Uncovering the Past: Cave Rings, Phoenician DNA, Egyptian Spellcraft and more!

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As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Cave rings in Southern France Hint at Neanderthal religious rites

Archaeologists have reported on an “extraordinary discovery” in France after finding several man-made circular structures, or rings, that date back 170,000 years to the time Neanderthals lived in the area.

The rings were constructed out of stalagmites from the Bruniquel Cave in France’s southern region, and excavators believe that they might have been used for some sort of ritual at the time of their creation.

The 400 stalagmites were presumably broken off from the sides of the cave and arranged into two circles, one larger one and a smaller one, as well as several organized piles throughout the cave.

The discovery was recently reported in Nature, an international journal, which reveals how the discovery sheds light on the life of Neanderthals. Some archaeologists believe these peoples lived in France thousands of years before the first humans 140,000 years ago.

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[Video Still]

The Phoenicians were really Portugese?

Scientists made a surprising discovery when they finished mapping the genome of a Phoenician male who lived approximately 2500 years ago. They expected to find that his maternal ancestry originated from North Africa or the Middle East. Instead they discovered he had a rare mitochondrial haplogroup that comes from European hunter-gatherer populations. Not only that, but his DNA most closely matched modern day Portuguese.

Phoenicians, as a distinct socio-political people, originated in what is now Lebanon. But they spread their empire throughout the Mediterranean. Their religion was a polytheistic one honoring Gods such as Baal and Astarte. In later years, the religion took a more syncretic turn and incorporated more Greek Gods and and Goddesses.

It is hoped, by studying the DNA of ancient peoples, archaeologists can get a better idea of human migration and exchange patterns, such as religion. Does this mean those early hunter-gathers from the Iberian peninsula also worshipped Baal? That we don’t yet know.

Even in ancient Egypt, you couldn’t escape death or taxes

A device called a nilometer has been found in the ruins of a temple complex in the ancient city of Thmuis. Archaeologists believe that the device was built in the third century BCE and was used for almost 1000 years to calculate how high the water level reached during the annual Nile flood.

This Nile river used to flood the delta region each July or August and it would leave behind a rich layer of silt. The silt made growing crops such as wheat and barley possible and made Egypt into the breadbasket of the Mediterranean.

If the river flood was too high, homes and grain storage facilities were swept away. If the flood was too little, famine would result from not enough crop land being fertile for crop growth. 

The nilometer was a circular well with a staircase leading down. In this way, Egyptian officials could measure the depth of the water and that would tell them if the crops would be plentiful or sparse. And that, in turn, told them how much in taxes to assess.

Nilometers were built in temple complexes because the Nile River is a God and the nilometer was an interface between the religious and mundane aspects of life in ancient Egyptian culture.

Want a new ancient Egyptian spell?

How about two? Linguists have just deciphered two more spells from a cache of such spells written on papyri dating back to the third century AD. The cache was found 100 years ago in Egypt and are written in Greek. One spell instructs the spell caster to burn a number of offerings in a bathhouse and write a spell on its walls calling on the gods to “burn the heart” of a woman who has withheld her love.

The other, designed to force a man to obey the caster’s every command, instructs the caster to engrave a series of magical words onto a copper plaque and then affix it to something the man wears, such as a sandal.

These spells and many others will be published in an upcoming volume of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

Peruvian women show a break in religious tradition

Archaeologists in Peru’s north coast earthed the unexpected – female sacrificial victims.

Most ancient societies in the region practiced some form of human sacrifice and the victims were almost always male prisoners. But in a temple in Pucalá, just outside of Chiclayo, the remains of six female sacrifice victims were found.

The six women were found with missing rib bones, suggesting they were left exposed to scavengers such as vultures for a time. They were then buried in a ritual space with high walls.

The remains date back to 850 AD, a time of ideological change. This is demonstrated by how the women were positioned for burial. The women’s bodies were buried, on a east-west axis, showing there was a change away from the dying Moche culture and towards the Lambayeque culture.

Although little is known about Moche and Lambayeque religion, it appears they both worshipped a single male deity which was represented by a mask of a male with his eyes turned upward. The Lambayeque developed extremely complex and hierarchical funeral practices.