Archaeology


A new sewage treatment project in London discovered something in the mud of the Thames; the remains of a human, leg bones still covered by thigh-high leather boots.

When you say thigh-high leather boots it sounds much sexier than fishing waders, which are not made of leather any more because, let's face it, leather is useless in water and science improved fishing a lot. Archaeologists analyzing the remains say the grooves in his teeth were likely caused by rope, and that, plus his build, suggests his trade was fisherman. He was in his mid-30s, they estimate, so his death was not natural. 

What began as an expedition to record the inscriptions of ancient Egyptian quarry workers produced a remarkable discovery about the Great Pyramid at Giza. My colleagues and I in the Anglo-French joint archaeological mission to the ancient quarry site of Hatnub recently revealed the existence of a well-preserved haulage ramp dating to the time of the Great Pyramid, roughly 4,500 years ago.

The Great Pyramids have long been held up as the pinnacle of ancient engineering. Over 100 structures, some as high as were constructed of huge alabaster blocks, many quarried from Hatnub - the site of an new interesting discovery.

Given the challenges in building such huge structures, it is no surprised the Great Pyramid of Khufu is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It and others were built thanks to quarries connected to the Nile by Bronze Age roads. The blocks were transported by sleds. But what about construction? Huge ramps? Were they poured? Some even speculated about aliens.

Where do the Jewish people come from? This is a question that anthropologists, historians and theologists have studied for millennia.

According to mythology, the Judaeans descended from three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who are buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs (Cave of Machpelah) in Hebron – a city in the Palestine region and a world heritage site located in the southern West Bank, 19 miles south of Jerusalem.

A mummy dating from 3700-3500 B.C. housed in the Egyptian Museum in Turin since 1901 has never undergone any conservation treatments - and that provided a unique opportunity for some science.

And the results were a surprise. It was assumed the Turin mummy had been naturally mummified by the desiccating action of the hot, dry desert sand but chemical analysis showed that the mummy had undergone an embalming process, with a plant oil, heated conifer resin, an aromatic plant extract and a plant gum/sugar mixed together and used to impregnate the funerary textiles in which the body was wrapped.
Some 4,000 years before domesticated agriculture, hunter-gatherers baked their own bread, according to a discovery at an archaeological site in northeastern Jordan.

Researchers have discovered the charred remains of a flatbread baked around 14,400 years ago, the oldest direct evidence of bread found to date, predating the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years. The findings suggest that bread production based on wild cereals may have encouraged hunter-gatherers to cultivate cereals, and thus contributed to the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic period.
The oldest colors in the geological record have been discovered. At 1.1 billion-years-old, the bright pink pigments extracted from marine black shales of the Taoudeni Basin in Mauritania, West Africa, are actually molecular fossils of chlorophyll that were produced by ancient photosynthetic organisms - cyanobacteria.

The fossils range from blood red to deep purple in their concentrated form, and bright pink when diluted and are more than half a billion years older than previous pigment discoveries. The rocks deep beneath the Sahara desert in Africa, remnants of an ancient ocean that has long since vanished, were rocks to powder (yes, you read that right, but nature has a lot more) before extracting and analyzing molecules of ancient organisms from them.
The 'Two Brothers' mummies, discovered by the modern world in 1907, reside in the Manchester Museum  and are the mummies of, unsurprisingly, two elite men (they didn't mummify peasants), Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ank.

The remains date to around 1800 B.C. but there has always been argument about whether or not the two are actually related even though they share a joint burial site at Deir Rifeh, a village 250 miles south of Cairo. Hieroglyphic inscriptions on the coffins indicated that both men were the sons of an unnamed local governor and had mothers with the same name, Khnum-aa. It was then the tomb and the men became known as the Two Brothers.
Vampires, ghouls, zombies, they have become part of Western burial imagery even though they originated elsewhere. Yet concern about the dead rising from their graves was evident long before tales arrived from Romania or Haiti. From the 11th to 14th centuries AD, medieval people in England likely believed strongly enough in animated corpses they actually took measures to prevent it.

The bones come from the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy, North Yorkshire, a site managed by English Heritage. There were a total of 137 bones representing the mixed remains of at least ten individuals. They were buried in a pit in the settlement part of the site.
The Dead Sea scrolls used to be revered as holding some special insight, perhaps we were only now mature enough to understand it. More recently, it's clear these were errors and cast-offs that were given a proper burial, but have no real benefit.

To archaeologists, it's instead just science, another way to understand the past. A new cave has been found, though scientists didn't get their first, they were clearly looted in the middle of the 20th Century, but the scholars still suggest the cave should be numbered as Cave 12, along with the 11 caves previously known to have housed hidden Dead Sea scrolls, even though this one has no scrolls.