2000-Year-Old Children’s Shoe Unearthed in Austrian Iron Age Site
An “extremely well-preserved” Iron Age Children’s Shoe was discovered in Austria during excavations at Dürrnberg, near the historic town of Hallein.
Since 2001, the German Mining Museum Bochum, Leibniz Research Museum for Georesources, has been conducting mining archeological investigations with its mining archeology research area on the Dürrnberg near Hallein.
The Dürrnberg near Salzburg is known for its rock salt mining, which already occurred in the Iron Age.
Due to the preservation effect of the salt, organic remains are particularly well preserved, in contrast to other excavations, where such finds are in short supply. During this year’s campaign in the Georgenberg tunnel, a children’s shoe made of leather came to light.
The shoe is made of leather and roughly corresponds to today’s shoe size 30 (12.5-inch). The shape, as well as the lace-up closures, which were likely made of flax or linen, are still intact. The shoe’s design provides additional indications of its manufacture, which was most likely in the second century B.C.
“For decades now, our research activities on the Dürrnberg have repeatedly provided us with valuable finds in order to develop the earliest mining activities scientifically.
The condition of the shoe that was found is outstanding,” says the head of the research area, Prof. Dr. Thomas Stöllne. “Organic materials usually decompose over time.
Finds such as this children’s shoe, but also textile remains or excrement, such as those found on the Dürrnberg, offer an extremely rare insight into the life of the Iron Age miners.”
Several finds of leather shoes are already known from the Dürrnberg, but a child’s shoe is always something special, as it proves the presence of children underground.
In addition, in this case, as an exception, a remnant of a lacing made of flax or linen has been preserved. In this way, conclusions can be drawn as to how the shoes were laced.
In the vicinity of the well-kept find, archaeologists also found other organic materials, namely a fragment of a wooden shovel in the shape of a blade and the remains of fur with lacing that possibly belonged to a fur hood.
The research work on prehistoric salt production at Dürrnberg near Hallein in Austria is part of a long-term research project.
The work is funded by Salinen Austria AG and Salinen Tourismus and is carried out in cooperation with the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at Ruhr University in Bochum.
Ancient Humans Cooked And Ate Giant Land Snails Around 170,000 Years Ago
Slow-motion large land snails made for easy catching and good eating as early as 170,000 years ago. Until now, the oldest evidence of Homo sapiens eating land snails dated to roughly 49,000 years ago in Africa and 36,000 years ago in Europe.
But tens of thousands of years earlier, people at a southern African rock shelter roasted these slimy, chewy – and nutritious – creepers that can grow as big as an adult’s hand, researchers report in the April 15 Quaternary Science Reviews.
Analyses of shell fragments excavated at South Africa’s Border Cave indicate that hunter-gatherers who periodically occupied the site heated large African land snails on embers and then presumably ate them, say chemist Marine Wojcieszak and colleagues. Wojcieszak, of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels, studies the chemical properties of archaeological sites and artifacts.
The supersized delicacy became especially popular between about 160,000 and 70,000 years ago, the researchers say. The number of unearthed snail shell pieces was substantially larger in sediment layers dating to that time period.
New discoveries at Border Cave challenge an influential idea that human groups did not make land snails and other small game a big part of their diet until the last Ice Age waned around 15,000 to 10,000 years ago, Wojcieszak says.
Long before that, hunter-gatherer groups in southern Africa roamed the countryside collecting large land snails to bring back to Border Cave for themselves and to share with others, the team contends. Some of the group members who stayed behind on snail-gathering forays may have had limited mobility due to age or injury, the researchers suspect.
“The easy-to-eat, fatty protein of snails would have been an important food for the elderly and small children, who are less able to chew hard foods,” Wojcieszak says. “Food sharing shows that cooperative social behavior was in place from the dawn of our species.”
Border Cave’s ancient snail scarfers also push back the human consumption of mollusks by several thousand years, says archaeologist Antonieta Jerardino of the University of South Africa in Pretoria. Previous excavations at a cave on South Africa’s southern tip found evidence of humans eating mussels, limpets and other marine mollusks as early as around 164,000 years ago.
Given the nutritional value of large land snails, an earlier argument that it was eating fish and shellfish that energized human brain evolution may have been overstated, says Jerardino, who did not participate in the new study.
It’s not surprising that ancient H. sapiens recognized the nutritional value of land snails and occasionally cooked and ate them 170,000 years ago, says Teresa Steele, an archaeologist at the University of California, Davis who was not part of the work.
But intensive consumption of these snails starting around 160,000 years ago is unexpected and raises questions about whether climate and habitat changes may have reduced the availability of other foods, Steele says.
Researchers have already found evidence that ancient people at Border Cave cooked starchy plant stems, ate an array of fruits and hunted small and large animals. The oldest known grass bedding, from around 200,000 years ago, has also been unearthed at Border Cave.
Several excavations have been conducted at the site since 1934. Three archaeologists on the new study — Lucinda Backwell and Lyn Wadley of Wits University in Johannesburg and Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux in France — directed the latest Border Cave dig, which ran from 2015 through 2019.
Discoveries by that team inspired the new investigation. Excavations uncovered shell fragments of large land snails, many discolored from possible burning, in all but the oldest sediment layers containing remnants of campfires and other H. sapiens activity. The oldest layers date to at least 227,000 years ago.
The chemical and microscopic characteristics of 27 snail shell fragments from various sediment layers were compared with shell fragments of modern large African snails that were heated in a metal furnace. Experimental temperatures ranged from 200° to 550° Celsius. Heating times lasted from five minutes to 36 hours.
All but a few ancient shell pieces displayed signs of extended heat exposure consistent with having once been attached to snails that were cooked on hot embers. Heating clues on shell surfaces included microscopic cracks and a dull finish.
Only lower parts of large land snail shells would have rested against embers during cooking, possibly explaining the mix of burned and unburned shell fragments unearthed at Border Cave, the researchers say.
Four 1,900-Year-Old Roman Swords Found in The Judean Desert
Archaeologists report having discovered four incredibly well-preserved Roman swords in the Judean Desert. This very rare find was made in a small hidden cave located in an area of isolated and inaccessible cliffs north of ‘En Gedi, in the Judean Desert Nature Reserve, under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Authority.
Fifty years ago, a stalactite with a fragmentary ink inscription written in ancient Hebrew script, characteristic of the First Temple period, was found.
Recently, Dr. Asaf Gayer of the Department of the Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Ariel University, geologist Boaz Langford of the Institute of Earth Sciences and the Cave Research Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority photographer, visited the cave.
Their aim was to photograph the Paleo-Hebrew inscription written on the stalactite with multispectral photography that might be able to decipher additional parts of the inscription not visible to the naked eye.
While on the upper level of the cave, Asaf Gayer spotted an extremely well-preserved, Roman pilum— a shafted weapon in a deep narrow crevice. He also found pieces of worked wood in an adjacent niche that turned out to be parts of the swords’ scabbards.
The researchers reported the discovery to the Israel Antiquities Authority Archaeological Survey Team, who are conducting a systematic scientific project in the Judean Desert caves.
As part of this survey, initiated by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and in cooperation with the Ministry of Heritage and the Archaeological Office for the Military Administration of Judea and Samaria, hundreds of caves have been investigated over six years, and 24 archaeological excavations have been carried out in selected caves, with the aim of saving the archaeological remains from the hands of looters.
The Judean Desert Cave Survey team, together with Asaf Gayer and Boaz Langford returned to the cave and carried out a meticulous survey of all the crevices in the rock, during which they were astonished to find the four Roman swords in an almost inaccessible crevice on the upper level of the cave.
Experts say the four swords are 1,900-year-old and most likely from the Bar Kochba revolt that lasted from 132 to 135 C.E. Also called the Second Jewish Revolt, it was a Jewish rebellion against Roman rule in Judea led by rebel leader Simon Bar Kochba.
The most plausible scenario is that the swords were hidden in the cave sometime during the revolt, as it was dangerous for Jews to be found with Roman weapons.
“Finding a single sword is rare—so four? It’s a dream! We rubbed our eyes to believe it,” say the researchers.
The swords were exceptionally well preserved, and three were found with the iron blade inside the wooden scabbards. Leather strips and wooden and metal finds belonging to the weapons were also found in the crevice.
The swords had well-fashioned handles made of wood or metal. The length of the blades of the three swords was 60–65 cm, their dimensions identifying them as Roman spatha swords, and the fourth one was shorter with c. 45 cm long blade, identified as a ring-pommel sword.
The swords were carefully removed from the crevice in the rock and transferred to the Israel Antiquities Authority climate-controlled laboratories for preservation and conservation.
The initial examination of the assemblage confirmed that these were standard swords employed by the Roman soldiers stationed in Judea in the Roman period.
“The hiding of the swords and the pilum in deep cracks in the isolated cave north of ‘En Gedi, hints that the weapons were taken as booty from Roman soldiers or from the battlefield and purposely hidden by the Judean rebels for reuse,” says Dr. Eitan Klein, one of the directors of the Judean Desert Survey Project.
“Obviously, the rebels did not want to be caught by the Roman authorities carrying these weapons. We are just beginning the research on the cave and the weapon cache discovered in it, aiming to try to find out who owned the swords, and where, when, and by whom they were manufactured.
We will try to pinpoint the historical event that led to the caching of these weapons in the cave and determine whether it was at the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132–135 CE.”
Following the discovery of the swords, an archaeological excavation was undertaken in the cave by the Israel Antiquities Authority, directed by Eitan Klein, Oriya Amichay, Hagay Hamer, and Amir Ganor.
The cave was excavated in its entirety, and artifacts dating to the Chalcolithic period (c. 6,000 years ago) and the Roman period (c. 2,000 years ago) were uncovered.
At the entrance to the cave, a Bar-Kokhba bronze coin from the time of the Revolt was found, possibly pointing to the time when the cave served for concealing the weapons.
This Bread Was Made Using 4,500-Year-Old Egyptian Yeast
Seamus Blackley, best known as one of the minds behind the Xbox, is a hardcore amateur baker and Egyptologist. Recently, he decided to combine his two hobbies. As Alix Kroeger at the BBC reports, along with University of Queensland archaeologist and ancient brewing expert Serena Love, he negotiated access to 4,500-year-old Old Kingdom vessels used to bake bread and make beer from the Peabody Essex Museum and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Richard Bowman, a doctoral candidate in microbiology at the University of Iowa, helped in the process, injecting a nutrient solution into the ceramics, which reawakened dormant yeasts.
The team then extracted the yeasty liquid. While most of the yeast was sent off to a laboratory for study, Blackley took one sample home, setting out to recreate the taste of ancient Egypt by baking with its yeast.
“It’s such a magical thing, to think we can share food in a rather genuine way with our distant ancestors,” Blackley writes on Twitter.
While it’s possible that humans began making some form of bread as early as about 30,000 years ago, they didn’t begin using yeast to produce beer, wine and leavened bread until about 6,000 years ago. Since then, yeast used for producing food has undergone a lot of changes, with strains from around the world combining with one another, and picking up mutations along the way.
It’s likely that the yeast the team captured is the real deal. While previous experiments have scraped the interiors of the bowl, which could easily be contaminated, and other techniques destroy the bowls to gain access to the yeast, this method is non-invasive.
“You pump a fluid in carefully with a syringe and some sterile cotton in contact with the ceramics. It soaks in and you vacuum it back out,” Bowman tells Will Pavia at The Times.
Genomic sequencing will conclude whether the ancient yeast is the real deal or contaminated with modern microbes. In the meantime, Blackley couldn’t resist baking with his sample. He cultivated the yeast for a week using unfiltered olive oil, hand-milled barley and einkorn, one of the earliest forms of wheat, until he had a starter, like that used to make sourdough bread.
Sarah Cascone at artnet News reports he then mixed the starter with barley, einkorn and kamut, all of which would have been at an ancient Egyptian baker’s disposal. “Modern wheat was invented long after these organisms went to sleep,” he says. “The idea is to make a dough with identical ingredients to what the yeast ate 4,500 years ago.”
Blackley documented his bread-baking adventure on his Twitter profile. He noted that the scent as it baked was different from other loaves of bread he’s made with the same combination of ancient grains, but with modern yeast. “It’s much sweeter and more rich than the sourdough we are used to. It’s a big difference,” he wrote.
Describing the look and taste of it, Blackley noted that the crumb “is light and airy,” particularly for a 100 percent ancient grain loaf. “The aroma and flavor are incredible,” he added. “I’m emotional.
It’s really different, and you can easily tell even if you’re not a bread nerd. This is incredibly exciting, and I’m so amazed that it worked.”
That being said, Blackley was careful to note that this loaf was just for practice, and he’s sure some modern yeast likely contaminated the sample. He hopes to try again with a purer strain of Old Kingdom yeast and has future plans to work with Love to replicate the tools and baking methods, like cooking bread in ceramic pots, used by the ancient Egyptians.
He also wants to work with a ceramicist to recreate the cooking vessels. Already the team has secured permission to collect samples from cooking pots in other museums, and they hope to gather yeast from the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, each separated by 500 to 700 years, to understand if and how the yeasts changed over time.
Luckily, we have something to go along with the Pharaoh’s bread. Last year, the British Museum tasked a team with figuring out how to brew beer using ancient Egyptian methods, which produced suds similar to white wine.
Remarkable Paleolithic Sculpture Discovered in the Famous Cave of Foissac
A fascinating and unique Paleolithic sculpture of a figurine carved from a large bovine bone and with unusual designs engraved in it was discovered in the well-known cave of Foissac in Aveyron, France.
According to Le Figaro , the cave, which is closed to the public from October to June, still contains many mysteries, including the newest discovery – the sculpture, which is one of the most mysterious findings of the last years.
During the prehistoric era, people created a unique style of art, which was also perhaps a way of expressing information. It was carved in a bone of an auroch or bison with a flint tool. One part of the sculpture was polished with an unidentified tool.
The figurine was analyzed by an expert from La Direction régionale des affaires culturelles. The researchers believe that it was made 20,000 years ago. It depicts a human who appears to be holding something, possibly a baby.
Most sculptures from this period depict animals, so to find a figurine is quite rare. The statue is very well preserved, which is surprising considering that it was submerged in water for many centuries.
The major problem with the analysis of such artifacts is that there are no historical sources to explain the meaning behind the art of Paleolithic people. Researchers may only speculate. Du Fayet de La Tour believes that the sculpture is a woman carrying a child or an animal.
It has also been suggested that some of the patterned marks may represent prehistoric tattoos. However, more analysis is needed. They hope that future discoveries will bring answers to the most intriguing questions the sculpture poses.
It is similar to the case of another artifact discovered in the cave La Roche-Cotard in the territory of Langeais, France. It is a piece of flat flint that may have been shaped by the hands of a Neanderthal who once lived near.
Many people see a face in this artifact, which they call one of the oldest pieces of art on Earth. The Mask of la Roche-Cotard , also called the “Mousterian Proto-figurine”, was discovered in 1975 and re-examined in 2003 by Jean-Claude Marquet, curator of the Museum of Prehistory of Grand-Pressigny, and Michel Lorblanchet, a director of research in the French National Centre of Scientific Research, Roc des Monges, at Saint-Sozy.
The mask is about 10 cm (3.94 inches) tall, and not very well preserved. It is dated to about 35,000 years old, thus created during the Mousterian period. This was a time when Neanderthals seemed to be quite advanced and creative.
However, they still lived in caves and it is believed that their lives were primarily focused on daily survival. In fact, we don’t know what sources of entertainment they preferred, if they played games, or even how they sounded when they spoke.
The most useful messages for researchers today have been found painted and carved on stones.
Naked Servant Depicted in Newly Discovered 2,200-Year-Old Tomb Mural
A naked man holding a wine jug and a vase is just one of many figures depicted in a 2,200-year-old mural of a banquet that’s decorating a newly discovered tomb in Italy.
The painted tomb — discovered in the ancient city of Cumae — is a prize find. But its style was surprisingly retro at the time it was painted, between the second and third centuries B.C., said the archeologists who found it.
In fact, murals like this one were in vogue about 100 to 200 years earlier, making it quite “unfashionable” for its time, the archaeologists said in a statement.
Although a naked servant would be inappropriate (and extremely weird) by today’s standards, that wasn’t the case when the mural was painted.
During that period and the following Roman period, nudity was seen as the natural state of being, according to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. For instance, condemned criminals and even female gladiators were known to fight naked in Rome’s Colosseum.
The city where the mural was discovered, Cumae, is located about 15 miles (25 kilometers) west of Naples, on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Founded in the second half of the eighth century B.C., it’s considered the oldest ancient Greek settlement in the Western world, the archaeologists said.
Since 2001, the archaeologists have focused on an area of Cumae that included a Greek sanctuary, roads and a necropolis. They found hundreds of sepulchers (small, rock-carved rooms holding the deceased), including a series of vaulted burial chambers made of tuff — a volcanic stone native to the area.
The new discovery, found in June 2018 and announced Sept. 25, includes a chamber with three funerary beds. People entered the ancient tomb by using a door in the facade, which was sealed with a large stone block, the archaeologists said.
Tomb raiders pilfered the burials in the 19th century, but the archaeologists managed to find a few remaining traces of funerary artifacts that helped them date the chamber.
The lavish space and mural indicate that the people who were buried there had a high social status, the archaeologists said.
The mural itself is unusual for its vast array of colors. The other tombs excavated in the necropolis are decorated murals painted only in red or white, the archaeologists said.
But the mural with the naked servant has a number of colors, including brown and pink, painted on top of the white plaster background. Much of the mural has crumbled over the years, but the banquet’s guests were likely painted on the side walls of the tomb, the archaeologists said.
To prevent further decay, the archaeologists opted to remove the fresco from the tomb, as well as painted fragments they found on the ground. Later, they plan to reassemble the pieces like a puzzle, they said.
Researchers Finish Separating World’s Largest Celtic Coin Hoard
Last Friday, conservators at Jersey Heritage finally completed separating and meticulously cleaning the largest hoard of Celtic coins and gold jewelry ever discovered. It took nearly three years of effort to go through the mass of treasure.
“This is a significant milestone for the team. It has been painstaking but thoroughly intriguing work, which has delivered some very unexpected and amazing finds along the way,” Neil Mahrer, who led the conservation effort says in a press release.
“There is still plenty to do and I am sure the Hoard will continue to surprise us as we clean and record the material.”
According to the BBC, the treasure was discovered in 2012 by amateur metal detector enthusiasts Reg Mead and Richard Miles. But it was no accidental discovery; the pair had been searching the area for 30 years looking for it.
They began their quest after a local woman told them that her father had discovered some silver Celtic coins in a pot in a field near her home in Jersey, a British island in the English Channel.
She did not recall the exact location, and the owner of the field only allowed the pair to search the area once a year after he harvested his crops.
Their patience paid off, and they did eventually find several coins in the field. “We then looked deeper into the ground to see if there was anything further.
We came down on a solid object and when Reg dug up a chunk of earth there was immediately five or six discs,” Miles tells the BBC. “We always said if we found anything significant it must remain in situ, it had to remain in its archaeological context so it could be studied.”
The hoard, dubbed Catillon II contained, at last count, at least 68,000 coins, approximately six times larger than any other Celtic hoard ever discovered, according to Jersey Heritage.
It also contained many gold neck torcs, glass beads, a leather purse and a bag with silver and gold decoration. Researchers estimate it was buried by French Celts known as the Coriosolitae around 30-50 B.C., around the time of Julius Caesar, likely as they fled a Roman invasion of the area.
According to the BBC, now that the contents of the hoard have been separated, the government of Jersey will vote on whether to pay to keep the treasure trove on the island or allow it to be sold off. At the time of its discovery, it was valued at 10 million pounds.
800-year-old spiral rock carvings marked the solstices for Native Americans
The Pueblo people created rock carvings in the Mesa Verde region of the Southwest United States about 800 years ago to mark the position of the sun on the longest and shortest days of the year, archaeologists now say.
Panels of ancient rock art, called petroglyphs, on canyon walls in the region show complex interactions of sunlight and shadows.These interactions can be seen in the days around the winter and summer solstices, when the sun reaches its southernmost and northernmost points, respectively, and, to a lesser extent, around the equinoxes — the “equal nights”— in spring and fall, the researchers said.
The carvings show scenes depicting the traditions of contemporary Hopi people — descendants of the ancestral Puebloans who lived in parts of the Southwest until the 13th century. The traditions describe important rituals at seasonal points in the yearly solar calendar tied to farming activities, such as planting and harvesting.
The rock carvings “probably marked the specific seasons,” archaeologist Radek Palonkaof Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. “It was not only to observe the phenomena.”
Since 2011, Palonka has led researchers from his university in investigations of ancient sites around Castle Rock Pueblo that date from the early 13th century. Their research is one of only a few European archaeological projects in the region.
Castle Rock Pueblo is now part of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, near Colorado’s border with Utah and about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Mesa Verde National Park.
Ethnographic studies in the 19th century suggested that rock carvings in the area may have been used as solar calendars, but Palonka’s team is the first to verify and document the phenomena.
“We used a lot of new technologies, like laser scanning and photogrammetry,” a method that uses detailed photographs to create a map or 3D model of a place or object, he said. “So we were able to see more stuff on the rocks than it is possible to see only with the naked eye.”
At one of the sites studied so far, the petroglyphs are carved on a flat, south-racing rock wall that’s shaded by an overhanging rock. They consist of three carved spirals and smaller elements, including rectangles, grooves and hollows.
At the time of sunset on days near the midwinter solstice, which happens around Dec. 22 each year, patterns of sunlight and shadow can be seen to move through the spirals, grooves and other parts of the petroglyphs, Palonka said.
The phenomenon is also visible around the spring and fall equinoxes, around March 20 and Sept. 22 each year, but it does not occur at other times of the year.
Similar petroglyphs at another ancestral Puebloan site, at nearby Sand Canyon, are lit by sunlight only in the late mornings and early afternoons around the summer solstice, he said.
The observations were made by archaeologists and students from Poland, mostly during the warmer months, and throughout the year by volunteers for the administration of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. The team has also discovered several panels of Pueblo rock art previously unknown to scientists, Palonka said.
The name Pueblo — which means “village” in Spanish — was given by Spanish colonists to several Native American peoples who lived in the American Southwest.
Unlike many nomadic Native Americans, the Pueblo peoples lived in large complexes of buildings they constructed from adobe and stone.
In the Mesa Verde region and elsewhere, the ancient villages of ancestral Puebloans are represented by sophisticated “cliff dwellings” in the sides of canyons and under rock overhangs. But the buildings are also found on valley floors, such as at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
Many ancient monuments throughout the world show signs of having been used, at least in part, to mark annual events of the solar calendar, such as the midwinter and midsummer solstices.
The importance of solar solstices is also found in several Native American traditions. “This collaboration with native people, in this case Hopi people from Arizona, is really important.” Palonka said.
Among other details, Palonka has learned that the spiral symbol, seen in many of the rock carvings related to the solstices and equinoxes, was often an emblem of the sun or sky — but not always.
The symbol can also have other meanings — including water, physical migration or spiritual migration — such as moving between the physical world and a mythical or spiritual world, he said.
1,700-Year-Old Sock Spins Yarn About Ancient Egyptian Fashion
There are old socks, and then there are old socks. This stripy sock, discarded around the 3rd or 4th century, falls into the latter category. Fished out of a landfill during the 1913-1914 excavation of the Egyptian city of Antinooupolis led by English papyrologist John de Monins Johnson on behalf the Egypt Exploration Fund, the sock ended up in the collections of the British Museum in London.
While previous research had pinpointed its age, not much else was known about the sock—or its partner, which presumably was lost to time (and did not succumb to whatever the late antiquity period equivalent is to being swallowed by the dryer).
Now, new research is unraveling the sock’s secrets. As Caroline Davies reports for the Guardian, a group of museum scientists hoping to better understand ancient Egyptian clothing manufacture and trade practices decided to analyze the dyes in the sock, along with several other textiles dating between about 250 and 800 A.D.
Avoiding older techniques that required an invasive approach, they utilized multispectral imaging, which only needs to scan the surface of artifacts to test for pigments.
Even if certain colors have degraded to the point that they’re not visible to the naked eye, multispectral imaging can detect minute color traces under different wavelengths of light. Think of it as a camera for invisible ink.
Sure enough, the analysis revealed that the sock contained seven hues of wool yarn woven together in a meticulous, stripy pattern. Just three natural, plant-based dyes—madder roots for red, woad leaves for blue and weld flowers for yellow—were used to create the different color combinations featured on the sock, according to Joanne Dyer, lead author of the study, which appears in the journal PLOS ONE.
In the paper, she and her co-authors explain that the imaging technique also revealed how the colors were mixed to create hues of green, purple and orange: In some cases, fibers of different colors were spun together; in others, individual yarns went through multiple dye baths.
Such intricacy is pretty impressive, considering that ancient sock is both “tiny” and “fragile,” as Dyer tells Davies. Given its size and orientation, the researchers believe it may have been worn on a child’s left foot.
The sock offers insight beyond what was all the rage among youth fashion approximately 1,700 years ago. Analyzing its construction yields a lot of insight into the time period in which it warmed tiny feet.
The period that comprised Egypt’s late antiquity is rich with history: During this time, Egypt experienced an enormous upheaval that ended with the Muslim conquest of the region in 641 A.D.
“These events affect the economy, trade, access to materials,” Dyer tells Davies, “Which is all reflected in the technical makeup of what people were wearing and how they were making these objects.”
As it happens, socks are believed to have been a mainstay for humans since the Stone Age—though the earliest versions, which were just animal pelts or skins meant to be wrapped around feet, may not bear much resemblance to that Fruit of the Loom six-pack you have in your sock drawer.
The ancient Egyptians employed a single-needle looping technique, often referred to as nålbindning, to create their socks. Notably, the approach could be used to separate the big toe and four other toes in the sock—which just may have given life to the ever-controversial socks-nd-sandals trend.
While excavating two Stone Age villages in Georgia, researchers discovered 8,000-year old jars containing what they believe are traces of grape wine. It is the oldest evidence of wine production yet discovered, report Ashifa Kassam and Nicola Davis at The Guardian.
The discovery, detailed in a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was made as part of an international collaboration of archaeologists and botanists who were studying the neolithic villages Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora.
Positioned roughly 20 miles south of the city of Tbilisi, these sites host circular mud-brick homes and a smattering of the stone and bone tools commonly used by people of that age. The region is also home to what are likely among the first clay-fired pots found in the Near East.
The latest find came from large clay jars that were stuck in the floor of the circular dwellings, Andrew Curry at National Geographic reports. One jar found was three feet tall and decorated with what researchers suspected might represent clusters of grapes.
To investigate the purpose of the container, the team sent 30 pottery fragments and 26 soil samples of the surrounding region to be analyzed for evidence of wine-making. The result of this analysis revealed traces of tartaric acid, a compound found in high concentrations in grapes, stuck to the insides of the pots.
The soil collected near the pottery had much lower levels of the compound, which suggests that it wasn’t naturally occurring, report Kassam and Davis.
Three other grape-related compounds, malic, succinic and citric acid, were also found on the pottery. Other evidence discovered at the site includes grape pollen found in the soil, the remains of a fruit fly, grape starch and cells that may be from a grape vine, according to the Guardian.
“We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine,” co-author Stephen Batiuk of the University of Toronto says in a press release.
As Nicholas St. Fleur at The New York Times reports, prior to this find, the oldest known evidence for grape wine came from the Zagros Mountains of Iran. The Georgian wine, however, pushes back the history of wine 600 to 1,000 years.
This latest analysis did not show the presence of pine resin, which later wine makers used to preserve the beverage, Patrick McGovern, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Curry.
Because of that, McGovern says it was likely that wine was a seasonal beverage for the people of these villages, and needed to be produced and consumed relatively quickly before it turned to vinegar. The lack of seeds or stems at the site leads McGovern to think the Stone Age people in this region produced wine offsite in cooler areas then brought it to the villages in jugs.
While modern people often look at life in the Neolithic as a somewhat brutal, constant struggle to survive. This latest discovery along with other recent finds suggest that early human communities had the resources to focus not only on survival, but things like culture, spirituality, booze and more.
“Wine fermentation isn’t a survival necessity. It shows that human beings back then were about more than utilitarian activity,” Stanford archaeologist Patrick Hunt, who was not involved in the study, tells Curry. “There’s far greater sophistication even in the transitional Neolithic than we had any clue about.”
While this is the earliest evidence of alcohol made from grapes, it’s far from the earliest evidence of alcohol consumption by humans. Evidence suggests that people in China were making a fermented-honey, rice and hawthorn concoctions 9,000 years ago. But McGovern thinks humans may have been imbibing much, much longer than that—an idea he explores in a book released over the summer entitled Ancient Brews.
Humans have enzymes in their mouth and digestive system that specialize in breaking down alcohol, suggesting that our early ancestors were consuming fermented fruit, he told Lorraine Boissoneault at Smithsonian.com earlier this year. This means it’s possible humans were brewing up their own alcohol long before the Stone Age, though little evidence of this has yet been discovered.
For Georgia, the discovery did not come as a surprise. “Georgia had always suspected it had a Neolithic wine, there were several claims,” David Lordkipanidze, the general director of the Georgian National Museum and co- author of the paper tells St. Fleur.
“But now there is real evidence.” Today, the wine culture has blossomed with some 500 varieties of wine grapes and unique wine-producing traditions.
As Curry reports, McGovern and his team hope to see if they can find an existing grape variety that is closely related to the Neolithic variety so they can plant a vineyard to learn more about how the villagers produced their wine. There is still more excavation to be done at the sites, too, which could push the story of wine back even further.