Category Archives: AFRICA

Polish archaeologists find graves of monkeys and calves in ancient animal cemetery in Egypt

Polish archaeologists find graves of monkeys and calves in ancient animal cemetery in Egypt

Polish archaeologists have discovered over 200 graves of monkeys, dogs and cats in an animal cemetery from the 1st and 2nd centuries in Berenike, Egypt. They also found burials of calves, which – they assume – were sacrificed at the animal cemetery or a nearby religious building.

An international team led by Dr. Marta Osypińska from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Wrocław in a consortium with the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw, returned to the unique animal cemetery from the 1st and 2nd centuries in Berenike.

Berenike on the Red Sea is an ancient port built by Emperor Tiberius shortly after the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire. For the Empire, it was an intercontinental ‘hub’ through which exclusive goods flowed from India, Asia, Arabia and East Africa.

Archaeologists have long suspected that the Third ‘Cyrenean’ Legion was also stationed in Berenike. The legion was famous for pacifying the uprising in Jerusalem in 70 CE.

The pet cemetery explored by Osypińska’s team was built at a time when representatives of the Roman elites appeared in the port, in the early 1st century CE. Family pets, including cats; dogs and monkeys were buried there. Before the last season, archaeologists had recorded over 500 animal graves in the area, including several graves of monkeys.

Last season, the team started research in a new location. Already on the first day it turned out that such an accumulation of animal burials had never been recorded anywhere before.

‘Over the course of two months, in a 5 by 5 meter trench, we recorded over 200 of them. Interestingly, monkeys, very rare elsewhere, were very numerous in this location’, says Dr. Osypińska.

The fact that their status was special and they were treated almost like people is evidenced by a different way of burying than in the case of dogs and cats. Each of these monkey graves is also a little different. ‘They were placed as if they were sleeping on their sides, with their paws next to their faces, wrapped in fabrics, covered with blankets’, Osypińska says.

Among animal graves, only monkey burials contain additional items. They are most often playthings: opalescent shells, rags, a cow’s tail, but also collars or harnesses.

Monkeys were quite often buried with their pets. In one of the graves from earlier seasons, researchers found a piglet, and very often the monkeys were accompanied by very young cats. In one case, the bodies of a vervet and a kitten were positioned to embrace each other. ‘There are many videos on the Internet showing that, for example, young rhesus monkeys love small cats. They play with them like with children’, Osypińska says.

She explains that in the 1st and 2nd centuries, Berenike was ‘the absolute edge of the world’. Centurions, i.e. officers and commanders of Roman legions, came there for six months, when ships with goods arrived.

‘They probably could not bring their families with them. I think that Roman matrons and children would not be able to live in this climate, it is a pure desert, without drinking water, nothing grew and still does not grow there. Monkeys, because they were so human-like, had a soothing effect and were a substitute for family. There must have been animals with which people established emotional relationships, which our findings confirm’, Osypińska says.

On the last day of this year’s excavations, archaeologists reached the bottoms of two huge pits. They found the burials of two calves. Both were buried with their heads smeared with a thick layer of ocher. The older calf had its head additionally covered with a large fragment of an amphora.

The researchers believe that they were the first ‘residents’ of the animal cemetery. They could have been sacrificial calves for the animal cemetery or a sacred object in the immediate vicinity.

This year’s research at the Berenike cemetery is a continuation of previous excavations. The discovery of monkeys and the identification of two species of macaques among them – the rhesus macaque and the bonnet macaque – was a sensation for archaeologists in 2020. Both live on the Indian subcontinent. Until then, scientists had not suspected that the Romans imported live animals across the ocean. The logistical challenge of such an undertaking seems impressive even today.

‘It was a shock for archaeologists. Previously, there had been reasons to believe that contacts were maintained with India, e.g. pepper was found. However, there was no clear evidence of this. Initially, the head of our Polish-American mission, Professor Steven Sidebotham of Delaware University was sceptical that the monkeys we discovered could have come from India. That was until his team found the second part of a certain sculpture in 2023. Four years ago they found its lower part and everyone thought it was Zeus. Last year, a few meters away from the original find, they discovered the head of Buddha. Later, kitchenware from India was also identified. The pieces of this puzzle began to fit together’, says Osypińska.

Her project ‘Non-humans in Berenike society’ is financed by the Polish National Science Centre. The Polish-American mission in Berenike is led by Dr. Mariusz Gwiazda from the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw and Professor Steven Sidebotham from the University of Delaware in the USA. (PAP)

Ancient Egyptian attempts to treat cancer seen in nearly 5,000-year-old skull

Ancient Egyptian attempts to treat cancer seen in nearly 5,000-year-old skull

Ancient Egyptian attempts to treat cancer seen in nearly 5,000-year-old skull
Skull E270. Credit: Tondini, Isidro, Camarós, 2024.

Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of ancient practices which might change our understanding of ancient Egyptian life.

Two skulls, both thousands of years old, bear cut marks which could be indications of attempted operations to treat cancer,  or perhaps even to conduct postmortems to learn more about excessive tissue growth.

It is known that as an early civilisation, the ancient Egyptians were skilled in medical practices. Historical records note that they could identify, describe and treat diseases and traumatic injuries. They even build prostheses and inserted dental fillings.

The new study, published in Frontiers in Medicine, suggests they may have even tried to treat cancers.

Two skulls were examined as part of the research.

Skull and mandible 236. Credit: Tondini, Isidro, Camarós, 2024.

Skull and mandible 236 belonged to a male who died at age 30–35. The bones were found at Giza and are dated to between 2687 and 2345 BCE, during Egypt’s Old Kingdom – around the time that the Pharaoh Khufu ordered the building of the largest of the pyramids of Giza.

Skull E270 belonged to a female who was more than 50 years old when she died between 663 and 343 BCE, known as the Late Period of ancient Egypt sometime between the 26th and 30th dynasties.

Micro-CT scans of skull 236 showed a large lesion consistent with excessive tissue destruction, also known as neoplasm. In addition, the researchers found about 30 small, round metastasised lesions on the skull.

A series of cut marks around the lesions took the archaeologists by surprise.

“It seems ancient Egyptians performed some kind of surgical intervention related to the presence of cancerous cells, proving that ancient Egyptian medicine was also conducting experimental treatments or medical explorations in relation to cancer,” says co-author Albert Isidro from the University Hospital Sagrat Cor in Spain.

Similar lesions were found on skull E270 consistent with a cancerous tumour that led to bone destruction.

E270 also showed 2 healed traumatic injuries. It is possible the individual received treatment for the injuries.

“Was this female individual involved in any kind of warfare activities?” asks first author Tatiana Tondini from the University of Tübingen in Germany. “If so, we must rethink the role of women in the past and how they took active part in conflicts during antiquity.”

The finds suggest that cancer is not just a problem today with increased environmental factors and an older population.

“We wanted to learn about the role of cancer in the past, how prevalent this disease was in antiquity, and how ancient societies interacted with this pathology,” Tondini says. “We see that although ancient Egyptians were able to deal with complex cranial fractures, cancer was still a medical knowledge frontier.”

Cut marks around a lesion on skull 236. Credit: Tondini, Isidro, Camarós, 2024.

And it wasn’t just the ancient Egyptians. Ancient Roman physician Celsus, who died in 50 CE, wrote about the disease’s return after being cut out. Ancient Greek doctors Galen and Hippocrates considered it incurable.

Lead author Edgard Camarós, from Spain’s University of Santiago de Compostela, says more research is needed to uncover ancient medical practices.

“This study contributes to a changing of perspective and sets an encouraging base for future research on the field of paleo-oncology, but more studies will be needed to untangle how ancient societies dealt with cancer.”

Today, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the world, hence the scientific community’s focus on finding effective treatments and potential cures.

4,500-year-old rare Canaanite goddess sculpture found by a farmer in Gaza Strip

4,500-year-old rare Canaanite goddess sculpture found by a farmer in Gaza Strip

4,500-year-old rare Canaanite goddess sculpture found by a farmer in Gaza Strip
The statue of Anat is now on display in one of the Gaza Strip’s few museums

A stone statue of an ancient goddess of beauty, love and war has been found in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian archaeologists say that the head of the Canaanite deity, Anat, dates back 4,500 years to the late Bronze Age.

The discovery was made by a farmer digging his land in Khan Younis, in the south of the strip. On social media, some Gazans are making wry comments suggesting the goddess’s association with war seems apt.

In recent years, they have seen a series of devastating flare-ups in the conflict between Israel and militant groups in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas.

However, the discovery of this limestone statue is a reminder of how the strip – part of an important trade route for successive ancient civilisations – was originally a Canaanite settlement.

The 22cm-high (8.7 in) carving clearly shows the face of the goddess wearing a serpent crown.

“We found it by chance. It was muddy and we washed it with water,” said farmer Nidal Abu Eid, who came across the head while cultivating his field.

“We realised that it was a precious thing, but we didn’t know it was of such great archaeological value,” he told the BBC.

“We thank God, and we are proud that it stayed in our land, in Palestine, since the Canaanite times.”

The statue of Anat – one of the best-known Canaanite deities – is now on display in Qasr al-Basha, a historic building that serves as one of Gaza’s few museums.

Gaza, which was on important trade routes for ancient civilisations, is home to numerous ancient treasures

Unveiling the artefact at a press conference on Tuesday, Jamal Abu Rida of the Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said the statue was “resistant against time” and had been carefully examined by experts.

He said that it made a political point.

“Such discoveries prove that Palestine has civilisation and history, and no-one can deny or falsify this history,” he said. “This is the Palestinian people and their ancient Canaanite civilisation.”

Not all archaeological finds in Gaza have been so highly appreciated or fared so well.

Hamas – an Islamist, militant organisation – has previously been accused of destroying the remains of a large, fortified Canaanite town, Tell al-Sakan, to make way for housing and military bases south of highly populated Gaza City.

An ancient man-sized bronze of the Greek god Apollo was discovered by a fisherman in 2013, but later disappeared mysteriously.

However, this year Hamas reopened the remains of a 5th Century Byzantine church after foreign donors helped pay for a years-long restoration project.

Work also stopped at a building site in northern Gaza when 31 Roman-era tombs were found there.

While such ancient sites could potentially be a draw for foreign visitors, it has virtually no tourism industry.

Israel and Egypt tightly restrict the flow of people in and out of the impoverished coastal enclave, which is home to some 2.3 million Palestinians, citing security concerns.

A New Study: The Great Sphinx of Giza may have been blown into shape by the wind

A New Study: The Great Sphinx of Giza may have been blown into shape by the wind

A New Study: The Great Sphinx of Giza may have been blown into shape by the wind

The theory, occasionally raised by others, that the Great Sphinx of Giza may have been a lion-shaped natural landform that the ancient Egyptians modified to form the stone-faced feline has been investigated.

A team of New York University scientists replicated conditions that existed 4,500 years ago—when the Sphinx was built—to show how wind moved against rock formations in possibly first shaping one of the most recognizable statues in the world.

Geologist Farouk El-Baz postulated in a 1981 Smithsonian Magazine article that, unlike the pyramids, the sphinx was not built entirely by the ancient Egyptians, but rather that the rock’s celestial facelift was applied by ancient stonemasons after desert winds sculpted the structure’s general shape.

Now, scientists from New York University have tested that theory by creating miniature, lion-like landforms from clay using fluid dynamics and discovered that it’s possible that the shape of the rock inspired Egyptians to create the sphinx. Their work has been accepted by the journal Physical Review Fluids.

“Our findings offer a possible ‘origin story’ for how Sphinx-like formations can come about from erosion,” explains Leif Ristroph, an associate professor at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and the senior author of the study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Fluids. “Our laboratory experiments showed that surprisingly Sphinx-like shapes can, in fact, come from materials being eroded by fast flows.”

An illustration of the Sphinx weathering process.

The work centered on replicating yardangs—unusual rock formations found in deserts resulting from wind-blown dust and sand—and exploring how the Great Sphinx could have originated as a yardang that was subsequently detailed by humans into the form of the widely recognized statue.

To do so, Ristroph and his colleagues in NYU’s Applied Mathematics Laboratory took mounds of soft clay with harder, less erodible material embedded inside—mimicking the terrain in northeastern Egypt, where the Great Sphinx sits.

They then washed these formations with a fast-flowing stream of water—to replicate wind—that carved and reshaped them, eventually reaching a Sphinx-like formation.

The harder or more resistant material became the “head” of the lion and many other features—such as an undercut “neck,” “paws” laid out in front on the ground, and arched “back”—developed.

“Our results provide a simple origin theory for how Sphinx-like formations can come about from erosion,” observes Ristroph. “There are, in fact, yardangs in existence today that look like seated or lying animals, lending support to our conclusions.”

“The work may also be useful to geologists as it reveals factors that affect rock formations—namely, that they are not homogeneous or uniform in composition,”  he adds.

“The unexpected shapes come from how the flows are diverted around the harder or less-erodible parts.”

Archaeologists Uncover Upper Part Colossal Statue of Ramses II

Archaeologists Uncover Upper Part Colossal Statue of Ramses II

Archaeologists Uncover Upper Part Colossal Statue of Ramses II

The joint Egyptian-American Archaeological Mission unearthed the upper part of the colossal statue of Ramses II (Ramesses), the lower part of which was found in 1930, during excavations at Hermopolis Magna in Egypt’s Minya Governorate.

Ramesses the Great, also known as Ramesses II, was one of ancient Egypt’s most powerful and celebrated pharaohs. He reigned for around 66 years during the 19th dynasty of the New Kingdom period (circa 1279–1213 BCE).

Ramesses II is renowned for his military campaigns, architectural achievements, and the many monumental structures he commissioned, including the famous temples at Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum. He is often remembered as a great builder and a skilled diplomat.

Today, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced that archaeologists had discovered the upper half of a full-body Ramses II statue dating back more than 3,200 years to his rule in Ancient Egypt’s 19th Dynasty.

Dr. Basem Jihad of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and Dr. Yovona Trnka of the University of Colorado have been leading the exploration in the Minya governorate’s El-Ashmunein region (the ancient Hermopolis Magna, located northwest of the modern city of Mallawi and about 30 kilometers north of Amarna).

Archaeological studies showed that the 3.8-meter-high limestone bust, newly discovered in the southern Egyptian province of Minya, matches the lower part of a statue of the Egyptian pharaoh uncovered in 1930, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mostafa Waziri said in a statement.

Almost a hundred years after the lower part was found, they found the upper part of a statue of Ramesses II.

The relic depicts Ramses II wearing a double-crowned headdress with a royal cobra on it. Waziri stated that the top of the pillar on the back of the statue bears hieroglyphic inscriptions of titles honoring the king as well as texts indicating the statue’s construction date.

In advance of additional research and the ultimate reconstruction of the ensemble in its entirety, cleaning and conservation efforts on the statue have already commenced.

The whole statue combining the two parts will be seven meters high, according to the statement.

World’s First Pregnant Ancient Egyptian Mummy has been Discovered

World’s First Pregnant Ancient Egyptian Mummy has been Discovered

World’s First Pregnant Ancient Egyptian Mummy has been Discovered

Experts from the Polish Academy of Sciences aim to research all mummies in museums as part of the Warsaw Mummy Project. As part of this project, researchers worked to discover more about the woman thought to be in her 20s.

The first mummified bones of an ancient Egyptian pregnant woman dating back over 2,000 years have been found in Thebes. According to scans of the body, she died at the age of 28 weeks pregnant.

The team found the remains of a fetus, estimated to be 26 to 30 weeks old, inside the woman using a combination of CT scans and X-rays. The first time a pregnant mummy has been discovered.

According to the authors of a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the body of the woman who died 2,000 years ago was carefully wrapped in fabrics and left with a rich collection of amulets to see her into the afterlife.

The team can’t say why the fetus was left inside the woman and not mummified separately, but it could be because it was too young to have a name and needed to travel to the afterlife inside its mother.

Study lead author Dr. Wojciech Ejsmond said this was the ‘first discovery of a pregnant embalmed body,’ adding: ‘There is no other so well preserved ancient body of a pregnant woman.

The body was wrapped in fine fabrics and laid to rest with a set of amulets representing Horus’ four sons, which the team believes indicate she was a powerful figure in Thebes.

The head and CT scans the mummy. The first remains of an ancient Egyptian mummified pregnant woman have been discovered in Thebes, dating back more than 2,000 years, the corpse was 28 weeks into her pregnancy when she died.

According to the study writers, the mummy was discovered in royal tombs in Thebes, Upper Egypt, and came from the elite of the Theban culture.

The woman was transported to Warsaw, Poland, in 1826, at the time of some of the most famous Egyptian Valley of the Kings findings, and is now on display at the National Museum in Warsaw.

‘This mummy provides new possibilities for pregnancy studies in ancient times, which can be compared with and related to current cases,’ study authors wrote.

‘Furthermore, this specimen sheds a light on an unresearched aspect of ancient Egyptian burial customs and interpretations of pregnancy in the context of ancient Egyptian religion.’

‘For Egyptologists, this is a fascinating discovery because we know little about perinatal health and childhood in ancient Egypt,’ Dr. Ejsmond added.

‘Physicians can study, for example, the intestinal content of the fetus to gather information on the development of the immune system in ancient times.’

The fetus was mummified alongside its mother in the lower part of the lesser pelvis and partly in the lower part of the greater pelvis. It was not, however, removed from its original location.

“Arcade” of ancient mancala game boards found in Kenya

“Arcade” of ancient mancala game boards found in Kenya

Veronica Waweru, an archaeologist from Yale University, has discovered an “arcade” of rock-cut mancala game boards in Kenya’s highlands.

During a trip to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in central Kenya, Yale’s Veronica Waweru noticed rows of shallow pits drilled into rock where she believes ancient people played a version of the game Mancala, a two-player, strategy-based board game still played across the world today.

Mancala, meaning “to move”, is a turn-based strategy game where the objective is to capture more gaming pieces than the opponent.

Early variations of the game have been found in Aksumite settlements throughout parts of Eastern Africa from the 8th century AD, in addition to sites from Ancient Egypt and the Roman Period.

According to the Savannah African Art Museum, the earliest example of a mancala board dates to between 5870 ± 240 BC, which was found at the Neolithic site of ʿAin Ghazal in Jordan.

The recent discovery was made following a tip-off about tourists removing prehistoric hand axes from a site within a private wildlife conservancy.

Upon investigating further, Waweru discovered an “arcade” of ancient mancala game boards carved directly into a rock ledge.

Determining the age of the game boards proves challenging since they are carved into rocks that are 400 million years old and lack any organic material suitable for dating.

Waweru said: “It’s a valley full of these game boards like an ancient arcade. Given the erosion of some of the boards, I believe that people were playing games there a very long time ago.”

Waweru also notes that the site contains 19 burial cairns built by herding communities that inhabited the region 5,000 years ago.

Moreover, there are indications of knife sharpening on the rock surface around the game boards, implying that these individuals likely engaged in feasting and butchery activities onsite.

Waweru and her research team have applied for funding to further study the site, which is located along the equator in Kenya’s central highlands.

Ancient Egyptian Woman Diagnosed With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Ancient Egyptian Woman Diagnosed With Rheumatoid Arthritis

A joint Italian-Polish archaeological mission uncovered during their work at the Sheikh Mohammed site in Aswan the skeletal remains of a young woman who suffered rheumatoid arthritis.

Ancient Egyptian Woman Diagnosed With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Ancient Egyptian woman’s skeleton unearthed in Aswan. Photos courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

The mission is part of the Aswan-Kom Ombo Archaeological Project (AKAP).

A study on the skeleton published in the International Journal of Paleopathology showed the woman whose skeleton has been discovered suffered one of the earliest cases of Rheumatoid Arthritis in ancient Egypt.

Mustafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, underscored the importance of the discovery, which, he said, indicated the only instance of diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis in ancient Egypt on record and one of the oldest cases globally.

Waziri noted that further scientific studies will be conducted on the discovered skeleton, which provides incontrovertible scientific proof that Ancient Egyptians were aware of the existence of cases of rheumatoid arthritis.

“Although a clinical definition of the disease emerged only in the seventeenth century, the recent archaeological evidence suggests that cases of rheumatoid arthritis antedate the seventeenth century,” he pointed out.

Abdel-Monem Said, General Director of Aswan Antiquities, reported that studies on the discovered skeleton have shown that rheumatoid arthritis had affected joints on both sides of the body, from hands and feet to shoulders, elbows, wrists, and ankles. Said added that though the mission has scrutinized written and visual evidence for a clear indication of similar cases, it could not find any record of rheumatoid arthritis in ancient Egypt.

In their published study, the co-directors of the mission, Maria Carmela Gatto of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Antonio Corsi of the University of Bologna, said only 50-60 percent of the skeleton of the woman described in the study was recovered, adding that the examination of the fragmented skeleton showed that multiple joints were affected on both sides of the body, beginning with the hands and feet and moving on to the shoulders, elbow, wrists, and ankles.

The two scientists explained that erosive lesions with smooth edges were found outside the joint surface. These lesions, they explained, would have led to “aches, stiffness, and swelling, all of which would have affected the joints’ ability to carry out daily activities.”

Furthermore, the co-directors of the mission explained in their study that with time, the person’s suffering would have intensified, raising the likelihood of developing other conditions such as heart disease, thus compromising the individual’s life expectancy and quality of life.

On the other hand, paleopathologists Madeleine Mant of the University of Toronto in Ontario and Mindy Pitre of St. Lawrence University in New York, who contributed to the study, said rheumatoid arthritis, which is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis occurring in 0.5–1 percent of the global adult population, typically emerges between the ages of 30 and 50. 

They explained that this chronic inflammatory autoimmune condition affects the lining of joints and various body parts, including the skin, eyes, mouth, heart, and lungs.

Given its autoimmune nature, the body’s immune system targets its tissues, resulting in inflammation of the joints as well as pain, disability, and eventual early death, Mant and Pitre noted, adding that while the exact cause of the condition is unknown, factors such as biological sex, smoking, family history, genetics, and exposure to certain bacteria and viruses increase one’s risk of developing the condition.

In addition, the two scientists pointed out that although there are multiple treatment options today, few, if any, would have been available during the Second Intermediate Period in Egypt (c.1800–1500 BCE),  

“A clear consensus has yet to be reached on the origin and antiquity of rheumatoid arthritis,” they said in a statement, highlighting that some researchers believe there is enough archaeological and historical evidence to suggest its existence in Afro-Eurasia before the 17th century while others have argued that such evidence remains controversial, suggesting instead that the condition originated in the Americas. 

“This new case from Aswan provides strong evidence in support of the former hypothesis,” Mant and Pitre asserted, adding that even though skeletal remains from ancient Egypt had indicated in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries the presence of some of the earliest cases of rheumatoid arthritis, the cases were dismissed on the grounds of imprecise diagnostic criteria.

Since then, examples of possible cases have been described from prehistorical and historical contexts in North America, Europe, and Asia, several of which remain contentious, according to both scientists.

Similarly, Mant and Pitre asserted that scholars have also examined written and pictorial evidence for signs of the condition. They noted that although a lack of textual mention of rheumatoid arthritis in ancient Egypt suggested that the condition in its present form did not exist at the time in Egypt, the recent discovery from Aswan provides clear evidence for the presence of the condition in ancient Egypt.

The AKAP project, which began in 2005, aims to study the health conditions of ancient Egyptians, especially those belonging to the lower strata of society and residing on the outskirts of the ancient Egyptian state, such as in the far south.

The project focuses on archaeological surveys and documentation of prehistoric areas; it is affiliated with the University of Bologna in collaboration with the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures – Polish Academy of Sciences.

In 2016, the mission discovered the earliest case of vitamin C deficiency in the skeleton of a young child found in a village dated to the Predynastic period (3800–3500 BCE). A study of this case was also published in the International Journal of Paleopathology.