Archive for the ‘Ancient Europe’ Category

Prehistoric Europeans Spiced Up Their Life

By: The Scribe on September, 2013

spicesAbout 6,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers in ancient Europe collected garlic mustard seeds and mixed them together in their pottery dishes, and…

Wait a minute. Hunter-gatherers… using pottery?

Let’s back this up a bit.

Archaeologist Oliver Craig and his team from the University of York studied microscopic flecks of plant-based silica that they found on ancient pottery shards from Germany and Denmark. The pottery was scorched by fire at campsites approximately 5,800-6,150 years ago.

According to Craig’s team, the seed specks they studied belong to the garlic mustard plant, which are devoid of nutritional value but have a strong, peppery taste. The pottery also contained residue of animal fat—deer and fish, most likely—which led the team to hypothesize that whoever cooked the food used garlic mustard seed to add flavor to their food.

Why is this important?

While the archaeological record does contain older evidence of spices, no other site has connected spices and cooking as directly as this finding. In the field, it can be difficult for an archaeobotanist to determine whether plants were deliberately used in this type of situation or if they were naturally occurring, but this particular finding is quite clear.

“What we’ve got is absolutely secure evidence that these [European hunter-gatherers] were taking these plant products and putting them into a pot and cooking with them,” said Craig.

garlic mustardClearly, hunter-gatherers didn’t always choose their food just for nutritional value, as previously thought. They were, on occasion, clearly able to concern themselves with taste! The archaeological team who made this discovery suspects that the plant was likely used only when it came into bloom—which may possibly have happened with other plant spices as well, though not all spices are detectible in the archaeological record.

More importantly, the spice residue was found on the inside of pottery shards that belonged to large, clay vessels… definitely not the kind of thing that hunter-gatherers would be able to haul around on a daily basis!

Craig has suggested that these prehistoric Europeans instead had pottery caches at different locations along their travel route—essentially supply stations that could be used at different times of the year as they moved with the seasons and available food. They may have then used different spices for their food according to local availability!

When did European hunter-gatherers begin using pottery in the first place, and why? That’s another question entirely, which Craig’s team may study in the future.

(For further reading, check out the study published last month by Craig and his team in the journal PLOS One!)

“Let Them Eat Sausage!” Polish Vampire Burials Surprise Workers

By: The Scribe on July, 2013

Imagine the surprise of some local construction workers in Poland, minding their own business and doing their jobs, when suddenly they happen upon an ancient burial ground… but not just any burial ground, of course. These… were vampire burials.

polishvampireFour skeletons were found at the site in Gliwice, and all four individuals had been buried with the head cut off and placed between the legs. Polish folk beliefs from this area state that placing a deceased individual’s head between the legs for burial would prevent a potential vampire from finding its way through the ground’s surface and back to the living world. Apparently the vampire would be so preoccupied with finding its head, it wouldn’t bother anyone else.

Archaeologist for the dig, Dr. Jacek Pierzak, told a Polish newspaper that “it’s very difficult to tell when these burials were carried out,” though preliminary thoughts are that the burials took place during the early modern period (Late Middle Ages through to around 1800). Tests will be conducted on the skeletal remains to determine a more precise date.

None of the bodies were buried with any goods or objects—which is quite unusual, and further supports the assertion that the individuals were buried in accordance with folkloric beliefs for preventing alleged vampires from rising and attacking the locals.

The last known instance of a vampire burial in Poland, according to the archaeological record, was found in 1914—and again, the deceased had been decapitated and the skull buried between the knees.

Richard III’s Painful Scoliosis Treatments

By: The Scribe on April, 2013

Richard_III_of_EnglandAnyone who suffers from scoliosis knows that it can be a lot of work to fix, if that’s even possible. Modern medical advances have made it possible to correct scoliosis in many cases, but what about folks who lived in ancient times?

Although it wasn’t as long ago as, say, Pharaoh Akhenaten’s scoliosis problems, recent studies on the newly uncovered bones of King Richard III have revealed that not only did he suffer from the spine-curving condition, but he also may have undergone some incredibly painful medical treatments to try and straighten things out.

Previous work has showed that the condition likely set in during the King’s teen years, and researcher Mary Ann Lund of the University of Leicester’s School of English has learned about the types of treatments available for scoliosis during the 1400s.

While there isn’t exactly evidence on the bones to support the one treatment available to the nobility… that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. In an interview with LiveScience, Lund said that “it developed after the age of about 10 … so he probably would have been treated as an adolescent as well as during his adult life.”

Doctors in the 1400s believed that scoliosis (and many other medical issues) was caused by imbalanced humors in the body—and considering how severe Richard III’s scoliosis was, his treatment would have gone far beyond a simple ointment or two.

richard spineOne likely treatment was called traction, and yes, it operated on the same principle as the torture device known as the Rack. To treat scoliosis through traction, ropes were tied underneath the patient’s armpits and around the legs. Then then ropes were pulled at each end in order to stretch out the patient’s spine.

Then as part of long-term care, patients were encouraged to wear the equivalent of a modern back brace—such as a long piece of metal or wood along their spine.

Did the methods work? Evidently, determining that is impossible, but “it seems likely that the condition was painful and would have restricted his lung capacity,” says Lund.

It’s a Badger, Badger, Badger, Badger… Celt God, CELT GOD!

By: The Scribe on March, 2013

The ancient Celts liked to do things a little differently when it came to their gods. They took one look at the Greco-Roman god Apollo and thought “no way dude, that guy’s boring… pretty sure the god doesn’t look like that.” (What, you don’t think the ancient Celts talked like that?)

Nope, they thought, the god definitely looks like something more… well… four-legged. And pointy-nosed.

In fact, they were so convinced that they named him Moritasgus, which scholars have analyzed and believe means… Great Badger. Or maybe Sea Badger. Either way, he’s a giant badger god of healing.

The god’s epithet (or, what they called him) has been found on four inscriptions at the ancient city site of Alesia, and two of those are what identify him with Apollo. Moritasgus also had a consort named Damona who—in keeping with the animal-epithet tradition—means “Divine Cow.”

The ancient Celts liked to devote various objects to the Great Badger, most of which were models of affected body parts like limbs, internal organs, genitals, and eyes—and archaeologists have also found surgeons’ tools near these votive offering sites, which may suggest that the god’s priests acted as surgeons in their duties to the healing god.

The ancient city site where the inscriptions were found is also the site of a shrine dedicated to Moritasgus, near a spring believed to have healing properties. Pilgrims to the shrine would have bathed in the pool and also journeyed to the god’s nearby temple.

Why a great badger? Badgers do burrow in the earth and re-emerge, which has been thought to symbolize death and rebirth—so it may make sense to give this epithet to a healing god. The concept is also reminiscent of the Celtic belief system’s origins, which were highly animistic.

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