The Theopetra Cave and the Oldest Human Construction in the World

The Theopetra Cave and the Oldest Human Construction in the World

The Theopetra Cave is an archaeological site located in Meteora, in the central Greek region of Thessaly. As a result of archaeological excavations that have been conducted over the years, it has been revealed that the Theopetra Cave has been occupied by human beings as early as 130000 years ago. In addition, evidence for human habitation in the Theopetra Cave can be traced without interruption from the Middle Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic period. This is significant, as it allows archaeologists to have a better understanding of the prehistoric period in Greece.

The cave is located on the slopes of a limestone hill overlooking Theopetra village.

Occupation of Theopetra Cave

The Theopetra Cave is situated on the northeastern slope of a limestone hill, about 100 m (330 ft above a valley. The cave overlooks the small village of Theopetra, and the Lethaios River, a tributary of the Pineios River, flows nearby.

According to geologists, the limestone hill was formed between 137 and 65 million years ago, which corresponds to the Upper Cretaceous period.

Based on the archaeological evidence, human beings only began to occupy the cave during the Middle Palaeolithic period, i.e. around 130000 years ago.

The cave itself has been described as being roughly quadrilateral in shape with small niches on its periphery and covers an area of about 500 sq meters (5380 sq ft). The Theopetra Cave has a large entrance, which allows light to enter abundantly into the interior of the cave.

The interior of the Theopetra Cave.

Investigation Begins

The archaeological excavation of the Theopetra Cave began in 1987 and continued up until 2007.

This project was directed by Dr. Nina Kyparissi-Apostolika, who served as the head of the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology and Speleography when the excavations were being carried out.

It may be mentioned that when the archaeological work was first conducted, the Theopetra Cave was being used by local shepherds as a temporary shelter in which they would keep their flocks. It may be added that the Theopetra Cave was the first cave in Thessaly to have been archaeologically excavated, and also the only one in Greece to have a continuous sequence of deposits from the Middle Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic period. This is significant, as it has allowed archaeologists to gain a better understanding of the transition from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic way of life in mainland Greece.

Excavations at the Theopetra cave began in 1987 under the direction of N. Kyparissi-Apostolika.

Several interesting discoveries have been made through the archaeological study of the Theopetra Cave. One of these, for instance, pertains to the climate in the area when the cave was being occupied.

By conducting micromorphological analysis on the sediment samples collected from each archaeological layer, archaeologists were able to determine that there had been hot and cold spells during the cave’s occupation. As a result of these changes in the climate, the cave’s population also fluctuated accordingly.

The World’s Oldest Wall

Another fascinating find from the Theopetra Cave is the remains of a stone wall that once partially closed off the entrance of the cave.

These remains were discovered in 2010, and using a relatively new method of dating known as Optically Stimulated Luminescence, scientists were able to date this wall to be around 23000 years old.

The age of this wall, which coincides with the last glacial age, has led researchers to suggest that the wall had been built by the inhabitants of the cave to protect them from the cold outside. It has been claimed that this is the oldest known man-made structure in Greece, and possibly even in the world.

The wall at Theopetra – is possibly the oldest existing man-made structure.

A year before this incredible discovery was made, it was announced that a trail of at least three hominid footprints that were imprinted onto the cave’s soft earthen floor had been uncovered. Based on the shape and size of the footprints, it has been speculated that they were made by several Neanderthal children, aged between two and four years old, who had lived in the cave during the Middle Palaeolithic period.

In 2009, the Theopetra Cave was officially opened to the public, though it was closed temporarily a year later, as the remains of the stone wall were discovered that year. Although the archaeological site was later re-opened, it was closed once again in 2016 and remains so due to safety reasons, i.e. the risk of landslides occurring.

Israel discovers a 10,500-year-old basket from the Stone Age

Israel discovers a 10,500-year-old basket from the Stone Age

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the finding of a well-preserved basket with a capacity of about 100 liters dating back to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, approximately 10,500 years ago.

Israel discovers a 10,500-year-old basket from the Stone Age
A well-preserved basket dates to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, approximately 10,500 years ago, is seen in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on March 16, 2021.

“It is an amazing artifact, 10,500 years old, huge, intact, the only basket from that time found intact in Israel, and maybe in this size, the only one in the whole world,” Chaim Cohen, IAA archaeologist, told Xinhua.

As far as we know, this is “the oldest basket in the world” that has been found completely intact, and therefore its importance is immense, said Cohen.

A staff member shows fragments of the new discovered Dead Sea Scroll in a lab in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on March 16, 2021.
Rare Jewish coins from about 2,000 years ago are seen in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on March 16, 2021.

IAA researchers believe that they can learn a lot about people who lived on earth about 10,500 years ago, just from that one item looking almost brand new.

“The time this basket was made is long before ceramics was invented, and ceramics is the last language of archeologists,” noted Cohen.

Examining the basket will help researchers better understand those ancient people, how they made tools, and from which materials they made them, said Cohen.

IAA professionals even believed that one of the people who made this basket was right-handed, and the other one was left-handed. Moreover, they used a unique technique.

The basket, with two lids at the top, was found in Muraba’at Caves in the Judean Desert above the Dead Sea. It was buried inside a cave under almost three feet of soil. It was exceptionally well preserved due to the high temperatures and extreme aridity of the region.

“People who made the basket buried it underground, leaving the top on the floor level of that period, and we assume that it was buried there to preserve things, maybe food or grains, to the next season,” said Cohen.

The basket was presented on Tuesday to the local and international press at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Besides, ten other unearthed ancient finds were also presented.

Among them were fragments of a 2,000-year-old biblical scroll that were found also in caves in the Judean Desert.

Dr. Oren Ableman, a curator researcher in the Dead Sea scrolls unit of IAA, told Xinhua that “this is the first time in over 60 years that we have discovered copies or fragments of a biblical book in a controlled excavation.”

“And this enables us to have a better picture of the past and understanding of how the text of the Bible as we know today has developed over time,” added Ableman.

Additional exhibits included a 6,000-year-old skeleton of a mummified female child, arrows, spearheads, woven fabrics, rare Jewish coins from about 2,000 years ago, and some other notable relics.

All these artifacts were unearthed by Israeli archeologists during the past three and a half years in a mission in hundreds of caves at high hills.

A Large Copper Age Necropolis Discovered in Italian Town

A Large Copper Age Necropolis Discovered in Italian Town

In the town of San Giorgio Bigarello, near the northern Italia city of Mantua, a large Copper Age necropolis dating back to about 5000 years ago has been discovered.

The discovery of the large necropolis has proved to be a surprise both in terms of the quantity of excavated tombs, a total of 22, and the archaeological data that promise to be very valuable for researchers.

The unexpected number of graves and the exquisitely crafted weapons discovered in some of them are likely to provide new insights into the prehistoric inhabitants of this region of northern Italy.

Excavated in November 2023 and January-February 2024, the first isolated tombs were, in fact, only a small portion of a larger cemetery, the precise dimensions of which have undoubtedly been lost over the ages.

A variety of flint weapons were found in many tombs, including expertly crafted daggers, flawless arrowheads, and other blades.

Flint dagger from the archaeological excavations of the Copper Age necropolis in San Giorgio Bigarello, Northern Italy.

Aside from that, SAP archaeologists, working under the scientific guidance of Simone Sestito, the archaeological officer of the Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Mantova, and with the enthusiastic support of the town’s municipal administration, also discovered jewelry, such as necklace beads, made of materials that raise some preliminary questions regarding chronology and are most likely from the 4th millennium BCE.

The majority of the burials discovered at Bigarello are simple individual inhumations, with the deceased lying on their left sides, legs bent to their chests, and heads oriented northwest.

Since excavations began again in January, 19 more graves have been discovered, supporting the archaeologists’ theories that this was a cemetery rather than a few haphazard burials.

The 22 burials were discovered only 40 or so centimeters below the surface.

The region that is now Mantua was a part of the River Mincio basin during the Neolithic (c. 6000–4,000 B.C.) and Chalcolithic (c. 4000-1700 B.C.) periods.

The famous Neolithic double-burial, the Lovers of Valdaro, was discovered in San Giorgio Bigarello. It is certainly not new to archaeological finds of considerable value.

Unexpected Origins of Mysterious Mummies Buried in Boats in a Chinese Desert

Unexpected Origins of Mysterious Mummies Buried in Boats in a Chinese Desert

Unexpected Origins of Mysterious Mummies Buried in Boats in a Chinese Desert

In 1990, hundreds of mummified bodies were found buried in boats in an inhospitable desert area in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China. Known as the Tarim Basin mummies they have now been genetically examined and scientists have narrowed down the origins of the mysterious mummies. The results are quite surprising.

The mummies’ bodies and clothing are strikingly intact despite being up to 4,000 years old, having been discovered in the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang.

Their facial features and hair color are visible, having been naturally preserved by the dry desert air.

The mummies were discovered buried in boat-shaped coffins which were covered with cow hides. Beside them were signs of a farming society: food items like wheat, barley, and cheese, as well as livestock like sheep, goats, and cattle.

They had the appearance of strangers from a foreign land because they were tall, had wool felt hats and leather booties on, and some of them had fair hair.

However, the genomes of 13 remarkably preserved 4,000-year-old mummies weren’t migrants who brought technology from the West, as previously supposed. A study of the mummies’ DNA finds that they were locals with deep roots in the area.

In a study in the Nature Journal, researchers analyzed the genetic data gathered from mummies. They date back to 2,100 to 1,700 BCE and have revealed where the people came from.

They appear to be relics of an ancient population that disappeared in Eurasia after the last ice age—one that was ancestral to Indigenous peoples living in Siberia and the Americas today.

A naturally mummified Bronze Age woman, who was buried in the Tarim Basin.

Individuals 400 kilometers apart at opposite ends of the Tarim Basin had DNA that was as similar as siblings.

Even though the mummies were locals who had not intermarried with the migrant herders in nearby mountain valleys, they were not culturally isolated. By 4000 years ago, they had already embraced new ideas and cultures: they wore woven woolen clothing, constructed irrigation systems, grew nonnative wheat and millet, herded sheep and goats, and milked cattle to make cheese.

Although previous work has shown that the mummies lived on the shores of an oasis in the desert, it’s still unclear why they were buried in boats covered in cattle hides with oars at their heads – a rare practice not found anywhere else in the region and perhaps best associated with the Vikings.

According to the study, the group had been in the area for some time and had a distinct local ancestry, which refuted theories that they were herders from the southern Russian Black Sea region, Central Asians, or early farmers on the Iranian Plateau.

Christina Warinner, a study author, professor of Anthropology at Harvard University, and research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said in a statement: “The mummies have long fascinated scientists and the public alike since their original discovery. Beyond being extraordinarily preserved, they were found in a highly unusual context, and they exhibit diverse and far-flung cultural elements.”

Researchers also said it was possible for a population to be genetically isolated but also be culturally cosmopolitan.

In addition to examining genomes sequenced from the remains of five individuals from the Dzungarian Basin further north in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, the researchers also examined genetic data from the oldest mummies from the Tarim Basin, which date from 3,700 to 4,100 years old.

Dating back between 4,800 and 5,000 years ago, they are the oldest human remains found in the region.

Red lipstick dating back 3,600 years was discovered in Iran -the oldest ever found

Red lipstick dating back 3,600 years was discovered in Iran -the oldest ever found

Archaeologists have discovered a small chlorite vial containing a deep red cosmetic preparation believed to be an ancient type of lipstick in the Jiroft region of southeastern Iran.

Red lipstick dating back 3,600 years was discovered in Iran -the oldest ever found

This relic, published in the journal Scientific Reports on February 1st, is the oldest known red lipstick from the Bronze Age (between 2000 and 1600 B.C.).

The carved tube came from an ancient graveyard that reemerged in 2001 after the nearby river flooded. According to the study, people plundered the cemetery and sold whatever they could find. Several of the artifacts were eventually found and given back to a nearby museum by officials.

The vial’s slender shape, reminiscent of contemporary lipstick tubes, suggests it was designed to be held in one hand along with a copper or bronze mirror, as depicted in an ancient Egyptian drawing.

The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, show that the reddish substance’s mineral components include hematite, which has been darkened by manganite and braunite, as well as traces of galena and anglesite.

These were combined with vegetal waxes and other organic ingredients, closely resembling the recipes for modern lipsticks. This composition bears a striking resemblance to modern lipstick recipes, indicating the sophistication of ancient Iranian makeup techniques.

The discovery, dated to the early 2nd millennium BCE, provides valuable insight into the ancient civilization of Marḫaši, mentioned in coeval cuneiform texts of Mesopotamia.

The Jiroft civilization, believed to be the ancient polity of Marḫaši, flourished in a valley rich with diverse lithic resources, providing favorable conditions for the development of advanced cosmetics.

Carved chlorite-schist vials found in the Jiroft region.

“So far, for the world of 5000-4000 years ago, we knew about makeup recipes, eyeliners, and eye shadows but not about lip paints.” Professor Massimo Vidale, one of the authors of the study and a professor of archaeology at the University of Padua in Italy, told Bored Panda in an email.

This discovery is consistent with the well-documented tradition of cosmetology in ancient Iran, which included using light-colored compounds for foundation or eyeshadow and black kohl for eyeliners. The sophistication of these makeup techniques suggests a complex society with clear social hierarchies and aesthetic standards.

The discovery of deep red lip pigments adds a new dimension to our understanding of ancient cosmetics, as previous archaeological evidence primarily focused on white or light-colored compounds.

Dr. Nasir Eskandari, a professor at the University of Tehran and one of the archaeologists who contributed to the discovery, stated to IRNA that the study aimed to uncover the pioneering role of ancient Iranians in chemical science.

He said that the discovered substance shows that the first inventors of lipstick may have been Iranians.

The finding raises the possibility that Iran is where lipstick originated, even though there are no historical documents or images from the Jiroft region.

However, Professor Vidale cautioned against definitive claims of “earliest evidence,” acknowledging the perpetual possibility of discoveries reshaping our understanding of ancient cultures.

Archaeologists discovered floor mosaics with early Christian designs in Roman town of Marcianopolis, in Bulgaria

Archaeologists discovered floor mosaics with early Christian designs in Roman town of Marcianopolis, in Bulgaria

Archaeologists discovered floor mosaics with early Christian designs in Roman town of Marcianopolis, in Bulgaria

Archaeologists discovered floor mosaics with early Christian designs and nearly 800 artifacts in the archaeological reserve of Marcianopolis in Devnya, in the northeastern part of Bulgaria.

The Roman town of Marcianopolis (present-day Devnya) in northeastern Bulgaria appears to have originated as a Thracian settlement.

It was later inhabited by Hellenized settlers from Asia Minor and named Parthenopolis.

Roman Marcianopolis was established around 106 CE, following Trajan’s campaigns in Dacia to the north.

The settlement was named after his sister, Ulpia Marciana. At the crossroads between Odessos (modern Varna), Durostorum, and Nicopolis ad Istrum, as well as the location of plentiful springs, Marcianopolis became a strategically important settlement.

Diocletian’s administrative reforms in the late third century CE divided Moesia Inferior into Moesia Secunda and Scythia Minor, with Marcianopolis serving as the former’s administrative capital.

Marcianopolis experienced its most prosperous period during the middle of the fourth century CE. From 367 CE to 369 CE, the eastern emperor Valens used Marcianopolis as his winter quarters during campaigns against Visigoth incursions in the region. During this time, it served as the Eastern Empire’s temporary capital.

Floor mosaics with early Christian designs were found in the remains of a building. Archaeologists are not yet sure whether it was a public building or it belonged to a rich Roman citizen. 

Excavations in Devnya.

The tentative dating of the mosaics is in the first half of the 4th century AD.

The finds from the current archaeological season in Devnya contain another thousand bronze coins, several clay lamps and two clay vessels, which are awaiting scientific processing and restoration.

During the past archeological season, researchers restored bronze vessels discovered in the 1990s in a brick-walled tomb dating to the late 2nd – early 3rd century.

The vessels had a ritual use and were related to the personality of the person buried, Mosaic Museum director Ivan Sutev said in a statement to BTA.

They are richly decorated and the workmanship is exquisite, he added. The find includes a vessel for pouring liquids as offering to a deity, and a wine jug with a trefoil mouth (oenochoe). A simple kitchen pan was also found along with these.

All this leads archaeologists to suggest that a Roman citizen of Marcianopolis may have been laid to rest in the tomb, but that he may have had more specific functions: a soldier, a cook, or even a priest, Sutev said.

Gold solid coins.

Pottery that was discovered in the basilica’s environs during excavations in 2023 has since been restored. Among these are a mortarium vessel for liquids and an exquisite crater-shaped pot for liquids. These were located in the structure with the mosaic floors. Coins from the time of Emperor Theodosius II were also found scattered on the floor.

In 447, Attila’s Huns captured and destroyed Marcionopolis after conquering the entire Balkan Peninsula but failing to capture Constantinople. That is determined by 20 gold coins scattered on the floor of the building being studied.

On one side of the coins is an image of Theodosius II, while on the other is the patron goddess of Constantinople. Among the coins discovered during the Marcianopolis excavations were those from the city’s founding in the second century. The latter are dated to the sixth century, around the time of Emperor Justinian.

Undeciphered Rongorongo Script from Easter Island may Predate European Colonization

Undeciphered Rongorongo Script from Easter Island may Predate European Colonization

From the depths of history, a wooden tablet bearing the mysterious “rongorongo” script has been unearthed from the small, remote island of Rapa Nui (also called Easter Island).

This discovery, detailed in a study published in Scientific Reports on February 2nd, provides compelling evidence that the origins of this script predate European contact by more than two centuries, challenging previously held assumptions about its origins.

According to experts, this discovery supports the theory that the rongorongo script is one of the few independently invented writing systems.

The wooden tablet, along with three others, is part of a collection in Rome.

The tablet was among four tablets retrieved by Catholic missionaries in 1869. Recent radiocarbon dating conducted on these tablets at the University of Bologna has shed light on their origins.

Remarkably, the wood of one tablet was determined to have been cut down between 1493 and 1509, a significant timeframe preceding the European arrival in the 1720s.

Rapa Nui, which sits nearly 2,400 miles (3,800 kilometers) off the coast of Chile, was settled by humans between 1150 and 1280.

Although Europeans arrived in the 18th century, they didn’t notice the local glyph-based script until 1864.

The complex glyphs of the Rongorongo script are unlike any writing system found in Europe, suggesting it was an original creation by the Rapa Nui people.

There are 27 wooden tablets with roughly 15,000 characters and more than 400 different glyphs among the rongorongo inscriptions that have survived.  However, deciphering this ancient language remains a perplexing mystery.

Only 27 tablets inscribed with the intricate but undeciphered rongorongo script have survived, totaling approximately 15,000 characters and over 400 different glyphs.

The analysis also revealed that the wood on the oldest tablet came from a non-native tree species, possibly driftwood.

This discovery raises questions about the island’s ecological past and the resources available to its ancient inhabitants.

If additional research confirms that the Rongorongo script predates European contact, it would be yet another independent invention of writing in human history.

This would put the Rapa Nui people in the same league as the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Chinese, all of whom developed their own unique writing systems.

Rapa Nui is famous for its archaeological mysteries, including the massive stone heads known as moai, and many people have attempted — but failed — to decipher the rongorongo script.

“Historically speaking, if you borrow a writing system, then you keep it as close to the original as possible,” study lead author Silvia Ferrara, a philologist from the University of Bologna, said in an interview with Live Science.

Rafal Wieczorak, a chemist from the University of Warsaw who has studied other Easter Island tablets with Rongorongo writing on them, is excited about the implications of the dating results obtained by the German and Italian scientists. Namely, the implication that European contact had nothing to do with the script’s invention. But he also notes that further research will be needed to prove the case conclusively.

The wooden tablet, with its undeciphered script, stands as a symbol of the mysteries that continue to captivate us.

Rare 2,800-year-old Assyrian Scarab Seal-Amulet Found in Tabor Nature Reserve

Rare 2,800-year-old Assyrian Scarab Seal-Amulet Found in Tabor Nature Reserve

A hiker in northern Israel found a rare scarab seal amulet from the First Temple period on the ground in the Tabor Nature Reserve in Lower Galilee.

A scarab amulet used by an Assyrian official was found recently by Erez Abrahamov, 45, of Paduel. Abrahamov found the scarab near the bottom of Tel Rekhesh, associated with the city of Anaharath mentioned in the Book of Joshua.

The find, announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), hints at the possible presence of Assyrian or Babylonian officials in the region during the eighth century BCE.

It may have been used by an Assyrian or perhaps Babylonian official almost 2,800 years ago, at the time of the First Temple.

At first, I thought it was just a stone, but when I picked it up I could see it was engraved, said Erez Avrahamov. Upon closer inspection, he realized it depicted a mythical creature. He contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority about his discovery.

The rare find was transferred to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) as required by law, and Abrahamov received a certificate of appreciation for his efforts.

Rare 2,800-year-old Assyrian Scarab Seal-Amulet Found in Tabor Nature Reserve
Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

The scarab, a reddish-brown carnelian stone, is roughly the size of a fingernail. One side of the stone depicts a beetle, while the other is intricately engraved with the figure of a griffin or winged horse. This style of art is typical of the Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations that flourished during this time.

Scarabs were considered sacred by the Egyptians and represented renewal and rebirth.

However, their significance went beyond the spiritual realm. They were used as administrative seals, particularly by high-ranking officials.

The discovery of this scarab in Israel’s Lower Galilee region suggests that Assyrian or Babylonian officials were present at Tel Rekhesh during Assyrian rule.

Archaeologist Itzik Paz, who excavated Tel Rekhesh, studied the find to gain more context. One of the most significant seals discovered here, according to him.

According to Paz, This beetle seal gives us a glimpse into the Assyrian administration that was here. If we can precisely date this seal, it could shed light on Assyrian presence at this strategic site, added Paz.

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