Category: Prehistory

Etruscans Found in Sardinia

Italian authorities announced in 2018 that the first-ever Etruscan settlement has been discovered in Sardinia. The site dates to the 800s BCE and was strategically situated on the small island of Tavolara. It was likely intended to facilitate trade between Early Iron Age Sardinian Nuraghic communities, known to have inhabited Sardinia at the time, and Etruscan cities nearby on the Italian mainland. There had been extensive archaeological evidence of Etruscan-Nurghic exchanges, but this is the first evidence of an expatriate Etruscan community in Sardinia.

The Etruscans are famous for adopting many Greek cultural aspects and blending them with their own native culture. The resulting mélange in turn influenced Roman culture, which was initially a small backwater to the mighty Etruscans. One potential reason for the Etruscans’ strength? Extensive trading ties with southern Italy, Greece, and Sardinia.

Where Did European Megaliths Come From?

A recent Bayesian analysis of some 35,000 surviving megaliths from across Europe used radiocarbon dates, cultural material, and information about burial rites to estimate a chronological sequence for the megaliths.

The results suggested that megaliths first emerged in northwestern France, and spread over sea routes. “Megaliths,” for this study, included megalithic tombs, standing stones, and stone circles. They were largely built in or near coastal areas during the Neolithic and Copper Ages, supporting a sea-borne spread. And surviving megaliths, though as far apart as Sweden, Spain, and Malta, often share similar structural features. It made archaeologists suspect they were related, which was also confirmed by the statistics.

Right now, the evidence suggests that the first megaliths were dolmens – giant standing stones covered with a mound of earth or stone – built in northwestern France. Some of these were built as early as 4792 BCE. That region is also home to pre-megalithic graves and transitional structures similar to, but not yet quite, dolmens. Other regions have megaliths but they also have other forms of burials, and they have no transitional structures that appear to be evolving into megaliths. The weight of the evidence, at least the evidence available for this latest Bayesian analysis, supports a French birthplace for megaliths. 

Ancient Mayans Were Beekeepers

Archaeologists in the ancient city of Nakum in northeastern Guatemala recently made a big discovery. Beneath a vast ritual platform dating from around 100 BCE to 300 CE they discovered a foot-long, barrel-shaped ceramic tube with covers at each end.

It is nearly identical to wooden beehives still made from hollow logs by Maya living in the region today. Their discovery is the only known Maya beehive. Since most beehives would probably have been wooden, they probably would not have survived.

Bear’s Paw Bones Discovered In Neolithic Grave

Approximately 4,500 years ago, the dismembered remains of a Neolithic man and small child were buried together, in southeastern Poland. With them was buried a complete bear’s paw. It is quite unusual, as domesticated animals were the usual Neolithic burial companions in this part of Europe.

Traces of fire and a single cattle bone have also been found at the entrance to the burial niche, where the bear’s paw was uncovered. The artifacts in combination have led archaeologists to suggest that the bear’s paw was used for some sort of ritual at the burial’s entrance.

What Was The Neolithic Revolution?

The Neolithic Revolution, also known as the Agricultural Revolution, occurred about 12,000 years ago. For those, like me, who are not the best at math, that is around 10,000 BCE. There was a global trend away from nomadic hunting and gathering and towards sedentary farming. It appears to have arisen independently in multiple places in the Middle East, as well as in China and Papua New Guinea. Egypt and the Indus River Valley may have independently developed agriculture as well, or gotten the idea and the seeds from the Middle East or China.

Cereals, like barley in the Middle East and rice in China, were likely the first to be domesticated, eventually supplemented by protein-rice plants like peas and lentils. As people began to settle down they also domesticated animals. The earliest archaeological evidence of sheep and goat herding comes from around 10,000 BCE in the Iraq and Anatolia. Animals could be used as labor in the fields, or as sources of additional nutrients and calories to supplement the new cereal-heavy diet.

The Neolithic Revolution did not happen everywhere, and not all at once. And there remain a variety of hypotheses as to why humans stopped foraging and started farming. Population pressure may have caused increased competition for food and the need to cultivate new foods; people may have shifted to farming in order to involve elders and children in food production; humans may have learned to depend on plants they modified in early domestication attempts and in turn, those plants may have become dependent on humans. Whatever the reason, the Neolithic Revolution changed humanity – and our world – for good.

Europe During The Ice Age

When Pigs Ate Fish

About 5,000 years ago, on Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula, wild boars were enjoying an unusual diet. Isotope analyses of wild board remains revealed that they were eating fish and other marine animals. The only way they could have gotten access to such food, researchers think, is if humans were deliberately feeding the boars seafood.

Why would they do that? Perhaps they used marine resources to domesticate the boars, a useful source of meat if they can be made tamer. Note that 5,000 years ago is before the agricultural revolution reached Denmark. So the locals were attempting animal domestication before they had adopted domesticated plants.

The History of Urbanization

From the first cities around 3700 BCE up until 2000 CE.

A Cute Accident

Clay brick with a stamped cuneiform inscription and a dog’s pawprints.

From the ziggurat at Ur, 2112 BCE – 2004 BCE.

A Cute Accident

Clay brick with a stamped cuneiform inscription and a dog’s pawprints.

From the ziggurat at Ur, 2112 BCE – 2004 BCE.