Category Archives: AFRICA

An Ancient Papyrus Reveals How The Great Pyramid of Giza Was Built

An Ancient Papyrus Reveals How The Great Pyramid of Giza Was Built

Stones of up to fifteen tonnes were shipped to a man-made port on wooden boats across the Nile. It has been one of the major enigmas of the world for centuries: how did a simple culture with no sophistication build Giza’s Great Pyramid.

The earliest and only survivor of the Ancient World’s Seven Wonders? It was the tallest man-made building on Earth for almost 4,000 years, at 146 metres high.

Archaeologists also discovered the diary of Merer, an official involved in the building of Giza’s great pyramid, in what is regarded by some to be one of the greatest discoveries in Egypt in the 21st century.

The 4,500-year-old papyrus is the oldest in the world and describes how wooden boats and ingenious system of waterworks transported blocks of limestones and granite weighing up to 15 tonnes from 13 kilometres away. In it, Merer (which means beloved) describes how he and a crew of 40 elite workmen shipped the stones downstream from Tura to Giza along the Nile River.

In the last few years, the papyrus and other archaeological excavations have revealed new information about how the pyramids were constructed. Here are some of the findings uncovered in Nature of Things documentary Lost Secrets of the Pyramid.

A papyrus Tallet found at Wadi al-Jarf from 2,600 B.C., the world’s oldest, refers to the “horizon of Khufu,” or the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Water was harnessed to transport huge stones.

Every summer, when the Nile flooded, giant dykes were opened to divert water from the river and channel it to the pyramid through a manmade canal system creating an inland port which allowed boats to dock very close to the worksite — just a few hundred metres away from the growing pyramid.

A recreation of the port from the documentary Lost Secrets of the Pyramid

The construction of artificial ports was a huge turning point for Egyptians, opening up trade and new relationships with people from distant lands.

Wooden boats built with rope instead of nails.

The limestone was carried along the River Nile in wooden boats built with planks and rope that were capable of hauling two-and-a-half tonne stones. 

Using ancient tomb carvings and the remains of an ancient dismantled ship as a guide, archaeologist Mohamed Abd El-Maguid has recreated one Egyptian boat from scratch.

3D scans of the ship planks revealed that the boats were full of holes that lined up perfectly with each other. Instead of nails or wood pegs, these boats were sewn together with rope like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

With 1,000 holes and five kilometres of rope the new boat was assembled and Abd El-Maguid and in Secrets of the Pyramid, attempts to re-create every step of Merer’s journey down the Nile with two-tonne limestone rock.

These boats were rowed carefully with the current down the Nile to the worksite. Once the rocks were unloaded, the wind helped propel the vessel back to the quarry.

Workers were valued and lived nearby in a huge settlement

Archaeologist Mark Lehner has uncovered artefacts that provide evidence of a vast settlement that held as many as 20,000 people. Average workers lived in huge dormitories, but team leaders like Merer lived in relative luxury with homes of their own.

Thousands of tiny bits of detritus of everyday life reveal that these hungry workers were well taken care of. An entire city was formed near the pyramid site to provide food and drink.

For most of the workers, building the pyramids was a source of prestige; these people have valued servants of the state.

Workers belonged to teams

Ankhhaf, Pharoah Khufu’s half-brother is mentioned in Merer’s diary and is thought to have been in charge of the operation.  He divided the workforce into ‘phyles’ teams of 40 men — of which someone like Merer oversaw.

Artefacts with team names on them have been discovered by archaeologist Pierre Tallet at a remote desert outpost in Wadi Al-Jarf about 250 kilometres away. Merer’s phyle was called “The Followers of the Boat named after the Snake on its Figurehead.”

Four phyles formed a gang of elite labourers. Each team has specific roles in the construction of the pyramid or the transportation of materials to the worksite.

Thousands of men, working together for over 20 years, succeeded in building the tallest, heaviest structure on earth. They transformed the landscape, and in doing so, also created a new society which archaeologist Mark Lehner says is the real achievement, “Once they had put all these systems and all this infrastructure in place there was no going back. They became more important than the pyramid itself and set Egyptian civilization off on a course for the next two or three millennia.”

Archaeologists discover 35 burial chambers in the Sudan desert with fascinating links to Ancient Egypt

Archaeologists discover 35 burial chambers in the Sudan desert with fascinating links to Ancient Egypt

Archaeologists excavating a site in Sudan have discovered 35 pyramids revealing fascinating links between the bygone Kingdom of Kush that once existed there and ancient Egypt.

The pyramids, which date back around 2,000 years, are smaller than most Egyptian examples with the largest being 22 feet in width and the smallest, likely constructed for the burial of a child, being just 30 inches.

The site in Sedeinga, northern Sudan, was part of the ancient kingdom of Kush which shared a border with Egypt and, later on, the Roman Empire.

Archaeologists discover 35 burial chambers in the Sudan desert with fascinating links to Ancient Egypt
Discovery: The skeleton of a child buried with necklaces around its neck was unearthed amid a complex of 35 pyramids discovered in Sudan
Find: Some of the pyramids discovered in the dig in Sedeinga in northern Sudan. Unusually some had a circle built inside them with cross-braces connecting the circle to the corners of the pyramid

One factor that has surprised the team was how densely concentrated the pyramids were. In a single area of 5,381 square feet, roughly the size of a basketball court, they found 13 pyramids.

Sadly the condition of the pyramids has suffered from the presence of a camel caravan route and the long passage of time and none of the top sections remains intact.

Capstones, depicting either a bird or a lotus flower on top of a solar orb, who have originally been placed at the top of the pyramids. Graves were discovered beside the pyramids in tomb chambers which were often found to have held more than one body.

Packed: One feature that surprised the team was how densely concentrated the pyramids were. In a single area of 5,381 square feet, roughly the size of a basketball court, they found 13 pyramids

Sadly these graves had all been plundered, possibly many hundreds of years ago, however, the archaeologists did find skeletal remains and some artefacts.

The archaeological team believes building of pyramids at Sedeinga continued for centuries and was strongly influenced by Egyptian funerary architecture.

Vincent Francigny, a research associate with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, told LiveScience: ‘The density of the pyramids is huge.

‘Because it lasted for hundreds of years they built more, more, more pyramids and after centuries they started to fill all the spaces that were still available in the necropolis.

‘They reached a point where it was so filled with people and graves that they had to reuse the oldest one.’

Some of the pyramids were found to have been built with cross-braces connecting the corners to an inner circle. Interestingly only one pyramid outside of Sedeinga is known to have been built in this way.

Mr Francigny believes that when pyramid building came into fashion at Sedeinga it could have been combined with a local circle-building tradition called tumulus construction, resulting in pyramids with circles within them.

He added: ‘What we found this year is very intriguing. A grave of a child and it was covered by only a kind of circle, almost complete, of brick.’

Among the artefacts discovered were depictions of Egyptian gods including Bes who is associated with children and pregnant mothers. One of the most interesting finds was an offering table depicting the jackal-headed god Anubis and a goddess believed to be Isis.

A dedication to a woman named ‘Aba-la,’ which researchers believe may be a nickname for ‘grandmother,’ was inscribed with ancient Meroitic writing – a script derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Archaeologists Diving Under a 2,300-Year-Old Pyramid Find Ancient Treasure

Archaeologists Diving Under a 2,300-Year-Old Pyramid Find Ancient Treasure

Somewhere Below the surface of the kiddie-pool sized patch of brown water is the entrance to the 2,300-year-old tomb of a pharaoh named Nastasen. If I crane my neck back far enough, I can just make out the eastern flank of his pyramid rising nearly three stories above me.

In order to access the tomb of pharaoh Nastasen, archaeologists had to excavate the processional staircase that leads to the burial chambers deep below his pyramid at Nuri.

It’s a sweltering morning in the desert of northern Sudan, the land of Nubia in the time of the pharaohs. Sweat drips into the dive mask hung around my neck as I negotiate my way down a narrow, ancient staircase cut deep into the bedrock. Waterproof flashlights clank from each wrist, and a 20-pound weight belt is slung commando-style across my chest. An emergency container of air, no bigger than a can of hairspray, is secured uncomfortably in the small of my back.

At the bottom of the stairs, archaeologist and National Geographic grantee Pearce Paul Creasman are standing chest-deep in the muddy water. “It’s really deep today,” he warns. “There’s not going to be any headroom in the first chamber.”

Creasman and I both trained as underwater archaeologists, so when I heard that he had the grant to explore submerged ancient tombs, I gave him a call and asked to tag along. Just a few weeks before I arrived, he entered Nastasen’s tomb for the first time, swimming through the first chamber, then a second, then into a third and final room, where, beneath several feet of water, he saw what looked like a royal sarcophagus. The stone coffin appeared to be unopened and undisturbed. Now, Creasman disappears into the water and resurfaces with a steel grate used to seal the tomb entrance. It looks no bigger than a large television set.

“This is how big the chute is,” he announces. “That’s your only space to get in and out of the tomb.” Back-mounted scuba tanks are too unwieldy in such tight confines, so we clip into 150-foot-long hoses that will supply us with air from a noisy, gasoline-fed pump.

“I’ll go first and pull my hose in,” Creasman says. “If I don’t see you in five minutes, I’ll come to find you.”

I nod and turn back to look up the ancient staircase, where Fakhri Hassan Abdallah, an inspector with Sudan’s National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, stands silhouetted against the rising sun. He gives me a thumbs up and smiles. I shove the diving regulator into my mouth. It’s time to go pyramid diving.

The pyramids of Nuri

Nastasen’s watery tomb is located at the ancient site of Nuri, which sprawls across more than 170 acres of sand near the east bank of the Nile River in northern Sudan. Seen from the sky, its most commanding feature is an arc of some 20 pyramids built between 650 B.C. and 300 B.C. that appear strung together like gems on a delicate necklace.

Local excavation helper at the entrance to a pyramid in Sudan below the groundwater table laying a compressed air line for diving archaeologists. Shutterstock.

These pyramids mark the burials of Kushite royals, the “black pharaohs” who operated as vassals on the gold-rich southern edges of the Egyptian empire, but who emerged as a force of their own during the political chaos that followed the demise of the New Kingdom. From about 760 B.C. to 650 B.C., five Kushite pharaohs ruled all of Egypt from Nubia to the Mediterranean Sea, embarking on ambitious building programs up and down the Nile and reviving the religious practices of a much earlier Egyptian empire—including the construction of pyramids, which they buried their kings under.

The largest and oldest pyramid at Nuri belongs to its most famous resident: the pharaoh Taharqa, a Kushite king who in the seventh century B.C. rallied his troops to the northern edges of his empire to defend Jerusalem from the Assyrians, earning him a mention in the Old Testament. George Reisner, a Harvard Egyptologist, visited Nuri a century ago to excavate the burial chambers beneath Taharqa’s massive pyramid.

Reisner’s team also mapped Nuri’s funerary monuments, which include more than 80 royal Kushite burials—roughly a quarter of which are topped with their sandstone pyramids. His field notes show that many of the tombs he encountered were already inundated with groundwater percolating from the nearby Nile, making traditional dirt excavation unsafe or impossible.

Reisner never published the results of his work (an associate cobbled what little was documented into a report published in 1955), and for almost a century Nuri was ignored. The Harvard archaeologist had offhandedly—and inaccurately—dismissed the Kushite kings as racially inferior and their accomplishments as an inheritance of older Egyptian traditions.

Then, in 1922, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb shifted the public’s attention to the Valley of the Kings, nearly 500 miles up the Nile in Luxor. In the decades that followed, Nuri seemed too big and challenging a site to tackle. Many of its tombs were likely underwater, and no one had ever before attempted underwater archaeology in Sudan. Besides, northern Sudan—ancient Nubia—had plenty of other stunning sites to keep archaeologists busy for years to come.

Watery tombs

Pearce Paul Creasman first visited Nuri in 2018. An unusual hybrid of Egyptologist and underwater archaeologist (as well as an associate professor in the dendrochronology laboratory at the University of Arizona), Creasman saw a rare opportunity to explore the watery tombs that Reisner was unable to tackle a century ago.

Funded in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society, Creasman zeroed in on the pyramid of Nastasen, a minor pharaoh who ruled Kush from 335 B.C. to 315 B.C. Because he was the last king buried at Nuri, his pyramid was built on the worst piece of real estate in the lowest elevations of the royal necropolis. If Reisner’s reports about the flooded tombs were true, Creasman reasoned, an exploration of pharaoh Nastasen’s final resting place would be the best way to gauge how inundated these monuments might be in the 21st century.

According to Reisner’s century-old field notes, his team located and excavated the rock-hewn stairwell that led down to the burial chambers deep beneath Nastasen’s pyramid. One of Reisner’s workers entered the tomb and, likely unnerved by the knee-deep water, hastily made his way to the third and final chamber. There he dug a small pit in the corner and collected a handful of shabtis—small magical figurines tasked with tending to the deceased’s needs in the afterlife. The research team left Nuri, and over the decades Nastasen’s tomb, and the staircase leading to it, were again buried under the desert sands.

Creasman’s team spent the 2018 field season and part of the 2019 season digging out the staircase. They reached the opening of the tomb this January and discovered that the entrance was now completely underwater, most likely due to rising groundwater caused by natural and human-induced climate change, intensive agriculture near the site, and the construction of modern dams along the Nile.

Tantalizing clues

By the time I arrive at Nuri, Creasman has reinforced the narrow tomb opening with a steel chute to prevent a rock collapse that would trap divers in the chambers beneath the pyramid. I pull myself through the chute and into the first chamber. As Creasman had warned, the water reaches to the ceiling. Every movement kicks up a cloud of ultra-fine sediment that makes it almost impossible to see what’s directly in front of me.

I feel my way around the bus-sized chamber, swimming in circles until I eventually surface in the second chamber. There, the ceiling has collapsed, creating space for a large air pocket. I find Creasman hoisting bags of gear onto a pile of dry rubble and placing flashlights into plastic jerry cans that gently bob in the water and illuminate the darkness. Empty Red Bull cans serve as floats for a safety line that runs from the back of the tomb to the entrance.

Swimming through a low, rounded, rock-cut doorway, we enter the third chamber. The stone sarcophagus is dimly visible below us—a thrilling sight—and we spot the pit that was hastily dug by Reisner’s nervous worker a century ago. At this early phase of the project, Creasman’s objectives are to demonstrate the safety of the air-supply system, gather basic measurements, and thoroughly excavate “Reisner’s pit” to see what was overlooked. Peering inside the stone coffin will have to wait until next year.

But there are tantalizing clues that the rising groundwater kept grave robbers from looting Nastasen’s tomb. As we excavate Reisner’s pit—filling plastic buckets with sediment, swimming them out into the air-filled second chamber, dumping the sediment onto a screen and sifting for artefacts—we discover paper-thin foils of pure gold that likely once covered precious figurines that long ago dissolved in the water. Those gilded figurines would have been easy pickings for looters, and their remains are a sure sign that Nastasen’s tomb has been essentially untouched.

On our final dive, Creasman and I float silently in water in the back chamber of the tomb, hovering above what may very well be Nastasen’s undisturbed sarcophagus. We talk about the team’s goal for 2020: to excavate the pharaoh’s 2,300-year-old submerged royal burial chambers. It’s an audacious aim and a huge logistical challenge, but Creasman is optimistic.

“I think we finally have the technology to be able to tell the story of Nuri, to fill in the blanks of what happened here,” he says. “It’s a remarkable point in history that so few know about. It’s a story that deserves to be told.”

Scientists Analyze Ancient Egyptian Ink containing lead were likely used as drier on ancient Egyptian papyri

Scientists Analyze Ancient Egyptian Ink containing lead were likely used as drier on ancient Egyptian papyri

Cosmos Magazine reports that a team of chemists, physicists, and Egyptologists from the University of Copenhagen and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility used advanced X-ray microscopy equipment to analyze the chemical composition of the ink markings found on papyrus fragments from Egypt’s ancient Tebtunis temple library. 

Scientists Analyze Ancient Egyptian Ink containing lead were likely used as drier on ancient Egyptian papyri
Detail of a medical treatise from the Tebtunis temple library.

The studies, published in the Journal PNAS, not only illuminate how writing practices developed in Egypt and around the Mediterranean, it could help with the conservation of many famous manuscripts.

In this study, the focus was on a dozen papyrus fragments from the only large-scale institutional library known to have survived from ancient Egypt: the Tebtunis temple library.

And the team of chemists, physicists and Egyptologists called in the big guns, using the advanced X-ray microscopy equipment at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble to examine them.

The work was led by the ESRF and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

They combined several synchrotron techniques to probe the chemical composition from the millimetre to the sub-micrometre scale to provide information not only on the elemental but also on the molecular and structural composition of the inks.

They concluded that the lead was used as a dryer because they did not find any other type of lead, such as lead white or minimum, which should be present if the lead was used as a pigment.

This also suggests that the ink had quite a complex recipe and “could not be made by just anyone”, says Egyptologist Thomas Christiansen from the University of Copenhagen, co-corresponding author of a paper in.

“Judging from the amount of raw materials needed to supply a temple library like the one in Tebtunis, we propose that the priests must have acquired them or overseen their production at specialised workshops much like the Master Painters from the Renaissance,” he says.

The ancient Egyptians have been using inks for writing since at least 3200 BCE, with black used for the primary body of text and red to highlight headings and keywords.

The researchers discovered that red pigment is present as coarse particles, while the lead compounds are diffused into papyrus cells, at the micrometre scale, wrapping the cell walls, and creating, at the letter scale, a coffee-ring effect around the iron particles, as if the letters were outlined.

“We think that lead must have been present in a finely ground and maybe in a soluble state and that when applied, big particles stayed in place, whilst the smaller ones diffused around them”, says co-corresponding author Marine Cotte, from the ESRF.

Ruins of the city Tebtunis, discovered in the 1930s. Credit: Kim Ryholt, University of Copenhagen.

Mysterious Ancient Structures Hidden Under The Sand In The Sahara Desert

Mysterious Ancient Structures Hidden Under The Sand In The Sahara Desert

Hundreds of stone structures dating back thousands of years have been discovered in Western Sahara, a territory in Africa little explored by archaeologists.

The structures seem to come in all sizes and shapes, and archaeologists aren’t sure what many of then were used for or when they were created, archaeologists report in the book “The Archaeology of Western Sahara: A Synthesis of Fieldwork, 2002 to 2009” (Oxbow Books, 2018).

About 75 per cent of the Western Saharan territory, including most of the coastline, is controlled by Morocco, while 25 per cent is controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Before 1991, the two governments were in a state of war. 

The structures come in various shapes and sizes, including one that curves off into the horizon (shown here).

Between 2002 and 2009, archaeologists worked in the field surveying the landscape and doing a small amount of excavation in the part of Western Sahara that is controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. They also investigated satellite images on Google Earth, they wrote in the book.

“Due to its history of conflict, detailed archaeological and palaeoenvironmental research in Western Sahara has been extremely limited,” wrote Joanne Clarke, a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and Nick Brooks, an independent researcher.

“The archaeological map of Western Sahara remains literally and figuratively almost blank as far as the wider international archaeological research community is concerned, particularly away from the Atlantic coast,” wrote Clarke and Brooks, noting that people living in the area know of the stone structures, and some work has been done by Spanish researchers on rock art in Western Sahara.

Mysterious structures

The stone structures are designed in a wide variety of ways. Some are shaped like crescents, others form circles, some are in straight lines, some in rectangular shapes that look like a platform; some structures consist of rocks that have been piled up into a heap.

And some of the structures use a combination of these designs. For instance, one structure has a mix of straight lines, stone circles, a platform and rock piles that altogether form a complex about 2,066 feet (630 meters) long, the archaeologists noted in the book.

Here, a type of stone structure known as a “dolmen.”

Though the archaeologists are unsure of the purpose of many of the structures, they said some of them may mark the location of graves.

Little excavation has been done on the structures, and archaeologists have found few artefacts that can be dated using a radiocarbon method. Among the few excavated sites are two “tumuli” (heaps of rock) that contain human burials dating back around 1,500 years.

Research suggests that Western Sahara was once a wetter place that could sustain more animal life than it does today.

Archaeologists documented rock art showing images of cattle, giraffe, oryx and Barbary sheep while environmental researchers found evidence for lakes and other water sources that dried up thousands of years ago.

Security problems

At present, security problems in the region mean that fieldwork has stopped, Clarke and Brooks told Live Science.

The terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operates in the desert regions near Western Sahara, and in 2013 they kidnapped two Spanish aid workers at a refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria, just across the border from Western Sahara.

While the Sahrawi people and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic strongly oppose the terrorist group, it’s extremely difficult for authorities to effectively patrol the vast desert areas where the stone structures are located, Clarke and Brooks said.

This means archaeologists can’t work there safely right now. This problem is not unique to Western Sahara, as the security risks posed by terrorist and extremist groups in the region mean that archaeologists can’t work in much of North Africa right now, they said.

This 3.3-Million-Year-Old Hominin Toddler Was Kind of Like Us

This 3.3-Million-Year-Old Hominin Toddler Was Kind of Like Us

In a fragment of sandstone sticking from the soil in the sparkling flatlands of Northeast Ethiopia, a fossil fragment of the cheekbone has been detected. Zeresenay Alemseged almost instinctively realised that he had come across something important.

This 3.3-Million-Year-Old Hominin Toddler Was Kind of Like Us
Zeresenay Alemseged holds the skull of a three-year-old Australopithecus afarensis at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The discovery sheds light on the contentious debate about how well the species walked and climbed.

The skinbone brought a jaw, parts of a skull and eventually collar bones, shoulder blades, ribs and — perhaps most important — the most complete spinal column of any early human relative ever found.

Nearly 17 years later, the 3.3-million-year-old fossilized skeleton known as the “Dikika Baby” remains one of the most important discoveries in archaeological history, one that is filling in the timeline of human evolution.

“When you put all the bones together, you have over 60 per cent of a skeleton of a child dating back to 3.3 million years ago, which is more complete than the famous australopithecine fossil known as ‘Lucy,’ ” Alemseged, a 47-year-old professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago, told The Washington Post.

“We never had the chance to recover the face of Lucy, but the Dikika child is an almost complete skeleton, which gives you an impression of how children looked 3.3 million years ago.”

The fossil, also called  “Selam” — “peace” in the Ethiopian Amharic language — has revealed numerous insights into our early human relatives. But Alemseged said one of the most startling findings comes from the toddler’s spine, which had an adaptation for walking upright that had not been seen in such an old skeleton.

The result, he said, is a creature whose upper body was apelike, but whose pelvis, legs and feet had familiar, humanlike adaptations.

“If you had a time machine and saw a group of these early human relatives, what you would have said right away is, ‘What is that chimpanzee doing walking on two legs?’ ” Alemseged said.

The Dikika foot is one part of a partial skeleton of a 3.32 million-year-old skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis child

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show for the first time the spinal column was humanlike in its numbering and segmentation. Though scientists know that even older species were bipedal, researchers said Selam’s fossilized vertebrae is the only hard evidence of bipedal adaptations in an ancient hominid spine.

“Yes, there were other bipedal species before, but what is making this unique is the preservation of the spine, which simply is unprecedented,” Alemseged said. “Not only is it exquisitely preserved, but it also tells us that the human-type of segmentation emerged at least 3.3 million years ago. Could there have been other species with a similar structure, yes, but we don’t know for sure?”

Human beings share many of the same spinal structures as other primates, but the human spine — which has more vertebrae in the lower back, for example — is adapted for efficient upright motion, such as walking and running on two feet.

Among the larger questions researchers like Alemseged are trying to answer include: When did our ancestors evolve the ability to be bipedal? When did we become more bipedal than arboreal, or tree-dwelling? And when did our ancestors abandon an arboreal lifestyle to become the runners and walkers that eventually populated Africa and then the world?

One of the significant barriers to answering those questions is that complete sets of vertebrae are rarely preserved in the fossil record.

“For many years we have known of fragmentary remains of early fossil species that suggest that the shift from rib-bearing, or thoracic, vertebrae to the lumbar, or lower back, vertebrae were positioned higher in the spinal column than in living humans, but we have not been able to determine how many vertebrae our early ancestors had,” said Carol Ward, a curator’s distinguished professor of pathology and anatomical sciences in the University of Missouri School of Medicine, and lead author on the study.

Selam has provided us the first glimpse into how our early ancestors’ spines were organized.” Unpacking the intricacies of Selam’s spinal structure would not have been possible without the assistance of cutting-edge technology, researchers said.

After 13 years of using dental tools to painstakingly remove portions of the fossil from sandstone — which risked destroying the fossil — Alemseged packed up Selam in his suitcase and took the fossil from Ethiopia to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, in 2010. Alemseged and the research team spent nearly two weeks there using high-resolution imaging technology to visualize the bones.

Left block of images shows the 3.32 million-year-old foot from an Australopithecus afarensis toddler from different angles. The right block of images compares the child’s foot with the fossil remains of an adult Australopithecus foot (top).

The fossil had undergone a medical CT scan in 2002 in Nairobi, Alemseged said, but that scanner was unable to distinguish objects with the same density, meaning that penetrating bones encased in sandstone was impossible. Once in France, that was no longer a problem, and the results, he said, “were mind-blowing.”

“We were able to separate, virtually, the different elements of the vertebrae and were able to do it, of course, without any damage to the fossil,” Alemseged said. “We are now able to see this very detailed anatomy of the vertebrae of this exceptionally preserved fossil.”

The scans revealed that the child possessed the thoracic-to-lumbar joint transition found in other fossil human relatives, but they also showed that Selam had a smaller number of vertebrae and ribs than most apes have.

For researchers, the skeleton is a window into the transition between rib-bearing vertebrae and lower back vertebrae, which allowed our early human ancestors to extend at the waist and begin moving upright, eventually becoming highly efficient walkers and runners. Though he has been studying Selam for nearly two decades, Alemseged thinks the fossil has more secrets to share with the modern world.

“I don’t think she will stop surprising us as the analysis continues,” he said. “Science and tech are evolving so much that I’m sure in a few years we’ll be able to extract even more information that we’re not able to extract today.”

Archaeologists find Rome-era tombs in Egypt’s the Western Desert

Archaeologists find Rome-era tombs in Egypt’s the Western Desert

Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered two ancient tombs dating back to the Roman period in the country’s the Western Desert. The team discovered structures of two different architectural styles at the Beir Al-Shaghala site in the Dakhla Oasis, though both were built from mud-brick.

Archaeologists find Rome-era tombs in Egypt's the Western Desert
Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered two ancient tombs dating back to the Roman period in the country’s Western Desert. Colorful funeral paintings in one of the ancient tombs is shown above

Inside the colourfully-painted tombs, they also found several human skeletons, clay lamps, and a number of pottery vessels. Each of the tombs is decorated in vibrant funeral paintings, though much of the artwork has been lost to time.

According to Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, the paintings once illustrated the process of mummifying the deceased.

Archaeologists have been excavating the site since 2002 over the course of five archaeological seasons.

Overall, they’ve discovered more than 10 incomplete sandstone tombs at the site.

The latest finds include one sandstone tomb with a 20-step staircase and a mud-brick tomb located on the east side of the first.

In recent years, Egypt has heavily promoted new archaeological finds to international media and diplomats in the hope of attracting more visitors to the country.

The vital tourism sector has suffered from the years of political turmoil since the 2011 uprising.

The latest finds include one sandstone tomb with a 20-step staircase and a mud-brick tomb located on the east side of the first

Archaeologists revealed another Roman-era discovery earlier this month from the Egyptian west coast.

Recent excavations uncovered the ruins of a sprawling Hellenistic fortress constructed more than 2,000 years ago.

Researchers say the ancient fortress was built to defend a port on the Red Sea coast, with three large courtyards and numerous structures that housed workshops and stores.

Inside, the team also found trash heaps filled with terracotta figures, coins, and even a fragment of an elephant skull.

The ruins of the Roman city, called Berenike Trogodytika, were first discovered in 1818, though it wasn’t until 2012 that excavations finally began.

Work at the site uncovered a ‘multi-phased’ building measuring about 160 meters long and 80 meters wide.

The team also found a line of defences along the north and north-east side.

According to the researchers, the findings at Berenike represent the first known Hellenistic urban site in the region.

Egypt finds 59 ancient coffins buried more than 2,600 years ago

Egypt finds 59 ancient coffins buried more than 2,600 years ago

The Egyptian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities said on Saturday, dozens of ancient coffins were discovered by archaeologists in a large Necropolis south of Cairo.

Khalid el-Anany, Egypt’s tourism and antiquities minister, right, and Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, left, stand over a sarcophagus at the Saqqara archaeological site, 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of Cairo, Egypt on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. El-Anany says at least 59 sealed sarcophagi with mummies inside were found in three wells at the vast necropolis, believed to have been buried there more than 2,600 years ago.

Khalid el-Anany said that 59 sealed sarcophagi, most of them mummies, have been discovered to have buried more than 2,600 years ago in three wells.

“I consider this is the beginning of a big discovery,” el-Anany said, adding that there is an unknown number of coffins that have yet to be unearthed in the same area.

He spoke at a news conference at the famed Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara where the coffins were found.

The sarcophagi have been displayed and one of them was opened before reporters to show the mummy inside. Several foreign diplomats attended the announcement ceremony.

A sarcophagus that is around 2500 years old is shown at the Saqqara archaeological site, 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.

The Saqqara plateau hosts at least 11 pyramids, including the Step Pyramid, along with hundreds of tombs of ancient officials and other sites that range from the 1st Dynasty (2920 B.C.-2770 B.C.) to the Coptic period (395-642).

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said initial studies show that the decorated coffins were made for priests, top officials and elites from the Pharaonic Late Period (664-525 B.C.).

He said archaeologists also found a total of 28 statuettes of Ptah-Soker the main god of the Saqqara necropolis, and a beautifully carved 35 cm tall bronze statuette of god Nefertum, inlaid with precious stones. The name of its owner, Priest Badi-Amun, is written on its base, he said.

Egyptian antiquities officials had announced the discovery of the first batch coffins last month when archaeologists found 13 of the containers in a newly discovered 11 meter-deep (36 feet) well.

One of the discovered tombs at the Saqqara archaeological site is shown, 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.

The Saqqara site is part of the necropolis of Egypt’s ancient capital of Memphis that includes the famed Giza Pyramids, as well as smaller pyramids at Abu Sir, Dahshur and Abu Ruwaysh. The ruins of Memphis have designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1970s.

El-Anany said the Saqqara coffins would join 30 ancient wooden coffins that were discovered in October in the southern city of Luxor and will be showcased at the new Grand Egyptian Museum, which Egypt is building near the Giza Pyramids.

The Saqqara discovery is the latest in a series of archaeological finds that Egypt has sought to publicize in an effort to revive its key tourism sector, which was badly hit by the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising. The sector was also dealt a further blow this year by the global coronavirus pandemic.