Garden statues turn out to be ancient Egyptian relics, selling for $265,000
An auction company said that a pair of carved stone statues used as garden ornaments sold for more than £195,000 ($265,510) when it was discovered that they were ancient Egyptian artefacts going back thousands of years.
The artefacts were acquired from a garden in Sudbury, Suffolk, in eastern England.
Mander Auctioneers, which handled the sale, said they were contacted by a family looking to get rid of items from their old house before moving home.
The “heavily weathered” statues, which had been used to decorate a garden patio until last month, had been bought for “a few hundred pounds” at another auction 15 years ago and were believed to be 18th-century replicas of ancient Egyptian relics, according to the auction house.
One statue even had its head re-attached with cement by a local builder under the instruction of the previous owners, auctioneer James Mander told CNN Tuesday.
“We didn’t really question them and put them in [at auction] at £300 to £500 ($410 to $680),” Mander told CNN. “And then the auction just went crazy,” he said.
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Saturday’s bidding began at £200, but within 15 minutes four telephone bidders and numerous internet buyers pushed the final price up to £195,000 plus 24% buyer’s premium, with an international art gallery making the final sale.
“Opinion was that they were genuine ancient Egyptian examples, which had somehow passed through recent history as 18th-century copies,” auctioneers said in a statement.
Mander said that, in the 18th century, the Grand Tour saw English people travel through Europe, buying items.
“And we’ve just presumed they were 18th century Grand Tour items,” Mander told CNN.
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“As it turns out they’re thousands of years old and genuine. So it’s quite amazing really,” he said, adding that news of the final sale was “beyond comprehension” for the surprised previous owners.
Mander said that work was being done to trace the provenance of the statues, and he can’t place an exact date on the artefacts yet. “I wonder where they’ve been for the last 5,000 years. It’s quite incredible, really,” he said.
Ancient poop shows people in present-day Austria drank beer and ate blue cheese up to 2,700 years ago
According to a statement released by Cell Press, Frank Maixner of the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies, Kerstin Kowarik of the Museum of Natural History Vienna, and their colleagues analyzed microbes, DNA, and proteins in 2,700-year-old coprolites recovered from an Iron Age salt mine in central Austria.
Human faeces don’t usually stick around for long—and certainly not for thousands of years. But exceptions to this general rule are found in a few places in the world, including prehistoric salt mines of the Austrian UNESCO World Heritage area Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut.
Now, researchers who’ve studied ancient faecal samples (or paleofeces) from these mines have uncovered some surprising evidence: the presence of two fungal species used in the production of blue cheese and beer.
The findings appear in the journal Current Biology on October 13.
“Genome-wide analysis indicates that both fungi were involved in food fermentation and provide the first molecular evidence for blue cheese and beer consumption during Iron Age Europe,” says Frank Maixner (@FrankMaixner) of the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies in Bolzano, Italy.
“These results shed substantial new light on the life of the prehistoric salt mines in Hallstatt and allow an understanding of ancient culinary practices in general on a whole new level,” adds Kerstin Kowarik (@KowarikKerstin) of the Museum of Natural History Vienna.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that not only were prehistoric culinary practices sophisticated, but also that complex processed foodstuffs, as well as the technique of fermentation, have held a prominent role in our early food history.”
Earlier studies already had shown the potential for studies of prehistoric paleofeces from salt mines to offer important insights into early human diet and health.
In the new study, Maixner, Kowarik, and their colleagues added in-depth microscopic, metagenomic, and proteomic analyses—to explore the microbes, DNA, and proteins that were present in those poop samples.
These comprehensive studies allowed them to reconstruct the diet of the people who once lived there. They also could get information about the ancient microbes that inhabited their guts. Gut microbes are collectively known as the gut microbiome and are now recognized to have an important role in human health.
Their dietary survey identified bran and glumes of different cereals as one of the most prevalent plant fragments. They report that this highly fibrous, carbohydrate-rich diet was supplemented with proteins from broad beans and occasionally with fruits, nuts, or animal food products.
In keeping with their plant-heavy diet, the ancient miners up to the Baroque period also had gut microbiome structures more like those of modern non-Westernized individuals, whose diets are also mainly composed of unprocessed food, fresh fruits and vegetables.
The findings suggest a more recent shift in the Western gut microbiome as eating habits and lifestyles changed.
When the researchers extended their microbial survey to include fungi, that’s when they got their biggest surprise: an abundance in one of their Iron Age samples of Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA.
“The Hallstatt miners seem to have intentionally applied food fermentation technologies with microorganisms which are still nowadays used in the food industry,” Maixner says.
The findings offer the first evidence that people were already producing blue cheese in Iron Age Europe nearly 2,700 years ago, he adds. In ongoing and future studies of the paleofeces from Hallstatt, they hope to learn more about the early production of fermented foods and the interplay between nutrition and the gut microbiome composition in different time periods.
Archaeologists find a gold “solar bowl” in a 3,000-year-old settlement in Austria
It was, in the words of archaeologist Michał Sip, the “discovery of a lifetime.” Unearthed ahead of construction of a railway station in Ebreichsdorf, just south of Vienna, the roughly 3,000-year-old golden bowl features a sun motif and is the first of its kind found in Austria, reports Szymon Zdziebijowski for the state-run Polish Press Agency (PAP).
Vessels of this kind have been found in other European countries, including Spain, France and Switzerland, says Sip, who is leading the excavation for Novetus, a German company that assists with archaeological digs. Only 30 similar bowls are known to exist, according to Heritage Daily.
Measuring about 8 inches long and 2 inches high, the Ebreichsdorf bowl is made of a thin metal consisting of 90 per cent gold, 5 per cent silver and 5 per cent copper.
“This is the [second] find of this type [discovered] to the east of the Alpine line,” Sip tells PAP, per Google Translate.
He adds, “Much more is known from the area of northern Germany, Scandinavia and Denmark because [this kind of pottery was] produced there.”
The golden vessel is linked to the Urnfield culture, a prehistoric society that spread across Europe beginning in the 12th century B.C.E., per Encyclopedia Britannica.
The group derived its name from the funerary ritual of placing ashes in urns and burying the containers in fields.
An image of the sun with rays emanating from it adorns the newly discovered bowl. Inside the vessel, archaeologists found two gold bracelets and coiled golden wires wrapped around now-decomposed fabric or leather.
“They were probably decorative scarves,” Sip tells PAP. He posits that the accessories were used during religious ceremonies honouring the sun.
Sip and his colleagues unearthed around 500 bronze objects, clay pottery and other artefacts at the Austrian site, which appears to have been a sizable prehistoric settlement. The team found the golden bowl in the shallow ground near the wall of a house last year.
“[T]he numerous and valuable finds in the form of bronze and gold objects are unique in this part of Europe, and so is the fact that the settlement in Ebreichsdorf … was so large,” Sip tells PAP.
Soon after the find’s discovery, the Austrian government stepped in to ensure the artefacts’ safety. The golden bowl will soon go on view at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
“The discovery of a treasure hidden 3,000 years ago was spectacular,” Christoph Bazil, president of the Austrian Federal Monuments Office, tells Remonews. “[We] immediately placed the richly decorated gold bowl, the gold spirals and the remnants of a gold woven fabric under protection due to their importance at the European level.
The Ebreichsdorf archaeological excavation goes down in history with this golden treasure.”
Speaking with Austrian broadcaster noe.ORF.at, Franz Bauer, director of ÖBB-Infrastruktur AG, which oversees the country’s rail transport, says the bowl’s presence suggests the region had “intensive trade relations” with other European settlements. It was likely made elsewhere and brought to Ebreichsdorf.
Though archaeologists found the artefacts in 2020, authorities decided to hold off on disclosing the news until a detailed analysis could be completed. Excavations will continue at the site for the next six months.
When Dr. Semir “Sam” Osmanagic discovered the first Bosnian pyramid, he suspected it was a find that could force the re-writing of history. But what he did not know how extremely old this structure really was.
The proof came in June 2012 when a team of volunteers, led by archaeologists from Italy uncovered a fossilized leaf.
They found it on the top of one of the covering blocks on the structure known as the “Mother Pyramid” or “Pyramid of the Sun.”
Under the direction of Dr. Riccardo Brett and Niccolo Bisconti, the organic material was sent to a laboratory in Kiev, Ukraine to determine its age.
The carbon 14 test showed that the age of the leaf is within plus or minus 200 years of 24,800. This puts it at least 24,600 and as much as 25,000 years old.
According to current history books, the oldest civilizations on Earth are the Babylonians and Sumerians, who lived around 5,000 years ago, so the Bosnian pyramids pre-date these ancient civilizations by ten millennia.
In 2005, when the Pyramid of the Sun was first discovered, researchers had a sample of earth from the topsoil that covered the structure dated using the radiocarbon method, and it was shown to be as old as 12,000 years.
Discoveries made seven years later continue to support the profound age of this pyramid as well as challenging the scientific establishment to re-think how long civilizations on earth have been creating monumental structures such as the pyramids of Bosnia.
For people who would like to visit the Bosnian pyramids and experience for themselves the oldest known pyramids on the planet, Body Mind Spirit Journeys is offering a group tour for spiritually-minded travellers from March 16 – 27, 2019.
The tour is led by “Ancient Aliens” expert and “Magdalene Line” bestselling author Kathleen McGowan, and features tours of the Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun by its discoverer, Dr. Semir “Sam” Osmanagic.
The video below shows highlights of the Bosnian Pyramid tour as well as views of the hotel in Visoko where we will be staying…
Marble Source for Greek Archaic Sculpture Identified
The source of marble for a statue of Apollo on the Greek island of Delos has been a mystery to art historians and archaeologists for decades. The stone’s chemistry pointed geochemists to the southern end of the nearby island of Naxos, but no one thought there were ancient marble quarries there. A geoarchaeologist believes he found the source.
“We had actually been told that we were not going to find what we were looking for,” says geoarchaeologist Scott Pike of Willamette University. But after two field seasons traipsing across Mediterranean shrublands, Pike believes he has found the source.
He is presenting his findings on Monday, 11 October 2021 at the Geological Society of America’s GSA Connects 2021 annual meeting in Portland, Ore.
The Greek Archaic period (approximately 800 to 480 B.C.E.) is known in part for its “larger-than-life” kouros statues, which depicted young men. Together, the massive Apollo kouros on Delos would stand around ten meters (33 feet) high, although today it is broken into several parts.
The massive marble chunks are white and worn; at a glance, some of the pieces hardly resemble parts of a human figure. But the statue has drawn researchers all the same. Searching for its source was sparked in part by an ambiguous inscription at its base, roughly translated as, “I am of the same stone, statue and plinth,” with a later addition stating that the kouros was “from the Naxians, to Apollo,” according to Pike.
It was not clear whether the inscription referred to the statue’s structure, being hewn from a single piece of marble, or the origin of its stone. Pike sampled various parts from the statue — a hand, the upper and lower torso, a bit of leg — and analyzed its carbon and oxygen isotopic composition. That composition can be used to trace the marble source by comparing it against other analyzed marbles, like finding a fingerprint match in a database.
“The analyses showed the marble came from Naxos, but from a region where there hasn’t been any evidence of ancient quarrying. We know that there are two quarries in the northern part of the island, where there are still large kouroi in place in the quarries. But we didn’t know of any ancient quarries in the south,” says Pike.
Pike headed to the southern side of Naxos, despite locals assuring him his efforts were in vain. He relied on local knowledge of other archaeological sites and geologic maps to guide him as he “scoured the landscape” looking for, essentially, outcrops of white marble and possible small pits. Remnants of Archaic quarries bear little resemblance to the vast open-pit mines humans create today and were difficult for Pike to find.
After a couple of weeks of searching, Pike began finding small bands of white marble that were not marked on the geologic maps. Some were close to archaeological sites, giving Pike some confidence that these small quarries could be the source.
“Finding what we were looking for was exciting because being told several times that you’re not going to find anything is discouraging, but we knew,” Pike says. “The evidence pointed to the south. I felt the most Indiana Jones I’ll ever be.”
Back in the lab, Pike analyzed his marble samples and found that two of the newly-uncovered southern white marbles were good matches for the Apollo kouros at Delos. Knowing that these early marble quarries exist in the south of the island will be helpful for tracing the source for other ancient marble artefacts, such as older Bronze Age Cycladic figurines that have puzzled geoarchaeologists. It also has implications for knowledge of commerce at the time.
“Knowing now that there is a marble source on Naxos for these Bronze Age statues and figurines will place the region more in the centre of commerce, trade and influence than had been previously understood,” Pike says.
Juan Negro crouched in the shadows just outside a cave, wearing his headlamp. For a brief moment, he wasn’t an ornithologist at the Spanish National Research Council’s Doñana Biological Station in Seville. He was a Neandertal, intent on catching dinner. As he waited in the cold, dark hours of the night, crowlike birds called choughs entered the cave.
The “Neandertal” then stealthily snuck in and began the hunt.
This idea to role-play started with butchered bird bones. Piles of ancient tool- and tooth-nicked choughs bones have been found in the same caves that Neandertals frequented, evidence suggesting that the ancient hominids chowed down on the birds. But catching choughs is tricky.
During the day, they fly far to feed on invertebrates, seeds and fruits. At night though, their behaviour practically turns them into sitting ducks. The birds roost in groups and often return to the same spot, even if they’ve been disturbed or preyed on there before.
So the question was, how might Neandertals have managed to catch these avian prey?
To find out, Negro and his colleagues decided to act like, well, Neandertals. Wielding bare hands along with butterfly nets and lamps — a proxy for nets and fire that Neandertals may have had at hand— teams of two to 10 researchers silently snuck into caves and other spots across Spain, where the birds roost to see how many choughs they could catch.
Using flashes of light from flashlights to resemble fire, the “Neandertals” dazzled and confused the choughs. The birds typically fled into dead-end areas of the caves, where they could be easily caught, often bare-handed. Hunting expeditions at 70 sites snared more than 5,500 birds in all, the researchers report September 9 in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
The birds were then released unharmed. It was “the most exciting piece of research” Negro says he’s ever done.
The results demonstrate that through teamwork, choughs can be captured without fancy tools at night and offer a likely way that Neandertals could have captured choughs. But actual Neandertal bird-catching behaviour remains unknown. If this is in fact how Neandertals hunted, it adds to claims that their behaviour and ability to think strategically is more sophisticated than they are often given credit for.
“The regular catchment of choughs by Neandertals implies a deep knowledge of the ecology of this species, a previous planning for its obtaining, including procurement techniques, and the ability to plan and anticipate dietary needs for the future,” says Ruth Blasco.
A taphonomist at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution in Tarragona, Spain, Blasco is an expert in the Neandertal diet.
Such role-playing, she notes, is “commonly used by scholars as valid analogies to infer processes that happened in the past.” For instance, reenactments with replicas of wooden spears have suggested that Neandertals could have hurled the weapons to hunt prey at a distance.
The researchers re-creating chough hunts used butterfly nets to catch birds fleeing sites with narrow entrances, as well as bigger nets partially covering larger openings. But “the easiest thing was to grab the birds by hand,” Negro says.
“You have to be intelligent to capture these animals, to process them, to roast and eat them,” he notes. Previous studies have shown that Neandertals may have been similarly adept at foraging for seafood. “We tend to think that [Neandertals] were brutes with no intelligence,” Negro says, “but in fact, the evidence is accumulating that they were very close to Homo sapiens.”
Obsidian ‘Spirit Mirror’ Used by Elizabeth I’s Court Astrologer Has Aztec Origins
According to a recent study, an obsidian “spirit mirror” used by a confidant of Queen Elizabeth I was actually a product of Aztec culture. The obsidian mirror, made of volcanic glass, and three other comparable items at the British Museum were discovered to have Mexican origins after an examination.
The obsidian mirror with the Elizabeth I connection belonged to John Dee, an adviser of hers from when she became queen in 1558 and through the 1570s. Dee served as the queen’s astrologer and also consulted with her on science. This included Dee acting “as an advocate of voyages of discovery, establishing colonies and improving navigation,” said Stuart Campbell, study author and professor at the University of Manchester.
“John Dee is a remarkable historical figure, a Renaissance polymath — interested in astronomy, alchemy and mathematics — and confidant of Elizabeth I,” Campbell wrote in an email. “Later he became involved in divination and the occult, seeking to talk to angels through the use of scryers (those who divine the future), who used artefacts — like mirrors and crystals.”
While it had been previously suspected that the mirror had been made by the Aztec culture, there were no records accompanying the object to show how it came into Dee’s possession.
A team of researchers used geochemical analysis to target the four obsidian objects with X-rays. This in turn caused the objects to emit X-rays, helping the scientists determine their composition by revealing the elements of the obsidian. In addition to Dee’s mirror, they studied two other Aztec mirrors and a rectangular slab of obsidian.
The analysis showed that all four were made using Mexican obsidian. Dee’s mirror and a similarly designed mirror were made using obsidian from Pachuca, a city that is a source of obsidian the Aztecs used. The third mirror and the slab are made of obsidian from the town of Ucareo, another obsidian site in Mexico.
A study on the findings was published Wednesday in the journal Antiquity. The researchers estimate that Dee’s mirror is about 500 years old, most likely made in the final decades before the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521, Campbell said.
“We know that Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés sometimes commissioned items from Aztec craftsmen so he could send them back to the Spanish court,” Campbell said. “So it is even possible that some of the circular mirrors like John Dee’s were specially made by Aztec craftsmen at the time of the conquest of the Aztec Empire to send back to Europe.”
While researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint the obsidian mirrors’ intended use in Aztec culture, depictions remain that show circular obsidian mirrors made at this time.
“They’re shown particularly in drawings of the god Tezcatlipoca, in place of a missing foot, or attached to his chest or head,” Campbell said. “The mirrors that have survived may well have actually been attached to statues of the god.
Tezcatlipoca was the god of divination and providence, amongst several other things, and the obsidian mirrors were probably much more than simply symbols of power — they also seem likely to have been used for divinatory purposes.”
Tezcatlipoca’s name also means “smoking mirror.”
The Aztecs believed that obsidian had spiritual significance, and it was used in their medicinal practices, as well as a way to ward off bad spirits or even capture souls by using the reflective nature of the volcanic glass. Items of such significance to the Aztecs would have been intriguing to the Europeans exploring Mexico.
“The 16th century was a period in which new exotic objects were being brought to Europe from the New World, and opening up exciting new possibilities in the intellectual world of the period,” Campbell said. Dee, the first person known to use the term “British Empire,” would have been fascinated by the idea of the mirrors if he heard stories of how the Aztecs used them, Campbell said. Dee had an interest in the occult early on, and once he obtained the obsidian mirror, he used it to try communicating with spirits, according to the study.
Understanding the origins of the obsidian mirror can help researchers retrace the paths of such objects from a time when appropriation occurred frequently.
“To me, it helps us understand something of the way in which the European voyages of discovery and engagement with other parts of the world, often through disastrous conquest, was matched by intellectual attempts to understand how the world worked,” Campbell said. “Novel artefacts brought back to Europe from the Americas entered collections of nobility and of intellectuals, and were used and appropriated in the efforts of people, who — like John Dee — saw themselves as scientists, to understand the world in new ways.”
During his time as Elizabeth’s confidant and adviser, she visited him several times at his home, Campbell said. Dee was considered to be one of the reigning intellectuals of that period; he had the largest library in England and one of the greatest in Europe, Campbell said. “The surviving record of (the library) is actually of major importance in understanding 16th- and early 17th-century intellectual thought,” Campbell said.
To Dee, the supernatural was indistinguishable from science. “It may have been his growing interest in those areas of study that gradually undermined his role in the court by the end of the 1570s,” Campbell said.
Treasure hunters explode 2500-year-old Lycian Rock-cut Tombs in Turkey
Treasure hunters have exploded the entrance of a 2,500-year-old rock-cut tomb, one of the six ancient sepulchres in the Elmalı district of the southern province of Antalya.
“These are cultural heritages, we must protect them to leave to the next generations,” Durmuş Altan, an archaeologist, told Demirören News Agency on Oct. 6.
According to Altan, who is also the head of the provincial directorate of cultural and social affairs, there are six rock tombs in the neighbourhood.
“Four of them are from the Lycian period,” he said and added: “Today’s Armutlu was in the territory of the then Lycia Kingdom.”
“The meticulous cut of the rock tombs shows that there was once a genuine settlement in the area,” he added.
But the latest state of the rock tombs is not pleasant. Doomed to their destiny, the rock tombs were damaged with writings on them.
Treasure hunters recently flattened the entrance of a rock tomb with explosives, the archaeologist noted.
“They think they can find sculptures or gold here in the region. These people, unfortunately, damage the cultural assets,” he added.
Few written records remain from the distinctive Lycian culture.
Lycia was located in the region that is now the Antalya and Muğla provinces, on Turkey’s southern coast, and also in Burdur province, which lies further inland. Given that there are few written records left by the ancient Lycians, not much is known about the civilization. What we do know is that they had a distinct culture that had unique aspects not found elsewhere in the ancient world.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of Lycian culture was the striking tombs they built and Ancient Origins wrote a great article about these remarkable tombs a few years ago.
The Lycians made rock-cut, sarcophagus, and pillar tombs. Of these three known types, rock-cut tombs are the most common. The earliest Lycian rock-cut tombs dating to the 5th century BC.
The Lycians believed that a mythical winged creature would carry them into the afterlife, and this is perhaps one of the reasons their tombs were carved directly into rock faces, often a cliff.
Fascinatingly, the Lycian tombs were usually carved to resemble the façade of their houses. They often had one or two stories and sometimes even three. The tombs sometimes held more than one body, most probably of people related to each other, thus extending family ties into the afterlife.
The mythological reliefs sometimes carved on the rock-cut tombs also tell us something about their religious beliefs. The Lycian tombs, rock-cut or otherwise, are thus a precious relic of an ancient culture that has not left behind many written records to help us understand them better. Archaeologist Durmuş Altan’s distress at the callous damage done to one of them by treasure seekers is, therefore, most understandable.
Of course, this is not the first time that ancient tombs and monuments have been broken open by treasure hunters. Tomb robbery goes all the way back to antiquity and has occurred all over the world.
One of the most well-known examples is from Egypt where most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings were looted within a hundred years of their being sealed. In modern times, robbing ancient tombs is sometimes the work of organized gangs.
It is hoped that episodes like the latest tomb raid in Elmali will be prevented in future by greater cooperation between governments, UNESCO, and other world heritage bodies. As Altan stated, these are sacred heirlooms, and we owe it to future generations to leave them in even better shape than we found them ourselves.