Ancient Egyptian goldsmith’s tomb discovery


This video says about itself:

Get a First Look Inside a Newly Opened Egyptian Tomb | National Geographic

17 September 2017

Archaeologists explored for the first time a 3,500-year-old tomb near Luxor, Egypt. The tomb belonged to a goldsmith and his wife, and includes a crumbling statue of the pair. The family lived during Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. Archaeologists also found statuettes, mummies, pottery, and other artifacts. They hope that its contents may yield clues to other discoveries.

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‘Male’ Viking warrior turns out to be woman


This is how the grave on Birka might have looked like where the female warrior was buried. Illustration by Evald Hansen based on the original plan of grave Bj 581 from Hjalmar Stolpe's excavations at Birka in the late 19th century. (Stolpe 1889)

From Stockholm University in Sweden:

An officer and a gentlewoman from the Viking army in Birka

War was not an activity exclusive to males in the Viking world. A new study conducted by researchers at Stockholm and Uppsala Universities shows that women could be found in the higher ranks at the battlefield.

September 8, 2017

Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, who led the study, explains: “What we have studied was not a Valkyrie [war goddess] from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to be a woman”.

The study was conducted on one of the most iconic graves from the Viking Age. It holds the remains of a warrior surrounded by weapons, including a sword, armour-piercing arrows, and two horses. There were also a full set of gaming pieces and a gaming board. “The gaming set indicates that she was an officer”, says Charlotte, “someone who worked with tactics and strategy and could lead troops in battle”. The warrior was buried in the Viking town of Birka during the mid-10th century. Isotope analyses confirm an itinerant life style, well in tune with the martial society that dominated 8th to 10th century northern Europe.

Anna Kjellström, who also participated in the study, has taken an interest in the burial previously. “The morphology of some skeletal traits strongly suggests that she was a woman, but this has been the type specimen for a Viking warrior for over a century why we needed to confirm the sex in any way we could.”

And this is why the archaeologists turned to genetics, to retrieve a molecular sex identification based on X and Y chromosomes. Such analyses can be quite useful according to Maja Krezwinska: “Using ancient DNA for sex identification is useful when working with children for example, but can also help to resolve controversial cases such as this one”. Maja was thus able to confirm the morphological sex identification with the presence of X chromosomes but the lack of a Y chromosome.

Jan Storå, who holds the senior position on this study, reflects over the history of the material: “This burial was excavated in the 1880s and has served as a model of a professional Viking warrior ever since. Especially, the grave-goods cemented an interpretation for over a century”. It was just assumed she was a man through all these years. “The utilization of new techniques, methods, but also renewed critical perspectives, again, shows the research potential and scientific value of our museum collections”.

The study is a part of the ongoing ATLAS project, which is a joint effort by Stockholm University and Uppsala University, supported by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences) and Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council), to investigate the genetic history of Scandinavia.

See also here.

Ancient Roman houses and Greek rock partridge


Glassware, 26 August 2017

On 26 August 2017, we went to the Casa Romana exhibition in the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, the Netherlands. This photo shows glassware at the exhibition. Like the other photo in this blog post, it is a cell phone photo.

The exhibition is until 17 September. The museum writes about it:

Casa Romana provides a surprising introduction to the rich life of the residents of a fashionable Roman town villa. Visitors can look around the villa’s sumptuous interior, following the Romans’ everyday life from morning rituals to bedroom secrets. Countless objects from the museum collection have been incorporated into the rooms furnished for this exhibition, such as a dinner service, glassware, oil lamps, and portrait busts.

Mix of archaeology and modern design

In Casa Romana we see a blend of ancient archaeology and modern design by Studio Job, Tjep., and the garden architect Piet Oudolf, among others, as well as work by artists including Ruud van Empel, Gerd Rohling, Olivier van Herpt, and Teun van Staveren. There is also plenty to delight devotees of architecture. In total, over eight hundred objects are on display: dinner services, delicate glassware, mosaics, marble portrait busts and architectural fragments, jewellery, a silver table leg, roof tiles, children’s toys, and hundreds of small Roman oil lamps.

Interior of a Roman villa

The exhibition shows a sequence of twelve scenes from the private life of a couple from the highest echelons of Roman society and their family. You can follow their fascinating story in an audio tour, written by Brenda Meuleman, the author of the recent novel Het verraad van Julia (‘Julia’s betrayal’). The interiors that go with each stage of the story fully capture the lavishness of Roman villas, with their colourful frescoes and mosaic floors. They were composed using frescoes, film images, and art based on Roman antiquity.

Objects: a mix of items from the museum’s own collection and loans from elsewhere

Most of the Roman objects come from the National Museum of Antiquities’ own collection. They are joined by loans from numerous designers, artists, and antiquarians, as well as from the Royal Collections (The Hague), Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (Rotterdam), the Kröller-Müller Museum (Otterlo), and the Allard Pierson Museum (Amsterdam). The guest curators of this exhibition are the archaeologist and independent researcher Dr Gemma Jansen and Professor Eric M. Moormann and Dr Stephan T.A.M. Mols (the latter both of Radboud University, Nijmegen).

As we were in the museum anyway, we had a look at ancient Greek sculpture.

Rock partidge, 26 August 2017

Including this oil flask in the shape of a rock partridge, from Corinth, about 500-480 BCE.

Babylonians, world’s oldest trigonometrists discovery


This video says about itself:

Ancient Babylonian tablet – world’s first trig table

24 August 2017

UNSW Sydney scientists have discovered the purpose of a famous 3700-year old Babylonian clay tablet, revealing it is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, most likely used by ancient mathematical scribes to calculate how to construct palaces, temples and stepped pyramids.

Read more here.

Plimpton 322, the most famous of Old Babylonian tablets (1900-1600 BC), is the world’s oldest trigonometric table, possibly used by Babylonian scholars to calculate how to construct stepped pyramids, palaces and temples, according to a duo of researchers from the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia: here.

What Stone Age humans ate


This video says about itself:

26 June 2014

According to the oldest fossil evidence of human feces ever discovered, the extinct species known as Neanderthals probably ate vegetables. Researchers from the University of La Laguna on the Canary Islands in Spain, working along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, analyzed fossil samples that include 50 thousand year-old feces from a Neanderthal campfire site close to Alicante, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Data from the study shows that the Neanderthal diet was mostly meat, but the fossil evidence indicates also the presence of plants in their excrement.

Ainara Sistiaga, a PhD student at the University of La Laguna is quoted as saying: “If you find it in the faeces, you are sure that it was ingested. This molecular fossil is perfect to try to know the proportion of both food sources in a Neanderthal meal.”

Neanderthals are modern humans’ closest extinct relative living between 250 thousand to 40 thousand years ago, and some experts believe that Neanderthals interbred with Homo sapiens before they became extinct.

Experts say that the prehistoric human diet probably varied quite a bit by region and availability, so it is plausible that some populations of Neanderthals ate plants and vegetables.

From the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Germany:

On the early human’s menu: Mammoth and plenty of raw vegetables

Early modern humans consumed more plants than Neanderthals but ate very little fish

August 4, 2017

Senckenberg scientists have studied the diet of anatomically modern humans. With their recent study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, they were able to refute the theory that the diet of early representatives of Homo sapiens was more flexible than that of Neanderthals. Just like the Neanderthals, our ancestors had mainly mammoth and plants on their plates — the researchers were unable to document fish as part of their diet. Therefore, the international team assumes that the displacement of the Neanderthals was the result of direct competition.

The first representatives of Homo sapiens colonized Europe around 43,000 years ago, replacing the Neanderthals there approximately 3,000 years later. “Many studies examine the question of what led to this displacement — one hypothesis postulates that the diet of the anatomically modern humans was more diverse and flexible and often included fish,” explains Prof. Dr. Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (HEP) at the University of Tübingen.

Together with his colleague, Dr. Dorothée Drucker, the biogeologist from Tübingen now set out to get to the bottom of this hypothesis. In conjunction with an international team, he studied the dietary habits of early modern man on the basis of the oldest know fossils from the Buran Kaya caves on the Crimean Peninsula in the Ukraine. “In the course of this study, we examined the finds of early humans in the context of the local fauna,” explains Drucker, and she continues, “Until now, all analyses of the diet of early modern humans were based on isolated discoveries; therefore, they are very difficult to interpret.”

In order to reconstruct our ancestor’s menu — despite the lack of a fossil dietary record — the team around the scientists from Tübingen measured the percentage of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the bones of the early humans and the locally present potential prey animals such as saiga, horses, and deer. In addition, they also analyzed the nitrogen-15 content of individual amino acids, making it possible to not only determine the origin, but also the proportion of the nitrogen. “Our results reveal a very high proportion of the nitrogen isotope 15N in early modern humans,” adds Bocherens, and he continues, “However, contrary to our previous assumptions, these do not originate from the consumption of fish products, but primarily from mammoths.”

And yet another result came as a surprise for the scientists: The proportion of plants in the diet of the anatomically modern humans was significantly higher than in comparable Neanderthal finds — mammoths, on the other hand, appear to have been one of the primary sources of meat in both species.

“According to our results, Neanderthals and the early modern humans were in direct competition in regard to their diet, as well — and it appears that the Neanderthals drew the short straw in this contest,” adds Drucker in conclusion.

This video says about itself:

1 December 2009

Natural History Museum scientists, working as part of the Gibraltar Caves Project, excavated and studied remains of shellfish and other marine animals such as dolphins from two caves in Gibraltar where Neanderthals once lived and have discovered that Neanderthal diets were more like those of early modern humans than previously thought.

Ancient Sudanese goldsmith’s tomb found


This video says about itself:

Ancient tomb of gold worker found along Nile river

3 July 2017

The ancient tomb found on Sai Island seems to have been built for a man named Khnummose. His remains along with those of possibly his wife were buried there.

A 3,400-year-old tomb holding the remains of more than a dozen possibly mummified people has been discovered on Sai Island, along the Nile River in northern Sudan.

Archaeologists discovered the tomb in 2015, though it wasn’t until 2017 that a team with the AcrossBorders archaeological research project fully excavated the site.

The island is part of an ancient land known as Nubia that Egypt controlled 3,400 years ago. The Egyptians built settlements and fortifications throughout Nubia, including on Sai Island, which had a settlement and a gold mine. The tomb, which contains multiple chambers, appears to hold the remains of Egyptians who lived in or near that settlement and worked in gold production.

The artifacts found in the tomb include scarabs (a type of amulet widely used in Egypt), ceramic vessels, a gold ring, the remains of gold funerary masks worn by the deceased and a small stone sculpture known as a shabti. The ancient Egyptians believed that shabtis could do the work of the deceased for them in the afterlife. Some of the artifacts bore Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions that revealed the tomb was originally created for a man named Khnummose, who was a “master gold worker.”

The remains of Khnummose (which may have been mummified) were found next to those of a woman who may have been his wife. Some of the other people found in tomb may have been relatives of Khnummose, the researchers said, adding that they planned to conduct DNA analyses of the remains.

“We will try to extract ancient DNA from the [bones] of the bodies in question,” said Julia Budka, professor for Egyptian Archaeology and Art History at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich. “If the [ancient] DNA is preserved, this will help us a lot. Otherwise, it all remains tentative,” said Budka, who noted that the samples are already at the Department for Archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany.

The archaeologists said they aren’t sure how many of the bodies were mummified.

“The state of preservation is very difficult here,” Budka said. “I am waiting for the report of my physical anthropologists. For now, the position and also traces of bitumen speak for some kind of mummification for all persons in Tomb 26 who were placed in wooden coffins.” Bitumen is a type of petroleum that the ancient Egyptians sometimes used in mummification.

Many of the coffins are also poorly preserved, and it’s uncertain exactly how many of the people were buried in coffins, Budka said.

From the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen in Germany:

New Kingdom Egypt: The goldsmith’s tomb

July 21, 2017

Summary: Archeologists are studying the impact of intercultural contacts in Ancient Egypt. New excavations in Sudan have uncovered a tomb dating to around 1450 BC on the island of Sai in the Nile.

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich Egyptologist Julia Budka is studying the impact of intercultural contacts in Ancient Egypt. Her excavations in Sudan have uncovered a tomb dating to around 1450 BC on the island of Sai in the Nile.

A previously unknown tomb, some 3400 years old, has recently been uncovered on the island of Sai in the River Nile. It was in use for some time and contains the remains of up to 25 persons. Further analysis of the finds could elucidate the multicultural nature of the island’s population during this period.

The island was then located in Nubia, which was the primary source of gold for the New Kingdom of the Egyptian Pharaohs at that time. The tomb was most probably built for a master goldsmith by the name of Khnummose, and was discovered during excavations conducted by Julia Budka, Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Art. Investigation of the tomb’s contents and inscriptions has so far revealed that, following the conquest by the Pharaoh Thutmose III of the local African kingdom of Kerma, the local elites were rapidly integrated by the new regime. The earliest Egyptian-style burials on Sai date to the reign of this king.

Over the past 5 years, Budka has carried out parallel studies on three different Egyptian settlements that were established during the period of the so-called New Kingdom between 1500 und 1200 BC. The excavations on the island of Sai, which lies in what is now the Sudanese section of the Nile, not only provide insights into the relationship between the official representatives of the occupying power and the local Nubian population, they also demonstrate that the island was inhabited for longer than hitherto assumed.

“It had been thought that the settlement on the island was abandoned after the foundation of a new town at Amara West. Our finds, on the other hand, prove that Hornakht, one of Egypt’s highest ranking bureaucrats during the reign of Ramses II, not only had his official residence on the island, but was also buried there,” says Budka. This clearly shows that the town on Sai survived until about 1200 BC.

‘Philistines were not European invaders’


This video from the USA says about itself:

Aren Maeir | New Light on the Biblical Philistines: Recent Study on the Frenemies of Ancient Israel

9 May 2014

Aren M. Maeir, Professor, The Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, Bar-Ilan University and Director, The Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project, The Institute of Archaeology

The Philistines are well-known from biblical texts as one of the main adversaries of the ancient Israelites. At the same time, the biblical narrative indicates that other types of interactions also were the norm. Recent excavations in Philistia, and in particular those at Tell es-Safi, biblical Gath of the Philistines, hometown of Goliath, have provided exciting evidence of the very complex interaction between these two cultures, revealing the multi-layered facets of what could be termed a Frenemy relationship between the Philistines and Israelites. In addition, recent finds have very much changed our understanding of who the Philistines were, where they came from, and how their culture formed, transformed, and eventually disappeared. These topics will be addressed in this lecture.

That was three years ago. Now, there is a new theory.

From Haaretz daily in Israel:

Ancient Egyptian Records Indicate Philistines Weren’t Aegean Pirates After All

New study of 3,200-year-old documents from Ramses III suggests the much-reviled Philistines were not alien belligerents but native Middle Easterners.

By Ariel David, Jul 23, 2017

Research into ancient Egyptian records from the 12th century B.C.E. is shedding new light on a mystery archaeologists have been debating for decades: the origin of the Philistines and other marauding “Sea Peoples” that appeared in the Levant during the late Bronze Age.

The research, and other recent discoveries, suggest the enigmatic Philistines may have been a native Middle Eastern population, rather than invading pirates from the Aegean islands, as traditional scholarship holds.

The Philistines may also have played a much less nefarious role than previously thought in the sudden and unexplained collapse of great civilizations – including the Hittite empire, Egypt and Mycenae – that occurred around the 12th century BCE.

“We shouldn’t think of the Philistines and the other Sea Peoples as this huge coalition of Mediterranean fighters who whoosh through the land and destroy everything in their way,” says Shirly Ben-Dor Evian, the curator of Egyptian archaeology at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, whose doctoral research at Tel Aviv University resulted in the article published last week in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology.

Biblical influences

The study reinterprets ancient Egyptian records from the reign of Pharaoh Ramses III, which have long been known to researchers and have formed the basis of what we know about the early history of the Sea Peoples, of which the Philistines were just one group.

The so-called Harris Papyrus, a biography of Ramses III written under his son and successor Ramses IV, tells us that the pharaoh defeated the “Peleset” – as the Egyptians called the Philistines and other Sea Peoples early in his reign (around 1190 B.C.E.) and brought them back as captives to his lands.

Historians have used this document to explain how the Philistines first settled on the southern coastal plain of Canaan: They were brought there as prisoners and then gained independence when Egyptian control over Canaan waned a few decades later, just in time to become the wicked archenemies of the Israelites described in the Bible.

But there is a problem with that interpretation, Ben-Dor Evian notes. The papyrus literally says the defeated foes were “brought as captives to Egypt,” not Canaan, and “settled in strongholds” there.

Previous generations of scholars may have been too eager to interpret Egyptian texts to fit the Biblical narrative, she says.

“We know from the Bible that the Philistines lived in five main cities – Gaza, Ekron, Gath, Ashkelon and Ashdod, and we know that Gaza used to be an Egyptian fortress so we put two and two together and say: ‘Aha, Ramses settled them in Gaza,’” Ben-Dor Evian explains. “But this papyrus was written in the 12th century B.C.E., while the Bible, most scholars today agree, was probably written much later.”

Resettling prisoners in the heartland of the empire, rather than in peripheral areas like Canaan, was common Egyptian practice, Ben-Dor Evian says (and the Israelites would experience similar treatment at the hands of the Babylonians centuries later).

There is evidence that the captives “from the Great Green” – one of the terms with which the Egyptians referred to the Sea Peoples – were probably resettled in the west of the Nile Delta region, and may have even been pressed into military service. A different papyrus from Ramses’ time tells us that the pharaoh mobilized 100 Philistines and 200 Sherden (another of the Sea Peoples) to help deal with a Libyan rebellion to the west of Egypt. This would only make sense if the warriors were close at hand – rather than far off to the east in Canaan, Ben-Dor Evian argues.

A vicious enemy, or embellishment by Ramses?

But where did those defeated Philistines originally hail from?

The answer may come from inscriptions and reliefs found at Medinet Habu, Ramses’ funerary temple, which describe the pharaoh’s campaigns against the Sea Peoples, depicting two large battles, one at land and one at sea. The reliefs do not give names for their locations, and traditional scholarship held the battles were coordinated assaults that occurred almost at the same time in northern Sinai and the mouths of the Nile. But not all agree.

“There was this vision of a coordinated attack from land and sea,” Ben-Dor Evian says. “It’s part of the allure of the Sea Peoples: they were so good that they could coordinate their attacks on Egypt on land and sea at a time when there was no instant communication.”

But the battle reliefs at Medinet Habu are not connected; they are interrupted by a scene of Ramses hunting lions, suggesting the two encounters probably happened at very different places and times. Furthermore, the land battle scene is accompanied by depictions of humped oxen and carts carrying women and children.

These images, previously interpreted as further evidence of a mass migration of the Sea Peoples from foreign lands, are actually standard iconography used to identify locations in Syria and the northern Levant, Ben-Dor Evian says.

“Egyptian war reliefs don’t contain a location for a battle, because the reliefs are on the outside of the temple, and most people can’t read so there’s no point in writing,” she told Haaretz in an interview. “They used artistic conventions, icons, just like we do.”

Further confirming the northern context of the land battle is an inscription at the temple, describing the Sea Peoples as a scourge that had made a camp in Amurru after laying waste to Hatti (the Hittite empire), Alashiya, Carchemish and Arzawa.

All these kingdoms – except for Alashiya, which was in Cyprus – were located between modern-day southeast Turkey and northern Syria.

This list of terrifying deeds is likely historically inaccurate, Ben-Dor Evian notes: the Hittite empire had already fallen decades before Ramses’ campaign, while Carchemish is one of the few cities that was not destroyed during the Bronze Age collapse.

Perhaps Ramses was trying to justify his decision to go to war, or was making his foes look more powerful than they were to aggrandize his victory. If so, his propaganda effort worked so well that thousands of years later this inscription is still the basis for viewing the Sea Peoples as an all-powerful military machine that swept, barbarian-invasion-style, through the entire Mediterranean.

As the Hittites fell

Ben-Dor Evian suggests that while piracy by the Sea Peoples and warfare may have contributed to weaken the great empires of the age, we need to look elsewhere for the main causes of the Bronze Age collapse, such as the increasing complexity of those civilizations and the difficulties centralized powers faced in sustaining them. In 2013, a study by Tel Aviv University added climate fluctuation to the list of possible culprits, showing a long period of drought in the late Bronze Age that may have driven mass migration and conflict.

As for the origins of the Philistines, Ben-Dor Evian says it seems likely the people Ramses III defeated may have been simply locals from Syria or Anatolia who filled the vacuum created by the fall of the Hittite empire.

A Levantine origin for the Philistines is further supported, she says, by the fact that the Medinet Habu inscriptions identify the Sea Peoples as teher – the same term reserved to describe Syrian or Anatolian warriors allied with the Hittites during the battle of Kadesh, the great clash that Ramses II had won against his northern foes around 1274 B.C.E., nearly a century earlier.

“So, they were not this unknown group that suddenly appeared out of nowhere,” Ben-Dor Evian concludes.

The Aegean hypothesis fights back

Some archeological discoveries also seem to support this view. The presence at Philistine sites of Aegean-style pottery, long seen as evidence of their Greek origin, has now been shown to be a local imitation of Cypriot earthenware.

Meanwhile, the discovery at Tel Tayinat, in southeastern Turkey, of several inscriptions referring to the kingdom of “Palastin” or “Palasatini” also suggests the Philistines may have started as a neo-Hittite power in the northern Levant and later migrated south as the Egyptians lost control of Canaan in the mid 12th century.

That does not mean that the Aegean hypothesis has completely lost steam. Archeologists who last year uncovered the first Philistine cemetery ever found, in ancient Ashkelon, have described the burials there as typically Aegean.

It is likely that the Philistine culture that emerged in southern Canaan was the result of various influences and migratory waves from different locations across the Mediterranean, says Aren Maeir, a professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University who heads the excavation at Tell es-Safi, the site of ancient Gath.

“In the material culture of the early Philistines we see something from Greece, from Cyprus, from Crete, from western Anatolia,” Maeir told Haaretz in a telephone interview.

The archaeologist does agree with Ben-Dor Evian that the Philistines appeared earlier than previously thought and have been unfairly characterized as particularly warlike invaders.

“We see many people of different origins who settled aside the Canaanite inhabitants,” he said. “Despite some localized destruction, most of the Canaanite sites continue to exist peacefully alongside the Philistine ones.”

Thousands of years ago, the Canaanite people lived in a part of the world we now recognize as Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, establishing a culture that became influential in the Middle East and beyond. The Canaanites created the first alphabet, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean, and were mentioned many times in the Bible. But who were they and what ultimately happened to them? Were they annihilated like the Bible says? Here.