Ancient Humans Cooked And Ate Giant Land Snails Around 170,000 Years Ago
Slow-motion large land snails made for easy catching and good eating as early as 170,000 years ago. Until now, the oldest evidence of Homo sapiens eating land snails dated to roughly 49,000 years ago in Africa and 36,000 years ago in Europe.
But tens of thousands of years earlier, people at a southern African rock shelter roasted these slimy, chewy – and nutritious – creepers that can grow as big as an adult’s hand, researchers report in the April 15 Quaternary Science Reviews.
Analyses of shell fragments excavated at South Africa’s Border Cave indicate that hunter-gatherers who periodically occupied the site heated large African land snails on embers and then presumably ate them, say chemist Marine Wojcieszak and colleagues. Wojcieszak, of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels, studies the chemical properties of archaeological sites and artifacts.
The supersized delicacy became especially popular between about 160,000 and 70,000 years ago, the researchers say. The number of unearthed snail shell pieces was substantially larger in sediment layers dating to that time period.
New discoveries at Border Cave challenge an influential idea that human groups did not make land snails and other small game a big part of their diet until the last Ice Age waned around 15,000 to 10,000 years ago, Wojcieszak says.
Long before that, hunter-gatherer groups in southern Africa roamed the countryside collecting large land snails to bring back to Border Cave for themselves and to share with others, the team contends. Some of the group members who stayed behind on snail-gathering forays may have had limited mobility due to age or injury, the researchers suspect.
“The easy-to-eat, fatty protein of snails would have been an important food for the elderly and small children, who are less able to chew hard foods,” Wojcieszak says. “Food sharing shows that cooperative social behavior was in place from the dawn of our species.”
Border Cave’s ancient snail scarfers also push back the human consumption of mollusks by several thousand years, says archaeologist Antonieta Jerardino of the University of South Africa in Pretoria. Previous excavations at a cave on South Africa’s southern tip found evidence of humans eating mussels, limpets and other marine mollusks as early as around 164,000 years ago.
Given the nutritional value of large land snails, an earlier argument that it was eating fish and shellfish that energized human brain evolution may have been overstated, says Jerardino, who did not participate in the new study.
It’s not surprising that ancient H. sapiens recognized the nutritional value of land snails and occasionally cooked and ate them 170,000 years ago, says Teresa Steele, an archaeologist at the University of California, Davis who was not part of the work.
But intensive consumption of these snails starting around 160,000 years ago is unexpected and raises questions about whether climate and habitat changes may have reduced the availability of other foods, Steele says.
Researchers have already found evidence that ancient people at Border Cave cooked starchy plant stems, ate an array of fruits and hunted small and large animals. The oldest known grass bedding, from around 200,000 years ago, has also been unearthed at Border Cave.
Several excavations have been conducted at the site since 1934. Three archaeologists on the new study — Lucinda Backwell and Lyn Wadley of Wits University in Johannesburg and Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux in France — directed the latest Border Cave dig, which ran from 2015 through 2019.
Discoveries by that team inspired the new investigation. Excavations uncovered shell fragments of large land snails, many discolored from possible burning, in all but the oldest sediment layers containing remnants of campfires and other H. sapiens activity. The oldest layers date to at least 227,000 years ago.
The chemical and microscopic characteristics of 27 snail shell fragments from various sediment layers were compared with shell fragments of modern large African snails that were heated in a metal furnace. Experimental temperatures ranged from 200° to 550° Celsius. Heating times lasted from five minutes to 36 hours.
All but a few ancient shell pieces displayed signs of extended heat exposure consistent with having once been attached to snails that were cooked on hot embers. Heating clues on shell surfaces included microscopic cracks and a dull finish.
Only lower parts of large land snail shells would have rested against embers during cooking, possibly explaining the mix of burned and unburned shell fragments unearthed at Border Cave, the researchers say.
1,700-Year-Old Sock Spins Yarn About Ancient Egyptian Fashion
There are old socks, and then there are old socks. This stripy sock, discarded around the 3rd or 4th century, falls into the latter category. Fished out of a landfill during the 1913-1914 excavation of the Egyptian city of Antinooupolis led by English papyrologist John de Monins Johnson on behalf the Egypt Exploration Fund, the sock ended up in the collections of the British Museum in London.
While previous research had pinpointed its age, not much else was known about the sock—or its partner, which presumably was lost to time (and did not succumb to whatever the late antiquity period equivalent is to being swallowed by the dryer).
Now, new research is unraveling the sock’s secrets. As Caroline Davies reports for the Guardian, a group of museum scientists hoping to better understand ancient Egyptian clothing manufacture and trade practices decided to analyze the dyes in the sock, along with several other textiles dating between about 250 and 800 A.D.
Avoiding older techniques that required an invasive approach, they utilized multispectral imaging, which only needs to scan the surface of artifacts to test for pigments.
Even if certain colors have degraded to the point that they’re not visible to the naked eye, multispectral imaging can detect minute color traces under different wavelengths of light. Think of it as a camera for invisible ink.
Sure enough, the analysis revealed that the sock contained seven hues of wool yarn woven together in a meticulous, stripy pattern. Just three natural, plant-based dyes—madder roots for red, woad leaves for blue and weld flowers for yellow—were used to create the different color combinations featured on the sock, according to Joanne Dyer, lead author of the study, which appears in the journal PLOS ONE.
In the paper, she and her co-authors explain that the imaging technique also revealed how the colors were mixed to create hues of green, purple and orange: In some cases, fibers of different colors were spun together; in others, individual yarns went through multiple dye baths.
Such intricacy is pretty impressive, considering that ancient sock is both “tiny” and “fragile,” as Dyer tells Davies. Given its size and orientation, the researchers believe it may have been worn on a child’s left foot.
The sock offers insight beyond what was all the rage among youth fashion approximately 1,700 years ago. Analyzing its construction yields a lot of insight into the time period in which it warmed tiny feet.
The period that comprised Egypt’s late antiquity is rich with history: During this time, Egypt experienced an enormous upheaval that ended with the Muslim conquest of the region in 641 A.D.
“These events affect the economy, trade, access to materials,” Dyer tells Davies, “Which is all reflected in the technical makeup of what people were wearing and how they were making these objects.”
As it happens, socks are believed to have been a mainstay for humans since the Stone Age—though the earliest versions, which were just animal pelts or skins meant to be wrapped around feet, may not bear much resemblance to that Fruit of the Loom six-pack you have in your sock drawer.
The ancient Egyptians employed a single-needle looping technique, often referred to as nålbindning, to create their socks. Notably, the approach could be used to separate the big toe and four other toes in the sock—which just may have given life to the ever-controversial socks-nd-sandals trend.
Untouched and Unlooted 4,400-yr-old Tomb of Egyptian High Priest Discovered
Archaeologists in Egypt have made a new tomb discovery — the final resting place of a high priest, untouched for 4,400 years, decorated with hieroglyphics.
The secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mostafa Waziri, described the find as “one of a kind in the last decades.”
The tomb was found buried in a ridge at the ancient necropolis of Saqqara. It was untouched and unlooted.
Officials say they expect more discoveries when archaeologists further excavate the site in the months to come.
The high priest was devoted to his mother, evidence shows. “He mentions the name of his mother almost everywhere here,” said Waziri in an interview, pointing to the dozens of hieroglyphics, statues, and drawings.
“The color is almost intact even though the tomb is almost 4,400 years old,” he added.
The high priest “Wahtye” served during the Fifth Dynasty reign of King Neferirkare (between 2500-2300 BC), at the Saqqara necropolis in Egypt. In addition to the name of the deceased, hieroglyphs carved into the stone above the tomb’s door reveal his multiple titles.
The grave’s rectangular gallery is said to be covered in painted reliefs, sculptures, and inscriptions, all in excellent shape considering how much time has passed.
The reliefs depict Wahtye himself, his wife Weret Ptah, and his mother Merit Meen, as well as everyday activities that include hunting and sailing and manufacturing goods such as pottery, according to National Geographic.
The team of Egyptian archaeologists found five shafts in the tombs. They had removed a last layer of debris from the tomb on December 13, 2018, and found five shafts inside, Waziri said.
One of the shafts was unsealed with nothing inside, but the other four were sealed. They are expecting to make discoveries when they excavate those shafts. He was hopeful about one shaft in particular.
“I can imagine that all of the objects can be found in this area,” he said in an interview, pointing at one of the sealed shafts. “This shaft should lead to a coffin or a sarcophagus of the owner of the tomb.”
The tomb is 33 feet long, 9 feet wide, and just under 10 feet high, Waziri said.
Various drawings depict “the manufacturing of pottery and wine, making religious offering, musical performances, boats sailing, the manufacturing of the funerary furniture, and hunting,” according to the site Egypt Today.
Also NPR is reporting that the Saqqara site is part of a larger complex where archaeologists have discovered art and architecture that yield insight into daily life in ancient Egypt.
Ancient Egyptians mummified humans to preserve their bodies for the afterlife, and animal mummies were used as religious offerings.
The rate of discoveries seems to be increasing. In November 2018, archaeologists unearthed eight new limestone sarcophagi containing mummies at a site that is 25 miles south of Cairo.
Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry said the mummies were dated to the Late Period (664-332 BC) and have an outer layer of cartonnage — papyrus or linen which is covered in plaster — decorated with a painted human form. Three of the mummies are well-preserved.
Melting Stone With Plants: Was the Mythical ‘Green Chisel’ A Real Ancient Tool?
Archaeology is not an exact science. It is full of doubts, uncertainties, surprises, and unanswered questions. One of its unsolved mysteries concerns the methods of ancient stone work, which is lost in the mists of time. All existing stones, listed in the Mohs Scale according to their hardness – from the 1st degree (softest, talc), to the 10th (hardest, diamond) – are workable with tools made of something harder than them. This means they are worked and altered with a mineral tool with a higher degree of hardness, or more often with a metal tool.
From the 1st to the 6th degree (mostly calcareous stones), copper or bronze tools are enough. But for stones from the 7th upwards (much harder and mostly siliceous) we need iron or steel tools. In this article, we are interested in the examples of how ancient stoneworkers worked the oldest, hardest stones.
Why the Hardest Stones?
Many of these finds date back to periods or geographical contexts where iron did not exist: i.e. in the Old World before 1200 BC and in the New World before the Conquest. Nevertheless, surprisingly, just the hardest stones were used by ancient peoples in those situations – and with great skill and extremely sophisticated workmanship. Indeed, it seems that they were even preferred, despite the difficulties in working them (during which, moreover, they can chip badly). It was as if shaping them was commonplace for the ancient stonemasons.
We have emeralds, quartzes, obsidian jewels, and amulets with very fine incisions and carvings; slender vases in syenite with very thin sides with a smooth, impeccable finish; the cup of King Narmer , in porphyry; diorite tablets with bas-reliefs on a perfectly smooth background, and long texts in minute hieroglyphic or cuneiform characters, traced with perfect graphics, without smudges, as if they had been stamped rather than carved.
And then there’s the disquieting geometries in diorite of Puma Punku, of maniacal rigor and the incredible puzzles of the Peruvian walls (and Egyptian and Japanese walls too), with millimeter-precision junctions between the immense andesite blocks with 20, 30, or even 40 corners. There’s also basaltic boulders three meters high as the grandiose Olmec heads. The 70-ton granite blocks with very clear cuts, that were emptied to create the sarcophagi of the Serapeum of Saqqara, whose even the internal surfaces are as smooth as the outer ones, are another marvel. The shiny cylinders of ‘carrots’ also appear to be dug into granite by drills that seemed to have been as fast as their modern counterparts.
All this work was done by ancient stonemasons on hard siliceous rocks – up to the 8th or 9th degree of the Hardness Scale.
None of this, in theory, was feasible by just muscular strength and with the ancient tools in the archaeological record. The stone workers apparently manipulated hard stone with a high degree of skill – but they were without strong saws, bits, special steel drills, and motor-powered tools. It simply seems impossible. But how did they do it? With what?
Inferences and Theories
Obviously, that inexplicable technical perfection has generated a lot of inferences and theories of every kind, many of which arbitrarily transpose means, methods, and knowledge of today into the most distant past. We see a hypothesis suggesting stone was ground, mixed with water, and cast into molds (with a disproportionate expenditure of energy). In another one, the stone is said to be softened by a mix of sour plant juices and shaped, then it would harden.
Other suggestions say the ancient people used lasers, radioactivity and so on, or that they had very advanced machines provided by a mysterious lost civilization. And, of course, there’s the hypothesis that the work was done with the assistance of aliens. But no evidence has ever been found for such devices.
To this technological enigma, excluding fanciful speculations, I intend to offer an explanation in line with ‘ Occam’s razor ’: with all factors being equal, the solution to a problem is the simplest one.
Using Acid to Work the Hardest Stones
The thesis is that the only practical system available to act on the mentioned minerals, refractory to (or unmanageable by) physical action, was chemistry – specifically exploiting the natural capacity of certain elements to break down other materials due to their incompatibility; incompatible chemical principles put in contact with each other will react by destroying each other. That is, to cause a guided reaction, and to stop it at the right time: the stone would be disintegrated by treating it with a corrosive substance (one incompatible with it) that chemically attacked it, instead of, or before tools were used on it.
In short, an acidic chemical would do most (or part) of the work necessary to produce the desired effect – all while saving time, effort, and material. This, as we shall see, was entirely within the reach of the ancient craftsmen , even if it is not clear how they came to understand that natural phenomenon and its possible advantageous uses.
The fact is that this intuition was, apparently, operatively implemented, and in a very simple and not at all mysterious way. Because – unlike other proposed solutions – the acid does not change the structure of the stone, but literally liquefies it and, if carefully managed, it can eliminate from a block all the superfluous parts (or materials) not included in the project design.
The difference compared to manual tools is that it does it without friction – it’s done at the atomic level . That’s all.
We have both direct (material) and indirect (immaterial) clues of the reliability of this hypothesis. Direct clues are the concrete evidence of the use of that method in artifacts and buildings. The results of the process described above are stunning when they are observed with the naked eye.
But I have no doubt that when they are enlarged under a microscope they would show the uniformity of a ‘controlled dissolution’ made by an acid even in the hardest parts of the stone to reach. This is in contrast to scratches which would have been made by metal tools. As a ‘chemical chisel,’ acid can creep everywhere.
As I said above, there is no archaeological evidence for modern technologies and tools used in the ancient past. But acid has always existed in nature. If we wanted to, we could still use it today.
With it, we could – drop by drop – engrave and pierce precious stones, create the empty cavity of a vase and smooth its sides, model statues, and even make coffins out of huge granite blocks. Layer by layer the acid would consume the inside of the stone and smooth it; or, if we wanted to mark it instead, we could cover it with a film of wax (which doesn’t react to it), scratch away the wax in areas we wanted to mark the stone, and then pour acid on those areas.
This could explain how Moses engraved the Tables of the Law, as the Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 48b, describes how Shamìr is used to cut stone. To write on stone at that time, it would make sense that Moses used the same method of first marking the letters with ink, then passing Shamìr over them, and then they were engraved.
By penetrating natural fissures with acid, we could remove boulders from their rocky bed and cut them as we wish. And maybe we could use it in the building industry in the form of a corrosive paste or mortar which disappeared after having eaten away the roughness and smoothed away the differences in height between boulders. It would eliminate the space needed for joints and give the structure the appearance of a dry-stone wall.
I believe this was the only way that it was possible for the ancient stonemasons to work very hard silicon-based stones. It would also be used for softer stones like limestone, marble, and alabaster, since the same acid also attacks all other types of stone. Indeed it attacks every material except gold, lead, and wax.
For us, it is important because it is the only natural solvent for silicon – and that aspect allows us to identify it with certainty because there is nothing else capable of so much. It is hydrofluoric acid (chemical symbol HF), one of the most aggressive, extremely reactive, caustic, and poisonous chemicals. The ancient stonemasons used that. That was their secret tool.
Sourcing the Secret Stonework Tool
But how did they get it? What did they extract it from?
Indirect clues will indicate its origin. Ancient legends speak of a magical ‘something’ that could weaken or destroy every type of stone: a ‘something’ that, from time immemorial, was reserved for the mighty ones and unknown to everyone else. But at a certain moment, it was replaced by iron, abandoned, and eventually forgotten. That’s how things happened in the Old World at least; in the New one , history handed it over to oblivion.
There isn’t much to tell though.
There is a transient reference to the ‘farr’ of Persian king Zal, which was a symbol of his celestial investiture, which acted as HF. Another, no less scanty reference mentions an obscure ‘plant mixture’ conceived by Egyptian scholars to soften stone. This was perhaps the same ‘unknown cement’ that was thick as a sheet of paper and that the Arab scholar Abd el-Latif (12th century) said connected the stones of the Great Pyramid, in which some ‘plant residues’ have recently been found. This is all from Egypt, although there traces of the technique abound.
Instead, we find a lot of data (certainly from Egyptian sources) in myths and texts, including the Bible, of ancient Israel, however there this discovery – a gift of God, which later disappeared – was only used twice. The Jews called it Shamir.
The first time Shamir was used was to engrave the Tables of the Law and the names of the 12 tribes on the gems of priestly vestments. The second time was to cut the stones of the Temple of Solomon as God commanded: these were calcareous stones, but the gems were almost all siliceous, which confirms that Moses used hydrofluoric acid – Shamìr.
The description of its appearance is rather vague and ambiguous, but its behavior isn’t. It worked the hardest stones and left perfect, smooth, residue-free surfaces; it had to be kept in a lead basket (an airtight vase would have exploded), and insulated with wool and bran; it had heavy collateral effects (it scalded Moses and poisoned and killed the Temple workers); in the long run it became inactive.
This is the unequivocal picture of the action of that powerful acid, but it does not help us to understand its origin and nature.
Excluding that it was, as hypothesized, mineral (diamond) or animal (worm), maybe it was plant-based? Some writings related to Shamìr warn not to identify it with Euforbia, a stinging shrub; but why would they do that, if not because it was also a plant? And unfortunately, the information stops there.
Connecting Shamír and the Pito of Peru
But the astonishing answer comes, unexpectedly, from distant Peru, where oral tradition says ever since the ‘ancients’ started to assemble the stones of their huge walls, they used the mysterious Pito, a plant that was described as a low creeping grass with red leaves.
The tradition affirms that Pito or, rather, its extract, is capable of melting every stone (the explorer Percy Fawcett talks about an amphora stolen from an Inca tomb, incidentally broken, and of how the liquid leaked out and dissolved the stone below) and iron too. It also declares that – as God had given Israel Shamir to work on the Temple – the local gods had once given men, in order to alleviate their labors, two plants: coca and Pito; not to be confused, however, with the caustic Efedra. Does it remind us of something?
Jewish myths mention a wild rooster that used Shamìr to make many small holes in rocks in which to plant trees. In Peru they also associate Pito with a bird which, according to several witnesses, is accustomed to rubbing the leaves of the plant onto rocks with its beak: this softens the stone, in which then it digs itself a nest.
But there’s more. The wild rooster also used Shamìr to erode the glass slab placed upon its nest covering its little ones and the Peruvian bird did exactly the same with the Pito herb, but that slab was made of iron.
These similar narratives cannot be pure coincidence. In different contexts, these birds are apparently using two distinct corrosive chemical agents which act in exactly the same way in the stories. So, on both sides of the ocean, we have two elements with common characteristics and the same range of action: the unique capacity to attack silicon.
And now everything can be reduced to a simple syllogism: if two factors have the same effect on a third, it means that they are equal. Even the legends tell the same story. In short, the active component of Pito and Shamìr was the same.
Moreover, from the descriptions we have established that Shamir was HF and that Pito was a plant; therefore HF was derived from a plant. Ultimately both those substances – Pito and Shamìr – were actually only one with the same formula: hydrofluoric acid, HF, which was extracted from plants. However, they were probably not of the same species because the same plants do not grow in the two geographical areas.
But it is also true that over 40 plants of various species have high contents of the poisonous HF, which they absorb from soil and synthesize, to protect themselves from herbivores, in the form of a compound called fluoroacetic acid.
And to extract hydrofluoric acid from fluoroacetic acid is no more difficult than to make tea: you just have to boil the plant in water, distill the solution, and then concentrate it. HF dissolved in water is manageable, very carefully, at room temperature.
Shamìr/Pito: Continents Apart, Techniques in Common
At this point it is relevant to identify Shamìr and Pito with the richest HF spontaneous plants.
The most probable suspects are Dichapetalum in Africa and Palicourea in South America (coincidentally, the areas of our interest). Both of them are not very attractive and of little economic value, having no known uses (only as a rat poison for Dichapetalum). Today they are not the object of any particular attention.
But, in the mists of time, the discovery of their special virtue, exploited in various ways according to their availability and needs, enabled the first civilizations to create and advance in epigraphy, sculpture, and architecture.
In Peru and Bolivia, where Palicourea abounds, it was used directly and in abundance in the pre-Inca building industry. In Egypt and outside Africa, I believe that only the acid derived from Dichapetalum was used to carry out smaller, expensive works.
Who by, where, and when that precious resource was identified is not known and the “how” is perhaps trivial. Maybe the ancient peoples really noticed what the birds were doing or they saw the action of the plants themselves. Regardless, ancient craftsmen learned from experience, and, as they had learned to use fire, water, and wind energy, they also discovered plant or animal juices that melted stones, healed, or killed. They observed that strength, realized its potential, and put it to good use.
Yet the real mystery is not how that knowledge was acquired, nor who transmitted it to whom, but how it traveled between such distant continents. Because, if it is impossible to believe in a coincidence like that shown by myths, it is equally impossible to understand its path unless we rethink the past on very different terms. But this is another story to be investigated elsewhere.
I wish I could demonstrate the validity of this hypothesis by giving it proof and concrete and irrefutable evidence. Modern science can do it. I would like those who have asked the same questions about these mysteries to join me in this research and finally give credit to the skills and knowledge of those who preceded us.
Dozens of Mummified Cats Found in 6,000-yr-old Egyptian Tombs
An Egyptian archaeological mission recently found dozens of cat mummies in seven Pharaonic Age tombs, some dating back over 6,000 years, at a site on the edge of the pyramid complex in Saqqara, south of Cairo.
It is the latest discovery in excavation work that began in April, according to antiquities minister Khaled el-Enany. The team also discovered a rare collection of mummified scarab beetles.
Three of the tombs were particularly used for cats. The felines held a special place in ancient Egypt and were mummified as religious offerings.
Cats were valued for killing poisonous snakes and were believed to have protected the pharaohs since at least the First Dynasty of Egypt.
Skeletal remains of cats have been found among funerary goods dating back to the 12th Dynasty.
One of the sarcophagi belonged to Khufu-Imhat, who was the overseer of the buildings in the royal palace.
Mostafa Waziri, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said they had also uncovered the first mummies of scarabs to be found in this area.
“The [mummified] scarab is something really unique. It is something really a bit rare,” Waziri said, according to The Guardian.
“A couple of days ago, when we discovered those coffins, they were sealed coffins with drawings of scarabs. I never heard about them before.”
The relationship between Egyptians and cats is complex.
In a NPR interview, curator Antonietta Catanzariti said ancient Egyptians didn’t worship cats. “What they did is to observe their behavior,” she says.
People noticed that cats — especially big ones — were expert hunters. Also, cats were nurturing. “They’re protective against their cubs for lions, or kittens for cats, as well as they are aggressive when it’s necessary, kill if necessary,” said Catanzariti.
The ancient Egyptians saw those characteristics as signs of divinity. They created gods and goddesses in their image. The Sackler show (which originated at the Brooklyn Museum) has 80 examples. Now, Egyptians had lots of animal gods and goddesses. “Crocodiles or snakes, dogs, bulls, mention it, you will have it,” laughs Catanzariti.
But cats were the most important. The powerful cat goddess Sakhmet has the face of a lion and the body of a woman. She protected pharaohs in war. Once, according to the myth, her father the sun god sent her down to punish mortals for rebelling against him.
But her punishment was too harsh, so her father gave her a special drink. “She drinks and she transforms into a cat, which is more docile and peaceful, and humankind is saved,” Catanzariti says.
As for the cat goddess Bastet, she protected the home from evil spirits and disease, especially diseases associated with women and children.
Along with other Egyptian deities, Bastet played a role in the afterlife as a guide and helper to the dead although this was not one of her main duties.
3,500-Year-Old Mummified Bear Found in Siberian Permafrost
As the permafrost in Siberia melts, it has revealed a mummified brown bear that lived more than three millennia ago. Scientists are now planning to conduct an autopsy on the bear, with the hope of making a breakthrough in the study of ancient animals.
The bear’s remains were found by deer herders on Bolshoi Lyakhovsky Island, about 5 miles from the Bolshoi Eterikan River. Maksim Cherpasov, a senior researcher at the Mammoth Laboratory Museum of Russia’s North-Eastern University, explained that the carcass was already fossilized because it was in the permafrost.
The body parts were extracted from the soil, prepared for transportation, and taken to a nearby settlement.
Studying the Carcass: Dissection and Analysis
“This find is absolutely unique: the complete carcass of an ancient brown bear,” said Maxim Cheprasov, laboratory chief at the Lazarev Mammoth Museum Laboratory at the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, eastern Siberia.
The scientists now have the opportunity to study its internal organs and examine the brain. The bear is 3,460 years old, which means it lived more than 1,400 years ago, before the fall of the Egyptian and Roman empires.
The researchers determined that the bear was female, measuring more than 5 feet tall and weighing more than 170 pounds, reports Reuters.
The researchers are keen to learn more about the bear’s exact age, how it died, and how it compares to modern animals. They also want to examine the bear’s histology and cells. So far, it appears that the bear died between the ages of 2 and 3 from a spinal injury.
South Korean cell researcher Hwang Woo-Suk is optimistic about the research prospects that the autopsy provides. “We have a very extraordinarily important chance to have an autopsy and to get a sample from the ancient brown bear,” he said.
“I am sure we can start culturing from that samples and hopefully, when we get the live cell, it will be one of historic achievements, breakthrough for ancient animal study.”
The Changing Climate and Siberia’s Melting Permafrost
As the permafrost in Siberia melts, it has revealed well-preserved remains of animals that lived during the last ice age, such as woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, cave lions, and cave bears.
These animals lived in the region tens of thousands of years ago when the climate was much colder than it is today, reports Radio Free Europe .
The melting permafrost has also revealed other animals that lived in more recent times, including ancient horses, bison, and wolves. In 2015, a well-preserved body of a cave lion cub was discovered in the Siberian permafrost.
The cub was estimated to have been frozen for around 28,000 years, making it one of the best-preserved Ice Age animals ever found.
In 2018, a well-preserved head of a steppe wolf, which is believed to be around 30,000 years old, was found in the Siberian permafrost. The head was remarkably preserved, with fur, teeth, and even the brain intact.
In 2019, a large, intact mammoth foot was discovered in the Siberian permafrost. The foot is believed to be around 50,000 years old and is one of the best-preserved mammoth fossils ever found.
In addition to these large animals, the permafrost has also preserved the remains of smaller creatures such as rodents, birds, and insects.
The discovery of these animals provides important insights into the ecosystems of the past and how they have changed over time. They also offer opportunities for scientists to study the genetic material and other biological information that has been preserved in the permafrost, which could help in understanding the evolution of these species and their interactions with their environment.
Ancient Mummified Lion Cubs Discovered in Egyptian Tomb
Egyptian authorities have announced the rare discovery of mummified lion cubs, big cats, cobras and crocodiles near Saqqara necropolis which date back around 2,600 years.
The cache of ancient mummified animals includes dozens of mummified cats and birds, an enormous mummified beetle reported to be “three to four times” the normal size and 75 wooden and bronze cat statues.
The mummified large cats were found close to the remains of an adult mummified lion discovered beneath the Saqqara necropolis in 2004 and while two have been identified as lion cubs three more require further analysis to determine their species.
A Guardian report quotes an excited Mostafa Waziry, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Antiquities, saying that if these three animals are identified as cheetahs, leopards, lioness’ or panthers, it will be “one of its kind” in ancient Egypt.
Animal Blood Sacrifices
Dr Salima Ikram is an Egyptologist and mummy expert at the American University in Cairo and she said the animal mummies date to the Ptolemaic period that ended in 30 BC.
At that time in ancient Egypt worshippers either held mummified animals as actual deities, or they mummified creatures in order to offer them to their gods. This, according to Dr Ikram would have more potency as it was a “blood sacrifice” compared to the perceived magical energies associated with stone or wooden images.
In April this year I wrote an Ancient Origins news article about a similar discovery when archaeologists uncovered dozens of mummified cats and mice among a stash of around 50 animals laid to rest in an ancient tomb about 390km (242 miles) south of Cairo near the Egyptian town of Sohag.
This tomb was built for a man named ‘Tutu’ and his wife who lived in the early Ptolemaic period, which ended with the Roman conquest in 30 BC and like the new discoveries greatly added to Egyptologists understanding of animal worship and mummification rites.
Evolution of The Cat Goddess
The tomb in Sohag contained a range of mummified animals and birds including more than 50 mummified mice and cats and even a mummified falcon which informed all creatures great and small were scarified and worshiped.
Following the ritual path and evolution of the cat goddess, according to G. D. Hornblower’s 1943 book The Divine Cat and the Snake in Egypt “ Mafdet’ was the first cat-headed deity worshiped during the First Dynasty (2920–2770 BC).
Regarded as protector of the Pharaoh’s chambers against snakes, scorpions and all things evil, Mafdet was often also depicted with a head of a leopard.
The later cat deity Bastet was worshiped from at least the Second Dynasty (2890 BC) onwards and was depicted with a lion’s ( Panthera leo’s ) head and a wall painting in the Fifth Dynasty’s burial ground at Saqqara shows a small cat with a collar suggesting to archaeologists that African wildcats were tamed kept in the pharaonic quarters by the 26th century BC.
And reflecting real world occurrences, as time unfolded in ancient Egypt, the once wild cat goddess herself became tamer and was worshiped as ‘Bast’.
The Mummified Cats Might Lure Tourists
Egyptian officials hope that their recent announcement will help to boost the country’s image abroad and ultimately that these ancient mummified lion cubs and cats will encourage tourists to continue visiting Egypt as the country aims to bring back its 14 million visitors a year who came to the country in 2010, before the 2011 revolution which overthrew former autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
An almost final nail in the coffin of Egypt’s flagging tourist industry occurred after Metrojet flight 7K9268 was brought down close to the resort town of Sharm el Sheikh in 2015, but things are turning around, fast.
According to a report in Alborsaanews, last year Egypt saw a surge in arrivals with 11.3 million people visiting Egypt and this was in part inspired and caused by the UK lifting its ban on flights to Sharm el Sheikh that had been in place since 2015.
“It’s wonderful promotion for Egypt,” says Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s antiquities minister, who told The Guardian that be believes these new mummies will spark curiosity among potential visitors to the country in the run-up to the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum close to the Saqqara necropolis.
2,400-Year-Old Goddess Statues Found Dumped in Ancient City on Lebanon’s Coast
Polish archaeologists studying the ancient city of Porphyreon in Lebanon have pieced together the broken parts of ceramic heads to remake what they think are statues of goddesses. One of the 2,400-year-old statues is about 24 cm (9 inches) tall and 15 cm (6 inches) wide.
While the broken pieces of the statues date from a time of Persian control, the women depicted are wearing a stephane or a type of ancient Greek headdress, says Mariusz Gwiazda of the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology in a story about the news .
He said he believes all four of the statues depict deities, but he can’t prove this because they don’t bear inscriptions, he . Two of the statues are nearly whole but the two others are quite incomplete. In all, the team found a dozen pieces of the statues.
The archaeologists found the ceramic shards in 2013 in what they believe was an ancient waste dump that had other pottery pieces, burnt animal bones and remnants of chickpeas, grapes and olives. Porphyreon is on the Mediterranean Sea in modern Jiyeh, 25 km (15.5 miles) south of Beirut.
The two ceramic heads that survived most-intact have red paint on their faces. Both had similar dimensions of 9 inches by 6 inches. Mere traces of two more ceramic heads survived the centuries.
It’s interesting to note that there are fingerprints on top of the head of the best statue, probably pressed there by the artist who made it when the clay was still wet.
That statue has three small holes on top from which it probably hung from a wall, Professor Gwiazda said.
Traits of the ceramic heads include a mix of Greek, Egyptian and Phoenician. The Egyptian influence includes a wadjet or a stylized eye on the chest of one of the female figurines.
Egyptians wore wadjets to ward off evil or illness, though other cultures absorbed them into their own cultures and religions.
The pottery specialist for the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology, Urszula Wicenciak, determined the clay used to fashion the ceramic figurines originated around Tyre, another ancient city of Lebanon. That said, they can’t be sure where the four heads were made.
Pottery Production Area
Ms. Wicenciak was studying to complete her PhD several years ago when the team identified a major pottery production center from the late Greek and Early Roman period.
The team found fine ware in a cistern, including local ceramics of glass lamp fragments and terracotta oil lamps.
A report on the 2009 season here says the terracotta lamps are particularly interesting because 197 fragments represent one type of lamp of a type found between Beirut and the ancient city of Caesarea Maritima. The report states:
‘Laboratory studies of the lamps recovered from the cistern should provide interesting data on clay sources, potentially leading to a discerning of groups or, better still, workshops producing this extremely popular form of lamp. Comparisons with the coarse ware characteristic of the regions should demonstrate how local indeed this type was.’
Ancient Egyptian High Priest of THOTH Found Drenched in Bizarre Figurines
THOTH! Archaeologists in Egypt are busy with a new cycle of excavation missions in the Egyptian deserts. Each month comes with a bunch of new announcements and new finds.
The latest in the series of discoveries features a newly found ancient necropolis from where at least 40 sarcophagi containing mummies have been located.
The most striking of all are the remains and funerary decorations believed to have belonged to a high priest of the Egyptian deity Thoth, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced on February 24th.
The network of tombs was discovered some 150 miles south of the country’s capital, Cairo, close to the Nile and the city of Minya, roughly four miles north of the site known as Tuna Al-Gabal.
Archaeologists have dated the tombs to being about 2,300 years old, associating them with the late Pharaonic days and the early Ptolemaic era, according to a statement shared by the Ministry of Antiquities.
The finds from the underground tombs include at least 40 sarcophagi and other valuable relics–more than 1,000 ushabti funerary figurines, jewelry, and pottery among others
The ushabti figurines have frequently been retrieved from other burial sites in Egypt in the past, and they are thought to have been laid next to the dead to offer assistance in the afterlife.
What has excited everyone the most was the mummy adorned with a bronze collar, showing the deity Nut, protector of the dead in the Ancient Egyptian belief system.
Other artifacts collected from the resting place of this mummy reportedly include colorful beads with semiprecious stones, four amulets, and alabaster jars created to preserve the insides of the departed.
The mummy is considered to be that of a high priest of Thoth, a god that was worshiped in Ancient Egypt for its wisdom and was also associated with the Moon.
More remains seem to be associated with Thoth, and while the identities are not all confirmed, some remains could have belonged to family members of the high priest buried with the bronze collar.
Everyone must have been dazzled when deciphering the hieroglyphics inscribed on one of the four amulets collected from the high priest’s tomb. One of them intriguingly translated to “Happy New Year.”
Among ancient Egyptians, Thoth was connected to the invention of writing, a patron of books and libraries. Perhaps that is why he was still worshiped even in the Ptolemaic era, the last dynastic period of Egyptian history (305 BC until 30 BC), marked by its prominent scholarship center, the Library of Alexandria.
The common portrayal of this deity included an ibis-shaped head, and its worship commenced in Lower Egypt probably in the pre-Dynastic period, in between the 6th and 3rd millennia BC. Since the worship of Thoth lasted for such an extended period of time, some sources suggest that Thoth has been among the longest-worshiped deity figures in Egypt (and potential record-breaker at world level).
For many decades now, archaeologists and scholars have been able to study different sites discovered in the region of Tuna Al-Gabal. Apparently, the realm is rich with ruins and relics, since new findings continue to emerge even now in 2018. Archaeologists and restorers are to take five more years to study and recover all artifacts retrieved from the newly found tombs.
The latest round of excavations in Egypt began in 2017 and are led by Mostafa Waziri, who is the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Another necropolis, again in the Tuna Al-Gabal region, has been identified only last year, and it concealed 17 mummies.
Earlier in February of this year, Egyptian authorities also announced the discovery of a tomb that was built for an ancient priestess who served Hathor, one more important Egyptian deity associated with motherhood and fertility.
The find, very close to Cairo, was significant as it offered an authentic look back into the life of an ancient Egyptian woman of higher rank, some 4,000 years ago. Her mummy has not been found so far, only the tomb.
900-Year-Old Crypt At Old Dongola: Magical Inscriptions And Mysterious Signs Found
Many fascinating archaeological findings have been reported by Polish archaeologists excavating at Old Dongola, the capital of a lost medieval kingdom that flourished in the Nile Valley.
Among them is an enigmatic 900-year-old crypt covered with “magical” inscriptions protecting the tomb in a monastery at Old Dongola, Sudan.
Old Dongola was an important city in medieval Nubia – today, a deserted town in Sudan located on the east bank of the Nile opposite the Wadi Al-Malik.
In al-Ghazali in Northern Sudan, Polish archaeologists discovered a unique church in Byzantine monastic architecture, a large number of fragments of funerary stelae, and inscribed vessels.
Al-Ghazali – an oasis in Bayoudah desert, a few kilometers away from Merowe town in Northern Sudan, is a fascinating place with relics of the Christian era. It’s one of two known religious complexes in medieval Nubia, located outside the Nile Valley.
The monastery is located in Wadi Abu Dom – valley temporarily filling with water that crosses the desert Bayuda, once the busiest trade route in north-east Africa. It is now ruined and abandoned. It has not yet been determined when the monastery began to function, but it is known that it functioned until the thirteenth century.
Inside the tomb were seven male mummies, all dressed simply in linen clothing. One of the mummies resting inside the tomb is believed to be Archbishop Georgios, an extremely powerful religious leader in the ancient Makuria kingdom.
Historians think he died in AD 1113 at the age of 82. The other six mummies are believed to be males not older than 40 years.
It was not an easy task to locate the crypt. “The entrance to the chamber was closed with red bricks bonded in mud mortar,” explains Wlodzimierz Godlewski, the current director of the Polish Mission to Dongola.
The crypt appears to have been sealed after the last of the burials took place.
Inside the crypt, archaeologists discovered inscriptions on the walls and ceiling. These were written with black ink on a layer of whitewash and have been identified as Greek and Sahidic Coptic.
Some were excerpts from the gospels of Luke, John, Mark and Matthew, as well as magical names and signs. A prayer given by the Virgin Mary, at the end of which death appears to her ‘in the form of a rooster’ was also uncovered.
The inscriptions written by “Ioannes,” who left a signature on three and possibly four of the walls had a specific purpose. According to archaeologists, the inscriptions served as protection for the deceased against evil powers.
They were ‘intended to safeguard not only the tomb, but primarily those who were buried inside of it during the dangerous liminal period between the moment of dying and their appearance before the throne of God,’ wrote Adam Lajtar of the University of Warsaw, in the journal Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean.
The crypt was first found in 1993 by the Polish Mission to Dongola. Research to understand the inscriptions is ongoing and a complete record of the texts is to be revealed in the near future.
“It is hard work. The inscriptions are preserved much more poorly than the drawings.
Sometimes I spend many hours on a few letters without any result. And sometimes a beam of light illuminating the inscription for a few seconds in the right way allows me to read all the text that previously was unreadable”, Dr. Grzegorz Ochala from the Department of Papyrology, University of Warsaw, said.
One of the most interesting inscriptions is most probably the prayer “Lamb of God” written in Greek, which proves that this language was used in medieval Nubia for much longer than in the Byzantine territories conquered by the Arabs.
Also in 2004, excavations were carried out at the site of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Old Dongola.
“Room 6 of the monastery was evidently used as a chapel. There was a square structure found, built against the east wall, which could have served as an altar… Over it, on the east wall, there was once a huge mural representing the Archangel Michael..”
“Recovered better-preserved fragments revealed an archangel’s wing with the characteristic ‘peacock feathers’, as well as many fragments of inscribed plaster originating from the vicinity of the northeastern corner. Among these was a considerable part of Psalm 29, written in black ink in Old Nubian and Greek.
The text is presented in a curious way, alternately in one of the two languages, verse after verse. Remnants of another four texts in Greek were also recorded but not yet identified; two of them, however, seem to be Greco-Nubian graffiti.
According to researchers, “the painted decoration of the chapel, the extant representations on the vaults seem peculiar at the very least. Beside a figure of the Archangel Gabriel(?) on the north wall, there is a still unidentified scene of two men sitting in an interior, seen through an unveiled curtain, apparently concluding a financial agreement.”
“There are some other separate compositions possibly connected with the story, including a mysterious praying monk, fastened by his hair to a rock. The large composition observed on the tumbled remains of the vault could be identified as a scene of the Massacre of Innocents.
Another very surprising scene is for example, depicted in the monastery’s room 5 on the north vault. “It represents a festival dedicated to the Virgin Mary with several dancers, some wearing traditional masks. The figures hold sticks, incense burners and drums. The accompanying texts in Old Nubian were perhaps meant to indicate what they were singing.
The Virgin with distaff was painted as an icon beside this scene. The north part of the same vault and the east wall was filled with a scene of the Nativity demonstrating the fullest iconographical breadth.”