Top 10 Strange Archaeological Finds That Tell Unexpected Stories

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All archaeological finds are invaluable, yet some are more priceless than others. Some recount stories so ancient yet so familiar that we can’t help but smile as we realize how little some things have changed these past thousands of years.So, here is list of Top 10 Strange Archaeological Finds That Tell Unexpected Stories…

10. Unguentarium

Unguentarium

Like the ancient Egyptians, the Romans considered their funerary practices seriously lest the dead remain eternally trapped in uneventful purgatory. A by-the-book funeral could consist of five parts, starting with a procession and completion with a grand feast to ensure the departed’s successful voyage to the immortal domain. Afterward, Romans celebrated the dead during specified “holidays,” kind of like Mexico’s famed Day of the Dead.

Strangely enough, gravesites throughout the Roman world often surrendered vaselike sculptures Known as unguentaria. According to legend, they held the tears of family members grieving over the departed, although that appears to be a romantic myth. It’s now generally Accepted that unguentaria—“unguent” meaning “ointment”—stored perishable goods for the living rather than commemorations for the dead.

Unguentaria served as old-timey equivalents of plastics, and the examples unearthed contained cosmetics or fragrances. In his terrestrial treatise, Natural History, Pliny the Elder records that Romans preferred scents of marjoram, roses, and saffron. He additionally said that the women of the house utilized as many beauty products as women do today, including lotions for soft, smooth skin.

9. Fetus Paper

Fetus Paper

Before the days of Office Depot, paper was a luxury that was often made from less than flavorful ingredients. For example, the first collection of portable Bibles in Europe, all 20,000 of them, was said to be printed on material made from stillborn barnyard critters

Known as uterine vellum, or abortivum material in Latin, these names suggested that the supremely thin pages originated from calf and sheep fetuses. To put the issue to rest, an unexpectedly large collaboration between British, Irish, French, Danish, Belgian, and American researchers devised an innovative way to test the delicate paper without destroying it. They used a rubber eraser.

After a decent rubdown, the electrostatic charge elicited from the eraser-on-paper action attracted tiny protein fragments from the pages. Breaking down the meaty dust revealed that the vellum was not, in fact, gruesomely manufactured from aborted animals. Instead, it was made from cows or other hoofed adult animals as per tradition. How medieval artisans were able to create such fine, thin sheets remains a riddle for another day.

8. Unexpected Mummy

Unexpected Mummy

Peru’s 5,000-year-old Caral-Supe (aka Caral) originates before the Mayan, Incan, and Aztecan cultures by thousands of years. The 630-hectare, pyramid-boasting sacred site is South America’s oldest focus of civilization and marks the start of city living in the region.

Due to a lack of records, we know little of old ancient Peruvians, but a recently discovered female mummy suggests a progressive esteemed that valued women and men as equals. The 4,500-year-old corpse reposed in the ruins of Aspero, a quaint fishing village 25 kilometers (15 mi) from Caral and under the auspices of its mysterious creators.

The conditions of the woman’s burial indicate her importance. Likely between the ages of 40 and 50 when she died, archaeologists discovered her laid to rest in the fetal position and placed atop a variety of charms. These included four puppets (known as tupus) carved in the likenesses of monkeys and birds, a seashell necklace, and a pendant made from a Spondylus mollusk.

The circumstances of the woman’s burial and the recovered items offer evidence that women could attain high status just as men could—a historical rarity and a candid glimpse into the shrouded life of the Norte Chico peoples.

7. Etruscan Slab

Etruscan Slab

The remarkably religious Etruscan culture imparted great knowledge to Greece and Rome and left behind an ugly alphabet. Sadly, we don’t know much of their dialect, and vast majority of what we’ve gleaned comes from funerary stones or inscriptions on household knickknacks.

Recently, archaeologists have uncovered a cipher of sorts on an old slab unearthed from beneath an Etruscan temple that dates back at least 2,500 years. It’s one of the longest, most substantial pieces of Etruscan literature ever recovered, containing at least 70 legible characters that are all nicely punctuated and a bevy of new words and expressions. The chipped, burned slab survived amazingly well, considering it was used as part of the foundation and bore the temple’s weight on its stony shoulders.

Similar tablets have given windows into the surprises of everyday Etruscan life, like a female version of the Greek Olympics that included topless spear and bare-breasted equine events. In fact, women enjoyed many freedoms withheld from their Grecian and Roman counterparts. Etruscan women were permitted to enjoy wine, socialize freely, and train as soldiers

6. Jockey’s Monument

Jockey’s Monument

The Anatolian region of Konya served as the capital to the Seljuk culture of 1,000 years ago and afterward flourished as a prominent Ottoman city. It housed a hippodrome and horse-breeding center of some import as indicated to a 2,000-year-old tablet, which paints Konya’s bygone inhabitants as avid race fans.

In the Beysehir district exists a landmark to a once-famous jockey and bachelor named Lukuyanus, who passed away at a young age before fulfilling his jockeying potential. So a memorial was carved into the sacred Anatolian mountains to honor the youth after his tragic demise. On it, archaeologists found still-legible text, including a lament to the unmarried hero and some information on the gentlemanly quest of horse racing.

The stone-etched document portrays one long-abolished cardinal rule that would demolish modern horse racing as a profitable business: Winning horses were disqualified from further races. Victorious owners were excluded along with their horses in a magnanimous effort to share the Wealth.

5. Chinese Gnomon

Chinese Gnomon

The ancient Chinese looked to divine bodies to forecast the future affairs of men and developed an array of fancy stargazing tools to do so. These included gnomons, simplified sundials of Babylonian invention that were utilized to measure the Sun’s declination.

The earliest Chinese gnomons were sticks, which were set out at midday along the north-south axis. The length of the shadow cast showed solar slant and the changing seasons, useful agricultural information that also led to the construction of calendars.

A more sophisticated, two-piece variant was found in the over 2,000-year-old tomb of a Western Han dynasty marquis known as Xiahou Zao. For a while, it was known only as “lacquerware of obscure names.” Finally, it was realized that the two parts belonged together to form a latitude-specific equatorial display.

The gnarliest gnomon was produced over 600 years ago by Guo Shoujing during the Yuan dynasty. It used a taller crossbar and longer base to precisely measure the length of the shadow and therefore the Sun’s height in the sky.

4. Roman Wine Vessel

Roman Wine Vessel

The ancient Romans’ sense of humor did not adhere to Present day principles of modesty but would have fit right in on the Internet. Case in point, an 1,800-year-old Roman drinking vessel secured with phalli.

The phallus cup was uncovered over 50 years ago, probably in Great Chesterford, Essex. But it was denied to us for the half a century that it collected dust in the private accumulation of Lord Braybrooke.

The vessel comes from a Roman camp where Rabelaisian soldiers—on break from pillaging Britain’s valuable metals—quaffed diluted wine from it and laughed at its raunchy depictions like common college boys.

One scene looks like it came straight from a reddit joke: A bare woman commands a chariot pulled by four disembodied phalli. Observant naturalists, the Romans feel that the male organ has no natural means of locomotion, so in their representation, they have innovatively grafted chicken legs onto each phallus.

3. Quids

Quids

The Anasazi (aka Ancestral Puebloans), the predecessors of the Pueblo culture of today, populated the American Southwest as far back as AD 100. Research demonstrates that they enjoyed a common vice—chewing tobacco.

From the prehistoric equivalent of a compost heap found in Antelope Cave in Arizona, archaeologists recouped 345 small, fiber-wrapped balls of obscure reason. Dubbed “quids,” similar bundles have popped up across the American Southwest, often implanted with teeth marks. At first, it was assumed that old-timey folk chewed on these amid periods of food scarcity to simulate eating and to draw in the tiny bits of trace nutrients that remained.

Then researchers checked the bundles under a microscope. Peering deep past the 1,200-year-old fibrous coating, they found that the quids contained several types of wild tobacco, including coyote tobacco (pictured above). It’s possible that the tobacco fed daily addictions rather than sacred yearnings because the used quids were found in the trash. However many others have not been tested, and researchers are excited about what other substances might be inside.

2. Lake Baikal ‘Venus’ Figurines

Lake Baikal ‘Venus’ Figurines

The perfect female form is a popular motif for ancient sculptures, including the Mal’ta figurines recouped at Angara River in Russia’s Siberian Irkutsk Oblast. Or so it seemed. But magnification unveiled the figures as faithful depictions of the Mal’ta-Buret’ ladies , men, and children that lived 20,000 years ago.

Carved from mammoth tusk, most were supposedly female nudes. So archaeologists borrowed a set from Russia’s Hermitage Museum for, uh, research and threw them under a microscope. The scans uncovered a glut of detailed garments—they aren’t nude at all, only smoothed over by time and dirt.

The figurines are clad in period-specific garmentssuch as bracelets, hats, shoes, packs, and bags. With other features invisible to the naked eye, craftsmans worked to create different hairstyles and even used different cuts to give the illusion of fur or leather.

Overalls seem to be overwhelmingly popular, as are a variety of hairy helmets and hoods to keep the cold out. Mysteriously, the figurines are scored with tiny holes, probably so they can be worn as charms or ornaments.

At first glance what is obvious is that the Mal’ta Venus figurines are of two types: full-figured Ladies with exaggerated forms, and Ladies with a thin, delicate form. Some of the figures are nude while others have etchings that seem to indicate fur or clothing.

Conversely, unlike those found in Europe, some of the Venus figurines from Mal’ta were sculpted with faces. Most of the figurines were tapered at the Below bottom , and it is believed that this was done so they could have been stuck into the ground or placed upright some other ways. Placed upright they could have symbolized the spirits of the dead, akin to “spirit dolls” used nearly world-wide, including Siberia, among contemporary people.

1. Babylonian Complaint

Babylonian Complaint

The complaint tablet to Eanasir is a clay tablet from ancient Babylon written c. 1750 BCE. It is a complaint to a merchant named EaNasir from a customer named Nanni. Written in cuneiform, it is considered to be the Most oldest known written complaint. It is currently kept in the British Museum.

Illustration of the interior of an old Babylonian house found in the ruins of Ur, which may have been the residence of Ea-nasir, Ea-Nasir travelled to the Persian Gulf to buy copper and return to sell it in Mesopotamia. On one particular Event, he had agreed to sell copper ingots to Nanni. Nanni sent his servant with the Cash to complete the transaction.The copper was sub-standard and not accepted. In response, Nanni created the cuneiform letter for delivery to Ea-nasir. Inscribed on it is a complaint to Ea-nasir about a copper ore delivery of the incorrect grade, and issues with another delivery.He also complained that his Maid (who handled the transaction) had been treated rudely. He stated that, at the time of writing, he had not accepted the copper but had paid the money.

The tablet is 11.6 centimetres (4.6 in) high, 5 centimetres (2.0 in) wide, 2.6 centimetres (1.0 in) thick, and slightly damaged. Translated from Akkadian, it reads

Shysters have always existed, and some have even been deified. For example, Ea-nasir appears on a nearly immaculate Babylonian complaint tablet recovered from Ur, one of Mesopotamia’s ancient old capitals.

An ancient 0-star review, the nearly 3,800-year-old grievance was filed by a disgruntled client, Nanni, against Ea-nasir, a shady businessman and purveyor of copper. The unscrupulous merchant promised Nanni a quantity of premium copper yet delivered ingots of downright insulting quality.

So Nanni sent messengers multiple times to exact a refund and apology from Ea-nasir. But Ea-nasir only offered salty remarks, and the messengers were sent back through enemy territory without money each time.

The tablet only recently gained acclaim. But it was translated way back in 1967 by Assyriologist Leo Oppenheim, who distributed the story and others like it in his book Letters from Mesopotamia. The tablet itself resided in what is believed to be Ea-nasir’s home. Though given everything we know about his unsavory character from this letter, he probably kept it for laughs.


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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.