Body of Queen Sesheshet Found in New Pyramid


The pyramid was discovered in November last year and since then Egyptian archaeologists have been excavating the pyramid looking for confirmation that this pyramid did in fact belong to Sesheshet.


Yesterday her sarcophagus was found but it was void of inscriptions. Even so, other evidence indicates that it contains the body of Teti’s mother, queen Sesheshet.


“Although they did not find the name of the queen buried in the pyramid, all the signs indicate that she is Sesheshet, the mother of King Teti, the first king of the Sixth Dynasty,” - said Zahi Hawass.


Interestingly, the two ‘pin holes’ used to secure the sarcophagus lid are unusually large. The sarcophagus is thought to weigh in at around six tons.


The team took five hours to lift the heavy granite lid and once the lid was removed human remains were found lying inside. These remains consist of a skull, legs, pelvis and other body parts, once wrapped in linen.


The tomb had been previously robbed, evidenced by a vertical shaft dug through the top of the pyramid. Even though the sarcophagus had been breached gold finger wrappings were still found inside. Pottery was also found, perhaps remnants of offering vessels. According to one source, Dr Hawass stated that gold coins inscribed with hieroglyphs were found.


The find is a very significant one as it is one of the few royal bodies found belonging to the Old Kingdom. Queen Sesheshet was the mother of Teti, the first pharaoh of the 6th Dynasty who ruled from 2323 to 2291 BC.



Ancient tablets found in Tehran

Fri, 09 Jan 2009 16:49:17 GMT

Shoghali Tappeh, Varamin, Iran


Iranian archeologists have unearthed prehistoric clay tablets at the country's ancient Shoghali Tappeh site near the city of Varamin.


The tablets date back to the early Elamite period and bear information about the economical situation and the management system of the era.


“Iranian experts will study the tablets in collaboration with Jacob Dahl of Oxford University,” said head of the archaeology team Morteza Hesari.


“The team also found a number of seals which are new in design and different from the previous finds,” he added.


“A number of earthenware have also been found along with some botanical samples, which are set to be studied by a team of Iranian and American experts,” he said.


The third phase of Shoghali Tappeh excavations started in September 2008 with the aim of conducting stratigraphy studies on the 7,000-year-old site.


Located in the south of Tehran Province, the site was first excavated by Iranian archeologist Ahmad Tehrani Moqaddam in the late 70s.



Armenian cave yields ancient human brain

Excavations have produced roughly 6,000-year-old relics of a poorly known culture existing near the dawn of civilization

By Bruce Bower


PHILADELPHIA — In a cave overlooking southeastern Armenia’s Arpa River, just across the border from Iran, scientists have uncovered what may be the oldest preserved human brain from an ancient society. The cave also offers surprising new insights into the origins of modern civilizations, such as evidence of a winemaking enterprise and an array of culturally diverse pottery.


Excavations in and just outside of Areni-1 cave during 2007 and 2008 yielded an extensive array of Copper Age artifacts dating to between 6,200 and 5,900 years ago, reported Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, January 11 at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. In eastern Europe and the Near East, an area that encompasses much of southwest Asia, the Copper Age ran from approximately 6,500 to 5,500 years ago.


The finds show that major cultural developments occurred during the Copper Age in areas outside southern Iraq, which is traditionally regarded as the cradle of civilization, Areshian noted. The new cave discoveries move cultural activity in what’s now Armenia back by about 800 years.


“This is exciting work,” comments Rana Özbal of Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey.


A basin two meters long installed inside the Armenian cave and surrounded by large jars and the scattered remains of grape husks and seeds apparently belonged to a large-scale winemaking operation.


Researchers also found a trio of Copper Age human skulls, each buried in a separate niche inside the three-chambered, 600-square–meter cave. The skulls belonged to 12- to 14-year-old girls, according to anatomical analyses conducted independently by three biological anthropologists. Fractures identified on two skulls indicate that the girls were killed by blows from a club of some sort, probably in a ritual ceremony, Areshian suggested.


Remarkably, one skull contained a shriveled but well-preserved brain. “This is the oldest known human brain from the Old World,” Areshian said. The Old World comprises Europe, Asia, Africa and surrounding islands.


Scientists now studying the brain have noted preserved blood vessels on its surface. Surviving red blood cells have been extracted from those hardy vessels for analysis.


It’s unclear who frequented Areshi-1, where these people lived or how big their settlements were. No trace of household activities has been found in or outside the cave.


Whoever they were, these people participated in trade networks that ran throughout the Near East, Areshian proposes. Copper Age pottery at the site falls into four groups, only one of which represents a local product. A group of painted ceramic items came from west-central Iran. Some pots display a style typical of the Maikop culture from southern Russia and southeastern Europe. Still other pieces were characteristic of the Kura-Arax culture that flourished just west of Maikop territory in Russia.


Radiocarbon dating of pottery and other Copper Age finds pushes back the origins of the Maikop and Kura-Arax cultures by nearly 1,000 years, Areshian says.


Additional discoveries at Areni-1 include metal knives, seeds from more than 30 types of fruit, remains of dozens of cereal species, rope, cloth, straw, grass, reeds and dried grapes and prunes.


A hard, carbonate crust covering the Copper Age soil layers, along with extreme dryness and stable temperatures inside the cave, contributed to preservation of artifacts and, in particular, the young girl’s brain.


Medieval ovens from the 12th to 14th centuries have also been excavated at the cave’s entrance, underneath a rock shelter.


Areshian expects much more material to emerge from further excavations at Areni-1 and from explorations of the many other caves bordering the Arpa River. “One of these caves is much larger than Areni-1, covering about an acre inside,” he said.



Istanbul's ancient past unearthed

By Sarah Rainsford

Yenikapi, Istanbul


Digging through thick mud and an ancient swamp of black clay, archaeologists in Istanbul have discovered a grave that proves the city is 6,000 years older than they previously thought.


The skeletons of two adults and two children lie curled-up, perhaps to save space. Alongside them are pots: gifts placed in the grave to use in the afterlife.


The ancient family was unearthed at the site of a 21st Century rail project.


"We found the grave, pots and other artefacts. There were signs of houses made of tree-branches and next to the settlement was a swamp where we found small tools, wooden pieces and bones," explains Ismail Karamut, head of the Istanbul Archaeology museum, which is leading the dig.


"It all shows there was a Neolithic settlement here in the historic peninsula of Istanbul where people lived, farmed and fished," he adds.


Historians had believed modern-day Istanbul was first settled around 700 BC. The discovery of the skeletons has revealed far deeper roots.


The Neolithic era - when man abandoned the nomadic, hunting lifestyle and settled to farm the land and raise cattle - began east of here, gradually carrying the foundations of "civilised" life west, to Europe. The new find in Istanbul helps map that transition.


"Neolithic culture changed as it moved west. Not all of what we call the 'Neolithic package' was transferred," explains Professor Mehmet Ozdogan of Istanbul University.


"Domesticated animals and some of the cereal crops came, but mud brick became wooden architecture, settlements were re-organised. The transformation is important to understand the Neolithic culture in Europe. Every new site adds data to the picture."


Neolithic remains were discovered in two Istanbul suburbs in the 1950s and 1980s, but this is the first such find in the historic heart of the city. That has created a stir the other sites never managed.


Prof Ozdogan believes the Yenikapi settlement dates from between 6400BC and 5800BC - long before the Bosphorus Strait had formed and in the days when the Marmara Sea was a small, inland lake. Istanbul's first inhabitants appear to have lived on both sides of a river that flowed then through Yenikapi.


The excavation of Istanbul's first settlement is taking place at the site of a state-of-the-art train station on the multi-million dollar Marmaray rail project. The line will link Europe and Asia with the world's deepest underwater tunnel, 56 metres beneath the Bosphorus. The last sections of underwater tubing were joined in October.


But above ground, the revolutionary project has been held up by history.


Scheduled to last six months, Yenikapi archaeological dig is still going strong four years later. The Marmaray is now expected to open in 2011 at the earliest.


"Of course the project has been delayed, but it's important to discover the culture here," argues Yasar Anilir, chief archaeologist at the dig.


"But if there was no Marmaray project we would not have been digging at all. This requires a lot of labour and money."


The team's first major discovery was a section of the first city walls, believed to date back to Constantine I.


As anticipated, they also uncovered a 4th Century port - once the busiest in Byzantium - and the stunningly well-preserved remains of more than 30 wooden ships, many wrecked in storms in the 10th and 11th centuries.


Unearthing the Neolithic settlement was an unexpected archaeological delight.


Under pressure to complete their excavations and let-in the construction workers, archaeologists have at times worked in shifts, digging 24 hours a day. The cost of the delay to construction has not been calculated yet.


"The Marmaray project is very important, but you cannot sacrifice our cultural heritage," says Ismail Karamut, who insists his team has not compromised on the quality of their work. "We're trying to reconcile both demands - to help the project, and protect the heritage."


The Yenikapi dig has now reached bedrock, so archaeologists don't expect any more major discoveries. They're still working through piles of ancient swamp mud though, which has preserved some of the oldest wooden artefacts ever found.


On the far side of the site, beyond the Marmaray station, excavation work will continue alongside construction.


"We're expecting to find more - maybe a small settlement," Yasar Anilir explains. "We have to remove the Byzantine ships first, then we can complete our dig."


This experience should be a lesson to the authorities, according to Prof Mehmet Ozdogan, who says there have been no archaeological digs for purely scientific purposes in Istanbul since the 1960s.


"Of course a city should live, you can't turn it into a museum. But we should not wait for construction projects to learn the history of a town. We should dig on purpose, just to learn," the professor argues.


"Once the past is destroyed, it's irreversible."



Ancient Greeks 'loved a good night in' say researchers

The ancient Greeks loved a good night in, turning their homes into lively tavernas and brothels, it has been claimed.

Last Updated: 8:14PM GMT 07 Jan 2009


A new analysis of archaeological remains could explain why evidence of ancient Greek bar rooms is so elusive.


In classical Greek plays there are many descriptions of lively drinking dens, but no remains have ever been discovered.


Clare Kelly Blazeby, from the University of Leeds, believes the reason is that ancient Greek homes doubled as pubs.


Several houses dotted around ancient Greece dating from 475 to 323BC have yielded the remains of numerous drinking cups.


Experts have assumed that they were wealthy residences. But Miss Blazeby believes a more likely explanation is that the house owners regularly sold wine.


Her analysis suggests many of the houses had hundreds of cups – far too many for entertaining ordinary guests, New Scientist magazine reported.


"This blows apart everything that people think about drinking in classical Greece," said Ms Blazeby, who will present her findings this month at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Philadelphia.


Another researcher, Dr Allison Glazebrook, from Brock University in St Catherine's, Ontario, Canada, has arrived at similar conclusions.


She will tell the conference that some of the houses operated as brothels.


Telltale signs include erotic graffiti and objects, and clusters of clay drinking cups.


"This has a real impact on how we view the economy in classical Greece," said Ms Blazeby. "A lot of trade and industry was based within the home."



Gladiators to 'Fight' Again at Rome's Colosseum

Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News Jan. 06, 2009


Gladiators are to return to Rome's most famous fight arena almost 2,000 years after their bloody sport last entertained Roman crowds, local authorities announced.


According to Umberto Broccoli, the head of archaeology at Rome's city council, 2009 will be a time for the five million people who visit the Colosseum each year to experience "the sights, sounds and smells" of ancient Rome.


"We do not need to enshrine historical sites and monuments, we need to make them more spectacular. Museums and monuments must speak to the public in a new way," Broccoli told the daily La Repubblica.


According to Broccoli's plan, modern-day gladiators will engage in realistically choreographed mock fights, wearing original costumes and the same combat gear -- swords, tridents, nets and daggers -- that was used 2,000 years ago.



Early chemical warfare comes to light

Remains of a Roman garrison in Syria document a third-century battle and offer a glimpse of a grisly tunnel fight

By Bruce Bower



Roman soldiers defending a Middle Eastern garrison from attack nearly 2,000 years ago met the horrors of war in a most unusual place. Inside a cramped tunnel beneath the site’s massive front wall, enemy fighters stacked up nearly two dozen dead or dying Romans and set them on fire, using substances that gave off toxic fumes and drove away Roman warriors just outside the tunnel.


The attackers, members of Persia’s Sasanian culture that held sway over much of the region in and around the Middle East from the third to the seventh centuries, adopted a brutally ingenious method for penetrating the garrison wall, reported Simon James of the University of Leicester in England on January 10 at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America.


“In my view, this is the earliest archaeological evidence for the use of chemical warfare, which was later used by the ancient Greeks,” James said.


The Roman garrison at Dura (now called Dura-Europos) was located in what is now Syria and sat on a cliff overlooking the Euphrates River. The massive Sasanian siege of the garrison occurred in 256, give or take a few years. No historical records exist of this battle. Archaeological work conducted since 1920 at the ancient garrison has provided glimpses of the fierce conflict, although much remains unknown about precisely what happened.


James’ new findings vividly illustrate that “you can create a real story out of battlefield patterns that archaeologists find,” remarks Melissa Connor of Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.


James, who has conducted fieldwork at Dura-Europos for 30 years, examined a group of about 20 men’s skeletons adorned with military equipment that lay in a tunnel the Romans had dug to intercept Sasanian invaders, who were digging underneath the garrison wall via another tunnel.


French investigators at the site have suggested that when the Romans reached the subterranean Sasanians, the mouth of the Roman tunnel collapsed. Trapped Romans were then killed and fell on top of one another.


Although debris indeed blocked the entrance to the Roman tunnel, James doubted that explanation. First, he analyzed the positions of Roman soldiers’ bodies in the tunnel and determined that they had been deliberately stacked into a pile, either when they were mortally wounded or after they had died. The Sasanians apparently wanted to create a human wall between themselves and approaching Romans.


To obstruct advancing Romans, the Sasanians blocked the tunnel entrance with stones before stacking up the Roman victims. The Sasanians then threw a cloak and some straw on the Romans and set them on fire using a mix of pitch and sulfur. Signs of severe burning appear on the pile of skeletons and military equipment. Remains of pitch and sulfur crystals were found near the bodies, which had not been observed in earlier research, James reports.


Toxic fumes from the fire would have driven off any further Roman soldiers hoping to enter the tunnel, James said. One skeleton in the tunnel, lying by itself on the Sasanian side of the pile of bodies, is that of a helmeted Sasanian soldier carrying a sword. He apparently had set the fire and failed to flee before succumbing to the fumes, James suggests.


Research above ground at Dura-Europos indicates that, rather than surrendering, residents of the garrison engaged in street fighting as the city fell to the Persians. But then everyone, even the conquering Sasanians, abandoned the isolated site. The garrison sat in a desolate no-man’s-land that made it unappealing to the conquerors once the Romans had been vanquished. As a result, material evidence of the siege stayed in place, including a massive assault ramp built up to the garrison’s wall.


James suspects that the assault ramp was used to bring some type of battering apparatus up to the garrison wall.



German battlefield yields Roman surprises

HANOVER, Germany (CNN)


Archaeologists have found more than 600 relics from a huge battle between a Roman army and Barbarians in the third century, long after historians believed Rome had given up control of northern Germany.


Some of the artifacts are so well preserved that the scientists can already retrace some of the battle lines.


"We have to write our history books new, because what we thought was that the activities of the Romans ended at nine or 10 (years) after Christ," said Lutz Stratmann, science minister for the German state of Lower Saxony. "Now we know that it must be 200 or 250 after that."


For weeks, archeologist Petra Loenne and her team have been searching this area with metal detectors, pulling hundreds of ancient Roman weapons out of the ground. They paint a picture of a highly organized, technologically superior Roman army beset by Germanic tribes in a forest about 80 km (50 miles) south of the modern city of Hanover.


The hillside battlefield was discovered by relic-hunters illegally searching for souvenirs of more recent wars near the town of Kalefeld-Oldenrode. One of them brought some of the items he found to Loenne, who works for the local government.


The artifacts are so well preserved that the scientists can already retrace some of the battle lines.


"We believe the Germans ambushed the Romans here, but the legions quickly fired back with catapults and archers -- and then it came to a massive man-on-man onslaught," Loenne said.


The items unearthed so far include an axe, still sharp after nearly 1,800 years; horseshoes; shovels; spearheads; and dozens of arrowheads for a Scorpio, a cross between a catapult and a crossbow -- the ancient equivalent of artillery.


"With a very high speed, on a very long distance -- about 300 meters -- you can hit targets precisely," said Henning Hassman, of Hanover's archeological institute.


Researchers say the evidence suggests the tribesmen lured the Romans into the forest to keep them from making full use of those long-range weapons and draw them into hand-to-hand combat, outside of the formations the imperial troops had mastered. However, they believe the Romans ultimately prevailed.


Other relics include coins depicting the late second-century Roman emperor Commodus, depicted in the Oscar-winning Hollywood epic "Gladiator" -- a film that opens with a scene of battle against a barbarian horde that scientists say appears to be largely accurate. And Loenne said her team may have only begun to scratch the surface of the forest.


"We hope we might find fortifications and if we are lucky, maybe even battlefield graveyards," she said.



Finding Darwin's Lost Ship

Scientists are looking for the HMS Beagle

By Tudor Vieru, Science Editor

10th of January 2009, 09:21 GMT


Although only known to very few, the HMS Beagle was one of the most influential ships of modern times, simply because it was the means Charles Darwin used to get around the world and observe plant and animal species that eventually led to him creating his famous theory of evolution on the survival of the strongest. After returning to port from its third voyage, the vessel was apparently used as part of the naval guard for a while, after which it was dismantled. Now, archaeologist Dr Robert Prescott, a researcher at the University of St Andrews, in the UK, believes that he may have found the buried remains of the ship’s lower side, in the mud around Essex, in southern England.


"When they were at sea, Darwin mostly lay in his hammock, seasick. I haven't been able to find a record of anyone else who, on a voyage of five years, was seasick from the very first day to the very last," "HMS Beagle - The Story of Darwin's Ship" author, professor Keith Thomson, says.


"The notion that there was this interesting ship which also had a very interesting connection with one of the major scientific developments in recent history was just too good to be true. I wanted to find out more," Prescott told the BBC.


According to the archaeologist, the lower part of the ship was left behind, once the two farmers that were hired to break down the vessel found out that the task of dismantling the hull was extremely difficult. Via the use of sonar and other sophisticated devices, Prescott and his team managed to identify a wooden structure in the mud, and started harvesting samples, searching for diatoms.


Diatoms are molecules that are specific to certain parts of the world, so if they find some that match those in the Pacific or around Australia, then the wreak most certainly belongs to the Beagle. Preliminary analysis managed to identify some diatoms, and now the researchers are waiting for the complete results, to know if they should start digging the site.


"I believe that the lower half of this vessel was probably abandoned and has slowly settled deeper and deeper into the mud," Prescott said.


"It's very like a forensic investigation. If we can get one particularly well-recognized diatom species that we know to be tropical, that would be the 'killer's fingerprint,'" University of St Andrews professor of marine ecology David Patterson, the man in charge with analyzing the soil samples collected in Essex with the scanning electron microscope, concluded.