Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Roman cemetery found at Netherlands highway site

Friday, March 9th, 2018

An archaeological survey at the site of new highway construction in Bemmel, in the southern Netherlands’ province of Gelderland, has unearthed a large Roman cemetery with an intriguing mystery about it. There are 48 graves dating to the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., some with stone funerary caskets intact and containing very high quality grave goods. The size of the burial ground, how complete it is, the quantity, variety and quality of the graves make it unique in the archaeological record of the Netherlands. This was a cemetery for the elite.

Excavations were carried out in February, but kept secret to fend off treasure hunters. It was immediately clear to the archaeologists that this was a special find. The cemetery was discovered just 20 inches under the surface, and yet, it was entirely unspoiled, graves intact, grave goods in excellent condition, even the skeletal remains of a baby, which very rarely survive, were found. These were cremation burials as was the Roman custom at this time. The ashes were buried with grave goods and covered by burial bounds. Out of the 48 graves found, tufa funerary caskets were found in six. Four of those urns were completely intact. This is the first time so many cremation urns have been found in one place in the Netherlands. Also notable is that the grave goods were buried in tiled chambers of their own, not in pits adjacent to the person they were buried with, which was the customary practice.

The mysterious part is that Roman burial grounds were usually just outside the city walls, but there is no Roman city known in the Bemmel area. It would have had to have been a town with a sizable population of wealthy people and by now you’d think some archaeological evidence of such a settlement would have been discovered.

The discovery of the cemetery and artifacts were announced to the public by the Rijkswaterstaat [RWS], the Ministry of Water and Infrastructure Management, for the first time on March 8th.

Among the funeral gifts were such luxury items as imported painted earthenware jars, plates and cups, and tableware consisting of glass bottles and decorated bronze jugs, cups and dishes. Although personal items did not usually accompany their owners in death, the archaeologists found clothing pins, mirrors, a pair of scissors and even a complete perfume bottle with its contents intact, RWS says.

Among the more unusual items were fragments of four parchment roll holders and a stone grave monument with a depiction of a woman.

Such gifts are more typical of Roman cities like Nijmegen, or high-ranking Roman officials in Belgium, Germany or France, RWS said. The best explanation therefore is that these were the inhabitants of a Roman villa near Bemmel, which would make it perhaps the most northerly position of a Roman villa in all of the Roman empire.

The artifacts are currently being cleaned and conserved. On April 27-9, a selection of the grave goods will be exhibited to the public in Bemmel as part of the city’s Romans Week. Next year, the discoveries will be displayed at the Museum Vet Valkhof in Nijmegen.

The Dutch-language video shows the dig site and one of the caskets as it was found in situ and removed en bloc to a laboratory for careful excavation. Below is an English transcript (Google translated, so there are bound to be errors).

We see a motorway from the air and a title appears: Archaeological research. Crossing the Ressen-Oudenbroek junction (ViA15) An archaeologist is in his car on his way to work. He says: “We are actually the beginning of the construction, we get everything out of the ground.” He walks through a muddy pasture and says: “We make everything safe and ensure that there is no more archaeology in the ground so that the road can get there.”

Together with a number of colleagues, he is sitting on his knees in the mud. They dig with small scoops and he continues: “You have a well plan, which is on the GPS. Those are just the rectangles that you expand. You put four markers in the grounds you are going to dig. That’s it. It starts with the beeping of the metal detector. Then we heard a very loud signal and then we were already looking at each other: this will be beautiful. I called my colleague, I say I’ve never seen this. So he came and he said, they look like coffins. No, dude, this is not possible. We spent a week and a half working on those pits and then we found this. Then you know right away that you have something special. And then you’re going to dig.”

The archaeologists are standing at a pit with a wooden box. A crane slowly lifts the crate out of the pit. The archaeologist says: “What we got from the ground is a tufa stone casket. There was a big pit next to it, there were the grave gifts. And then there appears to be a whole grave field. It is just a complete burial ground from Roman times. That is really great. I have never experienced it yourself that you find urns. Then you also know right away that it is the elite. You are not simply buried in an casket. You actually feel as happy as a small child.”

The archaeologist visits the archaeological restorer who is cleaning the casket and continues: “The beauty is, we write history here. This is not written. That is what you actually do with archaeology. Everything that is not known, we make a story of that. This is also what you do it for. It’s nice to write a whole story, but if you find such kind of finds that makes your profession really fun.”

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Rome Metro construction reveals centurion’s villa

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

Archaeologists have unearthed the large, luxuriously appointed 2nd century domus of a Hadrianic military commander at the Amba Aradam station on Rome’s future Metro C line. This is the same site where the military barracks were discovered in 2016, and in fact the villa is connected to the barracks dormitory via a corridor with a staircase. The villa was found 12 meters (40 feet) below the surface, three meters beneath the barracks. This is the first villa of a military commander ever discovered in Rome.

The domus is an imposing 300 square meters (3,230 square feet) in area over least 14 rooms. They are lavishly decorated with black and white mosaic floors with floral motifs, animals (a very smart-faced owl among them) and a scene of a satyr and a winged Cupid either fighting or frolicking. The villa also boasts marble tiles in contrasting colors and frescoed walls. One of the rooms was heated, likely a private bath, as evidenced by the telltale piles of bricks under the flooring that allowed the heated air to circulate. As was typical of the Roman villa, the rooms were arranged around the atrium, a square courtyard in the middle of the house in which archaeologists found the remains of a fountain.

On the other side of the barracks is another structure built later than the barracks and commander’s house. Replete with brick pavements, water conduits and tubs, the building appears to have been a service area where supplies were stored and kept as cool as possible. There archaeologists also discovered surviving wood objects, mainly construction tools like the forms used to build the foundations and discarded carpenter’s beams. The team has also found everyday use objects, gold rings, the carved ivory handle of a dagger, amulets and bullae that have helped archaeologists create a timeline of the remains and identify numerous reconstructions of the compound over the years.

Like the barracks, the domus and service area were abandoned and, the second half of the 3rd century, they were destroyed, their walls cut down to four-foot stumps. This likely took place in 271 A.D. when the Aurelian Walls were being fortified and anything outside of the perimeter that could provide refuge and access to the enemy was demolished.

The black and white mosaics, marble floors, fountain and frescoed walls that remain are too fragile to be left in situ while the new station is built underneath it. Therefore the entire site be dismantled, moved to a temporary location and then returned to their original location.

You can see some excellent footage of the excavators at work and of the villa in this video:

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Oldest known figural tattoos found on Gebelein Mummies

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

Ötzi the Iceman has competition for the world’s oldest tattoos from two pre-dynastic Egyptian mummies in the British Museum. Gebelein Man A and Gebelein Woman are two of six mummies unearthed in 1896 by British Museum Egyptologist Wallis Budge from their shallow sandy graves near modern-day Naga el-Gherira in southern Egypt. Covered in warm desert sand at the time of their burial, the six natural mummies were very well-preserved and the first complete predynastic bodies ever found. They were acquired by the British Museum in 1900.

They’ve been on display for more than a century, but nobody realized Gebelein Man A and Gebelein Woman had tattoos until a recent infrared examination. All that’s visible to the naked eye on Gebelein Man is a faint smudge on his upper right arm. Infrared photography revealed the smudge is actually a tattoo, and a figural one at that. It depicts two horned animals, one with a long tail and elaborate horns identifying it as a wild bull, the other with the curving horns and a shoulder hump characteristic of a Barbary sheep. The iconographic references are recognizable because they come up regularly in the art of Predynastic Egypt. This is just the first time they’ve come up in body art. The animal figures are thought to symbolize strength, still today an immensely popular motif in tattoo art.

Gebelein Woman’s tattoos at first glance do not appear to be figural. IR revealed the presence of four S-shaped figures running over her right shoulder and a bent line a little further down her right arm. Again, both of these motifs are found on predynastic painted pottery. However, the linear piece may not be an abstract design. It is similar to objects held in the hands of figures believed to be participating in religious rituals. Researchers think they may be clappers used in ceremonial dance. It could also be a staff symbolizing her holding high office. It’s possible they and the s shapes served a spiritual function on her body as well, marking her as a woman of status, advanced cult knowledge or singling her out for protection.

Dating to between 3351 and 3017 B.C. (Ötzi died around 5,300 years ago, so the Iceman and the sand people are roughly the same age when accounting for margins of error), the Gebelein mummies can each claim new records in the history of tattooing. Gebelein Man has the earliest figural art; Gebelein Woman is the oldest known tattooed woman in the world. Ötzi’s tattoos are patterns of dots and lines.

The results of the study have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, but the issue is in progress and the article is not yet available online.

Daniel Antoine, one of the lead authors of the research paper and the British Museum’s Curator of Physical Anthropology said:

“The use of the latest scientific methods, including CT scanning, radiocarbon dating and infrared imaging, has transformed our understanding of the Gebelein mummies. Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals. Incredibly, at over five thousand years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium.”

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Late pharaonic necroplis found in Minya, Egypt

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered a previously unknown necropolis from the late pharaonic and early Ptolemaic periods in Minya, 150 miles south of Cairo. Burial grounds have been found in the area before. Late last year, archaeologists embarked on an excavation with the aim of discovering the rest of the necropoli at Minya, and soon struck paydirt. They unearthed tombs of priests of Thoth, inventor of writing, god of wisdom and the patron deity of the 15th nome (province) of Upper Egypt, known as Khmno, and of its capital city Ashmounin. They also found burials of the priests’ family members.

Canopic jar. Andalou Agency.One of the tombs belonged to a priest identified in the hieroglyphics on his canopic jars as Djehuty-Irdy-Es, a Haras Sa Aissa, meaning one of the Great Five, a title reserved the senior priests of Thoth. The four alabaster canopic jars, all in excellent condition, still contain the remains of the deceased’s mummified organs. Their lids represent the heads of the sons of Horus. The priest’s mummy was found wearing a gilded bronze collar depicting the winged sky goddess Nut.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and leader of the excavation describes the mummy thus:

The mummy is decorated having a collection of blue and red beads as well as bronze gilded sheets, two eyes carved in bronze and ornamented with ivory and crystal beads.

“It is seen stretching her wings to protect the deceased, according to an ancient Egyptian belief,” Waziri said, adding that four amulets of semi-precious stones were also found decorated with engraved hieroglyphic texts, one phrase says, “Happy New Year.”

That amulet, a scarab, was discovered on New Year’s Eve in what is either a fortuitous coincidence or a sign that the ancient gods aren’t quite dead yet. The mummy is in a relatively good state of preservation but has suffered some moisture damage.

A large group of people, likely the priest’s family, was buried close by. The sarcophagi of 40 family members were found in the tombs. These are very high quality, expensive limestone coffins, many of them anthropoid and engraved with hieroglyphics that include the owners’ names.

All told, so far the team has explored 13 burials. In these other tombs archaeologists have found more sarcophagi, statuettes, pottery and other funerary artifacts, including more than a thousand intact faience ushapti figurines plus hundreds more broken into pieces and the excavation is far from over. According to Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani, the density of finds is so significant that it will take at least five years to fully excavate the necropolis.

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Oldest known cave art painted by Neanderthals

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

An international team of researchers have dated painted art found on the walls and inside four caves in Spain and discovered that the oldest known art in the world long predates behaviorally modern humans. Previously believed to be solely the province of Homo sapiens, the painted walls and marine shells are indisputably the work of Neanderthals.


La Pasiega, section C. Cave wall with paintings. The scalariform (ladder shape) composed of red horizontal and vertical lines (centre left) dates to older than 64,000 years and was made by Neanderthals. (Credit: P. Saura)

The paint is made of mineral pigment, not charcoal, so it’s not possible to use radiocarbon dating to figure out how old they are. Instead, researchers turned to the calcium carbonate crusts that formed on top of the paintings when water dropped down the wall. The art has to be older than the calcite, ergo, dating the calcite gives a minimum age of the paintings.


Calcite crust on top of the red scalariform sign. The U-Th method dates the formation of the crust which gives a minimum age for the underlying painting.
(Credit: J. Zilhão)

The technology used, Uranium-Thorium dating, requires a very small sample and returns more precise dates going back further in time than radiocarbon dating based on the radioactive decay of Uranium into Thorium. Researchers tested more than 60 carbonate samples from cave paintings in three Spanish sites, La Pasiega, in Cantabria, north-eastern Spain, Maltravieso in Cáceres, western Spain, and Ardales in Andalusia, southern Spain.


Dirk Hoffmann and Alistair Pike sampling calcite from a calcite crust on top of the red scalariform sign in La Pasiega. (Credit: J. Zilhão)

The results found that the paintings are at least 64,000 years old. In La Pasiega, the ladder with animal shapes in the interior rectangles and dots on the inside is a minimum of 64,800 years old. The red-painted speleothems in the Ardales cave are more than 65,500 years old. A hand stencil in Maltravieso is more than 66,700 years old. All of them long predate Homo sapiens‘ arrival in Spain who only moved to the area 40,000 years ago. The results of the testing have been published in the journal Science and can be read here.

Panel 3 in Maltravieso Cave showing 3 hand stencils (centre right, centre top and top left). One has been dated to at least 66,000 years ago and must have been made by a Neanderthal. (Credit: H. Collado) Panel 3 in Maltravieso Cave showing 3 hand stencils (centre right, centre top and top left). One has been dated to at least 66,000 years ago and must have been made by a Neanderthal (colour enhanced). (Credit: H. Collado)

Left: Panel 3 in Maltravieso Cave showing 3 hand stencils (centre right, centre top and top left). One has been dated to at least 66,000 years ago and must have been made by a Neanderthal. (Credit: H. Collado) Right: Color enhanced version of Panel 3. (Credit: H. Collado)

Samples from all three caves from the north, center and south of the peninsula date to the time when Neanderthals were the only human species in the area, which means these paintings aren’t random or some one-off fluke, but rather a conscious, well-developed cultural approach with specific symbolic meaning and thoughtful application. The locations, all of them in the depths of caves where they did not live, light sources and pigments were chosen with careful deliberation to make their artistic and spiritual visions come to life.


Left: Cave wall in Maltravieso with Neanderthal hand stencil, almost completely covered with calcite. It is older than 66,000 years. (Credit: H. Collado) Center: Color enhanced version of stencil. (Credit: H. Collado) Right: Detail of stencil, color enhanced. (Credit: H. Collado)

Even older examples of the Neanderthal ability to convert abstractions into art have been found in southeast Spain in the Cueva de los Aviones. Marine shells discovered there are pigmented with red and yellow and perforated. Again using Uranium-Thorium dating, the team has dated the flowstone covering the shells to an astonishing 115,000 to 120,000 years old. Homo sapiens produced similar pieces but the earliest of them date to between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago.


Left: A shell with remnants of pigments found in sediments in Cueva de los Aviones. It dates to between 115,000 and 120,000 years. (Credit: J. Zilhão) Right: Perforated shells found in sediments in Cueva de los Aviones and date to between 115,000 and 120,000 years. (Credit: J. Zilhão)

The results of the shell dating study have been published separately in Science Advances and can be read here.

“Neanderthals created meaningful symbols in meaningful places”, says Paul Pettitt from University of Durham, also a team member and cave art specialist. In the Cueva Ardales, where excavations are currently being conducted by a German-Spanish team, the presence of Neanderthals has also been proven from analysing occupation layers. “This is certainly just the beginning of a new chapter in the study of ice age rock art”, says Gerd-Christian Weniger of the Foundation Neanderthal Museum Mettmann, one of the leaders of the Ardales excavations. […]

“According to our new data Neanderthals and modern humans shared symbolic thinking and must have been cognitively indistinguishable”, concludes João Zilhão, team member from the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona and involved in both studies. “On our search for the origins of language and advanced human cognition we must therefore look much farther back in time, more than half a million years ago, to the common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans.”

When the fossilized remains of Neanderthals were first discovered in the 19th century, one of the proposed names for the hominid species was Homo stupidus. They were held to be apelike and unintelligent, incapable of abstract or symbolic thought. The confirmation that they were not only capable of symbolism but also pretty freaking phenomenal artists puts to rest those old prejudices once and for all. Neanderthals were just as cognitively capable as modern humans.


Cueva de los Aviones, seen from the breakwater of Cartagena harbour. (Credit: J. Zilhão)

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Only known Roman boxing gloves found at Vindolanda

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

The Roman fort of Vindolanda just south of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland continues to reap the blessings of its anaerobic, waterlogged soil. Last summer’s dig season was replete with important finds including a cache of 25 writing tablets, but the greatest find was a pre-Hadrianic cavalry barracks from around 105 A.D. in which were found all kinds of utility items from daily life — ink writing tablets, styluses, combs, pottery, wooden spoons, bowls, leather shoes, small wooden swords that were likely children’s toys — as well as an extraordinary group of cavalry weapons, armor and harness fittings. Two swords, one complete with wooden pommel, its edge still sharp inside an intact wooden scabbard, were particularly exciting finds.

Among the treasures discovered in the remains of the cavalry barracks were two leather pieces unlike anything else found at the fort. Thousands of leather shoes have been unearthed at Vindolanda. These definitely weren’t shoes. They are elliptical bands which archaeologists and Roman experts have identified as boxing gloves. Dating to around 120 A.D., they are the only known surviving boxing gloves from the Roman era.

Unlike the modern boxing glove these ancient examples have the appearance of a protective guard, designed to fit snugly over the knuckles protecting them from impact. The larger of the two gloves is cut from a single piece of leather and was folded into a pouch configuration, the extending leather at each side were slotted into one another forming a complete oval shape creating an inner hole into which a hand could still easily be inserted. The glove was packed with natural material acting as a shock absorber. This larger glove has extreme wear on the contact edge and it had also undergone repair with a tear covered by a circular patch. The slightly smaller glove was uncovered in near perfect condition with the same construction but filled with a tight coil of hard twisted leather.

The two gloves can still fit comfortably on a modern hand. They have been skilfully made, with the smaller glove retaining the impression of the wearer’s knuckles. It is likely that the gloves functioned as sparring or practice caestu each has a stiffened contact edge being a softer representation of the of the more lethal metal inserts used in ‘professional’ ancient boxing bouts. It is thought that the larger glove may have been unfit for purpose due to prolonged use and may have survived alongside the ‘newer’ model resulting from a personal attachment given to it by the owner.

Boxing was a popular sport in Classical antiquity. It was used to hone and improve combat skills in the Roman army, as well as for general fitness. In addition to regular sparring, boxing matches and tournaments between soldiers were arranged as spectator sports attended by civilians.

As of yesterday, the gloves are now on display in the Vindolanda museum. They’ve been fitted onto a pair of mannequin hands and mounted in front of a large image of The Boxer at Rest, a Hellenistic bronze statue posed with begloved hands on his knees in front of him. The mannequin hands are placed in front of the boxer’s so they look almost like extensions of his own. It’s a little… disconcerting, but ultimately I think it’s a good idea to convey how they were worn in antiquity.

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Hieroglyphic inscription identifies statue of Kushite king

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

The head from a statue of a Kushite ruler discovered in 2008 at the site of the Temple of Amun in, Dangeil, Sudan, has been identified as that of Aspelta, the king of Kush who reigned from 593 B.C. to 568 B.C. Archaeologists thought the head might be that of Aspelta based solely on a comparison between its features and those of other statues known to depict the Kushite king, but his identity could only be confirmed when fragments of the statue containing a hieroglyphic inscription were discovered during the 2016 and 2017 dig seasons. The inscription, now puzzled back together, describes Aspelta as “King of Upper and Lower Egypt,” “Beloved of Re’-Harakhty” (a Kushite version of the Egyptian sun god “Re”) and as having been “given all life, stability and dominion forever.”

He was not, incidentally, king of Upper and Lower Egypt or any other part of it, for that matter. Some of his distant predecessors were, but by the time Aspelta took the throne, the Kushite monarchs no longer ruled Egypt. The last Kushite king of Egypt was Tanwetamani who ruled ca. 664–653 B.C. and lost control of the ancient land to the north more than 50 years before Aspelta’s reign. The title is vestigial, a carryover of former glory rather than any stubborn claim to the throne of Egypt.

The Temple of Amun where the statue pieces were found is about 2,000 years old. The statue of Aspelta is believed to have been carved during his lifetime circa 2,600 years ago. It was displayed in the temple long after his death for religious reasons.

“Statues might be displayed in temples, particularly the forecourts of temples, after the reigns of the kings, as they may have served as intermediaries between the people and the gods in popular religion,” [excavation co-director Julie] Anderson told Live Science.

The temple remained in active use until the early 4th century. Kush collapsed shortly thereafter and that was the end of the temple’s ancient prominence. It retained enough significance, however, that in the Middle Ages the ruined temple was repurposed for use as a burial ground for wealthy people, even though the area was firmly Christian by then. The last two field seasons have discovered eight graves dating to between the late 11th and early 13th centuries containing skeletal remains of adult women and one juvenile. The tombs were rich with grave goods, among them elaborate bead necklaces, bead belts, rings, bracelets and anklets. More than 18,500 beads and 70 copper bracelets in total were found in the eight graves.

There are no indicators of who these people might have been. The jewelry suggests they were rich, members of the elite, but there are no names or any other information that might explain who they were or why they buried in the remains of an ancient temple dedicated to a sun god.

Meanwhile, the statue of Aspelta is still being pieced together. The Berber-Abidiya Project team, a collaborative effort of archaeologists from the British Museum and the Sudanese National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM) are hoping to discover more fragments to aid in the reconstruction. Once more of the work is done, they’ll be able to tell how large a statue it was. Right now it looks to be about half life-size.

Named after the region, the Berber-Abidiya Project aims to conserve the temple and its artifacts in situ so it can be converted into a museum and archaeological park. This will bring much-needed tourist attention to an area where cultural patrimony is in danger from development, road construction, agriculture and irrigation installations.

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Ugly Sweater-wearing idiot steals thumb of terracotta warrior

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

An individual who can only be described as a complete dumbass has been busted by the FBI for breaking the thumb off a Terracotta Warrior on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and hiding it in his desk drawer. It’s incalculably sad that this 24-year-old loser who still lives at home with Mommy and Daddy was at the museum on the evening of December 21st just to attend an Ugly Sweater Party. He was able to access the room where 10 priceless terracotta warriors, among them the Cavalryman standing next to a horse, were on display simply by walking through a door carelessly left unlocked by (Keystone) rent-a-cops and stepping over the black rope capable of cordoning off nothing and nobody.

He got a couple of his friends to join him, but they quickly left because they’re not complete dumbasses. He lingered a bit, looking at the statues with light from his cell, putting his arm around the Cavalryman and taking a selfie like an idiot. Then he deliberately with malice aforethought snapped off one of the statue’s thumbs and slipped it in his pocket before decamping.

We know all this now because the FBI’s crack Art Crime squad reviewed security tape footage and saw it all go down. The museum staff only noticed the damage to the Cavalryman on January 8th, more than two weeks after it was looted. That’s when the FBI stepped in. FBI Special Agent Jacob Archer compared the surveillance footage to credit card receipts for the night and identified the thief as Michael Rohana of Bear, Delaware.

When the agent showed up at the Rohana household, Michael folded like an origami crane.

In front of his father, Rohana admitted it that he had stashed the thumb in his desk drawer.

A U.S. attorney has decided to charge him with theft of a major artwork from a museum, concealment of major artwork stolen from a museum, and interstate transportation of stolen property.

He was arrested and released on a 15,000-USD bail, on the condition that he hand over his passport, consent to drug testing, and refrain from leaving the country before trail.

Meanwhile, the museum has reviewed its security systems and procedures in the wake of this debacle.

The actions of one jackhole and the failure to follow any number of responsible security protocols shouldn’t irredeemably taint the exhibition. This particular group of warriors and artifacts have only been shown in two museums in the US. The first was the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, from which they all survived unscathed. The Franklin is the second and therefore the only one on the East Coast. It’s the first time in 30 years that the City of Brotherly Love has had any Terracotta Warriors come stay for a while and given the colossal miscarriage of stewardship, it may be more than 30 years before they come back. Plus, they’ve created a nifty Augmented Reality app that allows visitors the chance to see the warriors in virtual close-up and to view them with digital versions of the original weapons and accessories that have long since been destroyed or lost. The Cavalryman would likely have held his horse’s reins in one hand and a spear in the other. The digital view includes those long-gone accoutrements.

Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor runs through March 4th of this year.

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Baby cradled in mother’s arm is oldest infant burial in the Netherlands

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Dutch archaeologists have discovered a 6,000-year-old Stone Age burial of a woman with a baby cradled in her arm in the central Netherlands city of Nieuwegein. It is the oldest infant burial ever found in the Netherlands.

Nieuwegein is rich with archaeological material from the Swifterbant culture, a Neolithic-era culture who transitioned from hunter-gathering to cattle farming in settlements along the riverbanks and wetlands of what are today the Netherlands between 5300 and 3400 B.C.

An abundance of Swifterbant artifacts and remains, about 136,000 of them (far more than were discovered at the type site in Swifterbant, Flevoland province), have been found under six and a half feet of clay and peat at Nieuwegein’s Het Klooster business park. Artifacts include hundreds of pieces of flint, a grindstone worn to a smooth surface by the second grinding stone used the mill grains and cereals, a striking jet pendant, animal bone chisels and earthenware pottery. The clay and peat have kept the objects and remains in an unusually good state of preservation for thousands of years. One of the pottery vessels still had a layer of food in it.

Mother and infant burial from the Neolithic Swifterbant Culture, ca. 6,000 years ago. Photo courtesy RAAP.They also discovered four skeletons which they cut out of the clay en bloc and transported to the Leiden laboratory of RAAP Archaeological Consultancy for careful excavation. One of them was the skeleton of a young adult woman who was 20-30 years old at time of death. When the remains were first unearthed, archaeologists didn’t realize they’d just found the oldest infant burial in the Netherlands. They didn’t realize it was an infant burial period. There was no osteological material immediately visible pointing to the presence of a baby buried with the young woman. It was the woman’s right arm bent at a 90 degree angle with her elbow out that suggested to archaeologists there was something anomalous in that spot. The Swifterbant culture buried their dead with their legs outstretched and arms straight by their sides.

When the remains were excavated in the lab, archaeologists discovered small bone fragments in the crook of the woman’s right arm: pieces of the clavicles, skull, a leg bone, a mandible complete with milk teeth. The teeth were so small they could have belonged to a newborn (there are teethlets in their wee jaws, they just haven’t erupted yet) or a baby up to six months old.

“It really makes an impression when you find little baby teeth buried in clay for 6,000 years and see how similar they are to all those milk teeth that are kept in matchboxes by parents everywhere!” [Dutch broadcaster] NOS quotes [project leader Helle] Molthof as saying.

This is an exceptionally rare discovery. Infants have such soft bones that they disintegrate within months of burial. The waterlogged conditions of this burial, the thick alluvial clay deposits and the peat, preserved these fragile remains for 6,000 years.

The archaeological team hopes to determine whether the adult woman and the baby she was laid to rest cradling are, as one would suspect, mother and child, using DNA analysis.

DNA testing will have to determine whether the woman is the baby’s mother, although there seems to be little doubt that she is, and the sex of the baby. The archaeologists hope the find will tell them more about the burial ceremonies of the Swifterbant people. “We know how they lived, what sort of food they ate, what their houses were like but we don’t know very much yet about how they buried their dead and what happened to the children,” Molthof told the broadcaster.

Isotope analysis will have to show if the woman was born in the area or whether she travelled there at a later date.

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Trail of mammoth footprints found in Oregon

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

A team of scientists have unearthed a Pleistocene-era Columbian mammoth trackway at Fossil Lake, Oregon. The fossilized footprints are about 43,000 years old and include tracks left in the volcanic soil by adult, juvenile and infant mammoths. There are 117 footprints, a large enough number and wide enough range of ages that studying the track will lend new insight into how mammoths interacted with each other as a herd.

The first footprints were discovered in 2014 by paleontologist Greg Retallack of the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History during a field trip with UO students to study fossil plants. The site is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, so last year BLM researchers partnered with researchers from the University of Oregon (including Retallack) and University of Louisiana researchers to explore the trackway.

Initially, the UO-led team, which included Adrian Broz, now a doctoral student of Retallack’s who had been in the fossil class, quickly zeroed in on a 20-footprint track exhibiting some intriguing features.

“These prints were especially close together, and those on the right were more deeply impressed than those on the left — as if an adult mammoth had been limping,” said Retallack, who also is a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences.

The limping animal wasn’t alone, the six-member research team reported in a study published online ahead of print in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. Two sets of smaller footprints appeared to be approaching and retreating from the limper’s trackway.

“These juveniles may have been interacting with a limping adult female, returning to her repeatedly throughout the journey, possibly out of concern for her slow progress,” said Retallack, the study’s lead author. “Such behavior has been observed with wounded adults in modern, matriarchal herds of African elephants.”

Trace fossils such as those found in trackways can provide unique insights into natural history, Retallack said.

“Tracks sometimes tell more about ancient creatures than their bones, particularly when it comes to their behavior,” he said. “It’s amazing to see this kind of interaction preserved in the fossil record.”

The team also studied the soil layers at the trackway site. It appears the climate and plants in the Fossil Lakes area in the Ice Age were not dissimilar to its modern counterpart, although the lakes were larger, it was drier in the summer and precipitation was higher in the winter. There was also more lowland grassland, one of the Columbian mammoth’s preferred foods. The mammoths and other grass-eaters (a prehistoric horse print was also found at the trackway) were essential to the grassland ecosystem. They fertilized it with their dung and suppressed other plants by trampling and uprooting them during grazing. It’s likely that the fertile grassland of the Ice Age succumbed to desertification after the extinction of the mammoths and other large native grass-eaters 11,500 years ago. Hence the dry lake beds and their precious cargo of fossils.

There are some killer drone’s eye views of the trackway and the wild dessert beauty of the Fossil Lake area in this video:

The study, still in the corrected proof stage, is available for purchase here.

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