Category Archives: WORLD

17 people found in a medieval well in England were victims of an antisemitic massacre, DNA reveals

17 people found in a medieval well in England were victims of an antisemitic massacre, DNA reveals

The remains of at least 17 people killed in the medieval period were found in 2004 during excavations to build a shopping centre in the English city of Norwich.

The remains of 17 people, mainly children, found in 2004 during a construction project in Norwich, England, are probably those of medieval Jews massacred for their religion, according to a new study.

Genetic analysis of the remains indicates the dead were all Ashkenazi Jews — that is, the descendants of Jews who had established communities in northern Europe, mainly in what is now Germany and France, during the early medieval period. (Many Ashkenzai later moved from these regions to eastern Europe, after the 11th to 13th centuries.)  And other research suggests the dead people in Norwich were murdered during an antisemitic massacre in the city in 1190, by crusaders who had pledged to campaign against Muslims in Jerusalem.

The study gave researchers a rare opportunity to analyze Jewish remains — religious laws usually prohibit disturbing Jewish graves — and reveal that a “genetic bottleneck” among Ashkenazi Jews probably happened centuries earlier than thought.

And the findings finally offer a solution to the mystery of just who the people were and why they were murdered.

“They weren’t known to be Jewish when they were unearthed,” Mark Thomas, a professor of human evolutionary genetics at University College London, told Live Science. “The only reason we strongly believe they were Jewish is that we did the genetic analysis.”

Thomas is one of the senior authors of a study published Aug. 30 in the journal Current Biology that describes the latest research into the remains. The first bones were found in 2004 during excavations for the construction of a shopping centre in Norwich. The discovery led to a full archaeological investigation of the site, which resulted in the unearthing of a medieval well that held the commingled remains of at least 17 people.

For a while, the remains were stored by the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service. But following growing suspicions the victims might have been Jewish, based on historical accounts of antisemitic massacres, they were reburied in 2013 in a Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of Norwich, BBC News reported. Anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson, a professor at Liverpool John Moores University, used the remains to create reconstructions of two of the victims’ faces.

Many of the victims of the massacre were children. This face of a young child was digitally reconstructed from an analysis of their remains.
Massacres of Jews were unfortunately common in mostly Christian medieval Europe. This face of a man was virtually reconstructed from his remains in the well at Norwich.

Christians massacre Jews

Initial radiocarbon dating indicated the bones were from the 11th or 12th centuries, study senior author Ian Barnes, an evolutionary geneticist at the Natural History Museum in London, told Live Science. Scientists initially believed the remains came from victims of an epidemic outbreak of disease or a mass famine, and that the bodies had therefore been disposed of quickly, he said.

But the latest research suggests they all had similar genetic ancestry to today’s Ashkenazi Jews. And historical research links their murders to a massacre of Jews in Norwich in 1190 by crusaders that was described by a chronicler of the times, a churchman called Ralph de Diceto.

“Many of those who were hastening to Jerusalem determined first to rise against the Jews before they invaded the Saracens [a term medieval Christians used for Muslims],” Diceto wrote in his Imagines Historiarum(opens in new tab), which was published in about 1200. “Accordingly, on 6th February [in 1190 AD] all the Jews who were found in their own houses at Norwich were butchered; some had taken refuge in the castle.”

Medieval Norwich had been home to a thriving community of Jews since 1137, many of whom lived near the well where the victims were found, BBC News reported; and the latest study reported the historical finding that they were likely to be descended from Ashkenazi Jews from Rouen in Normandy who were invited to settle in England by William the Conqueror after 1066, supposedly so he could obtain their taxes in coins rather than in the agricultural goods usually given as taxes in his new kingdom.   

Research suggests the people were killed in a medieval massacre of Jews in the city, and that their bodies were thrown down this well.
Scientists initially thought the dead may have been victims of an epidemic outbreak of disease or famine, but the latest research suggests they were Ashkenazi Jews.

The researchers now think the 17 people found in the well were victims of this outbreak of violence, perpetrated on Jews who lived in medieval England by crusaders pledged to campaign in the Holy Land of what’s now Israel.

During the First Crusade, Christian armies conquered Jerusalem in 1099 after defeating the city’s Muslim rulers; and several more crusades were launched from Europe to the Holy Land in the years that followed, the last of which ended in the 1290s.

Such antisemitic massacres were relatively common in England and other parts of Europe in the medieval period, according to Britannica(opens in new tab); and the massacre of Jews at Norwich in 1190 was brutal. At least 11 children were among the victims found in the well, and three of the victims were sisters — one aged between 5 and 10 years, another aged between 10 and 15 years, and a young adult. Barnes said that the people found in the well seem to have been dead before they were thrown into it, as there was no sign that any of them tried to break their fall. 

Genetic bottleneck

The researchers were able to conduct a full genomic analysis of the DNA from six of the individuals found in the well.

There’s no “genetic test” to determine whether a person is Jewish or not, but analysis of the genomes of those six people shows they shared the same genetic ancestry as many Ashkenazi Jews living today, which suggests they were also Ashkenazi Jews, Thomas said.

The modern Ashkenazi population has a greater-than-usual incidence of certain genetic disorders, such as Tay-Sachs disease and some hereditary cancers, he said; and the genetics of four of the people in the well in Norwich showed the same frequency of such disorders, although there’s only a very limited number of victims from which to draw such conclusions.

The cause of these disorders was thought to be a “genetic bottleneck” probably caused by a drop in the population between about 600 and 800 years ago, he said. But their frequency in the victims meant the genetic bottleneck must have happened much earlier, possibly as early as the late stages of the Western Roman Empire from the fifth century, he said.

The findings are important not only because of the historical questions about the remains but also because there is so little historical genetic data about modern Jewish populations and the particular genetic disorders they face.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a flood of ancient Ashkenazi or Jewish genomes in the future, but I think that where more data does become available, it will be probably through a similar route to what we’ve done,” he said. 

“That is, they identify human remains where there is no evidence to suggest that they are Jewish or anything else, and then somebody does the genetic work and gets an indication that they are,” he said.

Human spines on sticks found in 500-year-old graves in Peru

Human spines on sticks found in 500-year-old graves in Peru

Human spines on sticks found in 500-year-old graves in Peru
Examples of vertebrae on posts, found in Peru’s Chincha Valley.

Hundreds of years ago, Indigenous people in coastal Peru may have collected the scattered remains of their dead from desecrated graves and threaded reed posts through the spinal bones. Scientists recently counted nearly 200 of these bone-threaded posts in stone tombs in Peru’s Chincha Valley, and they suspect that the practice arose as a means of reassembling remains after the Spanish had looted and desecrated Indigenous graves.  

Archaeologists investigated 664 graves in a 15-square-mile (40 square kilometres) zone that contained 44 mortuary sites. They documented 192 examples of posts threaded with vertebrae.

The researchers then measured the amount of radioactive carbon in the bones and reed posts. Radioactive carbon accumulates when an organism is alive but decays to nitrogen at a constant rate once the organism is dead. So based on the amount of this carbon, the scientists could estimate when the posts were assembled.

Their analysis placed the vertebrae and posts between A.D. 1450 and 1650 — a time when the Inca Empire was crumbling and European colonizers were consolidating power, the researchers wrote in a new study.

This was a period of upheaval and crisis in which Indigenous tombs were frequently desecrated by the Spanish, and Chincha people may have revisited looted tombs and threaded spinal bones on reeds in order to reconstruct disturbed burials, said lead study author Jacob Bongers, a senior research associate of archaeology with the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

“The fact that there’s 192 of these and that they’re widespread — we find these throughout the Chincha Valley — it means on one level that multiple groups of people coordinated and responded in a shared way, that this interesting practice was deemed the appropriate way of dealing with disturbed bodies of the dead,” Bongers told Live Science.

Most of the vertebrae on posts were found in and around large and elaborate stone tombs, called chullpas, that typically held multiple burials; in fact, one chullpa contained remains from hundreds of people, Bongers said.

The people who performed the burials were part of the Chincha Kingdom, “a wealthy, centralized society that dominated Chincha Valley during the Late Intermediate period, which is the period that precedes the Incan Empire,” Bongers explained.

In one of the chullpas, threaded vertebrae were inserted into a cranium.

The Chincha Kingdom once had a population numbering around 30,000, and it thrived from around A.D. 1000 to 1400, eventually merging with the Inca Empire toward the end of the 15th century. But after the Europeans arrived and brought famines and epidemics, Chincha numbers plummeted to just 979 heads of household in 1583, according to the study.

Historic documents record accounts of Spaniards frequently looting Chincha graves across the valley, stealing gold and valuable artefacts, and destroying or desecrating remains.

For the new study, the researchers closely examined 79 bone-threaded posts, each of which represented a collection of spinal bones from an adult or from a child.

Most posts held bones belonging to a single individual, but the spines were incomplete, with most of the bones disconnected and out of order. This suggested that the threading was not performed as a part of the original burial. Rather, someone gathered and threaded the spinal vertebrae after the bodies had decomposed — and perhaps after some of the bones were lost to looting, the study authors reported.

Two chullpas in the middle of Chincha Valley.

And because Andean cultures valued preserving the integrity and completeness of a dead body, the likeliest explanation is that Chincha people revisited looted graves and reconstructed the scattered remains in this way to try and restore some semblance of wholeness to remains that had been dispersed and desecrated.

“When you look at all data we gathered, all of that supports the model that these were made after these tombs had been looted,” Bongers said.

Ancient mortuary practices, such as this bone threading, provide valuable clues about how long-ago communities dealt with their dead, but they also shed light on how people defined their identities and culture through their relationships with the dead, Bongers told Live Science.

“Mortuary practices arguably are what make us human — this is one of the key distinguishing features of our species. So, by documenting mortuary practices, we’re learning diverse ways of how people showcased their humanity.”

The findings were published on Feb. 2 in the journal Antiquity.

Gold and silver treasures were discovered with ‘elite craftspeople’ burials near the powerful Wari queen’s tomb

Gold and silver treasures were discovered with ‘elite craftspeople’ burials near the powerful Wari queen’s tomb

Archaeologists excavating a necropolis north of Lima have unearthed a 1,300-year-old ornate tomb from the Wari era of Peru. The tomb contains the remains of a high-status man dubbed the “Lord of Huarmey.” 

Gold and silver treasures were discovered with 'elite craftspeople' burials near the powerful Wari queen's tomb
The tomb includes the shrouded remains of an elite male, dubbed the “Lord of Huarmey,” and six other people, some of whom may have first been buried elsewhere and brought to the tomb later.

The remains of six other people were found in the same tomb, some of which were likely reinterred after first being buried elsewhere. The remains include four adults — possibly two males and two females — and three people who may be adolescents, according to the University of Warsaw’s Faculty of Archaeology.

All the remains in the tomb were buried with gold and silver jewellery, bronze tools, knives, axes, baskets, woven textiles, raw materials for basketry, and wood and leather items — an abundance of objects that makes archaeologists think the people buried there were skilled craftspeople, as well as members of the Wari elite.

“We could call this part of the royal necropolis ‘The Gallery of Elite Craftsmen,'” Miłosz Giersz, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw in Poland who leads the project, told Live Science in an email. “For the first time, we have found the burials of male Wari elite, who were also fine craftsmen and artists.”

Giersz’s team discovered the latest tomb in February at the Wari necropolis near the modern coastal town of Huarmey, in the Ancash region about 155 miles (250 kilometres) north of Lima. It lies just a short distance from a larger tomb, discovered in 2012 by Giersz and his wife Patrycja Prządka-Giersz, an assistant professor at the University of Warsaw. This larger tomb contained the remains of three high-status women deemed to be “Wari queens,” as Live Science previously reported.

The queens were buried alongside the remains of 58 other people. Most of the individuals were noblewomen who may have been interred later, but some were from lower social classes and seem to have been sacrificed. 

The latest tomb was discovered in February beneath a larger tomb attributed to Wari “queens,” found ten years ago at the Castillo de Huarmey archaeological site in Peru.

Andean empire

The Wari people lived in towns in the mountains and coast of what’s now Peru from about A.D. 500 to 1000. They are famed for their rich tradition of artwork, including gold and silver jewellery, painted pottery(opens in new tab) and vivid woven textiles.

The Wari Empire existed at roughly the same time as the Tiwanaku Empire farther south, and the two Andean states were often rivals, according to a 2003 article by archaeologists at Chicago’s Field Museum(opens in new tab). But both the Wari and the Tiwanaku empires had collapsed by the time the Inca Empire arose in much the same regions after about A.D. 1200.

The site near modern-day Huarmey features a pyramidal structure known as “El Castillo de Huarmey” — meaning the castle of Huarmey. Researchers have known about the structure since at least the 1940s, but many thought it was largely empty due to grave robbers who had already looted its gold and silver.

Many ornate artefacts in various stages of completion were found in the tomb, including this ear ornament made with gold and inlaid with semiprecious stones.

But the excavations in 2012 and 2013 by Giersz and Prządka-Giersz revealed it was an ancient Wari necropolis with at least one untouched tomb.

The subsequent excavation of the tomb of the Wari queens revealed that Castillo de Huarmey had once been “a large Wari mausoleum and site of ancestor worship on the Peruvian North Coast, an area that lies on the borders of the world controlled by the first Andean empire,” Giersz said.

The team also unearthed more than 1,300 artefacts that had been buried as grave gifts in the tomb of the Wari queens, including rich objects made of gold, silver, bronze, precious gems, wood, bone and shells, he said.

These silver ornaments, known as ear spools, were among the grave goods interred in the tomb of the seven people who were buried there about 1,300 years ago.

Wari tomb

Giersz thinks the “Lord of Huarmey” and the other people buried in the newly found tomb may have been members of the Wari elite and highly skilled craftspeople.

“The golden and silver artefacts deposited with them support this assumption,” he said. “Both men and women buried in the royal necropolis at Castillo de Huarmey were directly connected with the highest level of craft production and made the finest luxury goods of their era.”

As well as an elite necropolis, the finds show that Castillo de Huarmey was an important administrative centre of the Wari Empire, he said: “A place of production of the finest handicrafts in the domain, especially exclusive clothing… metal ornaments, and jewellery.”

This decoration for a headdress, made of gold, was found in one of the graves in the tomb. Archaeologists think such finds may signify that only elite craftspeople were buried there
University of Warsaw archaeologist Miłosz Giersz and his colleagues have been working at the Castillo de Huarmey site in northern Peru for more than 10 years.

Archaeologist Justin Jennings of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto was not involved in the latest study, but he has excavated other Wari sites in Peru.

He called the latest discoveries “spectacular,” but cautioned that the function of the Castillo de Huarmey site during the Wari era isn’t well understood. It may be that the people buried there were not elite craftspeople, as Giersz has proposed.

“These are wonderful pieces, and it’s so nice to have these associated with the graves,” Jennings said. But “the dead don’t get to choose what goes into their tombs — their grave goods can reflect what they did in life, but they could also very much reflect other types of messages.”

He noted, however, that the upper classes of ancient American societies were often also elite craftspeople, most famously the later Maya in Mesoamerica. “The Maya elite spent a lot of their time making elite goods, so it’s certainly not out of the ordinary,” Jennings said. 

The inclusion in the grave goods of unfinished objects was also notable, he said. “I think that does lend some credence to the idea that some of these individuals were involved in the production of things.”

Evidence of Opium Use by Canaanites in 14th Century BC Found

Evidence of Opium Use by Canaanites in 14th Century BC Found

A new study by the Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv University, and The Weizmann Institute of Science has revealed the earliest known evidence of the use of the hallucinogenic drug opium, and psychoactive drugs in general, in the world.

The opium residue was found in ceramic vessels discovered at Tel Yehud, in an excavation conducted by Eriola Jakoel on behalf of the Antiquities Authority.

The vessels that contained the opium date back to the 14th century BC, and they were found in Canaanite graves, apparently having been used in local burial rituals. This exciting discovery confirms historical writings and archaeological hypotheses according to which opium and its trade played a central role in the cultures of the Near East.

One of the 14th-century-BC Canaanite burials at Tel Yehud was associated with vessels containing traces of opium.

The research was conducted as part of Vanessa Linares’s doctoral thesis, under the guidance of Professor Oded Lipschits and Professor Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archeology and Professor Ronny Neumann of the Weizmann Institute, in collaboration with Eriola Jakoel and Dr. Ron Be’eri of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the study was published in the journal Archaeometry.

In 2012, the Antiquities Authority conducted a salvage excavation at the Tel Yehud site, prior to the construction of residences there.

A number of Canaanite graves from the Late Bronze Age were found in the excavation, and next to them were burial offerings—vessels intended to accompany the dead into the afterlife. Among the pottery, a large group of vessels made in Cyprus and referred to in the study as “Base-Ring juglets,” stood out.

Because the vessels are similar in shape to the poppy flower when it is closed and upside down, the hypothesis arose already in the 19th century that they were used as ritual vessels for the drug. Now, an organic residue analysis has revealed opium residue in eight vessels, some local and some made in Cyprus. This is the first time that opium has been found in pottery in general, and in Base-Ring vessels in particular. It is also the earliest known evidence of the use of hallucinogens in the world.

Be’eri of the Israel Antiquities Authority says, “In the excavations conducted at Tel Yehud to date, hundreds of Canaanite graves from the 18th to the 13th centuries BC have been unearthed. Most of the bodies buried were those of adults, of both sexes.

The pottery vessels had been placed within the graves were used for ceremonial meals, rites and rituals performed by the living for their deceased family members.

The dead were honoured with foods and drinks that were either placed in the vessels, or consumed during a feast that took place over the grave, at which the deceased was considered a participant. It may be that during these ceremonies, conducted by family members or by a priest on their behalf, participants attempted to raise the spirits of their dead relatives in order to express a request, and would enter an ecstatic state by using opium. Alternatively, it is possible that the opium, which was placed next to the body, was intended to help the person’s spirit rise from the grave in preparation for the meeting with their relatives in the next life.”

Linares of Tel Aviv University explains: “This is the only psychoactive drug that has been found in the Levant in the Late Bronze Age. In 2020, researchers discovered cannabis residue on an altar in Tel Arad, but this dated back the Iron Age, hundreds of years after the opium in Tel Yehud.

Because the opium was found at a burial site, it offers us a rare glimpse into the burial customs of the ancient world. Of course, we do not know what the opium’s role was in the ceremony—whether the Canaanites in Yehud believed that the dead would need opium in the afterlife, or whether it was the priests who consumed the drug for the purposes of the ceremony. Moreover, the discovery sheds light on the opium trade in general.

One must remember that opium is produced from poppies, which grew in Asia Minor—that is, in the territory of current-day Turkey—whereas the pottery in which we identified the opium were made in Cyprus. In other words, the opium was brought to Yehud from Turkey, through Cyprus; this of course indicates the importance that was attributed to the drug.”

Be’eri adds, “Until now, no written sources have been discovered that describe the exact use of narcotics in burial ceremonies, so we can only speculate what was done with opium. From documents that were discovered in the Ancient Near East, it appears that the Canaanites attached great importance to ‘satisfying the needs of the dead’ through ritual ceremonies performed for them by the living, and believed that in return, the spirits would ensure the health and safety of their living relatives.”

According to Eli Eskosido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “New scientific capabilities have opened a window for us to fascinating information and have provided us with answers to questions that we never would have dreamed of finding in the past. One can only imagine what other information we will be able to extract from the underground discoveries that will emerge in the future.”

Ancient Mayan Cities are Heavily Contaminated with Mercury

Ancient Mayan Cities are Heavily Contaminated with Mercury

The ancient Maya in Mesoamerica used mercury — predominantly cinnabar, but rarely elemental mercury — for decorative and ceremonial purposes, according to a team of archaeologists from Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

A cinnabar-painted vessel from the Maya site of Kaminaljuyu in southern Guatemala.

Mercury is a toxic pollutant that affects human and ecosystem health. Elevated mercury concentrations in the surface systems of our planet are primarily connected with increasing industrialization and urbanization.

Mining and fossil-fuel power generation activities are responsible for at least half of known global mercury emissions today. The cycling of mercury through the environment is driven by modern emissions such as these, but also includes re-mobilized legacy mercury from past anthropogenic activities.

An important example of a multi-millennial record of mercury use is from present-day Mexico and Central America, where the Maya used mercury for many centuries before European contact in the 16th century.

The possible environmental consequence of this long, region-wide preindustrial mercury use is yet to be investigated.

“Mercury pollution in the environment is usually found in contemporary urban areas and industrial landscapes,” said Dr. Duncan Cook, a researcher at the Australian Catholic University.

“Discovering mercury buried deep in soils and sediments in ancient Maya cities is difficult to explain until we begin to consider the archaeology of the region which tells us that the Maya were using mercury for centuries.”

In the new research, Dr. Cook and his colleagues reviewed all data on mercury concentrations in soil and sediments at Maya archaeological sites in lowland Guatemala, Belize, the Yucatan of Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras.

They found that at the sites of Chunchumil in today’s Mexico, Marco Gonzales, Chan b’i, and Actuncan in Belize, La Corona, Tikal, Petén Itzá, Piedras Negras, and Cancuén in Guatemala, Palmarejo in Honduras, and Cerén in El Salvador, mercury pollution was detectable everywhere except at Chan b’i.

Concentrations ranged from 0.016 ppm at Actuncan to an extraordinary 17.16 ppm at Tikal. For comparison, the Toxic Effect Threshold (TET) for mercury in sediments is defined as 1 ppm.

“The ancient Maya frequently used cinnabar and mercury-containing paints and powders for decoration,” the researchers said.

“This mercury could then have leached from patios, floor areas, walls, and ceramics, and subsequently spread into the soil and water.”

“For the Maya, objects could contain ch’ulel, or soul-force, which resided in blood,” said University of Cincinnati’s Professor Nicholas Dunning.

“Hence, the brilliant red pigment of cinnabar was an invaluable and sacred substance, but unbeknownst to them it was also deadly and its legacy persists in soils and sediments around ancient Maya sites.”

As mercury is rare in the limestone that underlies much of the Maya region, the authors speculate that elemental mercury and cinnabar found at Maya sites could have been originally mined from known deposits on the northern and southern confines of the ancient Maya world, and imported to the cities by traders.

All this mercury would have posed a health hazard for the ancient Maya: for example, the effects of chronic mercury poisoning include damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver, and cause tremors, impaired vision and hearing, paralysis, and mental health problems.

It’s perhaps significant that one of the last Maya rulers of Tikal, Dark Sun, who ruled around 810 CE, is depicted in frescoes as pathologically obese.

Obesity is a known effect of metabolic syndrome, which can be caused by chronic mercury poisoning.

“We conclude that even the ancient Maya, who barely used metals, caused mercury concentrations to be greatly elevated in their environment,” said the University of Texas at Austin’s Professor Tim Beach.

“This result is yet more evidence that just like we live today in the ‘Anthropocene,’ there also was a ‘Maya anthropocene’ or ‘Mayacene.’ Metal contamination seems to have been an effect of human activity through history.”

The team’s paper was published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science.

An archaeological discovery in Peru: 76 graves of sacrificed children found in Huanchaco

An archaeological discovery in Peru: 76 graves of sacrificed children found in Huanchaco

A new archaeological find has been reported in the Huanchaco district in the province of Trujillo. An additional 76 graves of sacrificed children were discovered, thus totalling six child sacrificial events in more than 450 years.

The graves were unearthed at Pampa La Cruz archaeological site, located in the Huanchaco district. 

The head of the Huanchaco Archaeological Program (Pahuan), Gabriel Prieto, reported that the results of the 80 radiocarbon dating analyses carried out on the evidence found so far led us to conclude this thesis.

In addition, there were six sacrificial events, dating from between 1050 and 1500 AD, associated with important moments in the beginning, development, and consolidation of the Chimu society.

Prieto, who was born in Huanchaco, told the Andina news agency that 76 new children’s graves were discovered in the last excavation process carried out between July and August this year.

Out of that total, 25 graves were found in Mound I and the other 51 were uncovered in Mound II.

To date, the remains of 302 minors have been unearthed in said area.

An archaeological discovery in Peru: 76 graves of sacrificed children found in Huanchaco

The most unusual tomb was found in Mound I: It belonged to five women sitting head to head in a sort of circle. The analysis will determine its meaning.

Time periods and burials

The archaeologist, who is also a researcher at the University of Florida in the United States, pointed out that the earliest sacrificial event occurred between about 1050 and 1100, until 1200 AD, and was found in Mound I.

In this area, the children have something in common: their bodies are placed with their feet towards the east and their heads towards the west; that is, they turn their backs on the sea —a pattern that is repeated in all the bodies dating to that time.

Gold Mask Found in Shang Dynasty Tomb in Central China

Gold Mask Found in Shang Dynasty Tomb in Central China

A gold funeral mask, thought to be more than 3,000 years old, has been discovered in the tomb of an ancient noble in the city of Zhengzhou in central China. 

Gold Mask Found in Shang Dynasty Tomb in Central China
The gold funeral mask was found in the tomb of an ancient noble of the Shang Dynasty. It is thought to be more than 3,000 years old.

It’s one of the oldest gold objects ever found in central China, as contemporary treasures tend to be crafted from bronze and jade, raising questions about possible links to other early Chinese states where gold was more common.

The gold mask is 7.2 inches (18.3 centimetres) long and 5.7 inches (14.5 cm) wide — large enough to cover the entire face of an adult, Huang Fucheng, a researcher at the Zhengzhou Municipal Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, told the state-owned China News Service(opens in new tab). It weighs about 1.4 ounces (40 grams).

And the South China Morning Post(opens in new tab) (SCMP) reported that the institute’s director, Gu Wanfa, said the gold mask may have symbolized that the deceased had an “imperishable gold body” and was likely intended to keep the spirit of the dead person whole.

Government archaeologists made the announcement of the mask’s discovery during a news conference in Beijing on Sept. 16. Finds from three other ancient Chinese archaeological sites were also revealed at the news conference, but the gold mask is arguably the most striking.

The newfound noble’s tomb dates to the Shang Dynasty, which ruled in the Yellow River valley from about 1600 B.C. to 1046 B.C. — the earliest dynasty ever recorded in China, Live Science previously reported.

The tomb, which covers an area of more than 108,000 square feet (10,000 square meters), contains more than 200 other artefacts, China News Service reported(opens in new tab), including ornate objects of bronze and jade, such as daggers, axes, wine vessels, smoking pipes and goblets. Archaeologists also found plaques inlaid with turquoise and coins made from shells.

Ancient gold

The newfound Zhengzhou tomb is a significant find for research into the burial rituals of the Shang Dynasty, and it may even provide new insight into the origins of Chinese civilization, Chen Lüsheng, deputy director of the National Museum of China in Beijing, told the outlet.

The newly discovered funeral mask, from the tomb at Zhengzhou in Henan province, is older than the gold funeral mask found last year in the Sanxingdui Ruins, an archaeological site in China’s southwestern Sichuan province attributed to the Shu kingdom.

The Shu kingdom in the southwest is traditionally dated as later than the Shang Dynasty in central China. But the two states may have existed at the same time, and archaeologists hope to establish links between them.

The Sanxingdui mask had detailed facial features, but archaeologists said it was attached to a wooden post or mannequin, rather than to an actual dead body. Such masks and other gold artefacts are relatively common at the Sanxingdui Ruins site, but they are rare at Shang Dynasty sites. 

However, it’s unclear whether the younger Sanxingdui mask and the newfound Shang mask have any connection. “Although this gold mask is older than those unearthed from the Sanxingdui Ruins, we still need more evidence and a larger [number] of archaeological discoveries to confirm a direct connection between the Shang city ruins and the Sanxingdui Ruins,” Chen said. 

Early China

The discovery of the new gold mask is “exciting,” said archaeologist and metallurgist Ruiliang Liu, a curator of the Early China Collection at the British Museum in London who wasn’t involved in the Zhengzhou finds.

Liu told Live Science that the ritual system of Bronze Age China was dominated by ritual vessels of jade and bronze — a tradition that was established during the Shang Dynasty when an extensive industry existed to manufacture such objects.

Gold and silver, however, were associated with the pastoralist cultures of the steppes, such as those of Central Asia, northwestern China and Mongolia, he said.

“The discovery of the gold mask in such an early and important context at Zhengzhou raises many intriguing questions,” Liu said. “Where does the raw gold come from? … [and] why did the tomb occupant choose to be buried with gold, while other top elites chose only bronzes and jades?”

One possibility is that the gold had been found in relatively small amounts at Panlongcheng — an important Shang site near the modern city of Wuhan that supplied copper, and tin and probably lead to ancient Zhengzhou — and that it had been worked by local artisans with the techniques they used for other metals, he said.

But another possibility is that the gold was brought from farther afield as an exotic metal, which could indicate a trade network existed during the Shang period between the Yellow River valley and gold-producing regions, such as the Yangtze River valley farther south, he said.

Liu also noted that very few Shang Dynasty archaeological sites near Zhengzhou have been excavated because a large modern city sits above most of them.

“The major part of Zhengzhou archaeology is under the modern Zhengzhou city,” Liu said. “I am sure more will come to light in the future.”

4th Century BC Greek Silver Coin Found in Archaeological site on Papuk

4th Century BC Greek Silver Coin Found in Archaeological site on Papuk

4th Century BC Greek Silver Coin Found in Archaeological site on Papuk

September 22, 2022 – Archaeological sensation on Papuk. A Greek silver coin from the end of the 4th century BC was found at an archaeological site near Kaptol. The story doesn’t stop there – it’s only starting to come together. What wealth and power did the people who lived in this area have, and how long did it last?

As RTL reports, a Greek silver coin from the 4th century BC was found after the rain along the forest road on Papuk. It was carved with a depiction of Zeus enthroned with a bird, and on the other side is a depiction of Alexander the Great. Random passers-by found it. They saw pottery and pieces of vessels.

The locality near Kaptol is a well-known archaeological site with the graves of the warrior aristocracy, where prestigious weapons and equipment were found in Europe in the 7th century BC.

This means that the community that lived here had a major significance on the border of three worlds – the Mediterranean, Central Europe and the Danube.

At the Lisičja Jama locality, named after the ceramics that the foxes end up dislocating while digging their dens, archaeologists are excavating a settlement where it is assumed that 500 people lived. Numerous inventions prove this.

“And it certainly speaks of the fact that the people who lived in those areas were extremely advanced and prosperous at the time, and not only that, but they also traded and exchanged things with very distant regions”, said Janja Mavrović Mokos, archaeologist and researcher.

The coin from the 4th century BC is crucial because it shows that the power of these people from Papuk, who lived at the intersection of cultures and trade routes, did not last for a short time but continuously for centuries.

“This shows continuity on the political, economic and cultural scene of over 300 years, which few can boast of today, let alone back then,” said Hrvoje Potrebica, head of archaeological research.

A province is not a place but a state of mind, and Croatia should learn from history, which is the teacher of life, even today. And the plan is for the place of learning to be the Visitor Center of the future Papuk Archaeological Park, where this Greek silver coin will have its special place.