Mummified crocodiles give insight into ancient embalming techniques
The discovery of 10 mummified crocodiles at a historical site in Egypt has given fresh insight into the ancient embalming technique. Archaeologists say the mummies found in an undisturbed tomb at Qubbat al-HawÄ, on the west bank of the Nile, date to the 5th Century BC and were mummified in a unique manner.
Study leader Dr. Bea De Cupere said that mummified animals are common finds at Egyptian archaeological sites but, despite several hundred mummified crocodiles being available in museum collections worldwide, they are not often examined thoroughly.
Dr. Cupere, of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and her team conducted a detailed analysis of the preservation of the mummified crocodiles found in rock tombs.
She said: “Ten crocodile mummies, including five more or less complete bodies and five heads, were found in an undisturbed tomb.
“The mummies were in varying states of preservation and completeness. The mummies included five isolated skulls and five partial skeletons.”
The research team were able to examine without unwrapping or using CT-scanning and radiography.
Dr. Cupere said: “Based on the morphology of the crocodiles, two species were identified: West African and Nile crocodiles, with specimens ranging from 1.5 to 3.5 meters in length.
“The preservation style of the mummies is different from that found at other sites, most notably lacking evidence of resin use or carcass evisceration as part of the mummification process.
“The style of preservation suggests a pre-Ptolemaic age, which is consistent with the final phase of funerary use of Qubbat al-HawÄ during the 5th Century BC.”
She added: “Comparing mummies between archaeological sites is useful for identifying trends in animal use and mummification practices over time.
“The limitations of this study included the lack of available ancient DNA and radiocarbon, which would be useful for refining the identification and dating of the remains.
“Future studies incorporating these techniques will further inform scientific understanding of ancient Egyptian cultural practices.”
Living Quarters and Sugarcane Mills Found on Martinique
A recent excavation of a historical estate on a Caribbean island found stories from the past hiding in plain sight in wooden posts and rectangular stones.
The Estate of Château Gaillard in Trois-Ilets sits by the ocean on the south side of Martinique, a French territory and part of the Lesser Antilles islands in the Caribbean.
Researchers began excavation of the site ahead of a development project that would build new housing on the historical property.
The historical property sits by the ocean and included a mansion house, living quarters for enslaved people and an animal mill.
Alexandre Coulaud Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives The researchers found evidence of a vast animal mill preserved under an access road, likely used to crush sugar cane.
Measuring about 50 feet across, a circular structure was unearthed with indications that wooden rollers wrapped in iron and pulled by oxen or mules had been used to crush sugar cane and collect the sweet juice inside later refined into sugar loaves.
The animal mills were operated by enslaved people during the 18th century, and housing for these workers was also found on the estate.
The researchers found living quarters aligned in rows on the west side of the property, built with perishable materials, like wood, compared to the stone of the main house.
The industrial revolution reached Martinique in the 1820s and 30s, rendering animal mills obsolete, according to a news release from the Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives.
The introduction of the steam engine meant animal strength was no longer needed to crush the sugar cane.
Shortly after, in 1848, slavery was abolished in Martinique, changing society as a whole. The Chateau Gaillard estate now had to find a new use for its buildings and resources.
Researchers say they found evidence the huts were transformed into housing for seasonal workers that would harvest sugar cane during the months of February to June.
Along the east facade of what remains of the workers hut, researchers also found coins, bottle caps and furniture items, suggesting the building was used as a residential shop into the 20th century. They even found a glass bottle labeled “Super,” a popular soda from the 1950s among the historical stones.
The excavation was the first of its kind in Martinique, showing how the small island territory transitioned through the 18th and 19th centuries.
First evidence of unknown ancient ‘Israeli Silk Road’ uncovered in Arava trash dump
Newly uncovered remains of fabrics from the Far East dating to some 1,300 years ago in Israel’s Arava region suggest the existence of a previously unknown “Israeli Silk Road,” according to a team of researchers from Israel and Germany.
“Our findings seem to provide the first evidence that there was also an ‘Israeli Silk Road’ used by merchants along the international trading routes,” said Prof. Guy Bar-Oz from the University of Haifa, who is leading the excavation.
In a joint excavation sponsored by Germany and carried out by the University of Haifa, the University of Göttingen, and the Israel Antiquities Authority, large quantities of cotton and silk fabrics that likely originated in China, India and modern-day Sudan during the 8th century CE were uncovered in a massive garbage pit at the Nahal Omer site in the Arava Valley, according to a statement issued by the researchers on Wednesday.
“As far as textiles are concerned, Nahal Omer is the most important of all the ancient sites discovered to date in Israel,” the researchers said in the press release.
The findings have not been published in a scientific article yet, as the first season of the ongoing excavation was only completed two weeks ago, Bar-Oz told The Times of Israel. Nevertheless, researchers say they provide far-reaching implications for our understanding of ancient trade routes and, for the first time, the role this region played in the ancient world.
“The findings include a large proportion of imported items, including fabrics bearing typical Indian origin and silk items from China,” said Dr. Orit Shamir from the Israel Antiquities Authority, an expert on ancient textiles in Israel.
“This is the first time that these items dating back to this period have been found in Israel,” she said.
The Silk Road was a network of trade routes used to move exotic goods from China through India, Egypt, and the Middle East to Europe. Most routes were active between the second century CE and the mid-15th century. According to Bar-Oz, his team’s findings seem to provide the first evidence that there was also an Israeli route used by traveling international merchants.
“This route branched off from the traditional Silk Route that passed to the north of Israel, crossing the Arava and connecting to the main historical trade routes that crossed the country, as well as to the main ports of Gaza and Ashkelon that served as a major gateway to the Mediterranean world,” he explained.
Analyzing ancient garbage
According to the archaeologists, their ongoing investigation is unique in that it explores changes in the Arava Valley over long periods of time by analyzing “accumulations of garbage at sites along the trading routes.”
By examining trash mounds at Nahal Omer, which dates to the seventh century CE — the beginning of the Islamic Era in the region — the researchers hope to learn about the everyday lives of traders passing through ancient Israel and to gain an idea of the products they were carrying.
Excavations will resume next summer, said Bar-Oz, and there will be at least two more seasons. Much further research will be carried out on the uncovered textiles, he noted.
Bar-Oz, who specializes in locating and analyzing deposits of trash on ancient trade routes, told The Times of Israel that others have carried out numerous archaeological excavations at Nahal Omer and the surrounding region before, but nobody thought to focus on garbage deposits and the valuable information they could provide.
“We started examining not the well or the fortress or the wall, but things in the perimeter,” he said,
Previous research and academic discussion about ancient trade relied mainly on historical accounts, often from people located far away, according to Bar-Oz.
“We discovered the trash mounds [at Nahal Omer] two years ago and started digging,” he said. “This was new.”
Archaeological remains that allow researchers to touch the material itself are rare but at Nahal Omer they were found in abundance.
“We dug holes five meters deep — imagine the volume of a Suzuki Alto made of garbage. Nearly all mounds we found included mainly organic material. The large volume of such material is the mind-blowing aspect of this excavation,” Bar-Oz said.
“The items we found allowed us to touch, see and measure them with molecular tools. It made it possible to track the production line of the goods that were moved along the trade route,” he added.
Analyzing their findings, researchers were surprised to find “a veritable treasure trove” that included fabrics, items of clothing, hygienic products, leather straps, belts, socks, shoe soles, and combs.
This wealth of organic material allows the researchers to precisely date the items to the 7th-8th centuries CE using carbon dating, a method that uses the properties of radiocarbon to determine the age of organic material.
This was made possible due to the dry conditions in Israel’s Negev desert. Materials that would usually disintegrate in humid climates were excellently preserved, researchers said.
One specific finding that excited researchers was fabrics bearing ikat design, a technique originating from Indonesia that includes tying the yarns before dyeing the warp or weft. Ikat fabrics have only been found at a small number of sites in the Middle East and researchers say these findings at Nahal Omer represent one of the earliest archaeologically documented occurrences of this type of textile. Another find included fabrics woven together in a complex process common in Iran and other parts of Central Asia.
“The variety and richness of the findings show that luxury goods from the East were in high demand at the time,” said the IAA’s Shamir.
“The findings from the excavation reflect unique contacts on a global level with sources of fabric manufacturing in the Far East. They provide us with new ways to track political, technological and social interactions that have been constantly reshaped by trade networks,” said Bar-Oz.
“We can now explore in more detail the long-distance movement of goods, geographic diffusion of people and ideas and connections along the roads and production centers. All these were, until now, historically and archaeologically invisible or incompletely recorded. Our new findings are an important step in that direction,” he concluded.
While the excavation at Nahal Omer provides an invaluable account of the vivid life in ancient Israel, its findings are not the oldest in the area. Last month, Israeli archaeologists from the University of Haifa discovered the earliest evidence of cotton in the ancient Near East during excavations at Tel Tsaf, a 7,000-year-old town in the Jordan Valley.
Tel Tsaf, located near Kibbutz Tirat Zvi, has in recent years provided a wealth of exciting discoveries, including the earliest example of social beer drinking and ritual food storage.
Column Cleaning at Egypt’s Great Hypostyle Hall Completed
Egypt has completed the restoration of 37 columns as part of the Karnak Temples’ Great Hypostyle Hall restoration project.
Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the restorers have cleaned the surface of the columns, removing sand, dust and bird pots. He added that the columns’ original engravings and colours now appear.
Furthermore, Waziri noted that the first phase of the project started in July 2021 with the restoration of the 16 opened papyri shaped columns located in the centre of the hall.
The Karnak was the largest and most important religious complex in ancient Egypt. Therefore, its development never ceased for over a 1000 years.
Located in the south of Upper Egypt on the east bank of the city of Luxor, Karnak houses several temples, obelisks and shrines built throughout the Middle and New Kingdoms.
The temple of Amun-Ra is particularly famous for the vast Hypostyle Hall constructed during the reign of King Seti I.
Ptolemaic rulers and Copts altered parts of the complex for their own use.
Bronze Age eating, social habits in the Balearic Islands documented in study
Researchers from a variety of Spanish institutions have managed to reconstruct the diet of some 50 individuals buried more than 3,000 years ago in the Cova des Pas’ necropolis in Menorca.
The study, coordinated by the UAB, indicates a diet of plants and meat, with all individuals having the same access to food, implying that they were a socially egalitarian group.
These findings form part of the study on eating habits of Bronze and Iron Age groups living in the Balearic Islands and contribute to the debate on the emergence and development of the first complex societies on the archipelago. This is the most complete study conducted to date of the paleodiet of ancient populations inhabiting the Balearic Islands.
The individuals buried at the Cova des Pas site in Menorca between 3,600 and 2,800 years ago ate what the land had to offer, mainly plants, and also had a significant intake of animal protein.
This has been confirmed by a Spanish research team that has reconstructed the dietary pattern of 49 individuals buried in this collective tomb of the Talayotic culture, considered one of the largest and most exceptional prehistoric collections of human remains in the Balearic Islands.
The results also indicate that children were breastfed until they were about four years old and that all population groups had equal access to food, without distinctions by sex or age. The study was recently published in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.
The research was coordinated by UAB researchers Assumpció Malgosa and Carlos Tornero, who is also linked to the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES-CERCA).
Pau Sureda, researcher at the Institute of Heritage Sciences (INCIPIT-CSIC), and Xavier Jordana, lecturer at the UAB and researcher at the Tissue Repair and Regeneration Laboratory of the University of Vic—Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC), as well as Filiana Sotiriadou, student of the UAB master’s degree in Biological Anthropology, also participated.
The study expands knowledge about the diet of the first Balearic population groups, a controversial subject of study. It confirms a mixed diet based on plants, with cereals such as wheat, and meat from goat and sheep herds, with little consumption of marine resources, and reinforces previous studies carried out at other Menorcan sites.
“Contrary to what has been seen in other settlements of the same period in Formentera or Mallorca, the consumption of marine food resources would have been occasional in these individuals,” says Carlos Tornero, Ramón y Cajal researcher in the UAB Department of Prehistory.
The research also contributes to the debate on the emergence and development of the first complex societies in the archipelago.
“These societies emerged and developed on the Balearic Islands during the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, between 3,600 and 2,600 years ago, including the Naviform (present in all the islands) and Talayotic (only in Mallorca and Menorca) cultures,” explains Pau Sureda, researcher at INCIPIT-CSIC.
But the fact that all the population groups had the same access to food would indicate that these Menorcan groups were socially egalitarian, without the hierarchical organizations or population units differentiated by their social function or economic resources typical of more complex societies.
“Our results are consistent with previous studies of different Menorcan settlements and with paleodemographic and taphonomic studies carried out on individuals from the Cova des Pas, which found no differences in life expectancy or treatment of burials,” says Assumpció Malgosa, lecturer of Physical Anthropology at the UAB and director of the Biological Anthropology Research Group (GREAB-UAB).
The research was conducted using the combined analysis of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in samples of collagen from the skeletal remains of the individuals, which made it possible to identify the consumption of plant and animal foods from land and water, as well as in samples of faunal remains from the Son Mercer de Baix site, the closest site physically and temporally to the necropolis, to reconstruct the food chain and interpret the human data.
Three-room Urartian tomb with liquid offering area (libation) found in eastern Turkey
A three-room Urartian tomb with a rock-cut libation (liquid offering area) to offer gifts to the gods was unearthed in the Erciş district of Van, in eastern Turkey.
In order to identify the historical structures in the Madavank region, which is registered as an Immovable Cultural Heritage in the Çelebibağ District, research was conducted in the area by Van Museum Director Fatih Arap and Van Yüzüncü Yıl University (YYÜ) Faculty of Letters Archeology Department Head Prof Dr Rafet Çavuşoğlu.
During this study, it was determined that there was an Urartian tomb with 3 rooms in the area close to the area where the Urartian worship area emerged as a result of the withdrawal of Lake Van.
Prof Dr Rafet Çavuşoğlu said that important structures belonging to the Urartian period were identified in the region.
Researchers told AA that there are two small burial chambers to the right and left of the main chamber.
The chamber tomb dug into the calcareous rock, reflects the Urartians’ classical characteristics. According to researchers, treasure hunters caused minor damage to the tomb.
Emphasizing that the tomb is an important remnant in terms of Urartian architecture, Çavuşoğlu said, “The three-room chamber tomb is entered through an oval arched door. Then there is a small chamber on the left and right.
It is not a well-known practice, but a channel for liquid libation was opened just above the entrance. “It is a chamber tomb we have seen for the first time. The important thing for us is that the tomb consists of 3 rooms, two rectangular openings above the entrance, and liquid libation were made here,” he said.
A libation is a ritual pouring of a liquid, or grains such as rice, as an offering to a deity or spirit, or in memory of the dead. The libation could be poured onto something of religious significance, such as an altar, or into the earth.
Largest-Known Flower Preserved in Amber Is Nearly 40 Million Years Old
The largest-known fossilized flower encased in amber, dating back nearly 40 million years, was again discovered in the Baltic region of Northern Europe.
Researchers have reexamined the rare amber fossil, which was first identified as the property of a pharmacist by the name of Kowalewski in what is now the Russian city of Kaliningrad in 1872.
According to Eva-Maria Sadowski, a postdoctoral researcher at Berlin’s Museum für Naturkunde and author of the new study, the striking fossil had been languishing largely forgotten in the collection of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR).
This tawny blossom, which looks like it was just plucked out of a bouquet, is the largest flower ever found in amber, the team reported on Thursday in a new study published in Scientific Reports. The blossom is so well preserved that the researchers were able to identify its floral descendants now residing a continent away.
In 1872, scientists identified the flower fossil as an extinct evergreen plant named Stewartia Kowalewskii.
Researchers have now reexamined the specimen and determined that it was a case of mistaken identity. They discovered that the flower came from a different genus entirely: Symplocos, a flowering species that grows in southeast China and Japan today.
As such, they proposed a new name for the fossil—Symplocos Kowalewskii. The first record of an ancient Symplocos plant preserved in Baltic amber.
At 28 millimeters (1.1 inches) across, the fossilized flower may not sound particularly large. But it is about three times the size of most other amber-preserved flowers and larger than nearly half of all other Baltic amber pieces.
The specimen, which is kept at the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in Berlin, was found in an amber deposit in what is Kaliningrad, Russia, and was first described in the late 19th century.
According to Dr. Sadowski, earlier research revealed that amber from this region dates to the late Eocene epoch, between approximately 33.9 million and 38 million years ago, which suggests that this specimen also comes from the late Eocene.
Fossils like the one described in the new study are key to reconstructing what ancient ecosystems were like, Dr. Sadowski said.