Back around 500 BCE or so in what is now York, U.K, a gentleman was decapitated for who-knows-why and his head quickly buried. To the amazement of the archaeologists who dug up the skull in 2008, the cranium still contained a well-preserved brain. According to University of London neurologist Axel Petzold and his colleagues, understanding how the tissue has survived for more than 2,500 years may lead to new methods for extracting valuable information from ancient tissue. From Science
Using several molecular techniques to examine the remaining tissue, the researchers figured out that two structural proteins—which act as the “skeletons” of neurons and astrocytes—were more tightly packed in the ancient brain. In a yearlong experiment, they found that these aggregated proteins were also more stable than those in modern-day brains. In fact, the ancient protein clumps may have helped preserve the structure of the soft tissue for ages..
The research also could provide insight into protein-based neurological diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia.
"Protein aggregate formation permits millennium-old brain preservation" (Journal of the Royal Society Interface)
Read the rest
Archaeologists have found the remnants of a 4,000-year-old "book" in a burial shaft in Dayr al-Barsha, Egypt. The oldest known copy of The Book of Two Ways, the story is related to Osiris, the Egyptian lord of the underworld. From The Brussels Times:
(Katholieke Universiteit Leuven archaeologist) Harco Willems describes the document as a collection of sparse incantations and legendary drawings...
Two curved sinuous lines run through the book. They are interpreted by some researchers as a representation of the two roads that lead the deceased to safety through the dangers of the underworld to a happy life in the afterlife.
Archaeologists found the fragments in a sarcophagus attributed to Ankh, a woman of the family of a governor named Ahanakht.
As The Daily Grail half-joked, "Don’t. Read. The. Incantations. Aloud!"
More: "Harco Willems discovered oldest copy of The Book of Two Ways" (KU Leuven)
image: color manipulated photo of a fragment of the text
Read the rest
At least ten unexploded bombs are hidden somewhere deep in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. They are leftovers from a 1943 allied air force raid that dropped 165 bombs in the area. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pompeii attracts more than 2.5 million visitors annually. From The Guardian:
“Ninety-six bombs were located and deactivated,” the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reported. “The other bombs ended up in an area of the site that has not yet been excavated. Many of them were defused or had already exploded. But at least 10 of those explosives are still there.”
Of the 66 hectares (163 acres) of the archaeological area, only 44 have been excavated. At least 10 unexploded bombs are yet to be found in the 22 remaining hectares, according to the investigation.
The Archaeological Museum of Pompeii said: “There is no risk for visitors. The site has regularly drawn up the reclamation project, which is carried out by the military. Area reclamation was carried out per metre.”
But Il Fatto said there was no sign of official documents for the location of at least 10 bombs...
According to statistics from the Italian defence ministry, thousands of second world war bombs are defused in the country every year.
image: Mark Vuaran (CC)
Read the rest
More than 2,500 years ago in western China, people in mourning gathered at a cemetery for a ritual that involved getting high from cannabis plants burning in wooden pots. It's likely that they were trying to communicate with spirits. From Science News:
Evidence of this practice comes from Jirzankal Cemetery in Central Asia’s Pamir Mountains, says a team led by archaeologist Yimin Yang of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Chemical residues on wooden burners unearthed in tombs there provide some of the oldest evidence to date of smoking or inhaling cannabis fumes, the researchers report online June 12 in Science Advances....
East Asians grew cannabis starting at least 6,000 years ago, but only to consume the plants’ oily seeds and make clothing and rope out of cannabis fibers. Early cultivated cannabis varieties in East Asia and elsewhere, like most wild forms of the plant, contained low levels of THC and other mind-altering compounds.
Yang’s team identified a chemical signature of cannabis on charred plant material from 10 wooden burners, or braziers, found in eight Jirzankal tombs. Chemical signs of an unusually high level of THC were found inside nine braziers and on two stones that had been heated and used to burn plants in the braziers.
image: Xinhua Wu
Read the rest
In a Bolivian rock shelter likely used 1,000 years ago for religious rituals, archaeologists found a collection of drug paraphernalia that still contains traces of psychoactive plants. A pouch made from three fox snouts likely contained a stash of leaves and seeds. From New Scientist
(The items) include a 28-centimetre-long leather bag, a pair of wooden snuffing tablets, a snuffing tube, a pair of llama-bone spatulas, a textile headband, fragments of dried plant stems and a pouch made from three fox snouts stitched together. The snuffing tube and tablets feature ornate carvings of human-like figures.
Melanie Miller at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and her colleagues used mass spectrometry to analyse samples from the pouch and plant stems. They detected five psychoactive compounds: cocaine, benzoylecgonine (BZE), bufotenine, harmine and dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
The presence of these drugs suggests the pouch may have belonged to a ritual specialist or shaman with extensive knowledge of plants and their psychoactive properties, and used to hold leaves, seeds and other plant matter.
More in the scientific paper: "Chemical evidence for the use of multiple psychotropic plants in a 1,000-year-old ritual bundle from South America" (PNAS)
Read the rest
An archaeologist analyzing a pile of prehistoric human poop found the remains of an entire viper, including a fang. Researcher Elanor Sonderman was studying the indigenous people who, 1500 years ago, used a cave in Texas's Lower Pecos canyonlands as a shelter and bathroom. One way archaeologists learn about a long-gone civilization's diet and health is to dig into their coprolites (preserved feces). According to Sonderman, the snake wasn't cooked, descaled, deboned, or apparently defanged before it was eaten. WTF? One theory is that the eater was tripping on peyote. From National Geographic:
Though Sonderman’s research team proposes that the snake was eaten for “a distinctly ceremonial or ritualistic purpose,” there’s no way to tell for sure. “I wouldn't want anyone to say ‘We have a snake worshipping culture where people consume snakes ritualistically,’” says Sonderman. “That’s not what we’re trying to say. It’s only one example.”
What the fang does suggest, she says, is that it wasn’t unheard of for people to eat venomous snakes—but, given its uniqueness, it could have been consumed on a special occasion. Or not. Maybe it was just a dare—or a very dangerous dietary preference.
"1,500 years ago, someone ate a venomous snake whole. Why?" (National Geographic)
Read the rest
Archaeologists uncovered the skeleton of this neolithic dog more than a century ago in a 5,000 year old tomb on on the island of Mainland, Orkney, Scotland. Now, forensic scientists and artists have reconstructed the animal's face. According to Historic Environment Scotland researcher Steve Farrar, this dog and 23 others found in the "Cuween Hill (tomb) suggest that dogs had a particularly special significance for the farmers... Maybe dogs were their symbol or totem, perhaps they thought of themselves as the 'dog people.'" From The Scotsman:
Read the rest
As HES observes, the fact that the Orkney residents placed canine remains alongside those of humans could also speak to their belief in an afterlife for both parties.
The latest work was originally created in clay using traditional methods, with a 3D print of the Cuween Hill skull as the base to build the anatomy on to.
It was then cast in silicone and finished with the fur coat resembling a European grey wolf, as advised by experts...
(Forensic artist Amy) Thornton, who trained in facial reconstruction methods at the University of Dundee, said: “This reconstruction has been a particularly interesting project to be involved in, as it marks the first time I’ve employed forensic methods that would usually be used for a human facial reconstruction and applied these to an animal skull.
“This brought its own set of challenges, as there is much less existing data relating to average tissue depths in canine skulls compared to humans.”
Engineers digging to lay water pipes in Oxfordshire, England turned up more than two dozen 3,000-year-old human skeletons, some of which were likely killed in sacrifices. From CNN:
Read the rest
The remains of 26 people from the Iron Age and Roman periods were found, including a woman with her feet cut off and her arms bound behind her head, and another person with their skull placed by their feet...
Archaeologists inspecting the remains believe the people found were from the same community involved in creating the Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric chalk sculpture on a nearby hill...
The findings "provided a glimpse into the beliefs and superstitions of people living in Oxfordshire before the Roman conquest," said Neil Holbrook, chief executive of Cotswold Archaeology. "Evidence elsewhere suggests that burials in pits might have involved human sacrifice."
Ancient Roman texts and sculptures describe a Celtic practice of severing your defeated enemies' heads, embalming them with resin and plant oils, and displaying them as war trophies: now, archaeologists have unearthed evidence of the practice at Le Cailar, the 2,500 year old walled city near the Rhone.
Read the rest
Aberdeenshire Council said that a stone circle thought to be of ancient vintage was in fact built in the 1990s.
Neil Ackerman, Historic Environment Record Assistant at Aberdeenshire Council, said: “It is obviously disappointing to learn of this development, but it also adds an interesting element to its story.
“That it so closely copies a regional monument type shows the local knowledge, appreciation and engagement with the archaeology of the region by the local community.
“I hope the stones continue to be used and enjoyed – while not ancient it is still in a fantastic location and makes for a great feature in the landscape.
“These types of monument are notoriously difficult to date. For this reason we include any modern replicas of ancient monuments in our records in case they are later misidentified.
Sounds like a great place for events that would not normally be acceptable at a neolithic monument. Read the rest
Archaeologists make mistakes. I recently ran across this crown-that-was-actually-a-bucket story as well.
The Art Newspaper:
Read the rest
In a bit of serendipity, the curators realised during research for the show that an object they had long assumed was a vase had actually been displayed upside down. They now understand that it is actually the head of a fired-clay mace, or heavy club, made for King Gishakidu of Umma. After comparing the object with a similar one at Yale University, “we realised how daft we’d been”, says Irving Finkel, a co-curator of the show. Now displayed right-side up, the mace head is topped by a painted representation of a net that was used to immobilise enemies for execution.
An archaeologist is studying a 4,000-year-old game board carved into the floor of a rock shelter in Azerbaijan. According to American Museum of Natural History researcher Walter Crist, the board was used to play an ancient game called "58 Holes" or "Hounds and Jackals." From Live Science:
Read the rest
(Previously), British archaeologist Howard Carter found a game set with playing pieces fashioned like those animals in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Amenemhat IV, who lived in the 18th century B.C.
The distinctive pattern of round pits scored in the rock of the shelter in Azerbaijan came from that same game, Crist told Live Science. But the Azerbaijan version may be even older than the game set found in the pharaoh's tomb...
Though the rules of 58 Holes are unknown, many think it was played a bit like modern backgammon, with counters, such as seeds or stones, moved around the board until they reached a goal.
"It is two rows in the middle and holes that arch around outside, and it's always the fifth, 10th, 15th and 20th holes that are marked in some way," Crist said of the pattern cut into the rock shelter. "And the hole on the top is a little bit larger than the other ones, and that's usually what people think of as the goal or the endpoint of the game."
Players may have used dice or casting sticks to regulate the movement of counters on the board, but so far, no dice have been found with any ancient game set of 58 Holes or Hounds and Jackals, he said...
Archaeologists at an excavation site for London's Thames Tideway Tunnel (the "super sewer") dug up a 500-year-old skeleton who died with his boots on. Based on the location of the find, the boots, and other signs, the fellow may have been a fisherman or sailor. From National Geographic:
"It’s extremely rare to find any boots from the late 15th century, let alone a skeleton still wearing them," says Beth Richardson of the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). "And these are very unusual boots for the period—thigh boots, with the tops turned down. They would have been expensive, and how this man came to own them is a mystery. Were they secondhand? Did he steal them? We don't know."..
The position of the body—face down, right arm over the head, left arm bent back on itself—suggests that the man wasn’t deliberately buried. It’s also unlikely that he would have been laid to rest in leather boots, which were expensive and highly prized.
In light of those clues, archaeologists believe the man died accidentally and his body was never recovered, although the cause of death is unclear. Perhaps he fell into the river and couldn't swim. Or possibly he became trapped in the tidal mud and drowned...
Read the rest
Hope they made her queen instantly. ALL HAIL OUR NEW MATRIARCH. Read the rest
Around 73,000 years ago, humans used a chunk of pigment to draw a pattern on a rock in a South African cave. The recently discovered fragment of the rock is now considered to be the oldest known drawing in history. From Science News
Read the rest
The faded pattern consists of six upward-oriented lines crossed at an angle by three slightly curved lines, the researchers report online September 12 in Nature. Microscopic and chemical analyses showed that the lines were composed of a reddish, earthy pigment known as ocher.
The lines end abruptly at the rock’s edges, indicating that a larger and possibly more complex version of the drawing originally appeared on a bigger stone, the researchers say. Tiny pigment particles dotted the rock’s drawing surface, which had been ground smooth. Henshilwood suspects the chunk of rock was part of a large grinding stone on which people scraped pieces of pigment into crayonlike shapes.
Crosshatched designs similar to the drawing have been found engraved on shells at the site, Henshilwood says. So the patterns may have held some sort of meaning for their makers. But it’s hard to know whether the crossed lines represent an abstract idea or a real-life concern.
Pompeii is a vast archaeological site that continues to yield treasures buried beneath the pumice. This summer, workers discovered new murals and artifacts at the site of a wealthy homeowner's estate, nicknamed House of Jupiter for a statue of the god found there. Read the rest
The UK's Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales has published some recent aerial shots of cropmarks, ancient ruins now covered by farm fields. Unusually dry weather conditions have created a golden opportunity to see these sites from the air. Read the rest