Ten Commandments tablet up for auction

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Tomorrow, you can bid to own the earliest known stone tablet carved with the Ten Commandments. The two-foot-square, 115 pound marble stone was discovered in 1913 near Yavneh, Israel. The inscription is dated circa 300-830 CE and the tablet is in one piece, so unfortunately it's probably not the original Ten Commandments delivered by God on Mount Sinai and promptly smashed by Charleston Heston. Opening bid is $220,000. From Heritage Auctions:

The details of the Yavneh Stone's discovery are related in an article by Y. Kaplan and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi in the 1947 Journal of the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society. According to Mr. Kaplan's account, this extraordinary artifact was rediscovered in 1913, during the excavation of a railroad line along the southern coastal plain of Palestine. The discovery was made near Yavneh, an historic city called Jabneel in the Hebrew Bible. The workmen who found it did not recognize its importance and either sold or gave it to a local Arab man of some means, who set the stone into the threshold of a room leading to his inner courtyard, with the inscription facing up. Due to foot traffic, several words on the center left side of the tablet were blurred over time.

In 1943, thirty years after his father acquired it, the man's son sold the stone to Mr. Kaplan, who immediately recognized its importance as an extremely rare "Samaritan Decalogue," one of five such extant stone inscriptions dating to before the Muslim invasion of the seventh century CE...

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) granted export approval for this piece in perpetuity to the Living Torah Museum in a letter dated 20 March, 2005.

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The race to find Incan ruins to halt US oil drilling

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Peruvian archaeologists and activists have joined with the indigenous Harakmbut people to find legendary Incan lost cities. If they find them soon enough, traditional Harakmbut lands leased to an American oil company might be designated off-limits to drilling. Read the rest

Ancient corpse found in "burial shroud" of marijuana plants

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In northwest China, archaeologists dug up an ancient corpse in a burial shroud of cannabis plants. The fellow was buried approximately 2,400 to 2,800 years ago. Archaeologist Hongen Jiang and colleagues described the discovery as an "extraordinary cache" of well-preserved plants. From National Geographic:

Thirteen cannabis plants, each up to almost three feet long, were placed diagonally across the man's chest, with the roots oriented beneath his pelvis and the tops of the plants extending from just under his chin, up and alongside the left side of his face.

This discovery adds to a growing collection of archaeological evidence showing that cannabis consumption was "very popular" across the Eurasian steppe thousands of years ago, says Jiang.

...This is the first time ever that archaeologists have recovered complete cannabis plants, as well as the first incidence of their use as a "shroud" or covering in a human burial, says Jiang.

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Our hominid ancestor Lucy died after falling from tree, new analysis suggests

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Lucy, the famed Australopithecus afarensis, may have died from falling out of a tree 3.18 million years ago, according to new forensic analysis. This video explains the reasoning behind the hypothesis.

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Infrared cameras reveal tattoo-covered mummy priestess

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Archaeologist Cédric Gobeil discusses how he used modern imaging technology to find dozens of animals tattooed on the mummy of an Egyptian woman, probably a priestess of Hathor. She also had a hieroglyphic neck tattoo that is pretty creepy-looking 3,300 years later. Read the rest

Mystery magic spells, etched on gold, unearthed in Serbia

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Buried nearly 2,000 years ago in Serbia, rolls of gold and silver etched with "magic spells" are baffling archaologists. Reuters reports on a "Middle Eastern mystery" unearthed at the site of an ancient Roman city.

"We read the names of a few demons, that are connected to the territory of modern-day Syria," archaeologist Ilija Dankovic said at the dig, as more skeletons from the 4th century A.D. were being uncovered.

The fragile, golden and silver scrolls - which once unrolled look like rectangles of foil similar in size to a sweet wrapper - may never be fully understood.

They are the first such items discovered in Serbia but resemble amulets of "binding magic" found in other countries, Dankovic said.

Very Pazuzu, isn't it? Read the rest

Two teens carve into 5,000-year-old rock carving, just trying to help

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This famed 5,000-year-old rock carving on the island of Tro, near Nordland, Norway, depicting a figure on skis, is one of the most important historical sites in the country. Two teenagers may be prosecuted for scratching into the stone to make the artwork clearer. (Above: image at left is before, right is after.)

The boys came forward last week, and apologized for their actions.

“It was done out of good intentions," said local mayor Bård Anders Langø. "They were trying to make it more visible actually, and I don’t think they understood how serious it was."

According to The Telegraph, the teens may still face prosecution under Norway’s Cultural Heritage Act.

“It’s a sad, sad story,” Nordland Country archaeologist Tor-Kristian Storvik said. “The new lines are both in and outside where the old marks had been. We will never again be able to experience these carvings again the way we have for the last 5,000 years.”

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King Tut's dagger was forged from meteorite

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New analysis of the dagger buried with King Tut confirms that the weapon was made from an iron meteorite. They used X-ray fluorescence spectrometry to study the dagger, found on Tut's mummified body by Howard Carter in 1925. Daniela Comelli of Milan Polytechnic's department of physics and her colleagues have even identified the most likely meteorite used to forge the dagger.

"We took into consideration all meteorites found within an area of 2,000 km in radius centered in the Red Sea, and we ended up with 20 iron meteorites," Comelli told Space.com. "Only one, named Kharga, turned out to have nickel and cobalt contents which are possibly consistent with the composition of the blade."

From Space.com:

The study shows the ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoritic iron for the production of precious objects, possibly perceiving those chunks of iron falling from the sky as a divine message.

The most ancient Egyptian iron artifacts, nine small beads excavated from a cemetery along the west bank of the Nile tomb in Gerzeh and dated about 3200 BC, are also made from meteoritic iron hammered into thin sheets.

"It would be very interesting to analyze more pre-Iron Age artifacts, such as other iron objects found in King Tut's tomb. We could gain precious insights into metal working technologies in ancient Egypt and the Mediterranean," Comelli said.

"King Tut's Blade Made of Meteorite" Read the rest

Could secret chambers discovered in King Tut's tomb unlock Nefertiti's mysteries?

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Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh El Damati announced today that there are almost certainly two hidden chambers in King Tutankhamun's tomb. A recent radar scan that indicates the existence of the secret rooms also "revealed metallic and organic material," according to CNN.

El Damati doesn't think that the body of Queen Nefertiti lies in those chambers, more likely other female royalty, but British archaeologist Nicolas Reeves, who has been surveying the site for hidden chambers, thinks it's a distinct possibility.

From CNN:

Experts plan to do additional scanning at the end of the month to determine the size of the chambers and the thickness of the wall, but there will be no digging unless authorities are sure the chambers exist, the minister added.

"We must find a way to protect the tomb of Tutankhamun," El Damati told CNN in October. "Does that mean we will dig from above, below or from the side? We don't know..."

But if it is Nefertiti's final resting place, experts say the finding would be monumental.

"When we find Nefertiti, I think it will be more important than the discovery of King Tutankhamun himself," said El Damati.

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Mesopotamian boundary stones: the DRM of pre-history

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Sarah Jeong had me standing up and cheering with her comparison of kudurrus -- the ancient Mesopotamian boundary stones used to mark out territorial land-grants -- and the way that laws like the US DMCA protect digital rights management systems. Read the rest

Meet Homo naledi, the distant ancestor you never knew

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In South Africa, scientists have unearthed a humanoid species from what appears to be a burial chamber hidden deep inside a system of caves. They discovered 15 partial skeletons, with evidence leading researchers to believe the hominids had enough intelligence to conduct rituals. This is the single largest discovery of its kind ever in Africa, and scientists claim it will change our ideas about our human ancestors. More on the findings in the journal Elife.

BBC News:

The species, which has been named naledi, has been classified in the grouping, or genus, Homo, to which modern humans belong. The researchers who made the find have not been able to find out how long ago these creatures lived - but the scientist who led the team, Prof Lee Berger, told BBC News that he believed they could be among the first of our kind (genus Homo) and could have lived in Africa up to three million years ago.

The team of scientists who discovered the Homo naledi remains pose for a picture

Here's the abstract:

Homo naledi is a previously-unknown species of extinct hominin discovered within the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. This species is characterized by body mass and stature similar to small-bodied human populations but a small endocranial volume similar to australopiths. Cranial morphology of H. naledi is unique, but most similar to early Homo species including Homo erectus, Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis. While primitive, the dentition is generally small and simple in occlusal morphology.

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WATCH: Feathered fossil links proto-birds to velociraptors

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Artist Zhao Chuang rendered this cool illustration of a newly-discovered Zhenyuanlong. It was over six feet long and had copious feathers, as shown in a beautifully preserved Chinese fossil below. Read the rest

"Vampire grave" from the 13th century unearthed

An archaeologist found a "vampire grave" in Bulgaria where a Medieval skeleton lies with an iron spike through its chest. Read the rest

Very old erotic graffiti found in Greece

Photograph: Helena Smith

Now we know that Nikasitimos banged Timion (in the past continuous tense, implying a long stamina) on what is now a remote stone outcrop on the Agean island of Astypalaia, approximately 2,500 years ago. Read the rest

How to: Read books buried 2000 years ago

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. Read the rest

A real graveyard curse: Archaeologists susceptible to fungal disease

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. Read the rest

An ancient recipe for seafood stew

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.) Read the rest

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