All posts by Archaeology World Team

Japanese scientists ‘reawaken’ cells of a 28,000-Year-Old woolly mammoth

Japanese scientists ‘reawaken’ cells of a 28,000-Year-Old woolly mammoth

Japanese scientists 'reawaken' cells of a 28,000-Year-Old woolly mammoth

Her name is Yuka: an ancient woolly mammoth that last lived some 28,000 years ago, before becoming mummified in the frozen permafrost wastelands of northern Siberia.

But now that icy tomb is no longer the end of Yuka’s story.

The mammoth’s well-preserved remains were discovered in 2010, and scientists in Japan have now reawakened traces of biological activity in this long-extinct beast – by implanting Yuka’s cell nuclei into the egg cells of mice.

“This suggests that, despite the years that have passed, cell activity can still happen and parts of it can be recreated,” genetic engineer Kei Miyamoto from Kindai University told AFP.

In their experiment, the researchers extracted bone marrow and muscle tissue from Yuka’s remains, and inserted the least-damaged nucleus-like structures they could recover into living mouse oocytes (germ cells) in the lab.

Red and green dyed proteins around a mammoth cell nucleus (upper right) in a mouse oocyte (Kindai University)

In total, 88 of these nuclei structures were collected from 273.5 milligrams of mammoth tissue, and once some of these nuclei were injected into egg cells, a number of the modified cells demonstrated signs of cellular activity that precede cell division.

“In the reconstructed oocytes, the mammoth nuclei showed the spindle assembly, histone incorporation, and partial nuclear formation,” the authors explain in the new paper.

“However, the full activation of nuclei for cleavage was not confirmed.”

Despite the faintness of this limited biological activity, the fact anything could be observed at all is remarkable, and suggests that “cell nuclei are, at least partially, sustained even in over a 28,000 year period”, the researchers say.

Calling the accomplishment a “significant step toward bringing mammoths back from the dead”, Miyamoto acknowledges there is nonetheless a long way to go before the world can expect to see a Jurassic Park-style resurrection of this long-vanished species.

“Once we obtain cell nuclei that are kept in better condition, we can expect to advance the research to the stage of cell division,” Miyamoto told The Asahi Shimbun.

Less-damaged samples, the researchers suggest, could hypothetically enable the possibility of inducing further nuclear functions, such as DNA replication and transcription.

Another thing that is needed is better technology. Previous similar work in 2009 by members of the same research team didn’t get this far – which the scientists at least partially put down to “technological limitations at that time”, and the state of the frozen mammoth tissues used.

To that end, the researchers think their new research could provide a new “platform to evaluate the biological activities of nuclei in extinct animal species” – an incremental progression to perhaps one day, maybe, seeing Yuka’s kind roam again.

51,000-year-old Indonesian cave painting may be the world’s oldest storytelling art

51,000-year-old Indonesian cave painting may be the world’s oldest storytelling art

51,000-year-old Indonesian cave painting may be the world's oldest storytelling art
The 51,200-year-old cave art in Leang Karampuang, Sulawesi, is the oldest narrative rock art ever discovered. The artwork depicts a human-like figure interacting with a warty pig.

A cave painting on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi may be the oldest evidence of narrative art ever discovered, researchers say. The artwork, which depicts a human-like figure interacting with a warty pig, suggests people may have been using art as a way of telling stories for much longer than we thought. 

Archaeological evidence shows that Neanderthals began marking caves as early as 75,000 years ago, but these markings were typically non-figurative. Until a few years ago, the oldest known figurative cave painting was a 21,000-year-old rock art panel in Lascaux, France, showing a bird-headed human charging a bison. But in 2019, archaeologists unearthed hundreds of examples of rock art in caves in the Maros-Pangkep karst.

The rock art included a 15-foot-wide (4.5 meters) panel depicting human-like figures engaging with warty pigs (Sus celebensis) and anoas (Bubalus) — dwarf buffalos native to Sulawesi.

“Storytelling is a hugely important part of human evolution, and possibly even it helps to explain our success as a species. But finding evidence for it in art, especially very early cave art, is exceptionally rare,” Adam Brumm, co-author of the new study and an archaeologist at Griffith University in Australia, said at a news conference. 

The archaeologists previously dated the panel rock art and found it to be at least 43,900 years old, while the oldest image they found in the area was of a 45,500-year-old warty pig. 

Now, using a more sensitive dating technique, the archaeologists found that the rock art is at least 4,000 years older than previously thought, making it around 48,000 years old.

More strikingly, the archaeologists found a similar depiction of the human-like figure and warty pig at another cave in Leang Karampuang that was at least 51,200 years old, making it the oldest known narrative art. Their findings were published Wednesday (July 3) in the journal Nature. 

Archaeologists were intrigued by the narrative art’s depiction of a part-human, part-animal figure, or therianthrope. 

A panorama of the nearly 15-feet-wide (4.5 meters) panel in one of the caves.

“Archaeologists are very interested in depictions of therianthrope because it provides evidence for the ability to imagine the existence of a supernatural being, something that does not exist in real life,” Brumm said. 

Previously, the earliest evidence of a therianthrope was the 40,000-year-old ‘Lion Man’ sculpture unearthed in a cave in Germany. 

“These depictions from Indonesia are pushing back the dates back nearly 20,000 years earlier, which is groundbreaking, really,” said Derek Hodgson, an archaeologist and scientific advisor for INSCRIBE, a European-based project investigating the development of writing, who was not involved in the study.

The early evidence of a therianthrope is a sign of complex human cognition, Hodgson told Live Science. “You don’t find any of these Neanderthals or early pre-human archaic species producing complex figurative art.” 

A map of Indonesian Island of Sulawesi where the archaeologists conducted the study. The area inside the rectangle is the southwestern peninsula of Mares-Pangkep karst. The red boxes on the right show the location of the cave sites.

To more accurately date the narrative art, the researchers used a technique called laser ablation uranium-series imaging. 

Previously, the scientists dated the cave paintings by carbon-dating small samples of cave “popcorn” — calcite clusters that have accumulated over thousands of years. 

But in the new study, Brumm and his team used even smaller calcite samples — just 0.002 inches (44 microns) long. By taking much smaller samples, the archaeologists gain a higher resolution of the age distribution of the calcite on the cave walls. The technique also minimizes the damage made to the artwork.

“It really changes the way we do the dating on record, and it can be applied to other records as well,” study co-author Renaud Joannes-Boyau, a geochronologist at Southern Cross University in Australia, said at the news conference.  

A team of Australian and Indonesian archaeologists excavate the caves in the Maros-Pangkep karst on the island of Sulawesi.

But not everyone agrees. Paul Pettitt, a paleolithic archaeologist at Durham University in the U.K. who was not involved in the study, said that to suggest the art is a narrative, the researchers had to “really make a leap of faith.” 

“The dating method is robust, but the team’s interpretations are certainly not,” he wrote in a statement emailed to Live Science. Looking at the images, it was unclear to him whether these paintings were isolated depictions that just happened to be next to each other. 

According to the authors, while the identity of the painters, most likely Homo sapiens, is a mystery, the lack of evidence for human occupations suggests that the cave might have been reserved for art-making. The cave is tucked away from the rest of the area at a higher elevation.

The interior of the Leang Karampuang cave wall in Sulawesi is filled with calcite clusters.

“It’s possible that people, these early humans, were only going up into these high-level caves to make this art,” study co-author Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist and geochemist at Griffith University, said at the news conference. “Perhaps there was stories and rituals associated with the viewing of the art, we don’t know. But these seem to be special places in the landscape.”

The team is planning to survey and date more rock art in the area. 

Recently, Adhi Agus Oktaviana, the study’s lead author and archaeologist at the Center for Prehistory and Austronesian Studies (CPAS) in Indonesia, found a painting in another cave of three figures depicting a human, a half-human-half-bird and a bird figure. But the team has not analyzed the painting yet.

“It’s very likely that there is some more beautiful ones hidden somewhere that we don’t know,” Aubert said.  

How popcorn was discovered nearly 7,000 years ago

How popcorn was discovered nearly 7,000 years ago

How popcorn was discovered nearly 7,000 years ago
Could a spill by the cook fire have been popcorn’s eureka moment?

You have to wonder how people originally figured out how to eat some foods that are beloved today. The cassava plant is toxic if not carefully processed through multiple steps. Yogurt is basically old milk that’s been around for a while and contaminated with bacteria. And who discovered that popcorn could be a toasty, tasty treat?

These kinds of food mysteries are pretty hard to solve. Archaeology depends on solid remains to figure out what happened in the past, especially for people who didn’t use any sort of writing. Unfortunately, most stuff people traditionally used made from wood, animal materials or cloth decays pretty quickly, and archaeologists like me never find it.

We have lots of evidence of hard stuff, such as pottery and stone tools, but softer things — such as leftovers from a meal — are much harder to find. Sometimes we get lucky, if softer stuff is found in very dry places that preserve it. Also, if stuff gets burned, it can last a very long time.

Corn’s ancestors

Luckily, corn — also called maize — has some hard parts, such as the kernel shell. They’re the bits at the bottom of the popcorn bowl that get caught in your teeth. And since you have to heat maize to make it edible, sometimes it got burned, and archaeologists find evidence that way. Most interesting of all, some plants, including maize, contain tiny, rock-like fragments called phytoliths that can last for thousands of years.

Scientists are pretty sure they know how old maize is. We know maize was probably first farmed by Native Americans in what is now Mexico. Early farmers there domesticated maize from a kind of grass called teosinte.

The ancestor of maize was a grass called teosinte.

Before farming, people would gather wild teosinte and eat the seeds, which contained a lot of starch, a carbohydrate like you’d find in bread or pasta. They would pick teosinte with the largest seeds and eventually started weeding and planting it. Over time, the wild plant developed into something like what we call maize today. You can tell maize from teosinte by its larger kernels.

There’s evidence of maize farming from dry caves in Mexico as early as 9,000 years ago. From there, maize farming spread throughout North and South America.

Popped corn, preserved food

Figuring out when people started making popcorn is harder. There are several types of maize, most of which will pop if heated, but one variety, actually called “popcorn,” makes the best popcorn.

Scientists have discovered phytoliths from Peru, as well as burned kernels, of this type of “poppable” maize from as early as 6,700 years ago.

Each popcorn kernel is a seed, ready to burst when heated.

You can imagine that popping maize kernels was first discovered by accident. Some maize probably fell into a cooking fire, and whoever was nearby figured out that this was a handy new way of preparing the food. Popped maize would last a long time and was easy to make.

Ancient popcorn was probably not much like the snack you might munch at the movie theater today. There was probably no salt and definitely no butter, since there were no cows to milk in the Americas yet. It probably wasn’t served hot and was likely pretty chewy compared with the version you’re used to today.

It’s impossible to know exactly why or how popcorn was invented, but I would guess it was a clever way to preserve the edible starch in corn by getting rid of the little bit of water inside each kernel that would make it more susceptible to spoiling. It’s the heated water in the kernel escaping as steam that makes popcorn pop.

The popped corn could then last a long time. What you may consider a tasty snack today probably started as a useful way of preserving and storing food.

Archaeologists Discover 3,000-Year-Old Megalithic Temple Used by a ‘Water Cult’

Archaeologists Discover 3,000-Year-Old Megalithic Temple Used by a ‘Water Cult’

Archaeologists Discover 3,000-Year-Old Megalithic Temple Used by a 'Water Cult'
Archaeologists uncovered a 3000-year-old megalithic temple in Peru

Archaeologists have discovered a 3000-year-old megalithic temple in Peru that an ancient “water cult” used for fertility rituals.

The temple, found at the Huaca El Toro archaeological site, is located in modern-day Oyotún in the Zaña Valley of  northwestern Peru. It is the first megalithic temple, or one made from large stones, found in this valley, which sits between two rivers that join together and give rise to the Zaña River.

The ancient cult, whose members worshiped water, likely built the temple in an area where a new river rises as a kind of “territorial symbolism,” said Edgar Bracamonte, an archaeologist with the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum in Peru, who took part in the excavations.

“Water is the most important element to live, and in this time, water was so difficult to access without technology.” 

The temple dates back 3,000 years, to the Formative period, a stage of ancient American history that predates any major hydraulic works, Bracamonte said.

The temple’s location between the rivers and the presence of the surrounding “pocitos,” or small wells that the ancients used to predict rainy seasons, “show water’s importance to people of [the] Formative period,” he added.

The temple was surrounded with tiny wells or “pocitos” that the ancient people used to predict rainy seasons.

The temple was constructed using different sizes of large, carved rocks, which were moved to the area from mountains around 1.86 miles (3 kilometers) away.

The temple is thought to have been abandoned around 250 B.C. and then used as a burial ground by the Chumy people who, around 1300, reoccupied the site, Bracamonte said.

The team discovered 21 tombs in the temple; 20 belonged to the Chumy people and one belonged to an adult male buried during the Formative period.

During that period, bodies were oriented east to west and buried with a single offering. This adult male was buried with a ceramic bottle that had two spouts and a bridge handle, a style characteristic of the final Formative period, Bracamonte said.

The excavations also revealed that the temple was occupied in three stages — the first between 1500 B.C. and 800 B.C., when people built the structure’s foundations from cone-shaped clay; the second between 800 B.C. and 400 B.C., when the megalithic temple was built with influences from the pre-Inca civilization known as the Chavin; and the third between 400 B.C. and 100 B.C., when people added circular columns that were used to hold up the roof of the temple.

The excavations took place between September and November of this year, but the researchers are continuing to analyze their finds in the lab.

To build this site, ancient people had to move stones from mountains around 1.86 miles (3 kilometers) away.

4,000-year-old Rock Art From A Previously Unknown Ancient Culture uncovered in Venezuela

4,000-year-old Rock Art From A Previously Unknown Ancient Culture uncovered in Venezuela

4,000-year-old Rock Art From A Previously Unknown Ancient Culture uncovered in Venezuela

An archaeological team in Venezuela has uncovered 20 ancient rock art sites in Canaima National Park in the southeastern part of the country, consisting of both pictograms and petroglyphs, estimated to be about 4,000 years old.

This discovery reveals a previously unknown culture, even though similar rock art has been found elsewhere in South America.

The newfound rock art, referred to as pictograms, was painted in red and featured geometric shapes such as dotted lines, rows of X’s, star-shaped patterns, and interconnected straight lines.

Additionally, there are simple depictions of leaves and stick figure drawings of people. Some images, known as petroglyphs, were incised into the rock and exhibit similar geometric designs.

These paintings resemble other rock art from South America, such as that from Brazil, Colombia, and Guyana, but they also show the rise of a unique cultural group that was previously unknown.

An archaeologist and researcher at Simón Bolívar University in Caracas, José Miguel Pérez-Gómez told DailyMail.com that previous studies have found no signs of human activity in the region, suggesting the art was made by a previously unknown civilization.

One area where rock art sites were found in Venezuela was near Angel Falls, the tallest land waterfall on Earth.

The purpose behind this art remains unclear.

The various representations could be associated with topics like childbirth, illness, nature reviving, or ethical hunting. Just as churches have great meaning for people today, the sites where the rock art was made probably had great significance for the surrounding environment.

“It is almost impossible to get into the minds of people living so many [thousands of] years ago” lead researcher José Miguel Pérez-Gómez, told Live Science over email. He added that “definitely these signs had a ritual meaning.”

Ceramic and stone tool remains were also discovered at the 20 rock art sites, possibly used by the artists themselves. However, Pérez-Gómez says more research is needed to confirm this. He also stated that more rock art sites are likely to be discovered in Canaima National Park as research continues.

Rock art from Upuigma-tepui rock shelter in Canaima National Park, Venezuela.

Although it is not known precisely how old rock art is, similar rock art in Brazil has been dated to about 4,000 years ago, but Perez-Gomez believes the examples in Venezuela may be older.

The park might have been the original place where this unknown culture first developed, Perez-Gomez told Live Science, adding that they may have later dispersed to places as far away as the Amazon River, the Guianas, and even southern Colombia, which all feature rock art akin to the newly found sites in Venezuela.

The research was first presented at the “New Worlds New Ideas” prehistoric archaeological congress held in Valcamonica, Italy.

Some of the newly found rock art in Venezuela.

1,500-Year-Old Christian Ivory Reliquary Box Discovered in Austria

1,500-Year-Old Christian Ivory Reliquary Box Discovered in Austria

1,500-Year-Old Christian Ivory Reliquary Box Discovered in Austria

Archaeologists have discovered an exceptional Christian ancient ivory reliquary  box in Austria that is thought to be around 1,500 years old.

Innsbruck archaeologists have been excavating in an old hilltop settlement in southern Austria since the summer of 2016. They made the incredible discovery of a Christian reliquary concealed in a previously unknown church two years ago. This reliquary contained an ancient ivory  box, richly decorated with Christian symbols.

The incredible artifact was discovered on August 4, 2022, in an early Christian church on the Burgbichl hill in Irschen, southern Austria, by a team headed by archaeologist Gerald Grabherr. A marble shrine measuring around 20 by 30 centimeters was hidden under the altar in the side chapel area.

The artifact in question is heavily fragmented, but researchers said the pieces once formed a type of round container known as a “pyx” that in this case was made of ivory and richly decorated with Christian motifs.

The shrine contained a heavily fragmented ivory “box” (pyx) richly decorated with Christian motifs – a reliquary that is normally taken away as the “holiest” part when a church is abandoned. In this case, however, it was left behind. It is the first such pyx to be found in an archaeological context in Austria.

The individual fragments of the ivory pyx found in a marble shrine laid out as a panorama.

“We know of around 40 ivory  boxes of this kind worldwide and, as far as I know, the last time one of these was found during excavations was around 100 years ago – the few pyxes that exist are either preserved in cathedral treasures or exhibited in museums,” explains the finder, Gerald Grabherr.

While the archaeologists initially assumed that the remains of a saint – i.e. a relic in the classic sense of the word – were also found in the marble  box, the layering of the fragments found in the shrine indicates that the ivory pyx was already broken in late antiquity and was buried in the altar.

“The pyx was presumably also seen as sacred and was treated as such because it was in contact with a relic. The archaeological and art-historical significance of the pyx cannot be denied,” emphasizes Gerald Grabherr.

At one end, the pyx shows a figure at the foot of a mountain – the man depicted is turning his gaze away and a hand rising out of the sky above him, placing something between the person’s arms.

 “This is the typical depiction of the handing over of the laws to Moses on Mount Sinai, the beginning of the covenant between God and man from the Old Testament,” says Gerald Grabherr.

This is followed by depictions of biblical figures. At the end, you can see a man on a chariot with two horses harnessed to it – and here, too, a hand coming out of the clouds pulls this figure up into heaven. “We assume that this is a depiction of the ascension of Christ, the fulfilment of the covenant with God.

The depiction of scenes from the Old Testament and their connection with scenes from  the New Testament New Testament is typical of late antiquity and thus fits in with our pyx; however, the depiction of the Ascension of Christ with a so-called biga, a two-horse chariot, is very special and previously unknown.”

Since its discovery, the 1,500-year-old ivory pyx has been conserved at the University of Innsbruck.

Ivory stored underground absorbs moisture, making it very soft and easily damaged. Uncontrolled drying can lead to shrinkage and cracks.

Ulrike Töchterle, head of the restoration workshop in Innsbruck, said, “The high humidity in the marble shrine meant there was a high risk of condensation and mold, so we had to ensure a careful and prolonged drying process.”

Over the past two years, the individual pieces of the ivory pyx have been conserved for  scientific analysis. The larger parts are deformed, so the pyx cannot be restored to its original state. However, researchers are working on a 3D reconstruction.

A Unique Discovery in Europe: Ancient Stone Circles Cover 2,800-Year-Old Graves of Children in Norway

A Unique Discovery in Europe: Ancient Stone Circles Cover 2,800-Year-Old Graves of Children in Norway

A Unique Discovery in Europe: Ancient Stone Circles Cover 2,800-Year-Old Graves of Children in Norway

Archaeologists from the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo discovered an unknown burial site in a quarry near Fredrikstad, in southeastern Norway.

This find has been found to contain the remains of mostly children, all of whom died more than 2,000 years ago. The burial field is unique in a European context, according to the Museum of Cultural History.

In December 2023, the team of archaeologists, led by Guro Fossum, was initially investigating ancient Stone Age settlements when they found stone formations that turned out to be burial circles.

The children, whose ages ranged from infancy to six years old at the time of their deaths, had their partially burnt bones interred directly beneath the intriguing stone circles, in exquisitely crafted ceramic pots that had long since broken into fragments. After the skeletal remains were dated, it was discovered that nearly all of the children had been buried during Norway’s Bronze and Iron Ages, between 800 and 400 BC.

“The dating shows that the burial site was used over a long period, so they couldn’t all have died in the same natural disaster or outbreak of disease or epidemic,” says Guro Fossum.

The painstakingly built stone circles were found in 2023 while excavating a rural field close to the southern Norwegian city of Fredrickstad. They were situated close to a Stone Age settlement, which was the original site being investigated, and were only 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) below the earth’s surface.

The stone formations were all between three and six feet (one and two meters) in diameter and were either perfectly round or oval-shaped. Some had larger stones placed in the middle or on their edges, signaling some diversity or creativity in the designs.

The tombs show variations in the arrangement of the cremated remains, some placed in urns and others simply under the stone circles. The amount of bones recovered was minimal in many cases, between 0.1 and 240 grams per tomb, which presented a considerable challenge for the archaeologists and osteologists involved in the study.

The children’s graves date from the transition between the Bronze and Iron Ages, with most of them buried between 800 and 400 years BCE.

Aside from the children’s tombs, everyday objects like fire pits and kitchen pits were discovered near the site. This implies that the location may have functioned as a community gathering spot in addition to a cemetery, possibly for funeral-related events.

There was something special about the whole place. The tombs are very close together. They must have been in an open landscape, with nearby communication routes, so everyone knew about them. Furthermore, all the tombs were very beautiful and meticulously worked. Each stone came from a different place and was precisely placed in the formation. We wondered who had made such an effort, says Fossum.

The burial site, unique in the European context, has sparked interest not only for its rarity but also for its emotional implications.

An associate professor of archaeology at the University of Stavanger, Håkon Reiersen emphasizes that this find connects us deeply with the universal human emotions related to the loss and mourning of children, showing that people in the past were not so different from us in terms of how they honored their dead.

Fossum finds it interesting that men, women, and especially children had their own tombs and received the same treatment for centuries.

“It seems that the social structure was more egalitarian, as there wasn’t much difference between the graves. The same types of graves, grave goods, and burial methods were used. This suggests a society where community was important,” she said.

Only one of the graves in the field is dated to after the year 0. From that point on, burial practices gradually changed, with hierarchies and large burial mounds reserved only for those with status.

Gravitational Wave Researchers Shed New Light on the Mystery of the 2,000-Year-Old Computer Antikythera Mechanism

Gravitational Wave Researchers Shed New Light on the Mystery of the 2,000-Year-Old Computer Antikythera Mechanism

Gravitational Wave Researchers Shed New Light on the Mystery of the 2,000-Year-Old Computer Antikythera Mechanism

Astronomers from the University of Glasgow who specialize in studying tiny ripples in space-time have shed new light on the 2200-year-old Antikythera mechanism.

A shoebox-sized device found in fragments and eroded was discovered in 1901 by divers exploring a sunken shipwreck near the Greek island of Antikythera. The Antikythera mechanism, also known as a “clockwork computer,” is a small bronze instrument that predates any machine of comparable complexity by over a millennium.

The device sat in a museum for fifty years before historians began to take a serious look at it. Decades of subsequent research and analysis have established that the mechanism dates from the second century BCE and functioned as a kind of hand-operated mechanical computer. Exterior dials connected to the internal gears allowed users to predict eclipses and calculate the astronomical positions of planets on any given date with accuracy unparalleled by any other known contemporary device.

Astronomers from the University of Glasgow have used statistical modeling techniques developed to analyze gravitational waves to establish the likely number of holes in one of the broken rings of the Antikythera mechanism – an ancient artifact that was showcased in the movie Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

While the movie version enabled the intrepid archaeologist to travel through time, the Glasgow team’s results provide fresh evidence that one of the components of the Antikythera mechanism was most likely used to track the Greek lunar year. They also offer new insight into the remarkable craftsmanship of the ancient Greeks.

In 2020, new X-ray images of one of the mechanism’s rings, known as the calendar ring, revealed fresh details of regularly spaced holes that sit beneath the ring. Since the ring was broken and incomplete, however, it wasn’t clear how just how many holes were there originally. Initial analysis by Antikythera researcher Chris Budiselic and colleagues suggested it was likely somewhere between 347 and 367.

Now, in a new paper published today in the Horological Journal, the Glasgow researchers describe how they used two statistical analysis techniques to reveal new details about the calendar ring. They show that the ring is vastly more likely to have had 354 holes, corresponding to the lunar calendar, than 365 holes, which would have followed the Egyptian calendar. The analysis also shows that 354 holes is hundreds of times more probable than a 360-hole ring, which previous research had suggested as a possible count.

Professor Graham Woan, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics & Astronomy, is one of the authors of the paper. He said: “Towards the end of last year, a colleague pointed to me to data acquired by YouTuber Chris Budiselic, who was looking to make a replica of the calendar ring and was investigating ways to determine just how many holes it contained.

The Antikythera mechanism is housed in the Bronze Collection of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

“It struck me as an interesting problem, and one that I thought I might be able to solve in a different way during the Christmas holidays, so I set about using some statistical techniques to answer the question.”

Professor Woan used a technique called Bayesian analysis, which uses probability to quantify uncertainty based on incomplete data, to calculate the likely number of holes in the mechanism using the positions of the surviving holes and the placement of the ring’s surviving six fragments. His results showed strong evidence that the mechanism’s calendar ring contained either 354 or 355 holes.

At the same time, one of Professor Woan’s colleagues at the University’s Institute for Gravitational Research, Dr Joseph Bayley, had also heard about the problem. He adapted techniques used by their research group to analyze the signals picked up by the LIGO gravitational wave detectors, which measure the tiny ripples in spacetime, caused by massive astronomical events like the collision of black holes, as they pass through the Earth, to scrutinize the calendar ring.

The Markov Chain Monte Carlo and nested sampling methods Woan and Bayley used provided a comprehensive probabilistic set of results, again suggesting that the ring most likely contained 354 or 355 holes in a circle of radius 77.1mm, with an uncertainty of about 1/3 mm. It also reveals that the holes were precisely positioned with extraordinary accuracy, with an average radial variation of just 0.028mm between each hole.

Bayley, a co-author of the paper, is a research associate at the School of Physics & Astronomy. He said: “Previous studies had suggested that the calendar ring was likely to have tracked the lunar calendar, but the dual techniques we’ve applied in this piece of work greatly increase the likelihood that this was the case.

“It’s given me a new appreciation for the Antikythera mechanism and the work and care that Greek craftspeople put into making it – the precision of the holes’ positioning would have required highly accurate measurement techniques and an incredibly steady hand to punch them.

Professor Woan added: “It’s a neat symmetry that we’ve adapted techniques we use to study the universe today to understand more about a mechanism that helped people keep track of the heavens nearly two millennia ago.

“We hope that our findings about the Antikythera mechanism, although less supernaturally spectacular than those made by Indiana Jones, will help deepen our understanding of how this remarkable device was made and used by the Greeks.”

The paper, titled ‘An Improved Calendar Ring Hole-Count for the Antikythera Mechanism: A Fresh Analysis’, is published in Horological Journal.