When the first excavations of the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum began in 1738, the diggers found what appeared to be charcoal and half-burnt logs
. In reality, those blackened lumps were papyrus scrolls. Buried beneath the detritus of Mt. Vesuvius, a Herculanean villa contained a whole library of the things. And now, thanks to micro-CT imaging and other digitization techniques
, researchers are finding ways to read those scrolls. — Maggie
Valley fever is a respiratory disease that can cause flu-like symptoms, rashes, and (sometimes) chronic lung problems. It's caused by a fungus that lives in dry soil, essentially hibernating for years until it's reinvigorated by moisture. Valley fever is best known for infecting prisoners in the American southwest, but it's also an occupational hazard of archaeologists
... who spend most of their lives sifting through the soils where the fungus lives. — Maggie
Archaeologists used scanning electron microscopes to look for phytoliths — the remnants of silica left over after plant cell walls decay — on ancient cookware. Their research led to the discovery of 6000-year-old garlic-mustard seed, the oldest evidence of spices being used in Northern European cooking
. (Insert your own joke here.) — Maggie
Ancient Egyptians made some really nice jewelry out of meteorites
. — Maggie
Two years ago, an Irish peat harvesting machine unearthed a new bog body — the ancient, mummified remains of a person buried in a peat bog. (The machine also took off the body's head in the process of discovering it. But don't worry. The face and parts of the jaw and teeth were later recovered.)
This week, researchers announced that the body, called Cashel Man, is actually 2000 years older than anybody had previously guessed, making him the oldest European bog body to ever be found with the skin still intact. Older bodies exist, but they've all basically been reduced to skeletons.
Judging by his injuries — the ones not caused by the peat harvester — Cashel Man was probably ritually sacrificed.
Detail of Cashel Man's feet: From a photo by Eamonn Kelly, Keeper of Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland.
This table is not for pooping. It's for tea. But it is made of poop — specifically fossilized hunks of fish poop, encased in a crunchy shell of clay and rock. The fossilized poops — called coprolites, which is basically just fancy Latin for "fossilized poop" — are the spiny-looking bits in the center of each circular inlay on the table top. (Technically, the name translates as "dung stone".)
The table belonged, appropriately, to the Rev. William Buckland, the man who gave coprolites their fancy name and proved that they were, in fact, fossilized poops.
The table resides at England's Lyme Regis Museum. You can read more about Buckland's work and the details of the craftsmanship and restoration behind the table at their website. Earth Magazine also has a lovely article on coprolites, including important information that will help you distinguish between fossilized poop and stuff that just looks like fossilized poop.
Via The Earth Story. Thanks to my Dad for forwarding this to me!
Ege University's Haluk Sağlamtimur presented a remarkable find of 5,000-year-old gaming tokens found in a Bronze Age burial mound at Başur Höyük in Turkey. They take a variety of forms ("Some depict pigs, dogs and pyramids, others feature round and bullet shapes. We also found dice as well as three circular tokens made of white shell and topped with a black round stone") and suggest a game based in some way on the number four.
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Yesterday, guest blogger Madeleine Johnson had a story here about a piece of ancient Peruvian pottery — in the shape of a very grumpy little cat. If you haven't read her story, you really should. It's all about the great cat memes of ancient history and how archaeologists can use clues from an artwork to track down who made it, where, and when.
My friend Andrew was kind enough to adapt Ancient Grumpy Cat into the form of a modern cat meme. That's his picture above. Madeleine and I also put together another one, based on Ancient Grumpy Cat's probable history as a ceremonial mug for drinking a corn beer called chicha:
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Grumpy Cat, Shocked Cat, Lil Bub – their images are the currency of the web, passed between friends, family, and co-workers.
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Polish tradition dictates that, in order to prevent a corpse from rising as a vampire, you must bury it with the head lopped off the body and positioned between the legs. Archaeologists recently found a burial site with four such bodies
in southern Poland. — Maggie
You don't need to know an ancient language to help scientists read ancient literature. Researchers are looking for volunteers for a crowdsource project
aimed at transcribing (and, later, translating) the words written on a series of crumbling papyrus scrolls, found in a trash heap at the site of what was once Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. — Maggie
While starving during the winter of 1609, residents of Jamestown, Virginia likely ate at least one person, a teenage girl
. Archaeologists found her skeleton last summer and it's riddled with cut marks characteristic of a body that has been butchered after death. — Maggie
The Pyramids of Giza close to tourists at 4:00 pm. Recently, a group of Russians managed to hide out at the site after closing time and scramble up the Great Pyramid of Cheops in the fading light. Naturally, they took photos. (Because if there is one thing the Internet has taught me about Russians, it's that they like to climb to dangerous heights and then take photos.)
These shots are kind of fabulous, not just for the thrill of "yeah, somebody broke the rules!", but because of the perspective you get from on high that isn't visible in the many ground-level shots I've seen. From on top of the Pyramid, you can see how the stone is pockmarked and carved — it really looks like something humans cut out of the Earth. You can also see the graffiti left by generations of tourists in multiple languages; English, Arabic, French, and more. And you can see the edge of the modern city, shimmering just at the horizon. I don't think I'd previously had such a profound sense of how closely modern Egyptians lived and worked to the Great Pyramid, before. What a fascinating view!
Thanks to Steve Silberman for the link!
The Antikythera shipwreck — source of the famous ancient clockwork Antikythera Mechanism — has remained shockingly unexplored in the 100 years or so that we've known about it. In fact, other than a visit by Jacques Cousteau in 1970s, there hadn't been any official, scientific excavations until last year. Turns out, there's a lot of stuff left to find at the site
, from a ship's anchor and storage jars to a collection of bronze fragments — which could either turn out to be something mundane, like nails from the boat, or more clues to the Mechanism. According to The Guardian's Jo Marchant, "little bronze fragments" describes what the gears of the Antikythera Mechanism looked like before they were detached from rock and cleaned of rust. — Maggie
Sixty feet under the Gulf of Mexico lie the remains of an 50,000-year-old forest
. Diver and photographer Ben Raines took some amazing photos of the site and sent samples of the trees — which still look like trees — to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for radiocarbon dating. You can see sap in a cross-section of the wood and, when it's cut, Raines says it still smells like fresh cypress. — Maggie