Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Fossils of new giant carnivore species found in Kenya museum cabinet

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

Paleontologists have discovered the remains of a new species of carnivore mammal in a drawer at the National Museums of Kenya.  Fossils of a jaw, fragments of skull and pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in western Kenya between 1978 and 1980 by researchers looking for ancient primate remains. As the 22-million-year-old bones clearly did not come from apes, they were put in a cabinet and largely ignored until 2013 when Ohio University paleontologist Dr. Matthew Borths spotted them in a cabinet marked “hyenas” and realized they could be highly significant.

Borths contacted Ohio University paleontologist Dr. Nancy Stevens and she told him she’d noticed the unusual specimen as well while doing research in Nairobi. They teamed up and returned to the Nairobi National Museum in 2017 to study and analyze the fossils.

They named the species Simbakubwa kutokaafrika. With giant canine teeth the size of a banana, a skull as big as a rhinoceros and a body larger than a polar bear, the carnivore was far bigger than any of the big cats roaming the earth today.

“Opening a museum drawer, we saw a row of gigantic meat-eating teeth, clearly belonging to a species new to science,” says study lead author Borths. […]

Simbakubwa is Swahili for “big lion” because the animal was likely at the top of the food chain in Africa, as lions are in modern African ecosystems. Yet Simbakubwa was not closely related to big cats or any other mammalian carnivore alive today. Instead, the creature belonged to an extinct group of mammals called hyaenodonts.

Hyaenodonts were the first mammalian carnivores in Africa. For about 45 million years after the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs, hyaenodonts were the apex predators in Africa. Then, after millions of years of near-isolation, tectonic movements of the Earth’s plates connected Africa with the northern continents, allowing floral and faunal exchange between landmasses. Around the time of Simbakubwa, the relatives of cats, hyenas, and dogs began to arrive in Africa from Eurasia.

Modern carnivores have one pair of meat slicing teeth in the back of the jaw. Hyaenodonts had three, so that made them highly effective meat cutters. They were hypercarnivores, animals that get more than 70% of their food from meat.

The newly identified species  Simbakubwa is the oldest species of gigantic hyaenodonts known, and its origin in Africa indicates gigantic hyaenodonts first evolved in Africa and then spread to Asia and Europe. They went extinct in the Miocene, about five million years ago, after millions of years of drastic changes in the ecosystem due to a drying climate. As apex predators, the gigantic hyaenodonts would have been fewer in number than other animals and highly reliant on a stable populations of prey.  Take away that 70+% meat and the carnivore quickly dies off.

“This is a pivotal fossil, demonstrating the significance of museum collections for understanding evolutionary history,” notes Stevens, Professor in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Ohio University and co-author of the study. “Simbakubwa is a window into a bygone era. As ecosystems shifted, a key predator disappeared, heralding Cenozoic faunal transitions that eventually led to the evolution of the modern African fauna.”

The study has been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and can be read online in its entirety.

Illustration of Simbakubwa kutokaafrika. Illustration by Mauricio Anton.

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Scala Sancta unboxed

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

The 28 white marble stairs said to have been trod upon by Jesus during his trial before Pontius Pilate have been unveiled for the first time in three centuries. Church tradition holds that the staircase led to the prætorium of Pilate and was brought from Jerusalem to Rome by Helen, mother of Constantine, in 326 A.D.

(There’s no way they were the authentic prætorium stairs, just for the record. There was no marble in Palestine, and Rome would certainly have not gone to the expense of importing the high quality Aegean marble these stairs were made of for a backwater governor’s headquarters. Besides, Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Pilate’s prætorium included. Helen was sold many, many “relics” on her tour of the Holy Land.)

They were installed in the Lateran Palace, the ancient domus of the Plautii Laterani family on the Caelian Hill which was given to the Pope by Constantine around 313 A.D., leading up to a hall near the Chapel of St. Sylvester. They were protected with a dedicated roof and regular steps were built on either side for non-ceremonial use.

The Lateran Palace was the primary residence of the popes until the 14th century when the papal court was moved to Avignon. By the time the long Babylonian Captivity was over and the papacy returned to Rome in 1377, the Lateran had suffered extensive damage in two major fires and the popes looked elsewhere for digs, eventually winding up in the Vatican.

Today, the Scala Sancta leads to the Sancta Sanctorum, the first private papal chapel which is known as the Holiest of Holies due to the numerous relics secreted there none of which have been seen since the early 16th century. The sanctuary is one of several buildings of the Lateran complex which includes the palace and the Basilica of St. John in Lateran, the titular seat of the Bishop of Rome. The Sancta Sanctorum is the only surviving section of the original ancient Lateran Palace, demolished by Pope Sixtus V in 1586 to make way for the much smaller one that stands there today. (Sixtus V was notorious for razing ancient monuments to the ground for use as raw material in his ambitious programs of architectural modernization.) He had the steps moved to the base of the Sancta Sanctorum and opened them to the public for the first time.

The steps and chapel became a major site of pilgrimage, with pilgrims ascending the stairs on their knees, kissing three spots marked with a cross said to be stained with droplets of Christ’s blood. So many pilgrim knees rubbed against the marble that they eroded deep troughs across the full width of each step. To keep the stairs from whittling down to nothing, in 1723 Innocent XIII had them covered them with walnut wood for their protection. Those casings remained in place for close to 300 years.

Restoration of the Holy Stairs began in January of 2018. Both the marble and the wood coverings required conservation, as did the frescoes on the side walls, so the Scala Sancta has been closed since work began. When restorers removed the wood, they were surprised to find deep furrows in the center of the steps. They realized these marks were left by the tips of millions of pilgrim shoes pushing up to the next step.

The conservation of the wood is not finished yet. The work on the marble steps, however, is complete, so Church authorities decided to open them to the public for a very short period from April 11th until June 9th, the day of Pentecost. Orthopedists can go ahead and buy that new Mercedes, because pilgrims are flocking to the Scala Sancta to take advantage of the opportunity. Oh, and there are plenary indulgences on the line for anyone who goes up the stairs on the knees in prayer after taking Communion and Confession.

 Three medieval crosses, set into the marble to commemorate that event, will now become visible again: the first in porphyry at the beginning of the staircase, another in bronze at the end, and the third on the eleventh stair, where according to tradition Jesus fell, breaking the marble with His knee.

Under the technical and scientific direction of the Vatican Museums, with the contribution of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, the restorers have brought to light the ancient marble, gathering from under the wooden cover a multitude of written notes, ex voto, coins and photographs left by the faithful, and now conserved by the Passionist Fathers who since 1853 have safeguarded the Shrine, at the behest of Pope Pius IX.

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Water works unearth Iron Age ritual burials

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Excavations at the site of a water pipe installation have discovered 26 ancient skeletons, some from the Iron Age with unusual burial practices that suggest a ritual purpose. The new water pipes are being installed near Wantage in Oxfordshire to protect Letcombe Brook, a rare chalk stream in the Vale of White Horse which has been under environmentally damaging pressure from the water needs of agriculture and population.

With the Uffington White Horse, the  iconic Iron Age chalk hill figure, just five miles away, the site was archaeologically surveyed before the pipe installation. Contractors Cotswold Archaeology excavated several sites in the area where the 3.7 miles of pipe were set to be laid. They unearthed 26 individual burials dating from the Iron Age and the Roman period. They also found the remains of animals, household objects, pottery, cutting tools and one comb.

Unusually for the period, the Iron Age skeletons were buried in pits. There are very few surviving graves from this time, between two and three thousand years ago, because many of the Iron Age communities in the area are believed to have practiced  a form of sky burial in which bodies are placed in the open air to decompose courtesy of the elements and scavenging animals. Some of the pit burials featured peculiar body placement, a head between the feet, for example, and feet relocated to the upper body. Iron Age pit burials appear to have had a ritual purpose, and previous discoveries show evidence of bones having been exhumed at later dates.

“The Iron Age site at Childrey Warren was particularly fascinating as it provided a glimpse into the beliefs and superstitions of people living in Oxfordshire before the Roman conquest. Evidence elsewhere suggests that burials in pits might have involved human sacrifice.

Paolo Guarino, Cotswold Archaeology project officer, added: “These findings open a unique window into the lives and deaths of communities we often know only for their monumental buildings, such as hillforts or the Uffington White Horse.

“The results from the analysis of the artefacts, animal bones, the human skeletons and the soil samples will help us add some important information to the history of the communities that occupied these lands so many years ago.”

The human remains and archaeological material have been removed from the site by Cotswold Archaeology. They will be examined in laboratory conditions while Thames Water lays the new pipes which will supply groundwater taken from the Thames to neighboring villages thereby preserving Letcombe Brook’s unique ecosystem.

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Nero’s Domus Transitoria opens to public

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Nero was so closely associated with his insanely huge Golden Palace on the Oppian Hill that his previous abode, the Domus Transitoria, was entirely eclipsed by its successor. It was called the Transit House because it extended from the Esquiline to the Palatine so the imperial family could move from one hill to the other moving solely through the buildings, gardens and pools of his private 9,000 square foot palace. It too was constructed of opulent materials from patrician estates that had gradually fallen into imperial hands and was considered obscenely luxurious when it was built in the 50s A.D. It burned down in fire of 64 A.D. and Nero took advantage of the destruction of large swaths of the city to build the Domus Aurea by way of replacement.

The first remains of the Domus Transitoria were discovered in 1721 by the noble Farnese family. Like with the Domus Aurea, it was the surviving frescoes that caught the eye, their small fantastical details inspiring artists in the grottesque style. The Farnese helped themselves to whatever they wanted and what they wanted was those frescoes. They were chiseled off the walls and wound up in the collection of the Archaeological Museum of Naples. Most of what’s left of the palace — a triclium surrounded by porphyry columns, opus sectile floors, vaulted ceilings, an elegant nymphaeum, a communal latrine facility that sat 50 and is believed to have been built for the work crews who built the Domus Aurea after the fire — was excavated by Giacomo Boni in the 1910s.

The Domus Transitoria has never been open to visitors before, but after a decade-long program of structural reinforcement and renovation, you can now descend into the ruins of palatial rooms and gardens that were once ground level. As with the phenomenal Domus Aurea tour, there’s a virtual reality component here too.

Visitors receive virtual reality goggles which bring the dank chambers to life, showing them as they were 2,000 years ago – part of a huge palace decorated with marble pillars, lavish frescoes, mosaic floors and fountains.

The walls were painted with garden scenes, including trees, flowers and song birds.

Inspiration for the design of the sumptuous residence came from a palace built for the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy in Alexandria, said Alfonsina Russo, the director of the archeological zone that encompasses the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.

“It reflects the personality of Nero, one of the most controversial figures of the Roman Empire,” said Prof Russo.

The Archaeological Museum of Naples has loaned the frescoes looted from the palace in the 18th century for the reopening. The Palatine Museum just a few steps away has a few frescoes of its own removed in the 1950s as well as statues and other decorative pieces recovered from the Domus Transitoria.

The tour of the Domus is included in the new Roman Forum-Palatine ticket (16 euro) which is valid for a day. The Domus Transitoria can only be visited from Friday to Monday. Included in the price of the ticket is entry to the Palatine Museum, the Neronian Cryptoporticus, the Domus of Augustus, the Domus of Livia, the Temple of Romulus, Santa Maria Antiqua and the imperial ramp of Domitian. You have no idea how hard I tried to get into Santa Maria Antiqua and Domitian’s ramp my last two visits to Rome. No one’s keeping me away next time.

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Extremely rare Allectus aureus up for auction

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

A rare gold coin from the late 3rd century discovered by a very lucky metal detectorist will be going up for auction in London in June with an pre-sale estimate of £70,000-100,000. The 30-year-old finder was exploring a freshly-plowed field near Dover, Kent, when he found the coin. It was small, no bigger than a one-pence coin and weighed 4.31 grams (a teaspoon of butter weighs 5 grams). He thought it was a half sovereign at best, but when he sprayed away some of the soil, he saw the unmistakable shine of gold.

The finder figured it was probably fake, but had it examined by numismatic expert Dr Sam Moorhead at the British Museum. He identified it as an authentic Allectus aureus dating from 293-296 A.D., when the usurper emperor Allectus ruled in Britain. The British Museum has the only other exact match to it, discovered in Silchester, the city where Allectus died in battle against the forces of Emperor Constantius, in the 19th century.

On the obverse is a bust of Allectus facing right, bearing the laurel wreath. He wears a drape of fabric and a cuirass. It is inscribed IMP C ALLECTVS P F AVG (Commander Allectus, Dutiful and Fortunate Emperor). The reverse has an image of Sol wearing the radiate crown, his right arm raised and holding a globe in his left. He is flanked by two captives on their knees. The inscription reads ORIENS AVG (rising of the emperor). The reverse also bears the mintmark ML, the signature of the Londinium mint.

It is the second of its type found in Kent and is in excellent condition. Only a few small scrapes mar the original bright yellow gold surface.

Christopher Webb, Director and Head of the Coin Department at Dix Noonan Webb which will be auctioning the coin on June 12th:

“There are only twenty-four Aurei of Allectus known with nineteen different obverse dies recorded. This coin is a die match to one in the British Museum. Gold was initially produced to pay an accession donation in AD 293 but continued to be issued throughout his reign and were probably demonetized after his death in AD 296, as no coins of Carausius or Allectus are found in later hoards.”

Despite its extreme rarity, precious metal content and unquestionable museum quality (what with it being twinsies to the one in the British Museum), because it is only a single coin, it does not qualify as official treasure under the 1996 Treasure Act. The current definition of treasure requires two or more coins. The coroner’s inquest was not triggered and finders keepers is the only rule that applies. This is one of the loopholes of the Act like the one that let the Crosby Garrett Helmet fall into anonymous private hands.

Speaking of which, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has announced planned revisions to the Treasure Act which would plug some of the holes. It would change the current sliding date standard (object 300 or more years old) to a fixed date of before 1714. Specifically addressing the Crosby Garret scenario, the proposed definition would cover anything that meets the age criterion with a value of over £10,000, regardless of material. Had the helmet been silver or gold, it would have been declared treasure; it was bronze. Any Roman object, even one of base metal and with less than £10,000 market value would also fall under the definition of treasure. The revisions would include single coins dated between 43 A.D. (the dawn of the Roman period), and 1344, the year that Edward III re-introduced gold coins to English currency.

The revised language is open to public consultation until April 30th. You can read the proposed revisions here (pdf), respond online here, or print a form and email/mail it to the Ministry.

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Greek shipwrecks open to public as underwater museums

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

For decades the prospect of looters and even well-meaning recreational divers damaging Greece’s vast underwater cultural patrimony made SCUBA diving illegal in Greek waters. Since 2005 diving has been allowed but only in very restricted circumstances, mainly to archaeological teams excavating ancient shipwreck sites. A new initiative under the BLUEMED program will now open ancient shipwrecks to the public who will be able to explore the sites via guided diving.

The first site to open is a 5th century B.C. wreck found near the uninhabited island of Peristera opposite the island of Alonissos. When the Peristera wreck was discovered and excavated in the early 1990s, it upended the historical understanding of ancient Greek shipping. Before this discovery, historians thought the largest merchant ships in Greece were built by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. and were no more than 70 tons carrying 1,500 amphorae. The Peristera ship was huge at 126 tons, the largest ship of the Classical era ever found in the Aegean, and it carried a cargo of more than 4,000 amphorae (that we know of; there was almost certainly other cargo on board that has not been found).

Thousands of ancient vases, the vast majority intact, lie in layers. Fish, sponges and other sea creatures have made the amphoras their home, adding color and life to the site. In some places, the cargo towers above divers as they pass along the perimeter of the wreck.

“It is very impressive. Even I, who have been working for years in underwater archaeology, the first time I dived on this wreck I was truly impressed,” said Dimitris Kourkoumelis, the lead archaeologist on the project preparing the site for visitors. “It’s different to see amphoras … individually in a museum and different to see them in such concentration.”

While any exposed wood of the ship itself has rotted away, the great mounds of amphorae surviving in situ make for an incredibly dramatic vista in a setting of great natural beauty within the National Marine Park of the Northern Sporades. Three other shipwrecks in the West Pagasitikos area have been selected as pilot sites for the tour program by Greece’s Ministry of Culture and Sports.

To prepare these locations for diving tours, Ephorate of Antiquities experts inspected the shipwrecks, cleaning them of trash and any modern interventions, documenting their current condition and status in exhaustive detail and designating “microregions” of the underwater archaeological monuments to serve as diving tour routes. The wrecks and topology of the seabed were surveyed with 3D scans and high-resolution photogrammetry performed by autonomous submarine vehicles. The ecology of the sites were also mapped and documented with a particular focus on the biodiversity of the marine environment.

The first of the guided tours took place last weekend with small groups of divers. The boat departed from the harbor of Steni Valla on Alonissos for the short trip to the Peristera wreck. During the jaunt on the boat, tour guides gave the visitors a rundown of the historical context of the shipwreck they were about to explore. Informational panels positioned along the perimeter of the site itself provided more explanation of what they were seeing.

“It was an amazing opportunity … to dive at last on an ancient wreck,” said Kostas Menemenoglou, a 39-year-old recreational diver from the central town of Volos. “It was a fantastic experience. It’s really like diving into history.”

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There’s only so much “Wow!” “Amazing!” I can take

Sunday, April 7th, 2019

I’m watching the Egypt Live broadcast but I have to get up and do something else every ten minutes because the breathless exclamations are just too much for me to stand. STOP SAYING WOW, JOSH. And especially stop talking over people who have something substantive to say just to exclaim “Wow! Amazing!”

8:30 lol did Zahi Hawass just call him fat? Okay, I’m getting into this now.

Note: Hawass is just shy of his 72nd birthday. Look at him haul himself through these tight passages without breaking a sweat.

Hmm… Split screen with ads on the right and the live action on the left. I don’t hate it. In fact, if you’re going to do breakouts to pre-recorded explanatory bits, then keep the live thumbnail going with that too.

Ugh. Jokey food segment. The goat in the beginning was bad enough. The falafel punsterism is so much worse.

Oh hey, I didn’t know canopic jars were named after a type site! Beautiful examples in this tomb.

Zahi, no. Please. Not the curse.

I find Waziri’s calm descriptions and handling of the artifacts rather a relief after the extraness of Hawass and Gates.

I’ll tell you what, this gives you a good idea of what a hard job it really is to excavate sites like this. I’m not claustrophobic at all, and I can’t help but feel uneasy at the tight spaces and oppressively close rock walls deep underground.

“The adventure in archaeology makes me completely forget the pain. [moans in pain]” — Zahi Hawass

And we have reached the big limestone sarcophagus that will be opened live. They didn’t announce in the press materials that they’d open two less important ones before they even got to this one.

Mahmoud is the unsung hero of this broadcast.

I’m going to have to find out more about the wax heads and their revival in the New Kingdom.

That is the most perfectly wrapped mummy I’ve ever seen. I’ll say it: Wow. Amazing.

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Egyptian sarcophagus to be opened on live TV

Saturday, April 6th, 2019

An ancient Egyptian sarcophagus will be opened live in a two-hour television special to air simultaneously at 8:00 PM Sunday on the Discovery, Travel and Science channels. Expedition Unkown: Egypt Live will be hosted by one Josh Gates who is described as an “explorer,” and who in his capacity as a certified SCUBA diver assisted in an archaeological excavation once in the 1990s. Other than that, it seems his bailiwick is hosting TV shows and traveling places. The actual opening of the sarcophagus will be done by archaeologists under the ever-watchful (and promotion-keen) eyes of Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass and Mostafa Waziri, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt.

The limestone sarcophagus was found in the necropolis of Tuna el-Gebel in Minya province, about 210 miles south of Cairo. More than 50 Ptolemaic era mummies were found there earlier this year. The sarcophagus is likely older than that, however, as it was discovered in deeper chamber.

Viewers will have the rare opportunity to see the inner chambers of an excavation site, where archeologists recently uncovered a network of vertical shafts leading to an underground network of tunnels and tombs with 40 mummies believed to be part of the noble elite.

The massive underground complex of chambers is a treasure trove of antiquities – all laying undisturbed for thousands of years. But there are several chambers yet to be explored – and many more discoveries to be revealed, including a mysterious limestone sarcophagus found buried deep within the complex. The identity of the mummy inside has been a mystery for 3,000 years… Possibly until now.

Or even more likely there will be no identifying inscriptions. For that matter, there may not be any mummified remains to speak of remaining inside. There’s a very strong possibility of an Al Capone’s vault situation here, but the live broadcast works as a marketing tool either way since viewers will get two hours worth of the “come see the ancient wonders of mysterious Egypt” pitch.

This is the first time an Egyptian sarcophagus will be opened on live TV, but it’s only the technology that’s been updated. Making a spectacle of the dead of ancient Egypt is part of a long tradition of mummy voyeurism and exploitation going back centuries. Dr. Augustus Granville garbed it in a loincloth of science when he performed an autopsy of the mummy of Irtyersenu before a large crowd in 1825, the surgical theater lit by candles made from what he thought was beeswax he scraped off her mummy but turned out to be Irtyersenu’s own body fat in the form of adipocere. Dr. Thomas Pettigrew became known as “Mummy” Pettigrew for the hugely popular mummy unravelling parties he threw for Victorian Britain’s moneyed elite.

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Soil, not advanced technology, preserved Terracotta Army’s weapons

Friday, April 5th, 2019

Since the fearsome 2,000-strong terracotta army of Emperor Qin Shihuang (259–210 B.C.) was first excavated in the 1970s, the bronze weaponry has stood out for its remarkably good state of preservation. Tens of thousands of arrowheads, spear tips, lances, swords, hooks, crossbow triggers and other bronze parts of complex weapons have survived even as their wooden components decayed to nothingness. Many are still shiny, sharp and show no sign of corrosion whatsoever. Traces of chromium found on the bronze parts have led scholars to hypothesize that the unusually excellent condition was attributable to an early form of chrome plating used as an anti-oxidation measure, a technology only otherwise known to have been invented in the 20th century.

A new study published in Scientific Reports suggests that the chromium residue found on the blades was an element in the lacquer applied to the wood or bamboo parts of the weapons — grips, spear handles, lance and arrow shafts, crossbows, etc. — not to the bronze edged parts. In the decay of the organic material, the chromium residue contaminated the blades.

In the absence of an anachronistically advanced rust-prevention technology, what then has kept blades and points in such pristine condition? The study authors think the answer is in the composition of the bronze and in the soil itself. Bronzes with higher tin content are prone to develop rich-tin layers on the surface that prevent corrosion. Testing of the surface of batches of bronze arrows from the Terracotta Army archers found the ones with the higher tin content were more stable. The presence of arsenic in the bronze also helped prevent corrosion.

The alkali nature of the soil is another highly significant factor that this study is the first to explore.

The Terracotta Army is located in the southern edge of the Chinese Loess Plateau, a 640,000 km2 area covered by silt-sized aeolian sediments that make the bulk of the soil. Large-scale models predict pH values around 8–9 for the Lintong area43, and this was confirmed by our on-site measurements of soil samples from Pits 1 and 2, showing pH values between 8.1 and 8.5 (Table S3). Burial soil pH is a paramount parameter predicting metal preservation, as it is correlated with redox potential, drainage conditions, biological activity and aeration. Additional characteristics of loess of potential relevance here are its low organic content and predominantly very small particle size. We propose that the moderate basicity and low organic content of the loess would have prevented the formation of acids that would attack metal integrity. In addition, the very small particle size of the soil would have obstructed the aeration and humidity necessary for metal corrosion. Our proposal is consistent with studies in conservation science which have addressed the optimum conditions for metal preservation in burial environments, noting pH levels of 8–8.5 and small particle size as optimum.

The research team tested the claim by placing bronze tokens in an environmental chamber that created accelerated aging conditions and by burying bronze in soil excavated from Pit 1 of the tomb. The tokens and the buried bronze both remained in pristine condition. A bronze token buried in organic-rich, slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.9 as a control, on the other hand, quickly showed signs of corrosion.

In conclusion, the perplexing suggestion that Qin weapon makers used an arcane chromium-based technology to prevent weapon rust has been refuted. Efforts should be made to update museum displays and other popular literature about the site with this new information. Furthermore, we predict that chromium will be detected on the surface of metal objects from other sites where they may have been in association with chromium-bearing lacquered parts, i.e. more likely on weapons than on ritual bronzes. The use of chromium-rich compounds in the manufacture of ancient lacquer should be in the agenda for future research, together with further technological study of the sharp and lustrous blades.

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5th Dynasty tomb, name of queen found at Saqqara

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

An archaeological mission led by the Czech Institute of Egyptology in Saqquara has unearthed a richly painted tomb belonging to a nobleman from the 5th Dynasty and an inscription revealing the name of an important queen from the same period.

The mission was working on consolidating and strengthening the underground chambers beneath the pyramid complex of Djedkare (late 25th century to mid-24th century B.C.), the 8th pharaoh of the 5th Dynasty of Egypt’s Old Kingdom. The spaces were in dangerously precarious condition from having been looted of their contents and architectural materials in antiquity and never restored. The remains of the entire pyramid structure were endangered by the structurally unsound foundations.

While studying and documenting the area of southern Saqqara around the pyramid, the team discovered the tomb of late 5th Dynasty pharaonic courtier Khuwy. The above-ground entrance to the tomb is an L-shaped offering chamber. Its walls were once decorated with reliefs but only the bottom edge of them has survived, the rest having been stolen by stone thieves harvesting the high quality white limestone blocks.

On the north wall of the chamber is an entrance to an underground space that was likely inspired by the substructures of 5th Dynasty pyramids. A descending corridor leads to an underground vestibule. Its southern wall has a shorter corridor that leads into a hall with highly decorated painted in walls. The scenes on the north and south walls depict Khuwy sitting at a sacrificial table. The east wall depicts rows of sacrifices, including a cow in the act of being butchered. The west wall is decorated as a palace facade.

An entrance in the south wall leads to a small room used as a warehouse. Archaeologists found a few small funerary artifacts in the backfill. Two entrances in the west wall lead to the interior burial chamber. It is a small, undecorated space. It originally held a limestone sarcophagus that filled basically all of the room. Unfortunately the sarcophagus was destroyed by looters in antiquity. Archaeologists did find a few body parts in the rubble that showed clear signs of having been mummified.

Adjacent to Djedkare’s pyramid complex is another pyramid complex dedicated to his queen consort. One of the first pyramid complexes built in southern Saqqara, it is a unique structure that attests to the high esteem she was in by her husband. It is the largest Queen’s pyramid complex constructed in the Old Kingdom and has architectural features, like a massive red granite pillar with a palm capital, only seen in mortuary temples of kings. Archaeologists believe she played an essential role in securing her husband’s throne.

Despite her great significance, her name was lost and scholars have debated for centuries whose funerary complex this was. The mission has now answered the question.

The name and titles of the owner of this unique monument was found on the column made of red granite in the newly uncovered portico of the queen’s complex. The inscription was carved in sunken relief in a rectangle on the shaft of the column, and it reads: “The one who sees Horus and Seth, the great one of the hetes sceptre, the great of praise, king’s wife, his beloved Setibhor.”

The archaeological investigations and restoration of the pyramid complexes of Djedkare and Setibhor will continue. The mission hopes to find more information, perhaps even more tombs, from the important period of transition between the late 5th and early-6th Dynasties. This was a time of great shifts in religious and political ideology. Djedkare was the first king of the 5th Dynasty who did not build a solar temple, for example, and the first pyramid texts were inscribed on the walls of the inner chambers in the tomb of his successor Unas.

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