History News: Neanderthal sailors, Mycenaean saws

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002

A few interesting achaeology stories from the past few weeks, which I'll bring together into a single thread rather than flood the History section of the forums. :)

1. Neanderthals may have sailed the Meditteranean

Tool finds across a number of Greek islands appear to suggest that not only did Stone Age people sail the Mediterranean, but Neanderthals may have done so, too:

Possible Neandertal artifacts have turned up on a number of islands, including at Stelida on the island of Naxos. Naxos sits 250 kilometers north of Crete in the Aegean Sea; even during glacial times, when sea levels were lower, it was likely accessible only by watercraft.
As an additional Post Script, evidence of Homo erectus is present among a number of Indonesian islands. Previously this was dismissed as due to groups being swept away from the mainland and across the sea. This might now have to be re-evaluated - perhaps shifting sea-faring even further back into prehistory.

2. Mediaeval Italian man with a knife for a hand

An intriguing skeleton from early Mediaeval Italy suggests that not only did the man use a prosthetic knife to replace an amputed hand - he also damaged his teeth using them to constantly tightening the straps:

This Medieval Italian Man Replaced His Amputated Hand With a Weapon

Also at the amputation site, archaeologists found a D-shaped buckle, and decomposed organic material - most likely leather. This suggests a leather cap over the amputated limb, a buckle used for fastening - and a knife attached to the cap, although the purpose is unclear. However, given the advanced healing of the bone, it is clear the man lived for a long time after his hand had been amputated.

3. Geese: The Ultimate in Viking Status Symbols

We may take chickens and geese for granted, but to the Northmen of Scandinavia they were the ultimate in status symbols - available at first only through direct trade with the Roman Empire during the late Iron Age:

The biggest status symbol in the Nordic Iron Age was a goose

Only a select few were buried with hens or geese, and even within these two high-status symbols, there were many differences. While 'chicken graves' contained considerable valuables, it was only the 'goose graves' that contained expensive, imported Roman goods, says Anne Birgitte Gotfredsen.

4. How to build a Roman fridge-freezer

The Roman's aren't famous for building fridge-freezers, but they had a clever method for keeping food chilled well into the summer:

A first attempt to recreate the ancient cool box failed after archaeologists at the dig filed the shaft with snow all in one go. But that experiment showed temperatures in the shaft were above freezing point even in winter. The second try was more successful: the shaft was gradually filled with snow and ice blocks were placed inside as well. Using these methods, snow remained until June.

Swiss researchers try to get ancient Roman fridge working (again)

5. Reconstructing a Mycenaean pendulum rock saw

Strange blade marks on stones across ancient sites in Greece might have been made with a pendulum saw - so a couple of men decided to reconstruct what one might have looked like

How a backyard pendulum saw sliced into a Bronze Age mystery

Blackwell reviewed seven previously published designs and the one actual model of a pendulum saw that may have been used by a nearby Bronze Age society; they offered little encouragement. No consensus existed on the best shape for the blade or the most effective framework option. Designers were most notably stumped by how to build a pendulum that adjusted downward as the blade cut deeper into the stone.

In the meantime, the image at the top of this piece comes from a BBC article on excavations at Maryport Roman settlement that were undertaken a few years ago - worth a read in its own right: Unearthing a Roman civilian's past
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Robert Zwilling

Well-Known Member
Jun 12, 2018
It has been found that works of art were being created 100, 000 years. These weren't extensive cave paintings but if they had time to carve up stones I would not be surprised if someone figured out how to make a simple raft out of tree logs and vines. See logs floating on water, climb on board, seems simple enough.

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