Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Carving defaced by Akhenaten found in tomb

Monday, July 28th, 2014

A carving of the god Amun that was defaced by order of Akhenaten has been discovered in a tomb in the necropolis of Sedeinga, Sudan. The slab of Nubian sandstone was 5.8 feet high and 1.3 feet wide and was found in two pieces, broken across the width just above the god’s elbow. The carving was used as a bench for the coffin to rest on in the tomb, but that wasn’t its original intent or location. It was recycled as a mortuary platform several hundred years after it was created in the mid-1300s B.C.

It was first made to adorn the temple of Queen Tiye, wife of Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaten. A tribute to the high esteem her husband held her in, the temple presented Tiye as the incarnation of the goddess Hathor and was a companion to a temple to Amenhotep a few miles to the south in Soleb. Tiye’s deification in her lifetime was one of several firsts for a queen of Egypt. She was depicted as a female sphinx, an honor previously reserved for the pharaoh, and attributes of Hathor — the horns and sun disk — were added to headdress is other images. An inscription in the Sedeinga temple calls her “great of fear, mistress of all the lands,” meaning her greatness dominated the women of foreign lands (Sedeinga was part of the Egyptian colony of Nubia during the reign of Amenhotep) just as her husband’s greatness conquered the men.

Tiye outlived her husband by many years — inscriptions indicate she was living in the 12th year of Akhenaten’s reign — so she may even have been witness to her son’s defacement of her own temple. Akhenaten changed his name from Amenhotep and founded a new religion worshiping the sun disc Aten in the fifth year of his reign. That same year construction began on his new capital Amarna where inscriptions continued to call Tiye queen and beloved of the pharaoh.

It wasn’t a falling out, therefore, that spurred Akhenaten’s defacement of her temple in Sedeinga. It wasn’t personal; just religious business, part of his policy of chipping away the face and name of Amun in all the major sites, including his mom’s temple in Nubia.

The new religion could not long outlast its founder, however, and the newly discovered carving attests to the reinstatement of the worship of Amun as well.

The archaeologists also found that, after Akhenaten’s death, the god’s face and hieroglyphs on this carving were restored. This restoration may have been done during the reign of the boy king Tutankhamun (reign 1336-1327 B.C.), who is famous for his rich tomb.

“The name of Amun as well as his face were first hammered out and later carved anew, proving that the persecution of this god extended to this remote province during the reign of Akhenaton and that his images were restored during the following reigns,” Francigny and Claude Rilly, director of the French archaeological mission in Sedeinga, wrote in the most recent edition of the journal Sudan and Nubia.

Over time, Tiye’s temple decayed into ruin and people helped themselves to pieces of it. The carving of Amun with its historically significant restored damage was thus preserved in a new location. Today the temple is almost completely gone. All that remains is a single wonky column standing forlornly in a pile of rocks.

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Unique mortuary bundle found in Hidalgo

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

A pre-Hispanic mortuary bundle had been found in a rock shelter near the town of Zimapán in the Sierra Gorda of Hidalgo, southeastern Mexico. The skeletal remains wrapped in a dyed fabric and a braided mat were discovered by locals who alerted the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). INAH archaeologists examined the bundle and believe it is intact, although only the cranium with some hair still attached, tibias, clavicle, shoulder blades and some ribs are visible above the wrapping.

The remains haven’t been dated yet. It’s the positioning of the body in a seated posture, the plant fibers used in the shroud and the placement in a rock shelter that all point to this being a pre-Hispanic burial. In many Mesoamerican cultures, rock shelters and caves were believed to be entrances to the underworld and the abode of death gods. Thus these locations were seen as ideal burial spaces. Despite the rocky terrain of the Sierra Gorda being replete with these sorts of nooks and crannies, this is the only mortuary bundle of its kind found in the state of Hidalgo.

Forensic anthropologists have determined from the teeth and leg bones that the deceased was about 20 years old when he or she died. The third molars, which grow in early adulthood between 16 and 24 years of age, are present but show no signs of wear. In the tibia, the epiphyseal plate, a cartilaginous plate at the end of the long bones that is replaced by bone after puberty, has hardened into bone, leaving behind the scar of the epiphyseal line. The line is still visible, however, and that fades with time, so that suggests the person died in early adulthood.

Although there does not appear to have been any preservation of soft tissues, the semi-arid climate of the eastern Sierra Gorda did help preserve the organic fibers of the wrapping. The bundle has been moved to an INAH lab where it will be studied in detail and the wrapping removed to reveal the rest of the remains. First a conservator will treat the fabric and plant fiber mat to ensure they’re not damaged in the opening. Then experts will hopefully be able to determine the sex of the deceased from the pelvic and hop bones.

INAH researchers hope the bones will tell more of the person’s history — disease, nutrition, lifestyle — as well as which culture he or she was a part of. The rock shelter is an area that saw a variety of peoples living there, nomadic and sedentary. The bones might fill in some of those blanks. The archaeological context might help on that score. Vegetation found in the soil of the rock shelter (palm leaves, agave cactus) appears to have been deliberately layered on the spot. Archaeologists also found a small group of abstract cave paintings about 550 yards from the mortuary bundle.

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New burials found at Ostia necropolis

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Excavations in Ostia, the ancient Roman harbour town at the mouth of the Tiber, have unearthed a group of more than 12 tombs from the 3rd-4th century A.D. Underscoring the cultural diversity of the port city, the necropolis includes inhumations and cremations, some right next to each other. The newly unearthed tombs are early Christian and surround a central tomb that belonged to someone of religious or social significance. The central tomb is a circular mausoleum lined in travertine that was originally built in the late Republican era and was reused in late antiquity. Archaeologists believe it may be an extended family unit who wanted to be buried at an important location, perhaps associated with one of the saints buried in early Christian Ostia.

The area being excavated, Parco dei Ravennati, was a suburb of the ancient city of Ostia on the left bank of the Tiber, now long since silted over. The area was used as a necropolis from the early imperial era through the 5th century when a basilica was built around the nearby tomb of 3rd century martyr Saint Aurea, patron saint of Ostia. The church was extensively renovated over the centuries; the current building was built by the Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II, commissioner of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes, in the 15th century. Another important saint, Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine, died in Ostia in the late 4th century and was buried there. Her remains were moved to the Saint Aurea church in the 6th century before moving again to the Church of Saint Augustine in Rome.

There may be more information on the burials forthcoming courtesy of some inscriptions.

Additionally, several tombs had funerary inscriptions and archaeologists found a possible tabella defixionum, a lead curse tablet intended to protect the dead and bring anathema to tomb desecrators.

“They were really horrible curses to protect the dead”, Paola Germoni, head of Ostia’s archaeological superintendency, added.

Studies remain ongoing, according to Michele Raddi, excavation co-director, who said “we found a number of fragmentary inscriptions in the tombs as well as a possible tabella defixionum, but we need to evaluate its context and see if it has an inscription”.

Parco dei Ravennati wasn’t just a necropolis, however. Multiple domestic spaces have been unearthed, including an elaborate opus sectile marble inlay floor from the late 4th century. This season’s excavations have found even more of that aristocratic home, a space adjacent to the opus sectile room that was paved with paving stones and converted to commercial use. The discovery of hooks and lead weights from fishing nets suggest the elegant home was re-purposed for fish processing in the early Middle Ages. Ancient sources and earlier archaeology pointed to Ostia being in steep decline as a commercial center starting in the reign of Constantine I (306-337 A.D.), so the discovery of active businesses from the early Middle Ages is going to change what we know about Ostia.

“What’s amazing is that you have continual use in this park straight through from republic and imperial times through to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, its giving us precious information about the later periods and how it relates to Ostia Antica”, [director of the American Institute for Roman Culture Darius] Arya said.

“The discoveries in the Parco dei Ravennati underlines the extraordinary continuity of life and activity along the Tiber River banks, in Ostia Antica’s suburbs”

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Burned, cut bones from Boudiccan uprising found in Colchester

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Burned and cut bone fragments from the Boudiccan revolt have been discovered at the redevelopment site of supermarket Williams & Griffin in Colchester, southeast England. The two pieces, one of mandible and the other of tibia, were found mixed in with burned building debris that had been moved to the location and used as fill during the reconstruction of Colchester after Boudica’s army burned the city to the ground in 61 A.D. Although the revolt-era layer of the town has been extensively excavated, these are only the second human remains ever found in Colchester’s Boudiccan debris, and the first were unearthed 50 years ago in 1965.

The reason so few bones have been found in a city that was completely destroyed is that the inhabitants were rounded up and killed in the sacred groves of the Iceni war goddess Andraste. Cassio Dio goes into gruesome detail on the subject in Book 62, Chapter 7 of his Roman History:

The worst and most bestial atrocity committed by their captors was the following. They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them; afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body. All this they did to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour, not only in all their other sacred places, but particularly in the grove of Andate.

Colchester, the Roman colony of Camulodunum, was the first target of Boudica’s forces. It had great symbolic significance to them. The city had been the capital of the Trinovantes, the Iceni’s allies in the uprising, and it was there that they had had to surrender to Claudius in 43 A.D. The next year a temple to Claudius was built to commemorate the great victory/humiliating defeat and the legions used the city as a fortress for another five years. When they left, retired Roman veterans moved in, displacing the native Britons, taking their land and enslaving them. The veterans didn’t bother to build fortifications, however, so Boudica’s army made short shrift of the city. Surviving veterans fled to Claudius’ temple where Boudica besieged them for two days before it too fell and was torched along with the rest of Camulodunum.

When the bone pieces were first unearthed last week, the evidence of burning was clearly visible in situ, but it wasn’t until archaeologists removed the fragments for additional study that the found evidence that the bones had been cut with a sharp instrument of some kind, possibly a weapon.

The cut mark on the shinbone is the most convincing. The bone is a left tibia where the top front left-hand side has been sliced off with a sharp blade. The blow must have been ferocious and it must have cut through part of the end of the thigh bone (femur) and probably the kneecap (patella) and the fibula (the thin bone alongside the tibia). The angle of the cut suggests that the leg must have been flexed and that the person who cut it wasn’t standing directly in front of him but to his right or left.

The mandible is more difficult to interpret. Now that it is out of the ground, we can see that it does indeed have its third molar and that the person was much older when he died than we thought. What is striking, however, is that the inside edge of the raised part at the back of the jaw is missing. It looks as if this part of the jaw has been sliced off where the bone is quite thin. But the cut looks rather delicate for a sword blow. It may be that the jawbone simply cracked in the ground and this part became detached. But then, in the light of the chop mark on the leg bone, some kind of deliberate incision, violent or delicate, needs to be considered as a possiblity [sic]. If the damage was the result of a sword blow, then it must have been a downwards one from the man’s left. The sword must have crashed clean through his left cheek bone (the zygomatic bone) between his left eye and ear so that it just nicked the front of the upper part of his jaw.

The cut marks on the bones look very clean to be shovel marks, but it is possible that the mandible in particular was damaged during the reconstruction by a shovel, say, rather than by a blade.

These bones and those unearthed in 1965 were found 100 yards from each other. Archaeologists have just begun to dig at a third site that lies between the two find spots, so there may be more interesting news from the Boudiccan revolt to report soon.

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Rome pyramid restoration ahead of schedule

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

In December of 2011, Japanese retail clothing mogul Yuzo Yagi offered to donate €1 million to restore the tomb of Gaius Cestius, a pointy marble-clad vanity pyramid built in Rome in the 1st century B.C. At the time, the agreement was scheduled to be signed in January of 2012 and work to start in April, but the donation agreement didn’t get signed until March, the scaffolding didn’t begin to go up until November and it wasn’t finished until February. Actual restoration work began in March of 2013. Then in a shocking twist, it was completed five months early.

The Culture Ministry contacted Yuzo Yagi and asked him to donate another million euros for a second stage of restoration that would return the Carrara marble cladding to its original whiteness as opposed to its longstanding grimy gray. White happens to be Mr. Yagi’s favorite color — he is known for his stylish all-white ensembles — so he was happy to double his original donation.

In December of 2013 he signed a second donation agreement, again requiring nothing more than a discreet plaque near, not on, the pyramid, naming him as the donor. Even during the restoration the only signs on the pyramid are informational billboards at ground level and white banners assigning themes to each side — the mystical side, the scientific side, the historical side and the secret side. The billboards explain the history of the pyramid through these four themes. Yagi’s company gets credit for his patronage on the billboards, but just in discreet text lines. No logos or glaring anything. The images of the pyramid and information of its background dominate completely. Masterpiece Theater is more cluttered than that, like by a lot.

Now phase two is well on the way to being finished and they’re ahead of schedule again. Restorers expect to be done three months before the expected November deadline. The early finish means Yagi isn’t ready for an inauguration ceremony. He’s thinking of just waiting until next summer and making a big event. He’s also so pleased with how this venture has gone that he’s contemplating donating more money for the preservation of another monument.

Yuzo Yagi toured the pyramid on Tuesday, accompanied by Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, who took the opportunity to promote Mr. Yagi’s dignified generosity as a model for future donors and to tout the state’s new tax incentives for businesses who donate to cultural heritage projects.

You can see how great the pyramid looks inside and out in this news story on Mr. Yagi’s visit:

Oh man, I want to wear a hardhat and go inside! If the burial chamber looks modest it’s because Augustus’ sumptuary law of 18 B.C. forbade ostentatious luxury in tombs. Unlike the Egyptians whose tombs he modeled his own after, Gaius Cestius was not buried with lavish treasures to accompany him to the afterlife. He got white walls with small frescoes of alternating winged Victories and ceremonial vessels, plus a few bronze statues of him outside the pyramid.

The frescoes were in serious danger from water leaking through the marble slabs into the brick and concrete structure. Those leaks have all been plugged now. Also gone are the severe microorganism infestation that was making a meal of the marble and the copious vegetation sprouting through the damaged exterior walls. The pyramid hasn’t looked this good or been this healthy since it was built, I wager.

Here’s a 3D animation of a point cloud generated from laser scan data before the scaffolding went up. It gave restorers a clear picture of the condition of all four sides, the deterioration of the marble cladding, any unevenness in the surface or cracks and evidence of shear.

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Hiker falls onto monolith, saves it from looters

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014


A tourist hiking in the foothills of a waterfall in Mexico two weeks ago fell from a branch onto a Mesoamerican monolith that was in the process of being carved out of the stone by looters. You’d think looters would be deterred by the weight of the stone — an estimated 10 tons — and its size — five feet wide, five feet high and almost seven feet deep — but no; they just started cutting the carving out of it, removing the porous red volcanic cantera stone around the figure which is about a foot and a half wide and two and a half feet high. Given enough time they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that pesky hiker falling out of a tree.

The tourist reported the find to the authorities in the nearby city of Calvillo in the central Mexican state of Aguascalientes who in turn called in regional experts from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). Archaeologists examined the monolith and discovered it’s a unique piece of major historical import in the region. Carved in the image of a man with a headdress and earrings, its location near a waterfall and spring suggests a connection to a deity.

The figure shows a strong influence of Teotihuacan style from between 200 to 600 A.D. The urban center of Teotihuacan was 350 miles southeast of Calvillo, but its cultural sphere of influence was vast. Before now, however, archaeologists thought the local culture was entirely Chichimeca, nomadic hunter-gatherers of varied language and ethnicity, but no artifacts this old have been found in the state before. It significantly predates known Chichimeca settlements in the area.

In order to keep it safe from human depredation, experts will be completing the looters’ work. The 10-ton stone is simply too big and unwieldy to remove. It’s in the wilderness where there are no roads. It would require specialized equipment and a cargo helicopter to air lift it out of the jungle, and officials have neither the material nor the funding to make that happen. Instead, they’ve installed a shelter around the stone and will have a joint police and army surveillance team on site while archaeologists detach the carved figure from its rocky home. The operation is expected to take 15 days to a month.

Once it’s been removed, the carving will be kept at the INAH lab where archaeologists can study it fully. Its ultimate destination will be the Municipal Museum that is currently under construction in Calvillo.

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Metal feline claws found in Moche tomb

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

The ancient capital of the Moche culture lies five miles south of the city of Trujillo on the northern coast of Peru. Its inhabitants lived in an urban center bracketed by the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, the largest adobe structures known. The Spanish looted the former extensively, diverting a river to erode the bricks and wash out the gold from burials of Moche rulers. The Temple of the Moon is in better condition and still retains 200 square feet of painted murals depicting the daily life, human sacrifice, deities, wars of a people who have left no written records. The Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon Archaeological Project has been excavating the site for 20 years, and still it holds magical surprises.

The latest surprises are some wonderfully vicious-looking feline claws made of metal in the 1,500-year-old tomb of an elite man excavated under the urban center of the site. The claws were found towards the top of the burial, below his head around neck or shoulder height and archaeologists aren’t sure how they were worn. They could have been part of a costume used in ritual combat where the winner was given the claws as a prize and the loser was sacrificed.

Big cats and deities with feline characteristics played an important role in Moche cosmology. They are frequently depicted in figurines, murals and painted on ceramic vessels. One of the painted friezes at the Temple of Moon, as a matter of fact, depicts large felines attacking and killing human victims, and a feline features prominently on what may be the most important artifact discovered in the tomb: a pyramid-shaped copper scepter which is topped with the face of a feline, fangs bared. The four sides of the scepter are also decorated, three of them with warriors displaying their weapons and the fourth with a large cat that has just killed a nude prisoner.

The scepter is very similar in shape and design to one discovered in the tomb of the Lord of Sipán with one major difference: Sipán’s sceptre was made of gold, not copper. The scepter is a symbol of rule, but the copper indicates this man was a local ruler, certainly a person of high social rank, but a vassal of Moche royalty rather than standing atop the hierarchy himself. Hence the preponderance of copper and brass in the tomb. The only gold found was a few modest pieces inlaid in a pair of large round earplugs. The quality of the earplugs again is high, but not the highest. He was a nobleman, a political or religious leader, possibly an envoy sent to newly conquered territories.

The high status is confirmed by the presence of a metal mask that once covered his face. It is in pieces now, but the shiny metal buttons used to cover his eyes are in excellent condition. The presence of eye coverings confirm his elevated status. Ten decorated ceramic vessels were buried with him, most of which have been painted with pattern motifs but some of which depict figures from Moche cosmology, another indicator of the importance of the deceased. Metal blades placed at the hands and feet are also characteristic of elite burials. Archaeologists believe these metal objects coded information of the deceased’s place in Moche hierarchy.

Archaeologists hope to determine whether he was a native ruler or if he came from elsewhere by using stable isotope analysis which can reveal where a person was raised based on the proportion of certain elements in their teeth and bones. It’s a time consuming process; results won’t be expected until next year. Meanwhile, once the artifacts and remains were removed, the tomb was promptly sealed to keep the archaeological context safe from the coming rains. It will be re-opened for further study.

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Skeletons at Roman villa could be first owners found

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Five late Roman-era skeletons unearthed at the site of an ancient villa near Blandford in North Dorset may be the first owners of a Roman villa ever found in Britain. The team of archaeologists and 85 students from Bournemouth University excavated the villa on a corn field near Winterbourne Kingston last year. This year they did a geophysical survey of the grounds using electrical resistance meters to map archaeological features beneath the earth and found a grave site 300 feet away from the building. Excavation revealed the individual burials of five people: two adult males, two adult females and one elderly females.

The remains date to the 4th century (around 350 A.D.), the same period when the villa was built. Researchers believe the remains represent three generations of the family who owned the villa. Even though many Roman villas have been unearthed in England, most of them were discovered in the 19th century when archaeological practices and technologies were still artifact-focused. Human remains were poorly documented or ignored altogether, thus there is much we don’t know about the landowning elite of late Roman Britain.

The bones have been removed and sent to laboratory for testing that will hopefully narrow down the date and fill in many blanks about the people who lived in the villa.

Miles Russell, a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Bournemouth University and one of the archaeologists leading the dig, said, “The discovery is of great significance as it is the only time where evidence of a villa and the villa’s occupants have been found in the same location in Britain. This could provide us with significant information, never retrieved before, about the state of health of the villa owners, their ancestry and where they came from.”

Miles continued, “One of the big questions in South West is whether the villas in the South West were owned by Britons who have become Roman or owned by people from another part of the Empire who have come to exploit an under-developed rural area. All villas in this region in the South West are late-Roman – and our findings should tell us more about what life was like in this period of history. This is what can be assessed when the bones are analysed.”

The period was a turbulent one, characterized by political upheaval, economic decline, military dissension and increasing Saxon incursions. Britain supported the usurper emperor Magnentius (reigned 350-353 A.D.), and it suffered the displeasure of the legitimate emperor Constantius II after Magnetius was defeated and killed. Magnetius’ supporters in Britain were hunted down and killed by Constantius II’s envoy.

Ten years later, the Barbarian Conspiracy saw masses of Saxons, Scotti, Picts, Attacotti join with some native Britons and rebellion legions on Hadrian’s Wall ravage the province. They were defeated by general Flavius Theodosius, father of the future emperor Theodosius I, in 368. Meanwhile, the minting of new coins all but stopped by the end of the century. Getting a richer understanding of the occupants of a Roman villa during this era will open a window on how the elites lived when all this was happening around them.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in the neighborhood this weekend, the dig will be hosting an Open Day this Sunday July 13th from 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM. There is no fee and you don’t have to register. Visitors will get a guided tour of the site, a chance to meet the team and to see some of the artifacts that have been excavated this year.

For the less fortunate rest of us, we can follow the Durotriges Project dig on their outstanding Twitter account which is very active and crammed with great pictures.

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X-rays, scans reveal lives, deaths of baby mammoths

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Much of what we know about woolly mammoths has come from discoveries of skeletal remains, and even when the occasional soft tissues were discovered, scientists weren’t able to examine thoroughly and non-invasively until the advent of technologies like computer tomography. The discovery of two baby mammoths preserved virtually intact for 40,000 years by the Siberian permafrost have given scientists a unique opportunity to learn about their lives and deaths using full-body CT scans and cutting edge X-ray technology.

Lyuba, who died when she was one month old, was found on the Yamal Peninsula in northwest Siberia in 2007. Khroma was two months old when she died in the northernmost area of Yakutia. She was discovered in 2009. They are the most complete examples of mammoths ever found, Khroma more so because her body was frozen almost immediately after death while Lyuba’s suffered some decomposition before it was stopped in its tracks by ice. Although they were found 3,000 miles apart, they are the same species and died around the same time which allowed for the first comparative study of mammoth skeletal development from two examples of known age.

Their completeness proved a challenge for researchers. Lyuba was too big to fit in standard CT scanners so at first scientists had to make do with partial scans done in Tokyo in 2009 and Wisconsin in early 2010. When the remains were transferred from Chicago to New Jersey later in 2010, University of Michigan researchers convinced the Russian team to let them take the mammoth on a detour to the Ford Motor Company’s Nondestructive Evaluation Laboratory in Detroit. They have an oversized scanner used to examine vehicle transmissions which was big enough to accommodate Lyuba. At Ford she got her first full-body scan.

Researchers were then able to compare the Ford scans with ones taken of Khroma at two French hospitals, and compare Micro-CT scans of both mammoths’ teeth done at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. It was the dental scans that pinpointed their ages at death — Lyuba was 30 to 35 days old, Khroma 52 to 57 days old — while the CT scans revealed interesting skeletal differences.

Scans of Khroma’s skull showed she had a brain slightly smaller than that of a newborn elephant, which hints at the possibility of a shorter gestation period for mammoths.

Lyuba’s skull is conspicuously narrower than Khroma’s, and her upper jawbones are more slender, while Khroma’s shoulder blades and foot bones are more developed. These differences may simply reflect the one-month age difference between the calves, or they could relate to the different populations from which the two calves derived.

The scans also found that the mammoths died in similar tragic accidents.

In Lyuba, the scans revealed a solid mass of fine-grained sediment blocking the air passages in the middle of the trunk. Sediment was also seen in Lyuba’s throat and bronchial passages. If Lyuba had died by drowning rather than suffocation – as some have suggested – then traces of sediment should also have been detected in parts of the lungs beyond the bronchial passages, but that was not the case.

Slightly coarser sediment was found in Khroma’s trunk, mouth and throat. Her lungs weren’t available for study because they were scavenged before the carcass was recovered. Since both animals appear to have been healthy at the time of death, a “traumatic demise” involving the inhalation of mud and suffocation appears to be the most likely cause of death in both cases, according to the authors.

The researchers suspect that Lyuba died in a lake because sediments found in her respiratory tract include fine-grained vivianite, a deep blue iron- and phosphate-bearing mineral that commonly forms in cold, oxygen-poor settings such as lake bottoms.

It’s possible that Lyuba crashed through the ice while crossing a lake during the spring melt. If she was struggling to breathe while submerged in a frigid lake, the mammalian “diving reflex” may have kicked in during her final moments, Fisher said. The reflex is triggered by cold water contacting the face, and it initiates physiological changes that enable animals to stay underwater for extended periods of time.

You can read the entire study, complete with 30 previously unpublished high resolution scan images, online free of charge in the Journal of Paleontology.

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1st c. B.C. Gallic chariot tomb found in France

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Archaeologists surveying the site of highway construction in Warcq, a town in the Ardennes department of northeastern France, have unearthed a rare Gallic chariot tomb from the first to mid-second century B.C. Inside the tomb is an aristocrat of Remi tribe, one of the first Celtic tribes to have settled Gaul. They buried their aristocrats in pits, resting on top of their chariots, since the 6th century B.C. and several hundred of them have been unearthed in the region.

This one is unique, however, for several reasons. It is exceptionally large at five square meters (54 square feet), dwarfing the other known tombs of this type. It was also found intact, untouched by tomb robbers, and in an exceptional state of preservation. The waterlogged clay soil has preserved most of the timber framing, including the roof which has collapsed on the tomb contents. The late date of the burial is also exceptionally rare. Most Remi chariot tombs date to the start of the second Iron Age (5th-4th century B.C.).

The team has not yet been able to determine if the human remains belonged to a man or a woman. A man, a chieftain and military leader, is the likelier candidate, but women have been found in chariot tombs as well. Forensic anthropologists will attempt to determine sex from the skull and pelvic bones, but if they’ve sustained too much damage to be identifiable, the grave goods will help pinpoint whether a woman or a man was buried there. Military artifacts will point to a man’s burial, household goods to a woman’s. To the left of the skeleton archaeologists found some beads, but they were probably part of the deceased’s coat rather than grave goods in their own right.

The metal strapping from the two wheels of the chariot has survived, and amazingly enough, so have fragments of gold leaf that archaeologists believe once coated the inner wheel. The hubs are decorated with bronze features inlaid with glass paste. These precious elements strongly indicate this was a ceremonial chariot rather than a utilitarian piece.

Buried with the deceased were four horses. They were quite petite, 4’3″ at the withers, and were sacrificed specifically to accompany their master on his or her journey to the afterlife. Their skeletons appear to be intact at this point. The skull of one of them was lodged under one of the wheels of the chariot, but the bones of two horses buried along the western wall are still articulated. Four horses are another unusual feature in a Remi chariot tomb. The common find is a simple pair of horses. The remains of a fifth smaller animal (possibly a pig) have also been unearthed.

This survey was only scheduled to last three weeks before highway construction began, so the archaeologists are battling against time to get everything out of the grave with proper deliberation. Officially they have three days left, but they have far more to do than can be done in such a short window. In order to excavate the full site, they have to remove the collapsed ceiling planks. They can’t just yank them out, though, because they’re incredibly rare artifacts in their own right. Instead, each plank has to be coated in plaster strips to ensure they maintain structural integrity before being moved very slowly to keep them intact.

The President of the General Council of the Ardennes, Senator Benedict Huré, has assured the archaeologists that they will have all the time they need to properly excavate the tomb, “a week or more if necessary.” That’s not exactly a reassuringly generous offer, but the alternative is to rebury everything and pave it over, so here’s hoping they get the time they need to do a thorough job of extracting the archaeological remains.

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