Secret HistoryS


Previously unknown Bronze Age settlement discovered in Switzerland

Ancient Ceramics
© Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern, Frédérique TissierBronze Age ceramics recovered as a block from the rescue excavation in Heimberg.
In advance of a construction project in Heimberg, the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern carried out a rescue excavation in autumn 2023. Although the investigation yielded hardly any new findings about an expected Roman site, it did reveal the remains of a previously unknown settlement from the Bronze Age.

During the investigation at the Schulgässli in Heimberg, which lasted a good three months, various settlement remains were documented on almost 1000 m²: in addition to a usage horizon with a very high proportion of heat stones and (relatively) a lot of Bronze Age ceramics, also various post positions and pits.

Two of these pits were filled to the brim with heat stones, i.e. stones that had been shattered by great heat. These could have been used as heat storage in cooking or heating pits and represent a typical finding for the Bronze Age.

Other pits may have been used to extract clay. At that time, clay was an important raw material and was used, for example, to plaster the wicker walls of houses or to produce pottery. This is matched by an up to 35 m thick layer package of hillside clay in the excavation area.


Rongorongo: The lost language of Easter Island

rongorongo script
© INSCRIBE and RESOLUTION ERC TeamsOnly 27 tablets inscribed with the intricate but indecipherable rongorongo script, totaling approximately 15,000 characters and more than 400 different glyphs, have survived.
A wooden fish could help linguists learn more about the writing system known as rongorongo.

On the outskirts of Hanga Roa, Easter Island's only town, the Museo Rapa Nui has a small but striking collection. It includes a rare female version of the monolithic statues known as moai, and sets of piercing moai eyes made from white coral and red volcanic rock. Finely worked obsidian tools sit alongside displays on the Birdman contest, which involved swimming through shark-infested waters and searching an offshore islet for a seabird egg in order to claim the spiritual leadership of Easter Island. With so much to see, it's easy to overlook the carved wooden fish in a glass cabinet. Raised on a stand, as if held aloft by a proud angler, it is the color of dark chocolate and roughly the size and shape of an oar blade. The design may be relatively simple, but this object represents a great — and unsolved — linguistic puzzle.

The fish is covered with rows of stylized glyphs. Some resemble human forms and animals and plants, while others are more abstract — circles, crosses, chevrons, lozenges. This is rongorongo, the only indigenous writing system to develop in Oceania before the 20th century and, according to James Grant-Peterkin, author of A Companion to Easter Island, one of "the last remaining mysteries on Easter Island."

Comment: Nature has just published a new paper on dating the emergence of Rongorongo:
The invention of writing on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). New radiocarbon dates on the Rongorongo script

Placing the origin of an undeciphered script in time is crucial to understanding the invention of writing in human history. Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, developed a script, now engraved on fewer than 30 wooden objects, which is still undeciphered. Its origins are also obscure. Central to this issue is whether the script was invented before European travelers reached the island in the eighteenth century AD. Hence direct radiocarbon dating of the wood plays a fundamental role. Until now, only two tablets were directly dated, placing them in the nineteenth c. AD, which does not solve the question of independent invention. Here we radiocarbon-dated four Rongorongo tablets preserved in Rome, Italy. One specimen yielded a unique and secure mid-fifteenth c. date, while the others fall within the nineteenth c. AD. Our results suggest that the use of the script could be placed to a horizon that predates the arrival of external influence.
The Other Mystery of Easter Island


A war that shouldn't have happened: How the USSR made its worst-ever mistake

guy flowers
35 years ago, on February 15, 1989, Moscow withdrew its troops from the conflict-ridden Central Asian country...

On February 15, 1989, Lieutenant General Boris Gromov crossed the bridge over the Amu Darya River between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, which was then part of the USSR. While crossing the river, Gromov uttered the historic phrase: "There is not a single Soviet soldier left behind me."

That marked the end of the nine-year Soviet-Afghan War. This conflict is often considered part of the Cold War between the USSR and the US. However, the Soviet intervention cannot be properly assessed without understanding the political situation in the Central Asian country, at the time.

Prerequisites for the invasion

For a long time, Afghanistan had been an afterthought. In the 1970s, however, the political situation became troublesome. In 1973, the monarchy collapsed as a result of a coup, and was replaced by a short-lived republic. The Soviet Union initially had friendly relations with local elites, but then, Moscow got involved in their politics. Two political sides fought for power in Afghanistan: the leftist parties - supported by the Soviet Union - and the Islamic fundamentalists.

Better Earth

History of homo sapiens in Europe pushed back thousands of years after discovery in German cave

© Openfinal/ShutterstockArchaeologists have uncovered a surprising find in a German cave which has re-written the history of humans in central Europe
The Ilsenhöhle cave, which is situated some 240km southwest of the German capital Berlin, is a narrow cavern punched by natural forces into a cliff face on top of which proudly sits the castle and village of Ranis.

At first glance, there's nothing particularly special about the cave, but archaeologists have just made a remarkable discovery here. A discovery that has totally reshaped our view on the history of humans and when Homo sapiens first arrived in central Europe.

In the 1930s archaeologists excavated the cave and found artefacts and bones from Neanderthal man dating back to around 43,000 years ago. Now, new excavations in the cave by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and whose findings have just been published in the journal Nature, has turned up something wholly unexpected. Fossils and artefacts dating back even further to 47,500 years ago that came not from Neanderthals but from Homo sapiens.

Comment: Discoveries in China point to human habitation 45,000 years ago, and there's evidence of human activity in New Mexico dating back 37,000 years ago, and so it seems it's only a matter of time before further finds push the dates back much, much further; which will also likely show how not all humans originate 'Out of Africa':


4750-year-old circular megalithic stone plaza discovered in the High Andes of Peru

Circular Plaza Andes
© Jason L. Toohey et al. / Science AdvancesThe circular plaza is at center with the modern city of Cajamarca in the background. View is to the northwest.
Two anthropology professors from the University of Wyoming have discovered a prehistoric plaza high in the Andes, known as Callacpuma stone plaza, which was built nearly 5,000 years ago by ancient nomadic groups.

The plaza, which is situated at the Callacpuma archaeological site in the Cajamarca Basin of northern Peru, was constructed using large megalithic stones that were arranged vertically, a technique not previously used in the Andes.

This significant finding is a unique structure of a stone circle, where offerings were made to long-forgotten gods over several millennia at an elevation of more than 3,000 meters (9850 feet) above sea level.

The project's leaders, Associate Professor Jason Toohey, and Professor Melissa Murphy, have been researching this topic since the project began in 2015. Excavations for the plaza began in 2018.

Their article, published in the journal Science Advances, provides new information about the northern Andes' oldest known circular megalithic plaza. Radiocarbon dating indicates that it was built around 4,750 years ago, during the Late Preceramic Period, making it one of the Americas' earliest examples of this type of architecture.

Large megalithic stones are set in two concentric circles, each measuring 18 meters (60 feet) in diameter. This arrangement creates a ceremonial area that is full of unknown information from the time when hunter-gatherers in what is now Peru began to build more sophisticated societies.

Blue Planet

Vittrup Man crossed over from hunter to farmer before being sacrificed in Denmark, study finds

Vittrup Man
© Stephen Freiheit. Credit: Fischer et al., 2024, PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0 ( cranial remains of Vittrup Man, who ended up in a bog after his skull had been crushed by at least eight heavy blows. Photo:
Vittrup Man was born along the Scandinavian coast before moving to Denmark, where he was later sacrificed, according to a study published in PLOS ONE by Anders Fischer of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and colleagues.

Vittrup Man is the nickname of a Stone Age skeleton recovered from a peat bog in Northwest Denmark, dating to between 3300-3100 BC. The fragmented nature of the remains, including a smashed skull, indicates that he was killed in a ritualistic sacrifice, a common practice in this region at this time.

After a DNA study found Vittrup Man's genetic signature to be distinct from contemporary, local skeletons, Fischer and colleagues were inspired to combine additional evidence to reconstruct the life history of this Stone Age individual at an unprecedented resolution.

Comment: It's interesting that during the transitional period of hunter-gatherer to farming that ritual sacrifice was 'common', because a number of researchers have theorised that human sacrifice - and other, stranger practices - became more prominent at times of significant climate shifts and scarcity; and one can imagine that the shift to farming may been, at least in part, an attempt to create secure and reliable ways to obtain of food:


Ancient rock art in Argentinian cave may have transmitted information across generations

A cave in Patagonia houses the oldest known pigment-based rock art in South America.
Patagonia Cave Art
© GRVExamples of some of the rock art found inside a cave in Patagonia.
A gallery's worth of rock art decorating the inside of a cave in Argentina is several millennia older than once thought and contains hundreds of drawings that span 100 generations.

At one time, archaeologists dated the art — located in Patagonia, a region in South America's southern tip — as being only several thousand years old. But a new analysis has revealed that some of the works actually date to as early as 8,200 years ago and were created during the late Holocene epoch (11,700 years ago to present), according to a study published Wednesday (Feb. 14) in the journal Science Advances.

"It turned out to be several millennia older than we expected," study lead author Guadalupe Romero Villanueva, an archaeologist with the Argentine National Research Council (CONICET) and the National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Thought (INAPL), told Live Science. "We got surprised."

To determine the date of the massive artwork, which depicts humans, animals and other designs, archaeologists chipped away several small pieces of black pigment from the drawings. Since the pigment was made from plant material, researchers used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the cave art.

"It's usually really hard to date rock art unless it has an organic component, otherwise there really isn't any material that you can date," study co-author Ramiro Barberena, an archeologist at Temuco Catholic University in Chile and CONICET, told Live Science. "[The cave] is not the oldest occupation in South America, but it is the oldest directly radiocarbon-dated pigment-based rock art in South America."


The Canary Islands: A thousand years of solitude

ancient caves canary islands gran canaria
© Jack Montgomery/FlickrThese caves were once home to Gran Canaria's original inhabitants
How did humans survive alone for 1000 years on desert islands off Africa?

The Canary Islands — More than 1000 years ago, a young man stood on the northern shore of the island now known as El Hierro. Across the wave-swept Atlantic Ocean, he could see the silhouettes of other islands, a volcanic peak on one soaring toward the clouds only 90 kilometers away. Yet, for him, those islands were as unreachable as the Moon.

His body betrayed the rigors of life on his arid volcanic outcrop. His molars were worn almost to the gums from grinding fibrous wild fern roots. His ancestors here had farmed wheat, but he and his contemporaries grew only barley and raised livestock such as goats. His genes held evidence that his parents were closely related, like many of the roughly 1000 people on the island, who had not mingled with outsiders for centuries. Also like many of his fellow islanders, he bore signs of an old head injury, likely sustained in a fight.

"This population faced a lot of challenges," says archaeologist Jonathan Santana of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC). "Survival on this island was a challenge every day."

Comment: Further reading:


Cancel culture in Congress dates back to John Quincy Adams, who refused to be gagged

young john quincy adams
© Museum of Fine Arts, BostonPortrait of John Quincy Adams, age 29, in 1796
Americans have a low opinion of Congress — that's not news. At just 13%, approval of Congress polls about as well as a colonoscopy and only slightly better than thermonuclear war.

But if Americans are frustrated by a legislature that seems incapable of action, imagine if Congress had forbidden itself from even talking about our nation's hardest problems.

That's what happened when John Quincy Adams, who was elected to the House of Representatives after his presidency in 1830, tried to debate the issue of slavery.

The House had what was known as the "Gag Rule ," which prohibited members from even raising the topic. But when Adams brought it up and his colleagues tried to kick him out of the House and silence him, the former president fought back. He refused to be canceled and let a culture of censorship keep him from saying what he knew was true.


Traces of Stone Age architectural structure discovered in the Baltic Sea

Joint Press Release of the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde, University of Rostock and Kiel University
3D Wall Model
© Philipp Hoy, University of Rostock / model: Jens Auer, LAKD M-V3D model of a short section of the stonewall. The scale at the bottom of the image measures 50 cm. The tennis- to football-sized stones that form the approximately 1 km long wall are clearly recognisable.
In autumn 2021, geologists discovered an unusual row of stones, almost 1 km long, at the bottom of Mecklenburg Bight. The site is located around 10 kilometres off Rerik in 21 metres water depth. The approximately 1,500 stones are aligned so regularly that a natural origin seems unlikely. A team of researchers from different disciplines now concluded, that Stone Age hunter-gatherers likely built this structure around 11,000 years ago to hunt reindeer. The finding represents the first discovery of a Stone Age hunting structure in the Baltic Sea region. The scientists now present their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Stunning discovery by Kiel University researchers during an expedition

Originally, a team of researchers and students from Kiel University (CAU) wanted to investigate manganese crusts on a ridge of basal till that forms the seafloor about 10 kilometres off Rerik in Mecklenburg Bight. During their survey, however, they discovered a 970 metre long, regular row of stones. The structure consists of around 1,500 stones, usually some tens of centimetres in diameters, that connect several large meter-scale boulders. The researchers reported their discovery to the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state agency for culture and monument preservation (Landesamt für Kultur und Denkmalpflege Mecklenburg-Vorpommern LAKD M-V), which then coordinated further investigations. The stonewall is located on the south-western flank of a ridge of basal till trending roughly parallel to an adjacent basin in the South, presumably a former lake or bog. Today, the Baltic Sea is 21 metres deep at this location. Thus, the stonewall must have been built before the sea level rose significantly after the end of the last ice age, which happened for the last time around 8,500 years ago. Large parts of the previously accessible landscape ultimately flooded at that time.

Comment: More on Doggerland: