Category Archives: AFRICA

Ancient Egyptian manual reveals new details about mummification

Ancient Egyptian manual reveals new details about mummification

According to a statement released by the University of Copenhagen, Sofie Schiødt and her colleagues have found evidence of an ancient Egyptian embalming process in the Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg, a 3,500-year-old medical text dated to 1450 B.C

Embalming was considered a sacred art in ancient Egypt, and knowledge of the technique was limited to a select few. Egyptologists conclude that most secrets of the art were handed on orally from one embalmer to the next, but written evidence is scarce; until recently, only two texts on mummification had been identified.

Egyptologists were therefore surprised to find a short manual on embalming in a medical text that is primarily concerned with herbal medicine and swellings of the skin. The manual has recently been edited by University of Copenhagen Egyptologist Sofie Schiødt:

The papyrus contains new evidence of the procedure for embalming the deceased’s face, where the face is covered with a piece of red linen and aromatic substances.

– Many descriptions of embalming techniques that we find in this papyrus have been left out of the two later manuals, and the descriptions are extremely detailed.

The text reads like a memory aid, so the intended readers must have been specialists who needed to be reminded of these details, such as unguent recipes and uses of various types of bandages.

Some of the simpler processes, e.g. the drying of the body with natron, have been omitted from the text, Sofie Schiødt explains. She adds:

– One of the exciting new pieces of information the text provides us with concerns the procedure for embalming the dead person’s face. We get a list of ingredients for a remedy consisting largely of plant-based aromatic substances and binders that are cooked into a liquid, with which the embalmers coat a piece of red linen.

The red linen is then applied to the dead person’s face in order to encase it in a protective cocoon of fragrant and anti-bacterial matter. This process was repeated at four-day intervals.

Although this procedure has not been identified before, Egyptologists have previously examined several mummies from the same period as this manual whose faces were covered in cloth and resin. According to Sofie Schiødt, this would fit well with the red linen procedure described in this manuscript.

Four was the key number

The importance of the Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg manual in reconstructing the embalming process lies in its specification of the process is divided into intervals of four, with the embalmers actively working on the mummy every four days.

– A ritual procession of the mummy marked these days, celebrating the progress of restoring the deceased’s corporeal integrity, amounting to 17 processions over the course of the embalming period. In between the four-day intervals, the body was covered with cloth and overlaid with straw infused with aromatics to keep away insects and scavengers, Sofie Schiødt says.

The Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg

The manuscript, which Sofie Schiødt has been working on for her PhD thesis, is the Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg – so-called because one half of the papyrus belongs to the Louvre Museum in Paris and the other half is part of the University of Copenhagen’s Papyrus Carlsberg Collection.

The two parts of the papyrus originally belonged to two private collectors, and several sections of it are still missing.

Based on the palaeography, that is, the sign forms, the six-metre long papyrus is dated to approximately 1450 BC, which means that it predates the only two other examples of embalming texts by more than a thousand years.

The bulk of the papyrus, which is the second-longest medical papyrus surviving from ancient Egypt, deals with herbal medicine and skin illnesses.

Specifically, it contains the earliest-known herbal treatise, which provides descriptions of the appearance, habitat, uses, and religious significance of a divine plant and its seed as well as a lengthy treatise on swellings of the skin, which are seen as illnesses sent forth by the lunar god Khonsu.

Graves of nearly 600 cats and dogs in ancient Egypt may be the world’s oldest pet cemetery

Graves of nearly 600 cats and dogs in ancient Egypt may be the world’s oldest pet cemetery

A well-preserved burial ground in the researchers consider to be at the very origin of human burial customs has been found in Egypt the skeleton remains of over 600 cats, dogs, monkeys were found carefully laid in individual graves in Berenike, a remote seaport on the western coast of the Red Sea.

Some of the animals were still wearing collars and other adornments, and others showed evidence of illnesses indicating they had been cared for by humans.

But the lack of mummification or sacrifice at the 2,000-year-old site suggests these were companion animals, not used in rituals or venerated as gods.

The remains of some 588 cats, dogs and monkeys were found in a site in the ancient Egyptian port of Berenike in what archaeologists believe may be the oldest known pet cemetery, Pictured: A cat skeleton from Berenice wearing a bronze collar

Berenike was founded in 275 BC by Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who named it after his mother, Berenice I of Egypt. It was a bustling Roman port, and excavations have uncovered ceramics, spices, fabrics and other goods from as far away as India, as well as luxury items from across the empire.

Berenike was also a way station for ‘war elephants’ from Africa that would be sent out to fight in various battles. Archaeozoologist Marta Osypinska and her archaeologist husband, Piotr, originally discovered the cemetery site in 2011 while excavating a Roman trash dump on the edge of town.

Graves of nearly 600 cats and dogs in ancient Egypt may be the world’s oldest pet cemetery
A number of the dogs found on the site had medical issues that they couldn’t have survived without a human caregiver. Many, like this dog, were buried under pottery ‘which formed a kind of sarcophagus’

In 2017, they unearthed the remains of about 100 animals, mostly cats, and began to form a picture of what the area was used for. Other experts still believed they may have simply been discarded trash.

It wasn’t uncommon to bury pets in ancient Egypt but usually, they’d be interred with their owners, not placed in a dedicated space.

‘At first, some very experienced archaeologists discouraged me from this research,’ Osypinska told Science. They insisted there was little to learn about Berenike culture from studying pets.

‘I hope the results of our studies prove that it’s worth it,’ she told the magazine.

Marta and Piotr Osypinska first unearthed the site in 2011 but didn’t immediately determine its purpose as a pet cemetery. Even after more than 100 animal remains were discovered there, experts discouraged their research

According to her research, published in the journal World Archaeology, the ‘pet cemetery’ at Berenice functioned for about a hundred years, from the mid-first century to the mid-second century. In all, the team has found 585 animals to date, some of which are not native to Africa.

The vast majority — more than 90 per cent — were cats, though there were also dogs, baboons, and two species of macaques native to the Indian subcontinent.

Of the dogs, most were light-coloured Spitz types, though there were also toy dogs and larger canines more like mastiffs. Many of the cats wore metal collars or necklaces threaded with ostrich-shell beads. Osypinska told Science many of the animals were covered with textiles or pottery, ‘which formed a kind of sarcophagus.’

The animals were not haphazardly discarded, but carefully laid in individual pits. One feline was placed atop the wing of a large bird, the magazine reported.

Consulting with a veterinarian, Osypinska’s team was able to determine several of the animals had illnesses that would have killed them without human caregivers.

The remains of a dog that suffered from bone cancer were found in a mat of palm leaves covered with an amphora, according to Archaeology News Network.

Its belly still contained remains of fish and goat meat, its final meal. Other canines were missing most of their teeth, had gum disease or showed signs of joint degeneration.

‘We have individuals who have very limited mobility,’ Osypinska said. ‘Such animals had to be fed to survive, sometimes with special foods in the case of the almost-toothless animals.’

The kind of devotion required to nurse an old pet reveals the people of Berenice had strong emotional ties with domesticated animals, according to the report.

Archaeologists have uncovered mass animal graves in Egypt before, but almost always the creatures were either sacrificed or venerated, not treated as pets. Dozens of mummified cats were found in 2018 on the edge of the King Userkaf pyramid complex at the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, south of Cairo.

Several years earlier a labyrinth of sacred tunnels was uncovered in the same region, packed with the mummified remains of up to eight million dogs, some of which was just hours old when they were sacrificed.

Other canines were treated as living representatives of the dog-headed god Anubis, living out their lives in the nearby temple before being preserved and laid to rest in the network of tunnels. The people of Berenike treated these animals as loving companions, Osypinska insists, ‘They weren’t doing it for the gods or for any utilitarian benefit.’

CT Scans Suggest Egyptian Pharaoh Was Brutally Executed on the Battlefield

CT Scans Suggest Egyptian Pharaoh Was Brutally Executed on the Battlefield

Seqenenre Taa II, the Egyptian pharaoh, may have died on the battlefield, surrounded by attackers carrying daggers, swords, and spears. According to a recent computed tomography (CT) scan of the pharaoh’s damaged mummy, which revealed new facial wounds that ancient embalmers tried to disguise.

A CT scan of the skull of Seqenenre Taa II, whose facial wounds suggest a violent battlefiend death

A broad cut in the pharaoh’s forehead, wounds across his eyes and cheeks, and a knife wound at the base of the skull that may have penetrated the brain stem were all visible. The attackers, it seems, surrounded the defeated ruler on every side.

“This suggests that Seqenenre was really on the front line with his soldiers, risking his life to liberate Egypt,” study lead author Sahar Saleem, a professor of radiology at Cairo University, said in a statement.

The mummy of Seqenenre Taa II was first discovered in the 1880s. Even then, archaeologists noticed several prominent wounds on the pharaoh’s face.

A war over hippos

Seqenenre Taa II (also spelled Seqenenre Tao II) was the ruler of southern Egypt between about 1558 B.C. and 1553 B.C., during the occupation of Egypt by the Hyksos, a people who probably came from the Levant.

The Hyksos controlled northern Egypt and required tribute from the southern part of the kingdom.

According to fragmentary papyrus accounts, Seqenenre Taa II revolted against the occupiers after receiving a complaint from the Hyksos king that the noise of hippos in a sacred pool in Thebes was disturbing his sleep.

The king lived in the capital city of Avaris, 400 miles (644 kilometres) away. On this trumped-up charge, the Hyksos king demanded the sacred pool be destroyed — a grave insult to Seqenenre Taa II. 

This insult may have been the prelude to war. Text on a carved rock slab found in Thebes recounts that Seqenenre Taa II’s son and immediate successor, Kamose, died in battle against the Hyksos. 

No one knew what had happened to the pharaoh, even after his mummy was discovered in 1886. Archaeologists noticed wounds on the skull and speculated that he’d been killed in battle or perhaps murdered in a palace coup. The 19th-century archaeologists who found the mummy reported a foul smell when they unwrapped it, leading them to suspect that the mummy had been hastily embalmed on the battlefield. 

The new study uses X-rays from multiple angles to build a 3D image of the pharaoh’s mummy. The pharaoh’s remains are in poor condition, with bones disarticulated and the head detached from the rest of the body. 

Violent death 

Nevertheless, the wounds on the skull tell the story of brutal death. The pharaoh had a 2.75-inch-long (7  centimeters) cut across his forehead, which would have been delivered from an axe or sword stroke from above. This wound alone could have been fatal. Another potentially fatal slice above the pharaoh’s right eye was 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) long and possibly made by an axe. More cuts on the nose, right eye and right cheek came from the right and from above and may have been delivered with an axe handle or blunt staff, the researchers said. 

Meanwhile, someone in front of the king swung a sword or an axe at the pharaoh’s left cheek, leaving another deep slice. From the left, a weapon — probably a spear — penetrated the base of his skull, leaving a 1.4-inch-long (3.5 cm) wound.  

Early archaeologists had previously reported many of these wounds, but Saleem and her colleague, Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, discovered a new set of skull fractures covered by embalming material. Concentrated on the right side of the skull, the damage seems to have been caused by a dagger and a heavy, blunt object, perhaps an axe handle. 

The mummy’s hands were flexed and clenched, but there were no defensive injuries on his forearms, leading the researchers to suggest that perhaps Seqenenre Taa II’s hands were bound when he died. He may have been captured on the battlefield and executed by multiple attackers, Saleem said in the statement. 

Radiologist Sahar Saleem stands with the mummy of Seqenenre Taa II during CT scanning.

Although researchers have discovered pharaoh mummies with violent wounds before, there had been no evidence of pharaoh battlefield deaths until now, Saleem told Live Science. For example, Ramesses III had his throat cut in a palace coup, she said. Historical accounts tell of Ramesses II and Thutmose III taking part in the battle, but there is no evidence of injuries on their mummies. The mummy of an unidentified nobleman had an arrow embedded in its chest, Saleem said, which may have occurred in battle. 

The fact that embalmers tried to patch up Seqenenre Taa II’s skull wounds suggests that he wasn’t hastily embalmed, the researchers wrote in their new study, in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

The pharaoh’s desiccated brain was also stuck to the left side of his skull, suggesting that someone laid him on his side after his death, either at the place where he fell or while his body was being transported for embalming. 

Seqenenre Taa II may have lost his life in battle, but his successors eventually won the war. After Kamose died, Seqenenre Taa II’s consort, Ahhotep I, likely acted as regent, continuing the rebellion against the Hyskos. When Seqenenre Taa II and Ahhotep I’s son Ahmose I came of age, he inherited the throne and finally pushed out the foreign occupiers. Ahmose I would unify Egypt and launch the New Kingdom, the period of ancient Egypt’s peak power between the 16th and 11th centuries B.C. 

Ancient beer factory unearthed by archaeologists in Egypt

Ancient beer factory unearthed by archaeologists in Egypt

At one of the most famous excavation sites of ancient Egypt, a top antique official said Saturday, American and Egyptian archaeologists have discovered what may be the oldest known beer factory.

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities on Feb. 13, 2021, shows the remains of a row of vats used for beer fermentation, in a complex which may be the world’s “oldest” high-production brewery, uncovered in the Abydos archaeological site near Egypt’s southern city of Sohag.

The factory was discovered in Abydos, an ancient burial ground situated in the desert west of the Nile River, about 450 kilometers (280 miles) south of Cairo, Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said.

He said the factory apparently dates back to the region of King Narmer, who is widely known for his unification of ancient Egypt at the beginning of the First Dynastic Period (3150 B.C.- 2613 B.C.).

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities on Feb. 13, 2021, shows the remains of a vat used for beer fermentation, in a complex which may be the world’s “oldest” high-production brewery, uncovered in the Abydos archaeological site near Egypt’s southern city of Sohag.

Archaeologists found eight huge units – each is 20 meters (about 65 feet) long and 2.5 meters (about 8 feet) wide. Each unit includes some 40 pottery basins in two rows, which had been used to heat up a mixture of grains and water to produce beer, Waziri said.

The joint mission is co-chaired by Matthew Adams of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Deborah Vischak, assistant professor of ancient Egyptian art history and archaeology at Princeton University.

Adams said the factory was apparently built in this area to provide royal rituals with beer, given that archaeologists found evidence showing the use of beer in sacrificial rites of ancient Egyptians.

British archaeologists were the first to mention the existence of that factory in the early 1900s, but they couldn’t determine its location, the antiquities ministry said.

With its vast cemeteries and temples from the earliest times of ancient Egypt, Abydos was known for monuments honoring Osiris, ancient Egypt’s god of the underworld and the deity responsible for judging souls in the afterlife.

The necropolis had been used in every period of early Egyptian history, from the prehistoric age to Roman times.

Egypt has announced dozens of ancient discoveries in the past couple of years, including a 3,000-year-old sarcophagus that could “rewrite history” and mummies with golden tongues, in the hope of attracting more tourists.

The tourism industry has been reeling from the political turmoil following the 2011 popular uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The sector was also dealt a further blow last year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Tanzanian rock art reveals trios of mysterious anthropomorphic figures

Tanzanian rock art reveals trios of mysterious anthropomorphic figures

It was recently discovered that the rock art was located at the Amak’hee rock shelter site in the Dodoma Region of central Tanzania found in June 2018. Most of the paintings were made with a reddish dye; there are also five white images.

Tanzanian rock art reveals trios of mysterious anthropomorphic figures
A trio of anthropomorphic figures from the Amak’hee 4 site in Tanzania.

Dr. Maciej Grzelczyk, a researcher at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland, says, “Most are in good condition, mainly due to a rock overhang that protects them from flowing water and exposure to excessive sunlight,” 

The Amak’hee 4 paintings include depictions of humans, domesticated cattle, and giraffes.

Comparison of the Amak’hee 4 (A), Kolo B2 (B) and Kolo B1 (C) trios.

“Particularly noteworthy among the Amak’hee 4 paintings is a scene that centers around three images,” the scientist said.

“In this trio, the figures seem to feature stylized buffalo heads. These shapes recall the central dip in the profile of the buffalo head from where the two horns rise and then curve outward away from the head, as well as the downturned ears.”

General view of the paintings at the Amak’hee 4 site in Tanzania.

“Even though in the present religion of the Sandawe people — who are descendants of those who created the paintings — we find no elements of anthropomorphization of buffaloes, nor belief in the possibility of transformation of people into these animals, there are some ritual aspects that offer parallels,” he added.

“The Sandawe still practice the simbó ritual, the main element of which is entering trance states.” The paintings are estimated to have been made several hundred years ago.

“As there is currently no absolute dating of rock art from central Tanzania, it is difficult to specify the approximate age of the Amak’hee 4 paintings,” the researcher said.

“Due to degradation of the dye and a lack of, for example, motifs depicting domesticated cattle, it can, however, be assumed that they belong to the hunter-gatherer period, so they are at least several hundred years old.”

Comparison of the head of figure 059 (top left) and African buffalo (top right) and a close-up of the digitally enhanced photograph (using DStrech) showing finer detail and superimposed layers.
Digital tracing of the Amak’hee 4 paintings.

Motifs featuring trios of human figures are also observed at other rock art sites in central Tanzania.

“The paintings at the Amak’hee 4 rock shelter provide one example of the many rock art sites in the Swaga Swaga area that are locally known but unpublished,” Dr. Grzelczyk said.

“Further fieldwork surveys in this area will be carried out to add to the growing body of published data recording rock art sites in this region.”

An amazing discovery in Egypt – The bones of a 3600-year-old giant palm

An amazing discovery in Egypt – The bones of a 3600-year-old giant palm

A team of archaeologists has found that one of the palaces in the ancient city of Avaris, in Egypt, has hundreds of human sacrifices hidden beneath the earth. Archaeologists in the past have excavated the skeletons of 16 human hands that were found in four pits.

Two of the pits, located in front of what is believed to be a throne room, hold one hand each. Two other pits, constructed at a slightly later time in outer space of the palace, contain the 14 remaining hands.

They are all right hands; there are no lefts.

“Most of the hands are quite large and some of them are very large,” Manfred Bietak, project and field director of the excavations, told LiveScience.

A severed right hand discovered in front of a Hyksos palace at Avaris (modern-day Tell el-Daba). It would have been chopped off and presented to the king (or a subordinate) in exchange for gold. This discovery is the first archaeological evidence of the practice. At the time they were buried, about 3,600 years ago, the palace was being used by King Khayan. The Hyksos were a people believed to be from northern Canaan, they controlled part of Egypt and made their capital at Avaris on the Nile Delta.

The finds, made in the Nile Delta northeast of Cairo, date back about 3,600 years to a time when the Hyksos, a people believed to be originally from northern Canaan, controlled part of Egypt and made their capital at Avaris a location known today as Tell el-Daba. At the time the hands were buried, the palace was being used by one of the Hyksos rulers, King Khayan

The hands appear to be the first physical evidence of a practice attested to in ancient Egyptian writing and art, in which a soldier would present the cut-off right hand of an enemy in exchange for gold, Bietak explains in the most recent edition of the periodical Egyptian Archaeology.

“Our evidence is the earliest evidence and the only physical evidence at all,” Bietak said. “Each pit represents a ceremony.”

Cutting off the right hand, specifically, not only would have made counting victims easier, it would have served the symbolic purpose of taking away an enemy’s strength.

“You deprive him of his power eternally,” Bietak explained. It’s not known whose hands they were; they could have been Egyptians or people the Hyksos were fighting in the Levant.  “Gold of valor”

Cutting off the right hand of an enemy was a practice undertaken by both the Hyksos and the Egyptians. 

One account is written on the tomb wall of Ahmose, son of Ibana, an Egyptian fighting in a campaign against the Hyksos. Written about 80 years later than the time the 16 hands were buried, the inscription reads in part: 

“Then I fought hand to hand. I brought away a hand. It was reported to the royal herald.” For his efforts, the writer was given “the gold of valor” (translation by James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume II, 1905). Later, in a campaign against the Nubians, to the south, Ahmose took three hands and was given “gold in double measure,” the inscription suggests.

Scientists are not certain who started this gruesome tradition. No records of the practice have been found in the Hyksos’ likely homeland of northern Canaan, Bietak said, so could have been an Egyptian tradition they picked up, or vice versa, or it could have originated from somewhere else. 

Bietak pointed out that, while this find is the earliest evidence of this practice, the grisly treatment of prisoners in ancient Egypt was nothing new.

The Narmer Palette, an object dating to the time of the unification of ancient Egypt about 5,000 years ago, shows decapitated prisoners and a pharaoh about to smash the head of a kneeling man. 

The archaeological expedition at Tell el-Daba is a joint project of the Austrian Archaeological Institute’s Cairo branch and the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

An ancient Egyptian mummy was wrapped in an unusual mud shell

An ancient Egyptian mummy was wrapped in an unusual mud shell

As a result, the discovery of a remarkable “mud mummy” from ancient Egypt has shocked archaeologists, who weren’t expecting to find the deceased encased in a hardened mud shell.

An ancient Egyptian mummy was wrapped in an unusual mud shell
The mud shell was added after the woman’s original mummification, perhaps to repair the damage inflicted by grave robbers.

The “mud carapace” is an unparalleled find; it reveals “a mortuary treatment not previously documented in the Egyptian archaeological record,” the researchers wrote in the study, published online Wednesday in the journal PLOS One. 

It’s possible the “mud wrap” was used to stabilize the mummy after it was damaged, but the mud may have also been meant to emulate practices used by society’s elite, who were sometimes mummified with imported resin-based materials during a nearly 350-year period, from the late New Kingdom to the 21st Dynasty (about 1294 B.C. to 945 B.C.), the researchers said.

So, why was this individual covered with mud, rather than resin? “Mud is a more affordable material,” study lead researcher Karin Sowada, a research fellow in the Department of History and Archaeology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, told Live Science in an email.

The mud sheath isn’t the mummy’s only oddity. The mummy, dated to about 1207 B.C., was damaged after death, and was even interred in the wrong coffin actually meant for a woman who died more recently, the researchers found.

Like many ancient Egyptian mummies, the “mud mummy” and its lidded coffin were acquired in the 1800s by a Western collector, in this case, Sir Charles Nicholson, an English-Australian politician who brought it to Australia.

Nicholson donated them to the University of Sydney in 1860, and today they reside at the university’s Chau Chak Wing Museum. But it appears that whoever sold the artefacts tricked Nicholson; the coffin is younger than the body buried in it, the researchers found.

“Local dealers likely placed an unrelated mummified body in the coffin to sell a more complete ‘set,’ a well-known practice in the local antiquities trade,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The coffin is inscribed with a woman’s name — Meruah or Meru(t)ah — and dates to about 1000 B.C., according to iconography decorating it, meaning the coffin is about 200 years younger than the mummy in it.

While the individual isn’t Meruah, anatomical clues hint that it is a female who died between the ages of 26 and 35, the researchers said.

Muddy treatment

Researchers got their first inkling that the 3,400-year-old mummy was unusual in 1999 when a CT (computed tomography) scan revealed something strange inside. To investigate, the researcher extracted a few samples of the wrappings and discovered they contained a sandy mud mixture.

When a new team of researchers re-scanned the mummy in 2017, they uncovered previously unknown details about the carapace, especially when they chemically reexamined the mud fragments. 

After she died, the woman was mummified and wrapped in textiles. Then, her remains, including her left knee and lower leg, were damaged in “unknown circumstances,” possibly by grave robbers, which prompted someone to repair her mummy, likely within one to two generations of her first burial — a feat that included “rewrapping, packing and padding with textiles, and application of the mud carapace,” the researchers wrote in the study.

CT images of the mummy offered clues to the wrapping process.

Whoever repaired the mummy made a complicated earthy sandwich, placing a batter of mud, sand and straw between layers of linen wrappings.

The bottom of the mud mixture had a base coat of a white calcite-based pigment, while its top was coated with ochre, a red mineral pigment, Sowada said. “The mud was apparently applied in sheets while still damp and pliable,” she said. “The body was wrapped with linen wrappings, the carapace applied, and then further wrappings placed over it.” 

Later, the mummy was damaged again, this time on the right side of the neck and head. Because this damage affects all of the layers, including the muddy carapace, it appears this damage was more recent and prompted the insertion of metal pins to stabilize the damaged areas at the time, the researchers said.

This “mud mummy” isn’t the only ancient Egyptian mummy subject to post-mortem repair; the body of King Seti I was wrapped more than once, and so were the remains of King Amenhotep III (King Tut’s grandfather), the researchers noted.

As for the woman’s mud carapace, “this is a genuinely new discovery in Egyptian mummification,” Sowada said. “This study assists in constructing a bigger — and a more nuanced — picture of how the ancient Egyptians treated and prepared their dead.”

Humans Have Been Taking Out Insurance Policies for at Least 30,000 Years

Humans Have Been Taking Out Insurance Policies for at Least 30,000 Years

Archaeologists say—The same way we trade social media likes or friendship bracelets,  our ancestors swapped bits of ostrich eggshell jewellery 30,000 years ago. Items—shell fragments with holes bored in—would have served as a symbol of the interpersonal links made up of ancient social networks.

Ostrich eggshell beads have been used to cement relationships in Africa for more than 30,000 years

Experts researching beads discovered in the African country of Lesotho have shown that the tradition seen in modern hunter-gatherers had a longer history than believed.

Analysis of elements within the beads has revealed that they were passed from person to person, travelling as far as 621 miles from where they were made.

‘Ostrich eggshell beads and the jewellery made from them basically acted like Stone Age versions of Facebook or Twitter “likes”,’ said archaeologist Brian Stewart of the University of Michigan.

These tokens, he added, would have ‘simultaneously affirmed connections to exchange partners while alerting others to the status of those relationships.’

The beads are thought to have been given as gifts in ancient times

‘Humans are just outlandishly social animals, and that goes back to these deep forces that selected for maximising information, information that would have been useful for living in a hunter-gatherer society 30,000 years ago and earlier.’

Anthropologists have long-known that modern hunter-gatherers trade ostrich eggshell beads to cement their interpersonal relationships — with such being practised among living Bushman groups in the Kalahari Desert.

They were able to trace the origin of the beads using atom analysis

Ostriches don’t typically live in the mountainous, high-elevation environment of Lesotho, however — and archaeologists found no evidence, like bead fragments or samples of unworked eggshell, to suggest the beads were being made there either.

This led Professor Stewart and colleagues to wonder exactly where the beads found in the archaeological record there had come from.

To trace the origin of the beads, the team looked at a radioactive isotope called strontium, which is formed for the breakdown of another element, rubidium-87. Older rocks — such as granites and gneisses — contain more strontium than younger rocks like basalts.

Strontium atoms are taken up from the ground by plants like grass, which are in turn eaten by animals like ostriches — and in this way can end up within materials like eggshells, creating a signal of the geology where they were formed.

Using plant and soil samples, as well as tooth enamel is taken from modern rodent specimens from museum collections, the researchers created a map of the strontium signals from across Lesotho and the surrounding areas.

The basalt-rich volcanic mountains that make up the core of Lesotho contain less strontium, for example than the surrounding and older sedimentary rocks.

The team’s analysis revealed that nearly 80 percent of the beads found in Lesotho could not have originated from nearby highland areas.  ‘These ornaments were consistently coming from very long distances,’ said Dr. Stewart.

‘The oldest bead in our sample had the third-highest strontium isotope value, so it is also one of the most exotic.’

Some of the beads, the team found, must have come from eggshells from at least 202 miles (325 kilometres) from Lesotho — and perhaps even as far away as 621 miles (1,000 kilometres).

The archaeologists worked at rock shelters at Sehonghong and Melikane in southern Africa

The team also found that the beads were being exchanged during a period of climatic upheaval which spanned from around 59–29 thousand years ago.

According to Dr. Stewart, the use of the beads to build relationships between different hunter-gatherer groups may have ensured one group’s access to others’ resources when their region’s weather took a turn for the worse.

‘What happened 50,000 years ago was that the climate was going through enormous swings, so it might be no coincidence that that’s exactly when you get this technology coming in,’ he said.

‘These exchange networks could be used for information on resources, the condition of landscapes, of animals, plant foods, other people and perhaps marriage partners.’ The full findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.