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Someone in the Kalahari Collected Crystals 105,000 Years Ago (sciencealert.com)
126 points by wombatmobile 16 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 105 comments



>Crystals found across the planet and from several time periods have previously been linked to humans' spiritual belief and ritual. This includes in southern Africa.

Couldn't they just have been collected because they looked nice? When I was a kid I had a stash of more or less interesting rocks I found here and there.

It seems weird to me to go straight for the spiritual and ritual explanation.

>Many who visit Ga-Mohana Hill today for ritual practice see it as part of a network of places linked to the Great Water Snake (Nnoga ya metsi), a capricious and shape-shifting being. Many of these spiritual places are also associated with water.

>Places such as Ga-Mohana Hill and their associated stories remain some of the most enduring intangible cultural artefacts from the past, linking modern indigenous South Africans to earlier communities.

Is the article positing that (relatively) modern practices and beliefs could have a link to these 100+ millennia old crystals?

If true it would be fascinating, but it seems like a pretty wild conjecture to me. The culture, language and customs of people 100k years ago was probably very different from ours. It seems to me that you'd have to have pretty convincing evidence to be able to extrapolate that far into the past.


You would enjoy "Motel of the Mysteries" by David Macaulay. Basically, a future archeologist discovers a buried motel room and begins speculating about it's true purpose.

"judging from the DO NOT DISTURB sign hanging from an archaic doorknob, was clearly the entrance to a still-sealed burial chamber. Carson's incredible discoveries, including the remains of two bodies, one of then on a ceremonial bed facing an altar that appeared to be a means of communicating with the Gods and the other lying in a porcelain sarcophagus in the Inner Chamber, permitted him to piece together the whole fabric of that extraordinary civilization."


In a similar vein is "Body Ritual among the Nacirema" (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Body_Ritual_among_the_Nacirem...)


I was introduced to this in SOC101 by one of the best professors I ever had. It was given as a paper handout and we were instructed to read and discuss. A couple students caught on, but I wasn’t one of them and it made it so much better. Over a decade later when I find myself attempting to fit a new concept into my own, limited, world view, the Holy Mouth Men still come to warn me.


Holy cow this is the first time I've thought of this since I was a kid! My favorite was the toilet seat being headwear and "sanitized for your protection" as a chant.

Probably why I became an archaeologist.


I remember an excerpt of tbat in Reader's Digest. They posited that tbe bath/plumbing fixtures were for making sacred music, IIRC.


So funny you mention that, excerpts of this book were featured in my Anthropology 101 class and that's how I know of it.

We read this in a class when I was young and I am pretty certain it affected my way of thinking to this day.

Definitely recommend. It's cute, if for nothing else.


I keep saying, popular reporting of archeological and other pre-historic finds is particularly bad in a sea of bad science reporting, probably because of the rampant speculation and romanticism associated with such things.


Doesn't journalism school focus on preventing such bad tendencies. There is almost a regularity of pattern by which journalists seem to represent or rather misrepresent.


Not to insult either discipline, but I bet the crossover of trained anthropologists and trained journalists is smaller than either one on their own.


it's hard to say. there are indigenous Australian stories that have been preserved over 10,000 years that apparently have an accurate correspondence to the geological changes that took place over that time period.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ancient-sea-rise-...

100,000 years does seem like a really long time though for a direct connection to present-day people.


Gutenberg changed our social structures and mental practices enormously. His presses lead to an explosion of protestantism, colonialism, slavery, and ultimately democracy. More than that, it begat the widespread practice of scientific research, which requires the examination and cultural transmission of quantitative information in fine grained contexts.

We take Gutenberg's disruption for granted now, but it's a recent event.

For millennia before Gutenberg, history and culture were transmitted orally. Amazingly, we don't have any appreciation for how that was done, except when we see something on television that we can't explain.

Have you ever seen a memory champion memorise the order of two decks of cards in less than two minutes? How about the names of two dozen people from the audience in less than a minute, recalled perfectly at the end of the show? If so, you have glimpsed the technique that homo sapiens relied on for millennia.

Did you know it's possible for you to remember lists of thousands of detailed facts and stories, even if you don't consider that your memory is anything special? The reason you don't do this is that (a) you don't need to do it because you have a laptop and a phone; and (b) you never learned how.

But the Greeks and the Romans did it, and every culture before them. If they hadn't done it, you wouldn't have a laptop or a phone because you'd still be living on the savanna or in a cave.

The Art of Memory by Frances Yates

https://www.google.com.au/books/edition/The_Art_Of_Memory/bH...


I'm really skeptical of this kind of claim. Gutenberg's invention was undoubtedly critical to development of the West but the following "consequences" are anachronisms:

* Protestantism - Luther was the culmination of a series of heretical revolts against orthodox Catholicism that included the Cathari, Waldensians, Hussites, and many others. German nationalism and corruption of the Roman Church were important factors in his success.

* Colonialism -- Practiced by the Carthaginians and Greeks throughout the Mediterranean.

* Slavery -- A long and ugly story documented in texts like the Bible, Homer, and many others dating to the beginning of recorded history. It was pervasive in classical Mediterranean civilizations.

* Democracy -- Classical examples of full democracy: Athens, Corinth, Megara, Syracuse, Rome. Medieval examples of proto-democracies: Swiss Cantons, Venice, Hanseatic League cities, etc.

What Gutenberg did achieve was lay the foundation for widespread literacy by making books cheaper and more available than at any previous point in European history. That alone is a major accomplishment.


> What Gutenberg did achieve was lay the foundation for widespread literacy

That's a start. Now consider the content of what people read.

Accounting 101

Democracy 101

Science 101, 102, 103, 201, 202, 203, 301, 302, 303 etc.

The word of God, localised in a dozen languages

What might be the impact of this content on people's thoughts and practices?

Then think about how commerce works. Have you ever been part of a company that has raised funds on the stock market, or sold goods internationally? Can you imagine doing either of those things without the invention of the printing press?


"Classical examples of full democracy: Athens, Corinth, Megara, Syracuse, Rome. "

It seems we have a big difference in the definition of "full democracy".


Perhaps 'relevant' is a better word. Classical city states provided models to democratic movements of the 18th and 19th century. Cicero's example and writings were studied carefully, just to name one of many. [1] They obviously weren't the only sources; the English and Americans in particular offered a wealth of homegrown innovations for study.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicero#Legacy


I really doubt that you could associate the printing press with an "explosion in slavery" given the history of the classical world.


What would be the causal link between the printing press and slavery? If anything it seems like they're just concurrent happenings in history.

Maybe a slippery slope style of argument where printing press led to X which led to Y, which opened the new world, which led to plantations, which led to slavery.

The problem with that is you can start at anything and end up there. The wheel. The loom. I could probably spin a convincing yarn starting from beer.


The GP's argument is that slavery was a given in many societies a long time before the printing press arrived. So, they're not even "concurrent happenings in history". We have references to slavery as far back as the Old Testament and Homer's Iliad.

I'd say the same thing about colonialism, the difference between the classical world (and earlier) and Europe post-1600 is the scale, not the practice.


That's not the post I'm talking about. And he was referring to an increase in slavery, not its origin.


Yes, an increase in the scale of slavery enabled by the commercial instruments (bonds and commercial insurance) that mitigated risk for the trade.

Whilst contracts had previously been written by hand, the standardisation and scale of reproduction enabled by Gutenberg meant that risk could be transacted in open markets by complete strangers.


> What would be the causal link between the printing press and slavery

Advertising, accountancy and international shipping, all enabled by Gutenbergs presses. Prior to that, slavery, which has been practised since ancient times, was a local phenomenon.


If that's the argument then I think a better culprit is advances in seafaring technology enabling the transport of a slaves, not the Gutenberg press.


You don't say why though.

What printing did was enable capital markets and merchants to establish mercantile practices that could extend to an arbitrary N degrees of separation. That network expansion, more than any individual technological innovation, is responsible for the upscaling of all the enterprises which distinguish mass consumer society from any prior society.

The Atlantic slave trade was one important step on this journey.


Slave trade existed long before the printing press. My argument is that advances in naval technology enabled the transport of larges amounts of slaves very long distances, which was otherwise not previously feasible.

How many commercial and trade documents were printed with a press? Contracts, ledgers, etc. were still mostly handwritten.


Iberian sailing innovations were clearly advantageous, enabling the Portuguese to venture south along the coast of West Africa and establish trade with Brazil.

Once shipping had advanced to a point where commerce could be transacted over large distances and durations, amongst multitudes of parties from different demographic origins, the bottleneck for the expansion of international trade was exposed as finance and risk management.

The full importance of financial risk management is revealed by Portugal's decline as a maritime power from the 16th century. British bond traders and insurers used increasingly sophisticated financial instruments to ensure (and insure) British commercial fleets ruled the waves for the next 300 years.


I don't think capital markets relied on the printing press. The Hanseatic league, arguably the first free-trade organisation, was established well before Gutenberg built his press (1150 vs 1450 AD, roughly). Do you have a reference for that? I'm curious to explore it.

If you're referring to the availability of paper money, bank notes were already used in the 7th century AD in China and introduced in Europe by Marco Polo in the 13th century [1], and before that the Knights Templar issued hand-written notes to the same effect.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banknote#European_explorers_an...


See also wikipedia for Hanseatic League.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanseatic_League

Explaining the decline of the Hanseatic League:

"New vehicles of credit were imported from Italy, where double-entry book-keeping was invented in 1492, and outpaced the Hansa economy, in which silver coins changed hands rather than bills of exchange."


Bond markets and insurance instruments arose to manage risk in the slave trade.

The relevance of the printing press is only that printed forms were required for conducting commerce between parties that were introduced at arms length i.e. from outside networks of direct personal trust (one or two degrees of separation i.e. someone trusted could vouch for an associate to introduce that associate to a capital merchant, who could document the arrangement with a "hand-written note", with the full knowledge that he had the means to extract revenge in the breach because the parties were known to each other).

With printed forms, the numerous detailed requirements stipulating the terms of guarantee could be mass produced in advance, thus enabling strangers to circumvent the need for personal assurances so they could operate in free and open markets, thus greatly expanding the pool of financiers, entrepreneurs, traders and customers.

See

How the shadow of slavery still hangs over global finance

https://theconversation.com/how-the-shadow-of-slavery-still-...

America's First Bond Market Was Backed By Enslaved Human Beings

https://www.forbes.com/sites/pedrodacosta/2019/09/01/america...

The hidden links between slavery and Wall Street

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-49476247

THE ORIGINS OF FINANCIAL DEVELOPMENT: HOW THE AFRICAN SLAVE TRADE CONTINUES TO INFLUENCE MODERN FINANCE

https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w23800/w238...

This long article on the slave trade provides broad and detailed historical context for the evolution of the financial industry, without directly treating finance in depth.

http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Atlantic_slave_trade


> Prior to that, slavery, which has been practised since ancient times, was a local phenomenon.

Most of the slave trading cultures I’m aware of took their slaves from elsewhere. The Romans took most of their slaves from conquered peoples. The Vikings transported slaves all across Europe and the Mediterranean.

The transportation of slaves from African to America probably has more to do with the development of better sailing technology than writing.

Accountancy has also been around much longer than the printing press. The oldest known written records are in fact warehouse inventories.


May as well blame the wheel. This is not a direct causal link.


Did you know that one of the first things printed on a Gutenberg printing press was a treatise by Luca Pacioli, one of the fathers of accounting and a mentor of Leonardo da Vinci? [0]

This study [1] examines the accounts of the Portuguese New Christian trader, Manoel Batista Peres. These private accounts, found in the Archivo General de la Nación in Lima, Peru, were associated with the trading of slaves on the Upper Guinea Coast in the early seventeenth century. The accounts take the double-entry format but, in the absence of a metallic currency, were kept in cloth money. Combining evidence from the accounts themselves, with the context in which Peres conducted his business, the study explores the reasons why he kept his accounts in this format. It shows how this system of accounting could be adapted to a non-monetised economy and contributes to the debate over the relationship between double-entry bookkeeping and the rise of capitalism.

The number of slaves carried off from Africa to the Americas increased fivefold between 1630 and 1770 [2]

Based on extensive archival research, this study [3] documents and analyses the accounting techniques that the Companhia Geral do Grão Pará e Maranhão applied to its slave trading operations during the second half of the eighteenth century. The surviving accounting records of this Portuguese chartered company reveal – in meticulous detail – the integral role that accounting technology played in enabling the slave trade to flourish.

Slavery thrived under colonial rule. British and Dutch settlers relied on enslaved people to help establish farms and build the new towns and cities that would eventually become the United States. Enslaved people were brought to work on the cotton, sugar and tobacco plantations. The crops they grew were sent to Europe or to the northern colonies, to be turned into finished products. Those finished goods were used to fund trips to Africa to obtain more slaves who were then trafficked back to America. This triangular trading route was profitable for investors. To raise the money to start many future plantation owners turned to capital markets in London - selling debt that was used to purchase boats, goods and eventually people. [4]

The common narrative is that today’s modern management techniques were developed in the factories in England and the industrialized North of the United States, not the plantations of the Caribbean and the American South. According to a new book by historian Caitlin Rosenthal, that narrative is wrong. Rosenthal is an assistant professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, and in her new book, “Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management,” she looks at the business side of slavery once it was well-established on plantations. Rosenthal argues that slaveholders in the American South and Caribbean were using advanced management and accounting techniques long before their northern counterparts. Techniques that are still used by businesses today. [5]

[0] https://www.jstor.org/stable/40698353?seq=1

[1] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/103237321348593...

[2] https://www.jstor.org/stable/40984784?seq=1

[3] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1032373217696512

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/business-49476247

[5] https://www.marketplace.org/2018/08/14/disturbing-parallels-...


> For millennia before Gutenberg, history and culture were transmitted orally.

Gutenberg didn’t invent writing! Written culture was a huge deal long before the printing press.


> Written culture was a huge deal long before the printing press.

The limitation for the first 5,500 years of writing was not so much the technology of writing, as the scale of publishing.


Only priests and nobles could read. The general population of Europe before the printing press couldn't read. Partly because there was no point - they couldn't afford the books even if they could read them.

And partly as control. Remember the Church vehemently opposed the translation of the Bible from Latin, because if the general population could read it they'd start making their own minds up about what it said.


Right. Then Gutenberg’s presses enabled the bible to be published in German, French, English, Belgian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and English. Bibles were distributed to individual parishes where priests could conduct their own sermons without reference to a central authority.


In the early 90's I used to have 50+ phone numbers memorised. Now I struggle to remember my own number.


Your own number is presumably not so old.

How many of those 50 do you still remember?


None. All gone.

I also find this with code syntax. Because looking it up is so easy, I don't bother remembering it. Back in the 90's I remembered all this, no problem. Now I have to keep checking how to initialise an array in whatever language I'm in.

Ofc, it could be old age ;)


I heard a great interview with an anthropologist (no reference sorry), who said always be suspicious of objects in museums labeled ‘for ritual’, because that’s the anthropological fallback for ‘no obvious purpose’

Edit: spelling


this. Archeologists label things as being "for ritual purposes" when they can't immediately identify a practical purpose.

Which would be OK if archeologists were trained in any of the hundreds of specialised activities needed to stay alive in pre-industrial times. But no. Digging precise holes in a grid, and drawing.

I'm only being a bit cynical.


People who don't deal with archaeologists or the like may not get the humor here. It's super common for people in these fields to have historical hobbies on the side. Knapping and garments are common, but I've known people who do things like persistence hunting for fun. I spent awhile learning how to process animals myself.


> The culture, language and customs of people 100k years ago was probably very different from ours.

How so?

Our biology is virtually identical.

Our emotional, physical and spiritual needs haven't changed, have they?

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "our culture", but if we assume some kind of Californian derivative, the most obvious difference is our built environment, which features more shopping malls, office towers, airports, highways and hospitals than Ga-Mohana. And more obesity. More guns too, but they had weapons and laws for the same reasons we do, didn't they?

What do you imagine are the differences between our culture, language and customs vis a vis people of 100k years ago?


The emergence of behavioural modernity some 40k to 50k years ago seems to have been a cultural watershed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_modernity

It’s possible this might have been a result of the developments of prefrontal synthesis some 70k years ago.

https://essentials.news/ai/research/article/acquisition-pref...


The unstated (and pretty obviously wrong) premise in your comment is that culture is somehow deterministically derived from biology.


"Determines" is too strong a word, since all human cultures are different - more different than our biology would suggest, but probably no more different than our respective micro-climates and natural resource distributions.

What would you say culture is, and what determines it?


I'd imagine life was more violent back then, that's I've read anyway. To the point where a great number of people were murdered.

So my guess is people back then would be less relaxed about eg meeting strangers, and they would maybe all practice self defense.

Another thing that might be different is their attitudes to property. That is after all something that has gotten fairly complex since the dawn of civilization.

It's also the case that they probably has access to fewer people, so that has an effect on how well they could satisfy their emotional needs.


Our biology is “virtually” identical but our brains are not. There is a reason why we distinguish between modern humans (who appear some time between 100,000 and 30,000ya) and archaic humans.


Naive question: How can we compare those brains beyond clues from cranial capacity and maybe supposed diet ?


Absolute differences in the variation between then and now are established by the "molecular clock" concept.

https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/the-molecular-cloc...


What reason is there to think that people of 100k years ago would have any spiritual needs? What other animals have that need?


By that reasoning, one would conclude that people today don't have any spiritual needs. And yet the humans of today seem to disagree with that view in large numbers. The humans of 100 years ago disagreed in far greater numbers.

So... are they all mistaken about what they need? Or is there some line somewhere between humans of 100k years ago and those of today? Or is it after all reasonable that humans of 100k years ago might have had spiritual needs?


That's an odd conclusion to draw. My point is there is clearly a line at some point in history, and nobody knows when it is. But it seems that spirituality would require at least spoken language, can we not agree on that? I don't know what the consensus is on when spoken language arose. I'm assuming it was not close to 100k years ago.


It's difficult to know whether other animals have spiritual needs or practices, because we know so little about their languages and communications.

Similarly, it is difficult for us to decipher other human culture's spiritual beliefs and practices without knowledge of language.

Even non-spiritual behaviour is difficult to decode without language. Language transmits 80% of the intellectual content of television. Try watching the news or a drama series with the sound turned off.


Are you serious?


I'm curious!

Did your mother, grandmother, or spouse collect crystals?

Many humans - perhaps most - keep at least one crystal attached to a finger. Why is that?


In terms of wedding rings, that's not a fundamental human value, but simply because De Beers launched a campaign that still today is a school case for advertising, due to it's ROI.

"In 1938, the diamond cartel De Beers began a marketing campaign that would have a major impact on engagement rings. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the price of diamonds collapsed.[25] At the same time, market research indicated that engagement rings were going out of style with the younger generation. Before World War II, only 10% of American engagement rings contained a diamond."

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engagement_ring


That refers to diamonds - were there no stones on rings before diamonds, or were there other types?


Regardless of what led to the practice, wearing crystals (or anything) on your finger is still a symbolic expression of the values and beliefs of one's community.


Do marbles count as crystals? A future archeologist can get confused with them.


The culture, language and customs of contemporary California surfers and German football hooligans seems very different


> The culture, language and customs of contemporary California surfers and German football hooligans seems very different

How so? Apart from the obvious personality stereotypes you're drawing upon - chill vs aggressive, which exist in every culture, Germans and Californian cultures aren't that different. They have stop signs, alcohol laws, churches, jewellery stores, maps, family gatherings, weddings, funerals, christenings, horoscopes, sporting allegiances, dress codes, toilet and expectoration norms, sexual mores and food preparation standards.

So too did the ancients. I'm wondering how different you imagine these were? I mean, their technologies, foods, footballs and built environment were different, as they are with Germans and Californians, but to what end, culturally?


Depends on how much you weigh Julian Jaynes’ hypothesis, but certainly since reading his work I’ve at least upped the prior that the answer is “incredibly different”.

Another datapoint are the many remote and isolated tribes with wildly different cultures, for example not having the concept of object permanence.


> I’ve at least upped the prior that the answer is “incredibly different”.

How so? Care to elaborate a little?


Read the book!

Edit: super short summary, it’s possible before ~800 BC many people experienced hallucinations due to not having a theory of mind, oftentimes in the form of gods speaking to them quite literally. Which if you consider how embedded our theory of mind is now vs how prevalent and seriously belief in gods were previously, combined with how common hallucinations in children (Tulpas) and many mental “disorders” are, seems plausible. At some tipping point, trade, large scale civilization and theory of mind coalesced to suddenly remove this as a common mode of thought.

I mean try to imagine living in a small tribe with no written language, no idea that you have a brain, a strong belief in the reality of god(s), no concept of science or logic, and many nights spent in the dark sharing ghost stories, and yea, it seems not that far fetched that you’d have a vastly different experience of reality including experiencing many things as not even being from “yourself” as opposed to manifestations of your own brain talking to itself in the form of your beliefs (gods).


Seems like redefining the word "different" to be essentially meaningless. Yes there are similarities, but that doesn't mean they aren't different.


Once you've seen a bunch of surfers fighting over the perfect swell, the cultures can seem pretty similar. Especially since both share a fondness for mind-altering substances (cannabis vs alcohol)


I used to be a California surfer, so point taken, but how about wealthy Manhattan hi rise apartment dwellers and San Paulo slum dwellers. Not much difference?


Archeologists joke that if modern sport arenas were abandoned now a d rediscovered in 5000 years, archeologists and historians of the future would have theories that these structures were used for religious rituals that involved thousands of people, and sports merchandise would be interpreted as cult objects.


In some senses that's not an inaccurate interpretation. Religion means a lot of very different things to different people.


Or politics, like the greens vs the blues in the eastern Roman Empire.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nika_riots


Then again, crows collect shiny things too.


And bower birds!


One possible angle is that before the Age Of Science, pretty much everything was seen as controlled by good and spirits.

Which makes everything have a partial religious purpose.


Anthropologists and archaeologists abuse the word "ritual" and it confuses the heck out of journalists and laypeople. In the broadest usage, it's just a series of specific actions that are a "thing". For instance, this clip from The Grinch shows a completely non-religious ritual [1].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNohsJhgCPU


Speaking of The Grinch and religion, I often wonder about the basis of Whoville's celebration of Christmas. Did the Whos have their own version of Jesus - perhaps also known by His birth name of Jeswhoa? Was He the king of the Whos? Did He die for the forgiveness of the Whos' sins, after leading a ministry among the peoples of Whodea?


"Beyond doubt, while errors are sometimes made in archeology, this is one case in which no chance of error exists. The statues are clearly religious in significance. With that sure footing on which to rest the careful scientist may deduce with assurance the purpose of..."

Here's a fun little short story from Robert Heinlein that makes quite a bit of fun of this idea.

http://nemaloknig.net/read-121683/


Spiritual and ritual purposes is the automatic answer any time archaeologists find something they can't easily explain in an better way.


Isn't that because spiritual and ritual practices are culturally pervasive, particularly among non-modern peoples?


No, it's really just that they have no fucking idea what they are looking at, so they say it's religion.

My favorite one is how archaeologists identified hundreds of structures, all around the Mediterranean, and declared that they were religious shrines. Turns out that they were actually olive oil presses.


This. Concluding that something was for ritual purposes always gets an eye roll from me. Some kids pet rock from 11k years ago? Definitely an idol. A snazzy knife? Used in religious rites. What the serious fuck is up with the obsession of attributing religious significance to everything belonging to an ancient?

Growing up I was taken aback that archeologists got to write the history on top of specializing in identifying and excavating sites. Just dig the shit up, record the facts and let everyone think for themselves.


It's because the words 'ritual' and 'religious' aren't necessarily used in the way the public conceives of these terms. I've surveyed plenty of burials which I could plausibly describe as ritual in nature. That doesn't mean people were worshipping the person/people buried there, but it does mean I think that they were making deliberate, sequenced actions to accomplish a purpose and that these steps that were culturally sanctioned/regulated.

Secondly, the division you think should exist already does. Not all archaeologists are there digging in the dirt. Depending on the nature of the site and the area, it may even be uncommon.

But here's how a typical dig site functions: the lead archaeologist/excavation director is rarely on site to dig. They're doing other things. The site supervisor/crew chief (another archeologist) manages the site day to day and does lots of paperwork, directs everyone, handles visitors, and secondarily inspects finds. These two people in consultation with others produce almost all the interpretations you dislike. Below them there will typically be some number of other archaeologists, specialists, and grad students, who may dig, but often do other things surrounding the actual digging like flotation, taking coordinates, or managing finds. At the bottom are undergrads and local workers who do most of the actual digging and other manual labor. These are rarely involved in interpretation beyond recognizing artifacts, they purely "record the facts". The laborers in particular tend to specialize in excavation. It's a point of pride to many of them that they're better excavators than most archaeologists.


The use of “religion” is when archaeologists don’t know why.


Do we believe that homosapiens from this era were really any fundamentally different than us today? Collecting cool crystals seems like such a normal thing to do, maybe without the religious aspect.

I always thought the “spark” that helped propel us to the future was not biological.


I think collecting in general seems to be a fairly "normal" human behaviour. I imagine (with neither education nor research) that many pre-historic people's prized collections of fruit pits or animal teeth didn't stand the test of time, or the environment movements therein.


We don't know anything of humans from that time period. All the settlements are under water. Sea levels rose 400ft over just the last 20k years alone.


It's true that we know comparatively little about middle paleolithic human culture, but "anything" and "all the settlements" is a stretch. For example, we've found a structure, likely from a seasonal settlement, dated to 100 kYA in what's today southern Egypt. https://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/paleolithic/


Years ago I read Herodotus' Histories and it left a big impression on me. I believe it mostly takes place around 2kBc but you realize that psychologically the people are pretty much the same as modern people. That's not to say they act the same because the cultural norms are different but at the end of the day basically all the actions they take are relatable from some perspective.

And this got me thinking how far back this applies, and my personal guess is pretty far, maybe even 100k years. When I hear stories like this, I like to imagine that they were basically modern humans, doing all the same stuff we do today, just under very different sets of norms.


This is one of those things that is kind of weird until it's totally obvious and you feel dumb for having thought any other way. It was almost revelatory for me when I realised that ancient people were just people from a long time ago. It sounds obvious, of course, but for some reason (and I imagine I'm not alone in having this experience) I feel like I spent a lot of my life thinking of ancient peoples as being somewhere between "us" and (what one generalises to) neanderthals. It was startling to read stories and realise that these humans were, in fact, humans just like anyone today, living in a different culture.


There is a short video showing the site here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKYo1XiyVWU


It looks like Australia, or Arizona.



As soon as the crystals were removed, a vaguely humanoid cloud rose from a nearby mound and vanished, followed by a marked drop in temperature. Several witnesses reported hearing the sound of laughter and developing a sudden urge to collect rings.


This is so familiar, what's it from? Seafall?


Sonic the hedgehog I think... Referencing Chaos Emeralds.


Multiple things bouncing in my head. I missed the mark a little on the particular flavor of doom being courted -- TFA mentions the area is ritually associated with an entity called the "Great Water Snake".


I'm deeply struck that through these crystals, we have a link to ancestors from eons ago. I can't even imagine what artifacts we leave behind that our descendants will find 105,000 years from now.


They found a buried crystal cache. The sediment they were in dates to 105k years ago. I don't have access to the journal the actual paper is published in. Does anyone know how they establish that they were gathered at that time and not just more recently buried?

This article is light on details.


Article: We found 22 white and well-formed calcite crystals brought to the site 105,000 years ago. We determined this using a method called "optically stimulated luminescence", which dates sediments the crystals were excavated from. Our analysis indicates the crystals were not introduced into the deposits via natural processes, but rather represent a small cache of deliberately collected objects.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optically_stimulated_luminesce...


Yes, I read the article. It specifically says the sediment was dated. I'm just curious how they're certain the placement of the crystals dates to the same time.


This dating method basically dates the last time the sediments were directly exposed to ionizing radiation (i.e. sunlight). The key here is that it sets a minimum age. Things can be older and have their "clocks reset", but the decay constant is fixed, so we can always determine the last time the object or sediment was exposed. There are a couple minor issues with it, but it's better (and sometimes cheaper!) than radioisotope dating. You can be pretty confident in OSL/TL dates more than a couple thousand years old.


We excavated three areas of the shelter (4.75 m2 in total) and reached a maximum depth of 1.7 m, which revealed a sequence of stratified Middle Stone Age and Later Stone Age deposits

Single-grain optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of quartz from each of the three stratigraphic aggregates provided in-sequence dates with 1σ errors of 14.8 ± 0.8 ka (dark brown gravelly silt), 30.9 ± 1.8 ka (orange ashy silt) and 105.3 ± 3.7 ka (DBSR) (weighted mean, n = 3).

Several lines of evidence provide support for an anthropogenic origin of the OES. First, the fragments occur within a well-preserved rockshelter context and are in direct association with many other traces of human activity (Extended Data Fig. 5). Second, the OES fragments show evidence of having been burned. Over 80% (n = 34) of the OES fragments display red colouration (Fig. 2, Supplementary Data), which reflects exposure to temperatures of 300–350 °C. Third, humans were the primary agents of accumulation for the faunal assemblage at GHN and there is no evidence for the presence of hyenas or other animals that consume ostrich eggs. The identifiable fraction of zooarchaeological material from the DBSR (n = 467) is dominated by remains of ungulates and tortoises (Table 1, Supplementary Data). Taphonomic analysis demonstrates a high frequency of anthropogenic percussion marks and cut marks (Table 1), and most of the faunal specimens show evidence of moderate burning.


Thanks for the further info.


Not an archaeologist, but if you're digging in a 105k year old sediment layer and none of the layers above it were disturbed, I'd say it's a pretty safe bet the stuff in it is also 105k years old.


Archaeologists are very good at dating finds based on a range of different testing methods. In this case they used strata and an examination of the crystal's surface...at the very least.


I suppose you must be right. I'm just wondering if there's some method they use to tell the difference between "this was left here 105k years ago" and "someone dug a hole here 50k years ago and buried them".

Is it just as simple as "it doesn't look like it was ever dug up"? I have no clue how this stuff works.


If you dig a hole, you puncture layers of sediment. Do it carefully, and you'll be able to see those layers of sediment on the walls of the hole. But the dirt you extract is mixed, and homogenized in the process. Fill in the hole, and the fill won't have nicely stratified layers. If somebody carefully digs in the same place 1000 years later, a cross section will reveal a homogeneous plug amid layers of strata. They'll be able to date when you dug the hole by looking at the layers above that homogeneous plug

Fun thought: archaeologists 10k years from now unearthing today's digs, finding the traces of our careful destruction of ancient evidence...


Do we know this someone are terrestrial and not ET?




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