Mummified lion unearthed in Egypt

By Paul Rincon

BBC News Online science staff


Archaeologists have uncovered the first example of a lion mummified by the ancient Egyptians, in the tomb of the woman who helped rear King Tutankhamun.


Although the breeding and burial of lions as sacred animals in Egypt is mentioned by ancient sources, to date no one had found a mummified specimen.

The male lion is amongst the largest known to science and its bones show it lived to an old age in captivity.


Details of the discovery are published in the scientific journal Nature.


The lion was found in a tomb at Saqqara in northern Egypt belonging to Maia, wet nurse to Tutankhamun, who was buried in about 1430 BC.


However, in the last centuries BC, the tomb was re-used for the burial of humans and then animals - mostly mummified cats.


French archaeologists Alain Zivie, Cecile Callou and Anaick Samzun unearthed the remains of the big cat in November 2001.


It comprises the virtually complete skeleton of a lion (Panthera leo) which was once mummified.


Analysis of the teeth, particularly the wear on them, show that the lion lived to be very old and must have been kept in captivity.


Alan Lloyd, professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Wales, Swansea, told BBC News Online: "The lion is a creature that has a long association with the king [of Egypt].


"The king was thought of as a lion and as having the qualities of a lion. The qualities the Egyptians were interested in, of course, were martial."


In the last few centuries BC, Egypt was under invasion by waves of outsiders, from Iraq, Nubia (which today comprises parts of Sudan and Egypt) and Greece.

The surge of interest in animal cults may be the ancient Egyptians' way of asserting their identity in the presence of these newcomers.


"I think this should be regarded as an expression of Egyptian nationalism," said Professor Lloyd.

Inscriptions suggest lions were bred in special animal precincts and buried in sacred cemeteries. But so far none has been found.


Professor Lloyd said he had heard rumours in the early 1970s of a mummified lion being found in Egypt. However, the person excavating the lion apparently was not interested in it and the location of the find was lost.


During the last few centuries BC, the site at Saqqara where the lion was buried was dedicated to the feline goddess Bastet.


The lion was found lying on a rock with its head turned north and its body orientated toward the east. Its bone measurements are amongst the largest ever recorded for a male lion.


In addition to cats, the Egyptians also mummified dogs, birds, snakes and monkeys.



Evidence Found of Egyptian Lion Worship



Jan. 14, 2004 — A mummified lion found in a bone-cluttered tomb in the Nile Valley has confirmed long-running suspicions that the pharaohs viewed the great animal as sacred, French archaeologists report on Thursday.


The skeleton of the adult male lion was found at Saqqara, in what was originally the tomb of King Tutankhamun's wet nurse, Maia, buried 3,500 years ago.

The tomb gradually became a catacomb for the dynasties that prevailed in the last centuries B.C. and who worshipped animal deities, including the "cat goddess" Bastet.


It was in November 2001 that a French team led by Alain Zivie of the National Center stumbled across the "virtually complete, undisturbed skeleton" of the lion underneath a carpet of animal bones and human coffins in the funerary apartment of the two-level site.


Its skeleton was lying on a rock, with its body orientated to the rising sun and its head pointing northwards.


"Although there were no linen bandages to indicate that the body had been mummified, there is other evidence to indicate that it had — namely, the position of the skeleton, the presence of small and degraded fragments of tissue inside the cavity of the canine teeth, and deposits on and coloration of the bones that are similar to those of mummified cats discovered on the site," the researchers report in the science weekly Nature.


X-rays of the cat mummies show that many of those animals were killed when young in order to be preserved and buried.


But the lion's teeth and its calloused bones suggests it was kept in captivity and survived to a ripe old age.


The find is exceptional, for it is the first time that a complete lion skeleton has been found at a sacred pharaonic site. And it confirms that lions were included in the cult of animal worship that gripped the final centuries of the long reign of the pharaohs.


Tantalizing stone inscriptions have suggested lions were bred in the precincts of sanctuaries and were buried in a sacred animal necropolis but until now, no firm evidence has been found to back this.


The authors believe that the mummified beast at Saqqara "may have been considered an incarnation of the god Mahes," the son of Bastet herself.



Historic find is pure gold!

Jan 14 2004

By Tony Collins, Evening Mail


City archaeologists have struck gold - with a major Bronze Age discovery in eastern Europe.


A team of experts from the University of Birmingham has discovered what may be one of the most important archaeological sites of the last 50 years, in a riverbed in Croatia.


Items recovered from the river include more than 90 swords, a Roman legionnaire's dagger complete with sheath, more than 30 Greco-Illyrian helmets, plus numerous items of jewellery, axes and spearheads.


It is believed a large number of objects were thrown into River Cetina deliberately, possibly as offerings to gods.


Initial surveys of the site indicate that the remarkable finds span a period of history from 6,000 BC onwards.


These include 33m long timbers, clearly visible from the riverbank, which show evidence of late Neolithic or early Bronze Age wooden settlements.

Project leader Dr Vincent Gaffney, director of the university's Institute for Archaeology and Antiquity, described the find as a "once in a lifetime discovery" for any archaeologist.


He said: "The Cetina Valley is certainly the most remarkable site that I have, and will ever, have the privilege of being involved in.


"As the majority of the Cetina Valley site is waterlogged, the level of preservation is quite exceptional. I believe this to be one of the most important archaeological wetlands in Europe."


Sediments in the river valley also provide an environmental record covering around 10,000 years, offering an insight into the everyday life of the people who would have lived there.


The Birmingham University team is to return to the site in May to carry out an extensive survey.



Dead sea anchor could be from Herod's royal yacht


An Israeli archaeologist has discovered what he says is a unique Roman-era wooden anchor on the shores of the Dead Sea.


It was preserved by the water's high salt and mineral content.


Archaeologist Gideon Hadas said he would like to believe - but has no proof - that the anchor came from a royal yacht of biblical King Herod.


The 2000-year-old anchor, about six feet tall, was found last month protruding from the banks.


Other wooden anchors from that period have long since disintegrated.


"The Dead Sea pickles everything," said Hadas, who found the anchor during a walk on the western shore, close to his home, Kibbutz Ein Gedi.


Hadas said that while there is no record of Herod having a boat, it is recorded that in his old age he would travel from Masada to hot springs on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea for treatments.


"It is unlikely the ailing king travelled all the way around through the harsh desert by donkey," Hadas said. "He would probably have gone by boat."


Herod is known for building the second Jewish Temple and also beheading John the Baptist at the behest of Salome, serving it to her on a platter.

Story filed: 14:40 Tuesday 13th January 2004



Roman treasures unearthed during subway dig

January 08 2004 at 07:39PM


Naples, Italy - Italian archaeologists have discovered a Roman ship and hundreds of amphorae dating to the second century AD during excavation works for a new subway in the southern city of Naples.


The discoveries, which were detailed on Thursday, will help shed light on ancient life in the Mediterranean port city, the archaeologists said.


"They will help us understand the circulation of goods in Naples and the city's every-day life," said Daniela Giampaola, an archaeologist in charge of the excavations.


The 13-metre deep digging turned up wooden pieces belonging to piers in the one-time port, as well as intact amphorae and other crockery pieces, believed to have fallen off the ships while being unloaded.


Amphorae are slender, two-handled terracotta storage containers popular in Roman times to ship or store wine, condiments and other popular items.


Also found by the ship were soles of seafarers' shoes. Experts said that soles were either lost or tossed away when the shoes were no longer good.


The 10-metre-long vessel sank, probably due to floods, in the second century, said Giampaola. It is expected to be well preserved, thanks to the silt that created an airless environment that prevented decomposition.


However, it will take months to take it out of the mud.


Giampaola said that over the course of the centuries waves of mud, silt and landslides from surrounding hills have filled up the basin and created a swamp.


The discoveries were the latest to emerge from the excavation works. Elsewhere in the city, the digging has turned up remnants of a building also dating to the Roman Empire, which is still being excavated, and a 12th century fountain.


City officials are considering setting up a museum near one of the new subway stations to host the artifacts. - Sapa-AP




10:30 - 14 January 2004


A Bronze Age axe head unearthed in a Lincolnshire field is baffling archaeologists - because they think it is too heavy to use.


Made of stone, the axe head weighs 4.4lb and was produced some time between 2000BC and 1600BC.


It was found when a walker stumbled across it last summer in a farmer's field near Scotter, north of Gainsborough.


Once the axe head was cleaned it was reported to the portable antiquities scheme project run by North Lincolnshire Council.


The artefact is a traditional axe shape and features a hole through the middle where a stick would have been placed as a handle.


Archaeologists often refer to these items as axe hammers.


But principal keeper of archaeology Kevin Leahy (57) said the artefact would have been hard to use.


"This is a big ugly perforated object which looks like an axe head but appears too heavy to use," he said.


"Unfortunately we do not know precisely what its function was.


"Because of its shape it could have been a tool or a weapon.


"But the object is so weighty that it would be difficult to use."


The early Bronze Age period was characterised by tribal communities beginning to farm crops and animals.


Mr Leahy thinks the axe head could have been used as a plough.


"None of the edges have a particularly cutting feel," he said.


"But it is possible the artefact could have been used as a hand-held plough.


"However, unlike other similar finds, which we believe to be ploughs, the stone shows no obvious signs of wear, such as scratch marks."


The axe head is made from either igneous or metamorphic rock and has been continually chipped to form its shape.


This type of rock is not found in Lincolnshire but the stone could have been transported from Northumbria by traders or brought down in the Ice Age and been deposited locally.


It is around 21cm long, 8cm wide and 11cm thick.


North Lincolnshire Museum has between eight and 10 similar axe heads that have been found in the county.





ARCHAEOLOGISTS have unearthed the remains of an Iron Age hill village dating back to around 800BC.


They have discovered a series of roundhouses, burials sites and an array of significant artifacts on the Fairfield Park site near Stotfold.


The former hospital site is being developed by Fairfield Redevelopments Ltd to accommodate 930 new homes.


Evaluations in the mid 1990s suggested it might be a Roman settlement, but the 12 month dig involving up to 20 specialist staff has revealed significant Iron Age finds. And the finds that are 2,800 years old are exciting archaeologists.


They include unusually decorated pottery, jewellery made from bronze, jet and bone, a potter's decorative stamp cast in bronze and two skeletal remains buried curious crouched positions.


Experts say the Iron Age village was a major settlement made up of 36 roundhouses and surrounded by double ditches and ramparts.


For the full story see the January 9 edition of the Biggleswade Chronicle.


13 January 2004

For further information, please contact:

Lindsay Wright

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine


020 7927 2073


Posted By:

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine


14 January 2004

Survey shows disgust emotion evolved to safeguard humans from disease and secure adaptive advantage

under embargo until 16 Jan 2004 00:01 GMT


The emotion of disgust evolved to protect humans from the risk of infectious disease and ensure our adaptive advantage, according to a survey of over 40,000 people published today in the Royal Society’s ‘Biology Letters’.

Our reactions to things which make us go ‘yuck’, such as bodily fluids, lesions and faeces has long been the source of speculation, with some claiming that disgust reactions help to distinguish humans from animals, and others that they protect us from hazards such as poisoning.


Dr Val Curtis, Dr Robert Aunger and Dr Tamer Rabie from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine carried out a web-based survey which examined people’s responses to a series of pictures on a BBC website, which included images of body lesions, parasites, rotting meat and faeces.


Objects which appeared to have a link with disease, such as a towel apparently stained with bodily fluids, provoked a greater disgust reaction than those with no obvious disease link, such as a towel with a blue stain, as did pictures of creepy-crawly type insects linked with disease, compared with those insects which were not, such as caterpillars or wasps.


Women, who in evolution shoulder the greatest responsibility for carrying on their genes because of their role in reproduction and caring for children, were found to be more squeamish than men. Younger people, most likely in evolutionary terms to reproduce, were found to be more prone to disgust reactions than older people past their child-bearing years. All of this makes perfect evolutionary sense.


Dr Curtis says: ‘People with a strong sense of disgust do better in the survival and reproductive stakes than those who don’t. Today’s survey provides the first quantitative evidence that disgust arose as a means of warning us of potentially dangerous situations which might put us at risk of disease and death and that, ultimately, the disgust response helps to ensure our adaptive advantage’.


‘Disgust is a very sticky emotion’, she adds. ‘If you label something as disgusting it tends to stick and, in evolutionary terms, that is for a very good reason’.


To interview Drs. Curtis, Aunger or Rabie please contact the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s Press Office on 020 7927 2073.



Return of the damned after 400 years

Robin McKie, science editor

Sunday January 11, 2004

The Observer


Archaeologists have uncovered a mass grave which may throw lights on one of the strangest and most gruesome events of the Elizabethan age: the curse of Roland Jenks.


More than 60 skeletons have been discovered between Oxford's former prison and its old castle. It is thought that many of them could be related to the fate of Jenks, a 'foul-mouthed and saucy' bookbinder who was convicted in 1577 of supporting the Pope. For his temerity he was sentenced to be nailed by his ears to the local pillory and responded by laying a curse on the courtroom and city.

'It appears to have been a very effective curse,' said archaeologist Dan Poore of Oxford Archaeology, which carried out the dig. Contemporary reports indicate that within several days hundreds of local men - but no women or children - had dropped dead.


Among the victims were two judges, a clerk, the coroner, the sheriff and many jury members who had been standing in the courtroom - which then stood just outside the castle - when Jenks shouted out his curse. The court proceedings become known as the Black Assizes and were reckoned either to be a judgment by God on Protestants, or a fiendish Papish plot, though most archaeologists now believe the deaths were the result of an outbreak of typhus.


The discovery of the skeletons of between 60 and 70 people, many dating from Elizabethan times, provides the first palpable evidence that the story has physical roots and may help in discovering the truth behind the legend of Roland Jenks.

The find was made thanks to development work to provide the area with housing, a hotel and a heritage centre near the site of the old prison. Oxford Archaeology was called in to study the site before building began. 'We dug a test pit and found eight skeletons,' said Poore. A more extensive excavation was launched last year and has uncovered 59 more or less complete skeletons and assorted bones from other bodies. These have been dated from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries. 'The early bodies may well be those from the Black Assizes era,' said Poore.


The skeletons are mostly young men but also include five women in their late forties and fifties. Intriguingly, several of the skeletons also show clear signs of having been dissected. Three skulls had their tops skillfully sawn off and another had been carefully separated from its skeleton.


The most likely interpretation is that these are the bodies of executed criminals which were used by anatomists from nearby Christ Church college or the Old Ashmolean. But this interpretation also raises problems for archaeologists. In those days the dissection of criminals was strictly limited to only four murderers a year throughout Britain. The numbers of bodies at the Oxford Prison site suggests a great deal more illicit dissection may have been going on, though archaeologists remain cautious. 'The trouble is that we do not know if they were executed or not,' added Poore. 'In those days people were strung up and slowly strangled on the gibbet. There is no way to tell from their skeletons what killed them.


'It was not until later in the eighteenth century that the long drop - which snapped a person's neck and killed him or her instantly - was introduced. You can tell from their snapped neck bones what killed them.'


As the current issue of BBC History Magazine also reports, the level of suffering of those hanged was probably considerable. Many victims' hands were tightly clenched - a button and a fragment of clothing were found in two skeletal fists, for example.


Whatever else the numbers of deaths associated with the prison development means, it clearly reveals what a foreboding place it once was, as Poore acknowledges. 'There was a castle, a courtroom and a prison all standing beside each other. Each had a grim function. This was a place of death, so we should not be that surprised about the bodies that we are digging up and the state that some of them are in.'


• The Curse of Oxford Gaol, in the BBC2 Meet the Ancestors series, will be shown on 16 February