Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Pompeii fugitive wasn’t pinned after all

Friday, June 29th, 2018

When the skeletal remains of a man were found with a large stone block where his skull and neck should be in excavation of the Regio V area of Pompeii, archaeologists hypothesized that he had been killed when when the pyroclastic flow of superheated volcanic gasses shot the 660-stone at him, striking his upper thorax and head and pinning him to the ground. The image gave rise to many Wile E. Coyote references with Vesuvius playing the role of the Roadrunner.

Now everyone who made those Acme-brand japes is going to have to take them back, because the man’s skull and bones from his upper body have been found and they’re intact. He wasn’t killed by a giant stone being dropped on him after all.

The excavations at the corner of the Alley of the Balconies and the Alley of the Silver Wedding where the lower body was found unearthed a tunnel underneath it. The tunnel likely dates to the reign of the Bourbon kings of Naples in the 18th century when Pompeii was first “excavated,” to use the term loosely. King Charles III of Naples’ interest in funding these explorations was largely informed by the hope of acquiring fine ancient artifacts for his collection. Destroying structures mattered not one whit to him, so disturbing human remains didn’t even rank notice.

This particular tunnel eventually caved in, and the top part of the body, formerly articulated with the rest of the skeleton above the pumice layer, slid into the cavity. The tunnel didn’t extend under the block so the stone and the bottom section of the skeleton remained in their original positions, supported by the hardened pumice layer.

His death was presumably not, therefore, due to the impact of the stone block, as initially assumed, but likely to asphyxia caused by the pyroclastic flow. The identified skeletal remains consist of the upper part of the thorax, the upper limbs, the skull and jaw. Currently undergoing analysis, they display some fractures, the nature of which will be identified, so as to be able to reconstruct the final moments in the life of the man with greater accuracy.

Earlier this month, archaeologists found another piece of this poor soul’s puzzle: his hasty escape kit. A small leather pouch was discovered under his lower body. It contained 20 silver coins and an iron key. The key was likely his house key, an artifact that bears sad witness to the expected homecoming he and so many others would be brutally denied. The coins were worth a total of 80 sestertii, the equivalent of about $600, enough money for the average Roman family to live on comfortably for two weeks. The amount of cash he had on him suggests he was neither a wealthy man nor a poor one.

The skeletal remains, the leather purse and the coins are now in a laboratory where they will be conserved and studied to shed light on the man and the events that overtook him more than 1900 years ago.

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Bronze hand from Jupiter shrine found at Vindolanda

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Archaeologists have unearthed a beautifully preserved realistic bronze sculpture of a hand at the Roman fort of Vindolanda in Northumbria. Working with a team of volunteers, Vindolanda’s archaeologists found the hand five feet under ground level in ditch fill from the Severan period (ca. 208-212 AD). The child-sized hand, less than four inches long, had been discarded in the ditch and was caked was dirt.

When conservators cleaned off the layer of dirt, they found that the hand was of very high quality, finely crafted and believably realistic, especially on the palm side. They also saw that the hand originally had an attachment inserted in the palm. That attachment is lost. It’s likely that whatever was once there was the star of the show, which is why the palm was so well-made. A socket at the base of the hand suggests it was not broken off of a statue, but rather a stand-alone piece originally fixed to a pole.

The find site is close to the remains of a shrine to Jupiter Dolichenus that were found in the northern wall of the of the 3rd century fort during a 2009 excavation. Archaeologists believe the hand was connected to the temple, serving a votive function associated with the worship of Jupiter Dolichenus. Votive hands have been found at or near other Jupiter Dolichenus temples. They were bigger, however, and several had inscriptions referring to the deity which made their votive role clear.

As seen in the altar to Jupiter Dolichenus found in the 2009 of the northern wall, the god is depicted holding a thunderbolt in one hand a double-headed axe in the other. His arm (usually the one holding the axe) is upraised and the votive hands are believed to represent the protection conferred by his power.

Dr Andrew Birley, CEO and Director of Excavations at the Vindolanda Trust commented, “We did not expect to find such a beautifully preserved and rare cult artefact so soon after the start of the 2018 excavation season. When we excavated the nearby temple to Dolichenus in 2009 it was clear that the temple treasures had been removed in Roman times. However, this find being made in a nearby area reminds us that the life of the temple and the practices associated with the worship of Dolichenus had clearly stretched beyond the confines of its stone walls.”

Founded in Doliche, modern-day Dülük, Turkey, the mystery religion spread throughout the Roman Empire in the early 2nd century, largely thanks to its popularity in the army. It was supported by all the Severan emperors, which is why its popularity plummeted in the mid-3rd century when the last of the Severans, Alexander Severus, was assassinated by the army in 235 A.D. and Maximinus Thrax elected his successor by those same assassins. Thrax came from humble origins and was extremely suspicious that people were out to topple him (they were), so he took action anything and anyone associated with his predecessors. The worship of Jupiter Dolichenus was one of the fatalities.

Cleaned and conserved, the bronze hand has gone on display at the Vindolanda museum in the same gallery as the stone altar.

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Graves of two men with severed legs found

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

An archaeological survey along the route of a highway expansion project in Cambridgeshire, England, has unearthed the skeletal remains of two men with an unusual mutilation and burial. The bones date to the late Roman or early Anglo-Saxon period. Their legs were cut off at the knees and repositioned by their shoulders. It’s not clear whether the amputations were done pre-, peri- or post-mortem, but initial analysis suggests the severed legs were still fleshed, at least partially, before they were placed at the shoulders.

The two bodies were buried at right angles to each other in a T-shape with their heads facing outwards. They were not laid to rest in a formal burial ground; they were interred in a gravel pit.

The best scenario the archaeologists can hope for is that the unfortunate men were dead when their legs were mutilated. It also appears their skulls were smashed in, although that could be later damage.

“Was it to keep them in their graves and stop them from running away?” said Kasia Gdaniec, the senior archaeologist with Cambridge county council. “Or had they tried to run away and was this a punishment – and a warning to everyone else not even to think of it?”

The bones (crushed skulls excepted) are in good condition and even with a smashed skull one of them has an excellent set of teeth. DNA analysis, stable isotope analysis and radiocarbon dating should therefore be possible which will narrow down when the individuals died, their sexes, where they were raised and a number of other details about them.

The unusual burials were discovered in one of the largest excavation projects in UK history. Teams have excavated 40 sites over 350 hectares where the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon is being widened to alleviate congestion. Archaeologists have found a wide array of remains of Bronze Age barrows to medieval towns, but the Roman finds are of particular note, illustrating the progress of occupation, how the landscape and population were bent to the Roman will.

Gdaniec finds the whole site quite sinister. “People talk about the archaeology of conquest, but I have never felt it as strongly as here. The Romans arrive, the people who were here are completely subjugated, everything changes and is never the same again. We are not seeing trade and peaceful co-existence here, we are seeing enslavement.”

The site had been enclosed by a rather wiggly ditch, more a windbreak than either seriously defensive or a statement of power. The Romans then arrived and by stupendous effort drove a huge ditch across it, almost two metres deep and three wide with the spoil heaped up into a huge bank. Despite its size and the labour involved, there was no evidence of large permanent Roman buildings and so the archaeologists believe it was a temporary camp on the march north towards Hadrian’s Wall.

Within the new enclosure, farming became much more organised and intensive, with wheat and other cereals, beans and root crops being grown. […]

The site has also produced scores of pottery kilns, some so tiny the archaeologists joked they must have been for egg cups, others large and sophisticated, producing domestic and storage pottery on an industrial scale. Tonnes of pottery were found along the excavation sites.

“We have some of the pottery they produced,” House said. “It will be interesting to see if we can match it to pottery from other Roman sites. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the pots from this field ended up on Hadrian’s Wall.”

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Virtually palpate Neolithic Scottish balls

Monday, June 18th, 2018

About 525 intricately carved stone balls from the Late Stone Age have been found in northern Europe, 430 of them in Scotland, the rest in England, the Orkney Islands, Ireland and Norway. These balls have stymied antiquarians and archaeologists since they were first discovered two centuries ago. They come in a variety of designs, some with abstract carved reliefs, some carved into curious shapes, and their purpose or purposes have yet to be divined. Researchers have hypothesized that they could have been weapons like maceheads or sling projectiles, weights and measures, or symbols of power with religious significance as many of the carvings — circles, spirals, patterns of straight lines — have also been found carved on tombs.

Most of the Scottish balls were found in Aberdeenshire, including the most famous of them all, the Towie ball. It was discovered when a drain was dug near the village of Towie in or before 1860. Made of a hard black stone, the Towie ball has four discs, three of them carved with spirals and wedges, the last left blank. It is considered one of the finest examples of Neolithic art known.

Of the hundreds of Neolithic carved balls found in Scotland and the Orkneys, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has around 140 of them in its collection, the Towie ball among them. Very few of them are on display, however. The museum is making up for this by creating 3D models of 60 of its Neolithic balls and posting them online so that anybody with an Internet connection can see them in far greater detail than they ever could in person.

These models were made using photogrammetry, which uses around 150-200 images of each artifact to produce an exceptionally high-resolution 3D model. The resolution allows you to examine and appreciate these artifacts in unprecedented detail. Indeed, the model of one carved stone ball (X.AS 90) revealed traces of fine concentric circles on one projecting knob that had never been recorded before, despite the artifact having been in the museum for more than 100 years and examined by dozens of scholars. Traces of decoration and working are particularly clear in ‘matcap’ mode, which makes the artifact look like shiny metal, emphasising any irregularities in the surface.

The high resolution has also revealed evidence of how the balls were carved. Several of them show that the design changed as the balls were shaped, perhaps over the course of years of work. They are all relatively regular in dimension, a convenient size that would fit in one hand. It’s likely the stone carver held them in one hand and chipped or chiseled them with harder stone tools in their other hand.

You can examine this remarkable collection of Neolithic Scottish balls one after the other on this page. You can kick things off taking a look at a small group of them and once you get the feel of them, virtually palpate them all, starting with the exceptional Towie ball.

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7th c. inscription found at Tintagel Castle

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

A team from the Cornwall Archaeological Unit (CAU) have discovered a stone engraved with an extremely rare example of writing from the 7th century at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. It’s not a formal inscription; it was carved by someone doodling or practicing on a window ledge at the castle.

The slate ledge was found under the ruins of the 13th century castle built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III, in an excavation that is part of five-year archaeological survey and excavation commissioned by English Heritage. Digs began in 2016, and archaeologists quickly found the remains of massive stone walls. Fragments of pottery and glass imported from Merovingian France, what is today western Turkey, North Africa, the Aegean are evidence of a thriving trade in luxury products between Tintagel and the Mediterranean from the 5th century until the decline and abandonment of the site in the 7th century.

When the stone was discovered, its importance was immediately evident. It wasn’t until the stone was cleaned that archaeologists saw the wording and realized they had found something of major significance.

The ledge includes what is believed to be a Roman name, Tito, and a Celtic one, Budic. The Latin words fili (son or sons) and viri duo (two men) also appear.

Another intriguing element is a letter “A” with a “V” inside it and a line across the top. The “A” may refer to alpha, which is associated with God. One tail of the symbol morphs into a miniature “A”, which may link back to the word fili. A triangle carved into the slate may be the Greek letter delta. […]

Prof Michelle Brown, an expert in medieval manuscripts at the University of London, was given the task of deciphering the inscription. She said: “The survival of writing from this period is rare and this is a very important find. The text features a mix of Latin script with some Greek letters, and a distinctive monogram [the shape based on the letter “A”]. It suggests a high level of literacy and an awareness of contemporary writing styles associated with the early illuminated manuscripts of Britain and Ireland.

“Other examples of writing in Cornwall and western Britain at this period take the form of monumental inscriptions on stones, but this example is quite different, with a writing style and layout suggestive of a competent scribe from a Christian background, who was familiar with writing documents and books and who was practising a series of words and phrases rather than carving a finished inscription.”

Researchers will continue to study the slate. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis has not found the remains of any polychrome paint, but archaeologists are hoping high resolution scanning will shed more light on the scribe, whether he was left or right-handed, and on the inscription itself, like what tool was used to carve it. The stone has gone on display at Tintagel Castle as of this Saturday, June 16th.

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New study reveals source of Mesoamerican turquoise

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Or more precisely, a new study reveals what wasn’t a source of Mesoamerican turquoise artifacts.

For a century and a half, scholars have posited that the the Aztecs and Mixtecs imported the prized turquoise they used to craft exquisite jewelry from the what is now the southwestern United States. A panoply of pre-Columbian turquoise mining sites have been found in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, California and Nevada, but the southernmost turquoise mines known from the geological, archaeological and historical record are in northern Mexico. There is evidence of trade between the regions — Mesoamerican parrots, cacao and copper bells have been found at Southwestern archaeological sites — particularly after 900 A.D., so it seems to reasonable to think turquoise might have been the other end of the exchange.

Attempts to determine the source of the turquoise in Aztec and Mixtec artifacts scientifically were made in studies from the 1970s through the 1990s using neutron activation to connect the element signatures from Mesoamerican turquoise objects to known element signatures from prehispanic mines in the Southwest. Some results were published claiming that the signatures did indeed match, but the data itself were never published, so they can’t be reexamined and verified today.

A new study by a team of researchers from the US and Mexico led by Dickinson College geochemist Alyson Thibodeau turned to stable isotope analysis to seek the source of the turquoise in Mesoamerican artifacts.

Thibodeau and her research team carried out analyses of lead and strontium isotopes on fragments of turquoise-encrusted mosaics, which are one of the most iconic forms of ancient Mesoamerican art. Their samples include dozens of turquoise mosaic tiles excavated from offerings within the Templo Mayor, the ceremonial and ritual center of the Aztec empire, and which is located in present-day Mexico City. They also analyzed five tiles associated with Mixteca-style objects held by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The analyses revealed that turquoise artifacts had isotopic signatures consistent with geology of Mesoamerica, not the Southwestern United States.

“This work revises our understanding of these relatively rare objects and provides a new perspective on the availability of turquoise, which was a highly valued luxury resource in ancient Mesoamerica,” said Thibodeau.

What it cannot do is narrow down where exactly the turquoise did come from, because the mines have yet to be found. Turquoise deposits tend to be shallow and small, and since they are frequently found near copper deposits, once the stone is extracted the sites are destroyed in the much deeper and wider mining of the copper.

This results of this study also cannot be applied to the whole period or geographic range of Mesoamerican turquoise production, because the examples used were relatively narrow in date and location of origin (insofar as they are known).

Unless direct evidence of ancient Mesoamerican turquoise mines comes to light, the specific source(s) of turquoise used by the Aztecs and Mixtecs cannot be identified. This is because neither the Pb nor Sr isotopic data are able to pinpoint the precise origin for these artifacts within Mesoamerica. However, the isotopic data provide strong evidence that none of the Aztecs or Mixtec turquoise artifacts analyzed for this study derive from the Southwest. Our data primarily pertain to turquoise objects associated with the Late Postclassic Aztec Empire and do not provide evidence about the source(s) of Mesoamerican turquoise artifacts from other regions or time periods. However, based on these findings, we suggest that turquoise may not have been an important component of long-distance trade between the Southwest and Mesoamerica.

The study has been published in the journal Science Advances and can be read in its entirety here.

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Opulent imperial-era home found at Milvian Bridge

Sunday, June 10th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of an opulent imperial-era residence on the banks of the Tiber near the Milvian Bridge. The site was found last November during a preventative archaeology survey in advance of utility works, but excavations were suspended and trenches filled in out of concern that the seasonal rise of the water level in the Tiber would damage the ancient remains.

Excavations have started again in the spring. Only a fraction of the structure has been unearthed and the team still sin’t certain whether it was a villa or smaller private dwelling. The part that has been exposed is contains mosaic floors in the luxurious opus sectile, a mosaic style which used polychrome marbles instead of the small, even tesserae tiles, arranged in a variety of floral, geometric and figural shapes. The floors in this building feature floral motifs, at least the ones revealed so far.

They are of exceptional quality, the colors of the marbles vivid and diverse. The homeowner must have spared no expense. It is incongruous, however, that such a high-end edifice decorated in precious materials would have been built so close to the bank of the Tiber.

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Burned human remains from Goth invasion found in Bulgaria

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

They were found in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, but there are no tortoises buried with these skeletons. They weren’t buried at all, in fact. The charred skeletal remains of three people, two adults and a child about three years of age, were discovered on the floor of a home in the ancient city of Philippopolis during an excavation of a Roman-era street.

Each skeleton shows signs of dying in a fire. Researchers were able to see that one of the skeletons was a woman who was still wearing two bronze bracelets. Near the bones of the other adult, archaeologists found six coins and a bronze figurine depicting a naked image of the Roman god Venus wearing a golden necklace.

In the child’s skeleton, archaeologists found an arrow head, suggesting a particularly violent end.

The remains have not been radiocarbon dated yet, but stratigraphic analysis and the artifacts recovered from the house date it to the mid-3rd century. In the exact middle of the 3rd century, 250 A.D., the Roman province of Thracia was invaded by the Gothic forces under King Cniva. According to the ancient historian Jordanes, they were incensed that the annual monies paid them by Emperor Philip had been cut off. Their aim was not territorial conquest, therefore; it was a pillage expedition.

The Goths crossed the Danube at Novae into the province of Moesia Inferior where they clashed with the legions led by Emperor Trajan Decius. The Romans defeated them in several encounters but none of them were decisive. Then Cniva did the unexpected and swooped south into Thracia which was barely defended as Decius’ legions were concentrated in Moesia Superior to the west and Inferior to the east. The Goths besieged Philippopolis and took it. What they couldn’t loot they burned; who they couldn’t kidnap for ransom they killed.

Archaeological material from the razing of Philippopolis is found not infrequently in Plovdiv. Just this March archaeologists found a large public building with three floors, the last of which was built over rubble from the destruction of the city. Human skeletal remains from the event are very rare finds.

The excavation has unearthed remains from other periods of Plovdiv’s Roman history. The remains of a triumphal arch from the 1st century was a particularly sensational find as there are only two other triumphal arches in all of Bulgaria, one of them located in the East Gate of Philippopolis. Another remarkable find was a marble slab inscribed with a dedication from the governor of Thrace to the Emperor Diocletian (284-305 A.D.) in both Latin and Greek. It had been recycled into a medieval wall only to drop back down to the Roman context next to the arch when the wall collapsed.

The team will continue to excavate the site and hope to be able to accurately date the many structures and artifacts with the aid of 280 coins they’ve found as well as numerous ceramic pieces.

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Intact 4th c. B.C. tomb found in Roman suburb

Monday, June 4th, 2018

An exceptional intact chamber tomb from the 4th century B.C. was discovered during construction of a water pipeline in a suburb of Rome. It was found when an earthmover opened a hole in the side of the chamber, thankfully doing no damage to its overall structure or contents. By law, an archaeologist must be present at construction projects in Rome and environs, but the area had been worked for a year with little archaeological material to show for it so on-site archaeologist Fabio Turchetta didn’t expect they’d stumble on anything of any import. He certainly didn’t expect to find a complete, untouched tomb from the early Roman Republic.

The chamber tomb was dug into soft volcanic tufa and sealed with a large slab of limestone. It contained the skeletal remains of four individuals, three men and one woman between the ages of 40 and 50. They were inhumed at different times. Two of the men were placed up high on stone ledges. The woman was on the floor of the tomb in a crouched position and the third man next to her. Archaeologists believe it was a family tomb, that the people buried there were related to each other instead of the tomb having been invaded and reused in a later period, a common practice that often resulted in the destruction or damage of earlier burials.

The deceased, the two men on the ledges in particular, were laid to rest with a spectacular array of funerary goods. Two iron strigils, scrapers used by athletes to clean themselves after a workout, inspired the team to name the chamber “The Tomb of the Athlete” even though the interred would have been well past athlete age in their era, and anyway strigils were used for cleaning by non-athletes as well.

A total of 25 artifacts were recovered from the tomb, mostly black-glazed pottery bowls and plates with their white decorations still vivid. The tomb was in such inviolate condition that the vessels still contained the remains of funerary offerings: bones of chickens, rabbit and a lamb or kid. The tomb and the number and quality of the grave goods and offerings indicate the deceased were wealthy people, part of the societal elite.

A coin found next to one of the skeletons dates the tomb to between 335 and 312 B.C. The bronze coin depicts the head of Minerva on the obverse and a horse head inscribed “Romano” on the reverse. The style of the pottery confirms the dating of the tomb to the second half of the 4th century B.C.

The Case Rosse neighborhood where the tomb was found is on the Via Tuburtina, a Republican-era road that goes from Rome east to Tivoli (ancient name, Tibur) and then Pescara on the Adriatic. It exits the ancient traditional boundary of the city through the Porta Esquilina in the Servian Wall, and the historic center of Rome through the Porta Tiburtina in the Aurelian Wall (built in the late 3rd century A.D.). Case Rosse is 10 miles outside of the ancient city of Rome.

The Via Tiburtina was decades away from being built when the men in the chamber tomb died, and the Servian Wall, built in reaction to the first Sack of Rome in 390 B.C. by Gallic forces under Brennus, was just a few decades old. It was a momentous century for the city in many ways. Rome bounced back quickly from the sack and in the second half of the 4th century defeated their Italian neighbors — the Etruscans, the Samnites, the Volsci, the Sabini, assorted other Latin tribes — and absorbing their lands and peoples into the foundation of what would become a vast empire.

The individuals buried in the tomb, therefore, were likely Latins, as the Roman identity was still attached to the city itself and only taking its first steps outside of the pomerium with the dissolution of the Latin League confederation after it was decisively defeated by Rome in 338 B.C. One of the reasons this tomb is so important a find is that its untouched condition and organic materials provides them with a unique opportunity to study the funerary rituals of the Ager, the countryside that had been absorbed by Rome politically but was still not Rome.

On Friday, archaeologists began to remove the occupants and the artifacts, which will be sent to a laboratory for research, including DNA testing on the skeletons to determine the familial connection.

One expert, Alessandra Celant, a paleo-botanist at the University of Rome La Sapienza, carefully collected ancient pollen and plant samples from the tomb — “the tip of a pin is enough,” she said — that she will study to potentially reconstruct the flora and landscape of the area, as well as funerary rituals.

The tomb was mapped with a laser scanner, and once it has been emptied, it will be sealed.

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CT of hawk mummy finds it’s a stillborn baby

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

A small wrapped mummy believed to be a hawk in the Egyptian collection of the Maidstone Museum in Kent, England, has been revealed to instead contain the complete remains of a severely deformed stillborn baby or late-term fetus. The mummy was labelled “EA 493 – Mummified Hawk Ptolemaic Period,” a conclusion drawn from its cartonnage outer wrapping which was painted to look like a bird. Its shape and size was comparable to other hawks and the birds held great religious symbolism in traditional Egyptian polytheism so were mummified in large numbers.

It was first CT scanned in 2016 when the Museum received a grant to create a new display space for its Egyptian and Greek artifacts. The star of the museum’s Egyptian collection, the mummy of Ta-Kush, the only adult human mummy in Kent, would take pride of place in the new gallery, so the museum undertook to examine Ta-Kush in greater detail, working with the Kent Institute of Medicine and Science to CT scan the mummy and with FaceLab at Liverpool John Moores University to create a facial reconstruction based on the scan.

All 30 of the mummies in the collection were also CT scanned, including the ostensible hawk. That first scan revealed that it was no hawk at all, but rather a tiny, probably fetal, human. The clinical CT scanner could not capture the remains in sufficient detail for a thorough examination because of their minute size. The museum contacted mummy expert Andrew Nelson of Western University in Ontario, and he arranged with
Nikon Metrology (UK) to conduct a micro-CT scan at a resolution 10 times higher than the clinical CT scan.

The scans produced are some of the highest-resolution images of a mummy ever taken, and by far the highest-resolution images of a mummified fetus. Nelson and a multi-disciplinary international team of experts analyzed the scans. They found that the mummy was a stillborn male at 23 to 28 weeks gestation who was severely anencephalic, a malformation in which the fetus’ skull and brain never develop properly.

The images show well-formed toes and fingers but a skull with severe malformations, says Nelson, a bioarchaeologist and professor of anthropology at Western. “The whole top part of his skull isn’t formed. The arches of the vertebrae of his spine haven’t closed. His earbones are at the back of his head.”

There are no bones to shape the broad roof and sides of the skull, where the brain would ordinarily grow. “In this individual, this part of the vault never formed and there probably was no real brain,” Nelson says.

That makes it one of just two anencephalic mummies known to exist (the other was described in 1826), and by far the most-studied fetal mummy in history. […]

The research provides important clues to the maternal diet – anencephaly can result from lack of folic acid, found in green vegetables – and raises new questions about whether mummification in this case took place because fetuses were believed to have some power as talismans, Nelson says.

“It would have been a tragic moment for the family to lose their infant and to give birth to a very strange-looking fetus, not a normal-looking fetus at all. So this was a very special individual,” Nelson says.

There are only nine mummies of human fetuses known to exist and this is the only anencephalic one to have been scientifically studied. It is a unique find and of great archaeological significance, much more so than the mummy of Ta-Kush which launched the project. It wasn’t going to go on display in the new gallery; it will be an important part of it now.

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