What Discovery of Oldest Human Poop Reveals About Neanderthals’ Diet
Neanderthals have consumed vegetables — we know that it has definitely been put under the microscope, thanks to the oldest piece of human fecal matter ever found.
Five soil samples from a known Neanderthal site in El Salt in Spain are thought to be obtained and are estimated to date back around 50,000 years.
The find puts to shame the previous oldest hominid poop discovered in the Western Hemisphere, a 14,000-year-old piece of shit found in an Oregon cave (that particular fecal find is in dispute).
Some brave souls from MIT and the University of La Laguna (“samples were collected by hand,” the researchers said) analyzed the makeup of the samples and found that Neanderthals ate a diet dominated by meat, but definitely ate some plants, as well.
That’s because lead researcher Ainara Sistiaga and his team were able to identify, for the first time, the presence of metabolites such as 5B-stigmastanol and 5B-epistigmastanol, which are created when the body digests plant matter.
The existence of those metabolites “unambiguously record the ingestion of plants,” Sistiage writes in a study published today in PLOS One.
Obtaining the poop wasn’t as gross as you might expect—Sistiage and his team took soil samples, crushed them into a fine powder, and used laboratory equipment to identify tiny pieces of fecal matter.
And direct evidence from something like poop is much better at painting a picture of what Neanderthals ate than analyzing their tools or dental records.
“Except for the evidence of entrapped microfossils and organic residues in Neanderthal teeth, all previous palaeodietary reconstructions have been based on indirect evidence where preferential or selective preservation plays a key role,” Sistiage wrote.
In other words, our previous analyses had a bias toward identifying proteins, because they are easier to detect.
Recent dental records suggested that Neanderthals probably ate plants, but now we know for sure.
We also know, thanks to various biomarkers found in the poop, that Neanderthals had a pretty advanced digestive system that is similar to modern humans.
Advanced digestion, healthy diets, and smarts—Neanderthals are beginning to look a lot more like us than we ever could have expected.
‘Spanish Stonehenge’ Older than the Pyramids Uncovered by Drought
After 50 years of immersion on the bottom of a basin, in Spain, a 5,000-year-old monument emerged.
There are 144 granite blocks on the megalithic site, which are over 6 feet high, known as ‘ Spanish Stonehenge. ‘ Its similarity to the UNESCO World Heritage site in Wiltshire is striking, but the Iberian version is made of smaller rocks.
The Spanish General ordered the construction of a hydroelectric dam at Peraleda de la Mata, near Cáceres in Extremadura, which was supposed to be condemned to the history books of the 1960s.
However, a severe and prolonged drought has seen the structure emerge as the last drops of water vanished from the barren basin. Western Spain is being ravaged by a year-long drought and the Bronze Age structure, thought to be an ancient temple, can now be seen.
Hugo Obermaier, a German priest and amateur archaeologist, first found the site in 1925.
Due to the unfortunate decision-making of General Franco who opted to consign the site to obscurity when he commissioned a valley bordering the Tagus river to be flooded.
But before its rediscovery and subsequent demise, it is thought the stones would have centered around a central chamber for sun worship.
It is believed the Celts living in Iberia 4,000 years ago may have built the structure.
‘The stones have been brought from about five kilometers away to form this temple, which we think was used to worship the sun,’ Ángel Castaño, president of the Peraleda Cultural Association, told the Times.
‘In that way, it has similarities to Stonehenge but is obviously smaller.
‘People here had heard about them but had never seen them. We want the authorities to move these stones to the banks of the reservoir and to use them as a tourist attraction, as few people come to this area.’
Stonehenge’s enormous rocks are up to 30 feet in length, dwarfing the six-foot-tall single monoliths uncovered in Spain. There are more stones at the Spanish site, 1144 compared to 93 in Wiltshire.
However, Stonehenge’s monument covers 10,800 square feet (10,000 square meters), a far bigger area than the Spanish site.
Long-term plans for the preservation of the site are yet to be laid out, but Mr. Castaño met officials from the regional government yesterday to discuss the matter. If action is not taken now, he said, it could be many years before they are seen again.
A prolonged submersion could also be catastrophic for the stones, which are made of granite, a porous material prone to erosion, The monoliths are already showing significant signs of wear, he said, and if they are not saved now, it may be too late.
Radiocarbon dating of the rocks found they range in age from around 4,000 to 5,000 years old and this ties them in curiously to the history of Stonehenge. Neolithic people, often prone to building monolithic structures, emerged throughout time across Europe.
It is widely accepted Stonehenge’s bluestones were quarried from Priesli Hills in Wales and moved to the current location, but how the idea for Stonehenge arrived on British shores remains a mystery.
Various pieces of recent research have looked at what likely led to this, and a scientific paper published in February put forward the idea that the knowledge and expertise to create such monuments was spread around Europe by sailors.
The authors from the University of Gothenburg said the practice of erecting enormous stone structures began in France 6,500 years ago and then made its way around Europe as people migrated.
Further research into the Spanish Stonehenge’ could allow for a more detailed picture to emerge of the practice’s popularity in different areas at different times. Currently, inhabitants of Anatolia, what is now Turkey, are thought to have moved to Iberia and settled before eventually heading north and entering the British Isles.
In the province of Cádiz in southern Spain, there is a tiny settlement where individuals seem to have discovered a way to live more efficiently and with nature.
Many of the homes are literally located under the rock, just like the saying and like cavemen, but not exactly.
Concealed from the scorching Spanish sun, Setenil de las Bodegas is a small pueblo Blanco (Andalusian white village) and is home today to almost 3,000 residents and a tourist attraction for thousands.
At first glance, the place makes one wonder if the houses were formed beneath these rocks, or if it was vice versa.
The first homes were built into the cliff-face thousands of years ago, and over the years have been expanded between the boulders and beneath the rocky overhang that shelters these white houses from the heat of the Spanish summers.
According to popular belief, the natural caves of Setenil were indeed inhabited from the dawn of time, or at least as far back as 20,000 B.C.
At least this is what nearby prehistoric cave settlements suggest. For instance, the Cueva de la Pileta that sits just outside the magnificent mountain top city of Ronda, in Malaga province, just 20 to 30 minutes drive from Setenil, have been found to show signs of humans from the Paleolithic and the Neolithic periods. Drawings inside the caves here are believed to be more than 20,000 years old.
What this highly unusual village does offer are blinding white houses with rock instead of ceilings for a hundred homes and shops, and olive groves instead of roofs; it’s a unique experience to walk or drink a cup of coffee in the shade below a giant looming rock, as well as a chance to learn the peculiar history of how it got its name and why it was built as it is, here above the Rio Trejo and right in the middle of the well-trodden pathway through the White Villages of Andalucía.
What is known for sure is that it was continually inhabited from the 12th century, in the Arabic Almohad period?
There are also indications of pre-Roman inhabitants and noticeable traces of former Roman dwellers scattered here and there to back a claim that the town existed even earlier, 2,000 years ago when allegedly it was seized and held by the Romans during their invasion of the Iberian peninsula.
The same claim says that during the Umayyad conquest of Hispania and the Umayyad Caliphate expansion across Europe in 8th century A.D., Moors captured the whole peninsula.
This village then fell under their rule and it was theirs to keep for seven long centuries until the Christians recaptured it once again, expelled the Moors, and marked the fall of the Nasrid Dynasty (the last Arab Muslim dynasty in Iberia). Which proved to be a harder task than was first believed.
According to town history, Setenil de las Bodegas’s steep and rocky nature proved to be “solid as a rock” and of an advantage to the medieval Arabian inhabitants as they were trying to fend off the Christians’ attacks, which they did successfully six times and over 80 years, allegedly until 1484, when on the seventh, and after 15 days of constant siege, Christian forces finally managed to overrun the town’s castle. What’s left of Castillo de Setenil de las Bodegas speaks about this epic holdout, its rich history, and how this place got its name.
It comes from two Latin words, “septem nihil,” which means seven nothings, or seven times no. As for the second part of its name, “de las Bodegas,” it came from what followed after 1484 and these legendary skirmishes.
The Catholic settlers furnished Setenil as a modern town and brought olives, almonds, and vineyards along with recipes for dried meat specialties when they arrived.
They began to use the shade of the rocks and their natural air-conditioning capability to store their products, especially grapes, usually placed in large storerooms under the giant overhangs.
Which is most probably how the place earned its name de las Bodegas, “of the vineyards.” Unfortunately, the vineyards were all wiped out by phylloxera insect infestation during the mid-1800s, when almost all of the wine industry in Europe was destroyed by these pests.
Two of the vineyards are still flourishing after all this time on top of the hills of Setenil, and the well-preserved Moorish fortress looms on the top of the ravine in which the village was built.
There’s also a street where one humongous overhang covers a whole block of white-painted cafes and dozens of small restaurants and where a local owner can tell you all about this place while serving you a cup of wine and amazing chorizo, Setenil’s special.
Roman Lead Sarcophagus Accidentally Found In Granada
When archaeologists began exploring underneath a building in Granada, in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, they weren’t expecting to find anything of importance.
After all, they were just completing a standard prospection of the Villamena building, as required for any planned underground work in the city to rule out the existence of historic remains.
The survey was going ahead as planned. They found a few remains from the Christian era and from the days of Muslim rule, but nothing truly relevant.
But before finishing the work, they decided to explore a little deeper. And that’s when they found it: a Roman grave covered with sandstone and mud, 2.5 meters below the surface.
For Ángel Rodríguez, the archaeologist in charge of the survey, the discovery was not a big surprise at first – not until they removed the slab and found a lead sarcophagus underneath. Now, this was certainly unexpected.
Rodríguez believes the sarcophagus dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century AD, a time when lead sarcophagi were not at all common.
In Andalusia, they were expensive as well as difficult to obtain, because the industry only existed in Córdoba, over 200 kilometers away. “Córdoba is the only place where they made lead sarcophagi,” Rodríguez explains.
According to this expert, the sarcophagus “probably belonged to a wealthy family, but that doesn’t mean that we are going to find great jewels inside.” The items buried inside may not be that valuable, given that precious goods were left “for the living,” says the archaeologist.
The main interest in this type of sarcophagus comes from the fact that lead conserves remains very well. This means that, if all goes as the archaeologist’s hope, inside there will be a body, personal valuables, and textiles in good condition, which will allow the team to “learn a lot about the burial ritual,” says Rodríguez.
The sarcophagus was moved last week to the Archaeological and Ethnological Museum of Granada. It will remain there until researchers decide on how to proceed with the opening.
A multidisciplinary team of physical anthropologists, restorers and archaeologists will be present for the exciting reveal. Once opened, the body will go to the forensic anthropology laboratory at Granada University, while the sarcophagus and goods inside will remain in the museum to be studied, explains Rodríguez.
In Roman times, the historic center of Granada was actually a rural area on the outskirts of the city, and the real epicenter was the Albaicín district.
But there was something interesting about the area: the Darro river ran through it. The river stopped flowing overground more than a century ago in this part of the city when it was buried underground.
This was where the sarcophagus was found. Rodríguez explains that this area, on the banks of the Darro, was used to grow crops, “it was not a cemetery, but perhaps because of the Darro river, it had a special meaning as a funeral area.”
According to the archaeologist, a similar lead sarcophagus was discovered in 1902, but it was plundered by the workers who found it before it reached researchers, who only found “some bones.”
The lead sarcophagus found under the Villamena building, next to Granada Cathedral, weighs between 300 and 350 kilograms and has the same dimensions of a classic coffin: 1.97 meters long and 40 centimeters high. It is slightly wider at the head (56 centimeters) than at the foot (36 centimeters).
On the first inspection, Rodríguez says there is no sign of an inscription but adds that “it still has a lot of clay and sand,” and “we’ll see when we clean it.”
The outside of the sarcophagus has already given researchers many insights, and the inside is expected to give many more when it is opened in a few weeks.
Europe’s Oldest Mosque May Be Buried Underground in This Visigothic City in Spain
Reccopolis, a rural area outside of Madrid, has witnessed an extraordinary archaeological effort, with researchers arriving at an important finding using a geomagnetic instrument that helped map walls and other structures still buried underground.
The ancient, 1,400-year-old city was found to have housed much more than the ruins currently visible at the site would imply: the yet unexplored plots of land include hidden parts of a city palace and what may be one of the oldest mosques in Europe.
Archaeologists have detected long-hidden features of a Visigothic city in Spain, including unexplored parts of a palace and a building that may be one of the oldest mosques in Europe.
Without digging, the researchers used a geomagnetic instrument to reveal walls and other structures still buried underground at Reccopolis, which is in a rural area outside of Madrid. They found that the 1,400-year-old city was far more extensive than the ruins visible at the site today would suggest.
“In every space that we were able to survey, we found buildings and streets and passages,” study co-author Michael McCormick, a medieval historian and archaeologist at Harvard University, told Live Science.
The Visigoths were Germanic people who established a kingdom in southwestern Europe in Late Antiquity, just before the Middle Ages began. They famously sacked Rome in the year 410.
In the second half of the sixth century, the Iberian Peninsula was the center of Visigothic power. King Leovigild made his royal capital in Toledo, Spain, and farther upstream along the Tagus River, he constructed a new town called Reccopolis in 578.
Excavations have been ongoing at Reccopolis for a few decades, but so far, archaeologists have uncovered only about 8% of the area inside the city walls. When McCormick visited the site in 2014, he saw the remains of the palace, a chapel, and some shops. But he teased his friend, study co-researcher and excavation director Lauro Olmo Enciso of the University of Alcalá in Spain, asking, “Where’s the rest of the city?”
The researchers and a few other colleagues teamed up the next year to perform the first geomagnetic survey of the site. This noninvasive prospecting technique allows researchers to see structures underground by mapping magnetic anomalies beneath the Earth’s surface.
Their results quickly showed that empty spaces inside the city walls of Reccopolis were full of hidden streets and buildings. There was even a suburb outside the city’s monumental gate. The findings were published last week in the journal Antiquity.
“Thanks to this new geomagnetic survey, we have learned that the space encircled by the city’s walls was fully developed and that its population was large enough even to spill beyond the city’s walls,” said Noel Lenski, a professor of classics and history at Yale University, who wasn’t involved in the study. “Just as importantly, this was happening in a period long thought to be characterized by urban decline and demographic collapse.”
Reccopolis was indeed constructed amid the turbulence of the sixth century. From Western Europe to China, the era is associated with mass migrations, imperial collapse, food shortages, and famine, as well as the first known outbreak of the bubonic plague.
Researchers have recently defined a period of rapid climate change, called the Late Antique Little Ice Age — which lasted from 536 to about 660 and was brought on by a series of volcanic eruptions in the Northern Hemisphere — that may have been the catalyst for the widespread upheaval.
“It’s really remarkable to see the Visigothic monarchy coming together at this time and assembling the resources to be able to found a new city,” McCormick said.
The Visigothic rulers of the region were deposed during the Islamic conquest of 711, and the new geophysical evidence shows some signs of Muslim occupation before the city was abandoned around 800.
The researchers found one large building with a different orientation from all the other buildings on the site, toward Mecca.
The floor plan also resembles that of mosques in the Middle East. McCormick says only excavations will be able to confirm that the building is indeed a mosque. But if it is, it could possibly be the oldest remaining mosque in Europe.