Tag Archives: Archeology

Famous Egyptologist reports the discovery of a whole ancient settlement

A new ancient city has been discovered under the sands of Egypt, a team of archaeologists reported on Saturday. The settlement dates back to a golden era of ancient Egypt, roughly 3,000 years ago, they explain.

The site. Image credits Zahi Hawass / Facebook.

Zahi Hawass, one of the country’s best-known archaeologists and Egyptologists, announced the finding to the public. The ancient site includes brick houses, tools, and other artifacts dating back to the rule of Amenhotep III of Egypt‘s 18th dynasty.

The discovery will help us better understand how ancient people, particularly those in Egypt, lived three millennia ago.

New old place

“Many foreign missions searched for this city and never found it,” said Dr. Hawass, a former antiquities minister, for the BBC. “[The site represents] a large city in a good condition of preservation, with almost complete walls, and with rooms filled with tools of daily life.”

The city was known as Aten and is located in Luxor, on the west bank of the Nile, between the temple of King Rameses III and the colossi of Amenhotep III. Archaeologists started working there last year, there to look for the mortuary temple of King Tutankhamun. In a few weeks’ time, however, they eventually found a whole city built from mud brick. Whole buildings, rooms full of ovens, pottery meant for storing food, and general use tools were found here, even human remains.

The ancient city seems to have been organized into three major districts: one for administration, one for workshops and other industrial pursuits, and a district where workers could sleep and presumably live. There was also a dedicated area for dried meat, the team explains. The settlement dates back around 3,000 years, to the reign of Amenhotep III. We know of this timeframe because some mud bricks discovered at the site bear the seal of King Amenhotep III’s cartouche, or name insignia.

Hawass said he believes that the city was “the most important discovery” since the tomb of Tutankhamun was unearthed in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor in 1922. He ruled between 1391 B.C. and 1353 B.C. and built large parts of the Luxor and Karnak temple complexes in Thebes.

The discovery has been hailed by other Egyptologists around the world, both due to how unique it is and due to its incredible scale. The city has not been officially identified until now, as far as we know, and it could very well be just one part of a larger city.

Archeologists find 1,700-year-old Roman board game in Norway

Excavating in a burial ground in Norway, a group of archeologists has just discovered a 1,700-year-old Roman board game — complete with dice and game chips.

The discovery will help to understand better the role of games at the time, as well as the cultural exchanges between Rome and Scandinavia.

The chips of the game. Credit University of Bergen

The finding was made by archaeologists from the University of Bergen in the Ytre Fosse that is adjacent to the Alverstraumen Fjord, in western Norway. The remnants of the game were found in a cairn, a burial mound made of stones very common throughout Scandinavian history. The game dates to around 300 A.D, placing it in the Roman Iron Age, which spanned from 1 to 400 A.D.

In the middle of the burial mound, the archaeologists also discovered a smaller circular in which they found charcoal, which made them believe the whole thing was a cremation pit. No human remains or artifacts were found other than the game pieces — which were made of bones and were relatively well preserved, according to a statement from the university.

The Ytre Fosse site where the burial mound was found. Image credits: University of Bergen.

The area in which the pieces were found used to be part of an important trade route known as the Nordvegen, or “northern way,” which connected northern Norway to southern Scandinavia and Europe. The game pieces found could have been handed over as payment by a trader wanting to pass through the route, the study suggested.

“These are status objects that testify to contact with the Roman Empire, where they liked to enjoy themselves with board games,” historian Morten Ramstad from the Bergen University Museum in Norway told the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK. “People who played games like this were local aristocracy or upper class. The game showed that you had the time, profits and ability to think strategically.”

According to the researchers, the board game could have been a precursor of a popular Roman pastime, called Ludus latrunculorum, or the “Game of Mercenaries.” The two-player showdown preceded the popular Viking Age game Hnefatafl, or the “King’s Table,” and had similarities to chess and backgammon.

In order to play the game, a king and his defenders battled attackers that outnumbered them by roughly two-to-one. While the king’s men guided him to safety in one of the board’s four corners, the attackers tried to prevent the escape. Ending the game meant the safety or captivity of the king.

Pieces from that game or one related to it were uncovered in September 2019 at a cemetery on Lindisfarne, a small island off the coast of northeastern England. As with Ludus latrunculorum, the strategic gameplay involved is comparable to chess. Lindisfarne was once home to monks who ran a medieval monastery that was invaded by the Vikings.

The new findings connect Norway with the broader network of communication and trade throughout Scandinavia, archaeologist Louise Bjerre told NRK. At the same time, the pieces help to get a better idea of Norwegians’ everyday life during the early Roman Iron Age. “The people then were not very different from us now,” she said.

Cannabis was used for religious rites in Israel, archeologists find

It seems that priests in ancient Israel sometimes used marijuana in rituals. It’s the first evidence of the practice being done in the early history of Judaism.

Credit Israel Museum

Holy herb

A group of archeologists working on a 2,700-year-old altar in a desert shrine in Israel analyzed charred residues and found an interesting thing: cannabis.

The traces of weed were found on one of the altars of the temple at Tel Arad in the Negev desert in Israel. The substance was probably burned on purpose to get worshippers high on the psychoactive compounds, the researchers found.

Presumably, the goal was to induce or empower a religious ritual.

In fact, the archeologists strongly suspect that cannabis played a role in the rituals done at the Temple in Jerusalem. This is because the shrine at Arad was part of a fortress that kept safe one of the frontiers of the Kingdom of Judah at the same time the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.

“We know from all around the Ancient Near East and around the world that many cultures used hallucinogenic materials and ingredients in order to get into some kind of religious ecstasy,” said lead author Eran Arie told CNN. “We never thought about Judah taking part in these cultic practices.”

Inside Arad, the researchers found in the past a massebah – a worked standing stone associated with ancient Levantine cultic activities and likely represented the presence of the deity in the shrine. On the steps leading to it, there were two altars that had been buried, which helped preserve the remains of burnt offerings.

The organic remains in the altars had already been analyzed in 1960 and the results were inconclusive, but the experts had assumed the altars were used to burn some type of incense.

Now, Arie and a group of archeologists applied more modern techniques and found that most of the substance in case was frankincense.

This was the first-time frankincense was identified in the Levant (the geographical area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia that also hosts Israel). But that wasn’t the only surprise. On the smaller altar, 40 centimeters high, the team found rests of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) — two substances that are found in cannabis.

The analysis of the chemicals in the residue showed that the frankincense and cannabis were mixed in with animal fat and dung. The researchers believe that the fat could have helped to achieve the needed temperature for the frankincense to release its aroma. Meanwhile, the dung probably helped to burn the cannabis at a lower temperature to so activate its psychoactive compounds.

There’s no evidence that the marijuana was grown in the Levant during the Iron Age, according to the researchers, which suggests it had to be imported and implied larger costs. That’s also the case of the frankincense, collected from Boswellia trees and brought in from Southern Arabia.

“If they just wanted to make the temple smell nice, they could have burned some sage, which grows in the area of Jerusalem,” Arie said. “Importing cannabis and frankincense was a big investment that could not be made by some isolated group of nomads, it required backing from a powerful state entity.”

The use of cannabis in Israel is now illegal but it has been decriminalized partially. Home use and possession of up to 15 grams and below are not enforced by the authorities. Its use is also allowed for some specified medical purposes. Israel is now seen as a global leader in medical cannabis research and innovation.

The study was published in the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University

Sustainable harvesting practices 4,000 years ago still shape shellfish eating today

The custom of only eating wild oysters in months with the letter “r” seems to have been followed for at least 4,000 years, one study finds.

Image credits University of Washington Fishery Sciences Friedman Lab.

The study focused on a large shell ring — essentially, a shellfish waste dump — off Georgia’s coast, analyzing how ancient inhabitants at the site limited their oyster harvest to the non-summer months. Today, such practices are meant to protect people from unappealing oysters and food poisoning. The team measured parasitic snails on the oysters to determine when they were harvested by locals.

Seasonal food

“People have been debating the purpose of these shell rings for a very long time,” said Cannarozzi, the study’s lead author and Florida Museum environmental archaeology collection manager.

“Were they everyday food waste heaps? Temporary communal feasting sites? Or perhaps a combination? Understanding the seasonality of the rings sheds new light on their function.”

Snails known as impressed odostomes (Boonea impressa), are common parasites of oysters. These tiny snails anchor themselves onto a shell and insert a needle-like stylus to feed on the mollusks’ insides. Because the snail has a predictable 12-month life cycle, its length at death offers a reliable estimate of when the oyster host died, the team explains.

The team analyzed oysters and snails from a 230-foot-wide, 4,300-year-old shell ring from the island, comparing them with live oysters and snails. They found that ancient oysters were mostly harvested during late fall, winter, and spring. The authors say this points to human populations thinning or migrating out completely in the summer.

It’s possible that this is one of the earliest examples of sustainable harvesting, Cannarozzi said. In the area of the study, oysters spawn from May to October. It’s possible that not harvesting them in the summer allowed oysters to replenish their numbers and prevent overexploitation.

The team says their approach is very cost-effective and can be used alongside other methods in dating shell specimens in archeological sites. Mapping the history of oysters in a particular area can help us understand the health of the broader coastal ecosystems they were part of.

“It’s important to look at how oysters have lived in their environment over time, especially because they are on the decline worldwide,” Cannarozzi adds. “This type of data can give us good information about their ecology, how other organisms interact with them, the health of oyster populations and, on a grander scale, the health of coastal ecosystems.”

“People have affected the distributions, life cycles and numbers of organisms over time,” Cannarozzi said. “Understanding how people in the past interacted with and influenced their environment can inform our conservation efforts today.”

In preparation for the spawning season, oysters start converting glycogen (i.e. fat stores) into sperm and eggs, making them “soft and rank”, according to Rowan Jacobsen, author of A Geography of Oysters. Warmer waters also tend to carry more bacteria and algae, which can lead to food or shellfish poisoning. Today it’s pretty safe to eat oysters any time of the year due to oyster farming, refrigeration, and food safety practices. However, for fresh-caught oysters, I’d stick with the folk wisdom.

The paper “Seasonal oyster harvesting recorded in a Late Archaic period shell ring” has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

This sandstone cube may be the oldest chess piece we’ve ever found

One tiny piece of sandstone found in Jordan could be the world’s oldest known chess piece ever found.

Chess is believed to come from India from around 1,500 years ago. Since then, it has spread around the world. That being said, the game itself, its pieces, and its name, likely changed over time.

Image credits John Peter Oleson.

In a presentation at the American Schools of Oriental Research last week, classical archeologist John Oleson from the University of Victoria has reported that a tiny sandstone object could be the oldest known chess piece — and discussed what it might represent.

In the presentation’s abstract, Oleson notes that Islamic references to chess date as far back as the seventh century AD, and it seemed to have been a very popular pastime.

The object in question was found at a site called Humayma, which Oleson notes was along the busy Via Nova Traiana, an ancient trade route between Asia and the Near and Middle East, in 1991. This carved, two-pronged (but otherwise rectangular) bit of sandstone has been dated using contextual cues to approximately 1,300 years ago. According to Oleson, it looks very much like other early Islamic chess pieces, most likely a rook (castle).

Other objects found in archeological sites from Jordan and the Near East that have been identified as rooks are nearly identical to this sandstone rectangle, whether they were made of wood, stone, or ivory.

In today’s version of the game, rooks symbolize medieval fortifications such as towers or sections of wall, and move horizontally or vertically through any number of unoccupied squares. Oleson says that rooks symbolized two-horse chariots in early Islamic figures, with the carving meant to represent the horses.

Chess was likely carried west by merchants along the Via Nova Traiana. Humayma was a trading outpost of the Abbasid family who, Oleson notes, made an effort to keep up-to-date with current events and trends in Iraq and Syria to the east. So, while there isn’t hard, conclusive evidence that this is a chess piece, circumstantial evidence definitely seems to support that view. If archaeologists can indeed verify that the stone object is a chess piece, it would be the earliest example of a rook-like chess piece, and the oldest chess piece ever found of any type.

The abstract of the presentation, titled “The World’s Earliest Known Chess Piece, from Humayma (Jordan)?” (page 67) is available on the American Schools of Oriental Research’s page here.

People used marijuana in rituals 2,500 years ago

East Asians grew cannabis over 6,000 years ago, but it’s not entirely clear what they did with it. Most evidence shows that they were consuming its oily seeds and making clothes and rope from the plant’s fibers, but evidence for inhalation and smoking remains limited. A cemetery from 2,500 years ago might help us better understand how ancient people used cannabis for its mind-altering properties.

The grave from above. Image credits: Xinhua Wu.

Jirzankal Cemetery lies some 3,000 meters above sea level, in the Pamir Mountains. It’s a rocky environment, riddled with circular mounts of earth covering tombs. The tombs themselves are outlined by one or two rings of stones, while black and white stone strips run across the site’s entire surface. It’s an important site that has remained remarkably intact over the centuries.

A team led by archaeologist Yimin Yang of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing found and analyzed chemical residues on 10 wooden burners (braziers) found in eight tombs at the site. When they analyzed these burners, they found an unusually high level of THC (the psychoactive substance inside cannabis) inside nine of them, as well as two stones that had been heated to burn plants — a clear indication that ancient people were using marijuana for burial rituals.

Ancient cannabis plants have much lower THC content than today’s plants, which have been carefully selected for this purpose. For the plants meant to be used for clothes and rope, the THC quantity was virtually negligible, and even for the ancient plants such as those found at the Jirzankal Cemetery, the effects wouldn’t have been quite as strong. Nevertheless, it seems that high up in the mountains, ancient Chinese were using the plants to also get (ritually) high.

It’s not known whether these people grew the plants themselves or if they harvested them from the wild. But, what is known is that this marijuana smoking might also tell us a thing or two about trade at the time.

It’s a remarkable indication of how early humans were interacting with the surrounding environment.

“I think this is a wonderful example of how closely intertwined humans are and have been with the world around them,” said archaeobotanist Robert Spengler of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, who was also a co-author of the study.

“They impose evolutionary pressures on the plants around them, and in some cases this actually leads to domestication. Humans have always sought out plants with secondary metabolites that have an effect on the human body. Premodern humans had an intimate understanding of the plants around them.”

This is hardly the first ancient indication of cannabis usage. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote of cannabis smoking some 2,500 years ago in the steppes of central Asia. High-elevation mountain passes such as the area around Jirzankal were part of important trade routes along the early Silk Road, which linked China to Europe and the rest of Western Asia. Spengler, who works at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, says that cannabis may have been a significant trade commodity.

“Our study implies that knowledge of cannabis smoking and specific high-THC varieties of the cannabis plant were among the cultural traditions that spread along Silk Road exchange routes,” Spengler said at a recent conference.

In support of this theory, previous chemical analyses from bones and teeth found in the Jirzankal Cemetery indicated that people were eating plants grown outside of China, presumably brought along the Silk Road. Some items (including silk and a harp brought from West Asia) also supports this theory.

The research has been published in Science Advances.

Tomb painting.

Two newly-discovered Egyptian tombs look almost as fresh as the day they were painted

Two newly-discovered tombs give a dazzling, exceptionally-preserved glimpse into the deaths of ancient Egyptians.

Tomb painting.

Image credits Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities via Twitter.

Two new tombs have been discovered in Egypt in an almost pristine state. One of the tombs is part of the Akhmim necropolis in the province of Sohag, and dates back to the Ptolemaic era of Egypt (about 2,000 years ago). The other tomb, from Saqqara, is significantly older, dating back over 4,000 years.

The sands of time

“It’s one of the most exciting discoveries ever in the area,” said Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Both tombs are in an incredibly well-preserved state. The murals on their walls are virtually intact, their discoverers report, with the colors unfaded by time.

The Sohag tomb was discovered after a gang of tomb robbers — who were carrying out an illegal excavation — was arrested nearby, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. It dates back to the Ptolemaic era and belonged to a senior official named Tutu and his wife. The tomb comprises two rooms, both adorned with lavishly painted walls. Inside Tutu’s tomb, archeologists found two limestone sarcophagi and an exceptionally well-preserved mummy. More than 50 mummified animals were also found in this tomb, including ibis, falcons, eagles, dogs, cats, and shrews.

The other tomb, from Saqqara, dates back to the time of Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi. It seems to have belonged to a high-ranking official named Khuwy. The tomb itself also suggests that this Khuwy was related in one form or another to Djedkare Isesi. It is an L-shaped building with a small corridor, an antechamber, and a large main chamber adorned with murals showing Khuwy seated at a table of offerings. In addition, the tomb also boasts a tunneled entrance (which are usually the domain of royal tombs and pyramids) and colors traditionally reserved for royalty in its murals. Archeologists also found Khuwy’s mummy and the canopic jars in which organs are placed for burial (which were sadly broken into pieces) at the tomb.

At a presentation unveiling the tomb of Tutu, Waziri said he hoped the discovery would “draw the world’s attention to the civilization and antiquities of Egypt.” This feeds into the sustained efforts Egypt has been making to publicize its archeological findings in recent months in an effort to “increase tourism interest in a destination that suffered following a 2011 uprising,” CNN adds.

At the end of last year, the Ministry unveiled two dazzling tombs, one dating back 3,500 years, and another 4,400 years old, belonging to a priest named Wahtye. Another 2,500-year-old tomb was found to contain dozens of mummified cats and scarab beetles.

Bronze artifacts Czech.

A Czech dog just made a stunning archaeological discovery

A dog named Monty is the newest hot topic among archaeologists in the Czech Republic.

Bronze artifacts Czech.

The items Monty unearthed.
Image credits Hradec Králové Region.

Back in March, Monty was out on a walk in the Orlické Mountains (northeastern Bohemia) with his owner, Mr. Frankota, when he made a stunning discovery: a cache of Bronze Age artifacts. The objects unearthed by the pet are in a “surprisingly” good state, archeologists report.

Archeopupper

Frankota recounts that Monty rushed off during their walk and started digging frantically. He walked over to check what got his dog so excited and was surprised to see a collection of bronze objects. The stash — which has been donated to the Hradec Králové Region local government — contained 13 sickle blades, 3 axe blades, and two spearheads.

All items were fashioned out of bronze. The wealth of objects, as well as the excellent condition they were buried in, points to a ritual deposit, archeologists believe.

“The fact that there are so many objects in one place is almost certainly tied to an act of honoration, most likely a sacrifice of some sorts,” Martina Beková, an archaeologist at the nearby Museum and Gallery of Orlické Mountains, told Czech Radio.

“What particularly surprised us was that the objects were whole, because the culture that lived here at the time normally just buried fragments, often melted as well. These objects are beautiful, but the fact that they are complete and in good condition is of much more value to us.”

Beková was part of the team that examined the artifacts after Frankota delivered them to local authorities. They were likely produced by the Urnfield culture, a late Bronze Age Indo-European people that lived in the area. Their name stems from the group’s mortuary practices: they would cremate their dead and bury them in urns in fields.

As of now, the team cannot say for sure how or why the items were buried in the area.

The discovery has local archeologists excited — and rightly so. It’s the largest single finding in the region. They’re currently combing the region with metal detects but, so far, their search proved unfruitful. Still, they’re not about to give up just yet.

“There were some considerable changes to the surrounding terrain over the centuries, so it is possible that the deeper layers are still hiding some secrets,” Sylvie Velčovská from the local regional council.

The artifacts are currently on display as part of the exhibition Journey to the Beginning of Time at the Museum and Gallery of Orlické Mountains, Rychnov, until 21 October 2018. After that, they will undergo conservation and be moved to a permanent exhibition in a museum in Kostelec.

The team also wants to point out that archeologists often work with lucky discoveries made by members of the public or during excavation works; if you happen to stumble into some artifacts, you should notify local authorities (archeological items are considered government property in most states). It’s not a one-sided deal, either: Frankota was awarded 7,860 CZK (roughly US$360) for the items.

Hopefully, some of that will go towards buying Monty some well-deserved treats.

Wild oats might be the first cereal consumed by humans, as early as the Stone Ages

When asked to imagine a stone-age meal, most of us probably envision a boulder with pieces of charred meat, fruit, nuts and berries, with some mushrooms and some leaves thrown in the mix. Bread, pastry and basically everything that includes cereal couldn’t possibly be baked or cooked by a civilization that considers agriculture far fetched science-fiction.

But that’s not necessarily true. While analysing starch grains on ancient stone grinding tools from southern Italy, Marta Mariotti Lippi at the University of Florence in Italy and her colleagues were able to date the earliest known human consumption of oats as far back as 32,000 years ago – way before farming took root.

Wall paintings in Grotta Paglicci, Italy, where the grindstones were found.
Image via newscientist

Humans from the Paleolithic ground wild oats for flour, which they may have later boiled or baked in a simple flatbread, the team reports. And it wasn’t just a culinary fluke either: our ancestors also seem to have heated the grains before grinding, to dry them out in the colder climate of their time. Lippi also notes that this would have made the grains easier to grind and less likely to spoil, suggesting extensive experience and experimentation with the foodstuff.

The process involved several stages and took a great deal of time, but the advantages outweighed the effort and invested time. The grains are nutritionally valuable, and grinding them into flour made them easier to transport, an important advantage for a nomadic people, she added.

Grinding stone from Grotta Paglicci, Italy
Image credit to Stefano Ricci

It makes sense. For agriculture to appear, humans needed an incentive – recognizing the nutritional value wild grains had for them, having access to large quantities of quality seeds may have determined us to settle down and start growing cereal. When you consider that our civilization’s advance over the last 10,000 years was largely fueled by the grains agriculture produces, the benefits of incorporating them into our diet becomes apparent, says archaeologist Matt Pope of University College London.

“There is a relationship there to be explored between diet, experimentation with processing plant food and cultural sophistication.”

This is another example of the advances made by Europe’s Gravettian culture, which produced technology, artwork and elaborate burial systems during the Upper Palaeolithic era, says Erik Trinkaus at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.

“These people were described 15 years ago as ‘Hunters of the Golden Age’, and the details of that are still being filled out.”

Mariotti Lippi’s team hopes to continue studying ancient grind-stones to reveal more about the Paleolithic diet. Grinding stones go back a long way, says Trinkaus, and people may well have been pounding and eating various wild grains even earlier than 32,000 years ago.

“We’ve had evidence of the processing of roots and cattails, but here we’ve got a grain, and a grain that we’re very familiar with,” says Pope. “If we were to look more systematically for ground stone technology we would find this is a more widespread phenomenon.”

 

A massive 3,600-year-old palace was found near Sparta

Excavations in the southern Peloponnese are offering rare insight into the ancient past of Laconia, which we still know little about. The Greek Ministry of Culture released several photographs yesterday showing the newly unearthed ruins of an ancient palace likely built during the 17th-16th century BC.

A handout photo released by the Greek Ministry of Culture on Tuesday shows the excavations site with remains of a palace of the Mycenaean period, bearing important inscriptions in archaic Greek, discovered near Sparta in the Peloponnese region of Greece.
Image credits: Greek Ministry of Culture

The royal building had 10 rooms and rose near the ancient city of Lacedaemon (Sparta), in the south-eastern Peloponnese region of Laconia. Archaeologists believe it was brought down by a fire in the late 14th to early 13th century BC. Though the blaze was devastating, razing several buildings of the complex, tablets and seals made of unbaked clay were preserved, their still-readable archaic inscriptions dating back to the Mycenaean Age.

Covering an expanse of 3.5 hectares, the site on Aghios Vassilios Hill near the village of Xirokambi on the Sparta plain has been under excavation since 2009, and excavations in the area produced clay tablets with inscriptions detailing religious ceremonies, names and places written in a script named Linear B. It is the oldest script ever discovered in Europe, first appearing in Crete from around 1375 BC and was only deciphered in the mid 20th century.

Example of Linear B writing – tablets retrieved from Pylos.
Image via firststreetconfidential

Archaeologists retrieved objects of worship, clay figurines, and a cup adorned with a bull’s head. A number of these artifacts were discovered in what is believed to have been the palace’s archive, which also contains records of commercial transactions, offerings to a sanctuary, male and female names, as well as the places where they lived– pointing to a highly organized and sophisticated bureaucracy.

The fire that destroyed the complex is also believed to have preserved a sanctuary, which has yielded valuable evidence such as clay and ivory idols, decorative objects and 21 bronze swords.

A second building found on the site contains fragments of murals, suggesting that the palace’s more prominent structures were richly decorated, the Culture Ministry said in its briefing on ongoing excavations.

Ongoing excavations on Aghios Vassilios Hill.

The new discovery will allow for more research on the “political, administrative, economic and societal organization of the region”, and provide “new information on the beliefs and language systems of the Mycenean people,” the ministry said in a statement.

According to the culture ministry, more than 150 archaeological excavations were have been carried out in Greece so far this year, “demonstrating the importance of the archaeological wealth and cultural heritage of the country.”

“The palace complex of Aghios Vassilios Hill provides us with a unique opportunity to investigate the creation and evolution of a Mycenaean palatial centre in order to reconstruct the political, administrative, economic and social organization of the region”, said the culture ministry.

The latest discovery is considered to be the most significant discovery made in the region. Experts have termed the discovery to be a fascinating discovery.

Fifteen ton Monolith found under the Mediterranean Sea, estimates put its carving at 9350 years ago

Zvi Ben-Avraham of Tel Aviv University and Emanuele Lodolo of the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics in Trieste, have discovered a monolith in deep water, resting on a spot that was once an island off the coast of Sicily. Their study has been published in the Journal of Archeological Science.

3-D perspective view of the high-resolution bathymetric map where the monolith has been discovered. No vertical exaggeration. Numbers indicate the locations of the corresponding rock samples.
Image source Journal of Archeological Science, supplied.

The 12-metre high, limestone monolithic structure is believed to have been carved by stone-age men some nine millennia ago. This enormous stone totem was cut using primitive tools from a rocky outcrop found a few hundred meters away from its current position in an age when the Mediterranean Sea was still a dry basin.

“It was cut and extracted as a single stone from the outer rectilinear ridge situated about 300 to the south, and then transported and possibly erected,” the study reads. ”From the size of the monolith, we may presume that it weighs about 15 tons.”

The bloc now rests, split in two, on the bed of the Mediterranean Sea in the Sicilian Channel -between Tunisia and Sicily- under 40 meters of water.

The two pieces of the monolith. Image source Journal of Archeological Science, supplied.

The two pieces of the monolith.
Image source Journal of Archeological Science, supplied.

The area was submerged about 9350 years ago (give or take 200 years) when the last Ice Age retreated. Before that time the area was believed to be something of an archipelago, with a string of islands linking Europe to North Africa via a shallow sea.

The most striking feature the carvers cut into the stone are three deep holes. Two of these are on the sides of the stone, the third passes through the stone at one end.

“There are no reasonable known natural processes that may produce these elements,” the team wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The three holes cut into the monolith. Image source ndad

The three holes cut into the monolith.
Image source Journal of Archeological Science, supplied.

Archeologists believe that the monolith had a practical, rater than religious use to the community. The island it was created on, Pantelleria Vecchia Bank, housed a thriving people that traded by sea and fished, before it was swallowed up by the Mediterranean.

“Most likely the structure was functional to the settlement. These people were used to fishing and trading with the neighboring islands. It could have been some sort of a lighthouse or an anchoring system, for example,” Lodolo said.

Manufacturing, moving and erecting a monolith of such size required careful cutting work, extraction techniques and transportation. Such skills had not been previously associated with such an ancient people, the study says.

“The discovery of the submerged site in the Sicilian Channel may significantly expand our knowledge of the earliest civilisations in the Mediterranean basin and our views on technological innovation and development achieved by the Mesolithic inhabitants.”