A truck crashed into one of the Easter Island head statues and destroyed it

A pickup truck crashed into one of Easter Island's iconic moai statues, carved by the Rapa Nui people circa 1400 to 1650 AD. Police arrested a Chilean inhabitant whose truck apparently caused "incalculable" damage to the head. Since 2012, the Polynesian island's population has increased from 8,000 to 12,000 and tourism has skyrocketed. From The Guardian:

Camilo Rapu, the president of the Ma’u Henua community, which looks after the moai, said the crash may have been deliberate.

“As people know, the moai are sacred structures that possess a religious value for the people of Rapa Nui,” he said. “Something like this isn’t just dreadful, it’s an offence against a living culture that has spent the last few years fighting to regain its historic and archaeological heritage.”

The island’s mayor, Pedro Edmunds Paoa, told El Mercurio the collision appeared to have been the result of brake failure. He said the incident demonstrated the need for stricter traffic controls.

He previously told the paper: “Everyone decided against establishing traffic rules when it came to vehicles on sacred sites – but we, as a council, were talking about the dangers and knew very well what the rise in tourist and resident numbers could mean.”

image credit: Ian Sewell (CC BY 2.5) Read the rest

For 13 years, this photographer has been building an incredible 3D digital model of Athens

Starting in 2007, photographer and visual effects artist Dimitris Tsalkanis has been building a digital 3D model of ancient Athens. The result is an immersive historical recreation where everyone online is invited. How did Tsalkanis handle this Herculean (rather, Heraklean) task? He learned as he went. From Sarah Rose Sharp's article about Ancient Athens 3D in Hyperallergic:

“I had no previous experience on 3D and I started experimenting in my spare time,” said Tsalkanis in an email interview with Hyperallergic. “I always liked archaeology and since I am from Athens, I was always interested in its monuments and history. During my research, I realised that up until then no one had attempted a complete 3D reconstruction of ancient Athens..."

Tsalkanis stays up to date with his fantasy city, updating reconstructions constantly for better quality of models and better archaeological and historical accuracy...

Visitors to the site can browse reconstructions that date back as early as 1200 BCE, the Mycenaean period — or Bronze Age — through Classical Athens, featuring the rebuilds made necessary by the Greco-Persian War, and ages of occupation by Romans and Ottomans.

"Explore Ancient Athens Online Through 3D Models, Created by One Animator Over 12 Years" (Hyperallergic, thanks Mark Dery!)

Images below: "Aerial view of the Library of Hadrian" and "Panoramic view of the Acropolis," Dimitris Tsalkanis/Ancient Athens 3D

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The ancient world's greatest board games

Ludus Latrunculorum. Senet. Chaturanga. And don't forget Hnefatafl. These were just some of the board games that ancient people were into thousands of years ago. Over at Smithsonian, Meilan Solly explains "The Best Board Games of the Ancient World." From the magazine:

The rules of Mehen remain unclear, as the game faded from popularity following the decline of Egypt’s Old Kingdom and is sparsely represented in the archaeological record.

Writing in 1990, Egyptologist Peter A. Piccione explained, “Based upon what we know of this game ... the feline game pieces moved in a spiral along the squares, apparently, from the tail on the outside to the head of the serpent at the center.” The spherical, marble-like tokens may have been similarly rolled through the “longer spiralling grooves.”

In Patolli, a gambling game invented by the early inhabitants of Mesoamerica, players raced to move pebbles from one end of a cross-shaped track to the other. Drilled beans used as dice dictated gameplay, but the exact rules of “entry and movement” remain unknown, as Parlett notes in the Oxford History of Board Games.

Among the Aztecs, Patolli held unusually high stakes, with participants wagering not just physical goods or currency, but their own lives. As Diego Durán, a Dominican friar who authored a 16th-century tome on Aztec history and culture, explained, “At this and other games the Indians not only would gamble themselves into slavery, but even came to be legally put to death as human sacrifices.”

Images from top down: "Senet from the Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund; "Mehen" by Anagoria (CC BY 3.0 Read the rest

Tourists deported for crapping in Macchu Picchu and damaging the stonework

Peruvian police are deporting five tourists from Chile, Brazil, France and Argentina for allegedly sneaking into the Macchu Picchu citadel, defacating among the Incan ruins and breaking the stonework inside the Temple of the Sun. Read the rest

The secrets within a 2,600-year-old preserved brain of a decapitated man

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 in Egypt discovered one of the first illustrated books in history

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 in the ruins of Pompeii

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

At a Chinese cemetery, scientists discover some of the oldest evidence of pot smoking

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

Drug paraphernalia that's 1,000-years-old still contains traces of coke and DMT

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)

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Prehistoric poop reveals person ate entire venomous snake, including a fang

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)

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This is the reconstructed face of a pet dog that lived 4,500 years ago

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:

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.”

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Water pipe dig in England unearths site of human sacrifices

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:

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."

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Archaeological evidence for the Iron Age practice of embalming your enemies' severed heads with resin and displaying them

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

Ancient Scottish stone circle turns out to have been built in 1990s

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

British Museum discovers vase is actually a mace

Archaeologists make mistakes. I recently ran across this crown-that-was-actually-a-bucket story as well.

The Art Newspaper:

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.

Read the rest

4,000-year-old game board carved into floor of ancient rock shelter

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:

(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...

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Archaeologist dug up a 500-year-old skeleton wearing boots

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...

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