from the world's big
Artifacts uncovered in southeast Asia offer clues on early complex human cultures.
- Archaeologists discovered a trove of bone tools used roughly 48,000 years ago in a Sri Lankan cave.
- Uncovered artifacts include the earliest known bow-and-arrow devices found out of Africa, weaving utensils, and decorative beads chiseled from the tips of marine snail shells.
- The findings underline the necessity of looking for early Homo sapien innovation in regions outside of the grasslands and coasts of Africa or Europe, where much of the research has been focused.
New discoveries<p>The study was led by Michelle Langley, an archaeologist at Australia's Griffith University, along with other researchers from Griffith, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH), and the Sri Lankan Government's Department of Archaeology.</p><p>The scientists examined tools and artifacts used between 48,000 and 4,000 years ago that were discovered in the Fa-Hien Lena cave site located in Sri Lanka's southwest tropical forests, an area that has become one of the most important archaeological sites in South Asia since the 1980s. The assemblage of artifacts included 130 of the earliest known bone-arrow tips found out of Africa along with 29 utensils likely used to make clothing or bags. Also excavated were decorative beads chiseled from the tips of marine snail shells and the world's oldest known beads made of red ochre — an ancient pigment used for a variety of things from body paint to sunscreen.</p><p>Archaeologists believe that these tools correspond to four phases of ancient human habitation of the site. Using radiocarbon technology to date thirty items from the site, researchers were able to create a timeline detailing how the tools evolved to become more sophisticated over time.</p><p>"Most of these tools were made out of monkey bone, and many of them appear to have been carefully shaped into arrowheads," <a href="https://experts.griffith.edu.au/8914-michelle-langley" target="_blank">Langley</a> told Tim Vernimmen of <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/06/tools-human-early-migration-rainforest-sri-lanka/" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>. "They are too small and light to have been spearheads, which need some weight to gain force, and too heavy and blunt to have been blow darts."</p><p>On close inspection, the size, forms and fractures found on many of the bone points led the researchers to believe that they were used as arrow tips for bow-and-arrow hunting to catch swift and nimble rainforest prey like monkeys and other tree-dwelling creatures. The arrow points increased in length over time for the purpose of hunting larger mammals like deer. If the researcher's conclusions are correct, this finding marks the earliest definitive proof of high-powered projectile hunting in a tropical rainforest environment.</p><p>Additionally, the team uncovered a range of other bone and tooth tools used for scraping and piercing. They were likely used for making nets and working animal skins or plant fibers in the tropical environment.</p><p>"Evidence for the construction of nets is extremely scarce in artifacts many thousands of years old, making this aspect of the Fa-Hien Lena assemblage a startling find," Langley said in <a href="https://news.griffith.edu.au/2020/06/15/discovery-of-oldest-bow-and-arrow-technology-outside-africa/" target="_blank">a Griffith University press release</a>. Because this wasn't a cold region, the authors opine that the clothing made with the assemblage of tools may have been used for protection from insect-borne diseases.</p><p>Other tools discovered at the site were identified as implements probably associated with freshwater fishing.</p>
Out of Africa and into the rainforest<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQxMDExMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ3NjQ4N30.6JVTKeCHRhzvg5lejtnsxf-2y0n1pHAch0MrxJSre1Y/img.jpg?width=980" id="56032" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a86a57e2bb25a4caa3d1777fbcd060b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="assortment of bone arrowheads and tools" />
"Bone projectile points (A to H) and scrapers (I to K) from Fa-Hien Lena. (A and B) Geometric bipoints, with (B) coming from phase D context 146; (C and F) hilted bipoint, red arrows indicate cut notches; (D and E) hilted unipoints, red arrows and red circle indicate wear indicating fixed hafting; (G and H) symmetrical bipoints"
Langley et al., 2020<p>Before the great migration out of Africa, smaller groups of humans began to leave the continent between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago eventually migrating into South Asia. These findings offer clues as to how our ancient ancestors adapted to diverse, precarious environments during their global expansion, such as the tropical rainforest. Though the early humans of South Asia likely didn't make their abode in the densely vegetated forest right away, opting instead for the coast, their decedents eventually would. And that move required some nifty new survival technology. </p><p>The researchers pointed out that their discoveries of these ancient tools underline the necessity of looking for early <em>Homo sapien</em> innovation in regions outside of the grasslands and coasts of Africa, or Europe where much of the research has been focused.</p><p>"[T]his traditional focus has meant that other parts of Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas have often been sidelined in discussions of the origins of material culture, such as novel projectile hunting methods or cultural innovations associated with our species," <a href="https://news.griffith.edu.au/2020/06/15/discovery-of-oldest-bow-and-arrow-technology-outside-africa/" target="_blank">said Patrick Roberts</a> from MPI-SHH. </p>
Complex human societies<p>The shell beads that the team found indicate that the ancient forest dwellers traded with the populations that stayed along the coast. The beads were rounded and pierced, suggesting that they were strung. Earlier dated beads (around 8,700 years old) were made from red ochre nodules. The ancient jewelry is gauged to be similar in age to other "social signaling" materials found in Eurasia and Southeast Asia, according to the authors, which was around 45,000 years ago. This highlights the importance of establishing social connections for these early people through trade and symbol. </p><p>"Together, these artifacts reveal a rich human culture in the tropics of South Asia which was creating and utilizing complex hunting and social technologies to not only survive, but thrive, in demanding rainforest environments," concluded study co-author Patrick Roberts, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Queensland.</p>
Sophists used rhetoric and debate to arrive at practical truths.
- Sophists were more interested in arriving at practical truths through rhetoric than an absolute Truth (Sophia).
- Their techniques were heavily criticized by Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates.
- Asha Rangappa and Jennifer Mercieca write that Sophist techniques are particularly useful for recognizing and fighting disinformation.
The Sophists (A History of Western Thought 8)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ead64a2750164c4c913f5c772410d04"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2BkhnoQHxhs?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Initially, Sophists secured wealthy clients. In exchange for payment, they taught education and rhetoric, as well as music and other arts. Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Xenophon were not fans; they believed Sophistry to be a lowly endeavor designed to sound deep. Socrates sang the praises of Truth (<em>Sophia</em>) alone; his student, Plato, thought Sophist rhetoric manipulated audiences. Sophistry could never lead to <em>Sophia</em>. </p><p>Mercieca and Rangappa believe Plato's <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Plato/Dialectic" target="_blank">dialectic</a> was not sufficient to resolve political decisions, however. Socrates's insistence on Truth is debatable, as decades of neuroscience research on <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/media-memory" target="_self">memory</a> and perception now tell us. Arriving at one Truth on a planet of nearly eight billion people is impossible; we aren't designed to handle such volumes of data. Even 2,500 years ago, the Sophists strove for <em>Phronesis</em>, or practical truth. They knew that nuance matters. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Sophists taught the skill necessary for the practice of democracy—how to reach consensus about the truth. They taught people how to create arguments, to persuade audiences to believe their side, and to solve thorny political problems."</p><p>Mercieca, a professor, and Rangappa, a lawyer, argue that their professions are more like sophistry than philosophy. Whereas sophistry is usually portrayed as disingenuous, it accurately reflects the shared reality we experience in society. </p><p>We shouldn't get caught up in the current usage of sophistry. Words change meaning over time: the Hindu <em>svastik</em>, "auspicious," was co-opted by the Nazis; mythology, with an etymological root meaning "legend" or "story," became synonymous with myth, a falsity. Mythologies are the foundations of cultures, not fabrications. </p><p>Employed correctly, sophistry presents an argument that builds into a practical truth, not the Ultimate Truth. In this sense, Sophists and Buddhists share common ground in their love of debates. Monks have a long tradition of <a href="https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195393521/obo-9780195393521-0024.xml" target="_blank">critical inquiry</a> often accentuated with hand claps or loud syllables. A handclap (or for that matter, a koan) doesn't sound like a path to truth, yet in the right circumstance it reveals profound meaning. Not all learning is logical. </p><p>Debates are essential for democracy. Sadly, social media platforms are designed more for unfriending and trolling than introspection and dialogue. Screens are poor replacements for pantomimes. You read text in your voice instead of the writer's, skewing your understanding of their argument. Lack of intimate contact instigates retreat. You believe the fight is over when the bell hasn't even signaled round one. </p>
Tourists take pictures in front of the Athens Academy adorned with sculputures depicting ancient greek philosophers , Plato (L) and Sokrates (R) on June 10, 2016.
Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images<p>Disinformation is especially insidious in the digital age. Social media platforms allow for the quick spread of conspiracy theories. A particularly sophomoric form of persuasion is currently practiced by wellness influencers, who claim to be "just asking questions" while sharing anti-vaxx and anti-5G rhetoric. They then pretend to "not take sides." The problem, as Merciera and Rangappa allude to in the following sentiment, is that propaganda disguised as philosophy promotes an mindset made infamous by George Bush the younger: "You're either with us or against us."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Propaganda and disinformation are persuasion without consent: In fact, by offering new versions of "facts," their authors try to hide that they're persuading us at all. These forms of communication provide a conclusion based on manipulation rather than reason. Propaganda and disinformation create a realm where disbelief is disloyalty, rather than a shared attempt to search for truth."</p><p>Propaganda is compliance, they continue, the preferred vehicle for authoritarians. (Likewise, Plato wasn't a big fan of democracy; he didn't think everyone could access Truth.) Bringing it home to today, the authors cite Twitter fact-checking Trump: an old democratic method, yet one sadly ill-equipped to handle Truth when anything that questions the king is taking a "side." This trend of being "all in" for charismatic figures leaves us on shaky ground. It's how cults form. </p><p>A healthy democracy, they conclude, should promote curiosity and debate, tactics more aligned with Sophism than the search for an absolute yet ever-elusive Truth. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Accusations—rather than argument—and compliance—rather than persuasion—are incompatible with a democratic dialogue. The ancient Greeks rejected unquestioned propaganda and disinformation as well outside of democratic norms. So should we."</p><p>America isn't healthy. Our modern Octavian does far more damage than print slogans on coins. This administration has helped foment social conditions that reward vitriol over curiosity. Until a mechanism for questioning propaganda is invented—be it technologically or, more likely, rebooting the operating systems nature has endowed us with—constructive debate will always seem like ancient history. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Ground-penetrating radar allows the non-invasive virtual excavation of Falerii Novi.
- Using ground-penetrating radar, layers of an ordinary field in Italy are pulled back to reveal a lost Roman town.
- Without disturbing a single artifact, an incredible level of detail is uncovered.
- The buried town, Falerii Novi, has been quietly awaiting discovery since it was abandoned at the start of medieval age.
Technology and patience<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4NzE4MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzQxMTY4MH0.DIOloya9PvQywFEed7II9NiUJzaCUv5aqslmE4bQTDo/img.jpg?width=980" id="f1a3f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="71904c4627c2cc05a5ef7ca3f904cdb4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="ground-penetrating radar equipment scanning the field" />
Image source:Frank Vermeulen/University of Cambridge<p>Falerii Novi was unearthed using <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0926985118305846" target="_blank">ground-penetrating radar</a>, or GPR. With each pass across that field, the bike pulled a rolling frame outfitted with a GPR instrument that bounced radio waves off of whatever lay beneath it. The device took a reading every 12.5 centimeters, eventually imaging the entire 30.5-hectare area. Without disturbing a single ancient artifact, GPR generated a remarkably detailed look at the lost city, with its various different layers depicting changes that occurred over time.</p><p>In the end, the researchers were confronted with 28 billion GPR data points to be processed, an almost impossibly huge task. Each hectare takes about 20 hours to work through, and the team is currently developing automation techniques that will allow them to fully explore the data collected by the GPR.</p><p>Corresponding author of the study recently published in <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/antiquity/article/groundpenetrating-radar-survey-at-falerii-novi-a-new-approach-to-the-study-of-roman-cities/BE7B8E3AE55DB6E03225B01C54CDD09B#fndtn-information" target="_blank">Antiquity</a>, Martin Millett of Cambridge's Faculty of Classics, is <a href="https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/roman-city-rises" target="_blank">clearly excited</a> by the project:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"The astonishing level of detail which we have achieved at Falerii Novi, and the surprising features that GPR has revealed, suggest that this type of survey could transform the way archaeologists investigate urban sites, as total entities."</em></p>
Falerii Novi<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4NzIwNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODE4NjMxMH0.eVrydFSBZs3xLaAhgAA1XFnUeIaI6FGtmggJ4N519BI/img.jpg?width=980" id="263e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6446619be28f954d75a17884b6af1690" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="A preliminary version of the Falerii Novi map" />
A preliminary version of the Falerii Novi map
Image source: University of Cambridge<p>Quite a bit was already known about the walled town of Falerii Novi. It was first occupied in 241 BC, and lasted until around 700 AD., the early days of the medieval period. It's located about 30 miles north of Rome. The town, which was about half the size of Pompeii, has been the subject of other scanning research before, but has never been so thoroughly revealed until now.<br></p>
What's new/old?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4ODQxNC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5ODQwNzE4NX0.L_sXdQqYN191hbSqBu3_DRmEKCoid5yf5v10Jw_gA-c/img.png?width=980" id="bd6e5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c9eee6cf0614e5eb43e0c7b8e7e3845c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Falerii Novi" />
Image source: L. Verdonck/University of Cambridge<p>The visible Falerii Novi contains a number of surprises.</p><p>In a broad sense, the town's layout appears less standardized than archaeologists would expect for an ancient Roman community, with a number of notable features.</p><p>There's the mysterious pair of large structures facing each other within a porticus duplex located at the town's northern gate at the upper edge of the image above. Experts have no idea what these buildings are, though they conjecture that they may have been some sort of massive monument overlooking the city's edge.</p><p>In addition, for a small city, the temple, market building and bath complex are unexpectedly elaborate.</p><p>GPR also revealed the existence of an intriguing network of pipes that may have been a large public bathing system featuring an open-air natatio, or pool. The pipes terminate at a large rectangular building and run not just along the town's streets, as might be expected, but also under its city blocks.</p>
Looking forward<p>With the Falerii Novi project serving as such a stunning reason to keep using this technology for archaeology, Millet envisions many more such projects: "It is exciting and now realistic to imagine GPR being used to survey a major city such as Miletus in Turkey, Nicopolis in Greece or Cyrene in Libya. We still have so much to learn about Roman urban life and this technology should open up unprecedented opportunities for decades to come."</p>
That's not frankincense you smell at the "holy of the holies."
- Cannabis and frankincense were discovered at the "holy of holies" shrine in Tel Arad, Israel.
- Both substances were mixed with animal dung to promote heating.
- This marks the first time cannabis has been found in the Kingdom of Judah.
While building a new airport, construction crews uncover a gigantic collection of ancient bones.
- During digging for a new airport in Mexico, workers came across three sites containing the remains of mammoths, as well as some pre-Spanish human burial sites.
- It's unclear why the mammoths were all found in this one spot, though it may have to do with an ancient lake.
- Retrieving this massive sample will likely give experts new insights into a long-lost North American pachyderm.
In the Mexico Basin about 45 miles north of Mexico City in the Santa Lucía region, the new Felipe Ángeles Airport is under construction. According to Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), workers there have dug up a massive surprise: a trove of 60 ice-age mammoth skeletons. They've also unearthed 15 pre-Hispanic human burial sites.
Image source: Sergiodlarosa/wikimedia
The pachyderm bones belong to Colombian mammoths, Mammuthus columbi, who last lived in North America in the Pleistocene epoch between 2.6 million and 13,000 years ago, when they are believed to have become extinct. They're the mammoths that visitors to Los Angeles' La Brea Tar Pits encounter. (No woolly mammoth remains were found in Santa Lucía.)
It's not yet known how many of the mammoth skeletons are complete. It is clear, though, that males, females, and their young are there. The bones are being found between 80 centimeters and 2.5 meters below the surface and spread across three exploration areas. First discovered in October 2019, the digs are still being stabilized and undergoing analysis and classification, according to INAH National Coordinator of Archaeology, Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava.
How 60 mammoths wound up together in death at this location is an interesting question. No signs of human tracks leading to or from the site are evident nor have any indications of hunter accommodations have been found. By contrast, the prehistoric mammoth hunting site discovered in the Mexican municipality of Tultepec in November 2019 does exhibit such signs of human interaction.
Archaeologists suspect the 60 mammoths got stuck in a muddy swamp over time — the site is near the shores of the former Lake Xaltocan. Researchers say the most complete skeletons found are those close to the former lake's shoreline. It remains possible that the immobilized mammoths were then preyed upon by hunters even without clear evidence of that so far.
Once the remains are retrieved, they'll be studied by a team of 30 archaeologists, supported by a trio of restorers, to make a full account of what's been found. They hope to learn more about how and precisely when the animals lived, ate, and what health issues they may have had as evidenced in their skeletal remains.
An old home, a new home
Image source: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia
Meanwhile, construction of the new airport continues. Says Salvador Pulido Méndez, director of INAH Archaeological Salvage, "So far, no findings have been recorded on the land that lead to the rethinking of the construction site, either totally or partially. Rather, the works have allowed INAH a research conjuncture in a space where, although it was known of the existence of skeletal remains, they had not had the opportunity to locate, recover and study them."
Prior to the beginning of construction, the Santa Lucía region had been used by the Santa Lucía Military Air Base, and the national defense organization Sedena has preserved its historic Santa Lucía hacienda, integrating it within the new airport. The various parties involved plan to create a museum within the hacienda that will allow visitors to learn about the Santa Lucía region and its amazing mammoth mammoth graveyard.