This hand-crafted figure portrays a spirit being, or perhaps a shaman in spirit form, ready to battle supernatural forces. Given the shape of the shaman and the long walkway behind the shaman, it is likely a snuff tray! This artifact comes from the Jama-Coaque culture (in what is today Ecuador). The Jama-Coaque's religious figures are believed to have engaged in shamanic transformations. These spiritual events were aided by psychoactive plants that they ground into a fine powder, then ingested as a snuff, from trays like this one. Circa 300 BCE to 600 CE.
North-western Syria has about seven hundred "Dead Cities" or "Forgotten Cities." They include villages, towns, and some cities that were mainly abandoned between the 700s and 900s CE. Because they rest in an elevated area of limestone known as the Limestone Massif, which gets relatively little rain, the settlements are more or less still at surface level and well-preserved. There are three main groups of highlands on the Massif, each with their own Dead Cities. They provide us with insight into what life was like for prosperous agriculturalists in Late Antiquity and the Byzantine period.
The Dead Cities became a massive UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, although they have been largely inaccessible since 2013.
Using photogrammetry and light cast from different angles, researchers have been recording and attempting to read eroded glyphs at the Maya city of Coba. The city once flourished in the northern lowlands of the Yucatan Peninsula. After ten years of work, the researchers have identified the names of 14 rulers who governed the city from about 500 to 780 CE. This allows modern researchers to begin reconstructing a political timeline of the city. When was it powerful? When did it fight other cities? For instance the glyphs document a Lady Yopaat, who is thought to have increased the power and influence of the city during her 40-year reign in the early 600s.
Researchers have detected traces of smooth sumac, or Rhus glabra, in the residues left in 1,400-year-old pipes unearthed in central Washington state, using a new technology that can detect thousands of plant compounds. Traces of a species of tobacco plant not currently grown in the region were also detected in the pipes. The smooth sumac may have been mixed with tobacco and used for its medicinal properties. Or simply to make the tobacco taste better. This study also analyzed a pipe used after contact with Europeans began in the area. It had residue containing a tobacco plant grown by Native Americans living on the East Coast. This is slightly surprising, as it had previously been thought that plants grown by Europeans quickly took over post-contact trade in tobacco. The evidence from the West Coast suggests that Native American growers remained in demand longer than previously thought.
The rare remains of an Avar warrior dating to the late 600s or early 700s CE have been found in a walled tomb in eastern Croatia, near the site of the Roman city of Cibalae. While Avars were known to have been in the area, this is the first Avar grave found. The Avars were Eurasian nomads who arrived in Europe in the 500s CE, at the invitation of the Byzantine emperor, and conquered the other nomadic tribes in the region to become the dominant group. Archaeologist Anita Rapan-Papeša explained “When we observe the walled grave we have discovered, it turns out that Avars saw how Romans were buried so they made their own copies of Roman graves.” Rapan-Papeša and her team members also unearthed a grave in the cemetery that contained the remains of an Avar warrior, his horse, and bridle ornaments.
In A.H. 77–79/697–99 CE, the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan reformed Islamic coinage. He stopped using the styles of coins, with heads on one side and an image on the other, inherited from Byzantium and Sasanian Iran. Instead coins were decorated only with Arabic writing. Typically, the Muslim profession of the faith would appear in the field on the obverse, with the name of the mint in the margin. On the reverse of copper coins, the field would contain the name of the Prophet Muhammad, while the caliph’s name or that of a local ruler and the date would appear in the margin. The result was that coinage from the Islamic world took on a distinctive look and set of standard practices.
Coal miners in eastern Serbia discovered three boats in what may have been a branch of the Danube River some 1,300 years ago. The site where the vessels were uncovered is near the ancient Roman city of Viminacium, which fell to invaders around 600 CE.
The largest of the three boats had a flat bottom, a single deck, at least six pairs of oars, fittings for a triangular sail, and measured about 49 feet long. It would have carried a crew of 30 to 35 sailors. The ship apparently had a lengthy career: traces of repairs to the hull suggest a well-used ship, which incurred wear and tear over its journeys. The two smaller boats were carved from single tree trunks, and are thought to have been made by Slavic peoples for crossing the river.
No signs of battle damage have been found on the boats, and no artifacts were left behind by the crews. Since the largest ship was built with Roman techniques, it is possible the boat dates to the Roman period, but those methods of construction may have continued to be used during the Byzantine and medieval periods as well, making dating tricky. Wood samples from preserved nearby oak trees have been sent for radiocarbon dating -- but covid-19 has prevented analyses from moving forward.
It was previously thought that before 800 CE, conflict between Maya population centers was low-risk and ritualized. Sacred sites would be vandalized and high-status hostages taken. But the people and their cities would largely be left alone. It was only later, due to growing socioeconomic tensions, that warfare became more dangerous and inflicted greater human loss.
But recent analyses of lake sediment cores near the ancient city of Witzna, in northern Guatemala, is challenging this view of Maya conflict. The core analyses showed a massive fire took place around 700 CE. All the major structures of the city were destroyed by the fire, even the royal palace.
A hieroglyphic war stela at nearby population center Naranjo states that on May 21st, 697 CE, Naranjo subjected Witzna to “puluuy.” It was previously thought that the word puluuy meant a local fire ritual. Just a little ritualized conflict that hurt no one. The evidence from the lake sediments redefines the word. Witzna was inflicted with a puluuy which hurt its citizens and destroyed its buildings. The Naranjo stela describes four other cities as having been subjected to puluuy. This suggests that Mayans practiced total warfare, with great human cost, earlier and more frequently than previously thought.
Researchers have recently uncovered a Maya site in southeastern Mexico that may have been the capital of Sak Tz’i’, a kingdom mentioned in inscriptions uncovered at other Maya sites, and looted artifacts which turn up on the market. Such clues were used in the early 2000s to model the hypothetical boundaries of Sak Tz'i' territory and the likely location of its capital. And recent archaeological work involving locals and building on the model has found a site filled with Sak Tz'i' monuments.
Translated as “white dog,” Sak Tz’i’ was a small state founded in 750 BCE and surrounded by more powerful states. The city was protected on one side by steep-walled streams, while masonry walls were built around the rest of the site. But these defenses were likely insufficient. So the researchers suspect the city’s leaders must have engaged in political maneuverings with the kingdom’s stronger neighbors in order to survive for more than 1,000 years.
The team members have found evidence of pyramids, a royal palace, a ball court, sculptures, and inscriptions describing rituals, battles, a mythical water serpent, and the dance of a rain god. Current archaeological work focuses on stabilizing and mapping the site.
An international team of researchers examined the ratios of stable nitrogen and carbon isotopes in collagen and dental enamel samples obtained from the remains of some 130 individuals who were buried in Mongolia between 4500 BCE and 1300 CE. The analysis suggests that during the Bronze Age, the Mongolian diet was based on milk and meat and supplemented with local plants. From about the 200s BCE to the late first century CE, during the Xiongnu Empire, some people continued to eat the Bronze Age animal-based diet, while those living in political centers began to eat more millet-based diets. Grain consumption and thus the practice of agriculture appears to have continued to increase into the period of the Mongolian Empire of the Khans. Empires based in Mongolia thus presided over a mixed population of both pastoralists and farmers. Their varied food strategies gave the empires strength in diversity.