Relics left behind by humans who came before us are usually pulverized, buried and hard to identify, but some archaeological discoveries have us rethinking our place in history.
The Sandby Borg Massacre
Archeology students who found a human skeleton lying on the floor of a house at a 5th-century site in Sweden wondered why no one had buried it. Then they found another. Then another. All appeared to have been executed with knives, axes and clubs, then left until the walls of their houses collapsed on top of them.
“We realized that it was actually a massacre,” Clara Alfsdotter, a graduate student at Linnaeus University in Sweden and an archaeologist at the Bohusläns Museum , told The New York Times . Their archaeological find has revealed the remains of 26 people so far, along with a half-eaten fish (suggesting it was a surprise attack). Also coins and jewelry. But there was no indication of the identity and motives of the attackers.
78,000 years of uninterrupted human occupation
In a network of caves in Kenya, called Panga ya Saidi, artefacts have been discovered that testify to continuous human occupation from the Middle Stone Age to modern times.
Michael Petraglia, of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, told Haaretz that with around 100 square meters, the cave’s main hall could have housed dozens of people. Located in the rainforest, the cave enjoyed a relatively stable climate when other parts of Africa suffered from drought.
The researcher’s team found large stone tools used by the very first inhabitants; then more specialized arrowheads and blades began to appear around 67,000 years ago.
Injured and cured zoo animals in ancient Egypt
Located on the banks of the Nile 5000 years ago (centuries before the construction of the pyramids), Hierakonpolis was one of the most important cities of the region. Its wealthy inhabitants displayed their status by keeping exotic animals. A cemetery excavation unearthed, among other animals, two elephants, several baboons and a hippopotamus.
But the life of these beasts was not all cuddles and sweets! The skeletons of several baboons and the hippopotamus showed signs of bone fractures that had healed; researchers believe they were injured during capture or while being kept tied up. But the bones of these animals could only heal if they had some protection, that’s how we know they were kept in captivity.
Crippled children buried as royals
Hunter-gatherers buried some of their own, including two teenagers, at a site called Sunghir , a few hours east of present-day Moscow. It was 34,000 years ago.
When the graves were opened, researchers found the boys – who died at around 10 and 12 and both showed signs of disability – were buried together (their heads were touching) with 10,000 ivory beads of mammoth, more than 20 bracelets, approximately 300 pierced fox teeth, 16 spears, sculptures, antlers and human fibulae arranged on the chest of each child.
Some adult graves, on the other hand, contained no treasure, and others contained only a few.
Tools from the Late Stone Age in India
More than 90% of modern humans are descended from a small population of Homo sapiens that left Africa around 60,000 years ago, according to genetic data. Researchers attribute the success of this group to the excellent stone tools they were able to make – thin stone blades that could be used at the end of spears, rather than common stone axes.
But it has recently been discovered in southern India (where prehistoric human sites have yet to be well studied) that people possessed equally advanced tools more than 200,000 years ago. We do not yet know if the ancestors of Homo sapiens left Africa in waves or if it was other hominids who brought such innovations, but it remains very intriguing.
Much like his father before him, Waldo Wilcox, a rancher from Utah — and his entire family — told no one about what lay strewn across their 4,000-acre Range Creek property. Ancient semi-subterranean houses, cave drawings and paintings and stone tools.
The artifacts, left behind by the mysterious tribe of Fremont Indians, who lived in the area 1,000 years ago, had mostly remained intact thanks to gates and “road closed” signs installed by the owners to deter looters and hunters.
When Waldo decided he was too old to maintain the ranch, he sold the property to the Land Management Office. It is now the Museum of Natural History of Utah which has taken charge of this formidable archaeological discovery.
In China, when workers discovered a life-size statue of a soldier in 1974 while digging a well, they quickly realized it was something exceptional, but they had no idea what was going on. was still below the surface. Archaeologists have started digging: they think the site could contain 8,000 clay statues.
Most are effigies of warriors, each with their own facial expression and weapons, but there are also horses and chariots. This site is said to be a mausoleum in memory of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang Di, who sat on the throne in 246 BC. The emperor is buried on this site, but in a tomb which has not yet been excavated due to the instability of the terrain. Explorations near the tomb, however, revealed statues of dancers and acrobats.
Tiny humans or aliens?
In 2003, a six-inch skeleton with a pointed head was found mummified in the Atacama Desert, Chile. Many people believe that this skeleton – which has the characteristic bone density of a 6-year-old child despite its small size – is that of an alien, but scientists have since been able to sequence and study its DNA.
Ata, as this female mummy is called, was a human being very close to the indigenous people of Chile, but who also had European ancestors. Researchers have discovered seven genetic mutations that would have impaired his growth, but they are not sure what caused the malformation of his skeleton. And the aliens? They’re probably still in space. However, several people testify to their frightening encounters with UFOs.
The Antikythera Mechanism
A Greek ship that sank off the coast of Antikythera Island around 2,000 years ago lay on the bottom until its discovery in 1900. Among the artifacts recovered from the wreck, archaeologists found an object they didn’t know what to do with: a wooden box containing a set of brass gears that fit together precisely.
Half a century later, a science historian discovered that this device could predict the position of planets and stars in the sky based on the date. Researchers have since found Greek text on the artifact that showed it could also announce eclipses, phases of the moon, and had a countdown timer for sporting events, including the Games. Olympics.
A cemetery for Fido
When Peruvian anthropologist Sonia Guillen set out to excavate a 1,000-year-old cemetery south of Lima, her team found more than just humans: 43 dogs had been buried there by the Chiribaya, an ethnic group that preceded the Incas.
The graves of the precious pets, which were used to guard the lamas, were separate from those of their human masters. The animals were buried with what they needed to eat and cover themselves.
As the desert climate preserved the bodies of the dogs, Sonia Guillen could see that they looked a lot like a breed that is very popular today: the Chiribaya shepherd. His team is now trying to establish the genetic link between the two.
About 1300 years ago, a woman from the Italian town of Imola died a few weeks before giving birth. Archaeologists discovered the skeleton of her fetus between her legs, making her a rarely seen case of ‘post-mortem fetal expulsion’, also known as ‘coffin birth’ – gas builds up in the body of parturient and push the fetus through the birth canal. Amazing isn’t it? These strange reactions of the body after death will also surprise you!
But it was another unusual discovery that piqued scientists’ curiosity: someone had drilled a small hole in the mother’s skull before she died. This kind of operation, called trepanation, has been performed around the world since ancient times to treat head injuries, headaches and, in some cases, to get rid of evil spirits.
Here, the researchers wonder if the woman was suffering from pre-eclampsia or eclampsia – seizures that occur in a pregnant woman with hypertension during pregnancy.
The archaeological site of Gobekli Tepe , in Turkey, which dates back more than 11,000 years – the end of the Stone Age and a time when hunter-gatherers were still far from being settled – puts the whole chronology into question. of the time. It has large pillars with animal carvings, stone rings and a bunch of rectangular pieces.
It may be the oldest building in the world, and many scholars believe it to be a religious complex.
Surprises in Egypt
Sometimes the most surprising artifacts discovered during an excavation come from the archaeologists themselves. Peter Der Manuelian, professor of Egyptology and director of the Harvard Semitic Museum, says that one of his predecessors at Harvard, Dows Dunham, had tried to mystify his own boss, the famous Egyptologist George Reisner, who had to his credit several excavations of pyramids.
In 1914, Dunham filed at a funeral home that they were about to excavate a Roman bronze piece he had just purchased from an antique store in Cairo. His will to confuse Reisner did not last long: as soon as the objects in the room were sorted, Reisner knew that it was his protege who had put the coin. (Interestingly, Manuelian tells us that one of Reisner’s measuring rulers was found in early 2018 in a tomb in Middle Egypt, 103 years after the great archaeologist first worked there.)