Archaeologists discover 5,600-year-old preserved tomb in Egypt

Tomb’s preserved state will provide new information on pre-dynastic rituals, says head of multinational archeological team.

First Published: 2014-05-07


CAIRO - Archaeologists in southern Egypt have discovered a 5,600-year-old preserved tomb and mummy predating the First Dynasty of the pharaohs, the antiquities ministry said Wednesday.


The tomb was built before the rule of king Narmer, the founder of the First Dynasty who unified Upper and Lower Egypt in the 31th century BC, the ministry said in a statement.


The tomb was discovered in the Kom al-Ahmar region, between Luxor and Aswan, on the site of Hierakonpolis, the city of the falcon, which was the dominant pre-dynastic urban centre and the capital of the Kingdom of Upper Egypt.


The archaeologists found an ivory statue of a bearded man and the mummy of the tomb's owner, who appeared to have died in his late teenage years, the ministry said.


The tomb's preserved state will provide new information on pre-dynastic rituals, said Renee Friedman, the head of the multinational archeological team.


The tombs of king Narmer and king Ra, a pre-dynastic pharaoh who paved the way to Egypt's unification, were previously discovered in Hierakonpolis.



Mystery of mummified baby in Swansea is solved

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: May 06, 2014


THE mystery over a mummified baby at the Egypt Centre appears to have been solved.


The centre, based at Swansea University, houses more than houses more than 5,000 artefacts, most collected by the 19th century pharmacist and archaeologist Sir Henry Wellcome on excavations in Egypt.


One of the exhibits which came to Swansea University in 1971, is a mummified baby dating to the 26th Dynasty, which was about 600BC.


But problems with the inscriptions on the front and back of the mummy, however, have raised questions about the artefact's authenticity.


The meaningless inscriptions combined with the inconclusive results of an X-ray of the cartonnage case, conducted by Singleton Hospital in 1998, have led to speculation that the mummy could be a clever 19th century forgery.


The red faced mummy, which is 52cm long and resembles a small child wearing a heavy, yellow and blue striped wig, is on display in the Egypt Centre's downstairs gallery, the House of Death.


Last month, Swansea University's Paola Griffiths of the Clinical Imaging College of Medicine did a CT scan of the artefact to settle the matter. The CT scan showed a dark area about 10cm long which appears to be a foetus and what could be a femur, confirming the mummy is indeed genuine and not a fake.


Another dark patch on the CT scan suggests an amulet and there are several areas with dark circles resembling strings of beads or tassels, which were sometimes placed loose in mummy wrappings of the period.


Egypt Centre curator Carolyn Graves-Brown said: "It is sometimes claimed that because there were so many deaths of young children, as well as miscarriages, in the ancient world, that the ancients became hardened to such tragedies. However, it is clear from the fact that foetuses and infants were buried with care, that such losses were not treated casually.


"We can imagine that the probable foetus represents someone's terrible loss; an occasion of great grief and public mourning."




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Israeli claims to have found King David's citadel

Posted by TANN

Greater Middle East, Israel, Near East 4:00 PM


An Israeli archaeologist says he has found the legendary citadel captured by King David in his conquest of Jerusalem, rekindling a longstanding debate about using the Bible as a field guide to identifying ancient ruins. Eli Shukron, an archaeologist formerly with Israel's Antiquities Authority, walks  in the City of David archaeological site near Jerusalem's Old City [Credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner] The claim by Eli Shukron, like many such claims in the field of biblical archaeology, has run into criticism. It joins a string of announcements by Israeli archaeologists saying they have unearthed palaces of the legendary biblical king, who is revered in Jewish religious tradition for establishing Jerusalem as its central holy city - but who has long eluded historians looking for clear-cut evidence of his existence and reign. The present-day Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also wrapped up in the subject. The $10 million excavation, made accessible to tourists last month, took place in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem and was financed by an organization that settles Jews in guarded homes in Arab areas of east Jerusalem in an attempt to prevent the city from being divided. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a future independent state. Shukron, who excavated at the City of David archaeological site for nearly two decades, says he believes strong evidence supports his theory. "This is the citadel of King David, this is the Citadel of Zion, and this is what King David took from the Jebusites," said Shukron, who said he recently left Israel's Antiquities Authority to work as a lecturer and tour guide. "The whole site we can compare to the Bible perfectly." Most archaeologists in Israel do not dispute that King David was a historical figure, and a written reference to the "House of David" was found in an archaeological site in northern Israel. But archaeologists are divided on identifying Davidic sites in Jerusalem, which he is said to have made his capital. Shukron's dig, which began in 1995, uncovered a massive fortification of five-ton stones stacked 21 feet (6 meters) wide. Pottery shards helped date the fortification walls to be 3,800 years old. They are the largest walls found in the region from before the time of King Herod, the ambitious builder who expanded the Second Jewish Temple complex in Jerusalem almost 2,100 years ago. The fortification surrounded a water spring and is thought to have protected the ancient city's water source. The dig, which began in 1995, uncovered a massive fortification and pottery sherds that date to 3,800 years old  [Credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner] The fortification was built 800 years before King David would have captured it from its Jebusite rulers. Shukron says the biblical story of David's conquest of Jerusalem provides clues that point to this particular fortification as David's entry point into the city. In the second Book of Samuel, David orders the capture of the walled city by entering it through the water shaft. Shukron's excavation uncovered a narrow shaft where spring water flowed into a carved pool, thought to be where city inhabitants would gather to draw water. Excess water would have flowed out of the walled city through another section of the shaft Shukron said he discovered - where he believes the city was penetrated. Shukron says no other structure in the area of ancient Jerusalem matches what David would have captured to take the city. The biblical account names it the "Citadel of David" and the "Citadel of Zion." Ronny Reich, who was Shukron's collaborator at the site until 2008, disagrees with the theory. He said more broken pottery found from the 10th century BC, presumably King David's reign, should have been found if the fortification had been in use then. Shukron said he only found two shards that date close to that time. He believes the reason he didn't find more is because the site was in continuous use and old pottery would have been cleared out by David's successors. Much larger quantities of shards found at the site date to about 100 years after King David's reign. Reich said it was not possible to reach definitive conclusions about biblical connections without more direct archaeological evidence. Shukron says this is the legendary citadel captured by King David in his conquest of Jerusalem.  But archaeologists are divided on identifying Davidic sites in Jerusalem, the city he is  said to have made his capital [Credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner] "The connection between archaeology and the Bible has become very, very problematic in recent years," Reich said. Critics say that some archaeologists are too eager to hold a spade in one hand and a Bible in the other in a quest to verify the biblical narrative - either due to religious beliefs or to prove the Jewish people's historic ties to the land. But other respected Israeli archaeologists say recent finds match the biblical account more than naysayers claim. Shukron, a veteran archaeologist who has excavated a number of significant sites in Jerusalem, said he drew his conclusions after nearly two decades exploring the ancient city. "I know every little thing in the City of David. I didn't see in any other place such a huge fortification as this," said Shukron. The biblical connection to the site is emphasized at the City of David archaeological park, where the "Spring Citadel" - the excavation's official name - has been retrofitted for tourists, including a movie projected on a screen in front of the fortification to illustrate how it may have looked 3,800 years ago. The City of David - located in east Jerusalem - is one of the most popular tourist sites in the holy city, with 500,000 tourists visiting last year. "We open the Bible and we see how the archaeology and the Bible actually come together in this place," said Doron Spielman, vice president of the nonprofit Elad Foundation, which oversees the archaeological park. He carried a softcover Bible in his hand as he ambled around the excavation. The site has come under criticism because of the Elad Foundation's nationalistic agenda. Most of the foundation's funding comes from private donations from Jews in the U.S. and U.K., and its activities include purchasing Arab homes near the excavated areas and then helping Jews move in, sometimes under heavy guard. Critics say this political agenda should not mix with archaeology. Author: Daniel Estrin | Source: The Associated Press [May 06, 2014]


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Tombs of ancient workers discovered

Updated: 2014-05-06 08:58


By Ma Lie and Lu Hongyan in Xi'an (China Daily)


Forty-five ancient tombs have been discovered about 5 kilometers from the mausoleum of Qin Shihuang and its Terracotta Warriors, experts said on Monday.


Archaeologists believe the tombs could belong to the designers and workers who built the mausoleum.


Qin Shihuang was the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC).


Sun Weigang, a research associate at the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology who led the excavation, said his team uncovered the tombs from July to September.


"The Terracotta Warriors and horses, as well as the other rare relics unearthed from the funerary pits next to the emperor's mausoleum, might have been made by the people interred in the 45 tombs," Sun said.


The tombs were distributed over an area of 1,200 meters from east to west by 300 meters from north to south.


Altogether, 50 tombs were found in the area, of which 45 held a person buried in a coffin with his legs twisted. Leg twisting was a burial custom typical of the Qin Dynasty, leading archaeologists to believe that the tombs belonged to that period.


The other five tombs were thought to date from later dynasties.


Sun said his team unearthed about 300 pottery objects in the tombs and found the Chinese character Li imprinted on some specimens, which could help identify the occupants of the tombs.


According to Shih Chi, the historical record written by Sima Qian during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), a township named Li was established in 231 BC near the place where the emperor's mausoleum would be built. More than 30,000 families moved into Li in 212 BC for the construction project.


According to archaeologists, the number of pottery objects imprinted with the Li moniker that were unearthed in past years show that the township was large and important, with its major purpose being the building and protecting of Emperor Qin Shihuang's final resting place.


"From the character Li, we can preliminarily judge that the 45 tombs were low-ranked. But important tombs belonged to the township of Li," Sun said.


The Terracotta Warriors and horses of the Qin Dynasty, which have been considered among the archaeological wonders of the world and have attracted millions of visitors from both home and abroad annually, were found in 1974 in pits next to the mausoleum. Later, a museum was built to cover the pits; it opened to the public in October 1979.


Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC), is often placed at the top of the list of China's greatest statesmen, strategists, reformers and military strategists, mainly for his unification of China. He was the founder and first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, the first feudal dynasty in the country's history.



Ancient Desert Glyphs Pointed Way to Fairgrounds

5 May 2014 4:00 pm


Seen from above, the jagged rocks strewn about the Chincha Valley desert in Peru seem inconspicuous. But stand in the desert itself and these rocks form lines that stretch toward the horizon. Researchers have found that these lines were probably ancient signposts for the Paracas culture more than 2000 years ago, guiding people across the desert to gathering places for the winter solstice.


The Paracas people lived in what is now southern Peru from 800 to 100 B.C.E. They immediately preceded another culture called the Nazca, which is famous for making massive line drawings out of earth and stone, including enormous works of art depicting everything from birds to monkeys. Archaeologists call such lines “geoglyphs,” whether they are meant to be artistic or serve a practical purpose.


The Paracas also made geoglyphs, and the Chincha Valley contains two kinds, explains Charles Stanish, an archaeologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. By sweeping the darker desert soil off the bright limestone underneath, ancient peoples created white lines that are easily visible at great distances. “They would be unmistakable” to people traveling down to the desert from the surrounding hills, Stanish explains. Then, as these travelers arrived at certain spots on the desert floor, the second type of geoglyph would become obvious. What previously looked like nothing more than scattered rocks would suddenly take on a definite shape and appear to form new lines stretching off into the horizon.


To understand the purpose of the geoglyphs, Stanish and his team first had to confirm that the lines were made by the Paracas people. Scientists have a horribly difficult time pinning down when any geoglyphs were made because they include no remains from dead plants for carbon dating. However, the Chincha Valley also contains ruins of five settlements with small pyramids built by the Paracas that contain artifacts from daily life, such as pots and baskets. There are also three large mounds in the desert that contain the remains of maize and sugarcane that definitely came from 400 to 100 B.C.E., when the Paracas people dominated the region.


So the researchers played a 30-square-kilometer game of connect the dots. They used GPS technology to plot the desert’s settlements, mounds, and 71 geoglyphs for the first time. What they saw was unmistakable. Certain groups of geoglyphs clearly led directly to particular mounds or settlements, suggesting that they served as paths for Paracas people seeking to trade goods or gather for other activities, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Because each group of geoglyphs pointed the way to a different settlement, Stanish believes the settlements were likely controlled by distinct political or ethnic groups. Each group probably built its own set of geoglyphs in order to draw followers throughout the desert to its own trade fairs and other social events, he says. This discovery not only provides a glimpse of what life was like before the Nazca, he adds, but it also shows the roots of how society developed when the dominant culture had no real government. “They’re converting this landscape into a big theater, and the ultimate goal is to bring people together to market, exchange goods, manufacture goods, exchange marriage partners, gossip, do all the things people like doing. And then they’re competing with each other to bring in the most supporters,” Stanish says.


But that wasn’t all the researchers found. It appears that the three large mounds had a ceremonial purpose, because each was connected to separate pairs of geoglyphs that point directly to the spot where the sun sets on the winter solstice in June. There’s no evidence that people lived around the mounds, so Stanish suspects the Paracas used them as gathering places for yearly festivities tied specifically to the solstice. “When you stand behind the mounds and you’re facing the sunset—and we were there for the solstice—the sun sets right on the mound. And if you’re a human being standing there, the sun melts right on your head. It’s pretty impressive.”


The new research is “very sound,” says archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, who was not involved in the study. He added that the findings hint at how astronomical awareness grew over the centuries in the region, beginning with recognition that the sun slowly travels back and forth, north and south, over the course of the year. “Here we have the more basic earlier observations being used, just simply following one of the extremes of the pendulumlike movement of the sun.”


Hendrik Van Gijseghem, a Nazca archaeologist at the University of Montreal in Canada, who was also not involved in the study, called the new work “tremendously interesting.” He says Stanish and his team’s effort to date the glyphs by connecting them with the Paracas mounds and settlements is convincing. “They can actually make a good case that there is a consistent association between well-dated settlements, these geoglyphs that are notoriously hard to date, and astronomical phenomenon.”


Now that the mounds’ ceremonial purpose is clear, the next step for Stanish’s team is to figure out the exact nature of the social events at the Paracas settlements. He plans to further excavate the settlements to look for objects such as beads, copper, shells, and the bones of llamas and alpacas. “There’s all sorts of things we can look for to see what kinds of activities were going on.”



Bone from 'Scotland's dodo' unearthed during archaeological dig


12 May 2014 00:01 BST


A bone from an extinct bird known as "Scotland's dodo" has been uncovered following an archaeological dig at the Scottish Seabird Centre in East Lothian.


The bone from the Great Auk, a species last seen in British waters on St Kilda in 1840, was recovered at the Kirk Ness site, now known as North Berwick.


Archaeologists say the find sheds new light on human habitation of the area in the Middle Ages.


This area was excavated between 1999 and 2006 during the Scottish Seabird Centre’s extension project.


Tests have been carried out on the bone over the past eight years and it has finally been identified as belonging to a Great Auk.


The archaeological dig by Edinburgh-based Addyman Archaeology, and supported by Historic Scotland, revealed bones of butchered seals, fish and seabirds, including the bone of the Great Auk.


The upper arm bone of the flightless bird – best known as "Scotland’s Dodo" – was unearthed at the entrance area of an early building and has been radio carbon dated to the fifth to seventh centuries.


The seabird was a favoured food source in medieval times and, being flightless, was comparatively easy to catch.


Human predation led to the inexorable decline of the species, ensuring that by the middle of the 19th century it had become persecuted and exploited into extinction.


The penguin-like bird was a 1 metre tall seabird whose range at one time extended from the north-eastern United States across the Atlantic to the British Isles, France and Northern Spain.


Because of its value for both food and as a source of oil in the Middle Ages, the Great Auk was hunted down relentlessly until it became the most eagerly wanted taxidermy specimen, and its eggs prized collectors’ trophies.


Unable to escape hunters on its stubby wings, the auk was wiped out systematically from its breeding grounds.


Tom Brock OBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: “The discovery of the Great Auk bone on site at the Scottish Seabird Centre is fascinating but also very sad.


"We are so fortunate in Scotland to have a rich variety of seabirds and we must use the extinction of the Great Auk as a warning to future generations to look after our wonderful wildlife and the marine environment as an absolute priority.


“There are both behavioural and environmental lessons that must be taken from this internationally-important finding, and as an educational and conservation charity we will remain dedicated to inspiring people to enjoy, protect and learn about wildlife and the natural environment."


Tom Addyman of Addyman Archaeology, said: “The discovery of the Great Auk bone at Kirk Ness is an illuminating find, as we seek to understand and document the importance of the area in the history of wildlife and human habitation in the Middle Ages.


"We hope that its discovery helps historians and conservation experts, such as the Scottish Seabird Centre, to educate future generations about the precious nature of our natural resources.”


Rod McCullagh, Senior Archaeology Manager at Historic Scotland, said: “In the last two decades, there has been a renaissance in our understanding of the archaeology and history of early Medieval Scotland.


"The discovery of the remains of domestic buildings and the associated detritus of daily life at Kirk Ness gives us a glimpse of what ordinary life was like in East Lothian at this time.


"That ‘daily life’ involved the killing of such valuable birds as the Great Auk is no surprise but the discovery of this single bone perhaps attests to a time when hunting did not overwhelm such a vulnerable species.”



New study sheds light on survivors of the Black Death

Posted on: 5/7/2014; Updated on: 5/8/2014

By Peggy Binette, 803-777-7704


A new study suggests that people who survived the medieval mass-killing plague known as the Black Death lived significantly longer and were healthier than people who lived before the epidemic struck in 1347.


Caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, the Black Death wiped out 30 percent of Europeans and nearly half of Londoners during its initial four-year wave from 1347 – 1351.


Released Wednesday (May 7) in the journal PLOS ONE, the study by anthropologist Sharon DeWitte in the College of Arts and Sciences provides the first look at how the plague, called bubonic plague today, shaped population demographics and health for generations.


The findings have important implications for understanding emerging diseases and how they impact the health of individuals and populations of people.


"Knowing how strongly diseases can actually shape human biology can give us tools to work with in the future to understand disease and how it might affect us," DeWitte says.


She says the Black Death was a single iteration of a disease that has affected humans since at least the 6th century Plague of Justinian.


"Genetic analysis of 14th century Y. pestis has not revealed significant functional differences in the ancient and modern strains," DeWitte says. "This suggests that we need to consider other factors such as the characteristics of humans in order to understand changes in the disease over time."


To better understand those human factors DeWitte has spent the last decade examining the skeletal remains of more 1,000 men, women and children who lived before, during and after the Black Death. The skeletons, maintained in the archives of the Museum of London, were excavated from a handful of well-documented London cemeteries, including St. Mary Spital, Guildhall Yard, St. Nicholas Shambles and St. Mary Graces.


The skeletons are catalogued in 3-foot by 1-foot boxes. As she studies each skeleton, DeWitte determines biological sex, age at death and analyzes specific markers, including porous lesions, and teeth, to gauge each individual's general health. Her bioarchaeological research is providing a new dimension to the study of Black Death and provides the first look at the lives of women and children during this medieval time period.


"It's innovative because of the analytical approaches I take. I'm providing more nuanced reconstructions of life in the past than is possible with more traditional methods in my field," DeWitte says. "My Black Death research is rare because the samples that I use are exceedingly rare. There are only a handful of large cemetery samples that are clearly linked to the 14th century Black Death.


"And, most medieval historical records only tell about the experience of men. We have little information about the experiences of women and children and the poor in general during medieval plague epidemics, including the Black Death. My bioarchaeological data allows us to understand how the population in general fared during and after the epidemic."


DeWitte's analysis has revealed several important findings. Most notably that:


the 14th-century Black Death was not an indiscriminate killer, but instead targeted frail people of all ages;


survivors of the Black Death experienced improvements in health and longevity, with many people living to ages of 70 or 80 years, as compared to pre-Black Death populations;


improvements in survival post-Black Death didn't necessarily equate to good health over a lifespan, but revealed a hardiness to endure disease, including repeated bouts of plague; and


the Black Death, either directly or indirectly, very powerfully shaped mortality patterns for generations after the epidemic ended.


DeWitte says she was surprised by how much of a change she estimated between the pre- and post-Black Death periods.


"The Black Death was just the first outbreak of medieval plague, so the post-Black Death population suffered major threats to health in part from repeated outbreaks of plague," DeWitte says. "Despite this, I found substantial improvements in demographics and thus health following the Black Death."


In addition to the PLOS ONE journal article, DeWitte has a related article appearing in the current issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.


DeWitte will head back to London this month with two graduate students for six weeks to collect further data. Her research is funded by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Grenn Foundation, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists and the university's office of the provost.