Archaeologists are always discovering new things about the past. Whether it’s the long-lost tombs unearthed during renovations at Notre Dame, or the scratch marks on an ivory comb that turn out to be words.
This magazine is a great resource for anyone interested in ancient history. It shares in-depth articles and reports on archaeological discoveries. Its print subscription costs around $50 a year, but you can get some content for free on its website.
Ancient Egyptian mummies
Archaeology news mummies are so iconic, they’re the first thing that comes to mind when people think of ancient Egypt. But the practice was more than just a way to preserve bodies—it was also a ritual meant to guide a person’s spirit into the afterlife. That’s why scientists are excited to learn that a team has discovered an embalming workshop at a site in the Saqqara necropolis near Cairo.
The workshop consists of three rooms, each with several ceramic vessels filled with various mixtures of oils, resins and balms. A new study published this week in Nature analyzed residue from these vessels, and found that the mixtures were made with ingredients from around the world. It also turns out that Egyptians were much more elaborate in their mummification process than we’d thought.
According to classical writers such as Herodotus of Halicarnassus in the 5th century BC and Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century AD, all Egyptians were required to be mummified. But scientific studies have since shown that the rules were more flexible than originally believed. For example, CT scanning has shown that Egyptian embalmers were less rigid about keeping the heart in the body and that they often used different methods to remove the brain.
The discovery of this necropolis is important because it reveals that not only wealthy people could afford to be mummified—it was something that all Egyptians were entitled to after death. The necropolis was so vast, and so well-preserved, that it contains more than 100 coffins with painted interior scenes and hieroglyphs. Campbell Price hopes that careful study of the find will help to give a sense of how the burials developed and what their significance was in Egyptian life.
A 31,000-Year-Old Leg Amputation
The bones of a child hunter-gatherer unearthed in a Borneo cave contain the world’s oldest known evidence of a surgical amputation. A team of Indonesian and Australian archaeologists found the skeleton, dated to 31,000 years ago, missing the lower third of its left foot and leg. The remains of the person’s tibia and fibula — the lower leg bones — end in clean cuts that show signs of careful cutting, rather than the blunt trauma caused by an animal attack or accident, reports Nature. Bone healing patterns also indicate that the amputation happened at an early age. The individual lived another six to nine years before dying at about 19 or 20 years old, according to analyses of the skeleton.
Researchers uncovered the bones in a limestone cave in the East Kalimantan province of Indonesia called Liang Tebo, which is well-known for its Stone Age rock art. The researchers say that the successful removal of this limb suggests that hunter-gatherer societies had detailed knowledge about limb anatomy, muscles and blood vessels to prevent fatal blood loss and infection. The previous oldest-known example of amputation was a Neolithic farmer from France who had his left arm cut off above the elbow 7,000 years ago.
“This discovery has significant implications for our understanding of prehistoric medical practices and life expectancy,” says Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Australia. The findings show that people from hunter-gatherer communities could perform surgery without advanced tools or antibiotics, he adds. This amputation also implies that people knew how to treat an infection and control bleeding, important in a tropical environment and in a society on the move. This level of knowledge is much earlier than previously believed and pushes back the date when surgery started to become a common part of human life.
Although poo might not inspire the same excitement as a shiny artifact, preserved excrement is crucial to archaeology. That’s because the microbial species in an animal’s poop can tell researchers about the health, diet, and habits of our ancestors and their pets. In fact, fecal microbiomes can also point to conditions like obesity, diabetes, and blood diseases. That’s why archaeologists love to sift through piles of fossilized dung, called coprolites.
A few years ago, archaeologists uncovered a trove of coprolites in Oregon’s Paisley Caves, and dated them to 14,000 years ago. They’d already discovered stone tools, animal bones, and traces of fire pits at the site, but the poop was a revelation. The ancient poo revealed that the humans in the caves were well-fed and likely ate a diverse diet, challenging the prevailing notion that these early Americans subsisted on a handful of foraged berries.
The poop was so impressive that it prompted the researchers to create a new DNA tool for analyzing ancient poo. The team, led by Maxime Borry and Christina Warinner of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, developed CoproID, a machine learning algorithm that scans fecal samples for gut bacteria and remnants of host DNA. This allows the scientists to identify the species that left the poo, and thus its source.
One unexpected result of the CoproID analysis was that the team found evidence of dysentery-causing Giardia in both the human and dog feces. While medical texts from the time suggest that Giardia was common among inhabitants of the great pre-Columbian city of Cahokia, past studies had trouble connecting the disease to dietary changes at the time. The team’s work could lead to better understanding of how changes in the human diet and environment affected health in past societies.
An Accidentally Opened Tomb
A team of archaeologists has accidentally opened the tomb of a 19th Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh in what is being described as an archaeological breakthrough. It’s the first such discovery since the famous discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. The tomb is known only by the number KV63 and was discovered while researchers were digging on another site nearby.
The team found a beehive-shaped tomb that contained fragments of objects and human bones, reports Al-Monitor. The bones are believed to belong to a man and a woman who were alive around 1500 B.C.
This find is significant because it gives archaeologists a chance to study how people lived at the time, says Aviam. The discovery may also shed light on how ancient tombs were built and robbed.
KV63 is located in the Valley of the Kings, a burial ground for pharaohs from 1500 to 1000 B.C. It was discovered by accident last year when a research team began excavating a neighboring tomb. The tomb was found buried under white rock and was surprisingly intact.
The last time a tomb of this kind was opened on purpose, it ended tragically. The man who financed the whole excavation, Lord Carnarvon, died just a few months after the opening of King Tut’s tomb and a few weeks after the press started publishing stories about the curse that was thought to afflict anyone who disturbed a pharaoh’s resting place. Legend has it that the moment he died, all the lights in his house went out.
Despite the legend, Carter himself never suffered from any unexplainable illness and his house did not burn down. He died of lymphoma at the age of 64. Still, some of his colleagues did not fare so well. The curse of the pharaohs seems to be more myth than reality.
Archaeology is the study of human history through artifacts, and marine archaeologists specialize in finding these objects submerged underwater. This makes shipwrecks particularly important to the field, as they offer a unique glimpse into a particular moment in time.
Unlike sites on land, which are often altered by people, shipwrecks show us the past as it really was. They also act as time capsules, preserving a single point in the past so that archaeologists can learn about how that time period functioned.
As a result, the study of shipwrecks is essential to understanding maritime history, and archaeologists are constantly discovering new and exciting things from them. Wrecks from ancient times can teach us about navigation, sailing techniques, and what life was like on a seafaring vessel. Additionally, examining a wreck’s cargo can reveal a lot about the trade routes, risks, and practices of the times. For instance, the Antikythera Mechanism is considered one of the earliest instruments of time keeping and prediction of celestial events, and was discovered off the coast of Greece in 1902.
In more recent times, archaeologists have turned to modern shipwrecks as well. For example, the wreck of a British ship that sank near Sydney in 1841 yielded information about ceramics and other materials that were in use at the time. Furthermore, studying the stowage and manufacture of items like the wooden casks aboard the William Salthouse, which was wrecked in 1852 on the way to Melbourne, helped refine our knowledge of what the early settlers needed for their homes.
Moreover, the discovery of a wrecked ship can help inform conservation and preservation efforts. For instance, the Corolla Wreck is an important North Carolina archaeological site because it offers valuable clues about shipbuilding methods and the state of science in the late 16th century. It was later scuttled as an artificial reef in order to spur the growth of new coral.
In conclusion, the world of archaeology continues to yield captivating discoveries that shed light on our ancient past. From unearthing long-lost civilizations to unveiling mysterious artifacts, archaeologists play a crucial role in enriching our understanding of human history. As technology advances, we can expect even more exciting revelations in the future.
- What is archaeology? Archaeology is the scientific study of human history and prehistory through the excavation, analysis, and interpretation of artifacts, structures, and other physical remains. It aims to reconstruct and understand past societies, cultures, and their development over time.
- Why is archaeology important? Archaeology is important because it helps us connect with our roots and understand the development of human civilizations. It provides insights into ancient cultures, their daily lives, beliefs, and interactions, fostering a broader understanding of our collective heritage. Additionally, archaeology contributes to the preservation and conservation of cultural heritage for future generations.