Medieval plague mass grave discovery in England


This video from England says about itself:

Digging Thornton Abbey Plague Pit

30 November 2016

When our Archaeology students discovered a medieval plague pit buried under the grounds at Thornton Abbey it was a huge surprise – but we weren’t unprepared…

Hugh Wilmott from The University of Sheffield Department of Archaeology takes us around the dig to explain how we understand and record such an incredible find, Diane Swales highlights the ancient DNA analysis lab work into Black Death that can tell us about those who fell to the disease and PhD student Pete Townend shows the 3D and GPS tech that’s helping us locate and map finds.

Read more about our work at Thornton Abbey plague pit on The University of Sheffield website here.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Gruesome evidence of Black Death’s abbey visit

Wednesday 30th November 2016

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have uncovered almost 50 skeletons of Black Death victims — more than half of them children — at a 14th-century monastery in Lincolnshire.

The mass burial pit at Thornton Abbey, near Immingham, is said to be extremely rare. It contained the bones of 48 victims, a team from Sheffield University said yesterday.

The presence of such a large burial site suggests that the community was overwhelmed by pandemic and unable to cope with the number of dead.

The Black Death spread throughout Europe from 1346 to 1353. Estimates of the death toll range from 75 million to 200m people.

The disease is documented to have reached Lincolnshire in 1349.

Ancient Egyptian discoveries in Abydos


This May 2016 video is called The Great Pharaohs of Egypt – The First Pharaohs.

From Archaeology:

Large Mud-Brick Tombs Discovered in Abydos

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

ABYDOS, EGYPT—A cemetery and residential area dating to around the time of Egypt’s First Dynasty (late fourth millennium B.C.) has been discovered in Abydos, according to a report in Egypt Independent. Both are thought to have been used by senior officials tasked with planning tombs for the ancient Egyptian royal family along with the workers who actually built the tombs.

Archaeologists found remains of huts, pottery, and stone tools at the site. Hany Aboul Azm, head of the Central Administration of Upper Egypt, said that 15 large mud-brick tombs had been uncovered, and that their large size underscores the importance of those buried in them. The tombs date to around the time of the establishment of Egypt’s First Dynasty, when Abydos is thought to have been the country’s capital. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “‘T’ Marks the Spot.”

So, this new discovery is over 5,000 years old. Many corporate media (eg, here and here) mistakenly claim an age of over 7,000 years.

Ancient Egyptian queens, exhibition


This 9 November 2016 Dutch video is about constructing the Queens of the Nile exhibition at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Exhibition shows luxury and power of Egyptian queens

17 November 2016

The Queens of the Nile exhibition at the National Museum of Antiquities finally affords the wives of the pharoahs the attention they deserve. Thanks to guest curator Olaf Kaper, students and PhD candidates gained valuable experience in museum curating.

History and life at court

Like a child in a sweetshop. That’s how Kaper felt over the past year as he strolled around the world’s most prominent museums on Egypt. Kaper, an egyptologist at Leiden University, was given carte blanche by Leiden’s National Museum of Antiquities to come up with a concept for an exhibition on ancient Egypt. The exhibition had to complement the existing collection, which can be seen from 18 November in a completely new setting at the museum. Why did Kaper opt for ‘Queens of the Nile’? ‘Too little attention has been paid to the wives of the pharoahs, both in science and in the museum world. I wanted to tell their history and show different aspects of life at court.’

Divine status

The exhibition covers a period of some 500 years (1539-1077 BC) and focuses on the five queens of the New Empire: Ahmose Nefertari, Hatsepshut, Tiye, Nefertiti and Nefertari. These women had great political influence and were accorded divine status, Kaper explains. They surrounded themselves with luxury and that’s abundantly clear. The exhibition shows 350 objects, including royal portraits, statues of deities, sumptuous jewellery and valuable accessories such as mirrors set in bronze.

Murder of Ramses III

What does Kaper regard as the prize exhibits? ‘There are so many of them, but two are particularly special: the decorated granite cover of the sarcophagus of Queen Nefertari and a five-metre papyrus. This enormous document is a legal text that describes the conspiracy against and the murder of Pharoah Ramses III by a group of ladies from the harem and a number of officials. It proves that women at that time were by no means happy to accept a subordinate role.’

Students reconstruct the dress of the queens

Kaper carried out new research before the exhibition. Together with students, he reconstructed one of the outfits of the queens. ‘Pharoah Tutankhamun is the only royal whose clothing has been found. There is not a single item of clothing remaining that belonged to the queens, but there are portraits and images of the women from which we were able to reconstruct their dress.’ The result of their search can be seen at the exhibition that includes a mannequin wearing the outfit of a queen, including a stunning gold headdress.

Publications by PhD candidates

‘This exhibition was also an exceptional opportunity for my students and PhD candidates,’ Kaper explains. His students were able to gain research experience and the results of their work can be seen in the museum. Several PhD candidates published an article on their research in the exhibition catalogue. Irene Morfini wrote an article on the artists who constructed the tombs of the kings, and Steffie van Gompel and Petra Hogenboom published on their research on the position of women in Ancient Egypt. Kaper: ‘Thanks to this exhibition, young researchers have also been given a platform. It’s a great example of interaction between the worlds of the museum and academia.’

This is the first major exhibition on the queens of Egypt to be held in the Netherlands. The exhibition will run from 18 November to 17 April 2017. Most of the artefacts are from the Museo Egizio in Turin, the world’s second largest museum on Egypt.

This 17 November 2016 Dutch video is about the Queens of the Nile exhibition at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden.

Oldest alphabet Hebrew, derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs?


This video says about itself:

How Egypt invented the alphabet – History of Writing Systems #7 (Abjad)

25 September 2015

From Egyptian hieroglyphs to your alphabet, watch these miners turn fancy symbols into simple scratches that were all about the sounds.

First marvel at hieroglyphic inscriptions in the shadow of the great pyramids. Once you grasp how those work (or dismiss their archaic complexities), travel to a cave in the Sinai desert. See those old ornate consonants and determinatives turn into a rushed, simplified alphabet before your very eyes!

But this isn’t where the story of writing ends. A Phoenician merchant asks you to pack up the alphabet and help her trade it around the ancient Mediterranean. See the results of that next time!

From Science News:

Oldest alphabet identified as Hebrew

Controversial claim argues that ancient Israelites turned Egyptian hieroglyphics into letters

By Bruce Bower

8:00am, November 19, 2016

SAN ANTONIO — The world’s earliest alphabet, inscribed on stone slabs at several Egyptian sites, was an early form of Hebrew, a controversial new analysis concludes.

Israelites living in Egypt transformed that civilization’s hieroglyphics into Hebrew 1.0 more than 3,800 years ago, at a time when the Old Testament describes Jews living in Egypt, says archaeologist and epigrapher Douglas Petrovich of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada. Hebrew speakers seeking a way to communicate in writing with other Egyptian Jews simplified the pharaohs’ complex hieroglyphic writing system into 22 alphabetic letters, Petrovich proposed on November 17 at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

“There is a connection between ancient Egyptian texts and preserved alphabets,” Petrovich said.

That’s a highly controversial contention among scholars of the Bible and ancient civilizations. Many argue, despite what’s recounted in the Old Testament, that Israelites did not live in Egypt as long ago as proposed by Petrovich. Biblical dates for the Israelites’ stay in Egypt are unreliable, they say.

Scholars have also generally assumed for more than 150 years that the oldest alphabetic script Petrovich studied could be based on any of a group of ancient Semitic languages. But not enough is known about those tongues to specify one language in particular.

Petrovich’s Hebrew identification for the ancient inscriptions is starved for evidence, said biblical scholar and Semitic language specialist Christopher Rollston of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. There is no way to tell which of many Semitic languages are represented by the early alphabetic system, Rollston contended.

The origins of writing in different parts of the world — including that of the alphabet carved into the Egyptian slabs — have long stimulated scholarly debates (SN: 3/6/93, p. 152). A German scholar identified the ancient Egyptian writing as Hebrew in the 1920s. But he failed to identify many letters in the alphabet, leading to implausible translations that were rejected by researchers.

Petrovich says his big break came in January 2012. While conducting research at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, he came across the word “Hebrews” in a text from 1874 B.C. that includes the earliest known alphabetic letter. According to the Old Testament, Israelites spent 434 years in Egypt, from 1876 B.C. to 1442 B.C.

Petrovich then combined previous identifications of some letters in the ancient alphabet with his own identifications of disputed letters to peg the script as Hebrew. Armed with the entire fledgling alphabet, he translated 18 Hebrew inscriptions from three Egyptian sites.

Several biblical figures turn up in the translated inscriptions, including Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his half-brothers and then became a powerful political figure in Egypt, Joseph’s wife Asenath and Joseph’s son Manasseh, a leading figure in a turquoise-mining business that involved yearly trips to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt, is also mentioned, Petrovich says.

One inscription, dated to 1834 B.C., translates as “Wine is more abundant than the daylight, than the baker, than a nobleman.” This statement probably meant that, at that time or shortly before, drink was plentiful, but food was scarce, Petrovich suspects. Israelites, including Joseph and his family, likely moved to Egypt during a time of famine, when Egyptians were building silos to store food, he suggests.

A book by Petrovich detailing his analyses of the ancient inscriptions will be published within the next few months. Petrovich says the book definitively shows that only an early version of Hebrew can make sense of the Egyptian inscriptions.

What people ate when North Sea was land


Doggerland people, reconstruction

Translated from Historiek.net in the Netherlands:

Archaeologists discover menu of the hunter-gatherers of ‘Doggerland

Editors – November 1, 2016, 15:51

Some 8000 years ago mainly freshwater fish was on the menu of the hunter-gatherers of Doggerland “the drowned landscape between the Netherlands, England and Denmark. This conclude Dutch archaeologists based on isotopic analysis of prehistoric human skeletal remains from the North Sea.

The discovery gives clues about the occupation of this vast landscape drowned in the middle Stone Age (Mesolithic) and the effects of climate change on earlier societies.

Preferring fish

The isotopic study was conducted by the University of Groningen, the National Museum of Antiquities, Stone Foundation and the National Cultural Heritage Authority. It shows that for the Doggerland residents in a period of 4000 years the menu, between 9500 and 6000 BC., gradually changed from mostly meat to mostly fish. Especially freshwater fish was eaten a lot, as well as small animals such as otter, beaver and waterfowl.

The study is based on measurements of stable isotopes. These are variations of atoms having a certain value. The value of some isotopes, such as nitrogen and carbon, changes according to the position in the food chain. A real meat-eater has a different isotopic signature than someone who eats seafood or someone in a fresh water wetland.

The detected change in the composition of the Doggerland menu is associated with the drowning landscape between the Netherlands, England and Denmark, after the last ice age. Between 9500 and 6000 BC. the climate warmed and sea levels rose on average about two meters per century. That is about ten times faster than today.

The low-lying North Sea basin was filled with water. Previously it was thought that this drowning of land and the rising waters forced residents further inland, or forced them to specialize in a marine diet. The isotopic measurements showed that they were eating more fresh water fish. This suggests, according to the researchers, that the people were not scared away, but rather continued to live in the vast wetlands which then arose in the deltas of Meuse, Rhine and Thames. Precisely because it was a nice place and one could find enough food.

Treasury of our coast

The bone material which is used for the isotope analysis is taken from the North Sea. Since the last few years there have been many prehistoric findings there. The material is not only retrieved with fishing nets but is mainly found in the reclaimed sand for coastal defenses and major projects such as the Second Maasvlakte and the Zandmotor. This sand comes from the North Sea floor and contains the remains of a vast and largely unexplored prehistoric landscape. Although research on the spot is awkward, the results show that there is a wealth of data.

Many baby crocodiles discovered in Egyptian mummy


Baby crocodiles discovered

From the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden):

Egyptian giant crocodile mummy is full of surprises

15 November 2016

The three-metre-long mummified Egyptian ‘giant crocodile’, one of the finest animal mummies in the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden), turns out to be literally filled with surprises. Examination of detailed new 3D CT scans has led to the conclusion that, besides the two crocodiles previously spotted inside the wrappings, the mummy also contains dozens of individually wrapped baby crocodiles.

Exceptional discovery

This is an exceptional discovery: there are only a few known crocodile mummies of this kind anywhere in the world. Starting on 18 November, museum visitors can perform an interactive virtual autopsy on the crocodile mummy and the mummy of an Egyptian priest. On a large touch screen, they can examine the mummies layer by layer, learning about their age, physical features, and the mummification process. The amulets placed inside the linen wrappings with the mummies can also be examined in detail and from all sides in 3D.

Virtual autopsy in museum galleries

A new scan of the large crocodile mummy was recently performed at the Academic Medical Centre (AMC) in Amsterdam. An earlier CT scan in 1996 had shown that there are two juvenile crocodiles inside a mummy that looks like one large crocodile. The Swedish company Interspectral, which specializes in high-tech interactive 3D visualizations, has converted the results of the new scan into a spectacular 3D application and thus detected the dozens of baby crocodiles.

A reference to new life after death?

The museum’s Egyptologists suspect that the crocodiles of different ages were mummified together as a reference to the ancient Egyptian belief in rejuvenation and new life after death. Another possibility is that no large crocodiles were available at a time when they were needed as offerings to the gods. The mummy was given the shape of one large crocodile with various kinds of stuffing: bits of wood, wads of linen, plant stems, and rope.The ancient Egyptians mummified all sorts of animals, usually to pay homage to a particular deity that could manifest in animal form. For instance, crocodiles were offered to the god Sobek.

Museum’s curators excited about the find

The museum’s curators are excited about this remarkable find: “What was intended as a tool for museum visitors, has yet produced new scientific insights. When we started work on this project, we weren’t really expecting any new discoveries. After all, the mummy had already been scanned. It was a big surprise that so many baby crocodiles could be detected with high-tech 3D scans and this interactive visualization.”

Irish stone age discovery


This video series is called Irish archaeology and early history.

From Science News:

Stone adze points to ancient burial rituals in Ireland

Ceremonial tool found with cremated remains in island’s earliest known gravesite

By Bruce Bower

4:33pm, November 9, 2016

A stone chopping tool found in Ireland’s earliest known human burial offers a rare peek at hunter-gatherers’ beliefs about death more than 9,000 years ago, researchers say.

The curved-edge implement, known as an adze, was made to be used at a ceremony in which an adult’s largely cremated remains were interred in a pit, says a team led by archaeologist Aimée Little of the University of York in England. Previous radiocarbon dating of burned wood and a bone fragment from the pit, at a site called Hermitage near the River Shannon, places the material at between 9,546 and 9,336 years old.

A new microscopic analysis revealed a small number of wear marks on the sharpened edge of the still highly polished adze, which was probably attached to a wooden handle, the researchers report online October 20 in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Little’s group suspects someone wielded the 19.4-centimeter-long adze to chop wood for a funeral pyre or to fell a tree for a grave marker. A hole dug into the bottom of the riverside pit once held a tall wooden post indicating that a person lay buried there, the scientists suspect.

Once the adze fulfilled its ritual duties, a hard stone was ground across the tool’s sharp edge to render it dull and useless, further microscopic study suggests. The researchers regard this act as a symbolic killing of the adze. The dulled tool blade was then placed in the pit, next to the post grave marker, perhaps to accompany the cremated individual to the afterlife.

“By 9,000 years ago, people in Ireland were making very high quality artifacts specifically to be placed in graves, giving us a tantalizing glimpse of ancient belief systems concerning death and the afterlife,” Little says. Her conclusion challenges a popular assumption among researchers that stone tools found in ancient hunter-gatherers’ graves belonged to the deceased while they were still alive. In that scenario, tools and other grave items played no role in burial activities and rituals.

Archaeologist Erik Brinch Petersen of the University of Copenhagen is skeptical. No other European stone adzes or axes from around 10,000 to 6,000 years ago display blunted edges, Petersen says. That makes it difficult to say how such an unusual artifact was used or whether it was intended to accompany a cremated person to the afterlife. In addition, researchers have found only a few European cremations from the same time period.

Since there was no practical reason to turn an effective tool into a chunk of stone that couldn’t cut, Little responds, intentionally dulling the adze’s edge was likely a ritual act. Whatever the meaning, people in Ireland made polished stone tools several thousand years before such implements achieved widespread use in Europe with the arrival of agriculture, Little says.

Excavations in 2001 revealed the Hermitage burial pit. Two small stone tools lay near the polished adze. A couple more burial pits turned up nearby. One contained cremated remains of an adult human from around 9,000 years ago; the other held roughly 8,600-year-old cremated remnants too fragmentary to enable a species identification.

“Hermitage was a special place known about and returned to over hundreds of years,” Little says.