The highly polished stone adze. Image courtesy of York University.
The highly polished stone adze. Image courtesy of York University.

9000-Year-Old Polished Axe Uncovered in Ireland

The highly polished stone adze. Image courtesy of York University.
The highly polished stone adze. Image courtesy of York University.

Between 7530 and 7320 BCE, a funeral took place on the banks of the river Shannon in what is today County Limerick, Ireland. Now, more than 9000 years later, the site provides a window into the burial practices of the area’s ancient inhabitants. As The Irish Times reports, the grave suggests that Mesolithic Irish people led more complex lives than we previously believed.

The artifact that led to this conclusion, discussed in a paper recently published in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal, was a stone axe. The polished shale tool, called an adze, was found buried with cremated remains in a pit first discovered 15 years ago. It appears to have been used only for a brief period before someone went out of their way to blunt it. This might indicate it was made especially for the funeral, and that blunting the blade was a symbolic act performed during the rites.

Handled axes dating back as far as 44,000 years have been found elsewhere in the past, but this highly polished tool is believed to be the oldest adze discovered in Europe. Researcher and paper co-author Ben Elliot said in a statement:

"The adze is exceptional as we traditionally associate this polished axes and adzes like this with the arrival of agriculture in Europe, around 3000 years later. Although polished axes and adzes are known from pre-agricultural sites in Ireland and other parts of Europe, to find such a well-made, highly polished and securely dated example is unprecedented for this period of prehistory."

The site it was uncovered from is also remarkable: The body was cremated before it was buried, a rare practice at the time, and it had the unusual distinction of a wooden post nearby to mark it. The grave may not be the most famous prehistoric burial site in Ireland—that distinction belongs to Newgrange—but it is the oldest known grave in the country.

[h/t The Irish Times]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Utility Workers May Have Found One of Rome’s First Churches
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

The remains of what may have been one of Rome’s earliest Christian churches were accidentally discovered along the Tiber River during construction, The Local reports. The four-room structure, which could have been built as early as the 1st century CE, was unearthed by electrical technicians who were laying cables along the Ponte Milvio.

The newly discovered structure next to the river
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

No one is sure what to make of this “archaeological enigma shrouded in mystery,” in the words of Rome’s Archaeological Superintendency. Although there’s no definitive theory as of yet, experts have a few ideas.

The use of colorful African marble for the floors and walls has led archaeologists to believe that the building probably served a prestigious—or perhaps holy—function as the villa of a noble family or as a Christian place of worship. Its proximity to an early cemetery spawned the latter theory, since it's common for churches to have mausoleums attached to them. Several tombs were found in that cemetery, including one containing the intact skeleton of a Roman man.

Marble flooring
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

A tomb
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma1

The walls are made of brick, and the red, green, and beige marble had been imported from Sparta (Greece), Egypt, and present-day Tunisia, The Telegraph reports.

As The Local points out, it’s not all that unusual in Rome for archaeological discoveries to be made by unsuspecting people going about their day. Rome’s oldest aqueduct was found by Metro workers, and an ancient bath house and tombs were found during construction on a new church.

[h/t The Local]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Scientists Just Found the Oldest Known Piece of Bread
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen

An old, charred piece of long-forgotten flatbread has captured the interest of archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians around the world. Found in a stone fireplace in Jordan’s Black Desert, this proto-pita dates back 14,400 years, making it the oldest known example of bread, Reuters reports.

To put the significance of this discovery in context: the flatbread predates the advent of agriculture by 4000 years, leading researchers to theorize that the laborious process of making the bread from wild cereals may have inspired early hunter-gatherers to cultivate grain and save themselves a whole lot of trouble.

“We now have to assess whether there was a relationship between bread production and the origins of agriculture,” Amaia Arranz-Otaegui, a researcher with the University of Copenhagen, told Reuters. “It is possible that bread may have provided an incentive for people to take up plant cultivation and farming, if it became a desirable or much-sought-after food.”

A report on these findings—written by researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London, and University of Cambridge—was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It was once thought that bread was an invention of early farming civilizations. A 9100-year-old piece of bread from Turkey was previously regarded as the oldest of its kind. However, the Jordanian flatbread was made by a group of hunter-gatherers called the Natufians, who lived during a transitional period from nomadic to sedentary ways of life, at which time diets also started to change.

Similar to a pita, this unleavened bread was made from wild cereals akin to barley, einkorn, and oats. These were “ground, sieved, and kneaded prior to cooking,” according to a statement from the University of Copenhagen. The ancient recipe also called for tubers from an aquatic plant, which Arranz-Otaegui described as tasting “gritty and salty."

[h/t Reuters]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios