Ancient Egyptian emoticons

This video series is about the ancient Egyptian village Deir el-Medina.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Emoticons in Ancient Egypt

Published on 30 August 2016

The advent of script has never managed to eliminate the use of symbols. This is the finding of research carried out by Kyra van der Moezel on Ancient Egyptian identity marks. PhD defence 7 September.

Van der Moezel studied identity marks from the settlement at Deir el-Medina, on the west bank of the Nile. This is where some 40 to 120 workers and their families lived between 1550 and 1070 BC. These were the workers who built and decorated the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, where the legendary King Tutankhamen is buried, along with other pharaohs and elites.

Funny signs

More than three thousand years later Deir el-Medina reveals a wealth of archaeological information. An exceptional number of written sources have been found covering trade, the law, religion and literature. Researchers have also found a large number of identity marks, often imprinted on potsherds or as graffiti on the rock walls of the necropolis. For a long time scientists had no idea how to interpret all these symbols, so they were dubbed very unscientifically ‘funny signs’.


‘Under the guidance of lecturer Ben Haring we have now managed to interpret most of these symbols,’ Van der Moezel explains. ‘You can compare them to pictograms today, like information symbols at airports or product logos. They all have an inherent meaning, but are not related by any linguistic rules. The rules governing how words and sentences are formed don’t apply here. The symbols use other means of expressing information.’


Van der Moezel and her colleagues distinguish different types of identity marks. Some symbols appear to be geometrical and use squares, triangles or circles, while others were derived from the written language. Finally, the Leiden researchers also found images of beings and objects that in terms of their function are comparable with the symbols that we use today in WhatsApp.


‘These pictograms depict images of animals, objects or professions, for example,’ says Van der Moezel. ‘They were used in two different ways. First of all metonymically, whereby the symbol refers directly to what the person who drew it wanted to convey. The scorpion hunter of Deir el-Medina, for example, was represented by a scorpion symbol. The Egyptians also used the pictograms metaphorically. A well-known Egyptian metaphor is, for example, ‘as fast as a jackal’, which could explain why a worker is represented by the image of a jackal.’

Continued existence

Surprisingly enough, the identity signs continued to exist even after the workers started to make more use of writing. Van der Moezel: ‘People often assume that identity signs are ‘more primitive’ than written language, and that writing will slowly but surely take over from symbols. However, what we see is that writing and symbols continue to exist alongside one another. There is some interchange between the two, but symbols have never been ousted as a means of communication. Symbols continue to be useful because you can express a lot more in a single symbol than in a letter or a word.’

Symbolizing Identity

Van der Moezel’s PhD is part of a larger project entitled Symbolizing Identity. Identity Marks and their Relation to Writing in New Kingdom Egypt, managed by Dr Ben Haring. Haring was awarded a subsidy in 2011 by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to conduct this research.

Ancient Mexican manuscript, new research

This video says about itself:

Lord KingsboroughThe Antiquities of Mexico Volume III – Updated

Antiquities of Mexico: comprising fac-similes of Ancient Mexican Paintings and Hierogliphics, preserved in the Royal Libraries of Paris, Berlin and Dresden; in the Imperial Library of Vienna; in the Vatican Library; in the Borgian Museum at Rome; in the Library of the Institute al Bologna, and in the Bodleian Library at Oxford; together with the Monuments of New Spain by M. Dupaix; the whole illustrated with many valuables inedit Manuscripts by Lord Kingsborough; the drawings on stone by A. Aglio

Vol. I. Copy of the Collection of Mendoza, preserved in the Selden Collection of Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (73 pág.); Copy of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, preserved in the Royal Library at Paris (93 pág.); Fac-simile of the original Mexican Hieroglyphic Painting, from the Collection of Boturini (23 pág.); Fac-simile of an original Mexican Painting in the Collection of Sir Thomas Bodley in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (40 pág.); Fac-simile of an original Mexican Hieroglyphic Painting, preserved in the Selden Collection of Manuscripsts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

Vol. II. Copy of a Mexican Manuscripts, preserved in the Library of the Vatican (149 pág.); Fac-simile of an original Mexican painting given to the University of Oxford by Archbishop Laud, and preserved in the Bodleian Library (46 pág.); Fac-simile of an original Mexican Painting, preserved in the Library of the Institute at Bologna (24 pág.); Fac-simile of an original Mexican Painting, preserved in the Imperial Library at Vienna (66 pág.); Fac-similes of original Mexican Paintings deposited in the Royal Library at Berlin by the Baron de Humboldt, and of Mexican Bas-relief preserved in the Royal Cabinet of Antiques.

Vol. III. Fac-simile of an original Mexican painting, preserved in the Borgian Museums, at College of Propaganda in Rome (76 pág.); Fac-simile of an original Mexican Painting, preserved in the Royal Library at Dresden (74 pág.); Fac-simile of an original Mexican Painting in the possession of M. de Fejérváry, at Pess in Hungary (44 pág.); Fac-simile of an original Mexican Painting, preserved in the Library of the Vatican (96 pág.).

Vol. IV. Monuments of New Spain by M. Dupaix, from the original drawings executed by order of the King of Spain Specimens of Mexican Sculpture, in the possession of M. Latour Allard in Paris; Specimens of Mexican preserved in the British Museum; Plates copied from the Giro del Mondo of Gemelli Careri: with an engraving of a Mexican Cycle, from a painting formerly in the possession of Boturini; Specimen of Peruvian Quipis, with plates representing a carved Peruvian box containing a collection of supposed Peruvian Quipus.

Vol. V. Extrait de l’ouvrage de M. de Humboldt sur Les Monuments de l’Amerique; Esplicación [sic.] de la Colección de Mendoza; Explicación del Codez Telleriano-Remensis; Codice Mexicano che si conserva nella Biblioteca Vaticana; Viages [sic.] de Guillermo Dupaix sobre Antigüedades Mexicanas; Libro sexto de la Retórica y Filosofía Moral y Teológica de la gente mexicana donde hay cosas muy curiosas tocantes a los primores de la lengua y cosas muy delicadas tocantes a las virtudes morales / por…Bernardino de Sahagún.

Vol. VI. Historia Universal de las cosas de la Nueva España / por…Bernardino de Sahagún. — Vol.VII. Appendix: the interpretatione of the Hieroglyphical Paintings of the Collection of Mendoza; The explanation of the Hieroglyphical Paintings of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis; The traslation of the explanation of the Mexican Paintings of the Codex Vaticanus; The monuments of the New Spain by M. Dupaix

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

High-tech imaging reveals rare precolonial Mexican manuscript hidden from view for 500 years

Published on 16 August 2016

Researchers from the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries and from universities in the Netherlands have used high-tech imaging to uncover the details of a rare Mexican codex dating from before the colonisation of America.

The newly-revealed codex, or book, has been hidden from view for almost 500 years, concealed beneath a layer of plaster and chalk on the back of a later manuscript known as the Codex Selden, which is housed at the Bodleian Libraries. Scientists have used hyperspectral imaging to reveal pictographic scenes from this remarkable document and have published their findings in the Journal of Archaeology: Reports.

Ancient Mexican codices are some of the most important artefacts of early Mexican culture and they are particularly rare. Codex Selden, also known as Codex Añute, dates from around 1560 and is one of less than 20 known Mexican codices to have survived the colonisation of America. Of those, it is one of only five surviving manuscripts from the Mixtec area, now known as Oaxaca in Mexico. These codices use a complex system of pictures, symbols and bright colours to narrate centuries of conquering dynasties and genealogies as well as wars and the history of ancient cities. In essence these codices provide the best insight into the history and culture of early Mexico.

Since the 1950s, scholars have suspected that Codex Selden is a palimpsest: an older document that has been covered up and reused to make the manuscript that is currently visible. Codex Selden consists of a 5-metre-long strip of deer hide that has been covered with white plaster made from gypsum and chalk, and folded in a concertina format into a 20-page document. The manuscript underwent a series of invasive tests in the 1950s when one page was scraped, uncovering a vague image that hinted at the possibility that an earlier Mexican codex is hidden beneath.

Until now, no other technique has been able to unveil the concealed narrative in a non-invasive way. The organic paint that was used to create the vibrant images on early Mexican codices does not absorb x-rays, which rules out x-ray analysis that is commonly used to study later works of art.

‘After 4 or 5 years of trying different techniques, we’ve been able to reveal an abundance of images without damaging this extremely vulnerable item. We can confirm that Codex Selden is indeed a palimpsest,’ said Ludo Snijders from Leiden University, who conducted the research with David Howell from the Bodleian Libraries and Tim Zaman from the University of Delft. This is the first time an early Mexican codex has been proven to be a palimpsest.

‘What’s interesting is that the text we’ve found doesn’t match that of other early Mixtec manuscripts. The genealogy we see appears to be unique, which means it may prove invaluable for the interpretation of archaeological remains from southern Mexico,’ Snjiders said.

Some pages feature more than 20 characters sitting or standing in the same direction. Similar scenes have been found on other Mixtec manuscripts, representing a King and his council. But the analysis of this particular text shows that the characters are both male and female, raising interesting questions about what the scene represents.

The imaging has also revealed a prominent individual who appears repeatedly on the document and is represented by a large glyph consisting of a twisted chord and a flint knife. The name seems to resemble a character found in other Mexican codices: the Codex Bodley (in the Bodleian’s collection) and Codex Zouche-Nuttall (in the British Museum).That character is an important ancestor of two lineages connected to the important archaeological sites of Zaachila and Teozacualco in Mexico. However, further analysis is needed to confirm that it is the same individual.

The researchers analysed seven pages of the codex for this study and revealed other images including people walking with sticks and spears, women with red hair or headdresses and place signs containing the glyphs for rivers. They are continuing to scan the remainder of the document with the aim of reconstructing the entire hidden imagery, allowing the text to be interpreted more fully.

‘Hyperspectral imaging has shown great promise in helping us to begin to reconstruct the story of the hidden codex and ultimately to recover new information about Mixtec history and archaeology,’ said David Howell, Head of Heritage Science at the Bodleian Libraries. ‘This is very much a new technique, and we’ve learned valuable lessons about how to use hyperspectral imaging in the future both for this very fragile manuscript and for countless others like it.’

Stone age ax discovered by five-year-old girl

Lisa Dennemann with her discovery, photo by Ecomare

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

Antlers made into ax found – 22-06-16

A very special find on the Texel beach. The 5-year-old German girl Lisa Dennemann discovered at beach post 17 an old piece of a red deer antler. The special thing about the discovery is that the antlers have been worked on. Some 3,000 to 9,000 years ago someone made them into an ax head. It is a tool from prehistory. The ax is from the Mesolithic or Neolithic, the time of the hunter-gatherers. They hunted here, including red deer.

Made with flint

The antler ax is made of the lower piece of an antler of a deer, with a round hole between eye branch and another branch of the antlers. This hole was for the stem of the ax. This piercing was made with a flint tool. The bezel was made by scraping it against a flat stone. Experts call this type of ax a type A basic ax …


This type of ax has been found throughout northwestern Europe, including Denmark, Germany, Austria, Belgium, England and the Netherlands. From the provincial depot for archeology of North Holland two such axes are known. We are delighted that Lisa Dennemann wanted to give us her rare find, because it is important for research into the history of the inhabitants of that ancient time!

The antlers ax is exhibited now in Ecomare.

Roman writing-tablets discovery in London, England

This video from England says about itself:

31 May 2016

Archaeologists from MOLA found 400+ fragments of ancient Roman writing-tablets on the site of the new Bloomberg London building. The discovery was the largest and earliest collection of its kind in Britain. The tablets were used for note taking, tallying accounts, correspondence, and legal matters.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Britain’s oldest hand-written document unearthed in London dig

Following excavation of the site for Bloomberg’s new European headquarters, archaeologists in London have revealed a dizzying array of Roman-era, handwritten tablets.

By Jason Thomson

June 1, 2016

Archaeologists in London have announced the discovery of a trove of ancient documents, including one from 57 AD, the earliest recorded example of a handwritten document anywhere in Britain.

The artifacts, dating from the earliest days of Roman London, were found during excavations for Bloomberg’s new European headquarters, and they have already more than quadrupled the number of legible Roman writing tablets ever unearthed in the city, with hundreds yet to be analyzed.

While the tablets may be the most exciting find, they represent the tip of a rich archaeological iceberg, excavators from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) having uncovered 50 Roman buildings and 15,000 Roman artifacts.

“You never know quite what you’re going to find with archaeology,” said MOLA’s Sophie Jackson in a video chronicling the find. “We were hopeful with the Bloomberg site because it’s right in the heart of the city of London…. What we actually found completely blew us away.”

The site yielded 405 writing tablets. Originally, the tablets comprised blackened beeswax nestled into recesses in wooden frames. The wax has long since decomposed, but the wood, against expectations, survived.

Normally, such ancient wood rarely survives burial in the ground, but rotting was prevented by the wet mud of the Walbrook river, a river now buried but visible to Londoners of the Roman era.

As such, these wooden segments can reveal letters that made their way through the wax as they were inscribed, leaving impressions in the underlying wood. Previously, only 19 legible tablets were known to have been found in London, but the Bloomberg find has already added 87.

One of them, dated to 65 AD, is “the first time we have London mentioned, ever, in history,” as Ms. Jackson describes it. London was initially founded only a couple of decades earlier, after the Roman invasion of 43 AD, then destroyed in a Celtic rebellion headed by Queen Boudica in 61 AD.

As this tablet illustrates, talking of mundane financial matters only four years later, the city wasted no time in rising again from the ashes of destruction.

The task of deciphering the tablets is painstaking. First, multiple photos are taken at various angles, each trying to tease out shadows from the vestiges of letters. These pictures can then be layered on top of one another, creating an image with as intricate a portrayal of the letters as possible.

It then falls to Roger Tomlin, an expert in Roman cursive, to analyze the shapes and discern meaning, if any is to be found.

“You must have an imagination,” explains Dr. Tomlin, in the same video, “but you must control it rigidly.”

The tablets have been conserved by MOLA specialists, employing a mix of polyethylene glycol – also used to preserve the Tudor flagship, Mary Rose – and freeze drying.

More than 700 artifacts from the dig will be on display in an exhibition within the new Bloomberg building, once it opens.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s meteorite dagger

Tutankhamun's dagger

From Meteoritics & Planetary Science:

The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade

20 MAY 2016


Scholars have long discussed the introduction and spread of iron metallurgy in different civilizations. The sporadic use of iron has been reported in the Eastern Mediterranean area from the late Neolithic period to the Bronze Age. Despite the rare existence of smelted iron, it is generally assumed that early iron objects were produced from meteoritic iron. Nevertheless, the methods of working the metal, its use, and diffusion are contentious issues compromised by lack of detailed analysis.

Since its discovery in 1925, the meteoritic origin of the iron dagger blade from the sarcophagus of the ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamun (14th C. BCE) has been the subject of debate and previous analyses yielded controversial results. We show that the composition of the blade (Fe plus 10.8 wt% Ni and 0.58 wt% Co), accurately determined through portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, strongly supports its meteoritic origin.

In agreement with recent results of metallographic analysis of ancient iron artifacts from Gerzeh, our study confirms that ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoritic iron for the production of precious objects. Moreover, the high manufacturing quality of Tutankhamun‘s dagger blade, in comparison with other simple-shaped meteoritic iron artifacts, suggests a significant mastery of ironworking in Tutankhamun‘s time.

Tutankhamun's meteorite scarab in brooch

From Astronomy magazine, 1 June 2016:

The dagger was not the only relic in King Tut’s possession that was rare and unusual; he also possessed a scarab necklace made of silica glass that might have been created by the heat of a meteorite impacting the desert sand and melting it down.

Neanderthal constructions discovered in French cave

This video says about itself:

175,000-Year-Old Stone Circles Built By Neanderthals Have Been Found In French Cave

25 May 2016

Modern humans often regard Neanderthals as dim-witted, sluggish sorts, but, once again, evidence to the contrary has emerged. It turns out they were likely behind the building of a number of accomplished yet perplexing stone circles found inside France’s Bruniquel Cave decades ago, reports The Atlantic. A recently published study about the site reveals those structures date back about 175,000 years.

That places their making firmly in the time of the Neanderthal, notes National Geographic. According to Discovery News, a team led by French archaeologist Jacques Jaubert, a professor at the University of Bordeaux, also found evidence of fire, another indication of builders’ skills and resourcefulness. One probable reason for the use of fire is that it was used as a light source. Beyond that, why the blazes were started remains unknown. Given the great number of mysteries about the site that remain, researchers are eager to launch the next phase of exploration – digging into the ground below.

From Nature:

Early Neanderthal constructions deep in Bruniquel Cave in southwestern France

25 May 2016

Very little is known about Neanderthal cultures1, particularly early ones. Other than lithic implements and exceptional bone tools2, very few artefacts have been preserved. While those that do remain include red and black pigments3 and burial sites4, these indications of modernity are extremely sparse and few have been precisely dated, thus greatly limiting our knowledge of these predecessors of modern humans5.

Here we report the dating of annular constructions made of broken stalagmites found deep in Bruniquel Cave in southwest France. The regular geometry of the stalagmite circles, the arrangement of broken stalagmites and several traces of fire demonstrate the anthropogenic origin of these constructions.

Uranium-series dating of stalagmite regrowths on the structures and on burnt bone, combined with the dating of stalagmite tips in the structures, give a reliable and replicated age of 176.5 thousand years (±2.1 thousand years), making these edifices among the oldest known well-dated constructions made by humans. Their presence at 336 metres from the entrance of the cave indicates that humans from this period had already mastered the underground environment, which can be considered a major step in human modernity.

Modern humans beat Neanderthals because we can happily breathe in toxic smoke from cooking meat, scientists say: here.

Why Did Humans Prevail [over Neanderthals]? Here.