Sixth Dynasty Official’s Tomb Discovered in Saqqara

Sixth Dynasty Official’s Tomb Discovered in Saqqara

A team of archaeologists in Egypt has discovered the 4,300-year-old tomb of a man named Mehtjetju, an official who claimed that he had access to “secret” royal documents. 

This relief depicts the tomb owner, Mehtjetju, who lived around 4,300 years ago.

“The dignitary bore the name Mehtjetju and was, among other things, an official with access to royal sealed — that is secret — documents,” according to the hieroglyphs on the tomb, Kamil Kuraszkiewicz, a professor at the University of Warsaw’s Faculty of Oriental Studies, said in a statement.  

Mehtjetju’s tomb was found next to the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which was constructed about 4,700 years ago in Saqqara. 

It’s no coincidence that Mehtjetju’s tomb is next to the Step Pyramid, the first pyramid built by the ancient Egyptians.

Djoser “was an important and revered king from the glorious past,” and officials sometimes wanted to be buried beside his pyramid, even centuries after Djoser died, Kuraszkiewicz told Live Science in an email. 

Mehtjetju lived sometime during the reign of the first three pharaohs of the sixth dynasty: Teti (reign ca. 2323 B.C to 2291 B.C.), Userkare (reign ca. 2291 B.C. to 2289 B.C.) and Pepi I (reign ca. 2289 B.C. to 2255 B.C.).

Mehtjetju would have served one or more of those pharaohs. His other titles included “inspector of the royal estate” and he was also a priest of the mortuary cult of the pharaoh Teti, according to the statement. 

A fragment of painted decoration shows two men and at least one oryx.
Conservators working at the facade of the tomb.

So far, archaeologists have excavated the façade (entrance) of the tomb’s chapel, finding hieroglyphic inscriptions, paintings and a relief depicting Mehtjetju. No family members are mentioned in the hieroglyphic inscriptions, but the burial chamber has not been excavated yet and the tomb seems to be part of a larger complex that may hold his family’s remains, Kuraszkiewicz told Live Science.

Mehtjetju’s high social status meant he could hire skilled artisans to build the tomb, according to the archaeologists, who said the façade’s reliefs were crafted by a skilled hand. However, some of the tomb’s rock is brittle and eroded, prompting conservators to intervene during the excavation.

Scholar reacts

Several details suggest it’s possible that the tomb’s decoration was not completed, Ann Macy Roth, a clinical professor of art history and Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, who was not involved in the finding, told Live Science in an email. 

Roth noted that one of the paintings shows the outlines of a man beside a large antelope known as an oryx. The fact that only the outline is shown “suggests that the decoration wasn’t completed,” Roth said, noting that this is an “interesting tomb” and she looks forward to hearing about future finds. 

The discovery is “very exciting, as new tombs always are,” Roth said. 

The team plans to resume excavations in September and hopes to uncover the burial chamber of the tomb at that time. The chamber may contain the mummy of Mehtjetju. 

There is a hidden underground ‘city’ beneath the Giza Pyramids, experts claim

There is a hidden underground ‘city’ beneath the Giza Pyramids, experts claim

An enormous system of caves, chambers and tunnels lies hidden beneath the Pyramids of Giza, according to a British explorer who claims to have found the lost underworld of the pharaohs. Populated by bats and venomous spiders, the underground complex was found in the limestone bedrock beneath the pyramid field at Giza.

An enormous system of caves, chambers and tunnels lies hidden beneath the Pyramids of Giza, according to a British explorer who claims to have found the lost underworld of the pharaohs.
The unearthing of a lost city in Egypt was reported in many papers in 1935, including this report in the Sunday Express on July 7, 1935.

“There is untouched archaeology down there, as well as a delicate ecosystem that includes colonies of bats and a species of spider which we have tentatively identified as the white widow,” British explorer Andrew Collins said.

Collins, who will detail his findings in the book “Beneath the Pyramids” to be published in September, tracked down the entrance to the mysterious underworld after reading the forgotten memoirs of a 19th-century diplomat and explorer.

“In his memoirs, British consul general Henry Salt recounts how he investigated an underground system of ‘catacombs’ at Giza in 1817 in the company of Italian explorer Giovanni Caviglia,” Collins said.

The document records that the two explored the caves for a distance of “several hundred yards,” coming upon four large chambers from which stretched further cave passageways.

With the help of British Egyptologist Nigel Skinner-Simpson, Collins reconstructed Salt’s exploration on the plateau, eventually locating the entrance to the lost catacombs in an apparently unrecorded tomb west of the Great Pyramid.

Indeed, the tomb featured a crack in the rock, which led into a massive natural cave.

“We explored the caves before the air became too thin to continue. They are highly dangerous, with unseen pits and hollows, colonies of bats and venomous spiders,” said Collins.

According to Collins, the caves — which are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years old — may have both inspired the development of the pyramid field and the ancient Egyptian’s belief in an underworld.

“Ancient funerary texts clearly allude to the existence of a subterranean world in the vicinity of the Giza pyramids,” Collins told Discovery News.

Indeed, Giza was known anciently as Rostau, meaning the “mouth of the passages.”

This is the same name as a region of the ancient Egyptian underworld known as the Duat.

“The ‘mouth of the passages’ is unquestionably a reference to the entrance to a subterranean cave world, one long rumoured to exist beneath the plateau,” Collins told Discovery News.

Collins’ claim is expected to cause a stir in the Egyptological world.

Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, has dismissed the discovery.

“There are no new discoveries to be made at Giza. We know everything about the plateau,” he stated.

But Collins remarks that after extensive research, he found no mention of the caves in modern times.

“To the best of our knowledge, nothing has ever been written or recorded about these caves since Salt’s explorations. If Hawass does have any report related to these caves, we have yet to see it,” Collins said.

Restoration Reveals Engravings in Egypt’s Temple of Esna

Restoration Reveals Engravings in Egypt’s Temple of Esna

The Egyptian-German archaeological mission has uncovered original reliefs and engravings on the walls and ceilings of the Temple of Esna in Luxor, Upper Egypt during ongoing restoration work.

Restoration Reveals Engravings in Egypt’s Temple of Esna

The mission uncovered a distinguished relief on top of the entrance gate of the temple showing 46 eagles standing in two rows, with some bearing the heads of the Upper Egypt goddess Nekhbet, and others bearing the head of the Lower Egypt goddess Wadjet.

“This is the first time to find this relief,” said Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. “It was not seen or mentioned in the works published by the French Egyptologist Serge Soniron, who documented the temple’s reliefs in 1963 and 1975, Waziri added.

Hisham El-Leithy, the head of the Central Department for Egyptian Documentation Centre and head of the mission from the Egyptian side, explained that the uncovered reliefs and engravings at the Esna temple were hidden beneath dust and accumulation of salts and birds deposits over the last 2000 years.

This discovery made it important for us to begin a restoration project, funded by the American Research Centre in Cairo, to protect the temple and uncover its decorations, El-Leithy stressed.

Meanwhile, the mission also found a Roman engraving in red ink on the western side of the temple dating from the era of the Roman Emperor Domitian, 81-96 CE, who might have completed the construction of the temple.

More studies will be carried out on these engraving to show more details.

Construction on the Temple of Esna, which is dedicated to the ram god Khnum and his divine consorts, began in the Roman era during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) and its decoration was completed during the reign of Emperor Decius (249-251 AD).

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Temple of Esna suffered from urban encroachment, which limited access to the site only through one of the houses built around it.

During the reign of Mohamed Ali Pasha (1805-1840 AD), the temple is reported to have been used as a storage facility for the cotton crop.

Possible Traces of Calming Drug Found in Sacrificed Inca Children

Possible Traces of Calming Drug Found in Sacrificed Inca Children

Two Inca children slated for ritual sacrifice more than 500 years ago quaffed a special soothing concoction that has gone undetected until now. Those young victims, most likely a girl and a boy roughly 4 to 8 years old, drank a liquid that may have lightened their moods and calmed their nerves in the days or weeks before they were ceremonially killed and buried on Peru’s Ampato mountain, a new study suggests.

Possible Traces of Calming Drug Found in Sacrificed Inca Children
Previously excavated bodies of two ritually sacrificed Inca children, including this girl still wearing a ceremonial headdress, have yielded chemical clues to a beverage that may have been used to calm them in the days or weeks before being killed.

The youngsters’ bodies contained chemical remnants from one of the primary ingredients of ayahuasca, a liquid concoction known for its hallucinogenic effects, say bioarchaeologist Dagmara Socha of the University of Warsaw, Poland, and her colleagues (SN: 5/6/19). Analyses focused on hair from the girl’s naturally mummified body and fingernails from the boy’s partially mummified remains.

While no molecular signs of ayahuasca’s strong hallucinogens appeared in those remains, the team did find traces of harmine and harmaline, chemical products of Banisteriopsis caapi vines, Socha’s group reports in the June Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. In ayahuasca, B. caapi amplifies the strength of other more hallucinogenic ingredients.

Recent investigations with rodents suggest that solutions containing harmine affect the brain much as some antidepressant drugs do. “This is the first [evidence] that B. caapi could have been used in the past for its antidepressant properties,” Socha says.

While research on whether harmine can lessen depression or anxiety in people is in its infancy, archaeologist Christine VanPool of the University of Missouri, Columbia, thinks it’s possible that the ingredient was used on purpose.

Spanish documents written after the fall of the Inca empire say that alcohol was used to calm those about to be sacrificed, so other brews may have been used too, speculates VanPool, who was not part of Socha’s team.

“I tentatively say yes, the Inca understood that B. caapi reduced anxiety in sacrificial victims,” she says.

Spanish chroniclers may have mistakenly assumed that Inca sacrifice victims drank a popular corn beer known as chicha rather than a B. caapi beverage, Socha suspects.

No evidence of alcohol appeared in molecular analyses of the Ampato mountain children. But alcohol consumed just before being sacrificed would have gone undetected in the researchers’ tests.

Trace evidence did also indicate that both children had chewed coca leaves in the weeks leading up to their deaths.

Spanish written accounts described the widespread use of coca leaves during Inca rites of passage. Those events included ritual sacrifices of children and young women, who were believed to become envoys to various local gods after death.

The grave of an Inca boy who was ritually sacrificed in the Andes more than 500 years ago included valuable items, such as this silver llama figurine, signifying his status as an envoy to local deities.

The sacrificed children were found during a 1995 expedition near the summit of Ampato (SN: 11/11/95). It would have taken at least two weeks and possibly several months for the pair of Inca children to complete a pilgrimage from wherever their homes were located to the capital city of Cuzco for official ceremonies and then to Ampato mountain, Socha says.

Giving those kids a calming B. caapi drink as well as coca leaves to chew doesn’t surprise archaeologist Lidio Valdez of the University of Calgary, who did not participate in the new study.

Children may not have understood that they were going to die, but they had to endure the rigors and loneliness of a long trip while separated from their families, he says.  

Valdez suspects Ampato mountain was originally called Qampato, a word meaning toad in the Inca language. Andean societies such as the Inca associated toads with water or rain. “The mountain was also likely linked with water or rain and the children perhaps sacrificed to ask the mountain gods to send water,” he says.

California Museum Repatriates Remains and Artifacts

California Museum Repatriates Remains and Artifacts

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History turned over to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians the partial remains of about 1,000 Chumash and pre-Chumash people who had lived throughout the South Coast over a time span of 13,000 years.

In addition, UCSB turned over the human remains of 400 individuals and nearly 4,000 funerary objects. Most of these were unearthed when the UCSB campus was first being built in 1950 and date back as far as 4,000 years. 

This historic transfer was done in accordance with the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a law requiring museums and institutions of higher learning to turn over such remains and artefacts to federally recognized Native American representatives upon request.

Tribal Chairman Kenny Kahn

That request was issued in late October 2021 by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. The last of the remains, as well as a large number of funerary artefacts, were transferred from the Museum of Natural History and UCSB to the Santa Ynez Band officials in late April. 

In a carefully crafted press release issued by both the Santa Ynez Band and the Museum of Natural History, Tribal Chairman Kenny Kahn stated, “These items have come home to our tribe, and it allows us to do the important work of repatriation and reburial.

We will continue to have a close working relationship with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and consider it to be a collaborative partner in the community.”

Museum director Luke Swetland added, “The Museum has been honoured to care for this important cultural heritage for many years and finds it deeply satisfying that we can transfer custody back to the Chumash Community.”

The Museum’s Chumash and pre-Chumash collection, the most extensive in the world, included remains from 1,011 individuals and 36,943 associated funerary objects. With one notable exception, the bones in the museum collection date as far back as 7,000 BCE.

The exception is three femur bones found protruding from a creek channel on Santa Rosa Island in 1959 by Phil Orr, the museum’s then-director of anthropology.

Scientific analysis has proved those bones to be 13,000 years old, a discovery that makes them the oldest human remains found anywhere in North America.

The discovery adds considerable credence to a theory of human migration known as the “Kelp Superhighway Hypothesis,” which suggests that the first humans arrived in North America not by land, as has long been proposed, but by sea, following the coastline of the Pacific Rim of northeastern Asia and Beringia down to South America, where plentiful kelp beds provided sufficient food for the early explorers.

Most of the remains and artefacts transferred to the tribe show the technology and art developed by Chumash and pre-Chumash residents of the region, how they adorned themselves, what tools they had at their disposal, and what materials they used, and how they buried their dead. 

California Museum Repatriates Remains and Artifacts
Ancient Chumash beadwork

The collection of Native American remains and artefacts kept by museums and institutions of higher learning has long been a highly charged issue.

The Museum of Natural History first began amassing its collection in 1922 under the direction of museum anthropologists David Banks Rogers and John Peabody Harrington, who worked closely with Chumash people in the region recording their language and culture.

By the 1970s, the presence of Native American monitors emerged as a force for cultural preservation at any major construction sites located near what had once been tribal land.

In 1989, the museum created the California Indian Advisory Council, which included representatives from as many of the local Chumash bands as possible, not just those representing the Santa Ynez Band.

For the past 40 years, the museum ​— ​under the direction of John Johnson, the museum’s most recent anthropologist ​— ​collaborated with many academic researchers to study the museum’s collections consistent with the best practices established by the Society for American Archeology and the American Alliance of Museums.

In addition, Johnson has engaged closely with many Chumash individuals to study their cultural heritage, he said, “as a way to enlarge their understanding of themselves and their community.” 

The current concept of time was created by the Sumerians 5,000 years ago!

The current concept of time was created by the Sumerians 5,000 years ago!

Any ancient civilizations had a concept of time, although vague. Obviously, they knew that the day started when the sun rose and the night when the sun disappeared over the horizon.

But the ancient Sumerians, watching the skies, developed a much more complex system.

They realized that it was possible to divide the hours into 60 minutes and the days into 24 hours, developing the time measurement systems used today.

Ancient civilizations looked to the heavens to mark the passage of time.

The Sumer, or “land of the civilized kings”, flourished in Mesopotamia, which today is located in modern Iraq, around 4,500 BCE.

The Sumerians created an advanced civilization with its own system of elaborate language and writing, architecture and arts, astronomy and mathematics.

The Sumerian Empire did not last long. However, for more than 5,000 years, the world remained committed to its definition of time.

The celebrated Babylonian mathematical tablet Plimpton 322.

The Sumerians initially favoured the number 60, as it was very easily divisible. The number 60 can be divided by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20 and 30 into equal parts. In addition, ancient astronomers believed that there were 360 days in a year, a number that 60 fits perfectly six times.

Ancient people and the passage of time

Many of the ancient civilizations had an approximate notion of the passage of time. as the passage of days, weeks, months and years.

A month was the duration of a complete lunar cycle, while a week was the duration of a phase of the lunar cycle.

A year could be estimated based on the changes in the season and the relative position of the sun. The ancients realized that observing the skies could provide many answers to questions considered complex in their day.

Akkadian soldiers slaying enemies, circa 2300 BC, possibly from a Victory Stele of Rimush

When the Sumerian civilization came to decay, being conquered by the Akkadians in 2400 BCE and later by the Babylonians in 1800 BCE. In this way, the notion of dividing time into 60 units persisted and spread all over the world.

A round clock and a 24-hour day

Ancient Mesopotamian sundial at Archaeological Museum, Istanbul

When geometry was unveiled by the Greeks and the Islamists, the ancients realized that the number 360 was not only the time period of the Earth’s ideal orbit but also the perfect measure of a circle, forming 360 degrees.

Israeli study: Humans were hyper-carnivorous apex predators for 2 million years

Israeli study: Humans were hyper-carnivorous apex predators for 2 million years

Palaeolithic cuisine was anything but lean and green, according to a 2021 study on the diets of our Pleistocene ancestors. For a good 2 million years, Homo sapiens and their ancestors ditched the salad and dined heavily on meat, putting them at the top of the food chain.

It’s not quite the balanced diet of berries, grains, and steak we might picture when we think of ‘paleo’ food. But according to anthropologists from Israel’s Tel Aviv University and the University of Minho in Portugal, modern hunter-gatherers have given us the wrong impression of what we once ate.

“This comparison is futile, however, because 2 million years ago hunter-gatherer societies could hunt and consume elephants and other large animals – while today’s hunter-gatherers do not have access to such bounty,” said Miki Ben‐Dor from Israel’s Tel Aviv University in April last year.

A look through hundreds of previous studies on everything from modern human anatomy and physiology to measures of the isotopes inside ancient human bones and teeth suggests we were primarily apex predators until roughly 12,000 years ago.

Reconstructing the grocery list of hominids who lived as far back as 2.5 million years ago is made all that much more difficult by the fact plant remains don’t preserve as easily as animal bones, teeth, and shells.

Other studies have used chemical analysis of bones and tooth enamel to find localized examples of diets heavy in plant material. But extrapolating this to humanity as a whole isn’t so straightforward.

We can find ample evidence of game-hunting in the fossil record, but to determine what we gathered, anthropologists have traditionally turned to modern-day ethnography based on the assumption that little has changed.

According to Ben-Dor and his colleagues, this is a huge mistake.

“The entire ecosystem has changed, and conditions cannot be compared,” said Ben‐Dor. The Pleistocene epoch was a defining time in Earth’s history for us humans. By the end of it, we were marching our way into the far corners of the globe, outliving every other hominid on our branch of the family tree.

Above: Graph showing where Homo sapiens sat on the spectrum of a carnivore to herbivore during the Pleistocene and Upper Pleistocene (UP).

Dominated by the last great ice age, most of what is today Europe and North America were regularly buried under thick glaciers. With so much water locked up as ice, ecosystems around the world were vastly different to what we see today. Large beasts roamed the landscape, including mammoths, mastodons, and giant sloths – in far greater numbers than we see today.

Of course, it’s no secret that Homo sapiens used their ingenuity and uncanny endurance to hunt down these massive meal tickets. But the frequency with which they preyed on these herbivores hasn’t been so easy to figure out. Rather than rely solely on the fossil record, or make tenuous comparisons with pre-agricultural cultures, the researchers turned to the evidence embedded in our own bodies and compared it with our closest cousins.

“We decided to use other methods to reconstruct the diet of stone-age humans: to examine the memory preserved in our own bodies, our metabolism, genetics and physical build,” said Ben‐Dor.

“Human behaviour changes rapidly, but evolution is slow. The body remembers.”

For example, compared with other primates, our bodies need more energy per unit of body mass. Especially when it comes to our energy-hungry brains. Our social time, such as when it comes to raising children, also limits the amount of time we can spend looking for food.

We have higher fat reserves and can make use of them by rapidly turning fats into ketones when the need arises. Unlike other omnivores, where fat cells are few but large, ours are small and numerous, echoing those of a predator. Our digestive systems are also suspiciously like that of animals higher up the food chain. Having unusually strong stomach acid is just the thing we might need for breaking down proteins and killing harmful bacteria you’d expect to find on a week-old mammoth chop.

Even our genomes point to a heavier reliance on a meat-rich diet than a sugar-rich one.

“For example, geneticists have concluded that areas of the human genome were closed off to enable a fat-rich diet, while in chimpanzees, areas of the genome were opened to enable a sugar-rich diet,” said Ben‐Dor. The team’s argument is extensive, touching upon evidence in tool use, signs of trace elements and nitrogen isotopes in Paleolithic remains, and dental wear. It all tells a story where our genus’ trophic level – Homo’s position in the food web – became highly carnivorous for us and our cousins, Homo erectus, roughly 2.5 million years ago, and remained that way until the upper Paleolithic around 11,700 years ago.

From there, studies on modern hunter-gatherer communities become a little more useful, as a decline in populations of large animals and fragmentation of cultures around the world saw to more plant consumption, culminating in the Neolithic revolution of farming and agriculture. None of this is to say we ought to eat more meat. Our evolutionary past isn’t an instruction guide on human health, and as the researchers emphasize, our world isn’t what it used to be.

But knowing where our ancestors sat in the food web has a big impact on understanding everything from our own health and physiology to our influence over the environment in times gone by.

Aztec war sacrifices found in Mexico may point to the elusive royal tomb

Aztec war sacrifices found in Mexico may point to the elusive royal tomb

Aztec war sacrifices found in Mexico may point to the elusive royal tomb
An archaeologist works on a 500-year-old partially-excavated stone box containing an Aztec offering

A newly discovered trove of Aztec sacrifices could lead archaeologists to an elusive Aztec emperor’s tomb. Such a discovery would mark a first since no Aztec royal burial has yet been found despite decades of digging.

The sacrificial offerings, including a richly adorned jaguar dressed as a warrior, were found in Mexico City, Reuters reports.

“We have enormous expectations right now,” lead archaeologist Leonardo Lopez Lujan said.

“As we go deeper we think we’ll continue finding very rich objects.”

Discovered off the steps of the Aztec’s holiest temple, the sacrificial offerings also include a young boy, dressed to resemble the Aztec war god and solar deity, and a set of flint knives elaborately decorated with mother of pearl and precious stones.

The offerings were deposited by Aztec priests over five centuries ago in front of the temple where the earliest historical accounts describe the final resting place of Aztec kings.

The interior of a stone box shows an Aztec offering including a set of black flint knives decorated to represent warriors

Only around a tenth of the box has been excavated but plenty of artefacts have already been uncovered, including a large number of shells, and bright red starfish that it’s believed represented the watery underworld the Aztecs believed the sun travelled through at night before emerging in the east to begin a new day.

“There’s an enormous amount of coral that’s blocking what we can see below,” said archaeologist Miguel Baez, part of the excavation team.

Route to an Aztec king?

Chroniclers detailed the burial rites of three Aztec kings, all brothers who ruled from 1469 to 1502.

According to these accounts, the rulers’ ashes were deposited with opulent offerings and the hearts of sacrificed slaves.

In 2006, a huge monolith of the Aztec earth goddess was found nearby with an inscription corresponding to the year 1502, which is when the empire’s greatest ruler and the last of the brothers, Ahuitzotl, passed away.

Elizabeth Boone, an ancient Mexico specialist at Tulane University, notes that the jaguar may represent the king as a fearless warrior.

“You could have Ahuitzotl in that box,” she said.

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