Researchers find 3,600-year-old evidence that Tall el-Hammam was destroyed by a ‘cosmic airburst’

Researchers find 3,600 year-old evidence that Tall el-Hammam was destroyed by a ‘cosmic airburst’

A research team including East Carolina University’s Dr Sid Mitra, professor of geological sciences, has presented evidence that a Middle Bronze Age city called Tall el-Hammam, located in the Jordan Valley northeast of the Dead Sea, was destroyed by a cosmic airburst.

Researchers have discovered 3,600-year-old evidence that the ancient city of Tall el-Hammam was destroyed by a ‘cosmic impact,’ which may have inspired the Bible story of the destruction of Sodom
Experts uncovered pottery shards that had their outer surfaces melted into glass, ‘bubbled’ mudbrick and partially melted building material in a 5-foot thick burn layer
Melted pottery (a and b) while (c) shows a 6-cm wide potsherd storage jar from the lower tall, displaying an unaltered inner surface, and (d) the highly vesicular outer surface
Experts uncovered pottery shards that had their outer surfaces melted into glass, ‘bubbled’ mudbrick and partially melted building material in a 5-foot thick burn layer

Archaeological excavation of the site began in 2005, Mitra said, and researchers have been particularly interested in a citywide 1.5-meter-thick destruction layer of carbon and ash.

The layer, which dates to about 1650 B.C.E. (about 3,600 years ago), contains shocked quartz, melted pottery and mudbricks, diamond-like carbon, soot, remnants of melted plaster, and melted minerals including platinum, iridium, nickel, gold, silver, zircon, chromite and quartz.

“They found all this evidence of high-temperature burning throughout the entire site,” Mitra said. “And the technology didn’t exist at that time, in the Middle Bronze Age, for people to be able to generate fires of that kind of temperature.”

The site includes a massive palace complex with thick walls and a monumental gateway, much of which was destroyed.

The researchers developed a hypothesis that there had been a meteorite impact or bolide — a meteor that explodes in the atmosphere.

The researchers compared the airburst to a 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, where a 50-meter-wide bolide detonated, generating 1,000 times more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Researchers in a variety of fields were called upon to analyze evidence from the site, including Mitra, whose lab focuses on the analysis of soot.

“So we analyzed the soot at this site, and saw that a large fraction of the organic carbon is soot, and you just can’t have that unless you have really high temperatures,” Mitra said. “So that’s what led us to provide support to the story that this was a very high-temperature fire. … And that then supported the idea that this was an external source of energy such as a meteor.”

Other research that supported the hypothesis included the presence of diamond-like carbon, melted pottery, mudbricks and roofing clay; the directionality of the debris; high-pressure shock metamorphism of quartz; high-temperature melted minerals; and human bones in the destruction layer.

There is also a high concentration of salt in the destruction layer, which could have ruined agriculture in the area, explaining the abandonment of more than a dozen towns and cities in the lower Jordan Valley in the following centuries.

The researchers considered and dismissed other potential processes that could explain the destruction, including volcanic or earthquake activity, wildfire, warfare and lightning, but none provided an explanation for the various lines of evidence as well as a cosmic impact or airburst.

The paper, titled “A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea,” also speculates that “a remarkable catastrophe, such as the destruction of Tall el-Hammam by a cosmic object, may have generated an oral tradition that, after being passed down through many generations, became the source of the written story of biblical Sodom in Genesis.”

Genesis 19:24 describes sulfur raining down out of the heavens and the destruction of the cities and all those living in them, as well as the vegetation in the land.

“So some of the oral traditions talk about the walls of Jericho (about 13 1/2 miles away) falling down, as well as the fires if they’re associated with Sodom,” Mitra said. “Again it’s science; you look at your observations, and in this case, it’s the historical record, and you see what you hypothesize and if it fits the data and the data seem to fit.”

The study does not attempt to prove or disprove that possibility, but its explanation of the destruction of the city could be consistent with the biblical accounts.

Mitra said it was rewarding to work with other researchers who were approaching the question from different angles. Most of them he had never worked with before, he said.

“That type of approach tends to be a robust study,” he said. “If someone comes along and says you didn’t do this right or there’s no way that this could have happened, you can still fall back on [all these] other things that support the same argument.”

Shell beads found in Moroccan caves are at least 142,000 years old

Shell beads found in Moroccan caves are at least 142,000 years old

From ancient beads to modern bling, jewellery has allowed humans to make statements for millennia. Now, reports Ann Gibbons for Science magazine, a new analysis of beads found in Morocco offers a clearer picture of how long people have been making these fashion pronouncements: at least 142,000 to 150,000 years.

Shell beads found in Moroccan caves are at least 142,000 years old
Believed to be the world’s oldest jewellery, the perforated shells date to about 142,000 years ago.

Writing in the journal Science Advances, the researchers date 33 small seashells bored with holes to that timeframe—around 10,000 to 20,000 years earlier than previously recorded.

Discovered in Bizmoune Cave, the prehistoric jewellery shows how early humans communicated information about themselves to others.

“They were probably part of the way people expressed their identity with their clothing,” says study co-author Steven L. Kuhn, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona, in a statement.

“Wearing beads has to do with meeting strangers, expanding social networks,” Kuhn tells Science. “You don’t have to signal your identity to your mother or whether you’re married to your husband or wife.”

Per the study, the seashells were found in a deposited layer dated to at least 142,000 years ago, extending the earliest records of this type of human activity from the Middle Stone Age into the late Middle Pleistocene period.

“[O]rnaments such as beads are among the earliest signs of symbolic behaviour among human ancestors,” the paper states. “Their appearance signals important developments in both cognition and social relations.”

The discovery suggests that humans in North Africa were making ornaments long before their peers in other parts of Africa and Asia.

Archaeologists recovered the 33 beads from a cave in western Morocco.

“While similar specimens have been found elsewhere in northwestern Africa, these examples extend their range to the far western edge of present-day Morocco, providing evidence for when and where ancient populations may have been connected over large geographic regions and allowing us to refine the mode and tempo of modern human origins,” Teresa Steele, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study, tells Nature Middle East’s, Rieko Kawabata.

Unearthed between 2014 and 2018, the ancient jewellery was made from perforated shells of the mollusc Tritia gibbosula. All but one of the snail shells was found in the same layer of ash, which also included stone tools and animal bones.

The researchers dated the beads by measuring uranium decay in mineral deposits found in that same layer. Their analysis pinpointed the shells’ modification to between 120,000 and 171,000 years ago, with 142,000 years old as the jewellery’s likely minimum age.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), the earliest forms of jewellery were made from shells, stone and bone. Prehistoric people likely wore such adornments “as a protection from the dangers of life or as a mark of status or rank.”


The Moroccan beads join a growing body of millennia-old jewellery analyzed by archaeologists. In 2017, for instance, researchers on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi found a polished pendant crafted from the finger bone of a bear cuscus.

More recently, a team investigating the Qafzeh Cave in Israel discovered 120,000-year-old shells strung on a necklace as beads.

“It’s one thing to know that people were capable of making [jewellery],” says Kuhn in the statement, “but then the question becomes, ‘OK, what stimulated them to do it?’”

Vikings were in North America in 1021, researchers say

Vikings were in North America in 1021, researchers say

Vikings from Greenland — the first Europeans to arrive in the Americas — lived in a village in Canada’s Newfoundland exactly 1,000 years ago, according to research published Wednesday.

Scientists have known for many years that Vikings — a name given to the Norse by the English they raided — built a village at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland around the turn of the millennium. But a study published in Nature is the first to pinpoint the date of the Norse occupation.

The explorers — up to 100 people, both women and men — felled trees to build the village and to repair their ships, and the new study fixes a date they were thereby showing they cut down at least three trees in the year 1021 — at least 470 years before Christopher Columbus reached the Bahamas in 1492.

“This is the first time the date has been scientifically established,” said archaeologist Margot Kuitems, a researcher at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and the study’s lead author.

“Previously the date was based only on sagas — oral histories that were only written down in the 13th century, at least 200 years after the events they described took place,” she said.

The first Norse settlers in Greenland were from Iceland and Scandinavia, and the arrival of the explorers in Newfoundland marks the first time that humanity circled the entire globe.

But their stay didn’t last long. The research suggests the Norse lived at L’Anse aux Meadows for three to 13 years before they abandoned the village and returned to Greenland.

Reconstructed Norse buildings

The archaeological remains are now protected as a historic landmark and Parks Canada has built an interpretive centre nearby. It’s listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The scientific key to the exact date that the Norse were there is a spike in a naturally radioactive form of carbon detected in ancient pieces of wood from the site: some cast-off sticks, part of a tree trunk and what looks to be a piece of a plank. Indigenous people occupied L’Anse aux Meadows both before and after the Norse, so the researchers made sure each piece had distinctive marks showing it was cut with metal tools — something the indigenous people did not have.

Archaeologists have long relied on radiocarbon dating to find an approximate date for organic materials such as wood, bones and charcoal, but the latest study uses a technique based on a global “cosmic ray event” — probably caused by massive solar flares — to determine an exact date.

Three pieces of wood in the Norse layers of the site had been cut with metal tools – something the indigenous people did not have – and showed distinctive radiocarbon traces of a cosmic ray event in A.D. 993.

Previous studies have established there was such a cosmic ray event in the year 993 that for a few months caused greater than usual levels of radioactive carbon-14 in the carbon dioxide of the atmosphere.

Trees “breathe” carbon dioxide as they grow, and so the researchers used that radioactive carbon signature to determine which of the annual growth rings seen in cross-sections of the wood was from 993, Kuitems said.

They then used a microscope to count the later growth rings until the bark of the wood, which gave them the exact year the tree had stopped growing — in other words, when it had been felled by the Norse.

To their surprise, each of the three pieces of wood they tested was from a tree cut down in 1021, although they were from three different trees — two firs and probably one juniper.

The researchers can’t tell if the date of 1021 was near the beginning of the end of the Norse occupation, but they expect further research on other wood from the site will expand the range of dates, Kuitems said.

The Norse voyages to Newfoundland are mentioned in two Icelandic sagas, which indicate L’Anse aux Meadows was a temporary home for explorers who arrived in up to six expeditions.

The first was led by Leif Erikson, known as Leif the Lucky — a son of Erik the Red, the founder of the first Norse settlement in Greenland.

L’Anse aux Meadows, too, was expected to be a permanent settlement, but the sagas indicate it was abandoned due to infighting and conflicts with indigenous people, whom the Norse called skræling — a word that probably means “wearers of animal skins.”

The sagas refer to the entire region as Vinland, which means “Wineland” — supposedly because it was warm enough for grapes used for wine to grow.

Since Newfoundland itself was then too cold for grapes, the name suggests the Norse also explored warmer regions further south, and pieces of exotic wood found at the site also indicate that Kuitems said.

The use of an ancient cosmic ray event to exactly date pieces of wood is a relatively new development, and similar techniques are being used to establish firm dates at other sites, said Sturt Manning, a professor of archaeology at Cornell University, who was not involved in the new study.

“It’s a clever application,” he said. “This is the first clear evidence of Europeans arriving in North America.”

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.

2,000-Year-Old Chinese Mummy still has Blood in her Veins, Making Her one of the World’s Best-Preserved Mummies

2,000-Year-Old Chinese Mummy still has Blood in her Veins, Making Her one of the World’s Best-Preserved Mummies

Xin Zhui died in 163 BC. When they found her in 1971, her hair was intact, her skin was soft to the touch, and her veins still housed type-A blood. Now more than 2,000 years old, Xin Zhui, also known as Lady Dai, is a mummified woman of China’s Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) who still has her own hair, is soft to the touch, and has ligaments that still bend, much like a living person.

The remains of Xin Zhui.

She is widely recognized as the best-preserved human mummy in history.

Xin Zhui was discovered in 1971 when workers digging near an air raid shelter near Changsha practically stumbled across her massive tomb. Her funnel-like crypt contained more than 1,000 precious artefacts, including makeup, toiletries, hundreds of pieces of lacquerware, and 162 carved wooden figures which represented her staff of servants. A meal was even laid out to be enjoyed by Xin Zhui in the afterlife.

But while the intricate structure was impressive, maintaining its integrity after nearly 2,000 years from the time it was built, Xin Zhui’s physical condition was what really astonished researchers.

When she was unearthed, she was revealed to have maintained the skin of a living person, still soft to the touch with moisture and elasticity. Her original hair was found to be in place, including that on her head and inside of her nostrils, as well as the eyebrows and lashes.

Scientists were able to conduct an autopsy, during which they discovered that her 2,000-year-old body — she died in 163 BC — was in a similar condition to that of a person who had just recently passed.

However, Xin Zhui’s preserved corpse immediately became compromised once the oxygen in the air touched her body, which caused her to begin deteriorating. Thus, the images of Xin Zhui that we have today don’t do the initial discovery justice.

A recreation of Xin Zhui.

Furthermore, researchers found that all of her organs were intact and that her veins still housed type-A blood. These veins also showed clots, revealing her official cause of death: heart attack.

An array of additional ailments was also found throughout Xin Zhui’s body, including gallstones, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and liver disease.

While examining Lady Dai, pathologists even found 138 undigested melon seeds in her stomach and intestines. As such seeds typically take one hour to digest, it was safe to assume that the melon was her last meal, eaten minutes before the heart attack that killed her.

So how was this mummy so well-preserved?

Researchers credit the airtight and elaborate tomb in which Lady Dai was buried. Resting nearly 40 feet underground, Xin Zhui was placed inside the smallest of four pine box coffins, each resting within the one larger (think of Matryoshka, only once you reach the smallest doll you’re met with the dead body of an ancient Chinese mummy).

She was wrapped in twenty layers of silk fabric, and her body was found in 21 gallons of an “unknown liquid” that was tested to be slightly acidic and containing traces of magnesium.

A thick layer of paste-like soil lined the floor, and the entire thing was packed with moisture-absorbing charcoal and sealed with clay, keeping both oxygen and decay-causing bacteria out of her eternal chamber. The top was then sealed with an additional three feet of clay, preventing water from penetrating the structure.

Drawing of the burial chamber of Xin Zhui.

While we know all of this about Xin Zhui’s burial and death, we know comparatively little about her life.


Lady Dai was the wife of a high-ranking Han official Li Cang (the Marquis of Dai), and she died at the young age of 50, as a result of her penchant for excess. The cardiac arrest that killed her was believed to have been brought on by a lifetime of obesity, lack of exercise, and an opulent and over-indulgent diet.

Nevertheless, her body remains perhaps the best-preserved corpse in history. Xin Zhui is now housed in the Hunan Provincial Museum and is the main candidate for their research in corpse preservation.

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.

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