the stone is rough-hewn, so it’s likely that it was used to redistribute weight, possibly for the descending passageway or some unknown space, similar to the relieving chambers above the King’s Chamber. But this, in itself, is exciting, as it sheds light on the construction of the pyramid. It may even point us to another unknown feature. Mostafa Waziri said, “We're going to continue our scanning so we will see what we can do ... to figure out what we can find out beneath it, or just by the end of this corridor.” And one other exciting thing is that muon technology has now proven to be effective in the context of the pyramid. So we can be pretty certain that those other voids are legit. So what the heck are they? For more information, imagery, and video, check out this video.
Archaeologists on Easter Island Have Discovered a Previously Unknown Moai Statue Buried in a Dried-Out Lake Bed — When I was a kid, Rapa Nui (AKA Easter Island) fascinated me. It’s a site that really sparked my love of the ancient world. And it continues to fascinate me, so I was really excited to hear that a new Moai statue has been discovered buried in a recently dried-up lakebed hidden by tall reeds. This has stirred up a lot of excitement about the possibility of other unknown Moai. The smaller (but still quite large) statue has not yet been excavated, but here’s a short clip with more info and imagery.
Steel Was Already Being Used in Europe 2,900 Years Ago, Shows Study — A new study tells us that steel tools were in use in Europe 2,900 years ago, long before we thought possible. According to the researchers, Bronze-Age stone stelae on the Iberian peninsula have complex engravings that could only have been done with tempered steel. They backed up their assumption with experimental trials with different metals on the stone. Furthermore, the analysis of an iron chisel from the same period, found at Rocha do Vigio, shows that it consists of carbon-rich steel. Until now, it was thought that no one in Europe produced quality steel until well into the Iron Age. And it only became widespread under the Roman Empire. According to Araque Gonzalez, “The chisel from Rocha do Vigio and the context where it was found show that iron metallurgy including the production and tempering of steel were probably indigenous developments of decentralized small communities in Iberia, and not due to the influence of later colonization processes. This also has consequences for the archaeological assessment of iron metallurgy and quartzite sculptures in other regions of the world.”
Archaeologists Unearth 1,200-Year-Old Wari Temple Complex — A Wari ritual complex with a D-shaped temple, patio-group architecture, supporting buildings, and a monumental platform have been discovered at the site of Pakaytambo in Peru. The site is situated on a key prehistoric transit route. The Wari Empire was in power in the central Andes and coastal areas of Peru from 600-1000 CE. According to David Reid, “One of the most effective ways of bringing people into the empire was through shared beliefs and religious practices. Open plaza spaces associated with the temple complex at Pakaytambo would have allowed local communities to participate in ritual gatherings organized by the Wari.” This is the first evidence of an imperial presence in the region and should shed light on how the Wari strengthened state authority through public ritual and performance.
Ancient DNA Upends European Prehistory — A new genomic study is responsible for a number of interesting finds. 1) Many of you will be familiar with the Gravettian, an archaeological industry from about 33,000 years ago that looks very much like a single culture ranging from Spain to western Russia. Well, a new study of 116 newly sequenced genomes (and hundreds of previously sequenced genomes) has found that Gravettians in France and Spain were genetically distinct from those living in the Czech Republic and Italy. According to Mateja Hajdinjak, “What we thought was one homogenous thing in Europe 30,000 years ago is actually two distinct groups.” Beyond the significance of this to our prehistoric narrative, it is significant because it shows once again that assumptions made about cultural units in archaeology aren’t always accurate. 2) The study confirmed that humans, including the Gravettians, migrated to southern Europe, and in particular the Iberian Peninsula and the south of France, during the last ice age when glaciers covered much of Northern Europe (26,000 to 19,000 BP). Interestingly, though, in the Italian Peninsula, which was thought to have been another refuge, the Gravettian population completely disappeared. And after the glacial maximum, people in Italy had genetic links with the Near East, indicating that a population arrived from the Balkans. 3) The study found that 14,000 years ago, when temperatures rose sharply over a few centuries, cultural changes that were thought to be those of an existing population adapting to the changing climate and ecosystem were actually due to a near-complete population replacement. The Magdalenians nearly vanished and were replaced by populations from Italy. And 4) Despite similar lifestyles, hunter-gatherers in Western Europe 10,000 years ago were actually genetically distinct from those east of the Baltic sea, and they did not mix at all between 14,000 and 8,000 years ago, despite a lack of geographic barriers, which is very unusual. The researchers note, however, that they lack data from likely contact zones. About the study as a whole, Jennifer French said, “This genetic data shows we’ve oversimplified what was going on in terms of population interaction. It provides a lot more nuance than we’ve been able to with archaeological data alone.”
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