Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

What were these decorated fired earth balls for?

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

The Poverty Point hunter-gatherer culture of Louisiana is renowned for having built mounds with concentric rows of curved earthwork ridges. It was built between 1700 and 1100 B.C. and is the largest Native American construction known from that period. The 400-acre mound site in Epps, Louisiana, 260 miles northwest of New Orleans, is today a state park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

An enormous quantity of archaeological artifacts have been found at Poverty Point. Among the most numerous are PPOs, ie, Poverty Point Objects, which may sound like a rather all-encompassing term, but refers to specific things: baked balls of earth less than two inches in diameter. Millions of them have been discovered at Poverty Point, mostly grouped together in hearths and cooking pits along the artificial earthenwork ridges where the PP people lived. Standard PPOs were this culture’s version of cooking rocks. Their territory had no stone to speak of, so they dug up the loess soil, formed it into lumps and fired them creating a man-made version.

Six different shapes have been identified, and while there are some anomalous examples that don’t fit any of the shape templates, the overwhelming majority of the balls were formed in these six designs. It’s not clear why they were made that way or what function these distinct forms may have performed. We do know that they were traded, exchanged or transported over significant distances because PPOs have been found in Florida, the Midwest and the South. Some of the fired earth balls found at Poverty Point came from those locations as well, as analysis of the soil origin confirms. Archaeologists now hypothesize that Poverty Point may have been a pilgrimage site, that visitors took cooking balls on the pilgrim road with them, leaving some behind, and took some PPO originals home with them as souvenirs of their pilgrimage.

But what about those exceptions, the balls that eschew the standard PPO shapes of their millions of siblings? Archaeologists call them Decorated PPOs. They are made of baked earth, but they do not appear to have been used for cooking. They were not found in clusters on hearth sites. They are elaborately decorated with cups, circles, swirls, bands. Some are flat, cubical or rectangular.

The forms are generally pretty abstract, so the meaning of the shapes is unknown. Even so, patterns have emerged because some of the forms are repeated. This might suggest that the same artist created multiple Decorated Objects, or several people were attracted to the same theme, whatever that meaning might be.

And while, it’s clear that this culture had some abstract thought behind the creation of many Decorated Objects, others follow a very naturalistic design as you would suspect from a hunter-gatherer culture! You’ll see a number of recognizable things depicted here, like a spider web, a lotus pod, the sun, or even the potential form of an owl with two big eyes carefully indented by ancient fingertips.

It’s also important to know that these sorts of Decorated PPOs traveled just like some of the standard varieties. Among these, are some objects seen here that you might think look like dice. These are made from white, kaolinitic clay-rich soils from along the Tennessee River Valley. These are at least one decorated variety we are sure were imported. Some of the mottled grey balls, which are often called mulberry forms, are likely made from soils found along the Gulf Coast.

So Poverty Point World Heritage Site’s Facebook page opens the question to the public: what were these decorated PPOs used for if not cooking? Were they art? Gamepieces? Perhaps there’s a link to the pilgrimage idea, that the balls grew more abstract and highly decorative as the tradition of taking home standard PPOs became widespread and pilgrims sought out more diverse forms. It’s the Native American version of Scotland’s mysterious Neolithic balls.

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Goddess found painted inside and outside mummy’s coffin

Monday, April 6th, 2020

Conservators at Scotland’s Perth Museum and Gallery have discovered two painted images of a goddess in the coffin of an Egyptian mummy. The figure of goddess Amentet is painted on the interior and exterior of the coffin base (which I have just learned is called a “trough”).

The mummy is of a woman named Ta-Kr-Hb, likely a priestess or princess,  who lived around 760-525 B.C. in Thebes. Damaged by grave robbers breaking into the coffin looking for valuables and from centuries of flash floods, Ta-Kr-Hb and her coffin are in poor condition. The museum embarked on a public conservation project to save the mummy (on hold now).

In March, for the first time in more than a century the mummy of Ta-Kr-Hb was removed from the coffin. Amentet’s presence underneath her came as a surprise. It was also the first time they raised the coffin to get a look at the underside so Amentet’s presence there was another surprise. The one inside the trough is the best preserved of the two.

It shows Imentet in profile, looking right and wearing her typical red dress. Her arms are slightly outstretched and she is standing on a platform, indicating the depiction is of a holy statue or processional figure. Usually, the platform is supported by a pole or column and one of these can be seen on the underside of the coffin trough.

The platform and supporting pole are very clear, as is the torso in its red dress, with ribbons draping her arms, but unfortunately, the feet, legs, and head are missing in the painting.

The mummy and wooden coffin of Ta-Kr-Hb was donated to Perth Museum in 1936 by the Alloa Society of Natural Science and Archaeology. It was donated to the Society by William Bailey who had previously acquired from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Little is known about its discovery. Conservators hope to fill in some of the many blanks in Ta-Kr-Hb ‘s history by studied her remains and the coffin.

The museum has raised funds for a comprehensive conservation project to stabilize the mummy and delicate wood coffee in time for them to be exhibited again when the new museum opens in Perth City Hall in 2022. The body has been rewrapped and is now stable. They still need to raise another £7,395  for which they’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign. Donate here.

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London Stone restored to visibility

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

The London Stone, so aptly described by author Iain Sinclair as “an object that everyone agrees is significant, even if no one quite knows why,” finally has the place in the wan London sun it so richly deserves. After a legendary history going back to the founding of the city by Brutus, a grandson of Aeneas of Troy who medieval chroniclers basically invented as the namesake of Britain and its first king, and a documented history going back to the 12th century when it was already a famous city landmark, London Stone suffered from centuries of obscurity. It was struck by swords and hundreds of “badd and deceitful” spectacles, cracked apart by the Great Fire of 1666, moved around the street three times, bombed in the Blitz, and moved again to a dent in the wall of a bank/sporting goods store/book store so obscure you couldn’t even see it walking by. 

London Stone was removed from its sad niche of neglect in May 2016 while a new office building was constructed on the site. For more than two years, the stone took up residence at the Museum of London where it was conserved, studied and displayed. In October of 2018, London Stone returned to 111 Cannon Street, but it was no longer hidden behind a grating that made it basically invisible from the street and a random, shin-level non-entity inside the store. 

To this day, the exact origin of this 53cm-by-43cm-by-30cm piece of rock, known as London Stone, remains a mystery. Studies undertaken in the 1960s revealed it was likely Clipsham limestone, probably extracted from the band of Jurassic-era rock that runs from Dorset in England’s south-west to Lincolnshire in the north-east. In 2016, results from tests conducted by the Museum of London Archaeology suggest London Stone could be from the Cotswolds, 160km west of London.

The new enclosure is very similar in design to the shrine in which it was installed when it was first moved out of the middle of the street to the wall of St. Swithin’s church in 1742. The stone is behind a glass window, not covered up, and even has its name inscribed into the wall above it. It’s still quite dark and could conceivably be ignore by busy passersby, but that’s because the front of it has absorbed centuries of coal smoke, Great Fire soot and assorted city grime.

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Roman silver left behind by Vandals found in Poland

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

A massive hoard of 1,753 Roman silver coins left behind by Vandals fleeing the invading Goths has been found in southeastern Poland. The coins were discovered last year by farmer Mariusz Dyl while he searched for antlers in a field outside Cichobórz, a village 8 miles south of Hrubieszów near the border with Ukraine. They were scattered over a large area. Dyl collected what he could and then reported the find to archaeologists at the Hrubieszów Museum.

Aided by Mr. Dyl, a team of archaeologists excavated the area and unearthed another 137 denarii up to 100 meters away from what they believed to be the original burial spot. That’s where the finder discovered the largest grouping of coins. Eight silver-plated bronze rivets were found amidst the coins there, likely the surviving remains of a wood or leather container they were buried in.

The coins are silver denarii from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the reigns of the emperors Nerva (r. September 18, 69 A.D. – January 27, 98 A.D.) and Septimius Severus (193-211 A.D.), indicating the hoard was buried in the late 2nd or early 3rd century. They weigh more than 12 pounds (5.5 kilos) in total, making it by far the largest Roman treasure found in the Lublin province and one of the largest ever found in Poland.

When those coins were in circulation, the Hrubieszów area was inhabited by Vandals, eastern Germanic peoples who in the late 1st century allied with Rome against opposing Germanic tribes. Cassius Dio, who like Tacitus called them Lugii, wrote in Roman History that Domitian sent them 100 horses in support of their fight against the Suebi, the first recorded appearance of Roman troops in what is now Poland. In the second half of the 2nd century, they fought with other Germanic tribes against the Roman Empire in the Marcomannic Wars, but in the last two decades of the century, pressure from the Goths moving south drove the Vandals west.

Archaeological material discovered in the Lublin region attest to what a dangerous time it was. There are a large number of Vandal cemeteries with warrior burials where the deceased was interred with ritually destroyed weapons.

Andrzej Kozłowski from the Archaeology Institute at the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin believes that the buried treasure represents the last stand of the Vandals in the Lublin region.

“The situation was so bad for the Vandals retreating, or rather the fleeing from the Goths that they hid everything that was most precious,” he said.

“It seems that this is where the Vandals lost the means to continue fighting!” he added.

The archaeologist underlined how important the find is for understanding the downfall of the Vandals in the region.

“They had to get rid of huge financial resources that were necessary to wage war with the Goths, and therefore they ended up helpless. The hidden coins remained under Hrubieszów.

“They couldn’t come back for them and could not recruit soldiers. That is why the Goths peacefully spread to the whole south-east and occupied Ukraine,” he said.

A Roman legionary at that time earned about 300 silver denarii a year, so the hoard constituted a vast sum for anyone even in the most expensive urban centers, geometrically more so for Germanic tribesmen at the outskirts of the empire.

The hoard will now be conserved and examined by experts at the University of Warsaw. With so many coins to go through, the process is expected to take at least a year. The Hrubieszów Museum wants to put them on display, but given all our current givens, the hoard will be an online exhibition before visitors have the opportunity to see them in person.

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Bronze Age warrior toolkit found at battlefield site

Sunday, March 29th, 2020

Here’s a follow-up post that’s been almost a decade in coming and is all the richer from the long wait. The original story reported in 2011 was about the discovery of human, animal and material remains in the Tollense Valley of northern Germany strongly suggesting a major Bronze Age battle had taken place nearby. This was the first evidence of a battle from this period, perhaps even the earliest ever found.

Dating to around 1200 B.C., the bones were almost all confirmed to be of young men some of whom had suffered fatal blunt and sharp-force trauma. There were no indications of formal burials — the remains appear to have been washed down to the find site from a battlefield up the Tollense River — and the remains of wooden clubs and horses found also added to the evidence of a prehistoric battle. Evidence of violent events and conflicts going back to the Stone Age has been found, but nothing like the bones of a hundred individuals, their horses and weapons.

Human bones had been pulled out of the Tollense River since the 1980s, most significantly a humerus with a bronze arrowhead still embedded in it found in 1996. It was that arrowhead, whose design dated it to between 1300 and 1100 B.C., that gave archaeologists the first temporal classification of the Tollense Valley remains. Later discoveries narrowed down the dates of the battlefield activity to ca. 1300-1250 B.C. The first systematic excavation of the area was done in 2008 and the first research published in 2011.

All told, more than 12,000 pieces of human bone have been unearthed at the Tollense site, and more than 140 individuals have been identified from the bone material. They were young adult men in good general health who suffered perimortem trauma from long and short-range weapons. Some healed bone lesions indicate they were experienced fighters. Initial DNA and stable isotope analyses found some of the individuals were not local to the Tollense Valley, although it’s not clear where they came from originally.

In 2016, a new archaeological exploration of the site discovered something unusual and highly significant: a group of 31 objects that are believed to have been the personal toolkit of a Bronze Age warrior. The artifacts were found by divers in the riverbed at the location dubbed Weltzin 28. Several bronze artifacts — tools, pins, arrowheads — had been found at this location before, but this group of bronze scrap metal pieces was packed closely together even after millennia in a river, so they must have been in a wooden container of a wrapped in a textile that has long since disintegrated.

The assemblage includes a bronze awl with a birchwood handle, a rare curved sickle knife, a chisel, bronze sheet fragments, ingot fragments, bronze scrap pieces, a star-decorated belt box of the Dabel type, three dress pins and a bronze spiral. Three bronze cylinders in the assemblage may have been the fasteners of the rotted container.

Radiocarbon dating of the collection of objects demonstrates that the finds belong to the battlefield layer and they were probably the personal equipment of one of the victims. The finds were studied in a Master’s thesis by Tobias Uhlig and the new results make it increasingly clear that there was a massive violent conflict in the older Nordic Bronze Age (2000–1200 BC). In fact, recent evidence suggests that it is likely to have been on a large scale, clearly stretching beyond regional borders.

Professor Thomas Terberger, from the Department of Pre- and Early History at the University of Göttingen, says, “This is the first discovery of personal belongings on a battlefield and it provides insights into the equipment of a warrior. The fragmented bronze was probably used as a form of early currency. The discovery of a new set of artefacts also provides us with clues about the origins of the men who fought in this battle and there is increasing evidence that at least some of the warriors originated in southern Central Europe.”

The study of the recent discovery has been published in the journal Antiquity.

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8-foot mammoth tusk found in Bavaria

Saturday, March 28th, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered an impressively large mammoth tusk in the Bavarian town of Riekofen. The team was expecting to find remains of the 15th century town so the discovery of mammoth remains from the Ice Age came as a surprise. The tusk has yet to be radiocarbon dated, but mammoths went extinct in what is now Bavaria about 20,000 years ago.

At a length of eight feet, the tusk still includes the tip tooth. Its size indicates it likely belonged to an adult bull. Mammoth bones are not uncommon finds, but nearly complete tusks of significant length are extremely rare. Another mammoth relic was found right next to the tusk. It’s a bone about one foot by two feet in dimensions probably also from a mammoth. It is not known right now whether it came from the same animal as the tusk.

Dr. Christoph Steinmann, archaeologist with the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments, thinks the tusk and bone were underwater for some time, which helped preserve them. There used to be a bend in the Danube in this area, and the thick, wet soil applied constant pressure to the external layers of the tooth. Even when the dentin forming the structure inside the tusk cracked and fell apart, the outer layers remained intact. Had they been in dry soil and exposed to air, they would have disintegrated.

To prevent this dangerous exposure, paleontologists coated the tusk with plaster strips, ensuring it could be lifted whole without any loss of bone material. Conservators with the State Office of the Preservation of Monuments will remove the moisture from the tusk gradually over the course of the next year or two (either freeze-drying or PEG, I’d guess). Once it is stabilized, it will go on display in the museum.

The team did find what it was originally looking for, by the way. They discovered a well, rubbish pits, an oven, potsherds and the remains of a Grubenhäuser, a pit-house or sunken featured domestic dwelling, from the Medieval village.

Interesting note from the press release. In Bavaria archaeological excavations abide by the same safe distance regulations that govern construction sites, so digs are continuing in Germany, which has an atypically low rate of coronavirus deaths, when they’ve been shut down as non-essential in so many other countries.

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Polo donkey bones found in Tang Dynasty noblewoman’s tomb

Friday, March 27th, 2020

Archaeologists have identified the bones of probable polo donkeys in the tomb of a Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) noblewoman. Tang-era texts do describe the sport of lvju, or donkey polo, played by royalty and nobility, but this is the first archaeological evidence of it.

The tomb was discovered in 2012 in Xi’an, ancient Chang’an, onetime capital of the Tang Dynasty. The brick structure has a vertical entrance, a corridor and a burial chamber with brick-lined floors. The contents had been looted in antiquity, but there were some artifacts found, including a lead stirrup and a stone epitaph. The tomb and murals of servants and musicians at a funerary feast  indicate she was a member of the societal elite. The epitaph confirmed her status, identifying the tomb as that of the Lady Cui Shi, wife of Bao Gao, governor of two administrative regions in the late Tang Dynasty. The inscription notes she died October 6th, 878, when she was 59 years old, and was buried August 15th, 879.

Chang’an was located at the beginning of the Silk Road and donkeys were highly valued as pack animals to transport goods along the trade routes. Tang Dynasty texts refer to them being used in households and pack animals and in military and governmental transports. An edict of the period prohibited donkeys being killed or eaten. Commoners were known to ride them for transportation, but not the upper classes.

Polo is believed to have developed in Persia and spread east through the influence of the Parthian Empire (ca. 247 B.C. – 224 A.D.). Polo played on horseback was established as a prestigious sport in central China. At the Tang court it was valued as a proving ground for cavalry skills, but it was dangerous, even fatal to play. Lvju used sturdier, shorter, easier to handle donkeys and therefore appealed to women and older players.

Only two pottery figurines of donkeys wearing saddles have been unearthed in Tang tombs in Xi’an. The discovery of skeletal remains of three donkeys among piles of animal bones in the corridor and on the coffin of Cui Shi’s tomb gave researchers the unique opportunity to analyze their bones and determine what they were used for in life and why they were buried in a noble woman’s tomb.

Dental analysis identified the different equid species in the mix. Their ages were determined by tooth eruption on the jaws and wear patterns. Measurements of metatarsals from three individuals determined their sizes. Stable isotope analysis was done on the metatarsals of two specimens.  Micro-CT scans were done of three humeri from two donkeys to determine the biomechanical stress they were subjected to, a marker of whether these donkeys were pack animals in life. Radiocarbon dating found the donkeys’ date range coincides with the one in the epitaph, 856-898 A.D.

One hint to why they were in Cui’s tomb, [Washington University in St. Louis anthropologist Fiona Marshall] says, may lie in the identity of her husband, Bao Gao. Ancient texts reveal that the polo-obsessed Emperor Xizong promoted Bao to the rank of general because of his skills on the polo fields. Polo was wildly popular during the Tang dynasty—for both women and men—but it was also dangerous; riders thrown from their horses were frequently injured or killed. If a woman like Cui wanted to join a game, then riding a donkey—slower, steadier, and lower to the ground—might have been a safer alternative.

When the researchers, led by archaeologist Songmei Hu of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, analyzed the size of the donkey bones in Cui’s tomb, they found that they were too small to have been good pack animals. Computerized tomography scans of the leg bones revealed patterns of stress similar to an animal that ran and turned frequently, rather than one that slowly trudged in a single direction. Taken together, the evidence suggests Cui played polo astride a donkey, the researchers report today in Antiquity. The noblewoman’s donkeys may have been ritually sacrificed when she died to allow Cui to continue to play in the afterlife.

“There’s no smoking gun … [but] there’s really no other explanation that makes sense,” Marshall says, adding that the finding suggests Tang dynasty donkeys were held in higher regard than believed.

Read the full study published in Antiquity here.

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Neanderthal surf and turf

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

A new study has found that contrary to popular belief, Neanderthals loved them some sea meats. Remains of marine foods are lacking at Neanderthal sites in Europe, whereas the anatomically modern humans living in Africa at the same time left behind extensive evidence of regular consumption of aquatic foods. Because marine foods are very high in Omega-3 fatty acids that aid in the brain development, this dietary disparity was thought to have played a role in how advanced cognitive skills grew among humans of modern anatomy and not in other archaic human species.

However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as the aphorism goes, and a great deal of coastal Europe was churned up in the last Ice Age by the growth and movement of icecaps and the rise of sea levels after their thaw.  Gruta da Figueira Brava, a seaside cave 20 miles south of Lisbon, Portugal, on the other hand, was uniquely protected from erosion and submersion because of its position on a steep shelf off the Arrábida mountain range.

Today the cave has three entrances in a cliff overlooking the water, but during the Last Interglacial period when Neanderthals lived there about 86,000 to 106,000 years ago, it was just over a mile from the sea. A team of international researchers led by João Zilhão from the University of Barcelona excavated the cave shelter and found clear evidence that the Neanderthal population regularly and thoroughly exploited marine animal resources.

They ate crabs — brown and spider — an assortment of mollusks — limpets, mussels, clams — fish — sharks, eels, sea bream — seabirds — cormorants, egrets, gannets, auk — waterfowl — loons, mallards, geese — and marine mammals — dolphins and seals. The density of the remains is comparable to that found at African Middle Stone Age and Last Interglacial sites in Africa. It even exceeds the latter in terms of crab and fish.

Their gastronomic enjoyment of aquatic species was not exclusive. They also hunted hoofed game — deer, goats, horses, aurochs — and other small land animals like tortoises. Plants — olives, figs — were on the menu as well. They foraged extensively, storing mature pinecones to eat the nuts during the winter.

Figueira Brava provides the first record of significant marine resource consumption among Europe’s Neandertals. Taphonomic and site-preservation biases explain why this kind of record has not been previously found in Europe on the scale seen among coeval African populations. Consistent with rapidly accumulating evidence that Neandertals possessed a fully symbolic material culture, the subsistence evidence reported here further questions the behavioral gap once thought to separate them from modern humans.

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New mammoth bone circle found in Russia

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

A mammoth bone circle recently unearthed at the Kostenki 11 site in Russia has been identified as one of the oldest and largest in the world. It is a concentric ring of mammoth bones laid in a continuous circle 41 feet in diameter. A preliminary inventory of the bones has counted 51 mandibles and 64 crania of mammoth and a smattering of reindeer, horse, bear, wolf and fox bones. Radiocarbon analysis of samples from across the site date it to 25,063-24,490 years before the present, making it the oldest mammoth bone circle ever discovered on the Russian Plain.

Kostenki 11 has two other mammoth bone structures, the first discovered in the earliest excavations of the site in the 1960s, the second in 1970. A 2014 archaeological survey unearthed a new mammoth bone circle, and the next three seasonal excavations revealed another circle, this one exceptionally large and well-preserved. The surface of the circle was interfered with by burrowing animals and the roots of shrubs, birch, pear and cherry trees, but the bones managed to survive the centuries mostly intact and in their original positions. Starting in the 2015 season, the excavation team took a comprehensive approach to the interior and exterior of the circle to recover plant/organic remains, evidence of fuel usage and any evidence that might help identify human usage of the site.

Combustion deposits consisting of layers of burned sediment, bone and charcoal were found in one quadrant of the circle. The high proportion of carbonized bones, small size of the fragments and low number of wood charcoal suggests a deliberate choice to burn mostly bone at the site, either for fuel or to dispose of waste, as well as wood. Plant remains are evidence that the residents also foraged plants from the area, using them for food, medicine, string and fabric.

Three pits were found on the southeast perimeter of the circle, each containing large mammoth bones, lithic debris, bone debris and charcoal, the same materials found in the circle. They were therefore either deliberately filled during the site’s occupation, or infilled after its abandonment.

The dense lithic debris in the pits and circle allowed archaeologists to map knapping activity for the first time at mammoth circle site. More than 300 flint chips left behind when the inhabitants knapped stone into sharp tools is actually a small number compared to other Ice Age sites. It indicates the site was not a long-term dwelling.

Upper Paleolithic circular mammoth bone structures surrounded by pits have been found throughout eastern Europe, around 70 of them in Ukraine and the Russian Plain. and up until now have been consistently interpreted as dwellings offering shelter during the long, cold ice age winters, with the smaller pits used to store supplies. The third Kostenki 11 circle suggests instead that it was occupied only briefly rather than used for months as a base camp.

Dr Alexander Pryor, who led the study, said: “Kostenki 11 represents a rare example of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers living on in this harsh environment. What might have brought ancient hunter gatherers to this site? One possibility is that the mammoths and humans could have come to the area on masse because it had a natural spring that would have provided unfrozen liquid water throughout the winter – rare in this period of extreme cold.

“These finds shed new light on the purpose of these mysterious sites. Archaeology is showing us more about how our ancestors survived in this desperately cold and hostile environment at the climax of the last ice age. Most other places at similar latitudes in Europe had been abandoned by this time, but these groups had managed to adapt to find food, shelter and water.”

The study of the mammoth circle has been published in the journal Antiquity.

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“Squatting mantis man” petroglyph found in Iran

Monday, March 16th, 2020

An unusual praying mantis petroglyph has been found at the Teymareh rock art site in central Iran. The carved image 5.5 inches long and 4.3 inches wide was discovered during a 2017-2018 survey by archaeologists. Its precise age is unknown because radiocarbon dating cannot be performed in Iran due to international sanctions, but the rock art at the site ranges in age from 40,000 to 4,000 years old.

Rock art imagery can be challenging to decipher, a process the team charmingly describes as “similar to a game of Pictionary, albeit without the artist on hand to say whose guess is correct.” Invertebrates are rarely depicted in petroglyphs, so the archaeologists collaborated with entomologists to identify the creature from its morphological features. Its six legs, large triangular head with extended vertex, curved hind legs and bent forelimbs marked it as a mantid. Iran’s Empusa genus, which inhabits hot, dry environments like the Teymareh Region, have the expanded vertex seen in the petroglyph.

There are two elements that suggest this may not be just a mantis, however. The middle pair of legs have circles at the ends.

The closest parallel to this in archaeology is the ‘Squatter Man,’ a petroglyph figure found around the world depicting a person flanked by circles. While they could represent a person holding circular objects, an alternative hypothesis is that the circles represent auroras caused by atmospheric plasma discharges.

Squatter or Squatting Man figures have been found all over the world, including Arizona, Spain, Italy, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates. The team believes the Iranian petroglyph is a combination of a praying mantis and a Squatting Man figure, thus they have dubbed him “squatting mantis man.” Sounds like a superhero from Mystery Men.

The study has been published in the Journal of Orthoptera Research. It’s an interesting and entertaining light read. Two enthusiastic forelimbs up.

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