It's true! The Mayans liked to get clean, by sweating. And archaeologists may have discovered a new, very old, steam bath. A team of researchers have uncovered a stone structure at Guatemala’s Maya site of Nakum that may have served as the foundation of a steam bath as early as 700 BCE. The excavators first discovered the entrance to a tunnel carved out of rock in an area of the site surrounded by temples, pyramids, and palaces. Like some modern-day Indiana Joneses, they followed the tunnel down a set of stairs, to a second tunnel, which ends in a rectangular room with rock-cut benches. An oval hearth in the wall opposite the entrance to the room is thought to have been used to heat large stones. Just pour on water - and voila! A steam bath! The structure was deliberately and completely sealed with mortar and rubble around 300 BCE. Maybe steam baths went out of fashion?
Did You Know Ancient Greeks Invented Flamethrowers?
(We think.) The first recorded example of military flamethrowing appears in Greek historian Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War between Athens ad Sparta in 431 to 404 BCE.
During the Battle of Delium in 424 BCE, the Athenians were surrounded and dug in at a fort made of wood and vines. Rather than wait them out, the Spartans hollowed out a great wooden log, lined it with an iron pipe, filled it with a smoldering mixture of coal, sulfur, and pitch. They attached a giant bellows to the Spartan end of the pipe, and were able to blow and burn down the Athenians’ fort. After this, it appears the Spartan invention became a standard weapon in war.
Gold was probably the first metal to be exploited in the Andes, by the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. From there, the archaeological record suggests goldworking then traveled north, reaching Central America in the first centuries CE, and Mexico by about 1000 CE.
This particular necklace is from the Chavin Civilization, which developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from about 900 BCE to about 200 BCE. That sounds old, but relatively speaking, that is not old at all. Gold had already been mined and worked in the Andes for a thousand years when the Chavin arrived on the scene.
What Textiles Tell Us About Ancient Italy and Greece
In the ancient world, textiles were a valuable commodity, because every piece of cloth had to be made by hand. Clothing was important economically. Early Bronze Age Linear B tablets from the Aegean Sea document the careful attention given to managing textile production, and on the other side of the globe, the Incan Empire levied tribute in textiles. Unfortunately, clothing and the cloth they are made form tend not to survive in the archaeological record. They often have to be studied indirectly, by examining the scraps of textile that survive in the extremes of arid or waterlogged conditions, and comparing the scraps to visual or sculptural records of clothing. Recent frozen discoveries from the retreating glaciers of the Alps offer new insight into ancient Greek and ancient Roman textiles.
Iron Age Italians seem to have favored a weave known as a twill. When colors are used, they will create neat diagonal patterns (most notably in the modern tweed). Currently, the earliest known examples of twills are from Hallstatt in Austria. The Italians likely shared textile production preferences with their northern European neighbors, placing the Romans firmly in the European textile tradition.
In Greece, a form of weave known as a tabby was the most popular. It is considered the simplest type of textile available, when in purest form: horizontal and vertical threads repeatedly pass over and under each other. The ancient Greeks favored a particular type of tabby, however, where the horizontal threads were beaten into the weave so hard that the vertical strands become near-invisible. It is perfect for bold blocks of color, and can make more varied designs than just diagonals; such a technique has been used to produce spectacular tapestries and Turkish carpets. Early examples of this tabby have been found in ancient Ur, in Iraq, and in Turkey. Twill weaves have notably not been found in ancient Greece or in the ancient Near East. That situates the Greeks in the Eastern textile tradition, relatively uninfluenced by their northwestern neighbors.
By looking at their textiles, then, we can tell that Iron Age Italy and ancient Greece were culturally in two different spheres. Italy took after its European neighbors, while Greece took after the Near East. They were a small example of the wider break between East and West.
Intriguing Ritual Burial Found From Pre-Classic Mexico
Found in southern Mexico City, it is a burial unlike any other we know of. Ten interlocking skeletons of various ages and genders were laid to rest, arranged in a spiral shape. Some hold ceramic spheres and stones in their hands and the grave also contains various sizes of ceramic vessels, that presumably once contained grave goods. It is the largest single burial from the Valley of Mexico.
Laid to rest in a pit about 6 feet (2 meters) wide, they were most likely interred at the same time, sometimes between 500 and 400 BCE. Archaeologists think they were buried at the same time because the arms of one person were placed under the spine of another, suggesting they were deliberately arranged. Plus, that spiral.
So far, three of the ten remains have been sexed: two women, one man. There also appears to be a range of ages. While most on first analysis are young adults, there is at least one more mature adult, a child between 3 and 5 years old, and an infant just a few months old. Some of the skeletons, though not all, also show cranial deformations and dental mutilations, which are known to have been practiced in other Mesoamerican cultures including the Maya and Inca.
Cemetery, In Use For Thousands of Years, Excavated in Albania
An ancient cemetery containing layers of about 1,000 burials dating back to the Iron Age has been found in southeastern Albania. The cemetery was actually three cemeteries: one from the Iron Age, one late Roman, and one from the Middle Ages. And under the bottom layer of the cemetery were what appears to be a Neolithic settlement. Archaeologists found holes in the ground, which supported the now-rotted wooden skeletons of small huts.
This beautiful Corinthian helmet was found in the burial of several Greek warriors on the Taman Peninsula. Dating to the 400s BCE, it completely covers the head and neck. It is extremely rare to find one in modern excavations. This style of helmet is mostly known from ancient statues, like those of Athena or the statesman Pericles.
The warriors likely fought for the Bosporan Kingdom, a Greek state founded around 480 BCE, that included the Taman Peninsula and parts of Crimea. An archaeologist working on the site speculated that the warriors died together in the same battle. Perhaps fighting nearby nomadic tribes? But they were remembered not just as warriors -- one of the men was buried with his harp.
The birthplace of plant domestication in the Americas. The first New World country to gain independence from the Spanish Empire. The eleventh-largest country in the world, by population. Like the United States, Russia, and China, this is a country that any informed citizen should have at least a basic knowledge about.
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By Lillian Audette
This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!