Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Pre-Inca offerings found in Lake Titicaca

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

A team of archaeologists diving at the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, have discovered religious offerings that predate the Inca occupation of the area by five centuries. The Inca considered the Island of the Sun an important religious center, building ceremonial structures and leaving offerings on and around it, so before now researchers thought they were the first people to worship there. This is the first systematic excavation of the site and the findings upend that theory. It was the Tiwanaku people, who inhabited the Lake Titicaca area between 500 and 1100 A.D. who first made offerings to the gods there.

Divers have been finding artifacts in Lake Titicaca, especially an area known as Khoa Reef since the late 1970s. Many of them were of Inca origin, but some were Tiwanaku objects. These were random discoveries, however, objects picked up here and there by diving enthusiasts. Without a proper archaeological excavation, there was no way to make well-grounded determinations on the ritual uses of the lake.

The research team excavated the Khoa Reef area thoroughly. They scanned and mapped the reef with sonar and 3D photogrammetry and dredged the sediment to recover all archaeological materials they could find. Ritual offerings retrieved from the reef include semi-precious stone ornaments like a lapis-lazuli puma figurine and a turquoise pendant, Spondylus shell that had to have been imported perhaps from as far away as Ecuador, a gold medallion engraved with the Tiwanaku ray-faced deity, carved stones, ceramic incense burners shaped like pumas and the remains of sacrificed juvenile llamas.

“The findings, and especially the ceramic puma-shaped incense burners, are significant because they help us gain a broader understanding of the ritual behavior and religion of the Tiwanaku state — a society that preceded the Incas by several hundred years,” said [excavation team leader Christophe] Delaere.

The puma was an important religious symbol to the Tiwanaku, Delaere added.

Another observation made by the team was that the religious offerings appear to have been made intentionally to be submerged underwater.

“The presence of anchors near the offerings suggests that officiating authorities may have deposited the offerings during rituals held from boats,” said [Penn State assistant professor of anthropology José] Capriles.

The Tiwanaku people created the first large state in the Andes Mountains and the Island of the Sun was of particular significance to them because it is in the center of the mountain range. (The Inca who followed in their footsteps believed Lake Titicaca was the center of the universe.)

“It was a strategic and ritually charged place,” said Capriles. “At the Island of the Sun and the Khoa Reef, religious specialists could come together for sacred ceremonies. The ritual offerings they made here demonstrate the transitioning of societies from more local-based religious systems to something that had a more ambitious geopolitical and spiritual appeal.”

In turn, he added, this emergence of organized religion likely led to consolidation of the groups of people living around the lake and the emergence of the Tiwanaku state, characterized by political hierarchy.

They also went as close to the center of the lake in the center of the Andes they could. They used a small rock outcropping (now underwater) that poked up in the middle Lake Titicaca to leave offerings. It was the most holy spot they could access, the center of the center.

Even today the local Aymara people believe the lake is spiritually resonant. They still make offerings to it, in fact, and were involved in aiding the researchers in their exploration of the reef.

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10-foot statue of Trajan found in Laodicea

Monday, April 1st, 2019

A monumental statue of the Roman emperor Trajan has been discovered in the ancient city of Laodicea near the modern city of Denizli in what is now western Turkey. The statue is three meters (9.8 feet) high and depicts the emperor dressed in full military regalia towering over a much smaller figure of a prisoner with his hands tied behind back. The quality of the sculpture is exceptional, with fine details carved on the emperor’s breastplate, face and clothing. It dates to 113 A.D.

Laodicea was in the province of Phrygia (the bound prisoner is wearing a Phrygian cap), located on an important trade route that brought it great wealth and prosperity. It was so rich, in fact, that when an earthquake destroyed the city in 60 A.D., the residents refused any aid from the empire and rebuilt it with their own funds. They rebuilt it in grand style, its most prominent citizens sponsoring the construction of theaters, baths, temples, a stadium and a myriad other public buildings and works of art. It was granted free city status under Roman making it autonomous and self-governing. It even minted its own coins.

It was also highly seismic. The statue was found broken in 356 pieces, all of them clustered together. Archaeologists believe it was toppled and broken in an earthquake and was buried under a fountain. That’s why it survived almost entire in one place despite the extensive breakage. The sculpture was discovered in the same location as the Water Law, the incredibly long and detailed inscription describing the many and varied penalties for violations city water laws.

The statue depicts Trajan wearing a short chiton and has a cloth falling from his left shoulder, which, according to [lead excavator Professor Celal] Şimşek, is worthy of attention.

“The images on the armor can be observed very clearly. On the upper part of the armor, there is the thunder of Jupiter, the celestial god of thunder. Medusa is located right in the middle of the chest, which is important because it shows the emperor’s frightening side. There are two reciprocal griffons [a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion], which are the symbol of the god Apollo. We see Apollo as the god that protected the fine arts. With this, what to comes to mind is that the emperor did protect fine arts at his time,” he said.

“There is a water can in the middle. The griffons stretched their front legs towards the water bowl. Given the Water Law, it shows that he was an emperor who brought waterway to Laodicea with arches and pipes made of travertine. He gave 30,000 Denarius. I matched it with today’s money, and it is about 300,000 Turkish Liras. After that, because Laodicea was a very rich city, they built a great statue and put it at this fountain. Perhaps people from all over the world will come and see this work here. This statue is important in this aspect. Indeed, in terms of both proportion and portrait, we are truly happy to find this statue of the emperor,” he added.

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Elite Etruscan tomb unearthed in Corsica

Friday, March 29th, 2019

Archaeologists from France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) have discovered a high-ranking Etruscan grave in Aleria, Corsica. Dating to the 4th century B.C., the grave was dug out of the rock in a hypogeum (an underground chamber), a type of burial exclusively reserved for the elite of Etruscan society.

The entrance to the tomb is accessed by a corridor 20 feet long. A flight of steps lead to the corridor. Excavators found the tomb chamber six and a half feet under the surface still intact and sealed by a thick layer of clay, pebbles, coal and potsherds. It appears the seal was opened and closed several times, likely to make fresh offerings or inter the newly deceased.

The ceiling of the tomb had collapsed and the interior was filled with earth so archaeologists had to dig from the top down. The excavation revealed a rectangular chamber 11 square feet in area containing pottery, bronze objects and a mirror. Three black-lacquered drinking vessels and two skyphoi (a wide two-handled cup) were found near a skull. This is as far down as archaeologists have gotten, even with the lowest step of the staircase. Any other human remains and grave goods are still pinned down under the collapsed material. Forensic specialists will aid in this final excavation phase.

The discovery, announced this week, could yield new details on the existence of a stable Etruscan population in Corsica and help archaeologists understand the slow demise of the Etruscan civilization.

“It’s the missing link which will allow us to piece together Etruscan funerary rites, but it also reinforces the hypothesis that before the Roman conquest (in -259 B.C), Aleria was a transit point in the Tyrrhenian Sea, blending Etruscan, Carthaginian and Phocaean interests”, head curator Franck Leandri said.

The grave appears to belong to a high-ranking official, holding “about 15 ceramic vases similar to Etruscan pieces and what appears to be a mirror or the lid of a casing”, anthropologist Catherine Rigeade said at the site.

“We have some knowledge of Etruscan objects, but we know very little about Etruscan subjects; here we have both”, Rigeade added.

The tomb is part of a large necropolis with thousands of graves that was used in Etruscan and Roman times. Its existence was known and more than 100 graves were excavated by archaeologist Jean Jehasse in the 1960s, but the land is privately owned and slated for development which is why INRAP was given access in the first place. When the hypogeum tomb was discovered, its rarity and significance spurred authorities to order extended excavations. An example of a chamber tomb with a corridor entryway hasn’t been found in France for more than four decades.

A number of different grave types have been unearthed in the dig ranging in date from the 3rd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. Archaeologists have found funeral pyres, pit burials, one with a tegula and imbrex (fired clay roof tiles) cover, masonry and wood formwork graves and more than 200 funerary offerings including 100 intact vases. Several stand-out pieces of jewelry were in the graves: a gold signet ring with a female face, a gold ring with an intarsio gemstone engraved with a seriously adorable tiny animal (possibly a squirrel) playing with a large ball discovered on the pubic bone of a burial dating to the 1st-3rd century A.D., and a pair of gold earrings festooned with stars found at the feet of an individual buried in a brick grave.

The skeletal remains that have been unearthed thus far are in unexpectedly good condition. Corsica’s highly acidic soil usually causes bones to disintegrate over time, but complete articulated skeletons have been discovered here.

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Canadian T. rex is world’s largest

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

A study by University of Alberta paleontologists has confirmed that the fossil of a Tyrannosaurus rex found in Saskatchewan is the largest known T. rex specimen in the world.

The first piece of the 66-million-year-old giant was discovered on August 16th, 1991, by Eastend high school teacher Robert Gebhardt who was learning how to find fossils in the field with a team of University of Alberta paleontologists. In the exposed bedrock along Saskatchewan’s Frenchman River Valley, Gebhardt discovered the base of a teeth a tail vertebra. Their size and shape indicated they were from a Tyrannosaurus rex. That night the team celebrated the find with a bottle of Scotch and named the dinosaur after their celebratory tipple.

Getting him out of the rock would take another two decades of painstaking work by paleontologists, students and volunteers. Excavations began in June of 1994, each fossilized bone chipped out of the bedrock by hand one at a time. By the time the last bone had been recovered, it was 2014 and it was clear that not only had they found the Saskatchewan’s first T. rex, but that Scotty was a splendid example.

Approximately 65% of the skeleton was found and puzzled together over years. The reconstructed skeleton indicates Scotty was 43 feet long and weighed around 19,400 pound making him the largest known T. rex ever found. He was also the longest-lived.

“Scotty is the oldest T. rex known,” [U of A paleontologist Scott] Persons explained. “By which I mean, it would have had the most candles on its last birthday cake. You can get an idea of how old a dinosaur is by cutting into its bones and studying its growth patterns. Scotty is all old growth.”

But age is relative, and T. rexes grew fast and died young. Scotty was estimated to have been in its early 30s when it died.

“By Tyrannosaurus standards, it had an unusually long life. And it was a violent one,” Persons said. “Riddled across the skeleton are pathologies — spots where scarred bone records large injuries.”

Among Scotty’s injuries are broken ribs, an infected jaw and what may be a bite from another T. rex on its tail—battle scars from a long life.

Scotty will go on public view at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum this May. The museum has been working assiduously to create a new exhibition space that will do the massive creature justice. The RSM is doing a full renovation and redesign of its upper and lower gallery entrances that will give visitors the opportunity to view Scotty from two perspectives, foot level and eye level. The upper level isn’t just a catwalk or perch, but rather a fully functional second tier that can be used to host events supervised by the unblinking gaze of a T. rex’s eye (socket).

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Anglo-Saxon pendant declared treasure

Saturday, March 23rd, 2019

An Anglo-Saxon gold pendant discovered in 2017 has been officially declared Treasure by the Norfolk Coroner’s Office according to the provisions of the Treasure Act 1996. It was found in an undisclosed location in South Norfolk near the site where another important piece from around the same period, the Winfarthing Pendant, was unearthed in 2014.

The pendant is in excellent condition. It is a small piece, .67 inches by half an inch, of a type known as a cross-in-ring pendant, a style that dates to the late 6th, mid-7th centuries. The ring part is composed of three concentric rings of gold beaded wire. In the center is a beaded wire cross. The outer rim is worn smooth, either from use or in the original crafting of the piece. A small sheet of gold is looped at the top middle. Traces of now-worn ribbed decoration remain.

Ms Shoemark, from Norfolk County Council’s archaeology department, said: “Like the Winfarthing assemblage, this piece most likely belonged to a high-status lady.

“It dates to an important turning point in Saxon history during the first flowering of Christianity [in England] and is of similar date to the jewellery assemblage from the now famous and nearby Winfarthing burial.

“Male graves of this period appear to be entirely lacking in elaborate jewellery.

“This latest pendant makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of Saxon society, religion and the position of women during a period of immense social and cultural change.”

The pendant will now be assessed by a valuation committee. Once its value has been determined, it will be offered to a local museum and the sum split between the finder and landowner. The Winfarthing Pendant was valued at £145,000, but it is much larger and inlaid with garnets reminiscent of some of the pieces in the Staffordshire Hoard.

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Nile shipwreck proves Herodotus account

Thursday, March 21st, 2019

Greek historian Herodotus has had an enduring reputation for indulging in well, let’s just call them embellishments, ever since he wrote The Histories in the 5th century B.C. I fondly recall my 7th grade Social Studies teacher calling him Herodotus the Liar, and scholars have alternately referred to him as the Father of History and the Father of Lies. So even descriptions of things he claimed to have witnessed personally are taken with a grain of salt. His voyage to Egypt, for example, documented in Book II (Euterpe) of The Histories, has been subject of vigorous debate among historians. A number of them have questioned whether he ever stepped foot in the country given how many dubious statements are in his account.

One of those accounts has now been archaeologically verified for the first time. A shipwreck discovered in the sunken city of Thonis-Heraclion fits Herodotus’ detailed description of the construction of a “baris” vessel, a type of trading vessel that was widespread in Egypt. Here the ship as Herodotus saw it built:

The vessels used in Egypt for the transport of merchandise are made of the Acantha (Thorn), a tree which in its growth is very like the Cyrenaic lotus, and from which there exudes a gum. They cut a quantity of planks about two cubits in length from this tree, and then proceed
to their ship-building, arranging the planks like bricks, and attaching them by ties to a number of long stakes or poles till the hull is complete, when they lay the cross-planks on the top from side to side. They give the boats no ribs, but caulk the seams with papyrus on the
inside. Each has a single rudder, which is driven straight through the keel. The mast is a piece of acantha-wood, and the sails are made of papyrus. These boats cannot make way against the current unless there is a brisk breeze; they are, therefore, towed up-stream from the shore: down-stream they are managed as follows. There is a raft belonging to each, made of the wood of the tamarisk, fastened together with a wattling of reeds; and also a stone bored through the middle about two talents in weight. The raft is fastened to the vessel by a rope, and allowed to float down the stream in front, while the stone is attached by another rope astern. The result is that the raft, hurried forward by the current, goes rapidly down the river, and drags the
“baris” (for so they call this sort of boat) after it; while the stone, which is pulled along in the wake of the vessel, and lies deep in the water, keeps the boat straight. There are a vast number of these vessels in Egypt, and some of them are of many thousand talents’ burthen.

The wreck, number 17 of more than 70 vessels that have been discovered at the Thonis-Heracleion site, is larger than the one described by Herodotus. It was an estimated 28 meters (92 feet) long when intact, one of the largest ancient Egyptian trading vessels ever found. Its crescent-shaped hull made of thick planks joined with tenons matches Herodotus’ description very well.

[Director of Oxford University’s Centre for Maritime Archaeology Dr. Damian] Robinson added: “Herodotus describes the boats as having long internal ribs. Nobody really knew what that meant… That structure’s never been seen archaeologically before. Then we discovered this form of construction on this particular boat and it absolutely is what Herodotus has been saying.”

About 70% of the hull has survived, well-preserved in the Nile silts. Acacia planks were held together with long tenon-ribs – some almost 2m long – and fastened with pegs, creating lines of ‘internal ribs’ within the hull. It was steered using an axial rudder with two circular openings for the steering oar and a step for a mast towards the centre of the vessel.

Robinson said: “Where planks are joined together to form the hull, they are usually joined by mortice and tenon joints which fasten one plank to the next. Here we have a completely unique form of construction, which is not seen anywhere else.”

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UK returns looted Nebuchadnezzar boundary stone to Iraq

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

A 3,000-year-old boundary stone from Babylonia was returned to Iraq in an official ceremony on Tuesday after seven years of investigation and legal wrangling. It’s not clear when the object was stolen — experts believe it was looted during the chaos of the Iraq War around 15 years ago. It surfaced in 2012 when the importer attempted to smuggle the piece into Britain with fake paperwork. The stone arrived at Heathrow airport in May 2012. The customs declaration claimed it was a carved stone made in Turkey worth $330. When a UK Border Force officer opened the box, he recognized the stone was no Turkish fake and that the claimed origin in the declaration had to be fraudulent.

Experts at the British Museum quickly identified it from the copious cuneiform inscriptions as a 12th century B.C. kudurru, a ceremonial boundary stone recording a land grant from the king. There are only 200 known surviving examples of kudurrus, and this one is a stand-out. It describes a gift of land from Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar I to one of his subjects in recognition of his distinguished service. The inscription indicates the stone came from Nippur, an ancient Sumerian city in what is now southern Iraq that was restored and expanded by Babylonian monarchs. Nippur suffered extensive looting in 2003 which is when experts believe the kudurru was stolen.

One side of the stone is covered in images depicting the gods Enlil and Marduk. The other side is inscribed with cuneiform text. In addition to recording the land grant, the text describes an enormously significant period of Babylonian history. It tells of how at the end of the preceding dynasty, Elamite forces had invaded the kingdom, looted the temples and carried away the statue of the god Marduk leaving Babylon bereft not just of the visual representation of the god, but of the protection of the god himself.

Enlil, father of the gods, created Nebuchadnezzar to avenge the outrage done to the Babylonians. The great king invaded Elam, defeated its army and reclaimed the statue of Marduk. He returned it to the temple and all was right with the world again.

“It is such an important moment in Babylonian history. Forever after the Babylonians told stories about this great, brave king who brought Marduk back, and in response they created the Babylonian epic of creation, which tells about how Marduk was appointed to defeat the forces of chaos and to put order into the universe. So, every spring at the new year festival they recite this epic of creation.”

[British Museum curator Jonathan] Taylor said the object also carried “terrible curses” for anyone trying to claim the land or damage the tablet.

“The gift is designed to last forever and there are a list of curses or protective formulas so if anyone should dispute that the gift was made or if they try and hide it, bury it in the dirt, try to destroy it with fire, smash it or get somebody who does not know any better to do it on their behalf, then the gods will curse them in a variety of really horrible ways. So, it is to protect forever this gift in recognition of this act of bravery,” said Taylor.

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Irish have been burying butter in bogs for 3500 years

Sunday, March 17th, 2019

A new study has revealed that the practice of burying butter in bogs goes back even further in Irish history than we knew.

Previous analyses found that bog butters are made from animal fat, but because being buried in peat for a few thousand years can have mineralizing effects on organic matter. Some early studies concluded that it was adipocere, ie, tissue fat converted into a waxy substance in anaerobic condition, because the saturated fats in its chemical composition more closely matches those in adipocere (see this massive 77-lb stick). than in butter fat. Both theories got support in 2004 when a stable carbon isotope analysis of nine bog butters proved that six of them were the product of ruminant dairy and three from tallow, the carcass fat of ruminants.

The 2004 study looked at Scottish bog butter. The most recent study had a wider sample pool — 32 butters, and they are all Irish. The researchers also radiocarbon dated all of them to see if similar processes produced Irish and Scottish bog butters and if they could spot any trends over time. Of the 32 samples, the chemical composition of 26 of them identified them as ruminant dairy fat and another three were found to be likely from a dairy source. The remaining three samples could not be precisely classified.

The radiocarbon dating results had a nice surprise. A sample of bog butter from Knockdrin was found to date from between 1745 and 1635 B.C.

“We have known for a long time that bog butter was some sort of animal fat. However, compound-specific stable isotope analysis of the fatty acids in the degraded bog butters is the only way to identify the true origins of the fat – whether it was a milk fat like butter, or a carcass fat like tallow or lard.” said Professor Richard Evershed from the University of Bristol.

“Combining this analysis with radiocarbon dating, we obtain unparalleled insight into an extremely long-lived activity,” said UCD’s Dr Smyth.

“Together with two recently dated samples, this study brings to five the number of Bronze Age bog butters recorded from Ireland. Their date is extremely significant and pushes back known depositional activity by as much as 1500 years.”

Dr Smyth added: “Clearly, it is unlikely there was a single reason for the deposition of bog butter over four millennia. In certain periods they may have been votive deposits, while at other points in time it may have been more about storage and even protection of valuable resources.”

Professor Evershed notes that: “The widespread occurrence of these enigmatic butter deposits fits with our increasing knowledge of the central importance of dairying in prehistoric northern Europe.”

The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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Campaign secures Neolithic ball for Perth Museum

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

An intricately carved Neolithic stone ball discovered in the Ochil Hills near Sherriffmuir in Perthshire, central Scotland, will stay in its native soil after a fundraising campaign secured it for the Perth Museum and Art Gallery. The 4,000-year-old stone was declared Treasure Trove according to Scottish law and allocated to the Perth Museum, but because budget cuts have slashed its acquisitions budget, the museum had to raise money to secure it. The Perthshire Society of Natural Science opened an online crowd-funding campaign and was able to raise £1625 well before the March 26th deadline. A grant from the National Fund for Acquisitions chipped in matching funds.

Stone balls carved in the Late Stone Age (around 3200 – 2500 BC) are a big thing in Scotland. Out of about 530 that have been found in Northern Europe, 520 of them were found in Scotland. More than a third of them are in the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. That the Sheriffmuir Ball will remain local is all the more significant because it is one of fewer than 50 of the known Neolithic balls to have decorative carving and it’s a particularly elaborate one. It’s also one of the most southernly balls ever found in Scotland.

Since the first one was discovered 150 years ago, archaeologists have debated what the purpose of the balls might have been. None of them have been found in or near burial, so they were not used as funerary offerings or grave goods. They could have been weapons, tools or status symbols, or perhaps a combination of any of those.

They are roughly the same size and while remaining circular in dimensions, they have been carved to have lobes or knobs. The ones that are decorated have spirals and curved carved into the surface. The Sheriffmuir Ball has a grid pattern on one lobe, five parallel lines on another and an off-center circle on a third.

You can explore it in the 3D model created by National Museums Scotland:

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Police seize smuggled leather Hebrew manuscript

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

Turkish police have seized a leather manuscript believed to have been looted from Syria in an anti-smuggling operation in Kırşehir, central Turkey. Two individuals identified only as Erkan Ş. and Kısmet G. were stopped by the Kırşehir Police Department Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime and Anti-Narcotics Department while driving on the Ankara-Kayseri highway. Stashed on the side of the seat wrapped in a blanket was the 12-page volume. The suspects were arrested and charged with antiquities trafficking.

According to suspects’ testimonies to the police, they bought the manuscript in the southeastern Mardin province and were planning to sell it in Istanbul for a large sum of money.

The manuscript was stolen from a museum in Syria during the conflict and was brought to Mardin illegally, the suspects said in their testimonies.

That’s all the information reported so far, which is barely any information at all. It’s only post-worthy because of the illuminations.

The manuscript is 16 pages long and is written in Hebrew in gold ink. The cover has metallic accents: four birds, one in each corner, on circular perches and a Star of David with a red stone in the center hexagon in the middle of the page. Most of the sheets are illuminated with an intriguing variety of images, including a dragon or griffin, two cows looking at each other challengingly, a hamsa hand, a menorah, a Star of David, an owl with a skull on its belly and a man in draped robes.

\begin shamelessly speculative romp

I find the iconography fascinating. The owl with a skull on its belly and the man in draped robes are particularly intriguing. The owl is listed among the abomination birds in Leviticus and in medieval Christendom it was often used to symbolize Jews as creatures of darkness because of their rejection of Christ. As for the man, the prohibition against graven images put a damper on figural depictions in Jewish art, but it didn’t prevent it entirely. There are frescoes, mosaics and manuscripts with images of Biblical figures, even ones from pagan mythology employed as metaphors. He could be a representation of a prophet or anybody else, for that matter. He does bear a resemblance to other rough drawn images of Jesus, however.

If it is meant to be Christ, he and the skull-bellied owl share the volume with unambiguous symbols of Judaism, the Star of David and the menorah, and the hamsa hand, a symbol very common in albeit not exclusive to Judaism. Not that I’m any kind of expert, or even a well-informed amateur, but I wonder if this be an artifact from one of the Jewish Christian communities that are known to have been in Syria in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, like the Ebionites or Nazarenes.

\end shamelessly speculative romp

The manuscript has been transferred to the Kırşehir Museum Directorate which will study it and determine its origins. Here’s hoping the findings are released.

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