5,000-year-old Iraqi city discovered under a 10 meter-deep mound
In the Kurdistan province of northern Iraq, an ancient town called ‘Idu’ was discovered. Hidden under a mound of 32 feet (10 meters), it is believed that the city was an entertainment center between 3,300 and 2,900 years ago.
King inscriptions made for walls, tablets, and plinths of the stone show that once it was full of lavish palaces. It is thought the inscription was made by the local kings celebrating the construction of the royal palace.
Archaeologists at the University of Leipzig in Germany spent the next few years excavating the area. They believe the city of Idu spent much of its time under the control of the Assyrian Empire about 3,300 years ago.
But archaeologists also found evidence that it was a fiercely independent city. Its people fought for and won, 140 years of independence before they were reconquered by the Assyrians.
Among the treasures found were artwork showing a bearded sphinx with a human head and the body of a winged lion. Above it was the words: ‘Palace of Ba’auri, king of the land of Idu, son of Edima, also king of the land of Idu.’
They also found a cylinder seal dating back roughly 2,600 years depicting a man crouching before a griffon.
‘We were lucky to be one of the first teams to begin excavations in Iraq after the 2003 war,’ archaeologists Cinzia Pappi told MailOnline.
‘The discovery of ancient Idu at Satu Qala revealed a multicultural capital and a crossroad between northern and southern Iraq and between Iraq and Western Iran in the second and first millennia BC.
‘Particularly the discovery of a local dynasty of kings fills a gap in what scholars had previously thought of as a dark age in the history of ancient Iraq.
‘Together these results have helped to redraw the political and historical map of the development of the Assyrian Empire.’ The city was hidden beneath a mound, called a tell, which is currently home to a village called Satu Qala.
‘For wide-scale excavations to continue, at least some of these houses will have to be removed,’ said archaeologists Cinzia Pappi.
‘Unfortunately, until a settlement is reached between the villagers and the Kurdistan regional government, further work is currently not possible.’
Archaeologists plan to continue excavating the site once they reach an agreement. In the meantime, a study on the materials from the site, now stored in the Erbil Museum of Antiquities, has just been completed in co-operation with the University of Pennsylvania.
Together, the researchers will explore the surrounding area to determine the extent of the kingdom of Idu in its regional context. The findings have been reported in the journal Anatolica.
Science Magazine reports that seven hominin footprints dated to some 120,000 years ago with optically stimulated luminescence were identified among hundreds of animal prints in northern Saudi Arabia’s Nefud Desert.
They may have paused for a drink of freshwater or to track herds of elephants, wild asses, and camels that were trampling the mudflats. Within hours of passing through, the humans’ and animals’ footprints dried out and eventually fossilized.
Now, these ancient footsteps offer rare evidence of when and where early humans once inhabited the Arabian Peninsula. “These are the first genuine human footprints of Arabia,” says archaeologist and team leader Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
The Arabian Peninsula has long been considered the obvious route that early members of our species took as they trekked out of Africa and migrated to the Middle East and Eurasia.
Stone tools have suggested ancient humans explored the Arabian Peninsula at various times in prehistory when the climate was wetter and its harsh deserts were transformed into green grasslands punctuated with freshwater lakes.
Yet so far, researchers have only found a single human finger bone dating to 88,000 years to prove modern humans, rather than some other hominin toolmaker, lived there.
After a decade of scouring the Arabian Peninsula using satellite imagery and ground-truthing, Petraglia and his international colleagues have identified tens of thousands of ancient freshwater lakebeds, including one in the Nefud dubbed “Alathar,” meaning “the trace” in Arabic. Here, they spotted hundreds of footprints on a heavily trampled lakebed surface, which had recently been exposed when overlying sediments eroded.
Almost 400 tracks were left by animals, including a wild ass, a giant buffalo, elephants, and camels. Only seven were confidently identified as human footprints.
But by comparing the size and shape of these tracks with those made by modern humans and Neanderthals, the researchers conclude the tracks were likely made by people with long feet, taller stature, and smaller mass: Homo sapiens, rather than Neanderthals, as they report today in Science Advances.
The age of the sediments also suggests H. sapiens made the tracks, the researchers say. Using a method called optically stimulated luminescence, which measures electrons to infer when layers of sediment were last exposed to light, the team dated the sediments above and below the footprints to 121,000 and 112,000 years.
At that date, “Neanderthals were absent from the Levant [Middle East],” says co-author Mathew Stewart of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology. “Therefore, we argue that H. sapiens was likely responsible for the footprints.”
A lot rests on the dates, however. Geochronologist Bert Roberts of the University of Wollongong notes some uncertainties with dating methods at the site—including older ages for animal fossils and potential issues with calculating the precise rate of decay of uranium in the sediments. The dates for the footprints “might be in the right ballpark,” he says, “but more could be done to validate them.”
The team can’t entirely exclude Neanderthals, says paleoanthropologist Marta Mirazón Lahr of the University of Cambridge, because the fossil record is so spotty in Arabia. But she thinks H. sapiens is the more likely candidate.
Even more intriguing, she notes, the footprints show the humans were capable of moving long distances between Africa and Arabia and must have had fairly large foraging parties to have been able to penetrate deep into the rich interior wetlands of Arabia.
The rare association of human and animal footprints laid down on the same day or so also offers a rare glimpse of a day in the life of an ancient human. Usually, animal and human fossils found in the same fossil bed were buried hundreds, if not thousands, of years apart and never laid eyes on each other.
“These footprints give us a unique snapshot of the humans living in this area at the same time as the animals,” says paleoanthropologist Kevin Hatala of Chatham University in Pittsburgh, an expert on ancient footprints. “That tight association in time is what’s so exciting to me.”
A 48,000 years old tooth that belonged to one of the last Neanderthals in Northern Italy
A milk tooth belonging to one of Italy’s last Neanderthal children has been found near Venice. The canine tooth belonged to a pre-teen, likely 11 or 12 years old, and dates back 45,000 years.
Neanderthals went extinct around 40,000 years ago after being out-competed for food and shelter by the more intelligent Homo sapiens. The tooth would have been in the upper row of teeth on the right-hand side of the child’s mouth.
It was discovered in a rock shelter at an archaeological site called ‘Riparo del Broion’ on the Berici Hills in the Veneto region, near Venice. The tooth is the first-ever human remain to be found at the site.
Genetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA preserved inside the tooth, as well as analysis of the enamel and shape, reveal it is from a Neanderthal and not a Homo sapien.
Matteo Romandini, lead author of the study at the University of Bologna says: ‘High-resolution prehistoric field-archaeology allowed us to find the tooth, then we employed virtual approaches to the analyses of its shape, genome, taphonomy and of its radiometric profile.
‘Following this process, we could identify this tooth as belonging to a child that was one of the last Neanderthals in Italy.’
Mitochondrial DNA is similar to normal DNA, except it is smaller and stored in the mitochondria, the powerhouses of human cells, not the nucleus.
It is also inherited only from the mother and therefore paints a picture of maternal heredity. The owner of this tooth had a mother who was descended from Neanderthals that had lived in Belgium, the DNA revealed.
‘This small tooth is extremely important’, says Stefano Benazzi, professor at the University of Bologna and research coordinator.
‘This is even more relevant if we consider that, when this child who lived in Veneto lost their tooth, Homo Sapiens communities were already present a thousand kilometers away in Bulgaria’.
The early findings are published in the Journal of Human Evolution and researchers are still delving through the other findings the archaeological site has revealed.
For example, there are many signs of hunting and that the site was used to butcher large animals.
‘The manufacturing of tools, mainly made of flint, shows Neanderthals’ great adaptability and their systematic and specialized exploitation of the raw materials available in this area’, adds Marco Peresanti, a professor of the University of Ferrara who contributed to the study.
Neanderthals first arrived in Europe around 350,000 years ago and lived without rivals until around 45,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens first ventured into Eurasia.
When Homo sapiens — modern humans — moved into Europe they hunted the same animals and sought the same plants to survive a Neanderthals.
This proximity led to mingling and even interbreeding, Neanderthal DNA can be found in modern-day humans to this day.
It is believed the two species managed to co-exist for around 8,000 years, but the competition over limited resources led Neanderthals to extinction at some point between 43 to 38 thousand years ago.
100-million-year old giant sperm found trapped in amber
The world’s oldest animal sperm has been found in a tiny crustacean trapped in Amber about 100 million years ago in Myanmar by the international partnership of researchers from London’s Queen Mary University and the Chinese Academy of Science in Nanjing.
Dr. He Wang of the Chinese Academy of Science in Nanjing led the study team to locate sperm in a new species called Myanmarcypris hui. They predict that the animals had sex just before their entrapment in the piece of amber (tree resin), which formed in the Cretaceous period.
Sperm fossilized was exceptionally rare; previously the oldest known examples were only 17 million years old. Myanmarcypris hui is an ostracod, a kind of crustacean that has existed for 500 million years and lives in all kinds of aquatic environments from deep oceans to lakes and rivers.
Their fossil shells are common and abundant but finding specimens preserved in ancient amber with their appendages and internal organs intact provides a rare and exciting opportunity to learn more about their evolution.
Professor Dave Horne, Professor of Micropalaeontology at Queen Mary University of London said: “Analyses of fossil ostracod shells are hugely informative about past environments and climates, as well as shedding light on evolutionary puzzles, but exceptional occurrences of fossilized soft parts like this result in remarkable advances in our understanding.”
During the Cretaceous period in what is now Myanmar, the ostracods were probably living in a coastal lagoon fringed by trees where they became trapped in a blob of tree resin.
The Kachin amber of Myanmar has previously yielded outstanding finds including frogs, snakes, and a feathered dinosaur tail. Bo Wang, also of the Chinese Academy of Science in Nanjing added: “Hundreds of new species have been described in the past five years, and many of them have made evolutionary biologists re-consider long-standing hypotheses on how certain lineages developed and how ecological relationships evolved.”
The study, published in Royal Society Proceedings B, also has implications for understanding the evolutionary history of an unusual mode of sexual reproduction involving “giant sperm.”
The new ostracod finds may be extremely small but in one sense they are giants. Males of most animals (including humans) typically produce tens of millions of really small sperm in very large quantities, but there are exceptions.
Some tiny fruit flies (insects) and ostracods (crustaceans) are famous for investing in quality rather than quantity: relatively small numbers of “giant” sperm that are many times longer than the animal itself, a by-product of evolutionary competition for reproductive success.
The new discovery is not only by far the oldest example of fossil sperm ever found but also shows that these ostracods had already evolved giant sperm, and specially-adapted organs to transfer them from male to female, 100 million years ago.
Each ostracod is less than a millimeter long. Using X-ray microscopy the team made computer-aided 3-D reconstructions of the ostracods embedded in the amber, revealing incredible detail.
“The results were amazing — not only did we find their tiny appendages to be preserved inside their shells, but we could also see their reproductive organs,” added He Wang. “But when we identified the sperm inside the female and knowing the age of the amber, it was one of those special Eureka-moments in a researcher’s life.”
Wang’s team found adult males and females but it was a female specimen that contained the sperm, indicating that it must have had sex shortly before becoming trapped in the amber.
The reconstructions also revealed the distinctive muscular sperm pumps and penises (two of each) that male ostracods use to inseminate the females, who store them in bag-like receptacles until eggs are ready to be fertilized.
Such extensive adaptation raises the question of whether reproduction with giant sperms can be an evolutionarily-stable character. “To show that using giant sperms in reproduction is not an extinction-doomed extravagance of evolution, but a serious long-term advantage for the survival of a species, we need to know when they first appeared,” says co-author Dr. Renate Matzke-Karasz of Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich.
This new evidence of the persistence of reproduction with giant sperm for a hundred million years shows it to be a highly successful reproductive strategy that evolved only once in this group — quite impressive for a trait that demands such a substantial investment from both males and females, especially when you consider that many ostracods can reproduce asexually, without needing males at all.
“Sexual reproduction with giant sperm must be very advantageous,” says Matzke-Karasz.
The Prairies are home to tons of hidden treasures, some of which are hiding right under our noses. Even though this lake is super popular and is located in a huge national park, few could ever guess a ghost town lies just beneath the waters.
The sunken city under Lake Minnewanka is a hidden treasure that few have seen and it’s waiting to be discovered.
Deep below the surface of the lake’s pristine waters is the sunken resort town of Minnewanka Landing. While it used to bustle with tourism and life, according to Parks Canada, its only residents are now trout and the occasional scuba diver.
The village was built way back in 1888 when the water levels were much lower. Soon, cottages sprung up, restaurants and hotels were built, and even a boat tour started ferrying travellers around the scenic lake. For a little while, life was great at Minnewanka Landing.
Over the years the town grew to include four avenues, three streets, dozens of cottages, numerous hotels and restaurants, and multiple sailing outfits that would take guests on boat excursions around the (much smaller) original lake.
It wouldn’t be until 1912 that the area’s landscape would start to evolve with the construction of a new dam—part of a Calgary Power Co. hydroelectric plant operation being set up downriver—resulting in the flooding of a good portion of Minnewanka Landing.
But while the town continued to thrive over the next two decades (42 lots were built to make way for additional cabin sites), it would finally meet its fate in 1941 with the building of a new dam, which raised the reservoir’s waters by 98 feet, engulfing everything in its wake.
“It was during the Second World War and everyone was hungry for power,” Bill Perry, an archeologist with Parks Canada, tells Smithsonian.com. “Calgary and the surrounding area were growing substantially during that point in time and required more power, so Lake Minnewanka was seen as an easy end.”
Today the reservoir hides a secret that many people will never get the chance to experience—unless they’re scuba divers, that is. Thanks to Lake Minnewanka’s glacier-fed, ice-cold waters, many structures of the former resort town still remain intact, including house and hotel foundations, wharves, an oven, a chimney, a cellar, bridge pilings, and sidewalks. (A full list of sites is available here.) Even the footings from the town’s original dam, built by the federal government in 1895, along with the footings from the dam built in 1912, remain visible.
Another notable site nearby is a native campsite that dates back thousands of years.
In recent years, archaeologists have uncovered spear points, arrowheads, ancient weapons known as atlatls, stone tools, and other implements used by indigenous tribes who once lived there.
“What is particularly interesting about that for me is looking at the whole area as a cultural landscape,” Perry says. “The area’s 13,000 years of continuous use absolutely fascinates me.”
And Perry isn’t alone. He estimates that approximately 8,000 divers descend into the lake each year to explore its hidden past.
“Because of the cold, clear water, wood actually survives quite well down there,” he says. “That’s why it has become such a popular diving place for local scuba diving clubs. There’s just so much left to see.”
The 2,600-Year-old palace is found buried under the ruins of a shrine blown up by Isis in Mosul
Archaeologists assessing the damage caused by Islamic State militants to the tomb of the prophet of Jonah have made a surprise discovery. Experts found a previously untouched palace dating back to 600BC buried under the ruins of Jonah’s desecrated resting place.
The Nebi Yunus shrine – containing what Muslims and Christians believe to be the tomb of Jonah or ‘Yunnus’ as he is known in the Koran – was destroyed by ISIS militants in July 2014.
Weeks after overrunning Mosul and much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland, ISIS militants rigged the shrine and blew it up, sparking global outrage. ISIS militants believe giving special veneration to tombs and relics is against the teachings of Islam.
The shrine holding Jonah’s tomb is located on top of a hill in eastern Mosul, a city in northern Iraq with a population of around 660,000 that was retaken from ISIS control by Iraqi army forces last month.
Archaeologists have been picking through ancient rubble left behind by the terror group as they attempt to salvage surviving artefacts. They told the Telegraph that ISIS dug tunnels deep under the shrine and into a previously undiscovered and untouched palace dating back to 600BC. These tunnels were not professionally built, leaving them unstable and at risk of collapse within the next few weeks, burying the ancient palace.
‘We fear it could all collapse at any time,’ entombing the treasures, said archaeologist Layla Salih, who is in charge of antiquities for the Nineveh province where the shrine stands.
‘There are cave-ins in the tunnels every day.’
It had long been rumoured that the shrine shared a site with an ancient palace. Excavations had previously been carried out by the Ottoman governor of Mosul in 1852. The Iraqi Department of antiques also studied the site in the 1950s.
But neither excavation had dug as far as the ISIS militants, leaving the palace undiscovered for 2,600 years. The finding is the first example of ISIS militants tunnelling underneath historic sites to find artefacts to loot. Within one of the ISIS tunnels, archaeologists found a marble inscription of King Esarhaddon, thought to date back to the Assyrian empire in 672BC.
The palace was renovated and expanded by King Esarhaddon after it was built for his father Sennacherib. It was partly destroyed during a ransacking as part of the Battle of Nineveh in 612 BC.
Only a handful of these ‘cuneiform’ slabs have ever been uncovered from the Esarhaddon period. Archaeologists also unearthed two Assyrian empire-era winged bull sculptures within the Jihadist tunnels.
Two murals in white marble show the winged bulls with only the sides and feet showing. In another section of ISIS tunnel, the archaeologists found Assyrian stone sculptures of a demi-goddess, pictured spreading the ‘water of life’ to protect humans.
Mrs Salih said that some of the larger sculptures were likely left behind by ISIS because they feared the hill might collapse. Other removable artefacts, especially pottery, were certainly plundered, she said.
‘I’ve never seen something like this in stone at this large size,’ Professor Eleanor Robson, chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, told The Telegraph.
Professor Robson suggested they may have been used to decorate the women’s quarter of the palace. The objects don’t match descriptions of what we thought was down there, so Isis’s destruction has actually led us to a fantastic find.’
‘There’s a huge amount of history down there, not just ornamental stones. It is an opportunity to finally map the treasure-house of the world’s first great empire, from the period of its greatest success.’
Mrs Salih, who is leading the five-person team carrying out the emergency documentation of Jonah’s tomb, believes that ISIS forces looted hundreds of objects before Mosul was retaken by Iraqi forces.
‘I can only imagine how much Daesh discovered down there before we got here,’ she said.
‘We believe they took many of the artefacts, such as pottery and smaller pieces, away to sell. But what they left will be studied and will add a lot to our knowledge of the period.’
As the city of Mosul was finally retaken, Iraqi forces battling Islamic State unveiled the destruction left behind by the jihadis last month in a series of devastating photographs. The terrorist group who levelled many of the city’s most well-known Muslim artefacts and buildings.
‘We retook control of Nabi Yunus area… raised the Iraqi flag above the tomb,’ said Sabah al-Noman, spokesman for the Counter-Terrorism Service spearheading the Mosul offensive. The destruction of all bridges over the river in airstrikes has made it difficult for IS fighters in east Mosul to resupply or escape to the west bank, which they still fully control.
The western side of Mosul, which is home to the old city and some of the jihadists’ traditional bastions, was always tipped as likely to offer the most resistance.
Cleopatra’s final resting place: Mummies of two high-status Egyptians discovered.
The mystery behind Egyptian queen Cleopatra’s tomb is immense because nobody appears to know where she was buried. However, archaeologists in Egypt are in all probability, close to cracking the code with respect to Cleopatra’s burial after two mummies of high-status individuals, who lived in her era, have been discovered at Taposiris Magna – a temple on the Nile delta.
A discovery that it is being described as “sensational” because it shows the importance of a necropolis that is being linked to her by the latest finds.
Although the burial chamber had been undisturbed for 2,000 years, the mummies are in a poor state of preservation because water had seeped through.
But crucial evidence reveals they were originally completely covered with gold leaf, a luxury afforded only to those from the top tiers of society. Perhaps these two individuals had interacted with Cleopatra herself, archaeologists suggest.
The opening of the first-ever intact tomb found at Taposiris Magna was witnessed by cameras for a new Channel 5 documentary, The Hunt for Cleopatra’s Tomb, to be screened.
It is presented by Dr Glenn Godenho, a senior lecturer in Egyptology at Liverpool University, who described the discovery as phenomenal.
“Although now covered in dust from 2,000 years underground, at the time these mummies would have been spectacular. To be covered in gold leaf shows they … would have been … important members of society,” he said.
The mummies have been X-rayed, establishing that they are male and female. One suggestion is they were priests who played a key role in maintaining the pharaohs’ power. One bears an image of a scarab, symbolising rebirth, painted in gold leaf.
Cleopatra was the last of a ruthless dynasty that ruled the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt for almost three centuries. Yet not a single Ptolemaic pharaoh’s tomb has been found.
Excavations at Taposiris Magna are headed by Dr Kathleen Martínez, who, after working there for over 14 years, is more convinced than ever Cleopatra’s tomb will be found there. Only a tiny percentage of the vast site has been explored.
In the show, cameras film her as the burial chamber with two mummies is opened up for the first time. After an initial limestone slab is removed with a chisel and hammer, she peers through a small hole, exclaiming: “Oh my god, there are two mummies … See this wonder.”
Her previous discoveries include a headless statue of a pharaoh, believed to be King Ptolemy IV, Cleopatra’s ancestor, and a foundation plate with an inscription showing that the temple was dedicated to the goddess Isis. Cleopatra saw herself as the “human incarnation of Isis”, Martínez said.
At the site of the temple altar, where priests would have made offerings to the gods, 200 coins bearing Cleopatra’s name and her face have been discovered.
This “incredible find” not only links Cleopatra directly to Taposiris Magna but also reveals a striking image of the queen, Godenho says in the documentary.
While its prominent nose and double chin may not suggest the classical beauty immortalised by Hollywood and Elizabeth Taylor, it is how she would have wanted to be seen as the coins would have been pressed using her direct instructions.
Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Excavated in the East of England
BBC News reports that an Anglo-Saxon cemetery that may date to the sixth century A.D has been found at a site slated for residential development in the East of England, within the border of the Kingdom of the East Angles.
Brooches, pottery, small iron knives, wrist clasps, amber and glass beads, and silver pennies were uncovered among the more than 200 burials.
The grave included the bones of men , women and children and objects including brooches, small iron knives and silver pennies. Suffolk’s Archaeological Service said studies would help establish the graveyard’s links to other local sites
A spokesman said the site “lies within the Kingdom of the East Angles, made famous by the royal burial ground at nearby Sutton Hoo”.
Sutton Hoo, discovered in 1939, included two cemeteries from the 6th to 7th centuries and a ship burial full of treasures believed to be the final resting place of King Raedwald.
Many of the skeletons are only visible as “sand-silhouettes”, a delicate form of preservation.
The site appears to contain several generations of a small farming community and the county council’s archaeological service said the excavation of such cemeteries in their entirety was rare in England, which made it “nationally significant”.
“It is important we oversee and record this work so that we can understand the community buried here and its connections to other finds in Oulton and the nearby settlements and cemeteries at Carlton Colville and Flixton,” said the spokesman.
Andrew Peachey, of Archaeological Solutions Ltd, which carried out the excavations, said the remains of 17 cremations and 191 burials were “painstakingly excavated”.
“Due to the highly acidic soil the skeletons had mostly vanished and were luckily preserved as fragile shapes and shadows in the sand,” he said.
Mr Peachey added many of the artefacts were so fragile they had “to be block-lifted for micro-excavation in the labs at Norfolk Museum Service”.
The remains have now been fully excavated ahead of the Persimmon Homes Anglia housing development.
They will undergo specialist analysis and eventually go on public display.