Categories
Cosmic Science

Check out the world’s oldest known animal painting

Archaeologists say they’ve found the oldest known artistic depiction of a natural creature — a painting of a warty pig that’s at least 45,500 years old, found inside a cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

“The Sulawesi warty pig painting we found in the limestone cave of Leang Tedongnge is now the earliest known representational work of art in the world, as far as are aware,” study co-author Adam Brumm of Griffith University’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution said today in a news release.

Brumm and his colleagues discovered the painting during an expedition in 2017. It’s part of a scene that appears to show three or four animals facing off against each other on the cave wall.

The painting’s age — reported in Science Advances, an open-access journal — was estimated by using a uranium-series dating technique on mineral deposits that formed over the painting. The researchers behind the find say the artwork could be thousands of years older.

In any case, the reported minimum age beats out the previous record for representational art, which was held by a 44,000-year-old hunting scene found by the same research team in a different Sulawesi cave. The better-known paintings in France’s Chauvet Cave are thought to be a mere 32,000 years old.

Categories
Cosmic Science

Ancient fast-food joint served up spicy language

A just-unveiled excavation at Italy’s Pompeii archaeological site shows that ancient Roman restaurants had a lot in common with modern-day fast-food eateries — including rude graffiti.

But at Pompeii’s snack bar, naughty comments weren’t just scratched on restroom walls. They were right out in the open, inscribed onto the counter where hot food and drinks were served.

The nearly 2,000-year-old fast-food joint, which was known back then as a thermopolium, got rave reviews this weekend when the Archaeological Park of Pompeii opened it up for pictures. The site was first excavated in 2019, but this year, archaeologists dug down all the way to the floor, unearthing marvelous frescoes in the process.

They also found traces of the tasty wares that were once stored inside the restaurant’s vessels and doled out to customers — as well as the remains of someone who died suddenly when Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in the year 79 covered Pompeii with hot ash and debris.

Categories
Cosmic Science

Egypt’s Saqqara site yields still more mummies

It’s only been a month since Egyptian archaeologists took the wraps off the discovery of scores of mummies at Saqqara — and now they’re adding to the site’s store of archaeological treasures.

Today the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced that about 100 coffins dating back as far as 2,600 years have been found inside a network of buried shafts at Saqqara, Egypt’s oldest-known pyramid site. And there’s still more to come.

The Saqqara necropolis. about 20 miles south of modern-day Cairo, has been under excavation for several seasons. This year, it was the focus of a Netflix documentary titled “Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb,” and the most recent finds will be covered next year in a Smithsonian Channel series called “Tomb Hunters.”

Last month’s revelations related to the discovery of 59 decorated coffins dating back to the 26th Dynasty, in the time frame from around 664 to 525 B.C.E. Today’s follow-up focused on coffins and artifacts from ancient Egypt’s Late Period (664 to 332 B.C.E.) as well as the Greek-influenced Ptolemaic dynasty (320 to 30 B.C.E.)

One of the coffins was opened to reveal a nearly perfectly preserved mummy within. An X-ray scan suggested that it was a male who was in his 40s when he died, with teeth in perfect condition.

Wooden statue
Remains of ancient paint are still visible on a wooden statue recovered from the Saqqara site. (Smithsonian Channel Photo / Caterina Turroni)

Mostafa Waziri, general director of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told NBC News that the man must have been wealthy and might have had royal connections, based on the way the arms were crossed over his chest. “We still have a lot to reveal,” he said.

In addition to the coffins, 40 “impressive statues” were found at the site, the ministry said in a Facebook posting.

The artifacts will be moved to museums in Cairo, including the yet-to-be-opened Grand Egyptian Museum, for further analysis and display. Still more discoveries will be announced in Saqqara soon, said Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anany.

Egyptian officials are turning up the spotlight on archaeological finds in hopes of whetting interest in tourism, which has been hard-hit due to political turmoil and the coronavirus pandemic.

Categories
Cosmic Science

Egypt opens up the next archaeological frontier

Nearly a century after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb focused the world’s attention on Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, archaeologists are turning the spotlight to Saqqara, a site that’s separated by hundreds of miles and centuries of time.

This weekend, antiquities officials formally unveiled 59 decorated coffins, or sarcophagi, with untouched mummies inside them. Mostafa Waziri, the general director of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told NBC News that the find reminded him of King Tutankhamun’s tomb — which was found almost intact in 1922.

Saqqara is best known as the site of the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which was built around 2650 B.C.E. and is considered the oldest surviving pyramid in Egypt. The newly unveiled sarcophagi, however, come from a much later time, around 600 B.C.E.

To put the timing in context, the Pyramids of Giza were built about a century after the Pyramid of Djoser, in the 2560 B.C.E time frame. King Tutankhamun reigned from 1332 to 1323 B.C.E., and Saqqara’s coffins were buried more than seven centuries after Tut.

The wooden sarcophagi were found stacked in three burial shafts that go about 40 feet deep. They’re colorfully painted, and scores of statuettes and other artifacts were buried along with the mummies. One 14-inch-tall statuette, inlaid with red agate, turquoise and lapis lazuli, represents the Egyptian god Nefertam and is said to be inscribed with the name of its owner, a priest called Badi Amun.

Two of the sarcophagi were opened during Saturday’s unveiling in Saqqara. “We found that the two mummies bear the name and the title of the family,” Khaled El-Anany, Egypt’s minister of tourism and antiquities, told reporters.

Waziri said the sarcophagi and the artifacts would be transferred to the Grand Egyptian Museum, the massive gallery that’s under construction in Cairo and due to have its formal opening next year.

And there’s likely to be more mummies to come. El-Anany said dozens more sarcophagi could be unearthed at the site. “This is not the end of the discovery — this is only the beginning,” he said.

Saqqara, which is about 20 miles south of modern-day Cairo, could well become a high-profile stop for Egyptology enthusiasts. This April, Egyptian authorities completed a 14-year-long renovation project at the Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara and reopened it to the public — unfortunately, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Egyptian officials see archaeo-tourism as a key contributor to the country’s economic recovery in the post-pandemic era. For evidence, you need look no further than the fact that the antiquities ministry has added “tourism” to its official title.

Saqqara’s finds will keep documentary filmmakers and on-screen archaeologists busy as well: The Smithsonian Channel has already announced it’ll be airing a four-part series about the sarcophagi next year, with “Tomb Hunters” as the working title.

Cosmic Log Used Book Club

I’ve been an Egyptology fan for decades, and seeing the “Treasures of Tutankhamun” exhibit in Seattle still ranks among my top museum experiences more than 40 years after the fact. The mysteries of Tut’s tomb continue to stir the soul nearly a century after its discovery. But there’s much more to ancient Egyptian history than Tut and Cleopatra.

“The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt,” by renowned Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson, is a must-read when it comes to the history of the world’s first nation-state. Wilkinson goes all the way back to before the beginning, stressing how the Nile gave rise to civilization and sustained it over the course of millennia.

"The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt"
“The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt” by Toby Wilkinson (Random House / Cover design by Victoria Allen)

Wilkinson’s account of the twists and turns of pharaonic rule — including the creation of a ruling elite, the exercise of absolute authority and the role of religion — could well get you thinking about the lessons for our own age. And if you ever get to Egypt to see the ancient sites and Cairo’s new Grand Egyptian Museum, this book could serve as a guide to the meaning behind the monuments.

For all these reasons, I’m making “The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt” October’s selection for the Cosmic Log Used Book Club. Over the course of the past 18 years, the CLUB Club has recognized books with cosmic themes that have been out long enough to become available at your library or secondhand book store.

Past selections have included other tales of bygone civilizations, ranging from “Everyday Life in New Testament Times” to “The Year 1000” to “1491.” But the CLUB Club also highlights tales of sci-fi civilizations, including Frances Hardinge’s “Deeplight” (for September) and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (for August).

Check out the backlist, and if you have recommendations for future CLUB Club selections, pass them along in your comments.

Categories
GeekWire

Jerusalem dig finds traces of biblical conquest

Shimon Gibson
Shimon Gibson, co-director of the Mount Zion Archaeological Project, sets the scene at the Jerusalem site. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

One month after offering up archaeological evidence to back up a contested claim about the First Crusade, researchers say they’ve found traces of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in a deeper layer of their excavation on Mount Zion.

The newly reported find demonstrates how the site, just outside the walls of the Old City’s Tower of David citadel, serves as a “time machine” documenting the twists and turns of Jerusalem’s history.

The Babylonian conquest, which dates to the year 587 or 586 BCE, is one of the major moments of Jewish history. As detailed in the biblical Book of Kings, the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem for months, eventually broke through the walls and burned “all the houses of Jerusalem,” including Solomon’s Temple.

After the fall of Jerusalem, the Jewish people were sent into exile – an event that Jews commemorate with mourning and fasting every year on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. This year’s Tisha B’Av observance began at sundown tonight.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Archaeologists resolve a Crusader controversy

Shimon Gibson
Shimon Gibson, an archaeologist working in Jerusalem as a professor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, points out the ruins of a road from the Byzantine era that ran through the heart of the city. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

GeekWire aerospace and science editor Alan Boyle reports on a significant archaeological find during his Middle East science tour. 

JERUSALEM — Exactly 920 years after Jerusalem fell in the First Crusade, archaeologists say they’ve found the first on-the-ground evidence to back up a key twist in the Crusaders’ account of their victory.

A glittering piece of Fatimid Muslim jewelry plays a role in the find. And so does a later chapter in Jerusalem’s history that has overtones of “Game of Thrones.”

The discovery serves as another coup for the Mount Zion Archaeological Project, a decades-long excavation effort that’s being conducted by an international team under the aegis of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. UNC Charlotte’s many-layered dig takes up a wedge of land sandwiched between Jerusalem’s Tower of David citadel and a busy Israeli thoroughfare.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Crowdsourcing saves digital artifacts in Brazil

Funerary mask
A funerary mask from ancient Egypt is among the artifacts from the now-destroyed Museu documented in digital 3-D models. (UFRJ National Museum via Sketchfab)

One of the greatest tragedies in the museum world transpired over the weekend when fire broke out at Brazil’s Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, touching off a mad scramble to save physical and virtual treasures.

Many of the 200-year-old natural history museum’s 20 million artifacts have been destroyed, including irreplaceable fossils and specimens. One heartbreaking videosweeps around a ruined gallery where only a monumental meteorite survived unscathed.

Museum workers managed to save some artifacts from the blaze, and other items survived because they were on loan to institutions elsewhere. But for many of the pieces, the only hope is to build a digital archive containing videos and photos of the museum’s collection.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Black sarcophagus opened … and it’s a soggy mess

Opening the sarcophagus
Egyptian experts open an ancient sarcophagus in Alexandria. (Ministry of Antiquities via Facebook)

Egyptian archaeologists say they’ve opened up a mysterious black sarcophagus found during excavations in Alexandria, and although they didn’t uncover the evil curse that some feared, they did uncover an evil-looking mess.

The coffin was “filled with sewage which leaked through the grove in this area, plus three skeletons,” Mostafa Waziri, general secretary of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, reported today in an Arabic-language Facebook update.

Photos showed the bones sitting in a pool of dark muck.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Radar scans rule out hidden rooms in Tut’s tomb

Scanning Tut's tomb
Experts scan the walls of King Tutankhamun’s tomb with ground-penetrating radar. (Egypt Ministry of Antiquities Photo via Facebook)

Ground-penetrating radar scans have failed to confirm any hints that King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the KIngs contains a hidden chamber.

The announcement from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities brought a disappointing end to a scientific investigation that began more than two years ago, after British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves put forth the claim.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Archaeologists dissect the ‘Tomb of Christ’

Work in the Edicule
Workers move a marble slab to expose deeper layers in the Edicule within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is revered as the site of Jesus’ tomb. (National Geographic via YouTube)

After more than 15 years of study, experts are laying out the evidence revealing how far back the history goes for the room-sized shrine in Jerusalem that’s revered as Jesus’ tomb.

Spoiler alert: There’s no “Jesus Was Here” graffiti on the walls.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the point of the research. Instead, archaeologists were taking advantage of a conservation effort at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of Christianity’s holiest sites, to look inside the shrine known as the Edicule (which is Latin for “little house”).

The results of their studies were reported today by National Geographic, which chronicled the project for a TV documentary titled “Secrets of Christ’s Tomb.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.