All posts by Archaeology World Team

14 Fully Intact and Sealed Coffins Discovered after 2,500 Years in Egypt’s Saqqara

14 Fully Intact and Sealed Coffins Discovered after 2,500 Years in Egypt’s Saqqara

Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered almost 30 sarcophagi believed to have been buried for around 2,500 years, according to the country’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

The cache of closed coffins was unearthed from an 11-meter-deep (36 feet) burial shaft in Saqqara, a vast necropolis about 32 kilometers (20 miles) south of Cairo.

Having announced the discovery of over a dozen sarcophagi at the site earlier this month, the ministry revealed via Facebook on Sunday that it had unearthed a further 14, raising the total number found in the shaft to 27.

The sarcophagi were discovered in an 11-meter (36 feet) shaft in Saqqara.

Despite staying underground for millennia, the coffins have retained some of their original colors. Archaeologists also uncovered a collection of smaller artifacts at the site, according to a ministry statement.

Prior to Sunday’s announcement, Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany had already described discoveries at the site as being “the largest number of coffins in one burial since the discovery of the Al-Asasif cachette,” referring to the 2019 discovery of 30 coffins, with mummies inside, that authorities then called Egypt’s largest find in over a century.

In a press statement, El-Enany also thanked the excavation workers for operating in difficult conditions while adhering to new coronavirus-related safety measures. “(It’s a) very exciting discovery,” he said in a video released by the ministry. “I think it’s only the beginning.”

Totally sealed

All 27 of the sarcophagi unearthed from Saqqara appear to be completely sealed, with initial studies suggesting that they haven’t been opened since they were first buried, the ministry said. Authorities also suggested that more coffins and artifacts were likely buried in the same location.

14 Fully Intact and Sealed Coffins Discovered after 2,500 Years in Egypt’s Saqqara
A sarcophagus from the Saqqara archaeological mission.

It is unclear how many more sarcophagi may be found in the shaft, or whose remains they contain, though archaeologists hope to provide further answers during the excavation process, said Mustafa Waziri, the secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The discovery follows a number of other significant finds at the Saqqara necropolis site in recent months. In April, archaeologists discovered five limestone sarcophagi and four wooden coffins containing human mummies.

That burial shaft, which stretched 9 meters (30 feet) below ground, was found to contain an array of small artifacts, including figurines that were typically buried in Egyptian graves to aid the deceased in the afterlife.

Also found in the tomb was a small wooden obelisk, about 40 centimeters tall, that had been painted with depictions of the Egyptian goddesses Isis and Nephthys, and the god Horus, one of the most renowned ancient Egyptian deities.

In December 2018, archaeologists found a private tomb belonging to a royal purification priest that dates back more than 4,000 years, according to the Ministry of Antiquities. A month before that, archaeologists found a mass cat cemetery and a collection of rare mummified scarab beetles.

Village in Canada: 8,000 years‘older than Egyptian pyramids’

Village in Canada: 8,000 years‘older than Egyptian pyramids’

Archaeologists on British Columbia’s Triquet Island have excavated an ancient settlement dating back some 14,000 years, to the last ice age.

Archaeologists working with the support of the Hakai Institute began excavations on Triquet Island last summer.

Since then, they have uncovered a number of artifacts linked to an ancient human settlement on the island, including fish hooks, a hand drill used to ignite fires, and a wooden device used to launch projectiles, called an atlatl.

Buried some 2.5 meters underground, beneath layers of soil and peat, they discovered something even more intriguing.

From the charred remains of an ancient hearth, the scientists used tweezers to painstakingly extract a few tiny flakes of charcoal.

In November, carbon dating of the flakes revealed the hearth was some 14,000 years old—thousands of years older than ancient Rome or the Egyptian pyramids. In fact, the Triquet Island village dates back to the period of the last ice age, making it one of the oldest settlements ever discovered in North America.

Alisha Gauvreau displays one of the artifacts from the site.
Researchers from the Hakai Institute and the University of Victoria, with local First Nations members, unearthed revealing artifacts on Triquet Island, around 310 miles northwest of Victoria, Canada. They’ve found fish hooks, spears, and tools to ignite fires. Thanks to the discovery of the ancient village last year, researchers now think a massive human migration may have happened along British Columbia’s coastline.

The newly discovered settlement is about as old as the spear tip found in a mastodon skeleton on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in 1977. That notable discovery pushed back estimates of the earliest human occupation on the western coast of North America to around 13,800 years ago (about 800 years earlier than previously thought).

Discovery of the settlement may well impact our understanding of ancient human migration patterns, as it challenges the traditional story of how the first humans arrived in the Americas.

That theory argues that the earliest arrivals came to the region by crossing a land bridge connecting modern-day Siberia to Alaska some 13,000 years ago.

But according to more recent research, the land bridge route may not have offered enough resources to support the earliest migrants during their crossing. Instead, humans may have traveled via boat, and entered North America along the coast.

The find fits right in with the oral history of a First Nations government in British Columbia, the Heiltsuk Nation.

Alisha Gavreau, a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia and a researcher with the Hakai Institute, told the CBC that the Triquet Island settlement “really adds additional evidence” to the coastal entrance theory. “Archaeologists had long thought that…the coast would have been completely uninhabitable and impassible when that is very clearly not the case,” she notes.

Evidence from the site also shows the people who settled there were “rather adept sea mammal hunters.”

Gavreau presented her team’s findings at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Some 3,000 scientists from around the world attended the five-day conference, held in Vancouver.

In addition to its impact on current thinking regarding human migration to North America, the discovery of the settlement is a key development for the Heiltsuk Nation.

“This find is very important because it reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years,” said William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation.

Such an affirmation will likely help the community going forward, as it negotiates with the Canadian government about territorial rights.

Vast 9,000-year-old ‘metropolis’ discovered buried near Jerusalem

Vast 9,000-year-old ‘metropolis’ discovered buried near Jerusalem

A huge prehistoric settlement dating back 9,000 years unearthed near Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologists during preparations for a new highway could rewrite the history of humans in the region. 

Home to around 3,000 individuals during the Stone Age the settlement, near modern-day Motza, disproves the long-standing theory that humans did not live in Judea at this time and is being called the area’s ‘big bang’ as well as being a ‘game-changer’ for our knowledge of humankind’s settlement of the country. 

The site has revealed large buildings, flint tools, including thousands of arrowheads, axes for chopping down trees, sickle blades, and knives – proving the city was a bustling hub of a complex society.   

It was thought that the area was previously uninhabited and only the other bank of the Jordan river had such vast cities but the site, which covers dozens of acres, has forced them to reconsider all they know about Israeli history. 

The excavation exposed large buildings, alleyways and burial places.

Trays with findings from the archaeological excavation site of a settlement from the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age), discovered during archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority near Motza Junction, about 5km west of Jerusalem
Part of an excavation site where a huge prehistoric settlement was discovered by Israeli archaeologists, is seen in the town of Motza near Jerusalem. The archaeological team discovered large buildings, including rooms that were used for living, as well as public facilities and places of ritual

According to the Antiquities Authority, this is the first time that such a large-scale settlement from the Neolithic Period is discovered in Israel, and one of the largest of its kind in the region 

Before the discovery, it was widely believed the entire area had been uninhabited in that period, during which people were shifting away from hunting for survival to a more sedentary lifestyle that included farming. 

Jacob Vardi, co-director of the excavations at Motza on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, said: ‘It’s a game-changer, a site that will drastically shift what we know about the Neolithic era.’

‘So far, it was believed that the Judea area was empty and that sites of that size existed only on the other bank of the Jordan river, or in the Northern Levant.

‘Instead of an uninhabited area from that period, we have found a complex site, where varied economic means of subsistence existed, and all these only several dozens of centimeters below the surface.’ 

The archaeological team discovered large buildings, including rooms that were used for living, as well as public facilities and places of ritual.  Between the buildings, alleys were exposed, bearing evidence of the settlement’s advanced level of planning. 

The team also found storage sheds that contained large quantities of legumes, particularly lentils, whose seeds were remarkably preserved throughout the millennia.

 A host of objects were found at the site and between them shed new light on the history of ancient Israel and human habitation of the area  

‘This is most probably the largest excavation of this time period in the Middle East, which will allow the research to advance leaps and bounds ahead of where we are today, just by the amount of material that we are able to save and preserve from this site,’ Lauren Davis, an archaeologist with Israel’s antiquities authority, told Reuters. 

‘This finding is evidence of the intensive practice of agriculture,’ according to the statement. 

‘Animal bones found on the site show that the settlement’s residents became increasingly specialized in sheep-keeping, while the use of hunting for survival gradually decreased.’

Archaeologists also found evidence of some graves and tombs from a more recent era, dating back 4,000 years.  Two warriors were buried in a tomb with a dagger and a spearhead alongside a donkey which is believed would have been domesticated and intended to serve the warriors in the afterlife. 

Ancient burial sites in the city showed advanced levels of planning.

Ms. Davis said: ‘There’s also an amazing find, which is a whole donkey, domesticated, that was buried in front of the tomb probably when they sealed it.’ 

Buildings and other architectural remains are being studied using non-invasive scanning techniques which are intended to paint a picture of the settlement when it was in use. 

Much of the physical remnants will be preserved despite the ongoing roadworks for the Route 16 Project, which includes building a new road to Jerusalem from the Route 1 highway at the Motza Interchange to the capital. 

A view of some of the objects found at the site. The team also found storage sheds that contained large quantities of legumes, particularly lentils, whose seeds were remarkably preserved throughout the millennia

Three 17th-Century Ships Found buried underneath in Old Town Alexandria Tell a Story of Colonial-Era Virginia

Three 17th-Century Ships Found buried underneath in Old Town Alexandria Tell a Story of Colonial-Era Virginia

Back in December 2015, a 300-year-old ship buried in Old Town Alexandria was first detected at a construction site for a new hotel.

Local archaeologists suspected that it may have originally been used to truck heavy cargo or was built for military purposes, the Washington Post’s Patricia Sullivan reported at the time.

Later research revealed that the ship had been built in Massachusetts sometime after 1741 and made its way to Virginia in the latter half of the century, where it was used as a landfill to create new real estate of the 17th-century shoreline.

Archaeologists in Alexandria, Virginia, have unearthed three 17th-century ships that were buried to extend the city’s land.

All three ships are believed to have been built in the mid-to-late 1700s and buried before 1798. A similar ship was discovered nearby at the Hotel Indigo site in late 2015.

“The combination of Revolutionary War-era ships, early building foundations, and thousands of other artifacts makes Robinson Landing one of the most archaeologically significant sites in Virginia,” said Eleanor Breen, acting City Archaeologist.

“The discoveries at this site have gained international attention, and the City is working with EYA to identify and preserve these important pieces of Alexandria’s history.”

Archaeologists were on hand to provide information and answer questions. The active construction site was not open to the public during the viewing, but many notable elements of the site were visible, including the most recent — and largest — ship discovery. The ships were covered before and after the viewing, in order to protect the wood from exposure.  

“Working in Alexandria for more than 20 years, we recognize and respect the rich history of the city and the importance of preserving discoveries of this kind,” said Evan Goldman, EYA LLC Vice President of Acquisition and Development.

“We’re committed to this unprecedented effort to protect the archaeological history of Old Town.  The results have gone well beyond what we expected, and we are thrilled by the significance of the findings and their unique ability to preserve the legacy of the city for years to come.”

The Alexandria Archaeological Protection Code requires developers to have archaeologists on-site to monitor all phases of ground disturbance.

This ensures that any historic features encountered during demolition and construction are dealt with properly so that Alexandria’s history is enriched through archaeological study.

As the development of the Alexandria waterfront continues, excavations have the potential to continue to unearth additional evidence of early wharves and piers, maritime vessels, early industries, and commercial and domestic activities.

5,000-Year-Old Cultic Area Unearthed in Iraq

Ritual site of a Mesopotamian god of war found in Iraq that was used for animal sacrifices

Archaeologists have discovered 5,000-year-old sacred places in Iraq for 5,000 years which have been used for rituals intended to appease a Mesopotamian warrior god.

The team working at the Telloh site believes it was used for parties, animal sacrifices and other processions dedicated to Ningirsu – the hero-god of war, hunting and weather.

Next to the pit were cups, bowls, jars and animal bones which, according to experts, are the remains of animal sacrifices. However, a bronze duck-shaped object was also discovered that may have been dedicated to Nanshe, a goddess associated with water, swamps and water birds, LiveScience reported. The ritual site is located in what was once Girus, which was the city of ancient Sumer, one of the first cities in the world.

5,000-Year-Old Cultic Area Unearthed in Iraq
A sacred plaza has laid hidden in Iraq for 5,000 years that was used for rituals to appease a Mesopotamian warrior-god and a recent excavation has uncovered its gruesome past. Archaeologists working at the site in Telloh discovered the area was used for feasts, animal sacrifices and other processions dedicated to Ningirsu – the hero-god of war, hunting and weather.

A sacred place has been hidden in Iraq for 5,000 years and has been used for rituals to appease a Mesopotamian warrior god and a recent excavation has exposed its horrible past. Archaeologists working at the Telloh site have discovered that the area was used for festivals, animal sacrifices and other processions dedicated to Ningirsu – the hero-god of war, hunting and weather

The area has been of interest to archaeologists for years, as it is home to important Sumerian remains and artefacts. Recently, experts have investigated the centre of Girsu where the Ningirsu temple once stood.

Here they found more than 300 ceremonial ceramic cups, bowls, jars and beakers, all of which have been damaged over time. There was also a treasure trove of animal bones hidden under the dirt, which archaeologists say are remains of the animal sacrifices held in the ritual pit.

Here they have found over 300 ceremonial ceramic cups, bowls, jars and spouted vessels, all which have been damaged over time
There was also a trove of animal bones hiding under the dirt, which archaeologists believe are remains from the animal sacrifices held in the ritual pit
The cite was used some 5,000 years ago to appease a Mesopotamian war god

Here they found over 300 ceremonial ceramic cups, bowls, jars and beakers, all of which have been damaged over time. There was also a treasure trove of animal bones hidden under the dirt, which archaeologists believe to be the remains of animal sacrifices held in the ritual pit

The city was used about 5,000 years ago to appease a Mesopotamian god of war. A bronze figurine that looks like a duck has also been discovered, which the team, who told LiveScience in an email, believe they were dedicated to Nanshe, a goddess associated with water, swamps and water birds, as well as a vase engraved with text on the goddess.

Sébastien Rey, director of the Tello / Ancient Girsu project at the British Museum, and Tina Greenfield, a zooarchaeologist at the University of Saskatchewan, led this excavation at the site.

The area has been of interests to archaeologists for years, as it holds important Sumerian remains and artefacts. Recently experts have been investigating the centre of Girsu where the temple of Ningirsu was once standing
The ritual site is located in what was once Girus, which was the city of ancient Sumer -one of the earliest cities in the world

The area has been of interest to archaeologists for years, as it is home to important Sumerian remains and artefacts. Experts recently investigated the centre of Girsu, where the Ningirsu temple once stood

The ritual site is located in what was once Girus, which was the city of ancient Sumer – one of the first cities in the world. Because a thick layer of ash was found on the ground, the team speculates that massive parties have taken place in the area.

These clues link the region to the place “where, according to cuneiform texts, religious festivals were held and where the people of Girsu gathered to feast and honour their gods,” said Rey and Greenfield in the email.

Clay tablets, also known as cuneiform tablets found in Girsu, depict residents holding religious ceremonies in the sacred square. The text tells of a religious celebration in honour of Ningirsu that took place twice a year and lasted three or four days, said Rey and Greenfield.

WHAT IS OLD MESOPOTAMIA?

A historic area of ​​the Middle East that covers most of what is now known as Iraq, but which also extends to include parts of Syria and Turkey. The term “Mesopotamia” comes from Greek, which means “between two rivers”.

The two rivers to which the name refers are the Tiger and the Euphrates. Unlike many other empires (such as the Greeks and Romans), Mesopotamia was made up of many different cultures and groups.

Mesopotamia should be better understood as a region which has produced several empires and civilizations rather than any civilization. Mesopotamia is known as the “cradle of civilization” mainly due to two developments: the invention of the “city” as we know it today and the invention of writing.

Mesopotamia is an ancient region of the Middle East that is most of modern Iraq and parts of other countries. They invented cities, the wheel and agriculture and gave women almost equal rights

Thought to be responsible for many early developments, he is also credited with the invention of the wheel. They also gave the world the first massive domestication of animals, cultivated large tracts of land, and invented tools and weapons.

In addition to these practical developments, the region has seen the birth of wine, beer and the delimitation of time in hours, minutes and seconds. The fertile land between the two rivers is believed to have provided a comfortable existence for hunter-gatherers which led to the agricultural revolution.

A common thread throughout the region is the equal treatment of women. Women enjoyed almost equal rights and could own land, file for divorce, own their own business, and enter into commercial contracts.

1,000-year-old ‘lost’ pyramid city in the heart of Mexico was as densely built as Manhattan

1,000-year-old ‘lost’ pyramid city in the heart of Mexico was as densely built as Manhattan

Archaeology might evoke thoughts of intrepid explorers and painstaking digging, but in fact, researchers say it is a high-tech laser mapping technique that is rewriting the textbooks at an unprecedented rate.

An ancient city as densely built up as Manhattan has been discovered in the heart of Mexico, thanks to pioneering imaging techniques. Experts used lasers to send beams of light from an aircraft to the ground below, measuring the reflected pulses to build up a map of the region (pictured)

The approach, known as light detection and ranging scanning (lidar) involves directing a rapid succession of laser pulses at the ground from an aircraft. The time and wavelength of the pulses reflected by the surface are combined with GPS and other data to produce a precise, three-dimensional map of the landscape. Crucially, the technique probes beneath foliage – useful for areas where vegetation is dense.

Earlier this month researchers revealed it had been used to discover an ancient Mayan city within the dense jungles of Guatemala, while it has also helped archaeologists to map the city of Caracol – another Mayan metropolis.

Now, researchers have used the technique to reveal the full extent of an ancient city in western Mexico, about a half an hour’s drive from Morelia, built by rivals to the Aztecs.

“To think that this massive city existed in the heartland of Mexico for all this time and nobody knew it was there is kind of amazing,” said Chris Fisher, an archaeologist at Colorado State University who is presenting the latest findings from the study at the conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin.

While less well known than the Aztecs, the Purépecha were a major civilisation in central Mexico in the early 16th century, before Europeans arrived and wreaked havoc through war and disease. Purépecha cities included an imperial capital called Tzintzuntzan that lies on the edge of Lake Pátzcuaro in western Mexico, an area in which modern Purépecha communities still live.

Using lidar, researchers have found that the recently-discovered city, known as Angamuco, was more than double the size of Tzintzuntzan – although probably not as densely populated – extending over 26 km2 of ground that was covered by a lava flow thousands of years ago.

“That is a huge area with a lot of people and a lot of architectural foundations that are represented,” said Fisher. “If you do the maths, all of a sudden you are talking about 40,000 building foundations up there, which is [about] the same number of building foundations that are on the island of Manhattan.”

The team also found that Angamuco has an unusual layout. Monuments such as pyramids and open plazas are largely concentrated in eight zones around the city’s edges, rather being located in one large city centre. According to Fisher, more than 100,000 people are thought to have lived in Angamuco in its heyday between about 1000AD to 1350AD. “[Its size] would make it the biggest city that we know of right now in western Mexico during this period,” said Fisher.

First found by researchers in 2007, archaeologists initially attempted to explore Angamuco using a traditional “boots on the ground” approach, resulting in the discovery of about 1,500 architectural features over each square kilometre surveyed. But the team soon realised the rugged terrain meant it would take at least a decade to map the whole area.

Instead, since 2011 the lidar technique has been used to map a 35km2 area, revealing an astonishing array of features at high resolution, from pyramids and temples to road systems, garden areas for growing food and even ball courts.

So far more than 7,000 architectural features over a 4km2 area seen using lidar have been verified by the team on the ground, with excavations undertaken at seven locations to shed further light on the site.

The earliest evidence from the city, including ceramic fragments and radiocarbon dating of remnants from offerings, dates to about 900AD, with the city believed to have undergone two waves of development and one of collapse before the arrival of the Spanish.

Lidar has been used before by archaeologists to unearth hidden cities in the Americas. Earlier this month images were released by researchers from Brown University showing an ancient Mayan ‘megalopolis’ in Guatemala, which now lies buried beneath the jungle foliage

Fisher adds that lidar is likely to lead to further developments. “Everywhere you point the lidar instrument you find new stuff, and that is because we know so little about the archaeological universe in the Americas right now,” he said. “Right now every textbook has to be rewritten, and two years from now[they’re] going to have to be rewritten again.”

Fisher has also used lidar to explore a remote area of the Mosquitia region of north-eastern Honduras, shedding light on what is now known as the City of the Jaguar. This settlement, the team found, had terraces, water control features such as canals, and boasted about 10 plaza complexes, with the whole city stretching over three square kilometres.

“Many of these areas of the Americas that we see today that we think that we would classify as pristine tropical forests are really abandoned gardens,” says Fisher.

However, previous coverage of the work has proved controversial, with some saying claims of a “lost city” smack of colonialist rhetoric. Elizabeth Graham, professor of mesoamerican archaeology at University College London who was not involved in the projects, said the team’s work was impressive, and that lidar was backing up long-held suspicions about the size of archaeological settlements.

“Once it shows all traces of the land surface, we can interpret those, because you can tell what is natural and what is not,” she added. “It’ll show you terracing, where houses are – or at least structures of some sort – agricultural features, manipulated land – all of that.”

But, she said, while lidar can help to direct expeditions and digs, traditional techniques were still needed to unearth the details. “Ultimately we still have to get on the ground and then excavate,” she said.

5,000-year-old Iraqi city discovered under a 10 meter-deep mound

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.

The ancient city of Idu is now part of a Tell that rises about 32 feet (10 metres) above the surrounding plain. The modern day name of the site is Satu Qala and a village lies on top of the Tell
This cylinder seal dates back around 2,600 years, to a time after the Assyrians had re-conquered Idu. The seal would show a mythical scene if it was rolled on a piece of clay. It depicts a crouched bowman, who may be the god Ninurta, facing a griffon
The city is thought to have been a hub of activity between 3,300 and 2,900 years ago. The above image shows a living structure, with at least two rooms, that may date to around 2,000 years ago when the Parthian Empire controlled the area in Iraq

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.

120,000-Year-Old Footprints Found in Saudi Arabia

120,000-Year-Old Footprints Found in Saudi Arabia

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.

These footprints were made by ancient humans’ muddy feet as they traversed a lakeshore in Saudi Arabia about 120,000 years ago.

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.”