Discover more from Ancient Origins UNLEASHED
Editor’s Quest to the Land of the Maya, Antarctica's Secrets, Arthurian Enigmas, and More!
Ancient Origins Unleashed Debrief
Greetings The Unleashed!
This week, the Editor (you know who that is…) is about to go on a quest to the land of the Maya in the Yucatán Peninsula, on the Gulf of Mexico. It should be quite an adventure, the place is absolutely stacked with Maya ruins, and there’s even Tulum to visit, a Maya temple, practically on the beach…. what more could one ask for!
Suffice to say, I’m a bit rushed with last minute arrangements, so this week I’ll just jump straight into my picks of the week. I’ll fill you in on my little excursion when I’m back in a week or so.
And so, to the Editor’s picks of the week….
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.
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.
A lost world…
An international research team has unveiled an ancient landscape hidden beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet for over 14 million years. This vast, pristine expanse—spanning 32,000 km²—offers vital insights into the ice sheet's historical responses to climate changes and promises to reshape our understanding of Antarctica's hidden terrains.
The research team, led by Durham University, UK, used satellite data and radio-echo sounding techniques to map a 32,000 km2 area of land underneath the vast ice sheet.
They discovered a landscape that appears to have been formed by rivers at least 14 million years ago and possibly even before the initial growth of the East Antarctic ice around 34 million years ago.
This newly discovered landscape consists of ancient valleys and ridges, not dissimilar in size-and-scale to the glacially-modified landscape of North Wales, UK.
Its existence implies a long-term temperature stability of the ice sheet in the area investigated by the researchers.
Lead author Professor Stewart Jamieson, in the Department of Geography, Durham University, UK, said: “The land underneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is less well known than the surface of Mars. And that’s a problem because that landscape controls the way that ice in Antarctica flows, and it controls the way it might respond to past, present and future climate change.”
“So, we’re investigating a small part of that landscape in more detail to see what it can tell us about the evolution of the landscape and the evolution of the ice sheet. And what we find is an ancient land surface that has not been eroded by the ice sheet and instead it looks like it was created by rivers before the ice came along.”
“This tells us that there hasn’t been a lot of change in this particular area, which indicates that although this part of the ice sheet may have retreated during warmer times in the past, the conditions at this site likely did not change much, and that helps us understand how the ice sheet might respond to future and ongoing warming.”
In the vast realm of Arthurian legend, few characters evoke as much intrigue and controversy as Mordred. Described as the treacherous nephew of King Arthur, Mordred's role in the Arthurian saga is shrouded in mystery and myth. For ages, this character has been extensively studied by scholars and historians alike, as they tried to penetrate that prevailing mystery. Together, we will embark on a quest to decipher the enigma of Mordred by delving into the dichotomy between the legend and the historical context. Can we untangle the threads of myth and reality that surround this complex figure?
Mordred, in the traditional Arthurian narrative, is portrayed as a traitorous character. He is often depicted as the illegitimate son of King Arthur, a result of an incestuous relationship with his half-sister Morgause. It is Mordred who ultimately precipitates the downfall of the Arthurian kingdom by rebelling against his uncle and initiating the catastrophic Battle of Camlann. In this battle, both Arthur and Mordred meet their tragic ends, symbolizing the end of an era.
To better understand Mordred's place in the Arthurian legend, it is crucial to examine the historical context in which these myths were created. The Arthurian legend itself is believed to be a blend of myth and history, making it challenging to discern where fact ends and fiction begins. Moreover, the lack of concrete historical evidence for the existence of King Arthur and Mordred only deepens the mystery.
Numerous theories have emerged in an attempt to uncover the historical origins of Mordred. Some historians suggest that Mordred may have been based on a real historical figure who opposed King Arthur, representing a rival faction in post-Roman Britain. However, concrete evidence to substantiate such claims remains elusive. While archaeological findings and ancient texts occasionally provide intriguing clues, they fall short of confirming Mordred's existence as a historical figure. What are some potential clues in favor of the historicity of Mordred?
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I thought this photo was fake at first…
In a landmark discovery, archaeologists have re-excavated a magnificent lamassu at the ancient city of Khursbad, Iraq. The monumental sculpture, an embodiment of an Assyrian protective deity, is generally depicted with a human-like head, wings like a bird, and a body resembling either a bull or lion.
This intricate piece of Assyrian craftsmanship, which was commissioned by Assyrian King Sargon II in 721 BC to guard the capital city of Khursbad, has recently been unveiled to the world for the first time in three decades. The lamassu was originally discovered in 1992 by an Iraqi archaeological team at the 6th gate of Khursbad. However, shortly after its discovery, its head was pilfered in 1995, only to be recovered later and safeguarded in the Iraqi Museum. The primary body of the statue was subsequently reburied to conserve the remnants amid the chaos of the Gulf War. This protective action probably preserved the lamassu from obliteration, especially considering the subsequent destruction of much of Khursbad by ISIS in 2015.
In a press announcement, The General Authority for Antiquities and Heritage reported that a joint Iraqi/French mission, captained by Professor Dr. Ahmed Fakak Al-Badrani, embarked on the re-excavation of this historic artifact. The team was thrilled with the find. According to Dr. Layth Majid Hussein, Chairman of the General Body for Archaeology and Heritage, assessments are currently underway to determine the future conservation efforts for the lamassu.
The breathtaking alabaster sculpture, weighing an impressive 19 tons and stretching approximately 12 and a half feet in length, has drawn international attention. Pascal Butterlin, the French archaeologist and professor of Middle East archaeology at the University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne, expressed his amazement: “I’ve never unearthed anything this big in my life before…Normally, it’s only in Egypt or Cambodia that you find pieces this big.” [via France 24]
Khursbad, also recognized as Dur-Sharrukin, was envisioned as a new capital by Sargon II after his ascension to the throne. However, the city's destiny was altered after the demise of Sargon II’s son, Sennacherib, who transferred the capital to Nineveh, leaving the construction of Khursbad unfinished.
And I’m afraid the image on this might have misled, but still a cool find…
In an extraordinary archaeological discovery in Freising, Germany, experts have unearthed a medieval skeleton equipped with an iron prosthetic hand. The burial, dated to the 15th century, offers compelling evidence of early prosthetic technology and medical innovation.
This find was announced by the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation during excavation works near the Church of St George. Carbon dating suggests the man, aged between 30 to 50, lived and died sometime between 1450 and 1620. This period in European history witnessed a surge in the evolution of prosthetics, driven in part by the need to aid injured soldiers returning from numerous conflicts.
Freising itself, as a bishop’s see and later an independent state, wielded significant influence during the Middle Ages. Its history was punctuated by military campaigns, including engagements during the devastating Thirty Years’ War. Such turbulent times would have resulted in numerous injuries, amputations, and thus an increased demand for prostheses.
According to Dr. Walter Irlinger of the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation, the prosthetic device is truly remarkable. “The hollow hand prosthesis on the left hand added four fingers. The index, middle, ring and little fingers are individually formed from sheet metal and are immovable. The finger replicas lie parallel to each other, slightly curved.” Irlinger explained. Secured with straps, this prosthetic device underscores the medical ingenuity of the time.
Furthermore, inside the iron prosthetic, researchers identified gauze-like fabric, likely used as cushioning for the amputee’s hand stump. Notably, a thumb bone was attached to the inner side of the prosthetic, indicating that the wearer had retained his thumb post-amputation.
Historically, while this find is exceptional, it's not unique. There are approximately 50 known prosthetic devices from the late Middle Ages and early modern period in Central Europe. They range from rudimentary, non-moving models to intricate devices with mechanical components. The famed knight, Götz von Berlichingen, is a notable figure from this era. He wore an "Iron Hand" prosthetic after losing his right hand during the siege of Landshut in 1530. Unlike the Freising discovery, von Berlichingen's prosthetic was a marvel of engineering for its time, featuring movable parts and a complex design.
Til next time, wish you were here…
Gary Manners - Senior Editor, Ancient Origins