Egyptian pyramid had its own afterlife

By Thomas H. Maugh II

February 14, 2009


Archaeologists from the country's Supreme Council of Antiquities said this week that they had discovered a cache of 30 mummies dating from the country's 26th Dynasty in a tomb constructed during the 6th Dynasty nearly 2,000 years earlier.


The 26th Dynasty was the last period of rule by Egyptian pharaohs before the country was conquered by the Persians and other foreigners, a time when it was becoming more difficult for rulers to muster the manpower necessary for more grandiose burial sites.


The 6th Dynasty pyramid is actually a mastaba tomb -- a simpler precursor to a pyramid -- of a man named Sennedjem. It is located in Saqqara, about 12 miles south of Cairo, the final resting place of most of the Egyptian rulers who lived in the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis.


The new cache was discovered at the end of a 36-foot shaft drilled into the side of the tomb during the 26th Dynasty. Zahi Hawass, head of the council and director of the expedition, said the team had found 24 mummies in niches along the walls of the chamber and on shelves along one wall. Some of the mummies were of children and one was of a dog. All were badly decomposed, indicating that they had not been adequately prepared for burial.


The team also found two sarcophagi of fine white limestone and four wooden coffins. One sarcophagus was still sealed.


Hawass said that when he opened it, he found a body mummified in the style typical of the 26th Dynasty, covered in linen and resin. He said the mummy would be temporarily removed for a CT scan because there may be funerary amulets hidden among the wrappings.


An inscription on the coffin identified the occupant as Padi-Heri, son of Djehuty-sesh-nub and grandson of Iru-ru. It gave no information about his station in life, but the fact that he was buried in a coffin made of limestone from Thebes suggested he was very wealthy, Hawass said.





High-tech Tests Allow Anthropologists To Track Ancient Hominids Across The Landscape

ScienceDaily (Feb. 13, 2009)


Dazzling new scientific techniques are allowing archaeologists to track the movements and menus of extinct hominids through the seasons and years as they ate their way across the African landscape, helping to illuminate the evolution of human diets.


Piecing together relationships between the diets of hominids several million years ago to that of early and modern humans is allowing scientists to see how diet relates to the evolution of cognitive abilities, social structures, locomotion and even disease, said University of Colorado at Boulder anthropology Professor Matt Sponheimer. Sponheimer organized a session titled "The Evolution of Human Diets" at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting Feb. 12-15 in Chicago.


Sponheimer specializes in stable isotope analysis, comparing particular forms of the same chemical element, like carbon, present in fossil remains to help reconstruct past lives of hominids. Zapping hominid teeth with lasers, for example, frees telltale carbon gases from the enamel, allowing scientists to pinpoint the types of plants consumed by the hominids and the environments where they lived, said Sponheimer, who also relies on the microscopic wear of ancient hominid teeth for data on food consumption.



"Darwin surmised more than 150 years ago in 'The Descent of Man' that changes in the subsistence or environment of human ancestors likely led to the advent of modern humans," Sponheimer said. "Dietary resources can be a force for evolution."


One hominid genus under study by Sponheimer is the 2 million-year-old Paranthropus, a short, upright member of the australopithecine family that includes the Ethiopian fossil, Lucy. Discovered in 1974, Lucy, believed to be roughly 3 million years old, is regarded by many anthropologists as the matriarch of modern humans.


A 2006 study by Sponheimer of Paranthropus robustus documented its diverse diet, clouding the notion that it was driven to extinction by its picky eating habits. And a 1999 study led by Sponheimer indicated 3-million-year-old australopithecines may have even have been catching and eating small animals.


"Paranthropus is sometimes referred to as a nutcracker because its flat teeth and powerful jaw muscles appear designed to eat hard foods," he said. "But some research suggests that the most mechanically challenging foods like nuts were eaten only at limited times of the year. "In addition, foods not previously considered to have been consumed in significant quantities, like sedges, grasses, seeds and perhaps even animal foods, were a significant part of the Paranthropus diet."


Roughly 2.5 million years ago, the australopithicenes are thought to have split into the genus Homo and the now-extinct genus Paranthropus, including South Africa's Paranthropus robustus and East Africa's Paranthropus boisei, said Sponheimer. Research presently under way at CU-Boulder indicates that while Paranthropus robustus and Paranthropus boisei are almost indistinguishable anatomically, they may have had very different diets.


Other intriguing research under way by Sponheimer and his colleagues hints that some female australopithecines, including members of the Paranthropus genus, died in different geographic areas than where they were born. The researchers are comparing such data to social patterns of chimpanzees, in which females generally migrate away from their original ranges and move into new areas -- the opposite of behavior charted in most other primates, said Sponheimer.


"Textbooks treat these ancient hominids as static piles of fossil bones," said Sponheimer. "We treat them as biological organisms moving across the landscape. It's entirely possible that many things we thought we knew about them were wrong, and pages of textbooks will have to have to be re-written."


Adapted from materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder.



Alarm bells for Iran's "salt men"

TEHRAN, Feb. 13 (Mehr News Agency)


The ancient Iranian "salt men" are in critical condition. All six of the salt men, known as Iranian mummies, were discovered at the Chehrabad Salt Mine in the Hamzehlu region near Zanjan over the past 12 years, the Persian service of CHN reported on Wednesday.


Studies on the Fourth Salt Man, kept at Zanjan's Zolfaqari Museum, indicate that the body is 2000 years old and he was 15 or 16 years old at the time of death. Three other salt men are also kept at the museum.


The plexiglass cases designed for these mummies are not hermetically sealed. Changes in air temperature and pressure have created cracks in the cases, allowing bacteria and insects to enter and damage the mummies.


It is still not clear when the other salt men lived, but archaeologists estimate that the First Salt Man lived about 1700 years ago and died sometime between the ages of 35 and 40. He is currently on display in a glass case at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.


The Sixth Salt Man was left in-situ due to the dearth of equipment necessary for its preservation in Iran.


"The cases designed for the salt men are not standard at all," director of the archaeological exactions at the Chehrabad Salt Mine Abolfazl Aali said.


"There are problems with all the cases. A number of valves were installed in the Fourth Salt Man's case to control air humidity inside the covering. However the crack made them useless," he added.


"No external change of the salt men has been observed since they have been unearthed, but the major damage, not visible to the naked eye, is caused by bacteria that invade the internal organs, something that we would be unaware of by casual observation," Aali explained.


The plexiglass cases have designed and made under the supervision of Manijeh Hadian, an expert from the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (ICAR).


"The most well-equipped case was the one made for the Fourth Salt Man, but it was only to be used as a temporary covering for the mummy," Hadian noted.


She believes that the cracks have been created as result of numerous relocations.


The mummies were previously kept at Zanjan's Rakhtshuikhaneh Museum.


Studies have been completed for making permanent cases for the salt men and necessary funds should be found for making the devices, Hadian said.


"The First Salt Man is kept at the National Museum of Iran. Although over 12 years have gone by since it was discovered, no change can be seen on it," Hadian said.


 "Controlling and monitoring temperature, humidity, and light i.e. all physical conditions is a general rule for preservation of the mummy and if the all these factors are well controlled there will be no problems with preserving the artifacts," she explained.


According to Hadian, the Fourth Salt Man's case has been equipped with electronic thermometers and Zolfaqari Museum's officials have been instructed to inform ICAR's experts in Tehran about any changes.


Meanwhile, Aali said that major control of conditions is to be implemented at Zanjan.


"A heater has been installed at the museum to control humidity. However, it is impossible to precisely control air properties at the museum and we do witness a fluctuation in temperature during periods of rainfall and in the summertime," he said.


"These mummies do not decayed easily; if we control the air properties, the salt men will remain intact, but the current procedure will not be effective over the long term," he noted.


Payvand News - 02/13/09



Archaeologist believes Newgrange is a multi-period mound

12 February 2009


A new critical analysis has revealed that the world famous Irish passage-tomb mound Newgrange did look quite different in prehistory than hitherto believed. Newgrange is probably a multi-period mound with 5-6 phases spanning from the Passage Tomb Period to the Early Bronze Age. This theory clashes with the traditional view introduced by Professor Michael O'Kelly, who led the excavation and the controversial restoration with the addition of a white wall around the mound over the years 1962-75. O'Kelly believed that Newgrange was a single-period mound, and that the great quantities of mound fill, which covered the kerbstones and extended far beyond them, had slid out from the mound when a wall, which held the mound fill in place, did collapse.

     The new analysis, carried out by the Danish archaeologist Palle Eriksen in a paper called 'The Great Mound of Newgrange', is based on studies of the sections documented by O'Kelly. The mound fill comprises fist to head-size stones between 3-4 thin layers of turfs. According to O'Kelly these layers of turfs were laid by the megalith builders. But Eriksen points out that the turf layers formed naturally - the vegetation layer of the turf is the uppermost and it does not face downwards as it should if placed by human hands - and each layer must therefore represent a grass-covered surface at a particular time in the building sequence of the mound.

     Combined with other evidence at Newgrange, 5-6 phases can be sorted out. In phase 1-2 the mound with the passage tomb was built and expanded. The white quartz stones belonged to a ceremonial horizontal platform in front of the entrance to the passage tomb, stretching to both sides along the kerbstones. According to Eriksen, there was never a wall around Newgrange in the Neolithic. In phase 3, in the Grooved Ware-Beaker Period, a henge was built near the mound, and a thick culture layer started to accumulate, with traces of fireplaces, lots of artefacts and ceramics, bones (mainly of pigs) and other traces of continuing ritual activities. In phase 4-5, in the Late Neolithic-Early Bronze Age, a great mound with a flat top was erected, fully covering the previous smaller mound with the passage tomb. The mound in phase 5 would have looked very much like the contemporary Silbury Hill. Finally in phase 6, in the Early Bronze Age, the great circle of stones was erected and a stone was placed at the top of the mound. The events in this last phase could also have taken place in phase 5.

     The consequences of this controversial analysis are far-reaching for the future look of this World Heritage Site. As Eriksen strongly believes the wall is a fake, the archaeologist propose it should be dismantled.


Source: Acta Archaeologica (vol. 79, 2008)



Found in Iraq: "King Tut"

Middle East News

Feb 12, 2009, 16:48 GMT


Dohuk, Iraq - A Kurdish archaeological expedition announced on Thursday that it had found a small statue of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen in northern Iraq, a Kurdish news agency reported.


Hassan Ahmed, the director of the local antiquities authority, told the Kurdish news agency Akanews that archaeologists had found a 12-centimeter statue of the ancient Egyptian king in the valley of Dahuk, 470 kilometres north of Baghdad, near a site that locals have long called Pharaoh's Castle.


He said archaeologists from the Dahuk Antiquities Authority believe the statue dates from the mid-14th Century BC.


Ahmed said the statue of Tutankhamen showed 'the face of the ancient civilization of Kurdistan and cast light on the ancient relations between pharaonic Egypt and the state of Mitanni.'


The kingdom of Mittani occupied roughly the same territory spanning Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran in the 14th Century BC that many Kurds now hope will one day form an independent Kurdistan.


'Historical information indicates familial and political ties between Mittani and Egypt,' Ahmed said.


'The discovery of this statue shows us that the name of Pharaoh's Castle, was not invented out of vacuum, but rather arose out of historical fact,' Ahmed told Akanews. 'This calls for strengthening archaeological research ties between the territory of Kurdistan and the Arab Republic of Egypt.'



Study reveals ancient chieftain killed in battle

Tuesday, 10 February 2009 11:54


One of the country's best preserved Iron Age skeletons was most likely a casualty of war, a year-long study has determined


Experts studying the remains of an Iron Age grave discovered in Ishøj in 2007 say the chieftain that was buried there 1,800 years ago probably died in battle.


Science website videnskab.dk reports that a year-long study of the chieftain's remains revealed that a star-shaped hole in the top of the skull and two four-inch slashes on the back of the skull were likely the cause of death.


Slashes on his left leg that appear to have been made by someone standing below him indicate he was mounted at the time of the injury, according to University of Copenhagen anthropologist Pia Bennike.


The study also revealed that the Ishøj chieftain was about 40 years old at the time of death and about 180cm tall. Among the gifts found in his grave was a wine drinking set made in the Roman Empire.



Dig unearths 13th century ceramic


A rare ceramic face-mask jug dating back to the 13th century has been uncovered at a building site in Rothesay in Argyll.


The find came after a house builder commissioned an archaeological dig on the site of the former Rothesay Council Chambers and Sheriff Court buildings.


Fyne Homes plans to develop 25 new homes on the land.


The artefact will be surrendered to the Crown who will decide where it will be housed.


Rathmell Archaeology Ltd was commissioned to undertake a programme of archaeological works before building work commenced at the site as a condition of the planning consent.


Given the significance of the buildings and their location adjacent to Rothesay Castle, a comprehensive archaeological dig took place behind the High Street facade last October.


Fragments of other ceramics and metalwork were also unearthed.


A previous dig on the site in 2006 revealed two small sandstone walls and a compact layer of mortar interpreted as a possible floor which also contained fragments of medieval green glaze pottery.


These finds prompt this latest excavation.


Alan McDougall, director of Fyne Homes said: "We are all excited about the findings which have been uncovered on the site.


"Although Fyne Homes are committed to redeveloping Rothesay and breathing new life into the area it is still important that we remember that it is an ancient Royal Burgh with a rich and dynamic historical past.


"This excavation has given us the chance to help further our understanding of how Rothesay grew and developed."



British archaeologists lose their jobs as recession bites

15 February 2009


Archaeology in Britain is in 'serious crisis' because of the recession-hit building industry, according to those in the profession. By the end of the year around one in five of the country's 7,000 archaeologists are expected to have lost their jobs, experts believe. The profession has expanded rapidly in recent years thanks to legislation that forced developers to pay for digs. But now jobs are going because so many construction projects are being put on hold.

     In the last quarter of 2008, 345 lost their jobs, according to to the Institute for Archaeologists. This year another thousand are likely to go, according to Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology magazine. He said: "Our industry is in serious crisis, which is something that should concern anyone interested in our nation's rich history and heritage. The shrinking economy is threatening to cut the heart out of commercial fieldwork. We have entered 2009 with stalled heritage legislation, museums in crisis, a fragmented profession and 1,000 potential job losses."

     Kenneth Aitchison, head of projects for the Institute for Archaeologists, said anyone who was made redundant by the cuts would have to find a 'whole new career'. He said the industry had tripled in size after laws making digs part of the planning process came into effect in 1990, from about 2,000 practitioners to just under 7,000. Andrew Fitzpatrick from Wessex Archaeology, one of Britain's leading practices, said: "We have been affected by the credit crunch and we have regrettably been forced to lay off some members of staff. If the construction industry is suffering then it has a massive knock-on effect on preparatory industries such as ours."


Source: Telegraph.co.uk (9 February 2009)



Save the Peat Moors Centre


"On the 4th of Feb 2009 the Executive Committee of Somerset County Council (Engand) resolved to close the Peat Moors Centre at the end of October 2009. The decision is due to be ratified by the full council on 18th February." This  educational centre, just outside Glastonbury, is home to reconstructions of Britain's prehistoric past. Huts, looms, bee skips, a boat carved from a single log, and much more can be seen here over the summer months. So why must it be closed down? Somerset Council has in its advertising literature of the Centre the following words: "Travel back in time to prehistoric Somerset and discover first hand how our ancient ancestors made their homes in the centre of an extensive wetland. Three full size reconstructions of Iron Age roundhouses have been created to give an insight into living conditions the unique Glastonbury Lake Village".

     The area around Glastonbury is unique with its peat lands which often produce evidence of our past prehistory. Excavations have uncovered one of the oldest roads in the world - the Sweet Track laid down around the year 3800 BCE, also the Iron Age Glastonbury Lake Village settlement, dated 300 BCE, it was found in the 19th century by Arthur Bulleid. Such rare finds are of great importance, and the Peat Moors Centre highlights Britain's past in an imaginative way, making the past come to life for its many visitors.


Source: Heritage Action Journal (14 February 2009)


Heritage at risk from nighthawking in East of England  

New Survey Reveals Low Levels of Prosecution and Crime Reporting

English Heritage (East)  

16/02/2009 01:00


A survey commissioned by English Heritage and supported by its counterparts across the UK and Crown Dependencies has revealed that the threat to heritage posed by illegal metal detecting, or nighthawking, is high but arrest or prosecution remains at an all time low and penalties are woefully insufficient.


The Nighthawking Survey, published today (16th February 2009), found out that over a third of sites attacked by illegal metal detectorists between 1995 and 2008 are Scheduled Monuments and another 152 undesignated sites are also known to have been raided, but secrecy surrounding the crime means that it is significantly under-reported. Only 26 cases have resulted in formal legal action, with the punishment usually being a small fine from as little as £38. (Illegally parking a car carries a £120 fine.)


The crime is most prevalent in the central and eastern counties but rare in the west and south-west and almost unheard of in Northern Ireland and the Crown Dependencies. Counties where the highest incidences of nighthawking have been reported are (in descending order): Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, Oxfordshire, and the Yorkshire region. 'Honey pot' sites such as Roman sites are often targeted repeatedly and the period after ploughing is the most common time, with considerable damage caused to crops and fields.


Illegal metal detecting is the search and removal of antiquities from the ground using metal detectors without the permission of the landowners or on prohibited land such as Scheduled Monuments. It is a form of theft and can be prosecuted under the Theft Act.


The heart of the problem lies in the vicious circle of under-reporting of the crime, which in turn creates a false picture of the seriousness of the situation, making this a low priority crime for the police. It is also compounded by the difficulty in collecting evidence.


Over time, the lack of successful prosecution has led to the lack of confidence of the victims in the legal process. The survey found out that only 14% of landowners, when afflicted by nighthawking, have reported it to the police. Most of them responded by tackling the culprits themselves or imposing a complete ban on metal detecting on their land.


The survey also calls for the setting up of a central database of reported nighthawking incidents and a tightening of the Treasure Act requiring all who come into contact with treasure finds, not just the finder, to report them. Full details of the survey including its recommendations are downloadable from http://www.helm.org.uk/nighthawking


Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, Interim Chairman of English Heritage, said: "Responsible metal detecting provides a valuable record of history, but illegal activities bring responsible ones into disrepute.


"Nighthawkers, by hoarding the finds or selling them on without recording or provenance, are thieves of valuable archaeological knowledge that belongs to us all. Even in the case when the finds are retrieved, the context of how and where exactly the finds were found has been lost, significantly diminishing their historical value. In the cases of internationally important material the loss of the unique evidence that these objects provide on our common history and origins is especially poignant. By establishing a clearer picture of the crime, this survey will help us to combat it more effectively."


For further press information please contact Renee Fok, English Heritage Corporate Communications, on 020 7973 3297 or at renee.fok@english-heritage.org.uk


Image: A map showing the prevalence of nighthawking in the UK is available from http://www.picselect.com under English Heritage/Nighthawking Survey. Caption: A breakdown by county the number of sites reported to have been attacked by nighthawking between 1995 and 2008.


Notes to editors


1. The Nighthawking Survey is commissioned by English Heritage and supported by Cadw, Historic Scotland, National Museum of Wales, The Portable Antiquities Scheme, Archaeology Guernsey, Jersey Heritage Trust, Manx National Heritage, The National Museums Scotland and Northern Ireland Environment Agency. The project was undertaken by Oxford Archaeology.


2. Key recommendations of The Nighthawking Survey:


* Provide clear guidance to the police, Crown Prosecution Service and Magistrates on the impact of nighthawking on archaeological records and understanding, how to identify that it has taken place, how to collect evidence for prosecution and appropriate penalties;


* Provide guidance to landowners on identifying nighthawking and what to do when they encounter;


* Implement changes recently introduced in Europe which increase the obligation on sellers of antiquities to provide provenances and establish legal title; urge eBay to introduce more stringent monitoring of antiquities with a UK origin offered for sale on their website, as they have done in Germany, Switzerland and Austria;


* Establish a central database of reported nighthawking incidents and promote its use;


* Raise awareness of the positive effects of responsible metal detecting and the negative effects of nighthawking;


* Reaffirm the contribution of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and support its continued operation; and


* Encourage the integration of metal detecting into archaeological work


3. The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a voluntary scheme set in 1996 to record archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Up to July 2008 a total of 340,155 objects had been recorded by the PAS. Of the 77,606 finds recorded in 2007, 84% were found by metal detectorists


4. A code of practice for responsible metal detecting is available from http://www.finds.org.uk/background/cop.php. The Treasure Act Code of Practice is downloable from the DCMS website at http://www.culture.gov.uk


For further press information please contact Jenny Thompson at COI News & PR, Tel 01223 372784


Issued on behalf of English Heritage by COI News & PR


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