Bronze Age human-snake sculpture reunited with its bird’s leg

The bronze sculpture of a deity with human head on snake body found in Pit No. 8 of the Sanxingdui Bronze Age archaeological site has been reunited with its missing upside-down bird’s leg 3,000 years after their separation. The bronze statue was just unearthed in June; the bird-legged sculpture was discovered in Pit No. 2 in 1986.

The bronze statue was cast in three parts — a urn base, the central section with the tusked anthropomorphic head on a snake body, a trumpet-shaped drinking vessel — that were then welded together. The three sections combined into a dramatic sculpture more than five feet high representing mythological figures and iconography of the Bronze Age Shu kingdom.

The bronze bird-footed statue is clearly incomplete, the legs of a creature wearing a snug skirt with a cloud pattern from which shapely legs emerge with feet that look like bird claws. The claws clutch the heads of two long-necked birds. It has been on display at the Sanxingdui Museum for years with the tantalizing notice: “The bird’s foot portrait is probably the most bizarre one. It is a pity that such an exquisite artifact is missing the upper half, what does it really look like? It’s really baffling.”

Well it turns out it’s actually missing its rear half, because the “waist” of the skirt is a perfect fit for a curved appendage on the back of the recently-discovered statue, and it has been displayed upside-down this whole time.

“The successful matching of cultural relics from different pits has confirmed archaeologists’ previous speculation. It also is of great significance for the subsequent restoration of cultural relics at the site. We expect that more bronzeware here can be rejoined together,” said Ran Honglin, an official with Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute.

The combination of the two parts also indicates that the two pits were formed at the same time, and the bronzeware was separated before burial. This is of great value for understanding the chronological relationship of each sacrificial pit, the reasons for the destruction of the cultural relics, and the social background at that time, Ran added.

Chimú wooden litter bearer found in Peru

Archaeologists have discovered a wooden sculpture depicting a litter bearer of a ruler of the Chimú culture at the Chan Chan archaeological site on the outskirts of Trujillo, northwestern Peru. The sculpture has not been absolutely dated yet, but the style indicates it is early Chimú, between 850 and 1,470 years old, making it one of the oldest sculptures found at the site. Despite its advanced age, it is in excellent condition, complete with its original bright paint.

The piece was unearthed during conservation work on the Huaca Takaynamo, a pyramidal structure in the north of the ancient complex. The sculpture is 18.5 inches long and just over six inches wide and depicts a male figure with bent arms and straight legs. The face is oval in shape and flat with the exception of a veritable sundial of nose that juts upwards. It is painted red. The eyes are almond-shaped and filled in with a black resin originally used as an adhesive for  mother-of-pearl inlays that are now lost. The curved, scooped ears have a layer of the same black resin.

The right arm is bent upwards at the elbow, cleaving close to the body. The hand is at shoulder height, palm facing the torso. The left arm bends 90 degrees at the elbow with the hand outstretched in front of the torso. The chest, arms and hands were also painted red.

He wears a trapezoidal cap and a triangular skirt. The cap is decorated with seven vertical bands in alternating light and dark colors, with a dark horizontal band across the forehead. The skirt has a dark triangle in the middle and the edge is decorated with rectangular bands similar to the ones on the cap.

Next to the sculpture, archaeologists discovered nectandra seeds — known to have been used for ritual purposes in pre-Hispanic Peru — that were strung on a thread to wear as a necklace. Underneath the figure was a small black bag stitched with decorative brown and white thread.

[A]rchaeologist Arturo Paredes Núñez, head of the Pecach Research, Conservation and Enhancement Unit, pointed out the characteristics of this finding. “Chimú wood carvings or sculptures are fixed or mobile. The former are documented at the entrance to some walled complexes of Chan Chan, from an uncarved segment that when buried, fixes the carved portion of the element to the ground. The mobile sculpture lacks such an element and has frequently been documented in some huacas,” he said.

The Huaca Takaynamo is north of the main complex of Chan Chan. It is being excavated as part of a wider project of conservation and study to learn more about the peripheral buildings in the ancient city and how to preserve it for eventual display. The litter bearer sculpture is key evidence that the huaca had a ceremonial function.

Whole baby mammoth found in Yukon gold mine

A perfectly-preserved whole woolly mammoth calf has been discovered in the Yukon gold fields south of Dawson City in northwest Canada. It is the first whole baby woolly mammoth ever found in North America, and only the second in the world. (The first, Lyuba, was found in Siberia in 2007.)

The discovery was made by miner Tavis Ikswaled on June 21st. He was digging through the muddy ground of the Treadstone Mine in Eureka Creek with an excavator when he turned something up. He alerted his boss who immediately stopped work and sent a picture of the find to Yukon government paleontologist Dr. Grant Zazula. Zazula was able to arrange for two geologists in driving distance to survey the site and recover the baby mammoth just before a downpour that would have flushed the little tyke away.

The baby is a female and was very young when she died, about 30-35 days old. The geological context indicates she lived and died between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago, the last Ice Age. Permafrost preserved her with soft tissues intact, from trunk to tip of her tail. She is 140 cm (4’7″) long, longer than her Russian sister. She was discovered on the land of First Nation Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, and the Elders named her Nun cho ga, which means “big baby animal” in the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin’s Hän language.

According to Zazula, the miner had made the “most important discovery in paleontology in North America.”

“She has a trunk. She has a tail. She has tiny little ears. She has the little prehensile end of the trunk where she could use it to grab grass,” said Zazula. “She’s perfect and she’s beautiful.” […]

He said that the geologists who recovered her saw a piece of the animal’s intestine with grass on it.

“So that’s telling us what she did the last moments of her life,” said Zazula.

He said the mammoth was probably a few steps away from her mother, but ventured off a little bit, eating grass and drinking water and got stuck in the mud.

“And that event, from getting trapped in the mud to burial was very, very quick,” he said.

Earliest prayer beads in Britain made of salmon vertebrae

The earliest prayer beads ever found in Britain have been discovered in a grave on the island of Lindisfarne just off the coast of Northumberland. Fashioned out of salmon vertebrae in the 8th or 9th century, the necklace is the only artifact ever found in a Lindisfarne grave.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a religious center founded in the 7th century by King Oswald of Northumbria, is famously the location of the first Viking raid of Britain in 793 A.D. The Vikings came back numerous times over the next century and the last of the monks left in 875, taking the exquisite Lindisfarne Gospels, written and illuminated by the monk Eadfrith around 700 A.D., with them.

A monastery was rebuilt on the island after the Norman invasion, but little of the Anglo-Saxon monastery remains, and until recently there were no comprehensive excavations. In 2014, University of Durham archaeologist Dr. David Petts partnered with crowdsourcing portal DigVentures to raise funds for an archaeological exploration of the site targeting the Anglo-Saxon priory. Crowdfunded excavations have been ongoing at the site since then. (Donate to the 2022 fundraiser here.)

The beads were found around the neck of an adult male, likely one of the members of the monastic community, during the 2021 dig season. The holes in the vertebrae through which the spinal column runs were enlarged, either during the making of the necklace and/or over time as the bones wore against the threading. Fish were among the earliest identifiable symbols of Christianity, making fish bones a thematically appropriate material as well as a plentiful local resource for devotional jewelry.

Dr David Petts, the project co-director and a Durham University specialist in early Christianity, told The Telegraph that the fish vertebrae appear to be prayer beads for personal devotion: “We think of the grand ceremonial side of early medieval life in the monasteries and great works like the Lindisfarne Gospels. But what we’ve got here is something which talks to a much more personal side of early Christianity.”

He paid tribute to Marina Chorro Giner, a zooarchaeologist, for recognising the significance of the vertebrae: “This bright, eagle-eyed researcher looked at them and said, actually these aren’t just fish bones, they’ve been modified and turned into something.”

Child buried with glass bracelets at ancient Odeon

Archaeologists excavating the Roman-era Odeon theater in the ancient Greek city of Kelenderis have discovered the grave of a small child buried with four glass bracelets. Almost 150 burials have been discovered in the ancient Odeon since excavations began in 1987, but this is the first one of them to contain any grave goods.

The young child was buried inside a wood coffin of which only the iron nails have survived. He was wearing a garment with delicate white buttons. The garment has decomposed; the buttons survive. On his arm were four solid glass bangles in perfect condition. Inside the coffin was an ostracon — a piece of pottery with an inscription written on it — and a ceramic teacup.

The grave has not yet been dated, but archaeologists believe from the context that it was medieval. The remains of several infant burials were unearthed around this one, so this part of the Odeon appears to have been a dedicated children’s cemetery. However, the newly-discovered grave is not like the others. It is the only one with a coffin, and the only one with the remains of clothing. Radiocarbon dating and other analyses of the bones should fill in some blanks about the date and unusual elements of the burial.

Today the city of Aydıncık on the southern coast of Turkey, Kelenderis was founded by colonists from Samos in the 8th century B.C., Kelenderis became an important stop on Eastern Mediterranean trade routes and flourished during the 5th and 4th century B.C., then came to prominence again under the Roman Empire, reaching a new peak of prosperity in the 2nd century.

Unlike many other prominent Greek and Roman urban centers in what is now Turkey, which were destroyed in raids and natural disasters and have long gaps in their historical record post antiquity, Kelenderis was continuously populated throughout the Byzantine and Ottoman eras to the present. That makes modern Aydıncık dense in unexplored archaeological layers. Today most of the visible remains are Roman — public baths, the Odeon, the agora, defensive walls — grouped near the fishing port.

This year’s excavation has also solved a long-standing mystery about the city’s Byzantine history.

Speaking about the exciting discovery, the head of the excavations Mahmut Aydın said, “Excavations continue for 12 months of the year in the ancient city of Kelenderis. This year, we have completed the excavation and consolidation of the cavea, the sitting area, and the supporting walls behind the Odeon structure. Now we found a furnace that excites us. We knew for years that there was production here, but we couldn’t find the oven. The oven is 1,300 years old. We think that roof tiles were produced inside the furnace. Because during the excavations we carried out last year and this year, a large amount of roof tiles, dated to the seventh century, were found around the furnace. Since the roof tiles were faulty, we found them scattered around it. When we completely empty the inside of the furnace, we might find even more faulty roof tiles.”