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. When they go viral, funny cat pictures heal daily drudgery with a dose of furry, cuddly cheer. But, in terms of the reverence they receive, these cats are hardly the first of their kind. Ancient cultures had cat memes too, and archaeologists have their own term for them: feline motifs. Read the rest
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. Read the rest
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. Read the rest
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. Read the rest
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! Read the rest
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. Read the rest
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. Read the rest
Researchers map the history of curry
by analyzing chemical traces in ancient Indian pottery. Read the rest
Here's a nice reminder that an expert is only "an expert" in their specific, narrow field, and (more importantly) everybody in an expert in something. A Baltimore hair stylist has helped archaeologists better understand how Roman and Greek women achieved some of the complicated, towering hairdos depicted in sculpture and paintings. How? She experimentally demonstrated that the word most scientists had been translating as "hairpin"
probably should be translated as "needle and thread". Read the rest
Before you get excited about the bones of Richard III being found under a parking lot
, consider this — the announcement included no mention of how common the DNA sequences that ostensibly identified the body as Richard really are. Those sequences might match Richard's descendants, but if the sequences are also really common, well, that's not saying much. Read the rest
On Christmas Day, I watched a documentary about the terra cotta warriors — thousands of clay soldiers built as funerary objects for the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China's first emperor. One crazy fact I learned: Unlike the type of lacquer we call shellac today (which comes from crushed beetles), ancient Chinese artists used a lacquer derived from the sap of the lacquer tree, a relative of poison ivy. Anybody tasked with the job of applying that lacquer can end up with
a serious allergic reaction
. Another fun fact: We've still never seen the inside of Qin Shi Huang's tomb. Partly, this is a bureaucratic issue. But the larger problem is the mercury-laden soil on top, possibly contaminated by Qin Shi Huang's tomb, itself, which was supposed to contain a scale model of his empire
, complete with rivers and oceans flowing with (you guessed it) mercury. Read the rest
13 unusually-shaped skulls were recently unearthed in Mexico when workers were digging an irrigation system. They are about 1,000 years old. Time reported that researcher Cristina Garcia Moreno of Arizona State University said, “We don’t know why this population specifically deformed their heads.”
Tai-wiki-widbee said: "There's more information at the Artificial Cranial Deformation page at Wikipedia, where I found the image at right (Painting by Paul Kane, showing a Chinookan child in the process of having its head flattened, and an adult after the process) and these notes:"
Early examples of intentional human cranial deformation predate written history and date back to 45,000 BC in Neanderthal skulls, and to the Proto-Neolithic Homo sapiens component (12th millennium BCE) from Shanidar Cave in Iraq. It occurred among Neolithic peoples in SW Asia. The earliest written record of cranial deformation dates to 400 BC in Hippocrates' description of the Macrocephali or Long-heads, who were named for their practice of cranial modification.
This is NOT the skull of an extraterrestrial alien Read the rest
Klippel–Feil syndrome is rare and it likely doesn't describe one single disorder. Instead, it's more of a catch-all, a name for a variety of conditions that all share one common feature — being born with some of the vertebrae in the neck fused together.
Besides that, Klippel-Feil syndrome is pretty diverse. It's associated with a wide variety of birth defects that not everyone with the syndrome has. So it's hard to say what an absolute outcome for Klippel-Feil would be. But, for one man who lived 4,000 years ago in what is now northern Vietnam, Klippel-Feil syndrome likely meant complete paralysis of the lower half of his body. There's a good chance his arms were at least partly paralyzed, as well. His head would have been torqued to the right. It was probably hard for him to chew. Basically, he couldn't have easily kept himself alive with no help
And yet, this man — known as Burial 9 — lived into adulthood. Discovered in 2009, he is only one of a collection of prehistoric burials demonstrating that, even while living under harsh conditions, our ancestors went out of their way to care for people who couldn't care for themselves and make space in the community for people who had to live differently than the norm. In the New York Times, James Gorman writes about this archaeology of compassion:
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Among archaeological finds, she said, she knows “about 30 cases in which the disease or pathology was so severe, they must have had care in order to survive.” And she said there are certainly more such cases to be described.
I promised to not speak of Schmapocalypse Miffy Melve
on BoingBoing anymore, and I am standing by that. However, I do think that I would be remiss not to point you toward this nifty, interactive version of the Maya's long count calendar system
. It does a great job of helping explain the Mayan number system and how those numbers come together to mark important dates. If you're interested in Mayan hieroglyphics, I'd also recommend reading the book A Forest of Kings
, which explains how the ancient Maya wrote and what their writing really tells us about their history. Read the rest