A cache of 1,500-Year-Old Gold Pendants Found in Norway

A Cache of 1,500-Year-Old Gold Pendants Found in Norway

Science Norway reports that seven gold pendants, or bracteates, estimated to be 1,500 years old have been unearthed in southeastern Norway by archaeologists Jessica Leigh McGraw, Margrete Figenschou Simonsen found in a field and near a small hill at the edge of the field.

A Cache of 1,500-Year-Old Gold Pendants Found in Norway
Gold doesn’t deteriorate, even if it’s spent a thousand years in clay soil. But the gold bracteates can still be quite fragile. The purity of the gold is high, which makes it soft and easy to bend.

If this spot was in fact a place where gold bracteates would have been laid down for sacrifice, it has been disturbed in modern times by farming.

Save for an assembly of gold artefacts which included one bracteate which was found in Møre og Romsdal in 2014, it has been 70 years since similar findings were done in Norway.

“Such votive hoards are incredibly rare”, three archaeologists write in a blog post on forskning.no (link in Norwegian).

Jessica Leigh McGraw, Margrete Figenschou Simonsen and Magne Samdal are all archaeologists working at the UiO Museum of Cultural History, and they have just undertaken an excavation on the site.

An excavator removes the clay soil bit by bit before the archaeologists search the area repeatedly with metal detectors.

A scandie take on roman culture

A total of about 160 bracteates have been found in Norway, whereas in total around 900 such pendants are known. They are considered a Scandinavian phenomenon, and when found in Germany and England are presumed to have been imported to those places.

The inspiration for the pendants, however, is the Roman Empire Medallions.

“In homely tradition, the portrait of the emperor has been replaced by Norse gods and animal figures in Germanic style”, the archaeologists write.

“People in Scandinavia took ownership in a status item from the Roman culture, gave it a Norse look and made it their own.”

Animals, humans, symbols and runes

The name bracteate is derived from the Latin bractea – meaning a thin piece of metal.

The pendants were single-sided, made out of gold, and usually worn as jewellery. They could also be laid down as votive gifts to the Gods, as hoards of gold bracteates suggest.

Bracteates are classified according to what they depict. The seven that were recently found in Råde in Østfold, are of the types C and D.

Type C bracteates depict scenes of a person on the back of a horse-like animal, often in combination with birds, other symbols and runes. The dominating feature, however, is a large human head with prominent hair.

Type D bracteates are different stylistically from the other classifications and are assumed to be the youngest variants, dating from the 6th century AD. They depict various highly stylized animals and can be quite hard to understand and interpret today.

A close up of one of the bracteates.

Pleasing the Gods

The bracteates are from the so-called Migration Period, a time of widespread migrations in Europe that mainly took place between the 4th and 6th century AD.

Norway has rich findings from this period from sites like farms, graves, hillforts and stray finds. Imported items from the Roman Empire, as well as copies of antique status symbols, show that Norway had cultural and economic ties to the continent, the archaeologists write in their blog post.

This is also evident in the gold bracteates.

“There is little doubt that these were items connected to aristocratic communities within a Germanic elite in Scandinavia”, they write.

In the year’s AD 536-540 however, a series of volcanic eruptions lead to thick clouds of ashes that affected the climate. This is referred to as the Fimbul winter in Norse literature. The sun did not shine for more than a year, crops failed, and people starved.

“We don’t know if the gold bracteates from Råde were laid down before or after 536”, the archaeologists write.

“But it appears as though gold offerings become larger and more numerous during the 500s. In a time of bad years and insecurities, people may have felt a heightened need to try and avoid dangers and seek protection. The Gods needed pleasing, and an increased amount of gold offerings may have taken place”.

The screen shows an enlarged image of a 5 mm broad area of one of the gold bracteates. Using a scanning electron microscope such as this allows the archaeologists to study the pendants up close in great detail.

The screen shows an enlarged image of a 5 mm broad area of one of the gold bracteates. Using a scanning electron microscope such as this allows the archaeologists to study the pendants up close in great detail. 

Will be studied in detail

The seven gold bracteates will now be studied in detail at the UiO Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. Some of them are a bit bent and the motifs are partly hidden.

Using advanced technology, the archaeologists hope to be able to say something about how the pendants were made, and perhaps even by whom and where.

They will also compare the newly found bracteates to old findings. This might tell us something about connections between the elites in Scandinavia or Northern Europe.

“Laying down seven gold bracteates must have been a considerable ritual act, reserved for only the most privileged in society”, the archaeologists write.

“Thus, they are also bearers of stories from the time before they were given as offerings”.

Child’s Coffin Discovered at the Real Alcázar of Seville

Child’s Coffin Discovered at the Real Alcázar of Seville

El País reports that the remains of a child were discovered under the floor near the main altar in the chapel at the Real Alcázar of Seville, a royal palace in southern Spain. The burial was found during work to restore the palace’s sixteenth-century ceramic tiles, which were designed by artist Cristobal de Augusta.

Child’s Coffin Discovered at the Real Alcázar of Seville
Two investigators with the remains of a five-year-old girl from the Middle Ages found in the chapel of the Real Alcázar of Seville.

The sarcophagus contained a disintegrating wooden coffin and a complete skeleton – the first to be found in the Real Alcázar – along with pieces of fabric, shoe leather and two mother-of-pearl buttons.

Archaeologist Miguel Ángel Tabales, who is leading the research, is in no doubt that the altar of the chapel was not the little girl’s original burial place.

He also believes she must have belonged to a very powerful family to be buried within the royal palace. His theory is that she was placed to the side of the altar when the chapel was repaved between 1930 and 1940.

“We have not found any documentation to confirm it, but the lead coffin was surrounded by a cist [stone coffin] made from reused bricks held together with cement, materials that tell us it is from the first half of the 20th century,” he says.

“My theory is that the workers found the sarcophagus in another area, opened it and, on seeing it was a corpse, decided to cover it decently and place it near the altar.”

Archaeologist Miguel Ángel Tabales next to the lead sarcophagus found in the chapel of the Real Alcázar of Seville on April 20.

The researchers are in the preliminary stages of examining the coffin and its contents and are still hoping to find a seal in the lead or any mark in the remains of the wood that will offer clues to the identity of the little girl, who was neatly laid out with her hair combed, as can be seen from the pieces of her skull, fractured by the weight of the marble floor.

The theory they are working on is that she lived between the end of the 13th and the end of the 14th centuries. Both the team of archaeologists and the director of the Real Alcázar, Isabel Rodríguez, along with palace warden, Román Fernández-Baca, are convinced that other corpses will emerge. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” says Tabales.

“When we saw the sarcophagus, we immediately thought that there could be more in the basement of the chapel. It could be a crypt that was part of the gothic palace, built by [King] Alfonso X, the Wise, in the second half of the 13th century over the old Almohad palace.”

Fernández-Baca, former director-general of fine arts for the Culture Ministry, believes the next step will be to put the body into context.

“We are going to make a study of the subsoil using a geo-radar to examine what physical elements we may come across and that information will be passed to the Alcázar’s executive committee who will decide how to proceed,” says the warden, who estimates that in three months they will have the results of the carbon-14 test to determine the age of the girl – jokingly dubbed the Berenguela girl (after the marble-like stone) by researcher Enriqueta Vila, who has been to view the discovery along with archaeologist and historian, Pilar León-Castro, both of whom are on the palace’s governing board.

Members of the team of archaeologists in the chapel of the Real Alcázar of Seville where the remains of the corpse have been found.

Anthropologist Juan Manuel Guijo, who is in charge of studying the remains, hopes that the tests will provide information about the girl’s lineage, where she lived, the cause of death and the funeral rites performed at her burial. “She had her arms semi-flexed and crossed over her thorax,” notes Guijo. “And the body had not been tampered with.

We will be able to extract her DNA from the root bulb of her hair [rather than the bones] because when the wood disintegrated, the bones came into contact with the lead, which alters the results of this test.

If we find remains of oils, we will know if she was an important person and also if she had been embalmed, a ritual forbidden by the Catholic Church, but which the wealthy practised in their quest for eternal life.”

It is still not known what the girl died of, although a permanent fully formed molar has helped the anthropologist to calculate she was around five years old and fair hairs on the nape of her neck that she was blonde.

Besides the location, the fact she was buried in a lead sarcophagus – measuring 116 centimetres long and 40 centimetres wide at the head and 30 centimetres at the foot with a depth of 30 centimetres –suggests she was from a wealthy background.

Next to the bones of the little girl, six boxes containing an earthy substance have not yet been examined and may hold further surprises.

Marble Head of Augustus Unearthed in Southern Italy

Marble Head of Augustus Unearthed in Southern Italy

Artnews reports that a marble head of the Roman emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D. 14) was unearthed in southern Italy’s region of Molise by a team of researchers led by archaeologist Francesca Giancola. 

The sculpture, which has lost its body and nose was discovered while renovating Isernia’s historic city walls – built during the imperial Rome period.

It was identified as Augustus, adopted son of Julius Caesar and Rome’s first emperor, by its distinctive facial features and hairstyle. The bust is not rare as dozens of statues, busts and coins of Augustus have been discovered from Roman times.

But researchers say the discovery proves the Romans’ presence in the ancient colony, known at the time as Aesernia, which once held strategic importance as a gateway to the rest of Italy.

The marble head, which is in fairly good condition, was discovered along the Via Occidentale by a construction crew last Thursday. 

A head depicting Roman emperor Augustus was uncovered last week during renovations to Isernia’s historic city walls

No definitive date for the sculpture has been announced but the depiction in line with the Augustus of Primaporta, a well-known marble statue of the emperor dating to 20 BC. 

Archaeologists are confident it is Augustus, due to his iconic ‘swallow-tail hairstyle – thick strands of hair parted in a distinctive V-shape, with protruding ears and broadly spaced locks, isNews reports.

‘Yes, it is really him, the emperor Augustus, found today during the excavation,’ the Archaeological Superintendency of Molise wrote on Facebook. 

Augustus was always presented as clean-shaven and, though he lived to 76, as a man in his late teens or early 20s. 

He ruled Rome from 27 B.C. until his death in 14 A.D, overseeing the expansion of the empire into Egypt and other parts of Africa and establishing both a standing army and the Praetorian Guard.

In 295 BC, Rome wrested control of Isernia away from the Samnites, an ancient Italic people in south-central Italy.

Key to access to the rest of the country, the town briefly fell back into the Samnites’ hands in 90 BC, before reverting to Roman authority a few years later.

Roman forces levelled most of the city and rebuilt it as a Roman outpost, with both Caesar and Augustus trying to establish colonies there. Isernia’s ancient city walls, some of which were constructed under imperial Rome, are in serious need of repair.

The marble head was discovered after part of one wall collapsed, according to ANSA. But suggestions to reinforce them with concrete pillars have been met with criticism.

‘[That] solution was not feasible, not in the least because the piling would have risked destroying the foundation of the walls and any traces of ancient presence in the area,’ superintendent Dora Catalano and archaeologist Maria Diletta Colombo told isNews.

Instead, they’re looking for a less invasive way to strengthen the walls without disturbing their artistic and historical value.

According to isNews, the head will eventually go on display at Isernia’s Museum of Santa Maria Delle Monache.

The neanderthal family found cannibalised in a cave in Spain

The neanderthal family found cannibalised in a cave in Spain

Researchers uncovered the bones of a possible family group of Neanderthals, including an infant, in a cave in Spain. The bones of the 12 people display evidence of cannibalism, suggesting another Neanderthal group came along and chowed down on the meat.

The neanderthal family found cannibalised in a cave in Spain
Archaeologists excavate the cave in El Sidron in Asturias, northern Spain

According to the study, this tribe of Neanderthals died about 49,000 years ago. Shortly after, the cave collapsed due to a powerful storm or another natural catastrophe, burying their bodies at the El Sidron site.

The finding, detailed in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals for the first time genetic evidence of a social kin Neanderthal group. Analyses suggest the group included three adult males, three adult females, three adolescents (possibly all male), two juveniles (one 5 to 6 years old and the other from 8 to 9), and an infant.

“I think this is a pretty significant piece of research, and [it] really adds to the forensic understanding of what happened in that cave,” said John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in the current study, referring to the possibility of cannibalism.

“I don’t see any real reason to question the scenario, but like most cases of archaeological finds, there are always questions as to the fidelity of the evidence,” Hawks told LiveScience in an e-mail. “That being said, my inclination would be to revisit some other Neanderthal sites keeping in mind the relatively strong evidence of cannibalism and systematic ‘warfare’ at El Sidron.

I think there are other pieces that can be put together into a stronger case across many sites — that is I don’t think this was a single incident without parallels elsewhere”

Neanderthal family

The remains have been unearthed over the last 10 years. “They were difficult to isolate because they are highly fragmented, due to the cannibalism,” said lead author Carles Lalueza-Fox, of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, adding, they included: lots of teeth, mandibles, long bones and skull fragments.

The researchers used mitochondrial DNA, which resides in the energy-making structures of cells, to determine who was related to whom. This type of DNA, unlike nuclear DNA, gets passed down from females only. To figure out the sex of the individuals, the team analyzed the remains for a Y chromosome, since only males are equipped with a Y.

Results suggested the child about 8 to 9 years old was the offspring of one of the female adults, while another adult female was the mother of the infant and child about 5 or 6. The three adult males shared mtDNA, suggesting they were brothers or otherwise related through the maternal line.

Past research of the nuclear DNA from remains of the women who bore the 5- or 6-year-old child suggests she was a redhead, Lalueza-Fox said during a telephone interview. Those results were published in a past issue of the journal Science.

Clues to cannibalism

“There are many different markings in many different bones in all 12 individuals, including traditional cut marks to disarticulate bones and remove muscle insertions, snapping and fracturing of long bones to extract the marrow,” Lalueza-Fox told LiveScience.

These marks “could indicate that the assemblage corresponds to a Neandertal group processed by other Neandertals on the surface,” the researchers wrote. (Neandertal is an alternative spelling of Neanderthal.)

He pointed out that cannibalism is not rare among Neanderthals, though the current finding is unique in its scale (12 individuals). “The dating of 49,000 years ago, on the other hand, indicates that the cannibals should be other Neandertals since modern humans were not around at that time in Europe,” he said.

That means the men in the group are kin, while the women came from different kin groups — a phenomenon called patrilocality. “The authors’ hypothesis about patrilocality is consistent with the mtDNA, and I think it is likely to be the correct one,” Hawks writes in his blog. He adds, however, that the interpretation isn’t foolproof.

“For one thing, Neandertals are already known to be relatively low in mtDNA variation, with very little regional population structure in the mtDNA. In such a population, it wouldn’t be surprising to find individuals sharing the same mtDNA haplotype, even if they were not close kin,” Hawks writes.

Mystery of the Copper Scroll: How biblical relic could lead to secret $3TRILLION treasure

Mystery of the Copper Scroll: How biblical relic could lead to secret $3TRILLION treasure

When an archaeologist named Henri de Contenson was leading a team of ten Bedouin in a hillside cave a few kilometres from Qumran in 1952, he uncovered two enigmatic scrolls known as the Copper Scroll in a highly oxidized state.

It had separated into two small rolled up pieces side by side on a stone when it was first discovered in the cave. One larger part contained two similar sheets riveted together end to end while the other roll is a single sheet of hammered copper.

The Copper Scroll are part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, unlike other scrolls which are literary work and written on papyrus, these scrolls contain several locations of hidden treasures and written on thin copper.

On March 14, 1952, the Copper Scroll was found in cave 3 near Khirbet Qumran. Because the scrolls were the last of 15 Dead Sea Scrolls, it is referred to as 3Q15. The original state of the scroll is measured 2.4 m in length, 0.3 m in width and 1 mm thick.

At that time, no one dares to open the scroll without damaging the text inside it. Several years later in 1955, with great care, one of the Copper Scroll finally opened by H. Wright Baker, a Professor at Manchester College of Science and Technology (UMIST). The other scroll also opened a year later in 1956.

Because the corroded metal couldn’t be unrolled easily, Professor Baker cut the scroll into 23 parts. The language itself was a big puzzle for scholars. It was written in a square form script (an early form of Hebrew script) while other Dead Sea Scrolls were written in square form Aramaic script or ‘Paleo-Hebrew’ script.

The style of the script and the spelling in the Copper Scroll is very different from other texts of the time, from Qumran or from elsewhere. But still, It has been almost unanimously classified as one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

John Allegro is the first person who translated the Copper Scroll into English. And he realizes that the scroll is a list of around 64 locations of magnificent hidden treasures including massive quantities of jewellery, precious gems, other scrolls, gold and silvers.

However, the Jerusalem team advised him to not publish his findings publicly, because it can attract treasure hunters around the world and disturb the Qumran site.

At the end of 1959 and in March 1960, Allegro decided to lead two archaeological expeditions in search of the Copper Scroll’s treasures. For several months of expeditions, he wandered around in the desert and found nothing. A few months later, he decided to publish the English translation of the scroll (The Treasure of the Copper Scroll) in 1960.

Various reactions came from the scholars after reading Allegro’s translation. Father Joseph Milik, one of the member of the original Dead Sea Scrolls translation team and Father P’ere de Vaux, the head of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jerusalem, denounced it as defective and even cast doubts on the authenticity of the Copper Scroll’s contents. While others were not so sure, and today the generally accepted view is the Copper Scroll contains a genuine list of real treasures.

The mysterious relic may reveal a great treasure under Jerusalem

In 1962 the Jerusalem team published the official Copper Scroll’s translation with the title ‘Les “Petites Grottes” de Qumran, in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series. In conventional translations of the Copper Scroll, the weight of gold mentioned in various locations is generally given as adding up to a staggering 26 tonnes and silver 65 tonnes.

The weights of the treasures item in the Copper Scrolls are Gold (1285 Talents), Silver (666 Talents), Gold and Silver (17 Talents), Gold and silver vessels (600 Talents), Mixed precious metals (2,088 Talents).

Items with unspecified weights are as follows: Gold ingots (165), Silver bars (7), Gold and Silver vessels (609).

One Talent is estimated to be about 76 lb or 34.47 kg and it is estimated that the Copper Scroll treasure worth around over $2 billion at current prices. The origins of the treasures listed in the Copper Scroll also led to controversy and have not been resolved until now. Several theories have been proposed by scholars.

According to the Copper Scroll Project, the treasures listed on the scroll probably span the history of Israel from the Exodus to the Babylonian captivity. The talents of precious metals and gems may very well be the excess materials called for by Moses and Aaron to build the Tabernacle.

Then there are the supplies stored away by King David for the 1st Temple. Yet on the scroll, it speaks of tithes and offerings of silver. Those could easily be from the Temple built by King Solomon and stored away for repairs and upkeep on the House of God stored in the remote treasury at Qumran. The treasury described in the document is, the long sought after treasury of Hakkoz known for centuries to be in the area of Qumran. However, it is unclear when the treasury was built.

More significant is the fact none of the conventional theories has led to the discovery of any of the treasures listed in the Copper Scroll. Until now the Copper Scroll’s treasure is still hidden somewhere while the Copper Scroll itself is housed at the Jordan Museum in Amman, Jordan

Massive Stone Jars in the Highlands of Laos Are Shrouded in Mystery

Massive Stone Jars in the Highlands of Laos Are Shrouded in Mystery

The eerie ‘Plain of Jars’ in Laos maybe thousands of years older than previously thought, and have been in use for even longer. Limestone vessels dotting the landscape of northern Laos were placed there up to 3,300 years ago, according to an analysis of quartz crystals in the sediment underneath them.

However, the majority of the fossils discovered in the area were buried between 700 and 1,200 years ago. According to the researchers, this indicates that the jars had ‘enduring ceremonial significance.’ ‘They were important for a very long time.’

They believe the containers were used to expose dead bodies to the elements until only the bones remained, which were then buried nearby.  Mysterious stone jars are spread across thousands of square miles of northern Laos’ Xiangkhouang plateau, commonly known as the ‘Plain of Jars.’

Massive Stone Jars in the Highlands of Laos Are Shrouded in Mystery
Mysterious stone jars spread across northern Laos’ Xiangkhouang plateau have given the region the nickname ‘Plain of Jars.’ New analysis of the jars suggest they are centuries older than previously believed

The massive vessels are made of sandstone and limestone and vary in size, reaching up to 10 feet tall and weighing two tons.

While local legends claim they were goblets used by a horde of drunken giants, the scientific consensus is that the region was a sprawling cemetery and the containers were ‘burial urns’ used for storing human remains.

In the 1930s, French geologists excavated a cave near one cluster, determining it had served as a crematorium. In 2019, archaeologist Louise Shewan uncovered 1,000-year-old remains of nearly a dozen dead babies near jars in a location near Ban Nahoung, dubbed Site 1.

An example of a full skeleton buried at Site 1 in the Plain of Jars. Most remains found near the stone jars date from between 700 and 1,200 years ago

While some places only have a handful of jars, Site 1 contains around 400 vessels, scattered across more than 60 acres. For the past five years, Shewan, a researcher at the University of Melbourne, has studied Site 1 and other jar locations with Dougald O’Reilly of the Australian National University and Thonglith Luangkoth of the Laos Department of Heritage.

They’ve uncovered three basic types of burials: One where a full skeleton was laid out; another where just bundles of bones were buried, and a third variety where remains were placed inside smaller ceramic jars.

Previous radiocarbon dating of the remains suggests most they’ve found were buried between 700 and 1,200 years ago. Now Shewan and her colleagues have examined the sediment under the jars to estimate their age.

They used optically stimulated luminescence, a technique that dates the last time quartz sediment was exposed to sunlight.

‘Directly under one jar, we had a date range of 1350 to 730 B.C., and under another, we had 860 to 350 B.C.,’ Shewan told Live Science. ‘I think we’re going to find a range of dates as we continue the analysis.’

That means the larger stone vessels are centuries older than many of the bodies buried nearby. What we surmise from that is the enduring ritual significance of these sites,’ Shewan said. ‘They were important for a very long time.’ Earlier research had dated the jars more recently, between 500 BC to 500 AD. 

The team believes bodies were placed in the large jars until they decomposed, then the bones were buried nearby.  It’s not clear if different societies used the jar sites at various times or if descendants of the people who made them continued the tradition.

‘Whether they were culturally related to the people who made the jars is a question that we can’t define yet,’ O’Reilly told Live Science.

Some jars were found with decorated stone discs and smaller clay jars and a variety of other artefacts, including beads and jewellery. Images on the discs buried with their decorated sides face-down include animals, human figures, and patterns of concentric circles.

Each has a cylindrical shape with the bottom wider than the top and most have lip rims, leading to speculation they all had lids. Little is known about how they were made but some archaeologists speculate they were carved with iron chisels.

The jars appear to have been quarried from several areas in the Xiangkhouang foothills before being spread over more than 90 sites, some housing just a handful and others hundreds.

In their new report, published in the journal PLOS One, the researchers also analyzed lead and uranium isotopes in a jar at Site 1 and found it had been mined at a sandstone quarry some five miles away.

How it was brought to the site is still unknown, they said.

Africa’s Oldest Human Grave Found, Toddler Buried With Pillow 78,000 Years Ago

Africa’s Oldest Human Grave Found, Toddler Buried With Pillow 78,000 Years Ago

A village in East Africa buried a boy aged around 3 years old 78,000 years ago. Its caretakers dug a shallow pit, curled its small body, and may have rested its head on a pillow before committing the body to the earth.

According to a new study, the discovery of the child’s grave has revealed the earliest recorded traces of early humans burying their dead in Africa.

“It’s beautifully excavated … and there can be no dissension that it’s a burial,” says Paul Pettitt, a palaeolithic archaeologist at Durham University who studies ancient mortuary practices and was not involved with the work. “It shows that the tradition of burying some of the dead … probably arose from a common custom amidst Homo sapiens in Africa.”

Intentional burials are relatively rare in the archaeological record before about 30,000 years ago. Previously, the oldest suspected burials in Africa dated to 74,000 and 68,000 years ago—in South Africa’s Border Cave and in Taramsa, Egypt, respectively. In Eurasia, burials of modern humans and Neanderthals up to 120,000 years old have been found, but those involved peoples who contributed little to humans living today.

The new grave was found in 2013 under the rocky overhang of a cave called Panga ya Saidi along the coastline of southeastern Kenya. Archaeologists and local workers noticed an unusual, pit-shaped undulation of sediment within the walls of one of their trenches.

The cave site of Panga ya Saidi, in Kenya’s Kilifi County is seen in this undated photograph.

When they inspected it, a small bone fell out—and promptly turned to dust. Realizing they had found an extraordinarily delicate fossil, the archaeologists spent the next 4 years painstakingly digging and casting the fragile bones in plaster. Two teeth later analyzed at the National Museums of Kenya unambiguously identified the body as a human child.

The researchers then sent the remains to a lab at the National Center for Research on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain, for further analysis. Virtually sorting through the layers of bone and dirt using computerized tomography, scientists analyzed the bones.

They couldn’t determine how the child had died, but its position suggested caretakers had deliberately curled it into a fetal position before placing it into a shallow pit, explains the study’s senior author, Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

The skeleton’s torqued shoulder indicates it was likely wrapped tightly in a shroudlike material, and the way the skull twisted and bent inside its grave suggests it may have been propped up on some sort of pillow that slowly decayed.

Scientists used computerized tomography to peer through layers of sediment to reveal the delicate fossils within.

A technique that tells scientists when sediments were last exposed to light revealed the remains were deposited about 78,000 years ago, making this the oldest known human burial site in Africa, the researchers report today in Nature.

Emmanuel Ndiema, an archaeologist at the National Museums and one of the study’s co-authors, named the child Mtoto, after the same word in Swahili. The remains have since been returned to the National Museums.

Africa's Oldest Human Grave Found, Toddler Buried With Pillow 78,000 Years Ago
An artist’s illustration depicts how Mtoto may have been laid to rest in its grave.

As complex symbolic behaviours, including jewellery use and ochre pigment painting, are thought to have arisen in Africa, the birthplace of our species, about 125,000 to 100,000 years ago, it’s reasonable to think that human burial may have also emerged there and spread around the world with early migrants from the continent, Petraglia says. It’s not clear though, he says, whether Neanderthals independently began to bury their dead or the roots of burial-related behaviours go back to the common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals.

Nearly half of such ancient burials involve children, Petraglia points out. Dying young may have been seen then, as now, as particularly tragic, prompting the community to commemorate the death. “Here we have a child where the legs are pulled up to the chest, in a small pit—it’s almost like the womb,” Petraglia says.

Julien Riel-Salvatore, an anthropologist at the University of Montreal, agrees that the level of care that went into Mtoto’s burial suggests a child’s death was especially poignant.

“The idea that people would go out of their way to preserve the child’s body, which would slow its decay and protect it from scavengers, reflects the fact that people cared deeply about their children,” he says.

More burials from the region and time period will need to be discovered before researchers can start to puzzle out the significance that burial held to these ancient humans, says Louise Humphrey, an anthropologist at the National History Museum in London. Still, she says, the tenderness of the burial in Panga ya Saidi reveals “an expression of personal loss”—a sorrow that transcends time.

What is this bizarre structure found in the Egyptian desert?

What is this Bizarre structure found in the Egyptian desert?

To some viewers, it looks like a landing strip for extraterrestrial spacecraft — or perhaps the portal to a parallel universe, if not an ancient monument to a benevolent deity who had a keen eye for design and symmetry.

But what people are actually seeing in the desolate reaches of the Egyptian desert, just a short distance from the shores of the Red Sea is in fact an environmental art installation. And it’s been baffling tourists and armchair travelers since it was constructed in March 1997.

Danae Stratou, Alexandra Stratou, and Stella Constantinides worked as a team to design and build the enormous 1 million square foot (100,000 square meters) piece of artwork — called Desert Breath — to celebrate “the desert as a state of mind, a landscape of the mind,” as stated on the artists’ website.

What is this Bizarre structure found in the Egyptian desert?
Desert Breath, as seen on Google Maps.

Constructed as two interlocking spirals — one with vertical cones, the other with conical depressions in the desert floor — Desert Breath was originally designed with a small lake at its center, but recent images on Google Maps show that the lake has emptied.

The entire structure, in fact, is slowly disintegrating as the sand that forms the art piece slowly blows off its cone-shaped hills and fills in its depressions, making it “an instrument to measure the passage of time.”

The art piece joins other mysterious images and environmental artworks that fascinate viewers on Google Earth, Google Maps, and other online platforms.

For example, the wind-blown steppes of Kazakhstan are home to a large pentagram etched into the Earth’s surface on the shores of a desolate lake.

The five-pointed figure bedeviled viewers’ imaginations until it was revealed to be the outline of the roads in a Soviet-era park.

The star was a popular symbol in the U.S.S.R., and Kazakhstan was part of the former Soviet Union until that union dissolved in 1991.

And etched onto the desert floor of New Mexico are two large diamonds surrounded by a pair of overlapping circles.

This is reportedly the site of a hidden bunker belonging to the Church of Scientology, according to the author of a book on the religious group.

The creators of Desert Breath have no political or cult-like aspirations, however: “Located … at the point where the immensity of the sea meets the immensity of the desert, the work functions on two different levels in terms of viewpoint: from above as a visual image, and from the ground, walking the spiral pathway, a physical experience.”

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