Saffron and Santorini

Santorini, otherwise known as Thera, is one of the Greek Cycladic Islands. On it lies Akrotiri, a Greek Bronze Age settlement (Marinatos 1980, 15). Like Pompeii, Akrotiri was destroyed and preserved by a volcano, but unlike Pompeii the city was not covered in graffiti. Most of what we about Akrotiri comes from the many frescoes in its buildings. In Xeste 3, which is believed to be a ritual building, there are two frescoes that focus on saffron: the Mistress of Animals and Saffron Gatherers Fresco (figure 1) and the Adorants Fresco (figure 2). The representation of Saffron in these frescoes shows its ritual importance, likely a result of its usefulness as a dye and medicine (Day 2011, 364).

Figure 1. Reconstruction of Mistress of Animals and Saffron Gatherers Fresco, by Anne Chapin.

Both Frescoes represent coming of age rituals. In the Mistress of Animals and Saffron Gatherers fresco, two saffron gatherers pick crocus flowers while a third girl pours the gathered flowers in front of a goddess known as ‘the Mistress of Animals’. She is attended by two exotic pets: a griffin and a blue monkey, who offers her processed flower stamens (Chapin 2002, 8). The fresco includes girls of different ages, indicated by their differing hair growth, which implies that girls participated in the ritual for consecutive years (Davis 1986, 399). After participating, girls would grow out their hair, which was a symbolic end of childhood, marking an entrance into adulthood. This ritual could have been used to acculturate girls into their future roles as women, possibly as wives and mothers. Many of the girls in the Saffron Gatherers fresco are in the beginning stages of puberty. Then, saffron was commonly used to induce abortion and provide menstrual relief (Chapin 2002, 24). The presence of saffron in this ritual could be part of a tradition of teaching girls how to take care of their bodies as women.

Figure 2. Reconstruction of Adorants Fresco, by Anne Chapin.

In the Adorants fresco, a teenage girl known as the ‘Wounded Woman’ weeps with a bloodied foot. Next to her foot is a detached crocus flower. To the right of the Wounded Woman is a veiled girl, whose veil is saffron-colored and decorated with red dots that likely represent carnelian beads, though it has been conjectured to be splattered blood (Bowers 2021, 18). The fresco appears to center around the Wounded Woman. Chapin estimates her to be around 14-17 years old. Her wound is one of the most controversial aspects of the fresco. Some interpret it to be a representation of childbirth, others the breaking of the hymen, but Chapin believes it to be representative of the Wounded Woman’s first period (Chapin 2002, 16-19). Regardless of the interpretation, all seem to revolve around some sort of coming-of-age process.

The Saffron Gatherers ritual marked an entrance into womanhood, while the Adorants fresco was a representation of a young woman experiencing the pain of womanhood. The inclusion of saffron in these frescoes tells us about the nature of these rituals. The fact that saffron was used in these frescoes indicates its importance to their culture.

To learn more about frescoes from Akrotiri, read:

Morgan, Lyvia. 2005. “New Discoveries and New Ideas in Aegean Wall Painting.” British School at Athens Studies 13: 21-44.

Warren, Peter. 1979. “The Miniature Fresco from the West House at Akrotiri, Thera, and Its Aegean Setting.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 99: 115-29.

To learn more about women at Akrotiri, read:

Suzanne Peterson Murray. 2004. “Reconsidering the Room of the Ladies at Akrotiri.” XAPIS: Essays in Honor of Sara A. Immerwahr. Hesperia Supplements 33: 101-130.


Bowers, Madeline. 2021. “Lifting the Veil: Marriage and Mortality in the Xeste 3 Lustral-Basin Frescos at Akrotiri.” Mediterranean Archaeology 34/35: 15-26.

Chapin, Anne. 2002. “Maidenhood and Marriage: The Reproductive Lives of the Girls and Women from Xeste 3, Thera,” Aegean Archaeology 4: 7-25.

Davis, Ellen N. 1986. “Youth and Age in the Thera Frescoes.” American Journal of Archaeology 90 (4): 399-406.

Day, Jo. 2011. “Crocuses in Context: A Diachronic Survey of the Crocus Motif in the Aegean Bronze Age”. Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 80 (3): 337-379.

Marinatos, Nanno. 1980. Santorini. Athens: D.& I. Mathioulakis.

The Neolithic Revolution from a Different Perspective

The standard civilizational progress narrative perpetuated by the culture historians of decades past states that humans through their ingenuity and mastery of their surroundings, were able to domesticate plants. This allowed for sedentary societies, food surpluses, population, growth, specialization, the state, and all of these increases in complexity until we eventually reach “Civilization.” Controlling the plants brought us to where we are today. That phone in your hand, your car, your air conditioner, your Adderall, and your online PDF of the archeology textbook are all products of plant domestication. Controlling this “lower” form of life freed you from the “barbarities” of hunting and gathering.

An illustration depicting the Neolithic Revolution and the rise of sedentary societies. (History Channel)

But was our domestication of plants really a good thing? Dr. Diana Shard of the Bologna Institute for Studies in Social Archaeology argues against the standard narrative. She claims that “man the hunter had been free; man the farmer was in chains” (Shard 165) Her main argument relies on the inequalities produced by agrarian societies. Women were given less status (Shard, 169), large-scale war became possible (Shard, 170), and the newly defined domestic relationship between humans and animals was detrimental. (Shard, 169).

Who wins In the agricultural world, if not the humans? Shard argues that it is the domestic animals as “men became their servant.” (Shard, 167) This may be true to a certain extent. However when viewing the Neolithic revolution through the cultural lens of the domesticated plant (assuming they have a culture), one can see that they are the true victors. Humans have spread their seeds across the entire world and helped them achieve success. Maize and potatoes which started out as American crops are vital in European and African Diets. All around the world we have cleared other plants and removed competition to allow these plants to succeed. According to the USDA, in 2019 the United States of America was home to 143,000 square miles of corn. This is approximately the size of the state of Montana which is the fourth largest state. 

The sun setting over a cornfield in Iowa (USDA)

We have worked hard since the end of the last ice age to ensure the success of these plants. If the goal of life is reproduction and the survival of offspring, domesticated plants have an effective strategy. In non-human Archeology, we are encouraged to change our perspective in order to mitigate our human bias. When we see the world through the eyes of maize, humans work for us, breaking their backs to ensure our survival, being seasonally rewarded with food to eat.

Further Reading:

Interesting corn statistics. Scroll to the bottom of the page for even more statistics.

Neolithic Revolution information

Neolithic revolution information with an unfortunate National Geographic paywall. If you open an incognito mode tab, you should be able to bypass the paywall.

Works Cited:

Capehart, Tom and Proper, Susan “Corn Is America’s Largest Crop in 2019” Economic Research Service in Research and Science. Accessed 25 Oct. 2023

Shard, Diana. “The Neolithic Revolution: An Analogical Overview.” Journal of Social History, vol. 7, no. 2, 1974, pp. 165–70. JSTOR, Accessed 25 Oct. 2023.

The Princes in the Tower: Modern Forensic Anthropology meets Medieval Crime

The field of Forensic Anthropology is an interesting one because it has both modern-day and historic applications. Forensic Anthropology can be applied in a modern context in a legal capacity, but by applying Forensic Anthropological Techniques to past human remains, we can discover who they were, how they perished, who they were related to, where they came from, et cetera, and thereby are presented with a wealth of information on an individual and their circumstances, which can inform us on the era they lived in. Such discoveries are always significant, such as in the case of the “Princes in the Tower;” Prince Edward V and Duke Richard IV of York. 

In 1483, during the “War of the Roses,”  Richard III seized the throne of England from his nephews Edward V (age 12) and Richard IV (9 yrs.), confining them to the Tower of London, allegedly for their own safety, where less and less was seen of them before they mysteriously vanished from all records. Of course, everyone assumed that power-hungry Richard III had done away with his nephews, but nothing could be proved until near two centuries later, when construction on the Tower in 1674 led to the discovery of a wooden chest containing what were believed to be the bones of the vanished princes, clad in velvet. They were interred in Westminster abbey, where they have only been disturbed once [The Princes in the Tower].

In 1933 the bones were examined by Lawrence E. Tanner and William Wright, Anthropologists from Cambridge University, who determined that the bones belonged to two boys, ages 10 and 12 (the ages of the Princes at the time) who had been related by blood [Wallace/Camping-Harris, 2022]. Their examination of the jawbones revealed several missing teeth, which they likened to a congenital condition suffered by the Princes’ paternal grandmother Dutchess Cecily of York. But this was far from definite. In 2012 the remains of King Richard III were discovered and examined more thoroughly. These results were compared to Tanner and Wright’s findings, and some inconsistencies were found. For example, Richard III, uncle of Edward V and Richard IV, did not exhibit the same dental condition of their nephews’ remains and their grandmother’s [The Princes in the Tower], which raised questions about Richard III’s relations to the remains, and whether or not the remains were the Princes’ at all. These questions still have yet to be answered. The British Crown has refused any and all requests to further examine the remains. The only concrete evidence we have is that the bones belonged to children, though some speculate they could have belonged to more than 2 individuals. The proposed dental link between the remains and Dutchess Cecily is intriguing, but too small to draw full conclusions from. With modern technology, far more detailed analysis such as DNA sequencing could be conducted, but not unless the Crown consents to the bones’ further disturbance. 

Princes Edward and Richard rendered in oil by John Everett Millia (1829-96), from the Royal Holloway, University of London/Bridgeman Images
The Tower of London where the Princes were confined still stands to this day (getty images)


Wallace, Naomi and Camping-Harris, Marnie. 11/06/2022. “Skeletons in Westminster: Is it Time to Solve the Mystery of the Princes in the Tower?” Retrospect Journal (Accessed 9/29/2023)

“The Princes in the Tower,” Historic Royal Palaces (Accessed 9/30/2023),debated%20by%20historians%20centuries%20later.

“Edward V and Richard, Duke of York,” Westminster Abbey Commemorations (Accessed 9/30/2023)

“Research reveals the DNA of the ‘Princes in the Tower,’” University of Essex News (Accessed 9/29/2023)

Further Reading

More on a Murder: The Deaths of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ and Historiographical Implications for the Regimes of Henry VII and Henry VIII (Tim Thorton, University of Huddersfield)

Recent Investigations regarding the Princes in the Tower (Lawrence E. Tanner and William Wright, Cambridge University)

The Tollund Man and Other Bog Bodies

“Bog Bodies”, or cadavers found preserved in the peat bogs of northwestern Europe, are some of the most well preserved human remains discovered in archaeology. Because their bodies and belongings are often so intact, they garner quite a bit of speculation as to the circumstances of their life and death. Many have visible wounds and clear indications of violent death, often as products of religious sacrifice.  We are given a shockingly detailed piece of a much larger and more complicated context that is not fully understood. 

Peat bogs are composed of a tightly packed matrix of sphagnum plants. When these plants die, they release a sugar compound known as sphagnan that neutralizes nutrients in the water. This makes peat bogs a difficult environment for decay-causing bacteria to grow. Sphagnum also releases acid into the water, which ‘tans’ the cadaver’s skin, making it leathery and more resistant to damage (Moesgaard). This is why the faces of some bog bodies are so striking, as you can see every little detail of their expression in death, like in the case of the Grauballe man (Kuiper, Kathleen). 

Peat Moss

The Tollund Man is the most well preserved bog body to date, with even the sheepskin hat on his head intact. His head is topped with long hair in a braid, and only his arms and legs appear skeletal. He was found in 1950, and like many bog body discoveries, those who first found him thought he could have died quite recently. In reality his remains have been dated to 2,400 years ago (McGreevy, Nora). Several parts of his body have been studied, including attempts at DNA testing of samples collected from his femur and the base of his skull.The contents of his stomach revealed that his last meal was of porridge and fish (McGreevy, Nora).

A raised bog

All of these details can be known about bodies like the Tollund Man’s, but the question is, should we be invading his resting body to find them out? Information about his environment and living habits is invaluable when collected, to better understand the culture and world that he lived in so long ago, but is that enough? Did those who placed him in his resting place imagine that he would be on display in a museum for over half a century now? The ethics of unearthing and displaying human remains are quite complicated, as with any case where burial is involved.


McGreevy, Nora. July 22, 2021“What Did Tollund Man, One of Europe’s Famed Bog Bodies, Eat before He Died?”

Kuiper, Kathleen. “9 Noteworthy Bog Bodies (and What They Tell Us).” Encyclopædia Britannica.

Guerra-Doce, E., C. Rihuete-Herrada, R. Micó, R. Risch, V. Lull, and H. M. Niemeyer. April 6, 2023. “Direct Evidence of the Use of Multiple Drugs in Bronze Age Menorca (Western Mediterranean) from Human Hair Analysis.” Nature News.

Magazine, Smithsonian. May 1, 2017. “Europe’s Famed Bog Bodies Are Starting to Reveal Their Secrets.”

“Moss Magic – Sphagnum Preservation.” Moesgaard Museum. Accessed October 1, 2023.

Further Reading:

A Momentus Addition to the Archaeological Record: The Heat Treatment Revolution

In this recent week of class, we discussed early human techniques and their evolution in constructing various stone tools. We reviewed the types of percussion and hammering, and the four innovations in stone knapping: The Oldowan, Acheulian, Levallois, and Blade Technology techniques. These methods occurred alongside cognitive development in early humans. For instance, spatial awareness allowed for precise strikes and removal of flakes from a core stone. Goal-setting enabled the visualization of a final tool and a method to complete that end. Early humans exhibited significant creativity in devising stone tool techniques. Hence, it is hard to believe that the archaeological record was limited to four construction techniques. Early human ingenuity must have resulted in other methods of tool manufacturing. 

Upon investigation, I discovered that ancient craftsmen employed heat treatment to temper their tools. Archaeological research from South Africa dates the earliest use of heat treatment to 45,000-70,000 years ago… stone tools were heated to roughly 600 degrees and likely buried under fire to make the stone easier to shape (Fountain). After heat treatment, less force was needed to flake a core. Percussion could be done with greater control and precision. Experimental archaeology was applied to validate these claims of heat treatment. Archaeologists matched the color of uncovered silcrete blades on the South African Coast by heating and flaking silcrete themselves (Fountain). 

A silcrete nodule showing experimental changes in texture and color resulting from exposure to heat.

Photo Credit: Science/AAAS

Heat treatment was a prevalent practice. According to Mary Louise Kelly from All Things Considered on NPR, “Scientists say it [heat treatment] may have actually happened much earlier – 300,000 years ago. That’s based on a study of rock shards in the Middle East.” Further, “heat treatment first occurred in Europe about 25,000 years ago” (Fountain). Evidently, heat treatment was integral to the survival of different early human communities; it was an intercontinental and enduring innovation.  

The adoption of heat treatment also transpired with growth in the cognition of early humans. Several skills were developed to produce tempered crafts. Sophisticated, controlled use of fire building was one adaptation (Early Humans Used). An understanding of careful planning and multi-tasking was another adaptation, as explained by Wadley and Prinsloo, “the making of compound adhesives involve[d] not only careful planning, but also multi-tasking…The artisan need[ed] to simultaneously mix ingredients, control fire temperature, and mentally rotate stone tools to create the desired composite product.” The archaeological record dispels ignorant notions of early humans being primitive. In actuality, they exhibited cognitive complexity and adeptly utilized their resources for survival. 

The photo shows heated artifacts in silcrete made by Homo sapiens at Klipdrift Shelter, South Africa. Photo: Katja Douze, University of the Witwatersrand

Photo Credit: (Humans Used Fire)

Several other early human misconceptions are challenged by the discovery of heat treatment. First, early humans did not manufacture stone tools through only knapping and flaking. Second, fire was not only used for protection, cooking, and warmth. Third and lastly, heat treatment existed long before archaeologists’ first discovery of it in Europe, which was dated to 25,000 years ago (Fountain). Ultimately, heat treatment exemplifies transformative, early human adaptability and has clarified contemporary misperceptions of their capabilities. 

Reference List

“Early Humans Used Innovative Heating Techniques to Make Stone Blades.” ScienceDaily,

 October 20, 2016.

Fountain, Henry. “Early Humans Used Heat to Shape Their Tools.” The New York Times, August

 13, 2009.

“Humans Used Fire Earlier than Previously Known.” University of Bergen. Accessed October 1,


“Scientists Find Proof Early Humans Could Control Fire Temperature in Tempering Tools.” NPR,

 October 6, 2020.  

Wadley, L., Prinsloo, C. Linda. “Experimental Heat Treatment of Silcrete Implies Analogical

 Reasoning in the Middle Stone Age.” Journal of Human Evolution, April 5, 2014.,an%20attribute%20of%20complex%20cognition.  

Additional Readings:

Delagnes, Anne, Patrick Schmidt, Katja Douze, Sarah Wurz, Ludovic Bellot-Gurlet, Nicholas J

 Conard, Klaus G Nickel, Karen L van Niekerk, and Christopher S Henshilwood. “Early Evidence for the Extensive Heat Treatment of Silcrete in the Howiesons Poort at Klipdrift Shelter (Layer PBD, 65 Ka), South Africa.” PloS one, October 19, 2016.

Stolarczyk, Regine E, and Patrick Schmidt. “Is Early Silcrete Heat Treatment a New Behavioural 

Proxy in the Middle Stone Age?” PloS one, October 1, 2018.  

Obsidian Woven Through Aztec Society

Aztec society is one of the most well known native tribes in the world. They’re most well known for their intricate infrastructure and religion, however they had a very distinct and powerful military as well. The Aztecs heavily relied on warfare to smother invading tribes, gain resources and territory, and collect sacrifices. To gain such power, warriors depended heavily on weaponry such as bows and arrows, spears, javelin, clubs, swords, and specifically, the atlatl. While a fun word to say, it is a deadly weapon when used properly. The atlatl consisted of two separate mechanisms, a javelin or large dart and a wooden hook to sling the projectile to the users target. According to, this weapon was specifically used for long distance and could pierce chainmail armor of European soldiers and leather of other mesoamerican tribes. Almost every warrior in the tribe of city-state had the knowledge of how to wield an atlatl with its obsidian headed projectile. 

Figure 1. a demonstration of how an ancient atlatl would be thrown (Wikipedia 2023)

In their society, it was mandatory for men to participate in warfare, it was viewed as them fulfilling their role as a man and honoring the gods, specifically their war and sun god Huitzilopochtli. Since the Aztecs relied so heavily on warfare and were fearful of the repercussions of having an unworthy sacrifice to their sun god, the Aztecs made a gruesome and morally expensive offering, human sacrifice. 

FIgure 2. An Aztec Sun stone made as an offering to Huitzilopochtli (Aztec Sun Stone, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, 2023)

The reasoning for human sacrifice is circumstantially very sound however. The society feared that Huitzilopochtli would stop the sun, ceasing all life on earth. Typically, Aztecs would turn to prisoners of war as the sacrifice, never encouraging the slaughter of citizens in the city-state. In most cultures of the ancient times, priests would be ranked very high in the hierarchy, but according to, the priests did not have it easy. They were tasked with performing the human sacrifices with obsidian blades. These obsidian blades were made slowly by chipping away shards of the rock into an impossibly sharp edged weapon. The Aztecs used obsidian as projectile points and other tools throughout their community. Creating a knife or javelin head for an atlatl was a very intricate and trying process, one wrong strike to the obsidian and the tool would split in half, ruined. Obsidian was a precious, dangerous, and effective stone. In fact, the stone was so effective in their weaponry that the civilization didn’t even find the need to advance past it and towards metal. 

Figure 3. examples of what obsidian would be shaped into for weaponry (Daily Mail 2012)

Aztec culture and society was very complex and successful, they developed religion, agriculture, warfare and society, with one common thread, obsidian. Its relevance in all aspects of their culture made it a hot commodity and traced throughout Aztec history.


“Aztec Warriors: Rank and Warrior Societies – History.” 2014. History. July 23, 2014.

Cartwright, Mark. 2015. “Aztec Warfare.” World History Encyclopedia. March 18, 2015.

Mineo, Liz. 2018. “Unearthing the Secrets of the Aztecs.” Harvard Gazette. April 9, 2018.

Mexicolore. 2019. “Aztec Social Classes.” 2019.

Roos, Dave. 2018. “Human Sacrifice: Why the Aztecs Practiced This Gory Ritual.” HISTORY. October 11, 2018.

Cartwright, Mark. 2022. “Obsidian in Mesoamerica.” World History Encyclopedia. August 24, 2022.

“An Obsession with Obsidian | the Engines of Our Ingenuity.” n.d. Accessed October 2, 2023.

Further Reading:

Here is a more in depth interview about Aztec civilization in general:

Here is a journal on how different Mesoamerican civilization utilized obsidian:

Lithics from Greece contour hominin development throughout time.

Recent class discussions have consisted of explaining the importance and impact of lithics on archeological discoveries. The term lithic is derived from ancient Greek and means rock. This is why lithic technology can be defined as certain techniques that are used to produce various categories of stone tools. The first stone tools from two and a half million years before the present can be characterized as simplistic and non-selective. However, as time progressed significant additions were made to lithics further enhancing hominins’ ability to manipulate these stone tools to their benefit. Early lithics are smaller sections of stone that were produced by striking two stones together. This type of lithic is uniface, meaning that only one side of the stone had been flaked. Whereas the lithics that are more recent are biface tools meaning that two sides have been flaked. The resulting tool has a distinct purpose for each side. In addition, lithics began to be produced with stones of higher quality and structure leading to stronger tools. Furthermore, lithics began to become more symmetrical which shows that hominins underwent adaptations progressively. As time continued to progress lithic technology became even more advanced resulting in different facets of stone stools. Stone tools morphed from uncomplicated scrapers to intricate arrowheads. As hominins progressed, the tools that they used became more complex to keep up with their more elaborate lifestyle. Determining factors of more recent lithics are the bulb point near the bottom of the stone. The bulb point was formed as a result of a stone being struck against another hard surface. These identifiers are crucial in determining the period in which a certain lithic was used. Lastly, these devices molded human advancement and contributed to the development of hominins.

Figure 1. This image is depicting the anatomy of a lithic and providing a variety of views to fully understand how a lithic is developed. (Cambridge University Press & Assessment 2013)

Lithics are being discovered all throughout the world. Recently expert archaeologists: Panagiotis Karkanas, Eleni Panagopoulou, and Katerina Harvati found lithics that are from a “quarter of a million years before present.”(Paphitis 2023) The artifacts were unearthed from a site in the infamous “Megalopolis region of modern Greece.”(Paphitis 2023) These scientists reported that “rough stone tools”(Paphitis 2023) were observed at the site. Since these artifacts were simple stone tools that had sharp flakes it uncovers that they are from the “Lower Paleolithic stone tool industry.”(Paphitis 2023) The tools’ distinct shape and clear edges prove that the tools’ main purpose was for slaughtering and preparation of meals. Also, these tools aided the cultivation process of other plant and animal matter for hominin consumption.

Figure 2. This image shows the lithics that archaeologists Panagiotis Karkanas, Eleni Panagopoulou, and Katerina Harvati uncovered at their site in Greece. (American School of Classical Studies at Athens 2023)


Paphitis, Nicholas. “Newly discovered stone tools drag dawn of Greek archaeology back by a
quarter-million years.” ABC News. Last modified June 1, 2023. Accessed October 1, 2023.

Shea, John J. “Lithics Basics.” Cambridge University Press & Assessment. Last modified March 5,
2013. Accessed October 1, 2023.

“Newly discovered stone tools drag dawn of Greek archaeology back by a quarter-million years.”
American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Last modified June 2, 2023. Accessed October 1,2023.

Further Readings:

Discovery of 2,000-Year-Old Medical Instruments Uncovers Roman Medical Practices

The constant discovery of past technology undoubtedly changes our perception of how different advancements were made. Although it is true that today’s doctors have developed new techniques and methods, the doctors of the past, specifically Roman doctors, used many of the same medical tools that are currently used. 

Figure 2. A Roman fresco depicting an arrow being removed from Aenea’s thigh. Photograph by  Carole Raddato

In 2022, archaeologists discovered the 2,000-year-old remains of a Roman doctor near Jászberény, Hungary, and alongside the body was a collection of medical instruments including: “a forceps, for pulling teeth; a curet, for mixing, measuring and applying medicaments, and three copper-alloy scalpels fitted with detachable steel blades and inlaid with silver in a Roman style” (Lidz, 2023). People created products with metal alloys because they were discovered to be harder and tougher. Additionally, copper has antimicrobial properties, and in a time where hygiene was not at the same standards as it currently is, it was important to limit the chance of infection as much as possible. However, the tools were probably made without this intention. Egyptians first mentioned the use of antimicrobial effects, and they used it to sanitize drinking water and to treat chest wounds. 

Figure 1. Copper alloy medical instruments that were uncovered at the site in Hungary. Photograph by Rusznák Gábor/ELTE

The detail and material of these instruments indicated that the doctor was high-ranking and traveled to this area to perform his duties. Jászberény was part of a region outside of the Roman Empire and had a lot of conflicts. It was odd that a well-equipped medical professional would be there unless they came to the aid of a prestigious figure. Doctors were very rare according to Dr. Samu, research fellow at ELTE and member of the team on the dig, as, “Studying medicine was only possible, at the time, in a large urban center of the empire” (Lidz, 2023). Limiting the practice to a certain part of the empire, made medical work a very important occupation. Although this was not the first medical kit to be discovered, it was a rare find. Also, the limited amount of education offered, created many inexperienced medical professionals. Building a reputation in the empire would be important, indicating why this body that was discovered had such well-made instruments. Firsthand medical experience could also be found on the battlefield adding another possibility as to why the body could be found in this region.

The grave was purposefully chosen, and the doctor was most likely buried with his instruments as a sign of respect. However, as with all discoveries, it is not the only possibility and others must be considered.

Additional Information

How medical instruments were used –

More uses of Roman medicine –


Arendsen, Linda P, Ranee Thakar, and Abdul H Sultan. 2019. “The Use of Copper as an Antimicrobial Agent in Health Care, Including Obstetrics and Gynecology.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews. U.S. National Library of Medicine. August 14, 2019.

Lidz, Franz. 2023. “Scalpel, Forceps, Bone Drill: Modern Medicine in Ancient Rome.” The New York Times. The New York Times. June 13, 2023. 

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Fourth edition. Thames & Hudson.

The Role of Animal Tool Use in Understanding Human Cognitive Development

Recent discoveries of stone flakes from Macaque monkeys are challenging previously made assumptions of human cognitive evolution and abilities (Greenfieldboyce 2023). The earliest stone tools were quite simple – using direct percussion, one would use a hammer stone to break off flakes of another stone, called the core, to create a tool. In the first stages of this development, tool-making often only meant breaking a stone in half to create a sharp edge, but this developed into more refined tools, created by carefully flaking off stone, eventually on both sides of the tool (Renfrew 2018, 212).

An example of the earliest examples of stone tools – often simply sharp rock edges or flakes (Renfrew 2018).

An important part of the daily life of the Macaque monkeys in Thailand is the consumption of oil palm nuts. To eat the nuts, Macaques place the nut on a flat stone and then hit it with another stone, cracking it open. When the monkeys miss the nut, which can happen often, they may unintentionally break the flat stone underneath the nut, creating stone flakes that are very similar to early stone tools (Zorich 2023).

A Macaque monkey sits holding the stone tools used to crack a nut, surrounded by stone flakes (CGTN 2018).

Despite the fact that these flakes are largely understood to be unintentional and not used, there are a few possible implications of this discovery. The first is that early humans could have been inspired by the flakes they saw macaques making, leading them to create the first intentional stone flakes. Recent research has suggested that the date of development for stone tools may be over 3 million years ago rather than the previously imagined 2.6 million years ago. The discovery of these artifacts provides concrete evidence for an earlier date of the development of stone tools (Proffitt 2023).

The discovery of the Macaque stone flakes is also significant as it calls into the question the validity of flakes previously identified as anthropogenic. The stone flakes that the Macaques produce are almost indistinguishable from those intentionally created by humans. According to a study by Tomos Proffitt, around 20-30% of the earliest flakes could be attributed to the Macaques (2023). However, it is still possible to distinguish the two. Because the Macaque flakes were produced unintentionally and not used as tools, they lack the distinctive use-wear patterns that early human stone tools. In addition, if an archeologist has access to the core stone that the tools were flaked off of, they can analyze percussive patterns to determine if the entity creating the flakes had knowledge of fracture patterns and was using those patterns intentionally (Greenfieldboyce 2023). 

Because both types of flakes are so similar, this discovery emphasizes the importance of an accurate behavioral interpretation of artifacts. Upon first glance, Macaque flakes can easily be confused with human’s intentional flakes. Only with careful observation and analysis can the two be identified as separate entities. However, the striking similarities between the two types of flakes provides important evidence for an earlier development date of stone tools used by humans, potentially altering our understanding of the evolution of human cognitive ability.


Greenfieldboyce, Nell. “Stone Flakes Made by Modern Monkeys Trigger Big Questions about Early Humans.” NPR, March 10, 2023, sec. Shots – Health News.

“Monkeys Use Tools to Crack Nuts, Shuck Oysters .” CGTN, March 2018.

Proffitt, Tomos, Jonathan S. Reeves, David R. Braun, Suchinda Malaivijitnond, and Lydia V. Luncz. “Wild Macaques Challenge the Origin of Intentional Tool Production.” Science Advances 9, no. 10 (March 10, 2023): eade8159.

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Fourth edition. Thames & Hudson.

Zorich, Zach. “What Stone-Wielding Macaques Can Tell Us about Early Human Tool Use.” Scientific American, March 10, 2023.

Further Reading:

What Can the North Sentinelese Tell Us About the Past?

         Over the course of the last few millennia, mankind has undergone rapid development that has spawned many things that we consider to be vital to society, whether it be agriculture or iPhones. However, amidst the rush for improved technologies, some groups have managed to remain rooted in the past and continue to live life similar to how humanity did many thousands of years ago, namely the people of the North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean. These people have remained in isolation for 60,000 years of history, save for a few encounters with anthropologists and colonial-era ships, but are incredibly hostile towards any intruders on their island (McDougall, 2006). Regardless, these people have proven interesting to anthropologists for many reasons, including their genetic relation to “their pre-Neolithic ancestors” and the clues they could hold to deciphering more about ancient humanity (McDougall, 2006). The only known visit to their island reported that there were “a group of huts […] with a carefully-tended fire outside each one,” which could provide an accurate picture of ancient human settlements and allow us to better understand other archeological finds around the world and provide more context to the use of bioarchaeological techniques to understand the cultures of ancient peoples (Smith, 2018). By using a current and intact example of a pre-Neolithic village and lifestyle, we can compare, and contrast knowledge gained from the North Sentinelese to the bodies and archaeological sites found from other civilizations to gain better insight into their traditions and practices. However, we know a few things about this group that can aid research, particularly the existence of burial practices within their society. These practices have been observed a few times, but most notably with intruders they have killed and gifts they have buried. After killing two Indian fishermen in 2006, they were buried in “shallow graves” in the sand of the island’s beach (McDougall, 2006). A similar treatment was also given to the pigs and toy doll that were given as a gift to the Sentinelese in the 1970s (Survival International). This indicates that this group displays at least some modicum of reverence for some objects and the dead, some of which aren’t even their own people or species, and could point to the existence of possible religious practices and ceremonies. These practices could be used to contextualize similar practices of other island peoples and allow us to gain a better understanding of their processes and spiritual reasons regarding burial rites. Research on these peoples would open a window to humanity’s past that could unlock many secrets about our development, however many question whether that is worth the disruption and likely decimation of an entire indigenous peoples. Ultimately, many have decided that the price is not worth this and elected to cease sending anthropologists to the island in 1996 (Survival International). 

North Sentinel Island as seen from above (Wikipedia, 2023, photo courtesy of Jesse Allen)
A structure known as the Jangli hut on Rutland Island, similar to housing on North Sentinel Island (Khan, 2018, photo courtesy of Maurice Vidal Portman)

Other Readings

History of North Sentinel Island:

Anthropological Visits to the Island:

Works Cited

International, Survival. “Sentinelese.” Survival International. Accessed October 1, 2023.,have%20been%20in%20the%20Andamans. 

McDougall, Dan. “Survival Comes First for Sentinel Islanders – the World’s Last ‘stone-Age’ Tribe.” The Guardian, February 12, 2006. 

Smith, Kiona N. “Everything We Know about the Isolated Sentinelese People of North Sentinel Island.” Forbes, September 12, 2023. 

Khan, Tanveer. “North Sentinel Island: Home to an Uncontacted, Hostile and Primitive Tribe.” STSTW Media – Unusual stories and intriguing news., November 20, 2019. 

“North Sentinel Island.” Wikipedia, September 20, 2023.