Whole baby mammoth found in Yukon gold mine

June 28th, 2022

A perfectly-preserved whole woolly mammoth calf has been discovered in the Yukon gold fields south of Dawson City in northwest Canada. It is the first whole baby woolly mammoth ever found in North America, and only the second in the world. (The first, Lyuba, was found in Siberia in 2007.)

The discovery was made by miner Tavis Ikswaled on June 21st. He was digging through the muddy ground of the Treadstone Mine in Eureka Creek with an excavator when he turned something up. He alerted his boss who immediately stopped work and sent a picture of the find to Yukon government paleontologist Dr. Grant Zazula. Zazula was able to arrange for two geologists in driving distance to survey the site and recover the baby mammoth just before a downpour that would have flushed the little tyke away.

The baby is a female and was very young when she died, about 30-35 days old. The geological context indicates she lived and died between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago, the last Ice Age. Permafrost preserved her with soft tissues intact, from trunk to tip of her tail. She is 140 cm (4’7″) long, longer than her Russian sister. She was discovered on the land of First Nation Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, and the Elders named her Nun cho ga, which means “big baby animal” in the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin’s Hän language.

According to Zazula, the miner had made the “most important discovery in paleontology in North America.”

“She has a trunk. She has a tail. She has tiny little ears. She has the little prehensile end of the trunk where she could use it to grab grass,” said Zazula. “She’s perfect and she’s beautiful.” […]

He said that the geologists who recovered her saw a piece of the animal’s intestine with grass on it.

“So that’s telling us what she did the last moments of her life,” said Zazula.

He said the mammoth was probably a few steps away from her mother, but ventured off a little bit, eating grass and drinking water and got stuck in the mud.

“And that event, from getting trapped in the mud to burial was very, very quick,” he said.


Earliest prayer beads in Britain made of salmon vertebrae

June 27th, 2022

The earliest prayer beads ever found in Britain have been discovered in a grave on the island of Lindisfarne just off the coast of Northumberland. Fashioned out of salmon vertebrae in the 8th or 9th century, the necklace is the only artifact ever found in a Lindisfarne grave.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a religious center founded in the 7th century by King Oswald of Northumbria, is famously the location of the first Viking raid of Britain in 793 A.D. The Vikings came back numerous times over the next century and the last of the monks left in 875, taking the exquisite Lindisfarne Gospels, written and illuminated by the monk Eadfrith around 700 A.D., with them.

A monastery was rebuilt on the island after the Norman invasion, but little of the Anglo-Saxon monastery remains, and until recently there were no comprehensive excavations. In 2014, University of Durham archaeologist Dr. David Petts partnered with crowdsourcing portal DigVentures to raise funds for an archaeological exploration of the site targeting the Anglo-Saxon priory. Crowdfunded excavations have been ongoing at the site since then. (Donate to the 2022 fundraiser here.)

The beads were found around the neck of an adult male, likely one of the members of the monastic community, during the 2021 dig season. The holes in the vertebrae through which the spinal column runs were enlarged, either during the making of the necklace and/or over time as the bones wore against the threading. Fish were among the earliest identifiable symbols of Christianity, making fish bones a thematically appropriate material as well as a plentiful local resource for devotional jewelry.

Dr David Petts, the project co-director and a Durham University specialist in early Christianity, told The Telegraph that the fish vertebrae appear to be prayer beads for personal devotion: “We think of the grand ceremonial side of early medieval life in the monasteries and great works like the Lindisfarne Gospels. But what we’ve got here is something which talks to a much more personal side of early Christianity.”

He paid tribute to Marina Chorro Giner, a zooarchaeologist, for recognising the significance of the vertebrae: “This bright, eagle-eyed researcher looked at them and said, actually these aren’t just fish bones, they’ve been modified and turned into something.”


Child buried with glass bracelets at ancient Odeon

June 26th, 2022

Archaeologists excavating the Roman-era Odeon theater in the ancient Greek city of Kelenderis have discovered the grave of a small child buried with four glass bracelets. Almost 150 burials have been discovered in the ancient Odeon since excavations began in 1987, but this is the first one of them to contain any grave goods.

The young child was buried inside a wood coffin of which only the iron nails have survived. He was wearing a garment with delicate white buttons. The garment has decomposed; the buttons survive. On his arm were four solid glass bangles in perfect condition. Inside the coffin was an ostracon — a piece of pottery with an inscription written on it — and a ceramic teacup.

The grave has not yet been dated, but archaeologists believe from the context that it was medieval. The remains of several infant burials were unearthed around this one, so this part of the Odeon appears to have been a dedicated children’s cemetery. However, the newly-discovered grave is not like the others. It is the only one with a coffin, and the only one with the remains of clothing. Radiocarbon dating and other analyses of the bones should fill in some blanks about the date and unusual elements of the burial.

Today the city of Aydıncık on the southern coast of Turkey, Kelenderis was founded by colonists from Samos in the 8th century B.C., Kelenderis became an important stop on Eastern Mediterranean trade routes and flourished during the 5th and 4th century B.C., then came to prominence again under the Roman Empire, reaching a new peak of prosperity in the 2nd century.

Unlike many other prominent Greek and Roman urban centers in what is now Turkey, which were destroyed in raids and natural disasters and have long gaps in their historical record post antiquity, Kelenderis was continuously populated throughout the Byzantine and Ottoman eras to the present. That makes modern Aydıncık dense in unexplored archaeological layers. Today most of the visible remains are Roman — public baths, the Odeon, the agora, defensive walls — grouped near the fishing port.

This year’s excavation has also solved a long-standing mystery about the city’s Byzantine history.

Speaking about the exciting discovery, the head of the excavations Mahmut Aydın said, “Excavations continue for 12 months of the year in the ancient city of Kelenderis. This year, we have completed the excavation and consolidation of the cavea, the sitting area, and the supporting walls behind the Odeon structure. Now we found a furnace that excites us. We knew for years that there was production here, but we couldn’t find the oven. The oven is 1,300 years old. We think that roof tiles were produced inside the furnace. Because during the excavations we carried out last year and this year, a large amount of roof tiles, dated to the seventh century, were found around the furnace. Since the roof tiles were faulty, we found them scattered around it. When we completely empty the inside of the furnace, we might find even more faulty roof tiles.”


Japanese textiles of nettle fiber and fish skin go on display

June 25th, 2022

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) is finally getting the opportunity to showcase the collection of Japanese textiles it acquired in 2019 in a new exhibition dedicated to exceptional garments made from locally-sourced natural materials. Dressed by Nature: Textiles of Japan will showcase rare robes, coats, vests, banners and mats made from banana plant fiber, paper, hemp, wisteria, rice straw, elm bark, nettle fiber, paper, fish skin as well as cotton, silk and wool.

When the museum acquired the 230-piece collection of Japanese masterpieces from Asian textile expert and collector Thomas Murray in 2019, the delicate garments were in need of conservation. They first had to be frozen for a length of time to kill any live bugs that might have settled in to the fabric, then stabilized and stored under climate-controlled conditions. The original plan was to exhibit the freshly conserved collection in the fall of 2020, but for obvious reasons that was delayed.

“These garments and cloths are unique objects that showcase the creativity of their makers in fashioning textiles from all kinds of natural materials depending on their living circumstances,” [curator Dr. Andreas] Marks said. “While many exhibitions on the dress of Japan focus on the silk kimono and clothes worn by the aristocracy, ‘Dressed by Nature’ instead celebrates the inventiveness and beauty of folk traditions and clothes worn in everyday life. We are excited for visitors to experience the kaleidoscope of materials and designs that will be on view and which demonstrate human ingenuity in the pre-industrial period of Japan between the 18th and early 20th centuries.”

The over 120 textiles on view will highlight the artistry from the diverse cultures that form the Japanese archipelago. These include exceptionally rare, brightly colored resist-dyed bingata robes from Okinawa; delicately patterned garments used by farmers, fishermen, and firemen from Japan’s largest and most populous islands of Honshu and Kyushu; and boldly patterned coats created by Ainu women from Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido and the Sakhalin Island of Siberia.

Among the treasures on display is a dark blue festival robe from the early 1900s decorated with hand-drawn sea creatures painted with a rice paste resist dye technique called tsutsugaki. Worn to celebrate a successful catch, its hand-drawn decoration makes it one of a kind.

Another unique treasure of working class clothing history on display is a complete fireman’s kit from the second half of the 19th century. It contains everything a fireman would have needed to fight the constant fires in the closely-built wooden cities: a coat, a hood, padded gloves, slim-fit pants made of quilted cotton dyed indigo. The firefighters would have saturated this gear in water before combatting the fire.

Also acquired from Thomas Murray but earlier this year at Asia Week New York is a rare 18th century Attush (meaning elm bark) robe. The robe was made by the Ainu people of Hokkaido out of elm bark fiber, cotton and trade cloth from the Japanese mainland. It was decorated with appliqué cotton and embroidery, but is the only one of its kind to have embellishments made of sturgeon scales, shells, bird bones and silk tassels, all of which were believed to hold talismanic power. This robe was likely owned by someone of great importance in the community.

Dressed by Nature opened June 25th and will run through September 11st.


Tortoise and her egg found in Pompeii

June 24th, 2022

The remains of a tortoise and the egg she never laid have been discovered in Pompeii, but here’s a twist: she was not killed in the eruption of Vesuvius, but rather of natural causes sometime between the earthquake that struck the city in 62 A.D. and its destruction in 79 A.D. This is not the first tortoise found in Pompeii, but the others have been found in wealthy homes or gardens. She was found in a shop.

The discovery was made in an excavation of the Stabian baths on the Via dell’Abbondanza, Pompeii’s longest and busiest street. The site had once been a small building adjacent to the baths, but it was reduced to rubble by the earthquake. Eventually, the rubble was removed or compacted and the building was reconstructed as a shopfront attached to the baths.

In the southwest corner of the shop, behind a square basin that survived the earthquake, archaeologists found the remains of a female Testudo hermanni. She made tunneled her way into the room looking for a secure place to lay her one egg. She died there, likely as a result of dystocia, or egg retention, caused by a deficiency in the environment — lack of appropriate nesting materials, unpropitious climate — or her diet. Unless the egg is laid (or removed by human intervention), the animal dies.

The discovery of the tortoise is evidence that even the houses in the very heart of the city’s busiest thoroughfare were not immediately rebuilt after they were reduced to rubble by the earthquake. Instead, they were abandoned and so devoid of human presence that wild animals made homes for themselves there instead. When the shopfront was rebuilt after the earthquake, nobody noticed the poor deceased tortoise in the corner and she was buried in the construction fill that raised the floor level.

The tortoise was removed in three phases. First the carapace, which at just 5.5 inches long indicates the specimen was immature. (Adult carapaces are in the 8-10 inch range. Her youth could have also played a role in her inability to lay her egg.) The egg was removed with the carapace. The skeleton of the tortoise was removed next, and the plastron, the ventral part of the shell, last. The remains were transferred to Pompeii’s Applied Research Laboratory for further study by archaeozoologists.


VR bus drives back in time through ancient Rome

June 23rd, 2022

On Thursday Rome debuted a new high-tech way to experience its monuments: the Virtual Reality Bus. The small fully electric bus takes a maximum of 14 passengers on a 30-minute circuit of ancient Rome’s most important sites, from Trajan’s Column through the Forums, the Colosseum, the Palatine, the Circus Maximus, to the Theater of Marcellus and back again. While driving by, the magic of VR will transport passengers back in time so they can see the city as it was before the ruins were ruins.

There are no headsets or viewing accessories of any kind required. A transparent 4K OLED screen has been installed in front of each window with a motorized curtain between the screen and the window. When passengers want to see the monuments of ancient Rome as they are today, they raise the curtain. When they want to see what it would have looked like if they drove by 2,000 years ago, they close the curtain for the virtual reality view.

A sophisticated network of 5G broadband synchronizes the 3D virtual models on the screens to the exact location of the bus. Three GPS on different locations on the bus, a three-axis accelerometer, a magnetometer, a velocimeter and a surface laser document every jolt and jostle of the bus and realistic effects are then simulated in real time on the VR screens.

The bus is also equipped with digital speakers between every window and every other seat row, but to give the customers a truly immersive sensory system, they have taken a page from the great Smell-O-Vision stunts of the 1950s. A fragrance delivery system will evoke the scents of ancient Rome as the bus drives by temples, forums, the Colosseum and Circus Maximus. Inspired by the burned offerings to the gods and the assorted funks of the arena, a scent designed to match the site is released as you pass. Temples get you frankincense, myrrh, charcoal, guaiac wood, birch and vetiver grass. When you drive by the Colosseum, you’ll get hit with a wave of metallic aldehydes, civet musk, oud wood, costus, cistus labdanum resin and cumin. The Imperial Forums will serve oak moss, patchouli, sandalwood and amber balsam.

The bus runs every 40 minutes from 4:20PM to 7:40PM. English language tours are available only on the 5:00, 6:20 and 7:40 bus. The others are all in Italian. A regular tickets costs €16 and can be purchased online or at the ticket booth at Trajan’s Column.  Children younger than six ride for free.

Get a sneak peek at what this experience looks like in this video. Alas, there is no Smell-O-Vision on YouTube. Yet.


Antikythera Hercules’ head found 120 years after his body

June 22nd, 2022

Divers exploring the 1st century B.C. shipwreck off the islet of Antikythera, iconic as the source of the oldest analog computer in the world, have recovered the head of a Hercules statue whose body was found by the sponge divers who first discovered the wreck in 1900. The marble head is heroically scaled (twice life-sized) and even encrusted with sediment and marine life, the thick hair, curly beard and facial features identify it as a Hercules of the Farnese type. The headless body is in the permanent collection of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

The Farnese type depicts a Hercules leaning against his club that is draped in the skin of the Nemean lion. In his right hand behind his back he holds the apples of the Hesperides, the recovery of which was the last of his Twelve Labors. This, presumably, is why he is weary. A copy of a 4th century B.C. bronze original by Lysippos, the type was hugely popular and copied throughout the Greco-Roman world in different materials and sizes. The Farnese marble is signed by a Greek sculptor, Glykon, and dates to the early 3rd century A.D. It’s not known whether Glykon was working in Greece or if he had a shop in Rome catering to its wealthy elite who had an endless thirst for copies of Classical Greek originals.

The 2022 season of underwater archaeological research on the Antikythera shipwreck also recovered the plinth of a marble statue with legs still attached and numerous pieces of the ancient ship itself, including many nails and the lead collar of a wooden anchor. The divers also recovered extremely rare human remains: two teeth embedded in thick clumps of concretion. If all goes well, genetic and stable isotope analysis of the teeth will shed new light on the crew who sailed the merchant vessel 2,000+ years ago.

These finds were only made this year because the team was able to remove two enormous 8.5-ton boulders covering a portion of the wreck, a challenging proposition under the easiest conditions, never mind 165 feet under the sea. Divers can only remain at that depth for 30 minutes, so moving giant boulders is both mechanically difficult and dangerous. It was necessary, however, to give archaeologists access to previously unexplored areas of the wreck.


1st c. Roman sanctuary found in Netherlands

June 21st, 2022

The remains of a 1st century Roman sanctuary have been discovered in the town of Herwen-Hemeling on the Roman Limes in the eastern Netherlands. While Roman sanctuaries have been found before in the Netherlands, this is the first discovered on the Lower German Limes. It is also by far the most complete, with surviving altars, structures, sculptures and sacrifice pits.

The first remains were encountered late last year by archaeological volunteers surveying a clay mining area. They reported the find to the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency which stopped clay extraction and arranged for a professional excavation. The dig immediately revealed several intact fibulae of different types, followed by an avalanche of archaeological materials like fragments of weapons, harness fittings, roof tiles stamped with the maker’s names and votive altars both intact and in fragments.

The sanctuary was used mainly by soldiers. This is clear from the many stamps on the roof tiles, because the manufacture of roof tiles was a military activity at that time. Many fragments of horse harnesses, armour and the tips of spears and lances have also been found at the site. High-ranking Roman officers erected dozens of votive stones to give thanks to a god or goddess for fulfilling their wishes. These did not always relate to winning battles. Simply surviving a stay in these northern regions, sometimes far from home, was often reason enough to give thanks.

What the sanctuary at Herwen-Hemeling demonstrates very well is how much migration there was during that period. The men who came here to offer sacrifices had been in Hungary, Spain and Africa. And they brought their gods with them.

Architectural finds include a well with a large stone staircase leading down into the water. Thanks to coins and inscription fragments found within, archaeologists were able to date the well to an impressively tight range of 220-230 A.D. These are rare survivals, having somehow managed to dodge the fate of so many other Roman structures in the Netherlands and elsewhere: being recycled as building materials after the collapse of imperial rule.

Dating of the artifacts indicates the temple complex was in constant use from the 1st century through the 4th. The unprecedented number of stone fragments from hundreds of years of votive altars and statues have been found, many with legible inscriptions that name deities and the men who dedicated the altars to them to fulfill a vow made and/or in gratitude for an answered prayer. Among the named deities are Hercules Magusanus (a syncretic Romanized local god), Jupiter-Serapis and Mercury.

There were at least two temples in the sanctuary, one larger and one smaller in Romano-Celtic fanum style. The larger temple had a tiled roof. Fragments of reliefs and painted plaster indicate both were vividly painted with polychrome walls. The sanctuary was built at the junction of the Rhine and Waal rivers on a natural hill that the builders then heightened artificially. It was a stone’s throw from the Castellum Carvium, an auxiliary fort on the south bank of the Lower Rhine, and a slightly longer stone-throw from the next Roman auxiliary fort six miles away in the village of Loo. (Both of those sites are known only from portable archaeological material — bronze vessels, bricks, horse fittings — because whatever was left of the forts after the structures were used as quarries was destroyed by Rhine floods.) Interesting note: the name Carvium was a Latinized derivative of the Germanic word Harh-wiha meaning “sacred space” and archaeologists have long hypothesized that it may have been a reference to a nearby sanctuary. Hypothesis confirmed!

The artifacts recovered from the site are going on display in a dedicated exhibition at the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen from June 24th through the 30th of September.


Pre-Roman burial found under Este parking lot

June 20th, 2022

Archaeologists have discovered an rare early Iron Age tomb with bronze and pottery grave goods under a mall parking lot in the town of Este, near Padua in northern Italy. The artifacts date the tomb to between the end of the 5th and the 4th century B.C.

The town of Este is the type site of the proto-Italic Este culture who inhabited what is today the northeastern Italian region of Veneto from the Bronze Age (10th c. B.C.) until Rome took over in the 1st century B.C. The Adriatic Veneti, after whom the region is named, also settled the area. The tomb is consistent with the burial practices of the Veneti.

The preventative archaeology excavation took place between May and July of 2019 during work on the water system of the shopping center. Pre-Roman tombs had been found in the area in the late 19th century and again when the mall was built in 1982. Several more tombs were unearthed, and with a tight deadline and construction looming, archaeologists removed all archaeological materials in soil blocks for excavation in the laboratory.

The full excavation and conservation of the contents of one of the tombs, Tomb 6, has just been completed and the finds announced for the first time. It is a cremation burial placed in a cist formed of slabs of pink limestone native to the Euganean Hills overlooking the town. Inside the cist was a situliform vase (pottery shaped in the truncated cone typical of situlae, or buckets) used to hold the cinerary remains of the deceased. The red clay pot is decorated with bands of black. Two stemmed ceramic drinking cups with a similar black band design were also inside the box, as were another cup and a glass. A fibula of the Certosa type among the grave goods provided the key clue for the preliminary date of Tomb 6.

The most compelling elements of the funerary furnishings are also what made it extremely challenging to excavate: bronze artifacts including a long scepter and a bronze belt. The scepter was placed on the bottom of the cist and is in four pieces. Stuck to the body of the situliform vase was a finely engraved bronze belt. Archaeologists believe this was a ritual “dressing” of the ossuary, a funerary practice encountered in previous tombs of the ancient Veneti. The belt is in fragments as well and all that remains today are the rich bronze fittings — a large rectangular front plate, the terminals and gauge ring — which were likely originally mounted to an organic material, now decayed.

There is bronze inside the urn as well. In addition to the bone fragments and ashes inside the vase, the excavation revealed numerous fragments of bronze sheeting, some bearing the tell-tale signs of combustion. Archaeologists believe this was a belt too, worn by the deceased on the funeral pyre. The largest of the fragments is engraved with a representation of a winged animal that is frequently seen in Venetic funerary contexts.

The remains and objects in Tomb 6 are undergoing further study for scientific publication. Meanwhile, archaeologists will turn their thorn scalpels and teeny brushes to work on the other tombs recovered from the necropolis in 2019.


House of Ceres, horse skeleton back on display

June 19th, 2022

The skeleton of horse and the beautifully frescoed House of Ceres have gone back on display at Pompeii after new restorations that focus on integrating them into the “widespread museum” concept of Pompeii as a museum where visitors can see remains and artifacts in the contexts in which they were first discovered. The vision of Pompeii as its own museum has been common since the city was first excavated, but for centuries any exhibition in situ was not conservation-friendly. The newly-reopened spaces seek to redress that imbalance.

The House of Ceres was first excavated between 1951 and 1953. It got its name from a terracotta bust of Ceres, goddess of the earth, in one of the bedrooms off the atrium. The bust is far more ancient than the home. It is of a statuary type typical of the late 4h century B.C., so it must have been purchased as an antique by the homeowner. Archaeologists believe the bust was a cult figure that was part of a small household shrine.

The domus reopened to the public on the 14th of June after a program of restoration of the villa’s interior and gardens. The roof structures over the atrium were rebuilt and integrated into a new lighting system powered entirely by green energy photovoltaic tiles that recreates the natural light that would have illuminated the space through high, skinny windows and open areas of the roof. The elaborate, brilliantly colored Second Style frescoes have been cleaned and relit, as have the floor mosaics. New display cases exhibit artifacts found in the villa. The garden have also been redone, using the cult of Ceres as inspiration to plant organic spelt and wheat.

Across the street from the House of Ceres is a stable with the skeleton of a horse discovered there by archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri in 1938. The horse is 53″ high at the withers and was used to transport goods. Maiuri mounted the horse on its feet atop a metal structure which degraded over time and stained the bones with oxidation products.

To restore Maiuri’s horse, the bones were first laser scanned to create a 3D model, then disassembled for cleaning, restoration and reconstruction in the laboratory. The skeleton was repositioned by experts so it could be displayed in a scientifically correct position with a very cool new transparent support framework that alleviates pressure on the ancient equine bones and adapts easily to the microclimate. The structure is also easily unmounted, in individual parts or as a whole, for future interventions. A new 3D tactile model of the horse has been installed for visually impaired visitors.

“In Pompeii the work of study, protection and enhancement according to the model of the” widespread museum “continues – explains the Director of the Park Gabriel Zuchtriegel – In the house of Cerere, in addition to restoring the spatiality of the house, distinguished from some rooms with very refined decoration in II style and previously only partially usable, a lighting system was created that is 100% powered by a system of photovoltaic tiles and therefore with zero environmental impact.

In the next block, visitors will be able to admire the skeleton of a horse in its original position. The restoration of the skeleton was characterized by a multidisciplinary intervention that saw restorers and archaeologists at work, constantly supported in every phase of the interventions by an archaeozoologist. This exhibition also foresees a fruition according to accessibility and inclusiveness criteria. I thank the Director General of the Museums, Massimo Osanna, for his presence on this occasion, also because these are two interventions launched under his direction in Pompeii. “





June 2022


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