News in brief from China, Guatemala, and Spain

Brief summaries of important archaeological discoveries, including the world's oldest coin mint, ancient Mayan parks, and a cave painting scene of honey-gathering.

World’s oldest coin mint

Excavations in Guanzhuang, China, have discovered the world’s oldest coin-minting site. Archaeologists unearthed used and unused coin moulds, as well as coin fragments and metal debris, in part of the bronze foundry, confirming that the workshop was used to mass-produce ‘spade coins’, the oldest known metal currency produced in China, and possibly in the world. The foundry first began producing metal objects like weapons, tools, and ritual vessels c.770 BC, but started producing coins between 640 and 550 BC. This makes the site the earliest securely radiocarbon dated coin mint ever found, and, as such, a valuable source of new information about the origins of money and the shift towards standardised metal currency. The research has been published in Antiquity

Maya Tikal parks

New research by a team from the University of Cincinnati, recently published in Scientific Reports, has discovered evidence of ‘parks’ of native rainforest surrounding the reservoirs of the ancient Maya city of Tikal, in Guatemala. Tikal was a busy urban hub with a population of tens of thousands, and the city centre consisted of a largely paved ceremonial area. However, a new technique that analyses ancient plant DNA in sediments has identified over 30 species of plants around the banks of the reservoirs, suggesting that there was a section of intact forest maintained in the heart of the city. This would have provided a shady park area, which may have been used by the city’s elite, as well as preventing erosion and providing an important source of native plants for medicine and food.

Honey gatherer

Image: Martínez-Bea, Domingo, Angás Pajas, 2021.

A project exploring Levantine rock art in the Iberian Mediterranean Basin has discovered a collection of Mesolithic paintings in the rock shelter of Barranco Gómez in Castellote, Spain. Among these paintings is a depiction of a figure climbing a ladder to gather honey from a beehive, which has been dated to c.7,500 years ago (shown above). The image, which is the most detailed and well-preserved representation of honey-gathering ever found in Levantine art, offers evidence of the advanced ropemaking and climbing techniques used by its creators: the top of the ladder has been secured near the beehive before climbing, and a pole has been used halfway up to fix the ladder to the rock and make it more stable. The rock shelter also contains two other painted areas, depicting a hunting scene and the silhouette of a doe. The research has recently been published in the journal Trabajos de Prehistoria.