Category Archives: WORLD

Possible Crusader Campsite Found in Israel

Possible Crusader Campsite Found in Israel

A Crusader campsite was discovered by an Israeli archaeological team near the Tzipori Springs in Galilee, marking the first time a Crusader encampment has been discovered in the field.

Aerial view of the excavations at Ein Tzipori during the 2012 season. Looking east, with Field I to the left and Field II to the right of Road 79.
Aerial view of the excavations at Ein Tzipori during the 2012 season. Looking east, with Field I to the left and Field II to the right of Road 79.

Their findings were published this year in the book Settlement and Crusade in the Thirteenth Century.

Pursuing the idea of liberating the holy sites from Muslim rule and encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church, European powers and sometimes peoples initiated several military campaigns in the Middle East between the 11th and 13th centuries, which led to the establishment of a number of Christian states in the area of modern Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

For a certain period, it placed Jerusalem under Christian rule, a period documented by a vast corpus of historical sources as well as massive structures such as castles and fortresses left by the Crusaders in the region. However, very little remains to testify moments of transitions, such as battles and encampments.

In recent years, while workers were expanding Route 79 that connects the coast with Nazareth, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists Nimrod Getzov and Ianir Milevski from the Prehistory Department conducted the required salvage excavation.

Arrowhead found at the springs of Tzipori.

“The area along Route 79 was known as the site of the Frankish encampment ahead of the battle of Hattin in 1187, as well as for other encampments by both the Crusaders and the Muslims during a period of 125 years,” said Dr Rafael Lewis, a senior lecturer at Ashkelon Academic College and a researcher at Haifa University. “For this reason, I was brought on board to focus on the remains from that era. It was a very exceptional opportunity to study a medieval encampment and to understand their material culture and archaeology.”

According to chronicles from the time, the Christian army stationed in the area of the Tzipori Springs for around two months before the crucial battle that allowed the troops led by Sultan Saladin to reconquer much of the region, including Jerusalem.

The archaeologists unearthed hundreds of metal artefacts and were able to study their relations to the landscape.

“We used a discipline known as ‘artefact distribution analysis’,” he noted. “We started by reconstructing the landscape as it approximately looked like at the time; we considered where the artefacts were found, and compared what we learned to historical records.”

Lewis said that although all of the troops at the time fought under the king, they did not serve in a centralized army – different groups of knights would fight together, each having their own camp and each following the orders of their commander.

The remains mirrored this reality.

“In the site, we found different clusters of artefacts,” he said.

The majority of artefacts the archaeologists uncovered were horseshoe nails, both of a local type and of a more sophisticated European type, which was prevalent closer to the springs.

“We saw that the closer we got to the water, the richer the material culture became,” Lewis said. “We can probably deduce that those who belonged to a higher socio-economic status encamped by the spring. Changing those nails probably represented the main activity in the camp. Nobody wanted to find himself in the battle on a horse with a broken shoe.”

Coin of Baldwin III (1143–1163 CE), Jerusalem, obverse.

The archaeologists were surprised to find very little remains of other activities that might have been expected in relation to the life at the encampment, such as cooking pots. However, this also suggests what objects were brought back to castles and permanent settlements when the encampment was packed up.

Based on the findings in Tzipori, researchers in the future will be able to examine other sites to look for archaeological remains.

“I’m intrigued to understand more about Crusader encampments,” Lewis said. “I believe that the study of military camps has the potential to allow us to understand much more about the period and its culture.”

Medieval Graves Containing Luxury Goods Unearthed in Germany

Medieval Graves Containing Luxury Goods Unearthed in Germany

A wealthy medieval man who died over 1,500 years ago in what is now Bavaria, Germany, may have been a fierce warrior who also cared deeply about his personal appearance. 

Medieval Graves Containing Luxury Goods Unearthed in Germany
Ornate carvings on the ivory comb depict scenes with animals.

The man, who was about 40 to 50 years old when he died, was buried with fine weapons and a horse. But his grave also included luxurious toiletries, including a pair of scissors and an intricately carved ivory comb that may have been used to style his hair and beard, archaeologists recently reported.

They also discovered a second, equally lavish grave holding a woman who was about 30 to 40 years old when she died. It contained jewellery, food and a high-quality red ceramic bowl that likely came from northern Africa, representatives of the Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection (BLfD), the agency supervising the excavation, said in a German-language statement.

Both burials dated to around the sixth century A.D., according to the statement. The ivory comb and ceramic bowl were highly unusual burial items for this period, and they “must have been real luxury goods at the time,” BLfD Conservator General Mathias Pfeil said in the statement (translated from German).

Scientists found the two graves in Bavaria’s Nördlinger Ries or Ries Crater. This ancient crater in southern Germany measures about 16 miles (26 kilometres) in diameter, with a rim that rises about 660 feet (200 meters) above the crater floor, according to NASA.

It was identified in the 1960s as the site of a meteor impact, but because its subtle shape with low elevation blends into the surrounding landscape, the crater is not easily detected in satellite images, NASA reported.

During the sixth century A.D., red ceramic bowls such as these were produced in northern Africa.

Medieval Europeans may not have known that the area was once struck by a massive space rock, but they nonetheless followed the faint outline of its central depression to construct a settlement that covered 0.6 miles (1 km), according to NASA. Researchers discovered the two luxurious burials at the site of this ancient village, according to the BLfD.

Gazelle-like animals

Restoration of the broken fine-toothed comb revealed carved decorations of animals on both sides of the object. In the scenes, creatures resembling gazelles leap to escape predators, though the scientists haven’t yet confirmed the types of animals shown, according to the statement. 

Combs are often found in graves from the Middle Ages, but they are usually simpler tools that aren’t made of such fine material.

Ivory carvings are rare in sixth-century burials, and very few ornately carved ivory combs are known from this period at all; the previously described combs from this period are all carved with Christian motifs rather than hunting scenes, the statement said. 

Near the man’s skeleton lay the remains of a horse, along with spurs and pieces of a bridle. There were also weapons in the grave, including a battle-axe, lance, shield and longsword, hinting that their owner was wealthy and important, BLfD representatives said.

The burial of a middle-aged man included an axe, a lance and a sword, and the body of a horse was found nearby in the pit.

In the woman’s grave were food items, such as preserved eggs, as well as a weaving sword, which is a wooden loom accessory used for tightening threads, according to the statement.

But the standout item in her burial was the red bowl, which was in excellent condition. Unlike other vessels in the two graves, the bowl was not produced locally; rather, it was a style known from the Mediterranean trade, and it likely originated in what is now Tunisia, in North Africa. 

A cross was stamped into the bowl’s base, and markings carved into the bowl’s rim could be magical symbols or runes — letters in ancient Germanic alphabets — perhaps indicating the name of the vessel’s owner, according to the statement. 

However, further analysis is required to determine what the inscription might mean, BLfD representatives said.

Dufana Boat: The 8,000 Years oldest Canoe in Africa & second oldest on earth

Dufana Boat: The 8,000 Years oldest Canoe in Africa & second oldest on earth

8,000 years ago, Nigeria. “Africa’s oldest known boat” the Dufuna Canoe was discovered near the region of the River Yobe. The Canoe was discovered by a Fulani herdsman in May 1987, in Dufuna Village while digging a well. The canoe’s “almost black wood”, said to be African mahogany, is “entirely an organic material”.

Various Radio-Carbon tests conducted in laboratories of reputable Universities in Europe and America indicate that the Canoe is over 8000 years old, thus making it the oldest in Africa and 3rd oldest in the World.

Little is known of the period to which the boat belongs, in archaeological terms, it is described as an early phase of the Later Stone Age, which began rather more than 12,000 years ago and ended with the appearance of pottery.

(Photo)-Nigeria. “Africa’s oldest known boat” (6,000 B.C.) the Dufuna Canoe was discovered near the region of the River Yobe. Various Radio-Carbon tests conducted in laboratories of reputable Universities in Europe and America indicate that the Canoe is over 8000 years old, thus making it the oldest in Africa and 3rd oldest in the World. Ranking the Dufuna canoe as the world’s third oldest known dugout. Older than it is the dugouts from Pesse, Netherlands; and Noyen-Sur-Seine, France. Which are very primitive in comparison to the modern design – even by our standards – of the Dufuna Canoe.

The lab results redefined the pre-history of African water transport, ranking the Dufuna canoe as the world’s third oldest known dugout. Older than it is the dugouts from Pesse, Netherlands, and Noyen-Sur-Seine, France. But evidence of an 8,000-year-old tradition of boat building in Africa throws cold water on the assumption that maritime transport developed much later there in comparison with Europe.

Peter Breunig of the University of Frankfurt, Germany, an archaeologist involved in the project, says the canoe’s age “forces a reconsideration of Africa’s role in the history of water transport”. It shows, he adds, “that the cultural history of Africa was not determined by Near Eastern and European influences but took its own, in many cases parallel, course”. Breunig, adding that it even outranks in style European finds of similar age.

According to him, “The bow and stern are both carefully worked to points, giving the boat a notably more elegant form”, compared to “the dugout made of conifer wood from Pesse in the Netherlands, whose blunt ends and thick sides seem crude”. To go by its stylistic sophistication, he reasons, “It is highly probable that the Dufuna boat does not represent the beginning of a tradition, but had already undergone a long development, and that the origins of water transport in Africa lie even further back in time.”

The canoe excavated at Dunfuna village in Fune local government of Yobe state dated to 8000 BCE and presently at Damaturu in Yobe State capital

Egypt’s oldest known boat is 5000 years old.

Presently undergoing conservation at Damaturu, Yobe State, it was dug out from a depth of five meters beneath the earth’s surface and measured 8.4 meters in length, 0.5 meters wide and about 5 cm thick varying at certain parts of the surface.

The canoe belongs to the Late Stone Age period (Neolithic Age) when humans ceased to roam the face of the earth hunting to become herdsmen and cultivators and in the process becoming modifiers of their environment with complex social structures in response to new problems and ways of dealing with situations.

“The discovery of this boat is an important landmark in the history of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general,” says Eluyemi.

Besides proving that the Nigerian society was at par (if not earlier) than that of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Minoa and Phoenicia, the discovery also provides the first concrete evidence that Africans possessed the ability to reason and have been exploring technology to modify their environment to suit their needs.

But more importantly “the canoe has shown that people in the Niger area had a history of advanced technology and that they had mastered the three major items of Paleolithic culture which were the fashioning, standardization and utilization of tools according to certain set traditions,” explains Eluyemi.

But beyond that, the discovery has also revealed that Nigerians were not static people. “It gives concrete evidence of transportation by seas as well as providing evidence of some form of long-distance commercial activities indicative of existing political and economic structures.”

One great benefit of the discovery is that it has helped archaeologists draw a relationship between what was happening in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world during that period. Indications are that while Nigerians were making canoes in Dufuna village in 6000 BC, the people of Catol Huyuk in Turkey were making pottery, textiles etc, like the people of Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), were forming urban communities and the Chinese were making painted pottery in the Yang Shao region.

But particularly of interest to archaeologists is the proof that some form of advanced civilization existed in the Lake Chad Basin around 6000 BC.

Documentation has shown that based on the minimal available technology during this period, the making of the Dufuna canoe must have been a ponderous task that called for mastery, specialization and ingenuity. A lot of work, man-hours and skill must also have been put into the production since no iron tools were in existence at the time.

The tools used were probably Post Pleistocene ungrounded core axe-like and pick-axe bifacial tools of microlithic appearance. It can be assumed that the canoe must have been made near a river to eliminate the difficulty of transporting it over long distances.

1,800-Year-Old Rock-Cut Tombs Discovered in Turkey

1,800-Year-Old Rock-Cut Tombs Discovered in Turkey

Archaeologists in Turkey have discovered 400 rock-cut chamber tombs that date to 1,800 years ago and makeup part of one of the largest rock-cut chamber tomb necropolises in the world.

The team found the tombs in the ancient city of Blaundos (also spelled Blaundus), located about 110 miles (180 kilometres) east of the Aegean Sea in what is now Turkey. The city was founded during the time of Alexander the Great and existed through the Roman and Byzantine periods.

The tombs are filled with sarcophagi, many of which contain multiple deceased individuals — a clue that families used these tombs for burials over many generations, said Birol Can, an archaeologist at Uşak University in Turkey and head of the Blaundos Excavation Project.

“We think that the Blaundos rock-cut tomb chambers, in which there are many sarcophagi, were used as family tombs, and that the tombs were reopened for each deceased family member, and a burial ceremony was held and closed again,” Can told Live Science in an email.

The city of Blaundos sits on a hill surrounded by a valley, which is actually a branch of the vast Uşak canyons, one of the longest canyon systems in the world, Can said. The people of Blaundos built the necropolis into the slopes of the canyon. “Due to the rocky nature of the slopes surrounding the city, the most preferred burial technique was the chamber-shaped tombs carved into the solid rocks,” he said. 

Though archaeologists knew about the necropolis for more than 150 years, they have never done a systematic excavation of Blaundos, which is why Can’s team began their excavation project in 2018, with the goal of documenting the ruins and preparing conservation projects. So far, they’ve identified two temples, a theater, a public bath, a gymnasium, a basilica, city walls and a gate, aqueducts, a shrine dedicated to an ancient Greek or Roman hero known as a heroon, and the rock-cut chamber tombs.

“Apart from these, we know that there are many religious, public and civil structures still under the ground,” Can said.

The restored paintings decorate the tombs’ ceilings.

Tombs of the valley

In 2018, when excavating one of the rock-cut chamber tombs, the archaeologists found human bones dating to the second to third centuries A.D. So, in 2021, the team focused on the necropolis. “As a result of this work, which has been dangerous at times, the documentation of approximately 400 rock-cut chamber tombs that can be noticed on the surface has been completed,” Can said.

However, the necropolis was a hotspot for grave robbers, who destroyed burials as they stole precious jewelry and other artifacts from the tombs over the centuries. The archaeologists still found plenty of clues that the deceased individuals date to Roman times. For instance, pottery fragments and coins discovered in the excavated tombs indicate that they date from the second to fourth centuries A.D., during the Roman period. “In addition, the technique of the wall paintings covering the walls, vaults and ceilings of the tombs and the style of the vegetal and figurative scenes depicted on them show Roman characteristics,” Can said.

The team found different types of rock-cut chamber tombs, including single-roomed chambers, as well as “complex structures formed by arranging rooms one after the other,” Can said. “These rooms were not created in one go. It is understood from the traces on the walls that these tombs were originally designed as a single room. However, in time, when there was no place for burial in this single room, the room was expanded inwards and the second, third and then the fourth rooms were added.”

Some tombs still had artifacts that were likely meant to help the deceased in the afterlife, Can said. These grave goods included mirrors, diadems, rings, bracelets, hairpins, medical instruments, belts, drinking cups and oil lamps, all of which shed light on the people buried in the tombs, such as their sex, occupation, habits and burial date.

An aerial view of the stone-cut chamber tombs at the necropolis.
A view of the northeastern necropolis in the canyon wall.
A bird’s-eye view of the archaeological site at Blaundos.
1,800-Year-Old Rock-Cut Tombs Discovered in Turkey
Two researchers carry out restorative work at one of the tombs in Blaundos.

Beautiful paintings

The walls and ceilings of these burial chambers were decorated with colorful, intricate paintings, although many have deteriorated over the millennia, Can said. The murals in 24 of these chambers are still visible, but they’re in bad shape. 

“Some of these tombs were used as animal shelters by shepherds a long time ago,” Can said. “The frescoes were covered with a dense and black soot layer due to the fires that were set in those times.” But the restoration conservation team was able to clean some of the paintings, revealing the vibrant floral, geometric and figurative scenes painted on the walls. 

“Vines, flowers of various colors, wreaths, garlands, geometric panels are the most frequently used motifs,” Can said. “In addition to these, mythological figures — such as Hermes (Mercury), Eros (Cupid) [and] Medusa — and animals such as birds and dogs are included in the wide panels.”

There are hundreds more graves to be excavated, and “all wall paintings will be revealed with the excavations to be made in the necropolis in the coming years,” he noted.

The team also plans to do DNA and chemical studies that will reveal the deceased individuals’ ancestries, as well as their sex, age and nutritional habits, Can said.

Blaundos is open to tourists. As the excavations reveal more of the city, Can hopes to protect the new findings and share them with the world.

Scuba diver finds 900-year-old Crusader sword off the coast of Israel

Scuba diver finds 900-year-old Crusader sword off the coast of Israel

An amateur diver off the Mediterranean coast has discovered a sword dating back to the Middle Ages. Experts believe the site is home to several archaeological treasures. An Israeli scuba diver discovered an ancient sword believed to have belonged to a Medieval Crusader, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Monday.

The meter-long blade was lying on the Mediterranean seabed off the Carmel coast in five-meter-deep (5.5-yard deep) water, encrusted with marine organisms.

The man, identified as Shlomi Katzin, was on a weekend dive in northern Israel when he noticed its distinctive hilt and handle after the undercurrent shifted the sand that concealed it.

Worried that his discovery might be buried or stolen, he took the sword and gave it to government experts.

“The sword, which has been preserved in perfect condition, is a beautiful and rare find and evidently belonged to a Crusader knight,” said Nir Distelfeld, an inspector in the authority’s robbery prevention unit.

The sword’s blade is three feet long.

“It is exciting to encounter such a personal object, taking you 900 years back in time to a different era, with knights, armour, and swords,” he said.

Home to archaeological treasures

Besides the near-millennium-old sword, the diver found a trove of ancient artefacts, including anchors and pottery.

The location of the discovery was a natural cove near the port city of Haifa that, experts say, served as a shelter for seafarers. 

The sword was really heavy, Kobi Sharvit says

“These conditions have attracted merchant ships down the ages, leaving behind rich archaeological finds,” said Kobi Sharvit, director of the authority’s marine archaeology unit.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said they have monitored the site since June, but “the finds are very elusive since they appear and disappear with the movement of the sands.”

READ ALSO: 2,400-YEAR-OLD FRUIT BASKETS FROM THONIS-HERACLEION FOUND OFF THE COAST OF EGYPT

The sword will be cleaned, restored, and further analyzed before it is put on display.

The sword will be cleaned of encrusted stones and shells.

Katzin, who handed it over to the authorities, received a certificate of appreciation for good citizenship.

‘World’s oldest wine found in 8,000-year-old jars in Georgia

‘World’s oldest wine’ found in 8,000-year-old jars in Georgia

This remarkable find deserves a toast: People were fermenting grapes into wine about 8,000 years back in what is now the Republic of Georgia, say scientists who found what’s now considered the oldest known winemaking site on record.

Archaeologists discovered ceramic jars that showed proof of winemaking during an excavation of two Neolithic sites called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, which are in the South Caucasus, about 30 miles (50 kilometres) south of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.

Previously, the oldest evidence of winemaking was discovered in the Zagros Mountains of Iran, and dated to between 5500 B.C. and 5000 B.C. The new discovery, dated to 6000 B.C., shows that people were enjoying the alcoholic drink a good 600 to 1000 years longer than formerly thought, the researchers stated.

During the excavation in Georgia, researcher uncovered fragments of ceramic jars.

While analyzing the chemical residue on shards from 8 large jars, the scientist found tartaric acid, a fingerprint compound of grapes and wine.

“We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine,” study co-researcher Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilization and the Archaeology Centre at the University of Toronto, said in a statement.

Researchers analyzed the residues on the base of this Neolithic jar.

During the Neolithic period, people began settling into permanent villages, farming crops, domesticating animals, making polished stone tools and developing crafts, such as pottery and woven goods.

These new technologies likely helped ancient people with winemaking, the researchers said.

A view of the excavations at Gadachrili Gora in Georgia, taken by a drone.

“Pottery, which was ideal for processing, serving and storing fermented beverages, was invented in this period together with many advances in art, technology and cuisine,” Batiuk said.

Moreover, there are more than 10,000 varieties of table and wine grapes worldwide, and “Georgia is home to over 500 varieties for wine alone, suggesting that grapes have been domesticated and cross-breeding in the region for a very long time,” Batiuk said.

A number of analyses — including archaeological, chemical, botanical, climatic and radiocarbon — indicate that the Eurasian grape known as Vitis vinifera was abundant at the 2 Neolithic sites.

This grape likely had ideal growing conditions in this Neolithic village, which had conditions close to those of the modern wine-producing regions of Italy and France, the researchers said.

It is no surprise that once ancient farmers domesticated the grape, wine culture followed, Batiuk added.

These ancient societies were awash in wine, which permeated nearly every aspect of life, including medical treatments, special celebrations and everyday meals.

READ ALSO: ISRAEL WINERY: 1,500-YEAR-OLD BYZANTINE WINE COMPLEX FOUND

“As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopoeias, cuisines, economics and society throughout the ancient Near East,” Batiuk said.

Viniculture is complex; it includes domestication, propagation, selection of desirable traits, wine presses, suitable containers and proper closures (such as modern-day corks), the researcher wrote in the study, which was published online today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And now, people living in the South Caucasus have reason to be proud of the history within their region.

“The Eurasians grapevine that now accounts for 99.9 per cent of wine made in the world today has its roots in Caucasia,” Batiuk said.

Unlocking 2,000-year-old Herculaneum scrolls were buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted.

Unlocking 2,000-year-old Herculaneum scrolls were buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted.

Artefacts from the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried in ash during an explosive Mount Vesuvius eruption, was a scale-out at the British Museum in 2013. But could even bigger treasures still lie underground, including lost classical literature?

Scholars have been investigating the lost works of ancient Greek and Latin literature for centuries. Books were found in monastic libraries in the Renaissance. Papyrus scrolls were discovered in Egypt’s deserts in the late 19th century. But only in Herculaneum in southern Italy has an entire library from the ancient Mediterranean been discovered in situ.

On the eve of the catastrophe in AD 79, Herculaneum was a chic resort city on the Bay of Naples, and during the hot Italian summer many top families went out to relax and recover. It was also an area where Rome’s richest people were involved with cultural uniqueness-none no other than Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, a politician and Julius Caesar’s father–in–law.

In Herculaneum, Piso built a palatial seaside villa, its wide façade exceeding 220 m (721 ft) alone. When excavated in the middle of the 18th century, there are more than 80 high-quality bronze and marble statues, including one of the Pan with a goat. When he came to plan his own exercise in cultural showing off, J Paul Getty chose to copy Piso’s villa for his own Getty museum in Malibu, California.

Piso’s grand villa, which has come to be known as the Villa of the Papyri, also contains the only library to have survived from the classical world. It is a relatively small collection, some 2,000 scrolls, which the eruption nearly destroyed and yet preserved at the same time.

A blast of furnace-like gas from the volcano at 400C (752F) carbonised the papyrus scrolls before the town was buried in fine volcanic ash which later cooled and solidified into rock. When excavators and treasure hunters set about exploring the villa in the 18th Century, they mistook the scrolls for lumps of charcoal and burnt logs. Some were used as torches or thrown onto the fire.

But once it was realised what they were – possibly because of the umbilicus, the stick at the centre of the scrolls – the challenge was to find a way to open them. Some scrolls were simply hacked apart with a butcher’s knife – with predictable and lamentable results. Later a conservator from the Vatican, Father Antonio Piaggio (1713-1796), devised a machine to delicately open the scrolls. But it was slow work – the first one took around four years to unroll. And the scrolls tended to go to pieces.

The fragments pulled off by Piaggio’s machine were fragile and hard to read. “They are as black as burnt newspaper,” says Dirk Obbink, a lecturer in Papyrology at Oxford University, who has been working on the Herculaneum papyri since 1983. Under normal light the charred paper looks “a shiny black” says Obbink, while “the ink is a dull black and sort of iridesces”.

Reading it is “not very pleasant”, he adds. In fact, when Obbink first began working on them in the 1980s the difficulty of the fragments was a shock. On some pieces, the eye can make out nothing. On others, by working with microscopes and continually moving the fragments to catch the light in different ways, some few letters can be made out. Meanwhile, the fragments fall apart. “At the end of the day, there would be black dust on the table – the black dust of the scroll powdering away. I didn’t even want to breathe.”

This all began to change 15 years ago.

In 1999, scientists from Brigham Young University in the US examined the papyrus using infrared light. Deep in the infrared range, at a wavelength of 700-900 nanometres, it was possible to achieve a good contrast between the paper and the ink. Letters began to jump out of the ancient papyrus. Instead of black ink on black paper, it was now possible to see black lines on a pale grey background.

Scholars’ ability to reassemble the texts improved massively. “Most of our previous readings were wrong,” says Obbink. “We could not believe our eyes. We were ‘blinded’ by the real readings. The text wasn’t what we thought it was and now it made sense.”

In 2008, a further advance was made through multi-spectral imaging. Instead of taking a single (“monospectral”) image of a fragment of papyrus under infrared light (at typically 800 nanometres) the new technology takes 16 different images of each fragment at different light levels and then creates a composite image.

With this technique, Obbink is seeking not only to clarify the older infrared images but also to look again at fragments that previously defied all attempts to read them. The detail of the new images is so good that the handwriting on the different fragments can be easily compared, which should help reconstruct the lost texts out of the various orphan fragments. “The whole thing needs to be redone,” says Obbink.

So what has been found? Lost poems by Sappho, the 100-plus lost plays of Sophocles, the lost dialogues of Aristotle? Not quite.

Despite being found in Italy, most of the recovered material is in Greek. Perhaps the major discovery is a third of On Nature, a previously lost work by the philosopher Epicurus.

But many of the texts that have emerged so far are written by a follower of Epicurus, the philosopher and poet Philodemus of Gadara (c.110-c.40/35BC). In fact, so many of his works are present, and in duplicate copies, that David Sider, a classics professor at New York University, believes that what has been found so far was in fact Philodemus’s own working library. Piso was Philodemus’s patron.

READ ALSO: THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS CONTAIN GENETIC CLUES TO THEIR ORIGINS

Not all of the villa’s scrolls have been unrolled through – and because of the damage, they suffer in the unwinding process that work has now been halted. Might it be possible to read them by unrolling them not physically, but virtually?

In 2009 two unopened scrolls from Herculaneum belonging to the Institut de France in Paris were placed in a Computerised Tomography (CT) scanner, normally used for medical imaging. The machine, which can distinguish different kinds of bodily tissue and produce a detailed image of a human’s internal organs could potentially be used to reveal the internal surfaces of the scroll. The task proved immensely difficult, because the scrolls were so tightly wound, and creased.

“We were able to unwrap a number of sections from the scroll and flatten them into 2D images – and on those sections, you can clearly see the structure of the papyrus: fibres, sand,” says Dr Brent Seales, a computer science professor at the University of Kentucky, who led the effort.

Rare tardigrade fossil found in 16-million-year-old Dominican amber

Rare tardigrade fossil found in 16-million-year-old Dominican amber

The discovery of an incredibly rare fossil is helping scientists learn more about one of Earth’s ancient and most resilient inhabitants: the microscopic tardigrade.

An artistic reconstruction of Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus in moss.

Modern tardigrades are eight-legged micro-animals, also known as water bears or moss piglets. They’re almost completely missing from the fossil record despite their long evolutionary history and ability to survive extreme conditions, including space.

Now, scientists say they’ve discovered a new species of tardigrade suspended in 16 million-year-old amber — only the third clear tardigrade fossil ever found.

What they found

The researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Harvard University who discovered the fossil published their findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday.

The tardigrade is trapped in fossilized amber mined from La Cumbre, a region of the Dominican Republic known for its amber deposits. The amber also trapped a flower and insects, including three ants.

This Dominican amber contains Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus gen. et. sp. nov.(image amplified in a box), three ants, a beetle and a flower. Dime image digitally added for size comparison.

The fossil is the first of a tardigrade found from the Cenozoic era, the Earth’s current geological era beginning 66 million years ago.

Phil Barden, the senior author of the study, called the discovery a “once-in-a-generation” event in a statement on the research.

“What is so remarkable is that tardigrades are a ubiquitous ancient lineage that has seen it all on Earth, from the fall of the dinosaurs to the rise of terrestrial colonization of plants,” Barden said. “Yet, they are like a ghost lineage for palaeontologists with almost no fossil record.”

Why it matters

The fossil is unique for its clarity, its age and how helpful it could be to evolutionary scientists’ future studies.

The New Jersey Institute of Technology said in a release that the discovery is the best-imaged fossil tardigrade ever. Scientists are able to observe micron-level details like the invertebrate’s mouthparts and its “needle-like claws 20-30 times finer than a human hair.”

The new fossil enabled scientists to identity this never-before-seen species of tardigrade, which they call Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus. Its name incorporates the Greek word for time, “chrono,” and “caribbeus” in reference to the region where it was found.

The fossil will spend the next part of its life at the American Museum of Natural History.