Ancient Egyptian obelisk discovered


Part of the newly discovered obelisk, photo by Waziri and Collombert

Translated from Dutch NOS radio:

Special find in Egypt: 2.5 meter high obelisk of 6-year-old monarch

Today, 11:17

At least 2.5 meters high, red granite and covered with gold leaf: in Egypt the upper part of a huge obelisk has been found. “A special find in a special place, in the Southern Sakkara region, where a big obelisk had never been found before”, Egyptologist Huub Pragt explains in the NOS Radio 1 News.

It is an obelisk from the Old Kingdom, the first great period, says Pragt. “From that time we know small obelisks, but this is a big one. Probably the monolith was 5 meters high, which is really huge for that period.”

An obelisk is a straight needle-shaped monument that usually consists of granite. At the point, gold leaf was often placed to reflect the sun’s rays. The obelisks were therefore established as a worship for the sun god Ra. In the Old Kingdom, the monuments were also often associated with tombs.

The obelisk most probably belonged to Queen Anchesenpepy II, the mother of King Pepy II of the 6th Dynasty. “Pepy II came as a 6 year old boy on the throne and would be the longest ruling king ever. He became 100 years old and continued to rule”, says Pragt. On his side was his mother Anchesenpepy II, she ruled jointly with him. “Therefore she will probably have received that great obelisk.”

The French-Swiss archaeological mission that has found the obelisk continues to search for fragments in the area.

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Porpoise’s grave in medieval Guernsey monastery


This video says about itself:

See the Mysterious Medieval Porpoise Bones Found by Archaeologists | National Geographic

25 September 2017

Medieval monks on Guernsey, an island in the English Channel, appear to have interred a porpoise skull on the grounds of their retreat.

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.

‘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.