Category Archives: ASIA

Ancient Toilet: A Peek into King Hezekiah’s Reforms in the Bible?

Ancient Toilet: A Peek into King Hezekiah’s Reforms in the Bible?

It was one of the most zealous religious crackdowns in the history of Judaism and saw the numerous cults in ancient Judah smashed to pieces.

Now evidence of the reforms implemented by King Hezekiah, which are described in the Old Testament, around 2,800 years ago have surfaced in a surprising form.

Archaeologists digging at the site of an ancient gate to the ruined city of Tel Lachish in Israel have uncovered the remains of a shrine that was desecrated during the purges in the 8th century BC.

Archaeologists have discovered a stone toilet in a shrine hidden within the city gate at the ruins of the city of Tel Lachish in Israel. It is thought to have been installed as part of a crackdown on religious cults by King Hezekiah

The Lachish city gate, as it is known, consists of six chambers which contain signs of city life at the time.

In one of the chambers, however, is a shrine that once had walls covered with white plaster and two altars decorated with raised corners – known as horns.

These, however, appear to have had their tops deliberately cut off, a sign that there had been an attempt to end the spread of religious cults and centralise worship in Jerusalem.

But perhaps the greatest sign that the shrine had been the site of one of King Hezekiah’s crackdowns was the installation of the toilet within the inner sanctum of the shrine.

This stone with a hole cut through the centre would have been the ultimate desecration of the Holy site.

Sa’ar Ganor, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: ‘Steps to the gate-shrine in the form of a staircase ascended to a large room where there was a bench upon which offerings were placed.

‘An opening was exposed in the corner of the room that led to the holy of holies. ‘To our great excitement, we found two four-horned altars and scores of ceramic finds consisting of lamps, bowls and stands in this room.

‘It is most interesting that the horns on the altar were intentionally truncated. That is probably evidence of the religious reform attributed to King Hezekiah.’

According to the narrative given in the book of Kings in the bible, King Hezekiah oversaw a widespread effort to abolish the religious cults and idol worship that had sprung up in Judah.

It states in II Kings 18:4: ‘He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles…’ Tests at the site showed that while the toilet stone appears to have been installed to desecrate the shrine, it was never actually used.

Archaeologists instead believe it had been placed there symbolically and the inner sanctum of the shrine was sealed shut.

The gate itself was initially partially unearthed several decades ago by an expedition led by archaeologists from Britain and Tel Aviv University.

Now the entire gate, which measures 78 feet (24 metres) long by 78 feet wide, has been excavated.

In the first chamber, archaeologists found stone benches with armrests along with numerous jars and grain scoops scattered on the floor.

Dr Ganor said: ‘The size of the gate is consistent with the historical and archaeological knowledge we possess, whereby Lachish was a major city and the most important one after Jerusalem’.

‘According to the biblical narrative, the cities’ gates were the place where ‘everything took place’.

‘The city elders, judges, governors, kings and officials – everyone would sit on benches in the city gate. These benches were found in our excavation.’ There were also jar handles that bear an official seal impression indicating ownership.

For the first time in 2000 years, the Biblical site where Jesus healed blind man to be excavated for public view

For the first time in 2000 years, the Biblical site where Jesus healed blind man to be excavated for public view

Several Biblical sites have been identified through archaeology over the course of history. They hold huge historical importance and are often tied to a theological significance.

Most of the sites were in their natural state when found by archeologists. But have locations been unearthed? Apparently not.

In the coming days, a new location will be opening to the public for the first time in 2,000 years.

The Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel National Parks Authority and the City of David Foundation have announced that a site, cherished by the Christians and Jews, which is allegedly the place where Jesus miraculously healed a blind man will be opened to the public.

The Pool of Siloam is located in the southern part of the City of David archaeological site in Jerusalem.

“The Pool of Siloam, located at the southern end of the City of David, and within the Jerusalem Walls National Park, is an archaeological and historical site of national and worldwide importance.

According to the Bible, the pool was first built in the 8th century BCE in the reign of King Hezekiah, some 2,700 years ago, as part of Jerusalem’s water system,” Israel Antiquities Authority wrote on Facebook.

It has always been referred to as a number of rock-cut pools on the southern slope of the Wadi Hilweh, considered by some archaeologists to be the original site of Jerusalem.

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus sent the “man blind from birth” to the pool in order to complete his healing. A simpler and more popular belief is that Jesus applied mud to the eyes of the man before telling him to wash it off in the Pool. When he followed his instructions, he was able to see for the first time.

The story makes the Pool of Siloam an important historical site for Christians as well as Jews.

“The Pool of Siloam’s excavation is highly significant to Christians around the world. It was at this site that Jesus healed the blind man (John:9), and it is at this site that, 2,000 years ago, Jewish pilgrims cleansed themselves prior to entering the Second Temple.” American pastor John Hagee, the founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel, told Fox News Digital.

“The Pool of Siloam and the Pilgrimage Road, both located within the City of David, are among the most inspiring archaeological affirmations of the Bible,” he added.

Ze’ev Orenstein, director of international affairs for the City of David Foundation in Jerusalem, told Fox News Digital that the site ‘will be made fully accessible for the first time in 2,000 years’.

As of now, a small section of the pool has been fully excavated to be made accessible to the public. However, the vast majority of the pool will be opened later once the entire site is unearthed.

Reports have claimed that some tourists have already been able to visit the site. But full access will only be granted when the excavation is complete.

“The Pool of Siloam in the City of David National Park in Jerusalem is a site of historic, national and international significance. After many years of anticipation, we will soon merit being able to uncover this important site and make it accessible to the millions of visitors visiting Jerusalem each year,” said Jerusalem’s mayor Moshe Lion.

Untouched and Unlooted 4,400-yr-old Tomb of Egyptian High Priest Discovered

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 well-preserved tomb is decorated with scenes showing the royal priest alongside his mother, wife and other members of his family, the ministry said in a statement.

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.

Saqqara pyramid of Djoser in Egypt.

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.

Pyramid of Djoser (Stepped pyramid), an archeological remain in the Saqqara necropolis, Egypt. UNESCO World Heritage

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.

This picture taken on December 15, 2018 shows a general view of a newly-discovered tomb belonging to the high priest ‘Wahtye’ who served during the 5th dynasty reign of King Neferirkare (between 2500-2300 BC), at the Saqqara necropolis, 30 kilometres south of the Egyptian capital Cairo.

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.

Giza pyramids.

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.

5,000-Year-Old Tavern With Food Still Inside Discovered in Iraq

5,000-Year-Old Tavern With Food Still Inside Discovered in Iraq

Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of an ancient tavern that’s nearly 5,000 years old in southern Iraq, the University of Pennsylvania announced last week.

Researchers discovered an ancient tavern at Lagash in southern Iraq.

The find offers insight into the lives of everyday people who lived in a non-elite urban neighborhood in southwest Asia around 2700 B.C.E.

Inside the public eating space—which included an open-air area and a kitchen—researchers with the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pisa found an oven, a type of clay refrigerator called a zeer, benches and storage containers that still held food.

They also found dozens of conical-shaped bowls that contained the remains of fish, reports CNN’s Issy Ronald.

The tavern was discovered at Lagash, a 1,000-acre archaeological site that was a bustling industrial hub with many inhabitants during the Early Dynastic period. Researchers say Lagash was one of the largest and oldest cities in all of southern Mesopotamia.

An aerial view of the Lagash site in southern Iraq

“The site was of major political, economic and religious importance,” says Holly Pittman, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the Lagash project director, in a statement from the university.

“However, we also think that Lagash was a significant population center that had ready access to fertile land and people dedicated to intensive craft production.”

Researchers have been conducting the most recent round of Lagash excavations since 2019, but work at the site dates back to the 1930s. Over the past four years, researchers have used an array of high-tech techniques to better understand the site, including capturing drone imagery and conducting magnetometry analysis.

They’ve also collected and studied sediment samples from as deep as 80 feet below the surface to understand the site’s geological and geophysical evolution over the years.

“It’s not like old-time archaeology in Iraq,” says Zaid Alrawi, project manager for the Lagash project at the Penn Museum, in the statement.

“We’re not going after big mounds expecting to find an old temple. We use our techniques and then, based on scientific priority, go after what we think will yield important information to close knowledge gaps in the field.”

To investigate the ancient tavern just 19 inches below the surface, the archaeologists used a technique that involves excavating thin horizontal sections one by one. Discovering the tavern suggests that the society at Lagash included a middle class, in addition to enslaved individuals and elites.

Archaeologists have also unearthed pits that held clay at Lagash.

“The fact that you have a public gathering place where people can sit down and have a pint and have their fish stew, they’re not laboring under the tyranny of kings,” says Reed Goodman, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, to CNN. “Right there, there is already something that is giving us a much more colorful history of the city.”

The researchers’ other discoveries at the site include an area where the city’s ancient inhabitants once made pottery, complete with six ceramic kilns, benches and a table. They also found a domestic dwelling that contained a toilet and a kitchen.

“As you excavate, you analyze and create a story that we hope gets closer and closer to the reality of the past,” says Alrawi in the statement.

Denisovan DNA in Tibetan Cave Changes History of Early Humans in Asia

Denisovan DNA in Tibetan Cave Changes History of Early Humans in Asia

An international team has found evidence that could change our understanding of a mysterious species of early humans, the Denisovans. They have found DNA from these humans in a Buddhist cave on the Tibetan Plateau in China.

These finds are adding to experts’ knowledge of the mysterious Denisovans and how they interacted with modern humans as they migrated into Asia.

The Baisiya Karst Cave is approximately 10,400 feet (3,200 m) high on the rugged Tibetan Plateau. For the local Buddhist monks, the cave is a sacred site. Many years ago, a mysterious lower jawbone (mandible) was found in the cave and it has recently been re-examined. In 2019 researchers proposed it belonged to a Denisovan, but this was disputed.

The Xiahe mandible is the first Denisovan fossil to have been discovered outside of the Denisova Cave in Siberia. Unearthed in the Baishiya Karst Cave by a Tibetan monk in 1980, scientists used protein analysis in 2019 to identify the ancient human from this ancient jawbone.

Denisovans: Relatives of Modern Humans

About 40,000 years ago, this species of archaic human lived across Asia. A close relative of Neanderthals, the Denisovans even interbred with our ancestors.

Many modern Australasians and Asians have Denisovan ancestry. Almost no remains of the hominins have been found outside of the Denisova Cave in Siberia, after which the species is named.

Because of the scarcity of remains, the jawbone could provide precious insights into the extinct archaic human species. However, the only evidence that it was Denisovan was “based on a single amino acid position,” reports Cosmos.

Archaeologist Dongju Zhang of Lanzhou University and her colleagues wanted to prove once and for all that the jawbone was from a Denisovan and sought DNA which would be used as conclusive proof.

The Baishiya Karst Cave on the Tibetan Plateau in China has been exceptionally challenging for archaeologists. A sacred Buddhist site, the team was forced to work at night so as not to disturb worshipers.

Excavations in Sub-Zero Temperatures

In the winter of 2018, they worked with an international team on an intensive investigation of the cave. This excavation was terribly challenging. Because the cave is sacred to local Buddhists, the team could only work at night so as not to disturb the faithful during the day. They also had to remove all traces of their work before the morning and often worked in temperatures as low as –18°C (-0.4°F).

The experts dug deep into the soil of the cave. While they did not find any hominin bones, they found something even better: traces of mitochondrial DNA. This is a hugely important discovery. According to Science “Zhang’s team reports the first Denisovan ancient DNA found outside the Denisova Cave : mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) gleaned not from fossils, but from the cave sediments themselves.”

This is the first time that genetic evidence for the Denisovans has been found outside Siberia. The DNA was extracted from human remains in the topsoil. This was probably left behind in the poop and urine of the Denisovans.

In September 2019 scientists used epigenetics to work out the possible physical makeup of a Denisovan face. Their reconstruction won the 2019 Science magazine’s People’s Choice for Breakthrough of the Year.

Early Humans in Tibet

Bo Li of the Australian University of Wollongong told Cosmos that they have “detected ancient human fragments that matched mitochondrial DNA associated with Denisovans in four different layers of sediment deposited.” The sediment where the DNA has been dated to around 100,000 and 60,000 years ago and possibly as “recently as 45,000 years back, the time when modern humans were migrating to the eastern part of Asia,” reports News Click .

These findings change the history of early humans in Asia. The researchers wrote in Science that the DNA “extends the time of occupation of the Tibetan plateau by hominins.” Li and his colleagues were able to date the finds by using optical dating, which works by showing when they had been exposed to light.

By showing that DNA and dates can be gathered from sediment, this groundbreaking research is paving the way for “a new era of molecular caving,” explains Katerina Douka of the Max Planck Institute in Science.

The find is important because it is the first DNA to have been found outside the Denisovan Cave in Siberia. Unearthed some 1200 km from Siberia, the discoveries in the soil of the cave end a long search for Denisovan DNA outside of Siberia. They also provide further evidence that Denisovans were once widespread across Asia.

Scientists analyze sediment samples from the Baishiya Karst Cave at the lab. Their research has identified Denisovan DNA from as far back as 100,000 years ago.

Denisovan “Superathlete” Gene

But DNA wasn’t all they found. The team also unearthed several artifacts and other remains in the holy cave, as well as a great deal of charcoal which proves that the Denisovans used fire. Moreover, the experts found over 1,300 rudimentary tools and many animal bones, including some from hyenas and rhinos, both of which once roamed Tibet. It has also been speculated that they used the cave as a lookout from which to watch out for prey on the meadows below.

Finding the remains of Denisovans at such an altitude shows that the ancient species could cope with a range of environments and that they were highly adaptable. This ability was inherited by modern Tibetans, allowing them to survive in one of the world’s toughest environments.

Modern Tibetans inherited from the Denisovans “a ‘superathlete’ variant of a gene, called EPAS1,” explains Science. However, it only spread widely in the last 5,000 years and may indicate that the extinct archaic humans only lived seasonally in the cave.

More finds are expected to be made at the Baishiya Karst Cave site. Li told Cosmos that their “next target is to date more samples from the cave and try to answer when Denisovans started to occupy the cave and when they ‘disappear’ from the cave.” This could be crucial in understanding modern humans’ interactions with the archaic hominins and perhaps even solve the mystery of their extinction.

2,200-Year-Old Stone Armor Reveals Qin Shi Huang’s Legacy

2,200-Year-Old Stone Armor Reveals Qin Shi Huang’s Legacy

Excavations in 1998 and 2019 unearthed hoards of ancient stone armor in and around the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, offering insights into the emperor’s military achievements and life. Now, a new study highlights how these discoveries represent various aspects of Qin Shi Huang’s military legacy.

In 1998, archaeologists in China discovered a stash of ancient stone armor in ‘Pit K9801 ,’ in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Dynasty Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who ruled in the central Shaanxi Province from 221 to 210 BC.

Famous for having united China under a centralized imperial government, Qin Shi Huang constructed the Great Wall of China and commissioned the famous Terracotta Army as part of his elaborate tomb complex .

Digging Beneath the Money Tree

In 1998, archaeologists unearthed over 600 small limestone plates, which were connected to each other using bronze wires. In 2001, further stone armor products, and the tools used to make them, were found in a well in Xinfeng, by the Wei River, that dated to the Qin Dynasty .

Then, in 2019, archaeologists from the Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology excavated the Liujiagou site , beneath the barren bush to the north of the main burial site, near a high-rise building in Xianyang, the capital city of the Qin Dynasty.

Even more defective stone armor and tools were found, and all of the findings matched the previously excavated stone armor remains from Pit K9801, and from the site in Xinfeng.

Analyzing “32,292” Ancient Artifacts

A new study published in Science Direct, by professor Xuewei Zhang of the Bioarchaeology Laboratory, Jilin University , Changchun, says the 2019 discovery “is significant,” because it links two phases of Qin Shi Huang’s life and death. Furthermore, these archaeological finds illustrate funerary and burial processes within the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.

In 2019, the team of archaeologists excavated an area of 144 m2, (1,550 sq ft) revealing a hoard of “32,392 artifacts,” according to the study. Some stone armor plates were rectangular in shape with drilled holes, polished surfaces, and treated edges, and “almost finished,” resembling previously excavated stone armor.

Furthermore, the artifacts represented a specific type of stone armor, and included production waste.

Tellingly, the team of archaeologists also discovered tools that were used in the production of the stone armor, which informed the researchers about the manufacturers craft skills and production methods. The new paper focuses on the production process of stone armor, and it breaks the methods down into its different stages.

Stone armor, Warring States period (457-221 B.C.), excavated in 1998 in the Terracotta Army buried near the Mausoleum of the First Emperor of Qin, in Lintong District of Xi’an, Shaanxi.

Almost Finished Stone Armor

Stone armor consists of front and rear tunics, pauldrons, and a tasset. The new analysis revealed the use of high-quality limestone with minimal joints as the raw material, and the researchers matched some “nearly finished,” broken plates, to their original armor sets.

The scientists also experimented with the wear patterns to better understand the perforation techniques used in making the stone armor. And after reconstructing the stone armor production process, the researchers found that the armor “was abandoned” before completion.

According to the new study, evidence suggests the process of making stone armor was similar to that of producing leather armor, by casting molds.

Furthermore, the stone armor production process consisted of “nine repetitive steps, potentially influenced by random variables.” And the new study also showed that the raw materials used to make the armor, “were not local but imported from distant locations”.

Stone armor helmet.

Stone Armor, For Afterlife Battles

The new study concluded that the 2019 excavation site was “a significant stone armor workshop during the Qin Dynasty.” However, in the practical world, stone armor offers limited protection, and is easily damaged when impacted, therefore it was unsuitable for use in combat.

Stone armor was used in ancient China to preserve grave goods during funerals, “because it decayed less rapidly than leather armor,” according to the new paper.

2,200 years ago, in China, stone armor was made primarily for funerary purposes, rather than for actual use in battles, but it imitated the style of armor used at that time.

Despite its practical limitations, the inclusion of stone armor and stone weapons in burials, such as that of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, reflected the people’s reverence for all things military, and each piece of stone armor reflects the military power and authority wielded by various rulers during their lifetime.

1,000-year-old grave of Siberian warlord horseman who lost arm in battle revealed

1,000-year-old grave of Siberian warlord horseman who lost arm in battle revealed

Archaeologists in Siberia have unearthed an elaborate grave belonging to an 11 th century warlord horseman who lost his left arm in his final battle, according to a news release in the Siberian Times .

  The ancient warrior towered nearly a foot over his peers and was buried with a bear fang on his face, a symbol of his great strength.

Archaeologists discovered the remains of the man they named Bogatyr (‘Great Warrior’) in an ancient burial mound near Omsk in south western Siberia. An analysis of the bones suggests that the warrior had been trained in combat since childhood.

He belonged to the tribes of the Ust-Ishim culture, which were the ancestors of modern indigenous Khanty and Mansi peoples. These people were known to have been small in stature at the time, so the fact that Bogatyr measured 180cm would have made him appear like a giant.

The features of Bogatyr’s grave and the fact that his lower arm and hand were buried with the rest of the corpse, but severed from it, suggests that this Siberian warrior died in battle.

“Our warrior was killed in the battle. His left arm was severed in battle and placed near the body, and his shoulder was broken. But he was buried according to ritual which means he was a respected person.

All the elements of the ritual give us an opportunity to discover historical and political conditions of the epoch the warrior lived in,” said archaeologist Mikhail Korusenko, who led the expedition.

The grave of the Siberian warlord. His left lower arm can be seen severed from the rest of his body. Credit: Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Siberian branch of Russian Academy of Sciences.

Bogatyr was buried with mirror and a bronze plate, which lay on his chest, 25 war arrows made from metal and bone that are still sharp, bronze tools, a bronze cauldron with the remains of food to nourish him in the afterlife, a horse’s bridle, suggesting he was a horseman, and remains of leather and fur, which may have formed part of his clothing or were the quiver decorations on his arrow.

The researchers believe that the mirror, which measured 10cm in diameter, may have been worn as an amulet and was placed on his chest as a tool to communicate with the gods. 

The bronze mirror measuring 10cm in diameter, which was found on the warrior’s chest. Picture: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian branch of Russian Academy of Sciences

Bogatyr was buried with a death mask, most of which had disintegrated. However, researchers were able to determine that the mask was originally comprised of fabric and included pockets over the eyes and mouth which contained metal fish figurines.

The fish were deliberately snapped in half, which may have been a ritualistic act that held some religious importance. Next to his nose was the massive fang of a bear, a sign of his strength and power, according to Mr. Korusenko.

The death mask, with number 4 marking the bear’s fang, and numbers 2 and 4 showing metal fish figurines with broken-off heads that were covering the warrior’s eye sockets. Picture: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian branch of Russian Academy of Sciences

Mr. Korusenko said that the grave of the warrior is “a truly unique find which would allow us to fill pages about not only the cultural, but the military history of this part of the region, as we know very little about this particular period of time.”

Smallest Dinosaur Ever Discovered Found Perfectly Trapped in Amber

Smallest Dinosaur Ever Discovered Found Perfectly Trapped in Amber

Jurassic Park eat  your heart out. The smallest dinosaur on record has been found stuck in amber. When we think about dinosaurs, the creatures we picture are usually quite large, such as the Apatosaurus or the T-Rex. We know others are smaller, such as Velociraptors, but even those were around 180 pounds.

Some dinosaurs were a lot smaller than that, a fact which recently demonstrated when scientists recently reported finding the smallest dinosaur ever discovered, trapped in a chunk of amber, according to the BBC. The scientists published their findings in the journal Nature.

The fossil was found in northern Myanmar, in a piece of amber that is approximately 99 million years old. It is the skull of a dinosaur that resembled a bird, and its size suggests that the entire creature would only have been about as large as a bee hummingbird, the smallest bird currently living.

Even other small dinosaurs, such as the Microraptor, were still a couple of feet in size and could weigh between two and three pounds. This new find, however could have only weighed a couple of grams.

Its diminutive size may help researchers gain some insight about how small birds evolved from larger dinosaurs. According to Jingmai O’Connor from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, there are problems that are very particular to creatures of that size, including staying warm and how to fit all the necessary sensory organs into such a small head.

The tiny dinosaur caught in amber.

Most birds have a ring of bones that supports the eye. Usually the bones that make up that ring are square and pretty straightforward. This new find, which has been named Ocludentavis khaungeae, has a similar ring, but instead of being square, the bones are spoon-shaped.

The only animal currently known to share that type of characteristic are certain types of lizards. The bones of the eye would have been cone shaped, which means the little creatures would have had very good eyesight.

Artwork of the tiny bird dinosaur by HAN ZHIXIN

Owls also have the same sort of cone shape, but their eyes face forward, whereas the eyes of O khaungeae seem to have faced sideways. The tip of the cones would have been narrow, as well, restricting the amount of light that could enter the eye, which means that this was a creature that was active during the day. Finally, it appears that its eyes would have bulged outward in a way that no modern living creatures does.

Professor O’Connor called it the weirdest fossil she’s ever seen, but feels lucky to be able to study it. Unfortunately, since the fossil is only the skull, there is only limited information that can be gathered from it about who its body looked and functioned. Some features of the fossil resembled those of dinosaurs, others resemble those of birds.

At present, researchers don’t know if the collection of features they’re observing is an adaptation because of the creature’s small size, or it they are a product of its lifestyle.

The fossil’s jaw had a lot of teeth – more than 100 –, which strongly suggests that it was a predator, probably feeding on insects. Its eyes were placed on the sides of its head, however, meaning that it doesn’t have the sort of binocular vision that scientists associate with predator species of all types.

The specimen even still contains some of its soft tissue, preserved in the amber that surrounds it, which is common for specimens that are found in amber, since the resin surrounds and preserves the creatures at the moment of their death, protecting them from decay. In the case of such small animals, their bodies are so fragile that there aren’t many examples in the fossil record.

Dozens of Mummified Cats Found in 6,000-yr-old Egyptian Tombs

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.

An Egyptian archaeologist cleans mummified cats during the demonstration of a new discovery made by an Egyptian archaeological mission through excavation work at an area located on the stony edge of King Userkaf pyramid complex in Saqqara Necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, on November 10, 2018.

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.

An Egyptian archaeologist cleans mummified cats during the demonstration of a new discovery made by an Egyptian archaeological mission through excavation work at an area located on the stony edge of King Userkaf pyramid complex in Saqqara Necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, on November 10, 2018.

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.

Mummified cat

“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 Gayer-Anderson cat, believed to be a representation of Bastet.

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.

Mummified cat, Egypt, 2000-100 BCE.

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.

Egyptian mummies of animals in the British Museum.

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.

The Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat, by John Reinhard Weguelin, 1886.

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

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.”

A Siberian brown bear.

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.

An Ice Age bear cub found on the Yakutia mainland (North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk)

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.