Stone Age hunter-gatherer slate rings: The oldest currency or bands of friendship or ritual?

Around 6,000 years ago, hunter-gatherer communities in northeast Europe produced skillfully manufactured slate ring ornaments in great numbers.

While these ornaments are commonly referred to as ‘slate rings’, they were rarely used as intact rings.

Instead, the ornaments were fragmented on purpose, using pieces of rings as tokens. These fragments were further processed into pendants.

According to new research from the University of Helsinki, in Finland, the fragments were deliberately broken and most likely served as symbols of the social relations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers.

As most archaeological material is found in a fragmented state, the phenomenon has been considered a natural consequence of objects’ having been long buried underground.

However, according to Postdoctoral Researcher Marja Ahola from the University of Helsinki, not all objects have necessarily been broken by accident.

Instead, it is possible some were fragmented on purpose as part of maintaining social relations, bartering or ritual activities.

New research could demonstrate a widespread Stone Age exchange network.

With a substantial number of ornaments found in central locations of what is now Finland.

As some of the ornaments originate in the Lake Onega region and have been transported to Finland it is possible that they symbolise cordial connections established within the network.

By matching pieces of slate ring ornaments, analysing their geochemical composition and investigating traces of use and manufacture in the objects, a research group at the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku demonstrated that the ornaments had not only been worn, but also intentionally broken.

Because fragments from the same ornament were found in two different locations, it is possible that they were worn by two different individuals.

Another indication of this is the fact that one of the fragments had been worked on more finely than the other.

Marja Ahola said: “These fragments of the same object may show the handprint and preferences of two individuals.

“Perhaps they wore the ornaments as a symbol of a connection established.”

A similar link was found in slate ring ornaments created during the same manufacturing process, one of which was found in a settlement-site context and the other in a burial site investigated near the settlement.

Ahold added: “What we see here may be one way of maintaining connection between the living and the dead.

“This is also the first clear material connection between a certain place of residence and a burial site.

“In other words, the people who lived there most likely buried their dead in a site close to them.”

An X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) of a little over 50 slate ring ornaments demonstrated that some of the ornaments or fragments thereof had been imported from the Lake Onega region, Russia, hundreds of kilometres from the site where they were found.

XRF analyses can be used to determine the element concentrations and raw materials of inorganic archaeological materials with a very high precision.

The technique can be applied as an entirely non-invasive surface analysis, which makes it perfectly suited to the study of archaeological objects.

Docent Elisabeth Holmqvist-Sipilä said: “By comparing the elemental concentrations of the objects under investigation with findings published on the basis of international datasets, we were able to demonstrate that some of the ornaments or the stone material used in them was transported to Finland through an extensive exchange network, primarily from the Lake Onega region.

“There was also variation in the chemical composition of the objects, which correlates with their design.

“These factors indicate that the ornaments were produced at Lake Onega region in several batches, most likely in different locations and by a number of makers.”

Stonehenge Mesolithic landscape BEFORE the stone circle revealed

A new study has revealed the incredibly ancient pre-stone circle landscape, upon which Stonehenge now stands.

New research by the University of Southampton has plotted the Mesolithic environment of the now Salisbury Plain, 4,000 years prior to the construction of the world famous sarsen and bluestone monument.

A team of academics explored Blick Mead, a Mesolithic archaeological site within a chalkland spring area about a mile from Stonehenge.

They discovered evidence that the landscape was not covered in dense, closed canopy forests during the later Mesolithic period, as was previously theorised.

Instead, it was only partially wooded and was a grazing ground for huge bovine aurochs, red deer, elk and wild boar.

This would have made it an attractive hunting ground for ancient human hunter-gatherers, before the arrival of the Neolithic farmers, who would go in to build Stonehenge and a host of similar monuments.

Lead researcher, Samuel Hudson, of Geography and Environmental Science at Southampton said: “There has been intensive study of the Bronze Age and Neolithic history of the Stonehenge landscape, but less is known about earlier periods.

“The integration of evidence recovered from previous excavations at Blick Mead, coupled with our own fieldwork, allowed us to understand more about the flora and fauna of the landscape prior to construction of the later world-famous monument complex.”

He added: “Past theories suggest the area was thickly wooded and cleared in later periods for farming and monument building.

“However, our research points to pre-Neolithic, hunting-gatherer inhabitants, living in open woodland, which supported aurochs and other grazing herbivores.”

The researchers studied pollen, fungal spores and traces of DNA preserved in ancient sediment, alongside optically stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon dating to map an environmental history of the site. 

Their findings enabled them to produce a picture of the habitat in the area from the later Mesolithic (5500 BC) to the Neolithic (from 4,000 BC).

The research indicates that later Mesolithic populations at Blick Mead used the open and expansive conditions to repeatedly exploit groups of large ungulates (hoofed mammals), until a transition to an agrarian and monument-building society took place.

These practices over the centuries made the site perfect for the construction of the breathtaking megalithic site and other large-scale monument building, as the land was pre-cleared.

The team suggested there was continuity between the inhabitants of the two eras, who used the land in different ways, but understood it to be a favourable location.

I would note that the lingering presence of the hunter-gatherer caste, which was revered in similar and broadly contemporary Neolithic sites, like Newgrange, in Ireland, may have also rendered the location one of ritual or spiritual significance.

The hunt was of supreme importance, not just for survival, but for religion, with Mesolithic societies donning horned headgear as part of shamanic-style worship.

The conclusions of the team from Southampton, working with colleagues at the universities of Buckingham, Tromsø and Salzburg, are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The team is now planning further exploration of the Mesolithic history of the area, which they hope to begin at the end of this year.

Tobacco: a 12,000-year-old habit begun by hunter-gatherers

Recent findings suggest tobacco use goes back 12,300 years.

Mankind’s obsession with the weed began in our distant past, before agriculture even started, according to new research.

Researchers from the Far Western Anthropological Research Group recently published a new paper that claims the use of tobacco goes back 12,300 years.

It was hitherto believed that indigenous people in eastern North America were thought to be the first users of the substance, which was completely unknown to Europeans, until they arrived in the continent centuries ago.

Natives used tobacco in ceremonial rituals, such as the archetypal peace pipe, or for religious customs.

After years of conquest and European colonisation the plant became a lucrative cash crop, underpinned by slavery, that fired the colonies – and later burgeoning new country – of America’s economy.

The first human chattel labourers arrived in Virginia in 1619 to work backbreaking shifts on tobacco plantations. This is despite the early settlers referring to tobacco as a “noxious weed”.

The new study looked at charred seeds of a variety of wild tobacco that were unearthed by scientists at an archaeological dig in the Great Salt Lake Desert in Utah.

Investigations concluded that these seeds were found within an ancient hearth built by nomadic hunter-gatherers dating back 9,000 years before the previously-thought earliest use of tobacco.

Before the new research, it was thought the oldest use of tobacco, for intoxication, was much later and was evidenced by nicotine residue found in a smoking pipe from modern-day Alabama.

The Beast of Bodmin Moor: Real or historic folk memory?

The unexplained large predator known as the Beast of Bodmin Moor is – or was – said to prowl the expansive moorland in this rugged and picturesque part of Cornwall.

The purported feline was first allegedly sighted around 1978 but, as we shall see, phantom felines and, more notably, canines are an enduring feature of Indo-European-descended folklore.

Bodmin Moor, which is a desolate but beautiful landscape fits perfectly as a location for myths and legends and is home to plenty going back many centuries.

But this particular tale focussed reports of mutilated livestock by something that was described as being potentially a panther or leopard.

Numerous reports of supposed big cats sighted at large throughout Britain have been submitted over the years.

The apocrypha goes that these beasts have been illegally released from exotic collections held by wealthy individuals or have escaped from zoos and have survived in the wild by hunting native fauna.

However, the UK’s Ministry of Agriculture carried out an investigation, in 1995, headed up by Simon Baker and Charles Wilson, which found “no verifiable evidence” of any such big cats on the loose in Britain.

In reference to the alleged Beast of Bodmin Moor, the investigation found there was “no significant threat to livestock from a ‘big cat’ in Bodmin Moor”.

But the case got curiouser.

Less than a week after the report, on July 24, 1995, a boy, who was walking by the River Fowey, discovered a large cat skull.

The cranium measured four inches long by seven inches wide.

It was lacking the lower jaw but had three sharp, prominent canines that pointed to it possibly belonging to a leopard.

The find caused a media sensation, but a team from the Natural History Museum found it was a genuine skull, but was from an imported leopard skin rug.

This was determined because of the way the skull had been scraped and that it contained an egg case that had been laid by a tropical cockroach, that could not possibly be found in Britain.

Another investigation was launched in December 1997 after a spate of attacks on farm animals, as well as sightings and photographs.

There have been around 60 sightings of a black panther-like cat between three and five feet in length with, white or yellow eyes. There have also been a number of reports of mutilated livestock.

As well as the theory that the Beast could be an escaped zoo animal, or from an illicit collection, it could also be part of a species of wild cat previously thought to be extinct.

There have also, perhaps inevitably, been those who have postulated paranormal explanations.

There was another report as recently as last year where a man found alleged paw prints and said he heard a “lion’s roar”.

He said: “I was with a friend and we both heard this roar. It was like a lion’s roar and it was terrifying.

“On the way back we saw these fresh paw prints. They were deep down in the tractor prints.

“They were not there when we went in and were very fresh. You can tell it was no domestic animal just by the weight needed to push into the tractor marks.

“We had never seen anything like it. We just thought ‘oh my god’. The stories have been around about the beast before, but this was clear evidence of it.”

Reports of large, particularly dark-coloured, beasts have been a feature of folklore and legend in the British Isles for centuries.

These have often take the form of wolves, or what we might now term werewolves.

These include Black Shuck from East Anglia and Old Stinker the Hull Werewolf.

It is theories these could be folkloric hangovers of Norse Pagan beliefs and allude to Fenrir the giant wolf that, in Norse mythology, killed Odin during Ragnarok.

The Norse also had a warrior class known as Berzerkers, who were sometimes referred to as úlfheðnar or ‘wolf-skinned’.

Warriors donned animal pelts, used mind-altering drugs and danced themselves into frenzy to imbue them with the creatures’ natural ferocity.

And the wolf aspect goes even further back to the Proto-Indo-European Koryos.

These were male war bands, which consisted of allegedly shape-shifting warriors, wearing animal skins to assume the nature of wolves or dogs.

So how do you account for the Beast of Bodmin Moor?

Genuine sightings of an escaped big cat?

An elusive indigenous species previously thought to be extinct?

Or is it part of an age old tradition borne out of a fear of the wild, a folk memory of the earliest part of western civilisation?

PRESS RELEASE: What Really Happened at Dyatlov Pass by Paul Christian – OUT NOW!

The Dyatlov Pass incident is a fascinating and truly tragic case. What happened to those nine hikers? What led them to be found dead on a mountainside in Russia, in February 1959, barely-dressed in freezing conditions, some with horrific injuries, after seemingly cutting their way out of the apparent sanctity of their tent?

Asking these kinds of questions is a vital part of who we are. And the Dyatlov case is one of the biggest questions; up there with other enduring mysteries like the identity of Jack the Ripper, or the truth and/or location of Atlantis or the Holy Grail.

This book includes brand new evidence, cutting-edge science, investigative journalism and exclusive commentary from experts at the very top of their field.

The book examines a number of theories and features exclusive commentary from experts in a wide number of fields from meteorology, physics, avalanches and animal attacks to more outlandish fields such as the study of yetis and UFOs.

It also includes exclusive testimony from a man claiming to be a covert US intelligence operative, who says he was sent to the region to examine whether the hikers’ deaths were related to secret weapons testing.

It is both and privilege and a responsibility to ask and seek to answer questions such as this in as comprehensive a way possible. That is the mission of this book.

What really happened at Dyatlov Pass?

The author has written nine books on a variety of subjects from the Jack the Ripper and Zodiac killer mysteries to mythology and travel.

Paul Christian said: “I am fascinated by mysteries, which is why I have written three books on the unsolved Jack the Ripper case. I first became aware of the Dyatlov Pass Incident a few years ago, with its dizzying array of theories and the horrific and puzzling nature of the tragedy, I was drawn to it.

Author Paul Christian

“As I began researching the case and reading a broad range of sources, from crazy conspiracy theories involving yeti attacks and UFOs to scientifically rigorous research papers, I began to formulate an idea that I would interrogate all the main theories, almost like a cross-examination in court, putting the case for and against each one – however outlandish.  

“Readers can expect a range of intriguing explanations for an unexplained tragedy that took place amid a backdrop of superpower rivalry, as the Cold War threatened to heat up and the space age dawned. They can expect to read and consider all manner of potential explanations, including some that are conventional, some that are at the very edge of known science and others that are absolutely paranormal. Most of these also include exclusive commentary by leading scientists and others who, like expert witnesses, help to explore the likelihood of each theory. 

“On a more sombre note, readers can go on a journey to help discover what caused a very real human tragedy more than 60 years ago.”

The book is available in paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon here:

Publicity for ‘Dark Secrets of Central Europe: A Tale of Three Cities’

My book ‘Dark Secrets of Central Europe: A Tale of Three Cities’ has been featured in Czech-based Central European news website Kafkadesk.

In the interview I explained how the book came about and provided some more information on the gruesome contents.

You can read the interview here:

The book’s blurb reads: “Prague, Vienna and Budapest and the countries they are the capitals of, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, represent a bubbling cauldron of ideas and beliefs.

“From obscure Christian sects and mainstream fundamentalists, to Talmudic mysticism, Islamic invasion and the ever-present hidden hand of paganism, this region is where east meets west. And the panoply of human existence and interaction has played out, often in gruesome fashion.

“Influenced by polities close by such as the Holy Roman Empire, German states and France and those further afield from Spain, to Iran and India, Central Europe is where synthesis has taken place. Both a wall and bridge for vastly different cultures.

“This volume came about after an odyssey to these three cities and the surrounding areas and explores the contradictions and curiosities of these iconic places.

“The journey takes in vampires, ghosts, brutal killings, war and plague. As well as magic, folklore and religion. Join me as I unearth the Dark Secrets of Central Europe in this Tale of Three Cities.”

Get the book here:

SUBSCRIBE to the HIDDEN HISTORY Channel on YouTube here:

Did Vikings perform throat singing?

The popular History Channel drama serial ‘Vikings’ is known for its atmospheric and brooding soundtrack, with a variety of songs chosen to mirror the harshness, spirituality and superstition of early mediaeval Scandinavia.

Some of this music has featured throat singing – an art form associated heavily with Asian cultures, such as Tibetans or Mongolians. So, did the Vikings actually throat sing?

The only evidence to support the notion comes from Ibrahim ibn Yaqub, otherwise known as Abraham Ben Jacob, a Muslim chronicler of Sephardi Jewish descent, from Al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain.

Yaqub travelled to Hedeby, which is now part of the historically-contested territory of Schleswig-Holstein, on the now German-Danish, border in the year 961.

His original account is lost but a few translations, which may or may not be accurate, paint a fascinating and slightly comic picture.

One read: “Never did I hear singing fouler than that of these people, it is a rumbling emanating from their throats, similar to that of a dog but even more bestial.”

Another said: “I never heard any more awful singing then the singing of the people in Schleswig. It is a groan that comes out of their throats, similar to the bark of the dogs but even more like a wild animal.”

The most reliable translation from the original Arabic read: “I have not heard an uglier singing than Shalshaweeq (Schleswig) people.

“It’s a humming coming from their throats that’s worse than dog barking.”

So these accounts, while varying to some degree, all clearly mention a sound emanating from the throat and a humming or growling sound that would have sounded extremely alien to a traveller from Al-Andalus, who would be used to the tones of the muezzin call to prayer.

Whether the sound was throat singing is unknown, but the account does indicate that it was. Was this something the Norse arrived at themselves or was in introduced? Again the answer is not clear.

They certainly had contact with peoples who did perform the vocal style. These include the Sami of northern Scandinavia, who sang the joik, which formed part of their shamanistic rituals.

A Sami shamen

The Norse, who went raiding and trading eastwards along the Volga, would also have encountered Turkic-speaking Bulgars, Khazars and Pechenegs, who also had shamanistic origins and used throat singing in their religious and cultural practices.

Sami people

With all this in mind I think the makers of Vikings are either correct in their musical choices or, at least, entitled to use a bit of artistic licence.