Category Archives: ASIA

Cryptic 2,700-year-old pig skeleton found in Jerusalem’s City of David

Cryptic 2,700-year-old pig skeleton found in Jerusalem’s City of David

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed the complete skeleton of a piglet in a place and time where you wouldn’t expect to find pork remains: a Jerusalem home dating to the First Temple period.

The 2,700-year-old porcine remains were found crushed by large pottery vessels and a collapsed walls during excavations in the so-called City of David, the original nucleus of ancient Jerusalem. The team of archaeologists behind the discovery reported their find in a study published in the June edition of the journal Near Eastern Archaeology.

The find of swine adds to previous research showing that pork was occasionally on the menu for the ancient Israelites and that biblical taboos on this and other prohibited foods only came to be observed centuries later, in the Second Temple period. It also ties into broader questions about when the Bible was written and when Judaism as we know it was born.

This little piggy wasn’t bacon

The animal’s skull clearly identifies it as a domestic pig, as opposed to a wild swine, and its presence indicates that pigs were raised for food in the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Judah, says Lidar Sapir-Hen, an archaeozoologist at Tel Aviv University and at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

The fact that the skeleton was found intact suggests that this specific piglet, less than seven months old, was not eaten, but died accidentally when the building was destroyed at some point in the eighth-century B.C.E, Sapir-Hen and colleagues report.

First Temple period structures near the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem’s City of David, where the pig skeleton was found along with the “butchered” remains of many other types of animals.

But there can be little doubt of what the piglet’s ultimate fate would have been having its home not collapsed for as yet unclear reasons. In addition to large storage jars and smaller cooking vessels, the room where the pig was unearthed also hosted dozens of animal bones from sheep, goats, cattle, gazelles, as well as fish and birds, the archaeologists report.

Most of these remains were burnt or showed signs of butchery, meaning the animals had long been dead and eaten when the building was destroyed, Sapir-Hen says.

This suggests that this room was where meals were prepared or eaten,” she says. “So this pig was just waiting for its turn.”

We don’t know the cause of the building’s collapse, as there is no known major destruction event in Jerusalem in the eighth century B.C.E., says Joe Uziel, the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist who led the dig. It may have been destroyed by an earthquake or a more localized event, he speculates.

In any case, the structure was rebuilt and continued to be in use until around 586 B.C.E., when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple, Uziel says. The building had at least four rooms and was located in a fairly central area near the Gihon spring, the main source of water for the city at the time. Constructed with rough fieldstones, it was probably a private home, although the fact that bullae, or seal impressions, were unearthed in another room suggests it may have also had an additional, administrative function, Uziel says.

An archaeologist retrieves the skull of a piglet from a First Temple period building in Jerusalem’s City of David at the site where the “articulated” pig skeleton was also found.

The excavation also yielded an elegantly carved bone pendant and a human figurine. Together with the great variety of animals found alongside the pig, all of this indicates the house was occupied by an upper-class family, the archaeologist says.

The importance and central location of the house suggest that pig husbandry and pork consumption may have been a rare treat, but still very much part of “mainstream” food habits, he says. In other words, it doesn’t look like this was something done secretively by, say, a poorer household that may have been desperately in need of a quick meal.

At this point, we have to wonder how to square the idea that pigs were infrequently but openly raised in Jerusalem with the biblical injunction that: “The swine, though he divides the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.” (Leviticus 11:7-8

It’s the Levantine economy, stupid

While domesticated pig bones are rarely found in Jerusalem and in most of the Levant, they are not entirely absent, Sapir-Hen notes. In excavations from the First Temple period in Jerusalem and in other sites from the Kingdom of Judah, swine bones constitute up to 2 per cent of the animal remains unearthed, she says.

Already back in the 1990s, archaeologists also observed that pig bones were much more frequent in the coastal strip that was inhabited by the Philistines. Scholars thus concluded that a dearth of pig bones identified a site as Israelite and that the biblical ban on partaking in pork was already known and observed in the First Temple period.

But more recent research by Sapir-Hen and others has shown that the picture is much more complex. For one thing, the near absence of pig bones is not unique to Israelite sites of the Iron Age, the period that roughly corresponds to the First Temple era. Swine is equally scarce in most of Canaan during the preceding era, the Late Bronze Age, a time before the writing of the Bible or the formation of ancient Israel.

This dearth then continues in the Iron Age, not only in Judah but in many of its neighbours, including sites linked to the Canaanites, Phoenicians and Arameans, Sapir-Hen notes. Even when it comes to the supposedly pork-loving Philistines, the situation is actually more nuanced.

While the diet of Philistine city-dwellers did include a larger proportion of pigs, which were seemingly imported from Greece, swine bones are almost absent from their rural settlements, in keeping with the dietary habits of the rest of the Levant. Equally puzzling is the fact that in the Kingdom of Israel, Judah’s northern neighbour, a pig is rare in the early Iron Age, but it increases to up to 8 per cent of the animal mix at urban sites in the eighth century B.C.E.

All of this indicates that the tendency to eschew pork in the Iron Age cannot be linked to a specific ethnic identity or to the biblical prohibition, Sapir-Hen concludes. Pigs were only a small part of the Levantine diet most probably because other animals, especially goats, sheep and cattle, were more suited to the local environment and economy.

Pigs can be raised in an urban environment, as they require less space, but they also need a nearby water source: it is perhaps not a coincidence that the Jerusalem piglet was found near the city’s spring. This may explain why, throughout the Levant, swine occurrences only tend to rise at times and in places where populations increase and are concentrated in larger urban settlements, whether in Philistia, in the Kingdom of Israel or, to a lesser extent, in the more built-up sections of Judah’s capital, Jerusalem.

Gods, figurines and shrimp

Figurine and bone pendant found in the building where the piglet’s remains were found

This also gels with a growing body of research on the Israelite religion in the First Temple period. While scholars believe that parts of the Bible were already compiled at the tail end of this era, it is generally agreed that the holy text we know today only reached its final form after the Babylonian exile, in the Second Temple period.

Whenever the Bible was actually written, archaeological finds have shown that, in practice, First Temple-period Judaism was very different from the religion it would later become. While the ancient Israelites believed in Yahweh, the God of the Bible, they also worshipped other deities, including Asherah, who was thought to be God’s wife. They liberally made figurines and other graven images, ostensibly banned by the Second Commandment.

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Additionally, a study published just last month in the Tel Aviv journal of archaeology looked at the finding, at archaeological sites throughout Israel, of bones from scaleless and finless fish, which are also prohibited by the Bible’s dietary rules. The research showed that catfish, sharks and other non-kosher fish were commonly consumed in Jerusalem and Judah during the First Temple period, and only for the late Second Temple period is there clear evidence that Jews were eschewing such banned seafood.

In other words, biblical prohibitions that are considered signposts of the Jewish faith today were unknown, unheeded or non-existent back in the First Temple period. And it seems that, from time to time, the ancient Israelites were not averse to literally bringing home the bacon.

Smashed pottery vessels in the room where the pig was found

1,600-Year-Old Sheep Mummy from Iran Analyzed

1,600-Year-Old Sheep Mummy from Iran Analyzed

A team of geneticists and archaeologists from Ireland, France, Iran, Germany, and Austria has sequenced the DNA from a 1,600-year-old sheep mummy from an ancient Iranian salt mine, Chehrabad.

This remarkable specimen has revealed sheep husbandry practices of the ancient Near East and underlined how natural mummification can affect DNA degradation. The incredible findings have just been published in the international, peer-reviewed journal Biology Letters. 

The salt mine of Chehrabad is known to preserve biological material. Indeed, it is in this mine that human remains of the famed “Salt Men” were recovered, dessicated by the salt-rich environment.

The new research confirms that this natural mummification process – where water is removed from a corpse, preserving soft tissues that would otherwise be degraded – also conserved animal remains.

The research team, led by geneticists from Trinity, exploited this by extracting DNA from a small cutting of mummified skin from a leg recovered in the mine.

1,600-Year-Old Sheep Mummy from Iran Analyzed
The mummified sheep leg. Image courtesy of Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum and Zanjan Cultural Heritage Centre, Archaeological Museum of Zanjan.

While ancient DNA is usually damaged and fragmented, the team found that the sheep mummy DNA was extremely well-preserved; with longer fragment lengths and less damage that would usually be associated with such an ancient age.

The group attributes this to the mummification process, with the salt mine providing conditions ideal for preservation of animal tissues and DNA.

The salt mine’s influence was also seen in the  microorganisms present in the sheep leg skin. Salt-loving archaea and bacteria dominated the microbial profile – also known as the metagenome – and may have also contributed to the preservation of the tissue.

The mummified animal was genetically similar to modern sheep breeds from the region, which suggests that there has been a continuity of ancestry of sheep in Iran since at least 1,600 years ago.

The team also exploited the sheep’s DNA preservation to investigate genes associated with a woolly fleece and a fat-tail – two important economic traits in sheep. Some wild sheep – the asiatic mouflon – are characterised by a “hairy” coat, much different to the woolly coats seen in many domestic sheep today. Fat-tailed sheep are also common in Asia and Africa, where they are valued in cooking, and where they may be well-adapted to arid climates.

The team built a genetic impression of the sheep and discovered that the mummy lacked the gene variant associated with a woolly coat, while fibre analysis using Scanning Electron Microscopy found the microscopic details of the hair fibres consistent with hairy or mixed coat breeds.

Intriguingly, the mummy carried genetic variants associated with fat-tailed breeds, suggesting the sheep was similar to the hairy-coated, fat-tailed sheep seen in Iran today.

“Mummified remains are quite rare so little empirical evidence was known about the survival of ancient DNA in these tissues prior to this study,” says Conor Rossi, PhD candidate in Trinity’s School of Genetics and Microbiology, and the lead author of the paper.

“The astounding integrity of the DNA was not like anything we had encountered from ancient bones and teeth before.

This DNA preservation, coupled with the unique metagenomic profile, is an indication of how fundamental the environment is to tissue and DNA decay dynamics.

Dr Kevin G Daly, also from Trinity’s School of Genetics and Microbiology, supervised the study. He added:

“Using a combination of genetic and microscopic approaches, our team managed to create a genetic picture of what sheep breeds in Iran 1,600 years ago may have looked like and how they may have been used.

“Using cross-disciplinary approaches we can learn about what ancient cultures valued in animals, and this study shows us that the people of Sasanian-era Iran may have managed flocks of sheep specialised for meat consumption, suggesting well developed husbandry practices.“

The 4,000-year-old city discovered in Iraq

The 4,000-year-old city discovered in Iraq

In Iraqi Kurdistan, a team of French archaeologists discovered the ruins of a long-lost ancient city. The ancient city of Kunara, in the Zagros mountains, was discovered by archaeologists over the course of six excavations between 2012 and 2018.

Previously, experts had been prevented from exploring the site, near the modern city of Sulaymaniyah, by Saddam Hussein’s regime and conflicts in the region.

The discovery is described in the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) journal.

The first of the cuneiform tablets was discovered during the Kunara excavation. The tablet records the delivery of different types of flour.

Located on the western border of the Mesopotamian Empire, the city may have been an important centre of an ancient mountainous people known as the Lullubi, according to experts.

Large stone foundations were discovered at the site, which dates to around 2200 B.C. Dozens of clay tablets covered with cuneiform writing were also found, shedding light on the city’s agriculture. For example, the first of the clay tablets discovered records the delivery of different types of flour.

The archaeologists’ research indicates that the city’s demise occurred about 4,000 years ago when it was ravaged by fire.

However, the city’s name is still unknown. Further excavation of the site will take place in the fall.

The small cup-shaped indents in this structure may have served a ceremonial purpose, according to archaeologists.

Ancient sites in other parts of the world are also revealing their secrets. Last year, archaeologists in Greece located the remains of a lost city believed to have been settled by captives from the Trojan War.

Separately in 2018, archaeologists in Western Mexico used sophisticated laser technology to discover a lost city that may have had as many buildings as Manhattan.

In 2017, archaeologists harnessed spy satellite imagery and drones to help identify the site of an ancient lost city in Northern Iraq.

An arrowhead fragment made of obsidian, or volcanic glass. that was discovered at the site. The obsidian comes from Anatolia, which is several hundred miles from Kunara, according to experts.

The Qalatga Darband site overlooks the Lower Zab river at the western edge of the Zagros Mountains, is part of a historic route from ancient Mesopotamia to Iran.

A vase decorated with snakes and scorpions was discovered at the site of the ancient city.

Experts recently created a stunning digital reconstruction of a centuries-old lost city discovered in South Africa. In another project, researchers have shed new light on the events that led to the demise of the ancient Cambodian megacity of Angkor.

3,000-Year-Old Inscription Found in Israel

3,000-Year-Old Inscription Found in Israel

An inscription from the time of the Biblical Judges, linked to the Book of Judges, has been discovered for the first time at Khirbat er-Ra‘i, near Kiryat Gat, during excavations.

The rare inscription bears the name ‘Jerubbaal’ in alphabetic script and dates from around 1,100 BCE. It was written in ink on a pottery vessel and found inside a storage pit that was dug into the ground and lined with stones.

The site, which is located at the Shahariya forest of the KKL-JNF, has been excavated every summer since 2015 and the current excavation season is it’s seventh.

The Jerubbaal inscription, written in ink on a pottery vessel.

The excavations are being conducted on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, under the direction of Prof. Yossef Garfinkel, Sa‘ar Ganor, Dr. Kyle Keimer and Dr. Gil Davies.

The program is funded by Joseph B. Silver and the Nathan and Lily Silver Foundation, the Roth Families Sydney, Aron Levy, and the Roger and Susan Hartog Center for Archaeology at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology. ​

The inscription was written in ink on a jug – a small personal pottery vessel that holds approximately one litre, and may well have contained a precious liquid such as oil, perfume or medicine. Apparently, much like today, the vessel’s owner wrote his name on it to assert his ownership.

The inscription has been deciphered by epigraphic expert Christopher Rolston of George Washington University, Washington DC. It clearly shows the letters yod (broken at the top), resh, bet, ayin, lamed, and remnants of other letters indicate that the original inscription was longer.

Prof. Garfinkel and Ganor explain, “The name Jerubbaal is familiar from biblical tradition in the Book of Judges as an alternative name for the judge Gideon ben Yoash. Gideon is first mentioned as combatting idolatry by breaking the altar to Baal and cutting down the Asherah pole.

In biblical tradition, he is then remembered as triumphing over the Midianites, who used to cross over the Jordan to plunder agricultural crops.

According to the Bible, Gideon organized a small army of 300 soldiers and attacked the Midianites by night near Ma‘ayan Harod. In view of the geographical distance between the Shephelah and the Jezreel Valley, this inscription may refer to another Jerubbaal and not the Gideon of biblical tradition, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to judge Gideon. In any event, the name Jerubbaal was evidently in common usage at the time of the Biblical Judges.”

Inscriptions from the period of the Judges are extremely rare and almost unparalleled in Israeli archaeology. Only a handful of inscriptions found in the past bear a number of unrelated letters. This is the first time that the name Jerubbaal has ever been found outside the Bible in an archaeological context – in a stratum dated to around 1,100 BCE, the period of the Judges. 

“As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David,” say the archaeologists.

“The name Jerubbaal only appears in the Bible in the period of the Judges, yet now it has also been discovered in an archaeological context, in a stratum dating from this period. In a similar manner, the name Ishbaal, which is only mentioned in the Bible during the monarchy of King David, has been found in strata dated to that period at the site of Khirbat Qeiyafa.

The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations.” 

The Jerubbaal inscription also contributes to our understanding of the spread of alphabetic script in the transition from the Canaanite period to the Israelite period. The alphabet was developed by the Canaanites under Egyptian influence in around 1,800 BCE, during the Middle Bronze Age. In the Late Bronze Age (1,550–1,150 BCE), only a few such inscriptions are known in Israel, most from Tel Lachish near present-day Moshav Lachish.

The Canaanite city of Lachish was probably the centre where the tradition of writing the alphabet was maintained and preserved. Canaanite Lachish was destroyed around 1,150 BCE and remained abandoned for about two centuries. Until now, there was considerable uncertainty as to where the tradition of the alphabetic script was preserved after the fall of Lachish.

The newly-discovered inscription shows that the script was preserved at Khirbat er-Ra‘i — roughly 4 km from Lachish and the largest site in the area at the time of the Judges — during the transition from the Canaanite to the Israelite and Judahite cultures.

Additional inscriptions, from the time of the monarchy (tenth century BCE onwards), have been found in the Shephelah, including two from Khirbat Qeiyafa and others from Tel es-Safi (Tel Tzafit) and Tel Bet Shemesh.

Fossil hunters uncover complete 252 million-year-old underwater world

Fossil hunters uncover complete 252 Million year-old underwater world

Fossil hunters have uncovered the remains of an ancient marine ecosystem that arose in the aftermath of the most devastating mass extinction in Earth’s history. The spectacular haul of 20,000 fossils from a hillside in southwestern China represents the first discovery of a complete ecosystem that bounced back afterlife was nearly wiped off the face of the planet 252m years ago.

Fossil hunters uncover complete 252 Million year-old underwater world
This Ichthyosaur fossil was one of more than 20,000 that were recently uncovered in Luoping, China.

The beautifully preserved remains include molluscs, sea urchins and arthropods, alongside much larger animals that occupied the top of the food chain, such as carnivorous fish and the first ichthyosaur’s, predatory marine reptiles that grew to four metres long.

Among the remnants are rare fragments of land life that survived the same period, including part of a conifer plant and the tooth of an archosaur reptile.

The fossils were excavated from rocks that formed when ocean sediments settled out and solidified many millions of years ago in what is now Luoping county in the Yunnan Province of China.

The Earth has witnessed several mass extinctions in its 4.5bn year history, but the event that struck at the end of the Permian was unequalled in scale. Some 96% of marine species and 70% of land vertebrates were lost in what has been called “the great dying”.

What caused such global havoc is still open to debate, but Michael Benton, a palaeontologist at Bristol University who led the latest research, said evidence points to prolonged and violent eruptions from the Siberian Traps, a huge region of volcanic rock.

In this scenario, mass eruptions triggered environmental catastrophe by belching an overwhelming quantity of gas into the atmosphere for half a million years.

“The main follow on was a flash warming of the Earth. That caused stagnation in the oceans, as normal circulation shut down.

On land, the consequence of all the carbon dioxide and other gases appears to have been massive acid rain that killed the forests and stripped the landscape bare,” Benton said. “This was the greatest of all mass extinctions, the time when life was most nearly completely wiped out.”

What life survived became the starting point for a recovery that played out over the next ten million years.

Some of these organisms, known as “disaster species” clung on through sheer hardiness, somehow coping with the harsh conditions of scarce food, wild variations in temperature and little oxygen in the oceans.

By studying the fossils, Benton and his colleagues at the Chengdu Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources and the University of Western Australia, hope to piece together how life can come back from the brink.

“The recovery from mass extinction touches on current concerns about biodiversity and conservation. Why do certain species go extinct? Which species come back? How do you rebuild an ecosystem and how long does it take?” said Benton. The study appears in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The Luoping fossils show that many small organisms at the bottom of the food chain came back within two to three million years. Once their populations stabilised, other creatures that could feed on them recovered, including molluscs and shellfish.

The familiar spiralled ammonites bounced back surprisingly fast. Only later did the larger predators reappear in the oceans.

The loss of so many species at the end of the Permian gave new creatures the chance to take their place. Before the mass extinction, the top ocean predators were primitive sharks. Some survived and recovered, but they were joined by the first predatory ichthyosaurs. “Part of it is a rebuilding of the ecosystem from the grim survivors, but there are also opportunities for new groups. There were essentially no marine reptiles before the extinction, but this gave them a way in,” said Benton.

Palaeontologists have unearthed other fossils that give a glimpse of life coming back from the Permian extinction, but the extensive remains at Luoping are unique in having the rich biodiversity of a fully functioning ecosystem, from the lowliest plankton to carnivorous apex predators.

Chinese scientists uncover 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles

Chinese scientists uncover 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles

Chinese scientists uncover 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles
A 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles unearthed in China is the earliest example ever found of one of the world’s most popular foods, scientists reported today. It also suggests an Asian—not Italian—origin for the staple dish.

Since 1999, when Lajia villagers are busy with the autumn harvest every autumn, it is also the time for archaeologists to actively carry out their work. For six years, Ye Maolin, an archaeologist at the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has been working hard at the Lajia site.

God rewards hard work. God will also prefer people who work hard. Important research results from the Lajia site follow one after another, many of which are results. Going internationally, it has attracted worldwide attention.

On November 22, 2002, archaeologists carried out excavations on the eastern platform of the Lajia site.

This platform was very special. The hard soil surface was found in its Qijia cultural strata, which means that there used to be a lot of people collectively.

The trample is a square. In the northern part of this platform, traces of settlement sacrificial sites were once found. The work on the 22nd was just north of the platform. Cai Linhai of the Qinghai Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology unearthed an orange-red pottery bowl.

This kind of pottery bowl can be seen everywhere in the Lajia ruins. It is very common and extraordinary. When the soil in the bowl is poured, it is found to be white noodles.

The relics have been weathered, leaving only a thin skin, but the noodle-like shape remains the same, with a length of tens of centimetres. The experienced researcher Ye Maolin quickly put the noodle-like relics back into the bowl, covered the soil intact, did some simple treatments, and brought them back to Beijing.

After Ye Maolin asked researcher Lu Houyuan from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to do the ancient work. In botanical identification, researcher Lu Houyuan used a technique called plant silicate to identify this noodle-like relic.

It is indeed food noodles, but it is not noodles made with the wheat flour we use today, but with millet and a small amount. It is made of millet, figuratively speaking, it is a bowl of miscellaneous noodles.

The so-called plant silicate technology means that the roots of plants absorb silicon during the growth process. They accumulate in the tissue cells of the plant in the form of hydrated silicon and aggregate into various forms of opal minerals. This is plant silicate.

It is generally deposited in situ and can be stored for a long time. Different plant types have different plant silicates. Therefore, plant silicates can be used to distinguish plant families, genera and even species.

Experts estimate that this bowl of noodles may be used for sacrifices. It was placed at the ceremonial place in the square. When an earthquake occurred, the pottery bowl was inverted in the soil, sealing the pottery bowl and isolating the air, so the noodles were well preserved. . What a blessing! The nightmare earthquake destroyed everything but saved us a bowl of precious noodles.

This is a bowl of noodles 4000 years ago! It is the oldest noodle found in the world so far. In October 2005, the world’s authoritative scientific magazine, the British “Nature”, published the research results of Ye Maolin and Lu Houyuan. This is an affirmation of their years of hard work and a demonstration of the value of the Lajia site.

Qinghai Lajia National Archaeological Site

Talking about his work, Ye Maolin was very humble. He said this: “Over the years, there have been some new discoveries and new developments in the excavations of the Lajia site almost every year. Of course, this is mainly because the Lajia site is important.

The special burial phenomenon and the special preservation environment of China contain rich connotations and precious remains. As long as the ground is broken, special new discoveries may appear. Our work only conforms to the actual situation.”

These mysterious stone structures in Saudi Arabia are older than the pyramids

These mysterious stone structures in Saudi Arabia are older than the pyramids

Hundreds of stone monuments scattered across northwestern Saudi Arabia may represent the oldest known ritual site on Earth. Researchers studying mustatils, courtyards made from sandstone blocks, date them to about 7,000 years ago, making them millennia older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids at Giza. 

Surveying the region by helicopter, the team found over 1,000 mustatils, more than twice the previous estimates. 

The theory is that the structures were used during the ritual by members of a cattle cult, who sacrificed cows, goats and sheep to their unknown god.  

The “head” of a mustatil consists of a larger wall of stones and contains a small niche or chamber; researchers have found animal bones in at least one of the chambers, which suggests it was used to make sacrificial animal offerings.

The mustatils, named after the Arabic word for rectangle, received little attention when they were first discovered in the 1970s.

More recently, archaeologists at the University of Western Australia in Perth explored the mysterious structures, flying by helicopter over 77,000 square miles of AlUla and Khaybar.

They found more than 1,000 mustatils– over twice as many as previously thought existed. The structures range in length from 65 feet to nearly 2,000 feet, with some sandstone boulders used to make them weigh half a ton.

Typically, a mustatil had long walls around a central courtyard, with an entry at one end and rubble platform, or ‘head,’ at the other.

They may also include an orthostat, or upright stone, in a central chamber. Some entranceways were blocked up with rubble, suggesting the structures were decommissioned at some point.

Mustatils were typically clustered in groups of between 2 and 20 and, given their monumental size, large groups of people would have had to work together to build them.

Researchers are documenting the mustatils and other ancient rock constructions by satellite photographs, helicopter reconnaissance and ground surveys.

Earlier studies speculated the structures were used as pens for livestock, but the walls of the mustatils were too low to enclose animals. In a report published this week in the journal Antiquity, researchers say they believe the strange courtyards were used for religious rites.

‘It’s not designed to keep anything in, but to demarcate the space that is clearly an area that needs to be isolated,’ lead author Hugh Thomas told New Scientist.

Fragments of cow, sheep, goats and gazelle horns and skulls found at one mustatil suggest the society that built them used animal sacrifices in their rituals.

The recent excavations reveal ‘the earliest evidence for a cattle cult in the Arabian Peninsula,’ the team’s report reads. ‘As such, mustatils are amongst the earliest stone monuments in Arabia and globally one of the oldest monumental building traditions yet identified.’

There may have been a procession involved with the ritual, as the mustatils’ narrow entranceways ‘indicate that the structures were accessed in single file,’ the team wrote.

Researchers think the mustatils scattered throughout the region were built about 7000 years ago for rituals and processions, and that they may have been part of a Neolithic cult of cattle.

By radiocarbon dating the skulls, Thomas and his colleagues dated the mustatil to between 5300 and 5000 BC, predating Stonehenge by more than 2,500 years and making them ‘the first large-scale, monumental ritual landscape anywhere in the world,’ according to co-author Melissa Kennedy, assistant director of the Aerial Archaeology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia project (AAKSA). 

Rock art in the era from the same time period showed ‘scenes of both cattle herding and hunting,’ the team wrote, lending credence to the cattle-cult theory.

Kennedy told Art Newspaper the structures’ widespread distribution, size and uniformity ‘suggests a common religious belief may have been held over a huge part of northwest Arabia during the Late Neolithic, a feature that is so far unparalleled anywhere in the world.’

4,000-Year-Old Settlement Unearthed in Eastern India

4,000-Year-Old Settlement Unearthed in Eastern India

In the Balasore district, the Odisha Institute of Maritime and South-East Asian Studies (OIMSEAS), an archaeological branch of the state government, found a 4,000-year-old settlement and ancient relics.

The OIMSEAS had requested permission from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to record the site at Durgadevi village in Remuna tehsil after discovering indications of fortified early historic structures near Balasore town.

Durgadevi has located 20 km from Balasore town. According to the ASI, the site has a circular mud fortification of about 4.9 km between the Sona river to the south and the Burahabalang river on its northeastern margin.

Archaeologists have come across distinct traces of three cultural phases at the excavation site — Chalcolithic (2000 BCE to 1000 BCE), the Iron Age (1000 BCE to 400 BCE) and the Early Historic Period (400 BCE to 200 BCE).

“Two small nullas, Gangahara and Prassana, join the site on its north and south, forming a natural moat for the site, which was an ancient water management system developed at least 4,000 years back from the present,” the institute said.

The excavation was started with an aim to correlate the simultaneous growth and development of maritime activities, and urbanisation in the east coast of India, linking the Ganga valley in the north and the Mahanadi valley in central Odisha, more particularly to focus on early cultural development in northern Odisha, the institute informed.

According to the OIMSEAS, horizontal excavation was concentrated in an area of two acres of high land, where a cultural deposit of about 4 to 5 meters was seen.

Archaeologists have come across a human settlement, and artefacts belonging to the Chalcolithic period.

“The major discovery of the Chalcolithic period of Durgadevi is the base of a circular hut, black on red painted pottery, black slipped ware, red slipped ware and copper objects. The floor of the circular hut is rammed with red soil,” Sunil Kumar Pattnaik, archaeologist and Secretary, OIMSEAS.

“From the base of the circular hut and the utilitarian objects found, the lifestyle of the people has been derived. People were mostly leading a settled life and had started agriculture, and domestication of animals and fishing,” he said.

Similarly, the cultural material evidence and remains found from this phase include pottery, remains of black burnished ware, black and redware, iron objects like nails, arrowheads, and crucible and slag of various kinds belonging to the Iron Age.

“The use of iron is a landmark phase in the growth of civilisation in Odisha, particularly in north Odisha. There are several iron age sites discovered by various archaeologists in the upper and middle Mahanadi valley, but in north Odisha, this is the first site,” said Mr. Patnaik.

Cultural materials from the early historic period such as pottery specimens of redware, terracotta ear studs, bangles, beads, and some conical objects, were also discovered from the site.

“The lifestyle of the people, which is derived from the cultural materials, was very improved at that time, from an agricultural base to trade and construction of fortification around the site with a moat, which signify the emergence of urbanisation at Durgadevi around 400 BCE to 200 BCE,” said the OIMSEAS Secretary.