Ancient Egyptian animal mummies, new research


This video says about itself:

Divine Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt

Salima Ikram, Visiting Professor, Yale University; Distinguished University Professor, Department of Sociology, Egyptology and Anthropology, The American University in Cairo

The relationship between humans and animals is complex, with mutual dependencies that are practical, psychological, and even theological. Ancient Egyptian animal mummies are a particular manifestation of this web of interrelations.

Salima Ikram discussed different types of Egyptian animal mummies and explained how and why they were made, the theological and aesthetic decisions that went into their “packaging”, and what each type meant to the ancient Egyptians. She also illustrated how animal mummies shape perceptions of ancient Egypt and influence contemporary thought and art.

Recorded Oct. 12, 2017.

From Swansea University in Wales:

Animal mummies unwrapped with hi-res 3D X-rays

Scans give clues to how they lived and died

August 20, 2020

Three mummified animals from ancient Egypt have been digitally unwrapped and dissected by researchers, using high-resolution 3D scans that give unprecedented detail about the animals’ lives — and deaths — over 2000 years ago.

The three animals — a snake, a bird and a cat — are from the collection held by the Egypt Centre at Swansea University. Previous investigations had identified which animals they were, but very little else was known about what lay inside the mummies.

Now, thanks to X-ray micro CT scanning, which generates 3D images with a resolution 100 times greater than a medical CT scan, the animals’ remains can be analysed in extraordinary detail, right down to their smallest bones and teeth.

The team, led by Professor Richard Johnston of Swansea University, included experts from the Egypt Centre and from Cardiff and Leicester universities.

The ancient Egyptians mummified animals as well as humans, including cats, ibis, hawks, snakes, crocodiles and dogs. Sometimes they were buried with their owner or as a food supply for the afterlife.

But the most common animal mummies were votive offerings, bought by visitors to temples to offer to the gods, to act as a means of communication with them. Animals were bred or captured by keepers and then killed and embalmed by temple priests. It is believed that as many as 70 million animal mummies were created in this way.

Although other methods of scanning ancient artefacts without damaging them are available, they have limitations. Standard X-rays only give 2-dimensional images. Medical CT scans give 3D images, but the resolution is low.

Micro CT, in contrast, gives researchers high-resolution 3D images. Used extensively within materials science to image internal structures on the micro-scale, the method involves building a 3D volume (or ‘tomogram’) from many individual projections or radiographs. The 3D shape can then be 3D printed or placed into virtual reality, allowing further analysis.

The team, using micro CT equipment at the Advanced Imaging of Materials (AIM) facility, Swansea University College of Engineering, found:

  • The cat was a kitten of less than 5 months, according to evidence of unerupted teeth hidden within the jaw bone.
  • Separation of vertebrae indicate that it had possibly been strangled
  • The bird most closely resembles a Eurasian kestrel; micro CT scanning enables virtual bone measurement, making accurate species identification possible
  • The snake was identified as a mummified juvenile Egyptian Cobra (Naja haje).
  • Evidence of kidney damage showed it was probably deprived of water during its life, developing a form of gout.
  • Analysis of bone fractures shows it was ultimately killed by a whipping action, prior to possibly undergoing an ‘opening of the mouth’ procedure during mummification; if true this demonstrates the first evidence for complex ritualistic behaviour applied to a snake.

Professor Richard Johnston of Swansea University College of Engineering, who led the research, said:

“Using micro CT we can effectively carry out a post-mortem on these animals, more than 2000 years after they died in ancient Egypt.

With a resolution up to 100 times higher than a medical CT scan, we were able to piece together new evidence of how they lived and died, revealing the conditions they were kept in, and possible causes of death.

These are the very latest scientific imaging techniques. Our work shows how the hi-tech tools of today can shed new light on the distant past.”

Dr Carolyn Graves-Brown from the Egypt Centre at Swansea University said:

“This collaboration between engineers, archaeologists, biologists, and Egyptologists shows the value of researchers from different subjects working together.

Our findings have uncovered new insights into animal mummification, religion and human-animal relationships in ancient Egypt.”

The research was published in Scientific Reports.

The authors respectfully acknowledge the people of ancient Egypt who created these artefacts.

Big prehistoric structure discovery near Stonehenge, England


This video says about itself:

Stonehenge: Neolithic monument found at Durrington Walls (UK) – BBC News – 22nd June 2020

Stonehenge: Neolithic monument found near sacred site on Salisbury Plain (in Wiltshire), at Durrington Walls, just two miles away from Stonehenge.

From the University of Bradford in England:

Massive prehistoric circle near Stonehenge

‘Astonishing discovery’ offers new insights into lives of Neolithic ancestors

June 22, 2020

Summary: Archaeologists have discovered a major new prehistoric monument only a short distance away from Stonehenge. Fieldwork and analysis have revealed evidence for 20 or more massive, prehistoric shafts, measuring more than 10 metres in diameter and 5 metres deep. These shafts form a circle more than 2 kilometres in diameter and enclose an area greater than 3 square kilometres around the Durrington Walls henge, one of Britain’s largest henge monuments, and the famous, smaller prehistoric circle at Woodhenge.

What could be one of the largest prehistoric sites in the UK has been discovered near Stonehenge by a consortium of archaeologists led by the University of Bradford.

A massive 2km-wide ring of prehistoric ‘shafts’ up to 10m across and 5m deep has been discovered around the ‘super henge’ at Durrington Walls and the famous site at Woodhenge. The structures have been carbon-dated to about 2500BC.

Archaeologists believe the circle of shaft marks a boundary around the massive henge at Durrington. It is thought the features, along with an internal post line, could have guided people towards the religious sites and warned others not to cross the boundary.

Prof Vince Gaffney, 50th Anniversary Chair of the School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences in the Faculty of Life Sciences, said it was extraordinary such a major find had been made so close to Stonehenge.

“The area around Stonehenge is amongst the most studied archaeological landscapes on earth and it is remarkable that the application of new technology can still lead to the discovery of such a massive prehistoric structure which, currently, is significantly larger than any comparative prehistoric monument that we know of in Britain, at least.”

“When these pits were first noted it was thought they might be natural features — solution hollows in the chalk. Only when the larger picture emerged, through the geophysical surveys undertaken as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project, could we join the dots and see there was a pattern on a massive scale.”

Research on the pits at Durrington was undertaken by a consortium of archaeologists led by the University of Bradford as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project (https://lbi-archpro.org/cs/stonehenge/), and with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology, the Universities of Birmingham, St Andrews, Warwick, the University of Wales Trinity Saint Davids, and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (University of Glasgow).

Researchers have identified up to 20 shafts but estimate there may have been more than 30 originally.

“The size of the shafts and circuit surrounding Durrington Walls is without precedent within the UK. It demonstrates the significance of Durrington Walls Henge, the complexity of the monumental structures within the Stonehenge landscape, and the capacity and desire of Neolithic communities to record their cosmological belief systems in ways, and at a scale, that we had never previously anticipated.”

Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site, said: “As the place where the builders of Stonehenge lived and feasted Durrington Walls is key to unlocking the story of the wider Stonehenge landscape, and this astonishing discovery offers us new insights into the lives and beliefs of our Neolithic ancestors.

“The Hidden Landscapes team have combined cutting-edge, archaeological fieldwork with good old-fashioned detective work to reveal this extraordinary discovery and write a whole new chapter in the story of the Stonehenge landscape.”

The universities undertaking field research supporting this press release included the University of Bradford with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology the Universities of Birmingham, St Andrews, Trinity Saint David (University of Wales), Warwick, and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre. The work was undertaken a part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project and brought together experts in non-invasive geophysical prospection and remote sensing, and specialists in British prehistory and landscape archaeology in order to carry out research in one of the most important archaeological landscapes in Europe. The outstanding geophysical survey and visualization capabilities of the team has been made possible only because of the unique expertise and combined resources of the wider project partnership. an international collaboration of the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft (Austria), Amt der Niederösterreichischen Landesregierung (Austria), the University of Vienna (Austria), the Vienna University of Technology (Austria), ZAMG- the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (Austria), Airborne Technologies (Austria), 7reasons (Austria), ÖAW- Austrian Academy of Sciences (Austria), ÖAI — Austrian Archaeological Institute (Austria), RGZM Mainz — Römisch‐Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz (Germany), the University of Birmingham in collaboration with the University of Bradford (GB), Arkeologerna of Statens Historiska Museer (Sweden), NIKU — Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage (Norway), and Vestfold fylkeskommune — Kulturarv (Norway).

Prehistoric bird sculpture discovery in China


The newly discovered bird sculpture, photo  Li et al | Plos One

From PLOS ONE, 10 June 2020:

A Paleolithic bird figurine from the Lingjing site, Henan, China

Abstract

The recent identification of cave paintings dated to 42–40 ka BP in Borneo and Sulawesi highlights the antiquity of painted representations in this region. However, no instances of three-dimensional portable art, well attested in Europe since at least 40 ka BP, were documented thus far in East Asia prior to the Neolithic.

Here, we report the discovery of an exceptionally well-preserved miniature carving of a standing bird from the site of Lingjing, Henan, China. Microscopic and microtomographic analyses of the figurine and the study of bone fragments from the same context reveal the object was made of bone blackened by heating and carefully carved with four techniques that left diagnostic traces on the entire surface of the object.

Critical analysis of the site’s research history and stratigraphy, the cultural remains associated with the figurine and those recovered from the other archeological layers, as well as twenty-eight radiometric ages obtained on associated archeological items, including one provided by a bone fragment worked with the same technique recorded on the object, suggest a Late Paleolithic origin for the carving, with a probable age estimated to 13,500 years old.

The carving, which predates previously known comparable instances from this region by 8,500 years, demonstrates that three-dimensional avian representations were part of East Asian Late Pleistocene cultural repertoires and identifies technological and stylistic peculiarities distinguishing this newly discovered art tradition from previous and contemporary examples found in Western Europe and Siberia.

See also here.

Prehistoric Caribbean boa snake bone beads


This 2018 video is called Dominican Red Mountain Boa, Caribbean Island of Hispaniola.

From the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany:

Beads made of boa bones identified in lesser Antilles

May 14, 2020

Today Boa snakes have a patchy distribution in the islands that form the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, but the constrictors are nearly absent from archaeological deposits in the region. Whether this scarcity is due to past species distribution, poor preservation conditions, or a lack of interaction with human communities, remains unknown.

To find out why boas occur sparsely in the Lesser Antilles today but hardly at all in archaeological contexts, Corentin Bochaton of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Bordeaux, conducted a multidisciplinary study combining archaeological evidence with historical and biological data sources. The study, published in Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, describes eight archaeological Boa finds on islands where the reptiles have never previously been identified and provides insights into the relationship between Amerindian groups and Boa before Western colonization.

Boas had a special status in pre-Columbian Lesser Antilles

To conduct the study, Bochaton investigated the animal remains from three sites: Dizac Beach on Martinique, Basse-Terre Cathedral on Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe) and Pointe Gros Rampart on La Désirade (Guadeloupe). Using a binocular microscope, Bochaton observed the surface condition and taxonomic features of the finds, eventually identifying eight vertebrae from the Boa genus.

Despite the presence of many other snake species in the archeological assemblages of the Lesser Antilles, these Boa remains are the only snake bones that appear to have been made into beads, an important clue as to their cultural significance. “The extreme scarcity of Boa in zooarchaeological assemblages, combined with the fact that these are the only snake bones to be modified, reflects the prominent status Boa had in Pre-Columbian Amerindian communities,” says Bochaton.

The fact that Boa are largely absent from archaeological finds suggests they probably weren’t hunted or eaten by human populations, at least not near their settlements, and evidence from historical records further points to an elevated status of Boa snakes. A chronicle of a 17th-century voyage to the Caribbean in a document known as Carpentras Anonymous describes the indigenous people of the islands as unwilling to kill Boas, believing the harm they did to the snakes would also be done to their grandchildren. Further, an account by Charles de Rochefort (1658) retells a story told by the people of Dominica of a monstrous snake who carried on its head a stone of great worth that would glow when it drank or moved in the abyss.

“These documents show us that Boa snakes had, among all snakes, a special status and were especially feared and respected, which could help explain their scarcity in archaeological deposits,” says Bochaton.

Multiple lines of evidence help to reconstruct lost past

The islands of the Lesser Antilles were first colonized by Amerindian groups between 7,000 and 5,500 years ago, but molecular evidence and the presence of Boa in fossil deposits show that the snakes colonized these islands thousands, if not millions of years before. Approximately 2,500 years ago, ceramic producing cultures arrived and evolved until the first European contact. At this point a ceramic style known as Cayo emerges.

Western colonization in the 17th century almost completely depopulated the Lesser Antilles of Amerindians and wiped out indigenous cultural practices. It also brought about the extinctions of a long list of species, ranging from terrestrial and flying mammals to birds and scaled reptiles — a list this paper shows to remain incomplete.

“Because of their absence in the archaeological record, Boa snakes were presumed absent from Guadeloupe,” Bochaton explains. “These remains not only show that Boas were here, they remind us how much of the cultural and natural history of these islands has been lost, and how important it is to use different lines of evidence to discover and interpret the past.”

How Neanderthals made bone tools


This 2019 video says about itself:

Mousterian Lithics: Multiple Neandertal Tools from Single Stone

Former experimental archaeologist Nathan Martinez demonstrates how hard hammer percussion flaking can turn a single untreated chert stone into razor-edged flake knives, a hand axe and multiple Levallois blades.

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

Neanderthals were choosy about making bone tools

May 8, 2020

Evidence continues to mount that the Neanderthals, who lived in Europe and Asia until about 40,000 years ago, were more sophisticated people than once thought. A new study from UC Davis shows that Neanderthals chose to use bones from specific animals to make a tool for specific purpose: working hides into leather.

Naomi Martisius, research associate in the Department of Anthropology, studied Neanderthal tools from sites in southern France for her doctoral research. The Neanderthals left behind a tool called a lissoir, a piece of animal rib with a smoothed tip used to rub animal hides to make them into leather. These lissoirs are often worn so smooth that it’s impossible to tell which animal they came from just by looking at them.

Martisius and colleagues used highly sensitive mass spectrometry to look at residues of collagen protein from the bones. The method is called ZooMS, or Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry. The technique breaks up samples into fragments that can be identified by their mass to charge ratio and used to reconstruct the original molecule.

Normally, this method would involve drilling a sample from the bone. To avoid damaging the precious specimens, Martisius and colleagues were able to lift samples from the plastic containers in which the bones had been stored and recover enough material to perform an analysis.

Favoring bovine ribs over deer

The results show that the bones used to make lissoirs mostly came from animals in the cattle family, such as bison or aurochs (a wild relative of modern cattle that is now extinct). But other animal bones from the same deposit show that reindeer were much more common and frequently hunted for food. So the Neanderthals were choosing to use only ribs from certain types of animals to make these tools.

“I think this shows that Neanderthals really knew what they were doing,” Martisius said. “They were deliberately picking up these larger ribs when they happened to come across these animals while hunting and they may have even kept these rib tools for a long time, like we would with a favorite wrench or screwdriver.”

Bovine ribs are bigger and more rigid than deer ribs, making them better suited for the hard work of rubbing skins without wearing out or breaking.

“Neanderthals knew that for a specific task, they needed a very particular tool. They found what worked best and sought it out when it was available,” Martisius said.

Blade-like tools and animal tooth pendants previously discovered in Europe, and once thought to possibly be the work of Neanderthals, are in fact the creation of Homo sapiens, or modern humans, who emigrated from Africa, finds a new analysis by an international team of researchers. Its conclusions, reported in the journal Nature, add new clarity to the arrival of Homo sapiens into Europe and to their interactions with the continent’s indigenous and declining Neanderthal population: here.

Climate scientists from the IBS Center for Climate Physics discover that, contrary to previously held beliefs, Neanderthal extinction was neither caused by abrupt glacial climate shifts, nor by interbreeding with Homo sapiens. According to new supercomputer model simulations, only competition between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens can explain the rapid demise of Neanderthals around 43 to 38 thousand years ago: here.

Ancient Eyptian general Horemheb, online lecture


This 9 April 2020 video by the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (in Dutch, also in the subtitles, which, however, you can change to English or many other languages with the Settings button), says about itself, translated:

The special reliefs from the grave of General Horemheb are masterpieces in our Egyptian collection from the National Museum of Antiquities. Horemheb served under the famous Pharaoh Tutankhamun and had his tomb built around 1330 BC. Exactly 45 years ago, his grave was rediscovered in the ancient Egyptian burial field near the village of Saqqara.

Every March / April, an RMO team goes to Egypt to conduct research in this Egyptian city of the dead. This year the archaeological investigation is due to circumstances related to the coronavirus unfortunately did not continue. But also from home, there is plenty to discover and tell about the reliefs from Horemheb’s grave. That’s why curator Daniel Soliman tells everything about this special general in a mini-lecture from his home workplace.

Neanderthals could weave, new research


This video from the USA says about itself:

A Neanderthal Perspective on Human Origins – 2014

The Neanderthals are the closest extinct relatives of all present-day humans and the Neanderthal genome sequence provides unique insights into modern humans origins.

Svante Pääbo, a biologist and evolutionary anthropologist, describe the current understanding of the genetic contributions of Neanderthals to present-day humans and to extinct human groups. He also describes preliminary analyses of genomic features that appeared in present-day humans since their divergence from a common ancestor shared with Neanderthals and discusses how they may be functionally analyzed in the future. Pääbo is the Director of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Recorded on 09/10/2014.

From the CNRS in France:

40,000 year old evidence that Neanderthals wove string

April 9, 2020

Contrary to popular belief, Neanderthals were no less technologically advanced than Homo sapiens.

An international team, including researchers from the CNRS, have discovered the first evidence of cord making, dating back more than 40,000 years (1), on a flint fragment from the prehistoric site of Abri du Maras in the south of France (2). Microscopic analysis showed that these remains had been intertwined, proof of their modification by humans. Photographs revealed three bundles of twisted fibres, plied together to create one cord. In addition, spectroscopic analysis revealed that these strands were made of cellulose, probably from coniferous trees.

This discovery highlights unexpected cognitive abilities on the part of Neanderthals, who not only had a good understanding of the mathematics involved in winding the fibres, but also a thorough knowledge of tree growth.

These results, published on 9 April 2020 in Scientific Reports, represent the oldest known proof of textile and cord technology to date.

The following laboratories contributed to this work: Histoire naturelle de l’Homme préhistorique (CNRS/Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle/Université de Perpignan Via Domitia), De la molécule aux nano-objets : réactivité, interactions et spectroscopies (CNRS/Sorbonne Université), along with the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (ministère de la Culture).

The excavations at the Abri du Maras have in particular benefited from funding from the French Ministry of Culture and the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Regional Archaeology Service.

Notes:

(1) Neanderthals lived between 350,000 and 28,000 years BC.

(2) Archaeological site in southeastern France (Ardèche).

The team led by Marie-Hélène Moncel has previously shown that Neanderthals occupied this shelter.

This is the oldest known string. It was made by a Neandertal. A cord fragment was found clinging to a stone tool at a French archaeological site: here.

Dutch museum buys ancient Viking ring


This 2 April 2020 video from Leiden in the Netherlands says about itself (translated):

The Netherlands Middle Ages collection of the National Museum of Antiquities is richer now because of this Viking ring. The ring was found in a cornfield near Hoogwoud, in the north of North Holland province. It is a silver ring from the tenth century. The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden recently bought the ring from the finder. In this video, curator Annemarieke Willemsen explains why the ring is so special.

See also here.

The museum is now closed because of the coronavirus crisis. The ring will be exhibited later.

Wasps help ancient Australian rock art research


This 2012 video says about itself:

This is a short video about a few of the rock art paintings of the Bradshaw (aka Gwion Gwion) and Wandjina styles that we found in Emma Gorge on El Questro Station in Western Australia. Our video is neither a comprehensive nor professional production. Our purpose in creating it was to supplement what we wrote about it on our website, and to share the visual pleasure of the art, and our excitement in finding it.

From the University of Melbourne in Australia:

Wasp nests used to date ancient Kimberley rock art

12,000-year-old Aboriginal rock art from the Kimberley region, Western Australia,

February 6, 2020

Mud wasp nests have helped establish a date for one of the ancient styles of Aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley.

University of Melbourne and ANSTO scientists put the Gwion Gwion art period around 12,000 years old.

“This is the first time we have been able to confidently say Gwion style paintings were created around 12,000 years ago,” said PhD student Damien Finch, from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne. “No one has been able to present the scientific evidence to say that before.”

One wasp nest date suggested one Gwion painting was older than 16,000 years, but the pattern of the other 23 dates is consistent with the Gwion Gwion period being 12,000 years old.

The rock paintings, more than twice as old as the Giza Pyramids, depict graceful human figures with a wide range of decorations including headdresses, armbands, and anklets. Some of the paintings are as small as 15cm, others are more than two metres high.

The details of the breakthrough are detailed in the paper 12,000-year-old Aboriginal rock art from the Kimberley region, Western Australia, now published in Science Advances.

More than 100 mud wasp nests collected from Kimberley sites, with the permission of the Traditional Owners, were crucial in identifying the age of the unique rock art.

“A painting beneath a wasp nest must be older than the nest, and a painting on top of a nest must be younger than the nest,” Mr Finch said. “If you date enough of the nests, you build up a pattern and can narrow down an age range for paintings in a particular style.”

Lack of organic matter in the pigment used to create the art had previously ruled out radiocarbon dating. But the University of Melbourne and ANSTO scientists were able to use dates on 24 mud wasp nests under and over the art to determine both maximum and minimum age constraints for paintings in the Gwion style.

The project was initiated by Professor Andy Gleadow and Professor Janet Hergt, from the School of Earth Sciences, and started in 2014 with funding from the Australian Research Council and the Kimberley Foundation. It is the first time in 20 years scientists have been able to date a range of these ancient artworks.

“The Kimberley contains some of the world’s most visually spectacular and geographically extensive records of Indigenous rock art, estimated to include tens of thousands of sites, only a small fraction of which have been studied intensively,” said Professor Gleadow.

Professor Hergt said being able to estimate the age of Gwion art is important as it can now be placed into the context of what was happening in the environment and what we know from excavations about other human activities at the same time.

Dr Vladimir Levchenko, an ANSTO expert in radiocarbon dating and co-author, said rock art is always problematic for dating because the pigment used usually does not contain carbon, the surfaces are exposed to intense weathering and nothing is known about the techniques used thousands of years ago.

“Beeswax or resin have also been used — usually on more modern samples,” Dr Levchenko said.

“Although soil is full of carbon, most of it is easily degradable. However, charcoal is more likely to survive for longer periods. There is lots of black carbon in Australian soil because of bushfires.”