Prehistoric Prince Victim of Earliest-Known Political Assassination
In 1877, archaeologists found one of the richest European troves from the Early Bronze Age buried under the Leubinger mound in Germany. Belonging to the Unetice culture, the mound centers around the burial of a man who died around 1940 BCE, nicknamed the "Prince of Helmsdorf." A modern re-examination of his skeleton suggests he may have died by assassination!
In 2002, scientists inspecting the prince's remains “identified injury”, but were unable to present conclusive evidence that he had been murdered. In December 2018 it was announced that new inspection using the latest technology had found three clear injuries. The man was likely stuck more than three times -- these three were just the ones that would mark bones.
The attacker wielded a dagger with a blade of at least 15 centimeters (just under 6 inches). The killer stabbed the prince in the stomach and the spine, and given the penetration of the thrusts, the victim was either pinned against the wall or lying on the floor. These two injuries would have been enough to kill him on their own, because they would have severed arteries, leading to certain death. The prince was also stabbed above and behind the collar bone. It would have split his shoulder blade, seriously injuring his lungs and the important veins in the area. The researchers noted that this was the place Roman gladiators would set their death blow. The prince was attacked deliberately, likely by someone with experience in such things, because each wound was well-placed to kill him.
The earliest prosthetic eye is nearly 5,000 years old! Found in a six-foot-tall female skeleton, interred in the Burnt City, an ancient city in southeastern Iran. Shaped like a half-sphere, it appears to be made of natural tar mixed with animal fat, covered in a thin layer of gold, and engraved with a circular iris with gold lines like sun rays inside. Not exactly a convincing fake. But it was not meant to deceive, we think, but glitter and catch the light.
Holes on both sides of the eye likely held the eyeball in place. And we know it was used, not just added after death: microscopic studies of the skeleton’s eye socket show the prosthetic eye was worn while the woman was alive.
Recently documented images carved into rocky hilltops in the Konkan region of western India are suggestive of a previously unknown civilization. And these aren't just a handful of rock carvings. There are at least 200, dating to around 10,000 BCE, and featuring a range of designs. Animals, birds, geometric shapes, and human figures have all been found. Most of the rock carvings were hidden by centuries of soil and water. Others are well-known to locals and even considered holy. It will be exciting to hear what researchers discover about them!
Civilization, as we understand it today, arose in Peru in the harsh Atacama Desert. In this it was unique of the first civilizations. The first ancient civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus River Valley, and China were all based around major rivers and the fertile valleys the rivers flowed through. The Norte Chico of Peru also relied on rivers, but they had to create their fertile valleys, using widespread irrigation. The Norte Chico are also the only known "first civilization" to rely heavily on seafood. Their cities show significant marine remains, both at coastal and inland cities, which has led archaeologists to theorize that their main protein source was the sea.
Caral was the most ancient city of the Norte Chico (we think). Located in the Supe Valley, at its peak between 2500 and 2000 BCE the city boasted a population of more than 3,000, with large plazas and a temple complex to an unknown deity. Norte Chico cities have been found in the Supe Valley, the Fortaleza, the Pativilca, and a bit further south the Huaura River. Archaeological studies suggest Caral's layout was the inspiration for other cities, supporting Caral's status as the first city to have been built.
Between 300 BCE and 300 CE, prehistoric Japanese people buried their dead in jars. The pottery jars would vary in size, and the quality of grave goods placed in or around the jars would denote upper- from lower-class citizens. Older burials are deeper (which makes sense) and newer burials are closer to the surface.
Ancient Incantation Describes Ancient Magico-Medical Cure
A 2,800-year-old stone cosmetic container inscribed with an incantation in Aramaic has been discovered at a small building at the archaeological site of Zincirli, in southern Turkey. It describes the capture of a threatening "devourer" who could produce "fire." The devourer's blood is used to treat a man who is suffering from the devourer's fire. It's not clear whether the blood was given to the afflicted person in a potion that could be swallowed or whether it was smeared onto their body. Either way, its an example of early medicine, or perhaps something closer to magic.
The container is decorated with various animals, including centipedes, fish, and scorpions on the front and back. They offer a further clue as to the identity of the "devourer" - possibly a scorpion or centipede. The archaeologists who made the discovery report that scorpions were a danger at the site, some 2,800 years after the incantation was first written there.
One last note: in a stroke of incredible luck, the writer identifies themselves! The incantation was written by a man who practiced magic called "Rahim son of Shadadan."
Around the world today, there are about 440 living languages that descend from an original Indo-European mother tongue. Where that mother tongue, Proto-Indo-European, originated is debated. The Kurgan hypothesis says that Indo-Europeans were associated with the Yamna culture on the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, north of the Black and Caspian Seas. From there, the Kurgan hypothesis says, they spread with the domestication of horses beginning around 6,000 years ago. The steppe nomads used the new-fangled horse technology to conquer non-horse people, basically. The Anatolian hypothesis -- also called the Renfrew hypotheis -- thinks that Proto-Indo-European originated in Anatolia. What is today Turkey. The Anatolian hypothesis says the language began spreading out much earlier than the Kurgan hypothesis, roughly 9,500 to 8,000 years ago, and that the migrations were peaceful instead of horse-enabled conquests.
Recent genetic analyses think the hypotheses may not contradict each other after all. People of the Kurgan steppe region, genetically, descended at least in part from migrants from the Middle Eastern Neolithic who immigrated to the steppe from Anatolia. Was there an early migration to the steppe? Did that first migration's descendants eventually fan out across Europe, the Middle East, and India? More research is needed.
One thing archaeology can definitely tell us: Proto-Indo-European is tied with Neolithic migrations and the agricultural revolution. It definitely did not expand before then.
Lake Turkana, which is mostly in Kenya, is the largest permanent desert lake in the world. It has sheltered humanity since the first homonids learned to walk. A female australopithecus anamensis fossil found here in 1994 lived around 4.2 and 3.9 million years ago. Researchers were surprised to realize she had walked on two feet. It was a huge discovery at the time, because it meant hominids developed bipedalism earlier than previously thought.
And near the lake, in 1984, a homo erectus fossil who lived 1.5 to 1.6 million years ago was found. Examinations suggested he had been a boy, just 8 or 9 years old, when he died. He remains the most complete hominid skeleton found to date.
The oldest evidence — from some 3,500 years ago — for humans ingesting nutmeg has been detected on pottery sherds from Pulau Ay in the Banda Islands in Indonesia. It remains unclear whether neolithic humans were using nutmeg for its fruit, as a spice to flavor food, or for medicinal purposes.
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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!