Discover more from Ancient Origins UNLEASHED
A New Iron Age King, Munich's Ancient Celtic Village, and Considering Neanderthal Free Will!
Ancient Origins Unleashed Debrief
Greetings The Unleashed!
The crowning news of this week for me was the discovery of a new Celtic king to add to the history books of England, or at least the territory England now occupies. We have been presented with King Esunertos!
This piece of history was evidenced by a coin dug up by a detectorist in Hampshire, and dates to the Iron Age, minted between 50 and 30 BC, just around the time of the first Roman incursions in Britain(nia).
When it comes to pre-Roman Celtic rulers, our knowledge is scant. We know quite a bit about some of the Celts who resisted the Roman invasion, such as the renowned Boudica of the Iceni, or Vercingetorix of Gaul, but many other names are forgotten to time. Although the history we have for the British Isles is a long one, this period hits the limits of our historic knowledge. There is basically zero written history of the area from this era, technically making it prehistoric!
The written documents concerning the region start around a century later, when the Roman chroniclers, such as Ptolemy, Pliny and Strabo were writing their geographical and historical accounts. But the reporting was pretty one sided, and many of the Celtic kings would not have made the edit.
Hot on their heels came Gildas the Wise, or Gildas Sapiens to the Latin speakers, a cleric probably born in what was Pictland (modern Scotland) who wrote in the 6th century AD about the period just after the Romans left. But his account is heavily based on his religious beliefs.
Then of course came the Venerable Bede, and his talk of the Nation of Angles, or England, and the rest actually IS written history.
Before these guys started taking notes, most evidence we have comes from artifacts, such as this coin, and is skillfully pieced together by the archaeologists and historians.
The ‘king’ that appears on the coin would have had a less significant kingdom than those we think of today. The land was tribal, and these tribes had arrived from all over. Might was right, and whoever had the might, had the right to claim land. Even if this ‘king’ (or whatever level of rulership you needed back then to get your own coinage) had territory in ‘England’, he could have come from just about anywhere in Europe and made a land grab. Analysis of the name Esunertos suggests a link to a Gaulish god called ‘Esos’, so that could be a clue as to where the king originated.
The Iron Age was actually a time mass migration from mainland Europe to this northern territory occupied by Britons (themselves mostly Beaker people from the Eastern European Steppe). All sorts of drifters were coming to the islands of Britain (yet to be named such) and Ireland (probably then known as Ériu). They came from Iberia, Gaul and even the Germanic regions. It must have been a green and pleasant land!
Through migration, invasion or even diffusion, Britain has always been cosmopolitan.
Which sets a whole bunch of thoughts off regarding who my ancestors really are. I could be a Gaul, a Celt, an Angle, a Jute or have even deeper, Briton roots. I don’t have many attributes I’d call Viking, but do have a bit of a Roman nose…. And oh yes, my grandfather is an American, so that could put a whole different bunch of genes into the mix (or not).
Does it matter? Not really, but my curiosity has been piqued, just because the ancient possibilities in this region are so wide. Of course, such curiosity can be satisfied with a ‘simple’ DNA analysis, as is offered by many companies these days. Indeed, some really deep analysis is offered by Ancient Origins’ own Ancestry DNA service. Unfortunately for me most of these tests aren’t available in my current part of the world. But I’m becoming more curious, and I’ll definitely take the DNA test plunge when I’m next back on home soil.
And so, to the Editor’s (still me) picks of the week….
A New Iron Age King in Britain? Gold Coin Found Stamped with the Name 'Esunertos'
Britain’s history may have just undergone a significant addition, thanks to the remarkable discovery of a coin bearing the name of a forgotten Iron Age ruler. The coin was unearthed by a metal detectorist in a Hampshire field and carries the inscription 'Esunertos.' Experts are speculating that Esunertos may have reigned as a king from the formidable Danebury Fort, and this discovery has been heralded as "one of the outstanding discoveries of recent decades."
Initially, the gold coin was expected to fetch around £4,000 ($5000) at auction. However, it exceeded all expectations by setting a new world record at Spinks Auction, selling for a staggering £20,400 ($25,500), reports the Daily Mail .
The coin was found by Lewis Fudge, a metal detectorist who received permission to search a farmer's field in March this year. Lewis Fudge expressed his elation, stating:
"I am over the moon. If it were not for people in the auction room, I would have jumped around. The collectors I spoke to are gob smacked. I'm so glad I did not take them up on their private offers before the auction. To think my find has generated its own Wikipedia page is incredible."
Crowning the Iron Age King Esunertos
Leading Iron Age experts have analyzed the coin and believe it to be associated with a prominent male figure known as 'IISVNIRTOS,' or ‘Esunertos' translating to 'Mighty as the God Esos.' One theory suggests that Esunertos could have ruled as king from Danebury Hill fort.
Dr. John Sills of the Celtic Coin Index at the Ashmolean Museum lauded the discovery, calling it "one of the outstanding discoveries of recent decades in Celtic numismatics."
The coin, estimated to have been minted between 50 and 30 BC, coincided with Julius Caesar's first Roman raid of Britain in 55 BC when the Roman general landed on the Kent coast with 20,000 soldiers. Despite a confrontation with Celtic warriors on the beach, the Romans encountered difficulties landing due to rough seas and eventually had to return home.
A coin is one thing, but what about a whole Celtic village?
While performing excavations in a suburban field north of Munich, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of an ancient Celtic village, along with artifacts linked to a later Roman settlement. This remarkable discovery took place during ongoing archaeological work at Lerchenauer Field, where many fascinating ruins from past historical eras have been excavated.
Archaeologists affiliated with the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation (BLFD), and sponsored by the German state of Bavaria, conducted these digs which have ended up unearthing a Celtic village. This excavation project kicked off with the aim of preventing treasures from being lost during an upcoming housing construction and urban development project.
The ancient Celtic village is the first of its kind to ever be discovered in Munich, or anywhere else in the state of Bavaria, which covers much of southeastern Germany. While traces of Celtic settlements have been found in the region in the past, this village was excavated largely intact, and that is what makes it such a rare and noteworthy find.
“Munich is and was big. People flocked here 2,000 years ago to settle in what was then a metropolitan region. So far, we have only been able to assume that there were large settlements everywhere in what is now Munich's urban area. However, the thorough investigation at Lerchenauer Field has now confirmed this and thus closed a research gap,” stated Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation Curator General Mathias Pfeil, in a BLFD press release announcing the exciting new discovery.
Pfeil’s reference to 2,000-year-old settlements in Munich is actually somewhat modest. The archaeologists estimate that the newly recovered Celtic village is approximately 2,300 years old, which makes it an even more impressive discovery.
Neanderthals R US? More on the ever-evolving Neanderthals…
Neanderthals have been recognized as a species distinct from modern humans for quite some time. But if a trio of researchers from universities in Portugal, Italy and Spain get their way, this designation may soon change. These archaeologists believe Neanderthals were not a different species at all but instead were simply another variety of humans, a conclusion that they draw after completing an analysis of the ingenious way that Neanderthals used fire to satisfy their survival needs.
The Fire-Using Neanderthals of Gruta de Oliveira
In an article from the journal PLOS ONE , archaeologists Diego E. Angelucci from the University of Trento (Italy), Mariana Nabais from the Catalan Institute for Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (Spain), and João Zilhão from the University of Lisbon detail their deep analysis of the fire-managing capacities of Neanderthal groups who lived in modern-day Portugal more than 70,000 years ago.
These particular Neanderthals found permanent shelter inside a large cave in central Portugal known as the Gruta de Oliveira, where they would not have been able to survive if they hadn’t known how to use fire for cooking, heating and light.
As the researchers discovered, the Neanderthals who occupied Gruta de Oliveira were true experts at fire management and manipulation, foreshadowing the knowledge displayed by modern humans who arrived in the region thousands of years later. It seems these humans followed the example set by the Neanderthals rather than the other way around, as they moved into caves and built fires to make them more conducive to long-term occupation.
“More than different species, I would speak of different human forms," Angelucci, the lead of the groundbreaking PLOS ONE study, said in a University of Trento press release about his team’s research. The archaeologists drew this startling conclusion based on discoveries made over the course of more than two decades at Gruta de Oliveira, which was occupied first by archaic humans, then by Neanderthals and finally by modern humans from 120,000 to 40,000 years ago.
Nothing to see here…
The cultures and civilizations of the ancient world were not as lonely and isolated as we might think. They were connected by the world’s waterways - the oceans, rivers, and seas. Sailing and maritime exploration are much older than believed, and the Dokos shipwreck is the ideal example of this. Dated to the Proto-Helladic period that lasted in modern Greece from 2700 to 2200 BC, it is the invaluable proof that ancient cultures greatly depended on their ability to master the vast waters that surrounded them. What secrets were unraveled by this venerable shipwreck?
The Dokos Shipwreck Lay Dormant for Centuries
The remains of the Dokos Shipwreck were discovered on August 23rd, 1975, by Edgerton Alvord Throckmorton, known as Peter Throckmorton, an American pioneer underwater archaeologist and photojournalist. As the name suggests, they were discovered off the coast of Southern Greece, near the island of Dokos in the Aegean Sea . In ancient times, the island was called Aperopia, and was a strategic location inhabited since 6000 BC. It is located some 60 miles (100 km) east from ancient Sparta.
After the discovery and the initial surveys, it was quickly clear that Dokos is one of the oldest shipwrecks in the world. Lying at a depth of between 15 and 30 meters (50 to 100 ft), this shipwreck does not actually contain the remains of a ship. Due to its age, anything that was biodegradable has long since disappeared and dissolved in the water. However, the wreck site cannot be mistaken - the cargo that was once in the ship lies strewn all across the seabed in this spot and consists of hundreds of ancient clay vases and ceramic items. Evidence suggests that many of the items were manufactured in ancient Argolida, a region of Peloponnesus, and that they were intended for trade amongst the many small villages in the Myrtoan Sea and the Gulf of Argos. Alas, the ship never reached its destination, sinking off Dokos.
And here’s something to think about…
Did Neanderthals have free-will? Do we? ‘Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will by a Stanford professor argues a resounding ‘No’…
Before epilepsy was understood to be a neurological condition, people believed it was caused by the moon, or by phlegm in the brain. They condemned seizures as evidence of witchcraft or demonic possession and killed or castrated sufferers to prevent them from passing tainted blood to a new generation.
Today we know epilepsy is a disease. By and large, it’s accepted that a person who causes a fatal traffic accident while in the grip of a seizure should not be charged with murder.
That’s good, says Stanford University neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky. That’s progress. But there’s still a long way to go.
After more than 40 years studying humans and other primates, Sapolsky has reached the conclusion that virtually all human behavior is as far beyond our conscious control as the convulsions of a seizure, the division of cells or the beating of our hearts.
Til next time, don’t think too hard…but don’t hardly think either.
Gary Manners - Senior Editor, Ancient Origins