Category Archives: AFRICA

World’s Oldest Christian Letter Found On 3rd Century Egyptian Papyrus

Oldest Known Christian Autograph Originates From Roman Egypt

Credit: University of Basel

Egypt played a very significant role in the history of early Christianity.

A researcher has announced that she has found the earliest known Christian letter, that was written in Roman Egypt in the 3rd century AD.

The contents of this letter are challenging assumptions about the early followers of Jesus Christ and their world.

Dated from circa 230s AD, the document P.Bas. 2.43 sheds light into the lives of the first Christians of the Roman Empire during a time when they were actively persecuted by the state authorities, especially in the urban areas. 

Intriguingly enough, the letter P.Bas. 2.43 paints a picture of how the Christians had it relatively better in Roman Egypt.

To that end, many of these Christians preferred to reside in the Egyptian hinterlands – where they tended to have political leadership and were able to follow a syncretic mode of religion combining both Christianity and native paganism.  

As for the actual contents of the document P.Bas. 2.43, dating from circa 230s AD, the letter is addressed from a man named Arrianus to his brother Paulus.

Eschewing the typical Greco-Roman greeting formula, it reports the family matters, puts forth a query for the best fish sauce as a souvenir, and then ends with the expressed wish that his brother will prosper “in the Lord.”

In essence, the ancient author uses the abbreviated form of the Christian phrase, also known as the nomen sacrum, “I pray that you farewell ‘in the Lord’”, thereby representing the Christian beliefs of the writer.

Credit: University of Basel

Such a form of greeting matches with the New Testament manuscripts rather than the Greco-Roman greeting template expected from the Roman-Egyptian author.

Furthermore, the very name Paulus (of the letter’s intended recipient) was very rare during the era. And interestingly, it suggests how parents were already beginning to name their children after the famed apostle Paul by as early as 200 AD. 

As for the historicity of the letter P.Bas. 2.43, prosopographical research carried out by experts at the University of Basel revealed that the document is around four to five decades older than the other known Christian letters from around the world.

Moreover, the letter, having its origins in the village of Theadelphia in central Egypt, also alludes to the social background of the author and the recipient and how they were members of an educated, provincial elite, possibly being landowners and even public officials. 

And lastly, as for the Basel papyrus collection, the compilation boasts around 65 documents of various origins, ranging from Ptolemaic, Roman, to Eastern Roman (Byzantine).

Most of them are composed of documentary papyri that provide context to the social, cultural, and religious scope of the era via the records of the daily lives of the people who lived around two millennia ago.

This is the World’s Oldest Continually Operating Library, Where Lost Languages Have Been Found

Lost Languages Discovered In One Of The World’s Oldest Libraries

Africa, Egypt, St Catherine’s Monastery.

Researchers discovered ancient texts hidden beneath years of writing in the manuscripts at St. Catherine’s Monastery.

St. Catherine’s Monastery, one of the world’s oldest continuously running libraries, lies at the foot of Mount Sinai, the mountain atop which God is said to have given Moses the Ten Commandments.

St. Catherine’s is home to some of the world’s oldest and most valuable books and manuscripts, and the monks that watch over them.

These texts are largely manuscripts and are filled with mostly Greek and Latin. However, recently scientists have uncovered new languages in the manuscripts — and some that haven’t been used since the Dark Ages.

The only catch — the languages can’t be seen with the naked eye.

When the texts were originally written, the monks only wrote in ancient languages. However, the parchment they were written on at the time was valuable, and often subject to reuse.

Texts deemed less important were scrubbed clean from the parchment, which was then reused for more important information, often written in other more universal or modern languages.

These texts with multiple layers of writing are known as palimpsests.

Cloister of St Catherine of Alexandria monastery, 14th century, Cittaducale, Lazio, Italy.

Now, using new technology, a team of researchers has developed a way to uncover the ancient writings in the palimpsests at St. Catherine’s and have discovered languages thought to be long lost.

One such language, Caucasian Albanian, hasn’t been used since the 8th century. Other languages include Christian Palestinian Aramaic, which is a mix of Syriac and Greek.

To uncover the hidden writings, the scientists photographed the manuscripts using different parts of the light spectrum and run the images through an electronic algorithm. This allowed them to see the first writing put down on the pages.

Michael Phelps, a researcher at the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library in California, calls this development the beginning of a “new golden age of discovery.”

“The age of discovery is not over,” he said. “In the 20th century, new manuscripts were discovered in caves.

In the 21st century, we will apply new techniques to manuscripts that have been under our noses. We will recover lost voices from our history.”

Phelps went on to praise the monastery for their record keeping and devotion to the preservation of history.

“I don’t know of any library in the world that parallels it,” he said. “The monastery is an institution from the Roman Empire that continues operating according to its original mission.”

However, he notes that though the monks deserve praise for recording history, they are also to blame for erasing the parchment that held it.

“At some point, the material the manuscript was on became more valuable than what was written on it,” Phelps said. “So it was deemed worthy of being recycled.”

Besides the discovery of the Caucasian Albanian language texts, the researchers also uncovered what is thought to be the first-known copy of the Bible written in Arabic, as well as the earliest examples of writings from the Greek philosopher Hippocrates.

The Ashtiname of Muhammad at the Saint Catherine’s Monastery.

Well-Preserved Mosaic Floor Found in Roman Egypt

Well-Preserved Mosaic Floor Found in Roman Egypt

Once again, Kom El-Dikka archaeological site in Alexandria has furnished an important discovery.

The find at Kom El-Dikka confirms the popularity of ornate design between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD in Roman Alexandria

An Egyptian-Polish Archaeological Mission unearthed on Thursday the remains of a large part of an ancient city dating from the 4th to the 7th century AD in the coastal city of Alexandria.

The country’s Antiquities Ministry said in a statement.

The mission also uncovered a collection of Roman mosaics covering the floor of a house inside the ancient city during its working in the area of Kom el-Dekka in Alexandria, it added.

“Overall, the design of the mosaic, additionally equipped with a transversal field in front decorated with astragals and rosettes, is typical for the triclinia – the most imposing of the dining rooms in a Roman house,” said Majcherek.
“Overall, the design of the mosaic, additionally equipped with a transversal field in front decorated with astragals and rosettes, is typical for the triclinia – the most imposing of the dining rooms in a Roman house,” said Majcherek.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, pointed out that the area of Kom al-Dekka is witnessing a new scene of Roman mosaics multicolor, which confirms the spread of mosaic art in Alexandria in addition to the wealth of the inhabitants of these houses.

“The discovered city includes the remains of a small theater

A large imperial bathroom and a unique collection of 22 lecture halls, which are the remains of an ancient university,” said Ayman Ashmawy, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Ministry of Antiquities.

He added the mosaic design found on the floor of one of the houses consists of six hexagon pictures featuring a lotus flower, surrounded by a typical circular frame.

The Polish Archaeological Mission has been operating at the site located in the heart of the Old City since 1960 in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, Waziri added.

Excavations in recent years have focused on the study of residential architecture, which is still unknown in Alexandria from the 1st century to the 3rd century AD, Waziri added.

He explained that the buildings of that period were often lavishly decorated.

Ancient Egyptian Mummy Linen Fragments Seized in Michigan

Ancient Egyptian Mummy Linen Fragments Seized in Michigan

U.S. border officials say they have seized ancient Egyptian mummy linens during enforcement operations at the Blue Water Bridge that connects Port Huron, Mich., to Sarnia, Ont. 

Five containers containing the artifacts were seized on May 25 following the selection of the truck for examination in Michigan near Sarnia, Ont., the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.

The artifacts had come from Canada in a bulk mail shipment, and were being shipped to a home in the United States, Kris Grogan, spokesman for the agency, said in an interview.

“It’s taken some time to identify what they were,” Grogan said. “We’ve had to work with the State Department as well as other federal agencies in identifying this.”

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Wednesday officers seized a package of five jars of containing the artifacts found May 25 on a Canadian mail truck.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Wednesday officers seized a package of five jars of containing the artifacts found May 25 on a Canadian mail truck.

The artifacts would be sent back to Egypt in the near future, Grogan said.

In a statement, the agency said the importer was unable to prove the linens had been taken out of Egypt before 2016.

That could be a violation of the U.S. Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, a federal law that allows American authorities to impose import restrictions on certain classes of archeological material.

Authorities said they worked with an unidentified archeological organization to pin down the age of the artifacts, which are believed to date back to the Ptolemaic Dynasty from 305-30 B.C.

One expert in antiquities, Sue McGovern-Huffman, said trying to illegally buy ancient artifacts is more trouble than it’s worth no matter what era the object is from.

“If it’s been illegally taken out of the country, it’s got a zero value as far as the commercial market is concerned,” McGovern-Huffman, president of Sands of Time Antiquities, said from Washington, D.C.

Without an artifact’s provenance or proof of ownership and history, even illegally selling ancient artifacts would be difficult for any dealer on the black market, she said.

McGovern-Huffman, an accredited member of the International Society of Appraisers, said pieces like ancient mummy linens have more archeological or study interest than collector interest.

“These fragments have very little value. There are all these reports of antiquities selling for millions and billions of dollars on the black market and it’s completely wrong,” she said. “You’d be lucky to get $50 for this stuff.”

Michael Fox, the customs agency director in Port Huron, Mich., said the seizure was of “historical importance.”

Grogan said no arrests have been made as it remains unclear who might be criminally responsible.

Scientists discover oldest human fossil outside of Africa

Oldest non-African modern human fossil revealed to be 195,000 years old

The popular consensus in palaeoanthropology places the ancestors of our species exclusively in Africa before making a successful migration into Eurasia around 60,000 years ago.

There has been some level of recognition that perhaps small numbers of early modern humans reached the Levant and the Middle East around 120,000 years ago.

It was believed that these earlier populations represented a small-scale failed migration that barely managed to leave the continent before dying off. Now new Homo sapiens fossils from Israel suggest that this popular model is almost completely wrong.

Human origins are a murky affair; there is no definitive narrative to this story beyond a few fixed points between which lines can potentially be drawn in multiple (at times conflicting) directions.

The first thing anyone that follows palaeoanthropology should recognize is that the entire subject is dependent not so much on archaeological and genetic evidence as it is on accurate interpretations and sensible assumptions.

There is no Homo sapiens DNA available that is older than 45,000 years, and the fossil record of early modern and archaic Homo sapiens is very sparse. This means any favored human-origins hypothesis can change rapidly on the turn of a trowel.

Israeli scientists have published a confirmation of an archaic Homo sapiens jaw fragment associated with a discovery made back in 2002, at the Misliya Cave site, one of Mount Carmel’s many caves.

The article released in the science journal Nature, titled “Israeli Fossils Are the Oldest Modern Humans Ever Found Outside of Africa,” explains that the archaeological dig is situated just a few kilometers away from the Skhul cave, which has already produced modern-human remains dated at 80,000 to 120,000 years old.

After considerable analysis by multiple methods and involving international teams, the jaw fragment was accepted to be that of an early modern human living around 177,000 to 194,000 years ago.

Misliya Cave, the archaeological site where part of an adult upper jaw was found.
Misliya Cave, the archaeological site where part of an adult upper jaw was found.

“We called it ‘Searching for the Origins of the Earliest Modern Humans’; this was what we were looking for,” says Mina Weinstein-Evron, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel.

This incredibly ancient human bone further erodes the recent “Out of Africa” model. Not only were early modern human populations living beyond Africa 120,000 years ago, but they had already colonized western Eurasia almost 200,000 years ago. This date from Israel is virtually contemporary with those of the oldest early modern human remains found in East Africa, at 160,000 to 195,000 years of age (the Omo and Herto Skulls).

This latest announcement comes hot on the heels of several other “problematic” findings, including a new status for China’s Dali Skull, now identified as being that of a 260,000-year-old archaic Homo sapiens.

The other major upset for existing models involved the detection of an interbreeding event between Neanderthals and archaic Homo sapiens that occurred somewhere in Eurasia around 270,000 years ago, emerging from the study of a Neanderthal bone at the Hohlenstein-Stadel archaeological site in Germany.

The Hohlenstein-Stadel genetic study was published by Nature in late 2016, under the title “Deeply Divergent Archaic Mitochondrial Genome Provides Lower Time Boundary for African Gene flows into Neanderthals.”

When we factor in additional discoveries of potential early Homo sapiens populations living at Jebel Irhoud in Morocco around 300,000 years ago and others in China at dates closely matching those of the Dali skull, we begin to recognize Homo sapiens as a highly mobile and widespread species even from their very earliest appearance in the fossil record. It is time to completely abandon any romantic idea of a human genesis in an Eden-like human enclave somewhere in East Africa around 200,000 years ago.

“The fossil could indicate that Israel and the rest of the Arabian Peninsula were part of a larger region in which H. sapiens evolved,” says John Shea, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University in New York.

Perhaps the most intriguing implication of these very early modern human population in Eurasia is that we no longer require a migration into Eurasia 120,000 years ago to explain fossils from that later period.

It may well be that these were the descendants of more archaic Homo sapiens already present across the continent, while fully modern humans of today would be descendants of a few that survived extinction 73,000 years ago in a refuge somewhere before expanding once again across the continent 13,000 years later. Perhaps it is time for us to be more skeptical of claims involving additional migrations out of Africa and consider other interpretations of the available evidence.

A pair of golden sandals found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb that shows how Egyptian sandals were made

A pair of golden sandals found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb that shows how Egyptian sandals were made

During the ancient Egyptian period, people mostly traveled barefoot. It is believed that since the temperature in Egypt was very high throughout the year, people gave less importance to wearing footwear.

There is hardly any record to suggest that the Egyptians wore shoes or any other form of footwear.

The ancient Egyptians began wearing sandals during the early years of the New Kingdom rule.

The sandals used by these people were very simple and were made either by using straw, reeds or leather.

The wealthy people wore leather sandals and these lasted for a longer time than the sandals which were made using straw or reeds. The sandals were worn by all people belonging to all the classes except those who were extremely poor. 

The sandals were decorated by using beads, jewels; some also had buckles on the straps made from precious metals. For the most part, the ancient Egyptians walked without wearing sandals or shoes.

Sandals were worn by people on special events. The gold and wood sandals are known to have been made in the ancient Egyptian period.

For researchers, the wow-factor is in the craftsmanship. “The technology employed that’s the most wow thing for us, looking at the detailed, minute, skilled craftsmanship of the Ancient Egyptians is really mind-blowing,” Ikram explained.

“With some of Tutankhamun’s shoes, they used bits of gold, birch bark, bone and maybe even glass inlays to decorate and create luxurious and glamorous footwear.”

Studying how the Egyptians made such luxurious footwear, researchers discovered that the ancient Egyptians adapted and maintained traditional styles and technologies throughout millennia.

“It’s interesting to see that there are not too many advances in the technology, but we do see things that were established and then carried on,” Ikram noted. “For example, there’s skeuomorphism, that is something originally made in one material is translated into something of far more precious material.

Sometimes you have fancy footwear that looks like regular footwear, but it’s made out of gold or it has gold accents.”

During the Middle and New Kingdoms time, the sandals were commonly used. The use of covered shoes by the ancient Egyptians is not very well known. However, some records suggest that shoes were made by weaving palm fiber and grass.

In the Early Middle Kingdom, shoes were a modification of sandals. Shoes had straps between the toes and were joined to the sides at the heel. It also had a leather cover which protected the feet.

The Hittites settled in Anatolian highlands wore shoes with turned up toes. The Egyptians during the New Kingdom period are said to be influenced by the Hittites and began using shoes.

Greco-Roman Era Tomb Found in Upper Egypt

Greco-Roman Era Tomb Found in Upper Egypt

A rock-cut tomb dating back to the late Pharaonic Graeco-Roman period has been discovered by Egyptian-Italian archeological mission working in the Aga Khan Mausoleum area in Aswan.

Mostafa Waziri, the general secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, explains that the mission found inside the tomb parts of a painted wooden coffin.

Also discovered were fragments of another coffin adorned with a complete text that includes the name of the owner, identified as Tjt, and an invocation to the gods of the First Cataract; Khnum, Satet and Anuket, as well as Hapy, the Nile god.

Ayman Ashmawy, the head of the antiquities ministry’s ancient Egypt  department, told Ahram Online that the tomb consists of a stairway partly flanked by sculpted blocks leading to the funerary chambers.

The entrance was sealed by a stone wall found in its original place over the stairway.

Patrizia Piacentini, the head of the mission, said that the mission also found many amphorae and offering vases, as well as a funerary structure containing 4 mummies and food vessels.

Also found were 2 mummies, likely of a mother and her child, still covered by painted cartonnage.

A round-topped coffin was excavated from the rock floor. In the main room were around 30 mummies, including young children who were deposited in a long lateral niche.“

Leaning against the north wall of the room was an amazing intact stretcher made of palm wood and linen strips, used by the people who deposited the mummies in the tomb,” Piacentini told Ahram Online .

At the entrance of the room were vessels containing bitumen for mummification, white cartonnage ready to be painted and a lamp.

On the right and left sides of the door, many beautiful colored and gilded cartonnages, fragments of funerary masks painted with gold and a well preserved statuette of the Ba-bird, representing the soul of the deceased, still presenting all the details of the decoration have been found.

The mission has mapped around 300 tombs dating from the 6th century BC to the 4th century AD, located in the area surrounding the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan, on the west bank of the Nile in Aswan.

Burials of Africans slaves found at the old rubbish dump in Portugal

Burials of Africans slaves found at the old rubbish dump in Portugal

Adult female skeleton found at Valle da Gafaria, Portugal, suggests a careless burial.
Adult female skeleton found at Valle da Gafaria, Portugal, suggests a careless burial.

Portuguese explorers such as Henry the Navigator started sailing to Africa in the early 15th century, bringing both goods and enslaved people back.

A new archeological study of more than 150 skeletons dumped in Lagos, Portugal, reveals that there were no proper burials given to many of the enslaved Africans and that several of them may even have been tied to death.

The skeletons come from the site of Valle da Gafaria, which was located outside the Medieval walls of the port city of Lagos along the southwest coast of Portugal. Used between the Fifteenth and Seventeenth centuries as a dumping ground, the site also offered up remains of imported ceramics, butchered animal bones, and a few African style ornaments.

When the human skeletons were first analyzed, their shape and unique dental style suggested that they might have been of African origin, and subsequently, genetic analysis confirmed ancestry with Bantu – speaking populations of South Africa. Due to the archaeological and historical information, it is likely that all of these people were enslaved.

In a new research article published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, Maria Teresa Ferreira, Catarina Coelho, and Sofia Wasterlain of the University of Coimbra dug further into the bone data in order to understand how the 158 enslaved Africans came to be buried in a trash pit in Lagos.

Specifically, they investigated the position of each burial, whether or not the burial was made with care, and whether they could identify any evidence that the person’s body had been bound.

Adult female from Valle da Gafaria whose positioning suggests she may have been tied up for burial.
Adult female from Valle da Gafaria whose positioning suggests she may have been tied up for burial.

The Medieval Catholic concern with burial meant that the church was important in handling deaths in Portugal. A body would be ferried to the church in a funeral procession, and a grave would be chosen as close to a religious building as possible.

Elites and nobles were usually buried in an area protected by walls, while more marginal people were located outside. Those people who were further stigmatized by disease, condemned, or otherwise considered not to be deserving of care would be placed far outside sacred spaces.

Enslaved occupants of Medieval Portugal would not necessarily have been prevented from a proper burial. Many were baptized on arrival to Portugal and therefore had a right to a Christian funeral if the slave owner decided to do so.

However, due to the poor conditions aboard the ships, many people arrived so weakened that they died without being baptized. “In such cases,” Ferreira and colleagues explain, “as their humanity was not recognized, the corpses were treated as animal remains: summarily buried in any free field or dumped in the garbage.”

More than half of the people “seemed to have been buried without care,” Ferreira and colleagues note. “Moreover, six individuals showed evidence of having been tied when inhumed.” This suggests that several people had been tied up has intrigued other scholars, although it is unclear from the published research whether the bound limbs were related to the people’s enslaved status or to a more functional method of disposing of bodies.

Biological anthropologist Tim Thompson at Teesside University praised the “sound research” but also told me that “it is difficult to truly assess the examples of tied individuals because there are so few, and no figures are presented.” He suggests that comparing “the anatomical positioning with examples from modern mass graves would allow for deeper analysis. There are many examples of binding and blindfolding in these modern mass violence settings, along with disrespectful deposition of bodies.”

Ellen Chapman, a bioarchaeologist and cultural resources specialist at Cultural Heritage Partners, also told me that she looks forward to further work on this site and this collection of skeletons because “this site is an incredibly disturbing one, and one that clearly illustrates the pervasive mistreatment of enslaved people by the architects of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

In particular, Chapman notes that “this skeletal collection is indicative of the high mortality associated with slave ships and the Middle Passage.” Thompson adds that “this work has the potential to contribute to our understanding of both ancient and modern forced slavery contexts.”

In the end, Ferreira and colleagues conclude that “Valle da Gafaria’s osteological collection is extremely important for slavery studies. Not only are there few cemeteries of enslaved people in the world, but also, Lagos is the oldest sample to be discovered and studied in the world.”

Source: archaeologynewsnetwork