Ancients 'Predicted the Future' With ... Flour?
Archaeologists uncover three shrines on Armenian hilltop
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 22, 2015 4:10 PM CST
An archaeologist at work.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – Archaeologists have discovered three ancient shrines where diviners apparently tried seeing the future with animal bones, small pebbles, or flour baked into little bread rolls, LiveScience reports. Ensconced in an Armenian fortress, the roughly 3,300-year-old shrines found between 2003 and 2011 each have a room containing a clay basin that holds ceramic vessels and ash. Other items show how diviners in the fortress at Gegharot tried seeing the future, possibly under the influence of wine or burnt substances that "altered" their mental states, archaeologists say. "I would think that this is probably a cult center largely specializing in servicing the emerging rulers from the ruling class," says Adam Smith, co-author of an article in the American Journal of Archaeology. They had three methods:

  • Osteomancy, or divination with animal bones. Here, they used knucklebones of goats, sheep, and cows. "You would roll them and depending upon whether the scorched side or the marked side came up you would [get] a different interpretation," says Smith.
  • Lithomancy, or predicting the future with little stones. Pebbles uncovered at Gegharot are smooth, rounded, and have a wide color palette from green and red to white, dark gray, and black. How they were used is unknown.
  • Aleuromancy, or divination by flour. The fort's east citadel includes an installation for flour grinding; the basin was likely used to bake dough balls. Perhaps people used stamp seals to punch shapes in the dough for divination, Smith says.

The shrines were likely used for only 100 years before Gegharot's society was wiped out by military conflicts in the region, ArmenPress reports.