Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Skrydstrup Woman wasn’t from Denmark either

Monday, May 29th, 2017

In 2015, a team of researchers from the National Museum of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen announced that Egtved Girl, a Bronze Age woman whose well-preserved, beautifully appointed oak burial has made her an icon of Danish archaeology, was not from Denmark. Strontium isotope analysis of her molar and wool fibers found in the grave found that she most probably from southern Germany, most likely the Black Forest area.

Egtved Girl isn’t the only Bronze Age woman in Denmark buried in a hollowed-out oak coffin discovered in an exceptional state of preservation. Researchers have targeted three of them — Egtved Girl, Skrydstrup Woman and the Borum Eshøj Woman — as part of a study that examines the origins and mobility of these women whose rich grave goods and elaborate burials attest to their high social status. The Tales of Bronze Age Women study aims to understand how elite women were perceived in Bronze Age society and what their origins and movements over time can tell us about their roles in establishing and reinforcing long-distance trade networks, political alliances and cultural exchanges.

Skrydstrup Woman was certainly a person of great importance in her community. Her remains were unearthed in a burial mound in Southern Jutland in 1935. One of the richest Bronze Age burials ever discovered, her wool skirt and sweater were in exceptional condition. Attached to her woven belt was an ornate comb made of horn. She wore two large spiral earrings made of gold and a necklace. Her blonde hair was two feet long, intricately plaited in multiple braids then drawn up into an updo bound by a horse-hair hairnet. Her teeth were in fantastic condition, with thick, clean layers of enamel and not a single cavity, evidence that she had had a healthy, varied diet as a child.

Her elaborate hairstyle and clothing, too large and bulky to be practical for moving around in, had to have been arranged as part of her funerary treatment. It must have taken hours for the hair to be braided and styled, and the skirt, made from a single two meter-wide piece of fabric that was repeatedly folded at the waist to create even pleats that went all the way around the body, was also an extremely labour-intensive endeavor. The tumulus she was buried in was 13 meters (42.6 feet) in diameter and 1.75 meters (5.7 feet) high, all formed from thousands of pounds of peat that had to be harvested and arranged into the mound shape. The entire community had to be involved in creating such a time-consuming and resource-intensive grave.

Since the sensational discovery of Egtved Girl’s origins, the research team has discovered that Skrydstrup Woman also moved to Denmark from foreign parts. Like Egtved Girl, she was only around 17 years old when she died in about 1300 B.C., but unlike Egtved Girl, who arrived on Jutland a year or so before her death, she had lived in Skydstrup for three or four years at the time of her death. Before she moved to Denmark as a young teen 13 or 14 years of age, Skydstrup Woman lived hundreds of kilometers away. The strontium isotope signature couldn’t pinpoint the exact location, but likely candidates include what are today the Czech Republic, France or central Germany.

The new information about the famous Bronze Age remains was revealed on national broadcaster DR’s big-budget documentary series Historien om Danmark (The History of Denmark).

“This is going to change a whole lot about our understanding of the entire Bronze Age,” Professor Karin Margarita Frei of the National Museum of Denmark says in the programme. […]

“The result is important because it shows that the Egtved girl was not a freak occurrence. It appears there is a pattern that is telling us how people, and in this instance women, moved around during the Bronze Age,” Frei, who also led the Egtved girl study, told the broadcaster. [..]

The sudden long-distance migration may be the sign of an alliance between tribes or an arranged marriage, Frei told DR.

For more about the Tales of Bronze Age Women project, watch this overview video from the National Museum.
[youtube=https://youtu.be/JwCIkQGTTIw&w=430]

This video gives more detail about how strontium isotopes act as “nature’s GPS.”
[youtube=https://youtu.be/RHvy2Io0d94&w=430]

Share

Watch Irving Finkel play the Royal Game of Ur

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

If you’ve the day off Memorial Day, or if you just have 25 minutes to spare during the course of your day, you can finally luxuriate in the nerdly delights of watching Dr. Irving Finkel, one of the world’s foremost experts in cuneiform and the man who deciphered the oldest game rulebook in the world, playing the Royal Game of Ur. His opponent is YouTuber Tom Scott, who seems a bright, capable fellow and who is, of course, completely outclassed. He’s very cheerful about it, though, and puts up a fine fight.

This is not the amazing open tournament Dr. Finkel played at the Getty on April 2nd about which I promised a glowing write-up to any reader who attended and reported on the experience. It was a private game filmed and uploaded to the British Museum’s YouTube channel, and I suspect that makes for a far more entertaining video. The asides to the camera and the dry repartee between the players are sheer joy, and they’ve added a helpful graphic to show the progress of each players’ pieces which are otherwise hard to distinguish on the board itself. There are also captions explaining the action and some of the historical context, as well as letting viewers know of coming attractions like Scott’s exploration of probability. Then there’s the slow-mo instant replay of key moments — mainly involving Finkel’s killer moves — that would otherwise have been missed.

Royal Game of Ur, ca. 2600 B.C. Photo courtesy the Trustees of the British Museum.The version of the game they’re playing is highly simplified. They’re using a replica of the beautiful lapis lazuli, shell and wood board that was unearthed by Leonard Woolley in Iraq’s Royal Cemetery of Ur in 1926-1927, and ridiculously cool tetrahedral dice. The best part, other than just seeing the game played by the man who has researched it for decades and the unsuspecting lad who found himself in Dr. Finkel’s crosshairs, is that these guys are just plain funny. The little burns never end. Finkel wins all the points for his aside to the camera in reaction to Scott’s probability thing: “I’m rather intrigued to discover that my opponent, who looks like a perfectly civilized person, is in fact mathematically capable.”

On a personal note, watching Irving Finkel be awesome makes me think of Livy’s account of the sack of Rome by the Gauls under Brennus in 390 B.C. Brennus’ men were so awestruck by the immovable dignity of the elderly patricians who had refused to leave their homes and remained seated stock-still in their chairs while the Gauls plundered the city that at first all they could do was stare at them. When one of them could no longer contain himself and stroked the beard of patrician M. Papirius, Papirius responded by striking him with his ivory staff. That broke the spell. Papirius was the first to be killed. The rest of the patricians were next. Then the Gauls killed everyone else and burned the city to the ground.

I’m not saying I would disrespect the purity and greatness of Dr. Finkel’s snowy beard by daring to put my filthy mitts upon it, but I now understand the powerful draw Brennus’ men must have felt more than I ever did.

But I digress. Watch this game. It’s a blast.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/WZskjLq040I&w=430]

 

Share

Roman bathhouse found under Carlisle Cricket Club

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Excavation at Carlisle Cricket Club unearths Roman bathhouse. Photo by Stuart Walker, The Cumberland News.An archaeological survey at the Carlisle Cricket Club’s Edenside ground has discovered the remains of an extraordinarily important Roman bathhouse and dozens of artifacts. Archaeology contractors Wardell Armstrong were called in to survey the site of a proposed new floodproof pavilion, expecting to find little more than random fill dumped during the construction of the nearby Hardwicke Circus roundabout. Instead, they unearthed entire rooms from the ancient bathhouse, intact floors, the remains of a hypocaust system, terracotta water pipes, coins, arrowheads, hair pins, painted tiles and fragments of cooking pots including one with a handsome pouring spout in the shape of a lion’s head.

Terracotta water pipe. Photo by Stuart Walker, The Cumberland News.This was a military bathhouse, used by the elite Ala Petriana cavalry regiment. The 1,000-strong garrison was stationed at the Roman fort of Uxelodunum (later known as Petriana after the regiment it housed) on Hadrian’s Wall. It was the largest regiment on the wall manning the largest fort on the wall. The Ala Petriana was a highly prestigious regiment — its members were all granted Roman citizenship for valour on the field — and despite its remote location at the northernmost frontier of the empire, their fort had all the upscale amenities the cream of the Roman cavalry might expect.

Today whatever is left of the former fort lies underneath the Carlisle suburb of Stanwix, but very little of it has been excavated because it has been so extensively overbuilt.

“This site is highly significant,” said [Wardell Armstrong technical director Frank] Giecco.

“We’re just beneath the site of the Roman fort at Stanwix and, until now, we never knew where the fort’s bath-house was. The obvious place was near the river. There are blackened areas, probably where they had the furnaces for burning wood to heat the water.

“There were 1,000 men based here, members of the prestigious Ala Petriana and they were paid more than the other soldiers stationed here. The bath-house was a very important part of life for these cavalrymen – a meeting place and there would have been a lot of gambling and coins lost.”

Frank Giecco, archaeologist with Wardell Armstrong, views the inscription carved onto a piece of sandstone. Photo by Stuart Walker, The Cumberland News.One notable artifact is a carved sandstone block bearing an inscription with a tribute to Julia Domna, mother of Emperor Caracalla and an able administrator, philosopher, and cultural leader with great hair. Born in Homs, Syria, a city that has been tragically brutalized in the ongoing civil war, to a noble priestly family, she married the future emperor Septimius Severus who showered her with honors including Mater Castorum (mother of the camp or army), Mater Augustus (mother of Augustus, i.e., the Emperor) and Mater Senatus et Patriae (mother of the Senate and fatherland). She was so indispensable to her husband that he took her with him on his military campaign in Caledonia in 208. She was with him when he died in York in 211. Carlisle is just 40 miles northwest of York. It’s not clear to me whether the inscription dates to the reign of Caracalla alone (he was his father’s co-emperor from 198 until 211, becoming sole emperor after he had his brother Gaeta killed that same year and reigning until his own assassination in 217 A.D.). Archaeologists say the inscription was dedicated by her son, but the honorifics on the inscription referring to her as mother of Augustus predate Septimius Severus’ death, so that’s not dispositive; moreover, Caracalla led several incursions north of the Antonine Wall in the last two years of his father’s life, so we know he was in the area when his father still reigned.

Frank Giecco examines some of the artifacts found. Photo by Stuart Walker, The Cumberland News.The excavations were done on the quiet over the past few weeks to avoid drawing unwanted attention from looters. The site and a selection of artifacts were opened to the public on Friday afternoon so visitors could see the finds and the archaeologists at work. Now all the portable finds have been removed and the remains are being covered with a protective membrane. What happens going forward has yet to be decided. The Carlisle Cricket Club still wants to build their pavilion, but have no desire to screw with this nationally important find. They plan to work with the city council to figure out how to have their pavilion without damaging or obscuring the Roman bathhouse remains. See-through floor, man. All the cool kids from Iceland to Turkey to Rome are doing it.

“The archaeology they’ve found here is absolutely stunning,” said Carlisle City Council leader Colin Glover. “It’s a fantastic site. It’s been a dream for a long time to find Roman archaeology in Carlisle that is good enough to show to the public.

Kevin Mounsey with excellent example of terracotta water pipe. Photo by Stuart Walker, The Cumberland News.“We’ve already found lots of good Roman artefacts elsewhere in Carlisle and much of it is at Tullie House Museum where it helps tell the story of Roman Carlisle. […]

“This is something we can do something with long-term. We want to work closely with the cricket club to make the best of this exciting discovery. There are also discussions that we can have with the Heritage Lottery Fund. It’s really exciting to see a place and artefacts that Romans were using in this city almost 2,000 years ago.

“It would be wonderful if we could develop something long-term just a 10-minute walk from the city centre.”

There’s a mini-tour of the hypocaust system and a good shot of the inscribed sandstone fragment in this ITV news story. The following brief Cumberland News video has some good wider views of the excavation.

 

Share

Henge, human remains found in Warwickshire

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

An archaeological excavation of a field slated for development in Newbold-on-Stour near Stratford, Warwickshire, has discovered traces of a Neolithic henge and rare human remains dating back almost 6,000 years to around 4,000 or 3,000 B.C. A geophysical survey indicated the possible presence of something of archaeological interest resulting in a preliminary dig last year, but this year’s excavation found that what archaeologists suspected was a burial mound was in a fact a ritual site of religious significance.

Aerial view of circular henge remains and burials. Photo by Archaeology Warwickshire.The henge was a simple earthwork structure, not the wooden or grand monumental stone architecture of Britain’s more famous henges. It was composed of a segmented circular trench with an exterior bank built from the dug up soil. This ditch and embankment combination would not have had a defensive purpose, but rather served to enclose the interior circular space to mark it out for whatever religious or celebratory uses to which it was dedicated. What’s left of it today is the shallow circular ditch with an inner diameter of about nine meters (30 feet).

Five articulated skeletons were found buried in one of the segments of the circular trench. This is an exceptionally rare find, not only because of the great historical significance of the Neolithic henge context, but because the soil in the area is extremely acidic and ancient bone rarely survives at all. Intact, articulated skeletons, especially ones as old as these, are a gift from the archaeological gods.

The people had been buried carefully as none of the bodies had been placed on top of another. The three middle burials were facing west, out from the henge, while the two outer ones were facing east, into the henge.

The apparently deliberate arrangement suggests the people being buried were a group of some kind – possibly family members – and the people burying them knew where the others were buried. […]

Archaeology Warwickshire Project Officer Nigel Page, who excavated the site said: […]

Henge burial detail. Photo by Archaeology Warwickshire.“The skeletons have been recovered from the site and will undergo scientific analysis to try to answer the many questions that their presence on the site has raised. For example, it is hoped that the sex and age of the people can be established and it may also be possible to determine if there was a family connection between them.

“The rare survival of the skeletons will provide an important opportunity to gain a unique insight into the lives of the people who not only knew the henge and its landscape, but who were probably some of the region’s earliest residents”.

Radiocarbon dating results on the skeletons are expected in June.

Archaeology Warwickshire Business Manager Stuart Palmer said: “This exciting discovery is of national importance as it provides tangible evidence for cult or religious belief in late Stone Age Warwickshire.

“Amazingly it is the second such find by the team. In 2015 a group of four henges was excavated in Bidford although the burials at this site were all cremated. Prior to this there were no known henges in Warwickshire leading some archaeologists to believe that a different kind of cult was prevalent in the region.”

 

Share

Large cache of embalming materials found in Middle Kingdom tomb

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Linen packets with mummification materials found near tomb of Ipi. Photo courtesy the Middle Kingdom Theban Project.Archaeologists with the Middle Kingdom Theban Project have rediscovered a large cache of mummification materials in the necropolis of Deir el-Bahari on the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor. The Spanish archaeological mission, led by Dr. Antonio Morales, found 56 amphorae and close to 300 linen packets of natron and other materials used in the embalming process in a well a few feet northeast of the entrance to the tomb of Ipi.

Tomb of Ipi in the necropolis of Deir el-Bahari. Photo courtesy the Middle Kingdom Theban Project.The Middle Kingdom Theban Project studies two tombs in the Deir el-Bahari necropolis, the tomb of Henenu and the tomb of Ipi, to investigate the development of the Egyptian state as reflected in the religious, artistic, epigraphic and archaeological features of the tombs of important officials during the transformative period at the dawn of the Middle Kingdom. Many of the aspects of later Pharaonic periods first evolved during this period in the wake of Egypt’s unification after centuries of conflict. The evolution of mummification procedures, so strongly associated with Pharaonic Egypt, is one of those aspects.

Diagram of stored mummification materials. Photo courtesy the Middle Kingdom Theban Project.The tomb of Ipi is on the northern hill of the necropolis in front of the now-destroyed temple of Dynasty XI pharaoh Mentuhotep II, a privileged location where the most important officials of the early Middle Kingdom were buried. Ipi was a vizier, a high advisor to Pharaoh Amenemhat I of the early 12th Dynasty, and the overseer of ancient Thebes. The tomb was first explored in 1921-1922 by American Egyptologist Herbert Winlock of the Metropolitan Museum of New York. He found the mummification materials during that excavation, but had no real understanding of their importance. Interested in them for their aesthetic value only, he removed four of the amphorae and left everything else in the room without cleaning or documenting them. Winlock never got back to them, and people forgot they were there until now.

Middle Kingdom Theban Project team examines amphora. Photo courtesy the Middle Kingdom Theban Project.Dr. Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department, points out that the discovery of such extensive materials directly connected to the mummification of a high official adds significantly to our understanding of the kind of embalming techniques, tools, textiles, chemicals and unguents used in the early Middle Kingdom which is when the mummification procedures that would reach their peak in the New Kingdom began to take form.

Dr. Antonio Morales the Head of Spanish Mission said that the deposit of the mummification materials used for Ipi include inscriptions, various shrouds and linen sheets (4 m. long) shawls, and rolls of wide bandages, in addition to further types of cloths, rags, and pieces of slender wrappings destined to cover fingers, toes, and other parts of the vizier’s corpse.

One of the linen packets. Photo courtesy the Middle Kingdom Theban Project.Dr. Morales explained that jars contained around 300 sacks with natron salt, oils, sand, and other substances, as well as the stoppers of the jars and a scraper are also found. [A]mong the most outstanding pieces of the collection are the Nile clay and marl large jars, some with potmarks and hieratic.

Materials stored for study next season. Photo courtesy Middle Kingdom Theban Project.Because these items were used in the embalming process and were therefore impure, they couldn’t be included in the burial chamber with the sarcophagus. Biological remains including blood stains and clots were found on the bandages, and one of the linen packets contained Ipi’s heart. While the brain and heart were removed for optimal preservation by the time the embalming art reached its zenith in the New Kingdom, they were usually left in the body in the early Middle Kingdom. The fact that Ipi’s heart was removed and left in the materials dump rather than in a canopic jar as his stomach, intestines, lungs and liver were is likely an indication that his embalmers cut some corners.

The materials are so extensive that the Middle Kingdom Theban Project team will have to work on them for at least one more campaign season. The linen strips will be analyzed by gas chromatography, mass spectrometry and other technologies that will identify trace substances like natron and other chemical and biological remains. From a scientific perspective, it’s a great thing that Winlock ignored this find. That left organic materials untouched and in their original environment so they could be preserved until there was such a thing as a gas chromatograph.

Here’s some excellent film of the discovery of the room and its wealth of mummification materials.

 

Share

Ancient bronze stud stolen from Pompeii exhibition

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

Today in people are the worst news, a bronze artifact from the 6th century B.C. has been stolen from an exhibition at the archaeological site of Pompeii. The object was a door ornament on loan from the National Archaeological Museum of Basilicata in Potenza. It’s not of great monetary value. Just 7.3 inches in diameter and relatively plain in decoration, it was insured for 300 euros ($333).

Archaeological site of Satrianum. Photo by Liberotag73.The piece is of great historical meaning to Basilicata, however, as it was discovered at one of the most important archaeological sites in the region: a hill known as Torre di Satriano where a Norman castle, of which only the tower remains, once dominated the land. Excavations beginning in the 1960s (the first led by pioneer of early Italian archaeology R. Ross Holloway) have discovered evidence of human habitation of the site going back to the second millennium B.C., developing into a complex system of terraced settlements in the 8th century B.C. inhabited by the Peuketiantes, a local people who by the 6th century B.C. were building elaborate multi-use structures influenced by artistic and architectural styles of Greek colonies in Taranto and Corinth. One of the archaeologists who has excavated Torre di Satriano is Massimo Osanna, today the director of the archaeological site of Pompeii.

Massimo Osanna, the director general of the Pompeii archaeological site, expressed dismay. “In addition to being a gesture that injures Pompeii and Italy’s cultural heritage, even though it is not a priceless piece, it hits me on a personal level and it was an area where I had conducted the excavation myself,” he said.

Bronze ornaments in door replica on display before theft. Photo by Circo Fusco/ANSA.The bronze stud was an example of that connection between one of the ancient Italic peoples of southern Italy and the colonies of Magna Grecia, which is why it was on display in the Pompeii and the Greeks exhibit in Pompeii’s Palestra Grande (the large gym). One of several bronze ornaments unearthed at the 6th century structure at Torre di Satriano, the wooden door they once adorned had long since decayed. For the exhibition, the stud was set down the middle of a cartoon-like replica of the door with three others just like it, while two larger, highly ornamented bronze knockers were placed on each side, recreating what archaeologists believe was the original placement.

Bronze stud on display before theft. Photo by Circo Fusco/ANSA.The director of the Basilicata Regional Museum Hub, Marta Ragozzino, voiced “solidarity to my friend and colleague Massimo Osanna”.

“Above and beyond its extraordinary Lucanian context, which Osanna himself investigated and which the show on Pompeii and the Greeks has finally unveiled to the public, the stolen relic has modest value,” she said.

“But a gesture of this kind leaves us incredulous and pained, a gesture that attacks and wounds the cultural heritage that belongs to the community and, when brought to Pompeii, the whole world”.

Police forensic technician examines place where artifact was stolen. Photo by Circo Fusco/ANSA.The theft was discovered by security guards on the evening of Wednesday, May 17th, at around 8:00 PM. That means the stud was stolen during visiting hours, a bold and/or foolhardy choice since the thieves would have had to get behind the protective plexiglass panel in full public view and unscrew the bronze piece from the door-like panel. After hours, the room is under video surveillance. Police are now reviewing the tapes to see if the perpetrators can be identified.

There have been rumblings about the quality of the security — the ALES firm has the security contract for the Ministry of Cultural Heritage — for some time. To have an artifact stolen in front of the guards’ noses in broad daylight hasn’t exactly silenced the doubters.

 

Share

Nodosaur fossil so well-preserved it boggles minds

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Nodosaur fossil discovered in Alberta bitumen pit in 2011, about 110-112 million years old. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.

A dinosaur fossil that was discovered in a bitumen pit in Alberta, Canada, in 2011 is the best-preserved specimen of a nodosaur ever discovered, and it is truly a spectacle to behold. The herbivore died between 110 and 112 million years ago in a riverbed and was swept to sea where it was swiftly buried in the mud and sediment of the seabed. Resting on its back, the nodosaur’s soft tissues, armour plating and thorny ridges became mineralized, preserving its form in stone.

Composite of 8 images showing the fossil from overhead view. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.Scientists think the entire body was fossilized, but by the time mechanical excavator operator Shawn Funk unearthed it in the Millennium Mine, the front half of it from nose to hips, about nine feet long, was all that could be recovered. Nodosaurs averaged about 18 feet in length and weighed 3,000 pounds, so they were formidable creatures, although they lacked the flashy spiked tail club their ankylosaur cousins used to break the shins of would-be predators.

Royal Tyrrell Museum technician Mark Mitchell frees foot and scaly footpad from surrounding rock. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.The nodosaur is now in the capable hands of the experts at the fossil prep lab at Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum. They determined that it is a new species of nodosaur as well as the oldest dinosaur ever discovered in Alberta. The painstaking work of excavating the mineralized beast from the surrounding rock has been visible to the public through the lab gallery window since its discovery.

Nodosaur's armour ridges. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.For those of us not in Alberta, National Geographic has been granted exclusive access to this extraordinary find. Photographer Robert Clark took many exceptional photographs, and even he, who has doubtless seen many wonders as a National Geographic photographer, was dumbfounded by the preservation of the nodosaur.

20-inch spikes jutting from nodosaur's shoulders. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.The more I look at it, the more mind-boggling it becomes. Fossilized remnants of skin still cover the bumpy armor plates dotting the animal’s skull. Its right forefoot lies by its side, its five digits splayed upward. I can count the scales on its sole. Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum, grins at my astonishment. “We don’t just have a skeleton,” he tells me later. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”

Ripple through the stone traces right shoulder blade. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.For paleontologists the dinosaur’s amazing level of fossilization—caused by its rapid undersea burial—is as rare as winning the lottery. Usually just the bones and teeth are preserved, and only rarely do minerals replace soft tissues before they rot away. There’s also no guarantee that a fossil will keep its true-to-life shape. Feathered dinosaurs found in China, for example, were squished flat, and North America’s “mummified” duck-billed dinosaurs, among the most complete ever found, look withered and sun dried.

Ribs in dark brown, osteoderms in light brown woven through with grey-blue stone. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.Paleobiologist Jakob Vinther, an expert on animal coloration from the U.K.’s University of Bristol, has studied some of the world’s best fossils for signs of the pigment melanin. But after four days of working on this one—delicately scraping off samples smaller than flecks of grated Parmesan—even he is astounded. The dinosaur is so well preserved that it “might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago,” Vinther says. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The right side of nodosaur's head. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.Some people are making Zuul comparisons, but scientists already snagged that little pop culture gem as the official name of an ankylosaur unearthed in Montana which also had spectacular soft-tissue fossilization. They called it Zuul crurivastator, meaning “Zuul, destroyer of shins,” which I think we can all agree is one of the all-time great feats of nomenclature. I think the Alberta nodosaur bears a more notable resemblance to the Gorn, of original Star Trek fame. That glaring blank eyesocket with the thorny brow ridge is so Gorny.

Nodosaur sees what you did there. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.National Geographic has created a 3D virtual model of the nodosaur fossil that is one of the best I’ve ever seen. As you might expect, you can zoom in and out, turn it around and view it from different perspectives, but this one has tons of additional features. As you scroll, the parts are exploded and labeled so you can get a thorough idea of what bits go where and what function they performed. A drawing of a complete nodosaur as it would have looked in life is used to diagram what parts of it have survived in the fossil.

 

Share

Tomb with 17 mummies found in Minya, Egypt

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

Mummies lined up inside the newly discovered burial site in Minya. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.Archaeologists have discovered a tomb containing at least 17 mummies near Minya, Upper Egypt. The tomb was found more than 25 feet under the village of Tuna al-Gabal where a number of necropolises have been unearthed containing the mummified remains of animals. This one contained some animal coffins (baboons) too, but the stand-out finds are eight limestone and clay sarcophaguses holding well-preserved, linen-wrapped mummified human remains as well as stacked human remains without coffins. Archaeologists also found two papyri inscribed with Demotic script.

Limestone coffins and mummies inside burial site. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.The underground burial chamber was first spotted last year by Cairo University students using ground-penetrating radar, but they only knew it was a hollow space until the excavation this week discovered it was a cachette, an unmarked burial site where mummies were secreted to keep them safe from grave robbers. (The endeavor was of limited success; the site does appear to have been interfered with in antiquity or more recently.) The remains have yet to be radiocarbon dated. Researchers believe they may date to the Late Period — from around 600 B.C. until the conquest of Alexander in 332 B.C. — or possibly to the Greco-Roman period dating from Alexander’s conquest to around 300 A.D.

Detail of mummy inside limestone coffin. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.About 150 miles south of Cairo, Minya is the capital of the Minya Governorate, a province rich in archaeological sites including the city of Amarna, built by the Pharaoh Akhetaten and abandoned after his death; Hermopolis Magna, the cult center of the god Toth in ancient Egypt and an important Greco-Roman city where in some Christian traditions the Holy Family was said to have lived after their escape from Herod’s baby killers; Antinopolis, founded by the Emperor Hadrian in honor of his dearest companion Antinous whom he deified after his death by drowning in the Nile; and the Beni Hasan tombs of mongoose-on-a-leash fame.

A mummified dog inside an animal necropolis in Minya. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.With such a dense concentration of significant sites spanning the ages from the Old Kingdom to the modern era, you’d think a tomb with a bunch of mummies would hardly be headline news, but this one is unique. For one thing, it’s been a long time since any mummies were found in the area. Not since the discovery of the animal and bird necropolises between 1931 and 1954 have any kind of remains been discovered in Minya. Even more significantly, it’s the first human necropolis discovered in central Egypt to contain such a large number of mummies.

Last but certainly not least:

Archeologists believe that it is the first time to unearth a burial tomb with that number of mummies for ordinary people and in catacombs style. Inside the catacomb, Khaled Anani, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities referred to the gaps inside the catacombs saying “The more we drill the more we find.”

Skulls buried in the sand inside a newly discovered burial site in Minya. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.The Telegraph was given access to the tomb. Four wells of eight meters deep were unearthed, which lead to catacombs where mummies of men, women and children are laid in good shape.

In one chamber inside the tunnels, human bones and skulls are piled. Most of the mummies were laid in lines in both of its sides. While some them were left in plain stone and wooden sarcophagi, others were piled on top of each other.

Minya mummies in the catacomb. Photo by AFP.The well-preserved mummies inside the coffins were given expensive treatment, so it’s likely they were not just regular Joes off the street. Since Minya was known as a center for the worship of the god Toth, they could have been priests associated with his temple.

The excavation has only just begun, and archaeologists expect to find more of the catacomb and more human remains as they proceed. The papyri are being moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum for conservation.

 

Share

Ammonite’s epic final drag mark immortalized

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Every once in a great while, a track or drag mark left by a long-dead animal is discovered in the fossil record. The most commonly found ones are known as mortichnia and are the traces of arthropods, bivalves, fish and other animals left just before their death. The longest mortichnial trackway recorded is 9.7 meters (32 feet) long and was left by a horseshoe crab in the Upper Jurassic Solnhofen Lithographic Limestone near Wintershof, Germany. (Solnhofen limestones are among the richest sources of fossilized tracks and drag marks in the world.)

Finding both a fossilized drag mark and the fossil of the creature that left it is exceptionally rare. An ammonite fossil discovered in the late 1990s in the Upper Jurassic limestone of a quarry near the village Solnhofen in Bavaria put even the rarest of its brethren to shame by leaving a fossilized drag mark an unheard of 8.5 meters (28 feet) long. All the examples of ammonite drag marks found before this one were less than one meter in length.

Fossil of ammonite Subplanites rueppellianus, producer of the 8.5-meter drag mark. Touchdown mark bottom left. Lomax DR, Falkingham PL, Schweigert G, Jiménez AP (2017)The ammonite in question (Subplanites rueppellianus) was dead and drifting when it left its final testament: multiple continuous parallel lines dug into the sediment of what was then the sea floor by the ribs of the shell. At first glance, it’s not a terribly impressive specimen. A sub-adult male, it’s comparatively small at 114 x 101 mm (4.5 x 4 inches) and poorly preserved. It was damaged when it was collected; there’s a crack running through it, and a separate fragment was reattached during restoration.

The little guy’s drag mark, on the other hand, is in excellent condition. It was recovered in multiple pieces and put back together. Its dramatic length isn’t even complete, because the spot where the ammonite first began to drag along the sediment did not survive. Based on the depth of the furrows, researchers believe the ammonite started off buoyant courtesy of the gases in its shell generated by the decay of the dead animal. The drag marks start off light, then get deeper as the gases wear off and the ammonite shell drops lower onto the top layer of carbonate mud substrate.

Entire drag mark with close-ups of some portions. Lomax DR, Falkingham PL, Schweigert G, Jiménez AP (2017)

The preserved start begins with two prominent ridges, with a single furrow. Here, the mark width measures 5.7 mm. From this point, the drag mark width was measured at approximately every 50 cm (Table 1). At one metre, additional ridges created by the ribs of the ammonite appear in the substrate, but they are faint and poorly preserved. Noticeably, at 1.7 m, an additional three ridges are present but disappear again.

Four ridges appear consistently from around 2 m (Fig 1), until about 6.5 m, where five prominent ridges appear. At approximately 7.5 m, only four prominent ridges can be seen, but beyond this point the drag mark preserves five very prominent ridges. It is not until the drag mark is nearly terminating, at 30 cm anterior to the ammonite, where six ridges are present and prominent. At 3 cm from the ammonite, the number of ridges increases to 11, showing that more of the ammonite is clearly in contact with the substrate (Fig 3). Here, the orientation of the ridges turns from being parallel to the long axis of the specimen to almost perpendicular to it, and increase in number to 18. Here, the ridges and furrows in the substrate mirror the spacing of the ammonite ribs that are well preserved, indicative of a touch down mark (Fig 3).

The shell was likely bounced along the substrate by currents and waves, not by another animal. The exceptional length of this drag mark indicates a very stable, calm current that was steady enough to keep the ammonite shell moving without tumbling or excessive rotating while not disturbing the sediment on the sea floor.

A digital model of the full surviving drag mark has been created using photogrammetry, a high-resolution composite generated from 645 photographs. And thus the ammonite with his epic drag mark, already preserved by fossilization, achieves digital immortality as well.

 

Share

Mongoose on a leash identified in Middle Kingdom tomb

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

The Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) was one of the many animals in the Egyptian bestiary that figures in tomb decorations going back to the Old Kingdom. They were depicted mainly in hunting scenes, stalking their prey in the swampy riverlands, climbing a papyrus stalk to snatch hatchlings from a nest, feasting on a fish in the rushes, even attacking a goose mid-flight.

Hunter holds leashes of a dog (bottom) and an Egyptian mongoose (top) in the 11th Dynasty tomb of Baqet I at Beni Hassan. Photo copyright Linda Evans/Australian Center for Egyptology, Macquarie University, Sydney.They are easily recognizable in this context and from the animal’s characteristic features — short legs, long tail, long body, short snout and small ears — but divorced from its natural setting, one depiction of a mongoose has been the subject of debate for more than a century. A new field study of wall paintings in the cemetery of Beni Hassan has identified an Egyptian mongoose being led on a leash in the 11th Dynasty tomb of Baqet I (Tomb 29). This is the only known depiction of a mongoose on a leash in ancient Egyptian art.

Beni Hassan is a Middle Kingdom (21st to 17th centuries B.C.) cemetery about 12 miles south of the modern city of Minya in Middle Egypt. There are almost a thousand rock-cut and shaft tombs in the cemetery. The rock-cut tombs are carved into the limestone cliff face that overlooks the lower part of the cemetery where the shaft tombs are located. The elite, mainly hereditary nomarchs (regional governors) were buried in the upper cemetery, their rock-cut tombs elaborately decorated with animals and scenes from daily life (wrestling, chipping flint tools, spinning, playing music, pot making, smelting, feeding oryxes).

Man spinning thread illustrated by Robert Hay, Tomb 3.Several of the decorated tombs were documented by Egyptologists in the 19th century, including luminaries of the field like Jean-François Champollion and, most notably, Scottish pioneer Robert Hay, who undertook the first exceptionally thorough project to illustrate, trace and draw every ancient Egyptian tomb and temple he encountered in the 1820s and 30s. By the time of British Egyptologist Percy Newberry’s expedition to Beni Hassan in 1890, the paintings in one of the tombs Hay had documented (Tomb 3) were so faded and damaged that Newberry had to rely on Hay’s 60-year-old work in his own publications. Newberry’s team made important new tomb discoveries and meticulously illustrated every painting found, tracing them in full-size or drawing them from life. One of the draughtsmen on that team was a young Howard Carter. Newberry would be part of his team 30 years later when Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Newberry noted the unusual image of the leashed animal in his reports, suggesting it might be a mongoose, but other scholars disagreed with his identification. The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry team has recently conserved and cleaned the Beni Hassan tombs, and Professor Linda Evans of Macquarie University in Australia has surveyed the refreshed paintings using the latest technology.

The conservation and recording has “revealed many scenes not found in Newberry’s reports,” wrote Evans. In addition, the new work has identified creatures in the drawings that Newberry had been uncertain about. […]

Drawing of the hunting party with the leashed mongoose and dog. Photo copyright Linda Evans/Australian Center for Egyptology, Macquarie University, Sydney.Evans’ team determined that the animal is “morphologically identical” to the Egyptian mongoose, wrote Evans, noting that the animal is also clearly depicted on a leash. “The animal clearly sports a gray collar that tapers to join a long, gray leash, which is held in the left hand of a bearer, who also holds the leash of a spotted hunting dog situated below the mongoose,” Evans said. […]

“While mongooses have never been fully domesticated — that is, subjected to controlled breeding — some cultures have chosen to keep the animals as pets in order to control unwanted pests, such as snakes, rats and mice,” Evans wrote.

Evans speculates that the mongoose could have been used the way some bird dogs are used today, to scare birds out of the bush so hunters can have at them. That’s one possibility, but there’s no reason they couldn’t have been used to stalk and catch prey as well.

Egyptian mongoose eating a catfish. Photo by Artemy Voikhansk.My grandmother told me that her mother, my very formidable great-grandmother who was reputedly a crack shot, used to hunt rabbits with ferrets. Their long, tubular bodies easily fit into warrens, and they had an implacable drive to get to the other side of whatever tunnel they were in and to kill whatever might be in their way. They’d clear a warren in no time, keeping the rabbit population under control and providing the family with much-needed food.

I had pet ferrets at the time, which is what inspired the story-telling, and according to my grandmother they bore only superficial resemblance to the ones my great-grandmother used for ferreting. The hunters were much larger and much, much meaner. My guys were sweet and cute and funny with the vestiges of that powerful prey drive turned into quirky, charming behaviors like stealing keys out of guest’s purses and hiding them under the bed. That’s because they were fully domesticated, bearing as much relation to their wild cousins as that tabbycat on your lap does to a serval. Maybe the ancient Egyptians went mongoosing just like my great-grandmother went ferreting. (People still use ferrets to hunt today, btw, especially in the UK.)

 

Share

Navigation

Search

Archives

June 2017
S M T W T F S
« May    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930  

Other

Add to Technorati Favorites

Syndication