Bones of prehistoric horse found in Utah backyard

A family in Lehi, Utah, inadvertently unearthed the skeleton of an Ice Age equine while working on landscaping project in their backyard. Laura Hill and her family were prepping the backyard for a new lawn when the backhoe they’d rented revealed animal bones. Hill thought they were historic, maybe the remains of a cow or horse that had belonged to one of the pioneers who settled the Utah Territory in the 19th century.

A few months later, Laura Hill visited Lehi’s Thanksgiving Point Museum of Ancient Life and approached museum paleontologist Rick Hunter to tell him about the bones in her yard. Hunter assembled a team of scientists and volunteers to examine and fully excavate the find.

They quickly determined that it far predated pioneer Utah. The small horse is 14,000 to 16,000 years old, which means it roamed the area during the Pleistocene Epoch when most of what we know today as the state of Utah was covered by Lake Bonneville. It is therefore rare to find a land mammal like a horse from this period.

The Thanksgiving Point team spent Tuesday excavating the bones. The horse — which Hunter described as about the size of a Shetland pony, but built stockier — was mostly a complete skeleton. The horse was laying on its left side with its front legs tucked under and back legs straight out.

“This is some of the best articulation I’ve seen,” Hunter said, explaining that means the horse’s bones were still intact. “It tells us that the sediment covered it almost immediately after it died. The thing was just beautiful.”

Hunter also is excited about how much bone he and his team have to work with.

“In dinosaurs, if we find 20 percent of the bones, we’re excited,” he said Thursday as an assistant chipped rock away from a large dinosaur bone in the lab. “But we have more of this guy. I estimate we have about 85 percent of it here.”

The bones have not even mineralized yet, although they are remarkably well-preserved thanks to the sandy soil they’ve been embedded in for thousands of years. Now that they’ve been excavated, they will dry out rapidly which poses a conservation danger. The rate of drying has to be controlled to ensure the bones don’t become brittle.

After the bones are fully dry, they will be coated with consolidants that will harden them and preserve them for long-term storage and study. Preliminary osteological examination has already discovered that the horse had arthritis in his back and there is evidence of bone cancer in one ankle. That suggests the animal was of advanced age.

Once the bones are stable and have been thoroughly researched, documented and put back together, the skeleton, dubbed the Hill Horse, will be displayed at the museum. That could take up to a year, but the Hill family is already riding high.

Hill’s children and nearby neighborhood kids all got to participate in the archaeological excavation, with Hunter guiding them and teaching them along the way.

“It could not have been cooler for my kids. They were so good with them. It was fun to have them here,” Hill said of Hunter’s team. “It totally inspired my kids to be into paleontology and archaeology. It’s all become really real.”

Look inside a cuneiform tablet

The Netherlands Institute for the Near East (NINO) at the University of Leiden has the largest collection of cuneiform tablets in the Netherlands, upwards of 3,000 tablets ranging in date from 2,500 to 4,000 years ago. Some of the tablets are still enveloped in the original clay covers which served as a means of data protection. The majority of cuneiform tablets document financial transactions, inventory, a wide assortment of business, religious and government records. If the inscription was exposed, figures could be easily be changed by simply dunking the tablet in water to soften it a little. Such records would be under constant threat of fraud and forgery. The outer clay layer made it impossible to alter the document without breaking the envelope and making the interference unmistakably clear.

When the study of cuneiform tablets began in earnest the 19th century, archaeologists had no qualms about breaking the hard candy shell to get to the chocolaty text within. These days destruction in the name of knowledge acquisition is no longer an acceptable approach to archaeological materials. Technology has made non-invasive methods of investigation not only possible, but exponentially superior to the crude bull-in-a-china-shop methods of yore. Synchroton light, lasers and CT scanners can see far better than the human eye.

To that end, NINO researchers have enlisted the aid of the micro-CT-scanner at Delft University of Technology to see into the clay tablets that still retain their envelopes. The micro-CT scan generates a 3D model of the object in sections and in enough detail that the surface of the tablet within the clay cover can be read.

Roman skeletons found under hotel swimming pool

Human remains from a Roman burial ground have been discovered underneath the swimming pool of a defunct hotel in York. Builders working on the redevelopment of the historic Newington Hotel into seven housing units came across the bones and experts from the York Archaeological Trust, on site to survey the restoration, excavated the find.

Over the course of three months, they unearthed evidence of approximately 75 graves and the skeletal remains of more than 60 individuals. The graves were shallow which had made them more susceptible to the ravages of later agricultural and construction activity. Layers of medieval plough soil were found above the graves, some with fragments of bone and pottery, and home construction in the 1820s disturbed the burials as well. Only 10% of the skeletons were discovered intact, but thankfully those 10% were in good enough condition for osteological examination and stable isotope testing to tell us more about how the regular folk of Roman York lived.

Even before the medieval and modern earth-churning, the cemetery was in use for so long that newer graves cut through poorly marked older ones.

From the surviving graves, however, we can begin to build a detailed picture of how the cemetery may have looked. At first glance, the image is decidedly chaotic: rather than lying in regimented rows the graves crowd together, oriented towards all points of the compass and frequently intercutting.

As for who was buried there, this was a demographically diverse cemetery, populated by both men and women, and individuals of all ages from infants to elderly adults – although they seem to have been broadly of the same social class.

The discovery of the Roman graves at this site does not come as a surprise. The road is an offshoot of the main Roman road that ran between York and Lincoln, and Roman burials were largely concentrated along roadsides. The property nearest the city was the most expensive, used by the elite to showcase their extravagant tombs. The farther away from the city they got, the more modest the graves.

The burials at what would become the Newington Hotel on Tadcaster Road were in the latter category. The people under the swimming pool were buried in simple graves with no elaborate markers. Their grave goods consisted almost entirely of inexpensive earthenware pottery. Only two of the graves held anything else. One contained a jet pin, the other the remains of a copper alloy head ornament. These inexpensive objects were likely part of the deceased’s funerary styling, not separate grave goods. Still, the pots that were found in graves are in excellent condition, practically mint. Archaeologists suspect they were bought for the funeral rather than pieces the deceased used in their lifetimes.

Cemeteries have been found before in this area. An excavation at nearby Trentholme Drive in the 1950s — one of the first burial grounds from Roman Britain to be fully published — revealed a cemetery that archaeologists now believe was part of a larger complex that included the Newington Hotel graves.

The dig site will be open to the public on June 22nd from 1-2PM.

Largest known child sacrifice found in Peru

The remains of more than 140 children and 200 young llamas have been unearthed at a Chimú Empire site on the northern coast of Peru. It’s the largest known mass sacrifice in history.

While incidents of human sacrifice among the Aztec, Maya, and Inca have been recorded in colonial-era Spanish chronicles and documented in modern scientific excavations, the discovery of a large-scale child sacrifice event in the little-known pre-Columbian Chimú civilization is unprecedented in the Americas—if not in the entire world. […]

Huanchaquito-Las Llamas (generally referred to by the researchers as “Las Llamas,”) first made headlines in 2011, when the remains of 42 children and 76 llamas were found during an emergency dig directed by study co-author Prieto. An archaeologist and Huanchaco native, Prieto was excavating a 3,500-year-old temple down the road from the sacrifice site when local residents first alerted him to human remains eroding from nearby coastal dunes.

By the time excavations concluded at Las Llamas in 2016, more than 140 sets of child remains and 200 juvenile llamas had been discovered at the site; rope and textiles found in the burials are radiocarbon dated to between 1400 and 1450.

The tell-tale marks of sacrificial killing are on their skeletal remains. There are cut marks on the sternum, dislocated ribs, likely from when they were pulled apart to access the heart.
The lack of hesitation marks suggests this was done by a very practiced and steady hand or hands. The children were between five and 14 years old, most of them between eight and 12. The llamas were even younger, less than 18 months old.

The evidence indicates all this killing took place at one extended event rather than having been spaced out over time.

The investigators believe all of the human and animal victims were ritually killed in a single event, based on evidence from a dried mud layer found in the eastern, least disturbed part of the 7,500-square-foot site. They believe the mud layer once covered the entire sandy dune where the ritual took place, and it was disturbed during the preparation of the burial pits and the subsequent sacrifice event.

Child skeleton found in Pompeii’s Central Baths

The skeletal remains of a child killed in the calamitous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. have been discovered in Pompeii’s Central Baths complex. The find was unexpected, a fortuitous discovery during work to strengthen and restore the complex that had already been extensively excavated in the 19th century. It’s also unusual from a stratigraphic perspective, because it was found just 10 centimeters underneath an entrance area instead of under a thick layer of pumice fall, another created by the pyroclastic flow of superheated gases and volcanic material and a top layer of ash sealing everything below. The child was covered only by the pyroclastic layer, not the pumice or ash.

While the structures in the rest of the city experienced roof collapses from being pummeled by hot pumice for hours (many Pompeiians died from being crushed under busted roofs, not from the direct effects of the eruption), the area of the Central Baths where the child was found appears to have kept its lid. The pyroclastic flow must have come in through the windows, which is like something out of The Blob only way, way scarier.

First to emerge was the child’s skull, followed by the articulated bones of the body. Because of its in situ, intact discovery, archaeologists were able to make an educated guess that the child was seven or eight years old at the time of death and that he or she had fled into the baths seeking refuge from the eruption. It’s a lucky that the find site was excavated in 1877-8 but the burial was not disturbed at that time, not dug up, no plaster cast made. That’s probably due to the ancient pyroclastic material being too difficult at that time to create a cast, and making the castings was the top priority.

“Pompeii is at a turning point for archaeological research,” says Massimo Osanna, Director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, “not only for the exceptional discoveries that give strong emotions as in the case of this discovery, but above all because it has consolidated a new model of scientific approach that deals with the interdisciplinary excavation investigations. A team of specialized professionals such as archaeologists, architects, restorers but also engineers, geotechnicals, archaeobotanists, anthropologists, vulcanologists work steadily, side by side and with the support of cutting-edge technological resources, so as not to leave any scientific element to chance, and then reconstruct in the most accurate way a new piece of history that, through the excavations, is returned to us.”

The Central Baths, located at the intersection of Via di Nola and via Stabiana, develop on the space of an entire block, the insula 4 of the Regio IX, made available by the leveling of pre-existing buildings, probably damaged by the earthquake of 62 AD. Their construction is later than that date and at the time of the eruption it was not completed. The entire complex is the subject of consolidation (treatment of holes, consolidation, perforation of the lesions, restoration of the walls, restoration of sill levels and thresholds, replacement of architraves) and restoration (revision and restoration of walls and walls of plasters, cleaning and restoration of the flood, of the tanks and of the staircase; restoration of the tubules in the calidarium) started last January.