🧐 Ancient Beat #51: Early horseback riding, Wari pigment propaganda, and the longevity of cities
Hi folks! Welcome to issue #51 of Ancient Beat. Before we get started, a quick (and pretty hilarious) retraction from last week’s issue:
I covered a potsherd that included the first inscription of Darius the Great ever found in Israel. Well, it turns out it wasn’t what it seemed. Apparently, an expert on Aramaic scripts was demonstrating to her students how sherds were inscribed. So she scratched this into an existing sherd at the site, then left it behind. Lo and behold, a hiker “discovered” it not long after and everyone went nuts. 😂 The Israel Antiquities Authority has issued a statement taking responsibility for the muck-up. No word on just how bummed that hiker is right now.
Ok, ready to learn cool things? Let’s dive right into the latest ancient news. 👇
🗞 Ancient News: Top 5
Archaeologists Find Evidence that Horseback Riding Began at Least 5,000 Years Ago — The earliest direct evidence of horseback riding was discovered in central Europe, indicating that the practice dates to at least 5000 years ago. Researchers examined 200 Bronze-Age skeletal remains looking for signs of riding, including telltale marks on hip sockets, thigh bones, and the pelvis. Of the 200 individuals, five were likely riders. These riders apparently belonged to a people called the Yamnaya, a fascinating culture that you might remember me touching on in issues #27 and #48. According to Alan Outram, “There is earlier evidence for harnessing and milking of horses, but this is the earliest direct evidence so far for horseback riding.” The researchers note that the Yamnaya were responsible for the spread of Indo-European languages and “reshap[ing] the genetic makeup of Europe” — horseback riding likely had a big impact on both. But it’s important to note that very few of the Yamnaya actually rode.
Archaeological Study Reveals that Collective Forms of Governance, Infrastructural Investments, and Collaboration All Help Societies Last Longer — A new study examined 24 ancient cities in Mexico to understand what helped certain cities to last longer than others. The researchers looked at a number of data points, from public architecture to economies to how rulers were depicted (hint: rulers depicted as larger-than-life were usually despotic societies while leaders who were masked or depicted in groups tended to share power). It turns out that the longest-lasting cities showed signs of collective forms of governance as opposed to autocracies and despotic societies. They also showed signs of infrastructural investments (e.g. central open plazas) and cooperation between households (e.g interconnected residential spaces) early on.
‘Startling’ New Evidence Reveals Gladiators Fought in Roman Britain — A vase from the 2nd century CE that depicts gladiatorial combat was discovered in Colchester, England in 1853. New analysis shows that it was made of local clay and the inscription bearing the names of two gladiators was added before firing rather than afterward as had originally been assumed. This indicates that the names were part of the original design, so it was not created as a generic representation of gladiators. Therefore, the researchers reason that the event likely took place in Colchester. According to Frank Hargrave, “It’s the only evidence of a Roman arena gladiator combat actually being staged in Britain. There are no written descriptions. The vase is such high quality that there’s been a bit of snobbery, an assumption that it couldn’t possibly have come from Britain, whereas all the analysis has now put that to bed.” The vase shares the story of two gladiators — the winner bears a name that indicates that he was likely from Africa. The owner of the vase who, for one reason or another, chose to commemorate the fight, was later buried with it.
Colors on these Ancient Pots Hint at the Power of an Empire — A new study compared the colors of ancient Peruvian potsherds and found that the Wari empire used a distinctive black pigment for ceramics that were used in rituals. The exact formulation of the pigment varied slightly, but overall, it was very similar from site to site, indicating that there was a “correct” black pigment that the Wari wanted everyone to use. The researchers take this as a sign of the empire’s influence. Some sites even had different recipes for black pigments which were then changed when the Wari came into power. Interestingly, though, what was depicted with the pigment varied from place to place. According to Muro Ynoñán, “In general in the Andean region, the color black is related to the ancestors, to the night, to the passage of time. In Wari times, the color was likely important for imposing a specific Wari ideology to the communities they conquered.” I covered the Wari culture briefly in the previous issue, and interestingly, that story was also about the empire’s influence.
Early Reference to Norse God Identified on Gold Disc in Denmark — A runologist has discovered the first known reference to the Norse god, Odin, providing the first solid piece of evidence that Odin was worshipped at least as early as the 5th century CE. It is on an ornamental pendant known as a bracteate which shows the face of a man on it. Above the man, the runes apparently say, “He is Odin’s man.” The bracteate was part of the 1,500-year-old Vindelev hoard that was found in Denmark in 2020.
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