Egyptian Tomb Carving May Be Earliest Depiction Of Circumcision… Or Something Far More Painful

Egyptian Tomb Carving May Be Earliest Depiction Of Circumcision… Or Something Far More Painful

Egyptian Tomb Carving May Be Earliest Depiction Of Circumcision… Or Something Far More Painful
The tomb of Ankhmahor is pretty gnarly to say the least.

We humans have been messing with our willies for thousands of years, and while penis science has come a long way in that time, getting the snip in Ancient Egypt was apparently a rather crude affair.

Thought to represent the earliest ever depiction of a circumcision, a scene carved into a 4,300-year-old-tomb shows a male figure having his sphinx sculpted, although some scholars say the engraving may actually portray a considerably more excruciating procedure.

Located in Giza, the tomb of Ankhmahor belongs to a political advisor to King Teti of the Sixth Dynasty and has been dated to 2340 BCE.

Though there is no evidence to suggest that Ankhmahor was himself a physician, his crypt has been nicknamed the “doctor tomb” because of the various medical scenes carved on its walls.

The most famous of these is the circumcision scene, which has been the subject of multiple interpretations since its discovery by Victor Loret in 1897. Sliced into two sections, the scene shows two stages of an operation, though exactly what is going on is still up for debate.

A copy of the original relief, not for the squeamish.

On the left, a man is apparently being physically restrained by another man, while a third character chisels away at his artifact and says (in hieroglyphs) “hold him still. Don’t let him faint.”

On the right, however, the fella having his old geezer chopped is left unrestrained and tells the operator to “sever, indeed, thoroughly.” To this ballsy command, the guy holding the knife promises to “proceed gently”.

According to a recent analysis of the carving, the scene might portray two separate techniques for performing a circumcision.

The unfortunate chap on the left, the author says, could be having a trim without any painkillers, which might explain why he needs to be restrained and prevented from passing out.

Meanwhile, the surprisingly relaxed guy on the right may have received some sort of analgesic and is therefore in less discomfort.

“We do not have information about the nature of the material that was used to avoid struggling of the person who had the circumcision,” writes the author, who concludes that “it is possible that the ancient Egyptians had knowledge about local anesthetics.”

A separate interpretation holds that the right-hand side of the scene shows a young man acting tough while preparing to be circumcised, while the left-hand side depicts the same person on the verge of fainting during the procedure a few moments later.

Yet another reading of the scene proposes that the person on the left is actually having his penis rubbed with a stone. It has been suggested that the rock in question may be the so-called Stone of Memphis, which is made of carbonate of lime and has a painkilling effect when mixed with acid. Thus, it may be that the man on the left is actually the one receiving a local anesthetic.

Finally, and most disturbingly, the left-hand part of the scene might not be a circumcision at all, and could instead show a surgical treatment for a horrible condition called paraphimosis. This occurs when an infected foreskin swells up and retracts to below the head of the penis, cutting off blood flow and potentially leading to gangrene. 

This would certainly explain the extreme pain experienced by the patient on the left, while the circumcision depicted on the right could be seen as an instruction for preventing paraphimosis.

Quite the epitaph, you have to say.

China’s Mysterious “Heavenly Pit”: The World’s Deepest Sinkhole

China’s Mysterious “Heavenly Pit”: The World’s Deepest Sinkhole

First discovered by specialists in 1994, the world’s deepest sinkhole can be found in Fengjie County, Chongqing Municipality, China. Xiaozhai Tiankeng, or the Xiaozhai Heavenly Pit, measures roughly 537 meters (1,762 feet) in diameter and sinks between 511 and 662 meters (1,667-2,172 feet) into the Earth.

China's Mysterious "Heavenly Pit": The World's Deepest Sinkhole
The hole is so vast you can skydive straight into it.

With near vertical walls, the volume of this momentous geological feature is a whopping 119.349 million cubic meters (around 4.2 billion cubic feet). During heavy rains, a waterfall can sometimes be seen cascading down the hole’s steep walls.

The structure is double nested, meaning it’s comprised of two distinct “bowls” dissecting it into two layers, with each bowl measuring over 300 meters (984 feet) deep.

The Difeng cave, which the sinkhole sits atop, was formed by a powerful underground river. This river can now be seen in the depths of the pit where it carries clear water through the inner cave systems.

The river runs for approximately 8.5 kilometers (5.3 miles) from the underground Tianjing fissure gorge before reaching daylight at the vertical cliff of the Migong River where the underground water system forms a 46-meter (151-foot) high waterfall.

There are 1,285 species of registered plant in the depths of the Xiaozhai sinkhole, creating its own thriving, unique, and rare ecosystem. Ginkgo biloba, a rare species of tree, can be found living in the pit, as well as rare animal species like the clouded leopard, of which there are estimated to be fewer than 10,000 in the wild. 

Found in a large karst area, the sinkhole is comprised of Triassic limestone found in thick pure blocks. It is believed to have formed gradually throughout the last 128,000 years, making it relatively young in age when compared to other sinkholes in the area.

In fact, China is home to a number of sinkholes, referred to generally as “tiankeng”. The word tiankeng means “heavenly pit” or “sky hole” in Chinese, and refers to a very specific group of geological structures.

To be a tiankeng, the sinkhole must be at least 100 meters (328 feet) deep and wide, with a river flowing through the bottom. All tiankeng are comprised of carbonate rock, with the exception of two Venezuelan structures that consist of sandstone. They’re formed through a karst process when their composition is carbonate rock, and a suffusion process when made of sandstone.

The conditions required to form a tiankeng are very specific, making their formation rare.

The rock must be above sea level, and be thick with no layers of impurities. Heavy rain is also required to form these structures, which in turn helps form their underground rivers.

Although the term refers to any sinkhole within these criteria, of the 75 identified, 50 of the largest are found in China, hence the Chinese term becoming the commonplace name for such structures.

1.2-Million-Year-Old Obsidian Axe Made By Unknown Human Species Discovered In Ethiopia

1.2-Million-Year-Old Obsidian Axe Made By Unknown Human Species Discovered In Ethiopia

1.2-Million-Year-Old Obsidian Axe Made By Unknown Human Species Discovered In Ethiopia
An obsidian handaxe, made by an unknown hominid 1.2 million years ago.

Forged in magma and capable of producing the sharpest blades on Earth, obsidian is without a doubt one of the most badass materials ever imagined (there’s a reason George RR Martin made it the weapon of choice to kill White Walkers).

The jet-black volcanic glass is also extremely delicate and dangerous to work with, and was not mastered by humans until the latter part of the Stone Age… or so we thought.

Reporting on the latest findings from the Melka Kunture archaeological site in Ethiopia, a team of researchers has described the discovery of an obsidian handaxe workshop within a layer of sediment dated to 1.2 million years ago.

This represents a staggeringly early example of obsidian shaping, and, according to the study authors, is the only handaxe factory ever dated to the Early Pleistocene.

“[Archaeological] sites described as ‘knapping workshops’ are only recorded in the second half of the Middle Pleistocene and only in Europe so far,” write the researchers. Located predominantly in France and the UK, the most notable Stone Age axe workshops were all associated with the creation of flint blades.

“Generally speaking, obsidian is extensively used only from the Middle Stone Age onwards,” write the study authors.

However, during the course of their excavations, the team came across an ancient layer of sediment containing a cache of 578 stone tools, all but three of which were sculpted from obsidian. “We show through statistical analysis that this was a focused activity, that very standardized handaxes were produced and that this was a stone-tool workshop,” they write.

Describing the axes, the researchers repeatedly marvel that “the morphological standardization is remarkable,” and while they don’t know which species of human crafted the tools, they say that whoever created them diligently applied “secondary retouches” and was highly “focused on the final regularization of the artifacts.”

Achieving such homogeneity would have required highly sharpened skills and a fair amount of dexterity, as obsidian is a fragile rock that must be knapped with considerably more finesse than flint or basalt.

“Accordingly, manufacturers had to accurately evaluate the strength of the blow to avoid producing flakes of little use, or just to avoid smashing the core,” explain the researchers.

Techniques for shaping obsidian are believed to have first emerged during the Upper Paleolithic, and even modern knappers wear protective gloves to avoid shredding their hands when working with the razor-sharp material. And yet, when describing tools from over a million years ago, the study authors say that “the standardized obsidian handaxes provide ample evidence of the repetitive use of fully mastered skills.”

The emergence of such abilities marks a surprisingly massive cognitive leap for such an ancient group of humans.

According to the authors, the adaptation of existing flint knapping techniques to create more challenging obsidian tools can be seen as an example of “convergent thinking”, which is associated with creative problem-solving.

Hailing this remarkable achievement, the researchers say the old axe makers “creatively solved through convergent thinking technological problems such as effectively detaching and shaping large flakes of the unusually brittle and cutting volcanic glass.”

All without any protective gloves. Over a million years ago.

The study is published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Mesolithic Human Remains Discovered in Northern England

Mesolithic Human Remains Discovered in Northern England

Mesolithic Human Remains Discovered in Northern England
Analysis of material discovered in the cave found some of it was much older than estimated

Human remains unearthed in a cave in Cumbria have been dubbed the “oldest northerner” after being found to date back 11,000 years.

Bone and a shell bead discovered at Heaning Wood Bone Cave, near Great Urswick, were analysed by the University of Central Lancashire.

Dr Rick Peterson said the site had been used for burials.

He described it as evidence of “some of the earliest dates for human activity” in northern Britain after the Ice Age.

A periwinkle shell bead was one of the discoveries found to be about 11,000 years old

The site had been excavated since 2016 by local archaeologist Martin Stables with the university brought in to “try to interpret the evidence”.

Dr Peterson, who teaches archaeology and cultural anthropology, led the academic team.

He said several bodies from the cave had been dated and the group was amazed when one set of remains was found to be much older than thought.

“The caves have been dug before, in the 1950s, and work by Liverpool John Moores University about 10 years ago dated some of the material to the early Bronze Age [about 4,000 years ago].

“There were at least eight people buried in this cave. Some of them came back [dated] from the Bronze Age, some of them were Neolithic which is about 6,000 years ago.

“One individual and one piece of shell bead buried with him came back with a date roundabout 11,000 years ago which is astonishingly early for the north.

“To put it in perspective, the last Ice Age lasted until about 11,600 years ago. After that period, the global temperature warmed rapidly over about 100 years to give us the climate we’ve got today.

“These people are just about as early as we could expect them to be – the pioneers reoccupying the land after the Ice Age.”

Archaeologist Martin Stables has been excavating the site since 2016

Earlier human remains have been discovered in southern England and Wales but the destructive effect of past glaciations means such finds are rare in northern Britain, the university said.

Before this discovery, the “earliest northerner” was a 10,000-year-old burial from the nearby Kent’s Bank Cavern discovered in 2013.

5,000-year-old ‘tavern’ discovered on an archeological dig

5,000-year-old ‘tavern’ discovered on an archeological dig

5,000-year-old ‘tavern’ discovered on archeological dig
A team of researchers studying the archeological site of Lagash in southern Iraq uncovered a public eating space that dates back to 2700 B.C.

Archeologists unearthed a 5,000-year-old “tavern” in one of southwest Asia’s earliest cities.

A team of researchers studying the archeological site of Lagash in southern Iraq uncovered the public eating space, which dates back to 2700 B.C., according to the University of Pennsylvania.

The area was replete with benches, a type of clay refrigerator referred to as a “zeer,” an oven, and storage containers, many of which still contained food.

The area was replete with benches, a type of clay refrigerator referred to as a “zeer,” an oven, and storage containers.

The area was replete with benches, a type of clay refrigerator referred to as a “zeer,” an oven, and storage containers.Lagash Archaeological Project

The tavern was discovered during an excavation in Lagash which sought items illustrating what life was like in the urban neighborhood.

“The site was of major political, economic, and religious importance,” Holly Pittman, a professor in Penn’s History of Art department, told the university. “However, we also think that Lagash was a significant population center that had ready access to fertile land and people dedicated to intensive craft production.”

“The site was of major political, economic, and religious importance,” UPenn professor Holly Pittman said.

Pittman likened the ancient metropolis to the city of Trenton, N.J., once known for being the East Coast’s center of manufacturing.

“In that way the city might have been something like Trenton,” she explained, “as in ‘Trenton makes, the world takes,’ a capital city but also an important industrial one.”

‘Better than finding gold’: towers’ remains may rewrite history of English civil war

‘Better than finding gold’: towers’ remains may rewrite history of English civil war

‘Better than finding gold’: towers’ remains may rewrite history of English civil war
The excavations at Coleshill Manor, east of Birmingham, Warwickshire, revealed the stone bases of two towers from a late medieval fortified gatehouse.

When archaeologists working on the route of HS2 began excavating a stretch of pasture in Warwickshire, they were not expecting to uncover what one of them calls “the highlight of our careers”. Their excavations revealed the monumental stone bases of two towers from a late medieval fortified gatehouse, the existence of which had been completely lost to history.

While that find was remarkable in itself, the ruins were even more significant than they first appeared – and might even rewrite the history of the English civil war.

Peppering the sandstone walls were hundreds of pockmarks made by musket balls and pistol shot, showing that the building had come under heavy fire.

Experts think this may be evidence that the gatehouse was shot at by parliamentarian troops heading to the nearby Battle of Curdworth Bridge in August 1642, which would make this the scene of the very first skirmish of the civil war.

The finds were “a real shock”, said Stuart Pierson of Wessex Archaeology, who led excavations on the site. “The best way to describe it is that we were just in awe of this tower.

“People always say that you want to find gold in archaeology, but I think for a lot of us finding that tower will always be better than finding gold. I think it’s the highlight of our careers finding that, and I don’t think we’re going to find anything like that again.”

Musket ball impact marks on the outside wall of Coleshill gatehouse.

The team knew that a large Tudor manor house had stood somewhere near the site at Coleshill, east of Birmingham, but its location had been lost. As they started excavating, they were astonished at the state of preservation of its vast ornamental gardens – larger in scale than at Hampton Court.

Pierson had said to colleagues that he expected there might be the remains of a gatehouse, “but we figured a small box structure. We weren’t thinking anything involving towers.” He was on holiday when the first walls were uncovered. “My colleagues say their favourite memory from the site was my expression when I [returned and] saw this complete tower,” he said.

Taken together, the finds make the site “nationally significant – and a bit more”, he added.

In the lead up to the civil war, which pitched forces loyal to King Charles I against parliamentarian soldiers seeking to topple him, Coleshill Manor was in the hands of a royalist, Simon Digby.

The position of his grand home, next to a key strategic crossing of the River Cole, would have put it directly in the path of parliamentarians on the march to Curdworth Bridge. While it is impossible to prove, experts think it is highly likely that it is their musket balls – dozens of which were recovered from the site – which struck the gatehouse on this journey.

While the discovery potentially rewrites the history of the start of the civil war, Pierson said, it can also tell us more about the experience of those living through it. “What it gives us is a more personal [insight] to the civil war.

There are always stories about royalty and the lead parliamentarians, but there’s not so much focus given to the people themselves, even the upper classes who found themselves involved but weren’t necessarily really part of it.”

The discovery features on Digging for Britain on BBC Two at 8pm on Sunday 22 January.

Thin Tooth Enamel Found in H. antecessor Individual

Thin Tooth Enamel Found in H. antecessor Individual

The CENIEH participates in a study in which dental remains of Homo antecessor were analyzed using Micro-Computed Tomography: the results indicate that this thin enamel trait was already present in the genus Homo in the European Early Pleistocene around 900,000 years ago.

Three of the seven premolars belonging to Homo antecessor analyzed in this study/Laura Martín-Francés

The Dental Anthropology Group of the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) has participated in a paper published in the American Journal of Biological Anthropology on the dental remains of Homo antecessor, the species recovered from level TD6 of the Gran Dolina site (Atapuerca, Burgos), which reveals new aspects of the biology of this species.

The results of this study, led by the researcher Laura Martín-Francés (UCM-ISCIII and CENIEH), suggest that, although the Neanderthals continue to be the only species whose dentition is characterized by the possession of thin enamel, this trait was already present in the genus Homo in the European Early Pleistocene, around 900,000 years ago.

Until recently, it was thought that the Neanderthals were the sole representatives of the genus Homo to possess thin enamel.

Nevertheless, new analyses, which were mainly conducted on the dental remains from the TD6 level at Gran Dolina, have shown that the thin enamel pattern appeared earlier than the Neanderthals.

Due to its phylogenetic position and its relationship to both Neanderthals and modern humans, the H. antecessor collection represents a unique opportunity to find out when this thin enamel trait appeared in our genus”, says Martín-Frances.

Thin and thick enamel

In this study, the enamel thickness pattern and its distribution (which zones present a thinner or thicker layer) in the crown were characterized in seven premolars belonging to two H. antecessor individuals (TD6-H1 and TD6-H3), and this was compared with other species in the fossil record and modern humans from several sites in Europe, China and Africa.

By using micro-computed tomography (mCT) and high-resolution images from the CENIEH’s Microscopy and Micro-Computed Tomography Laboratory, the authors verified the presence of different patterns in the two individuals studied.

While the individual TD6-H1 has thin enamel, with a clear affinity to the Neanderthal characteristic, TD6-H3 shows a thick-enamel pattern similar to the majority of fossil species and modern humans.

“Among the possible causes that could justify the presence of distinct enamel patterns in these individuals from the same species, we believe that the most plausible is variability within the same population”, adds Martín-Francés.

The study, in which researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing and University College London (UCL) also participated, received financial support from the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación project PID2021-122355NB-C33, funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033, ERDF, EU and the Consejería de Cultura y Turismo of the Junta de Castilla y León; and the project IJC2020-043979-I, funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033 and NextGenerationEU/PRTR.

Authentic 3,000-Year-Old Bronze Age sword put on display at Field Museum

Authentic 3,000-Year-Old Bronze Age sword put on display at Field Museum

Once thought to be a replica, this authentic, ancient sword will be on view as a teaser for First Kings of Europe exhibition.

Authentic 3,000-Year-Old Bronze Age sword put on display at Field Museum
Installation of a Bronze Age Era sword (1080-900 BC) in the Field Museum’s main hall as a preview for an upcoming special exhibition, First Kings of Europe.

Nearly 100 years ago, the Field Museum acquired a bronze sword from Europe, but it was thought to be a well-made replica. But a new analysis of the sword revealed that the sword is the real deal, dating back 3,000 years to the Bronze Age.

While preparing for First Kings of Europe, a special exhibition opening at the Field Museum in March 2023, Hungarian archaeologists working alongside Field Museum scientists asked to see the “replica” sword that had been retrieved from the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary in the 1930s, where it may have been placed in an ancient ritual 3,000 years ago to commemorate lost loved ones or a battle.

The group of Field Museum scientists, including a chemist, and archeologists used an X-ray fluorescence detector, an instrument that looks like a ray gun.

When they compared the sword’s chemical makeup to other known Bronze Age swords in Europe, their content of bronze, copper, and tin were nearly identical.

Bill Parkinson, a curator of anthropology at the Field who helped create the upcoming First Kings of Europe exhibition, says he was surprised by the results.  “Usually this story goes the other way round,” he says– “What we think is an original turns out to be a fake.”

Had this sword been known to be authentic earlier in the planning of the exhibition, it would have been included in the Bronze Age era section of the show, which will showcase items from southeastern Europe, spanning thousands of years. Instead, the newly-authenticated sword will be installed in the Field Museum’s main hall as a preview for the new exhibition.

First Kings of Europe opens on March 31, 2023. More information on the First Kings of Europe can be found here. For more information, contact

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