Tag Archives: Egypt

Archaeologists discover stunning, ancient gold trove in Cyprus

In 2018, archaeologists at the New Swedish Cyprus Expedition struck gold — quite literally. They discovered two Bronze Age tombs, both underground chambers, in the ancient city of Hala Sultan Tekke. Hala Sultan Teke is a mosque and tekke complex in the capital of Cyprus, Larnaca, built on one of the largest Bronze Age archaeological sites. Based on these new findings, the site may be even more important than previously thought.

Some jewelry pieces found in the tombs resemble designs worn by Queen Nefertiti. Image credits: Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge.

The excavations were made by researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden as part of the “New Swedish Expedition” which started in 2010. The team discovered burial chambers that must have belonged to a family (or families) of great wealth. Overall, the research team found 150 human remains and over 500 funeral goods, including many pieces containing gold and jewelry. The remains were placed one over the other, suggesting that the burial chamber would have been used for multiple generations. Most likely, it was the mausoleum of the city’s rulers.

“The finds indicate that these are family tombs for the ruling elite in the city,” excavation leader Peter Fischer, professor emeritus of historical studies at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said in a statement.

“For example, we found the skeleton of a 5-year-old with a gold necklace, gold earrings and a gold tiara. This was probably a child of a powerful and wealthy family.”

A gold necklace found at the site. Image credits: Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge.

It’s pretty obvious that for the family, the mausoleum had a significant importance. It wasn’t just a simple burial chamber, it also served a ceremonial role. Testament to this is a particular artifact uncovered inside.

“We also found a ceramic bull,” Fischer said. “The body of this hollow bull has two openings: one on the back to fill it with a liquid, likely wine, and one at the nose to drink from. Apparently, they had feasts in the chamber to honor their dead.”

As if the jewelry pieces weren’t remarkable enough, upon closer analysis, archaeologists found that they belong to different cultures. For instance, there is a blue lapis lazuli gemstone from Afghanistan, a red carnelian gemstone from India, and amber from around the Baltic Sea — valuables from the trade partners of the kingdom at the time. Another notable find is a cylinder-shaped seal made of a mineral called hematite and inscribed in cuneiform, the written language of ancient Mesopotamia. The cuneiform text mentions three names: two historical kings (father and son) from the 18th century BC, as well as Amurru, a god worshipped in the Akkadian and Sumerian kingdoms. “We are currently trying to determine why the seal ended up in Cyprus more than 1000 kilometres from where it was made,” the researchers said in a statement.

For historians, the ceramics discovered at the same are almost as important as the jewels themselves, because they offer valuable cultural information.

“The way that the ceramics changed in appearance and material over time allows us to date them and study the connections these people had with the surrounding world. What fascinates me most is the wide-ranging network of contacts they had 3,400 years ago,” Fischer explains.

A large ceramic pot featuring Grecian war chariots. Image credits: Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge.

All of the objects from the excavation that have been processed and studied are stored in museums in Nicosia and Larnaca in Cyprus.

Now, the next step for researchers is to carry out genetic analysis on the remains discovered there and piece together as much as possible about this dynasty.

“This will reveal how the different individuals are related with each other and if there are immigrants from other cultures, which isn’t unlikely considering the vast trade networks,” says Peter Fischer.

Second Khufu Solar Ship ready for assembly, reveals masterful shipbuilding 4,500 years ago in Egypt

First solar boat of Khufu, assembled and on display in Egypt. Credit: Egypt Today.

In 1954, archaeologists were stunned to find a virtually intact, complete boat sealed inside a pit near the southern face of the Kheops Pyramid in Egypt. Known as the Great Boat of Khufu, this incredible relic was believed to have been employed by the pharaoh himself to make pilgrimages from the old capital of Memphis to his royal tomb at Gizeh.

The 144-foot, one of the oldest planked vessels in the world, has revolutionized our understanding of ancient Egyptian shipbuilding. Now, archaeologists have announced that they’ve completed the excavations and exhumation of all artifacts for a Second Kufu Ship, which was found in another pit close to the same great Kheops Pyramid.

The Khufu ships are known as solar boats due to one early theory that the great Egyptian pharaoh Khufu would have used them as part of his persona as the sun god Re during his daily voyages across the sky. Others believe these boats were constructed as funerary crafts for transporting Khufu’s body on the Nile to the Giza necropolis. To this day, the function of these magnificent boats remains an enigma, but archaeological efforts may shed new light on the matter.

A team of Egyptian and Japanese archaeologists has recently finished extracting and documenting the 1,700 wooden pieces retrieved from 13 layers inside the pit of the second solar boat. So far, 1,343 pieces have already been transferred to the Grand Egyptian Museum, where preparations are underway for assembling the ship and its final restoration work.

Once completed, the boat will go on display next to the First Khufu Solar Ship inside a new building designated for both ships, which is currently under construction at the museum.

Egyptian and Japanese archaeologists retrieved more than 1,700 wooden pieces from the pit where the Second Khufu Ship was discovered. Credit: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

The restoration work made possible by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which provided a $3 million grant to Egypt to complete the final restoration works and reassemble the ship, in addition to the $2 million grant that was provided in 2013 for the excavations and extraction of the wooden pieces of the ship.

Metal pieces of the second solar boat of Pharaoh Khufu are seen at the restoration laboratory, located behind the Great Pyramid of Cheops on the Giza Plateau

Already, the second solar boat of Khufu is providing remarkable insights into the shipbuilding practices from more than 4,500 years ago. For instance, wood planks recovered from this boat showed for the first time that ancient Egyptians used metal in their ships. In 2016, archaeologists discovered circular and U-shaped metal hooks, whose most likely purpose was “to place the paddles to prevent friction of wood against wood”, said Sakuji Yoshimura, an Egyptologist from Japan.

The first solar ship of Khufu was truly massive, measuring 3.6 meters (143 ft.) long and 5.9 meters (19.5 ft.) wide.  The masterpiece was likely adorned with gold artifacts and intricate ornaments, a ship fit for a pharaoh — a god among men.

Depiction of Ra traveling to the underworld on a boat. Credit: Public Domain.

Oldest beer factory found in a 5,000-year-old Egyptian site

Credit: Egypt Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

Humans have had a relationship with beer that spans all the way to prehistory. We know that people have been brewing beer in Israel as early as 13,000 years ago, even long before they started growing cereals. When they did finally start growing grain, humans did so to brew more beer rather than bake bread. However, it wasn’t until 5,000 years ago or so that beer was brewed in a systematic, industrial manner, judging from recent excavations in Egypt.

Beer brewed in kingly volume

The ancient brewery was discovered in Abydos, a prominent sacred city and one of the most important archaeological sites of ancient Egypt. Since 1912, archaeologists working at the site have unearthed all sorts of artifacts, including eight-grain kilns dating back to 3100 to 2700 BCE. However, it was only recently that the dozens of excavations at the site completed the jigsaw puzzle, revealing the full extent of the archaeological complex, which also includes tombs and other structures.

Some of the ancient kilns at Abydos. Credit: Egypt Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

According to archaeologists at the University of Pennsylvania who took part in the North Abydos expedition, the facility consisted of eight large areas, each measuring 20 meters (65 feet) long. Each production area contained about 40 earthenware pots arranged in two rows. This suggests that the factory could have produced beer at quite a large scale for its time, with about 22,400 liters (5,000 gallons) being made at maximum capacity during one batch.

“At more than 22,000 liters per batch, the scale of production at Abydos was an order of magnitude greater than anything else of its time. Both its scale and location in a sacred desert landscape at Abydos reserved exclusively for the use of Egypt’s early kings situate the brewery as an important component of a new system of royal expression at a critical moment in Egypt’s history, along with the construction of monumental tombs and ritual enclosures, the sacrificial burial of courtiers and retainers, and in one case the burial of an entire fleet of boats,” said Wendy Doyon, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Matthew Adams of New York University, the co-head of the archaeological mission at Abydos, believes the factory was designed specifically to supply the royal rituals with beer at the funeral facilities of the kings of Egypt. The estimated date of the facility corresponds to the so-called Naqada III period, which includes the reign of King Narmer.

“We can now add to these better-known symbols of early royal power an industrial production site built on an unprecedented scale to support royal ritual at ancient Abydos,” Doyon added.

X-rays reveal hidden amulet inside Egyptian child mummy

Researchers used a combination of CT scans and X-ray diffraction to discover more about the ancient mummy. Credit: Stuart Stock.

Two decades ago, scientists performed X-ray scans on a child mummy excavated in 1910 at the ancient Egyptian site of Hawara, dating from the time when Egypt was ruled by the Roman Empire. Now, the mummy has been revisited with updated technology. The high-resolution scans revealed some peculiar objects stashed in the mummy’s abdomen that had initially been concealed.

The body of the ancient mummy belonged to a girl child who was only 5 years old when she died. Known as Hawara Portrait Mummy No. 4, the mummy is currently stored in the collection of Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art.

Like many other mummies from ancient Egypt under Roman rule, the mysterious girl’s mummy had a portrait attached to the front surface. Although the portrait is that of an adult woman, the small mummy is definitely that of a child — so young that none of her permanent teeth had yet emerged.

Using a combination of computed tomography (CT) and X-ray diffraction for the first time, researchers at the Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago created a 3D map of the contents of the mummy.

Dozens of X-ray microbeams smaller than the width of a human hair were shone onto the mummy, which revealed small objects hidden inside the mummy case.

Credit: Stuart Stock.

One of the hidden artifacts is a small chunk of calcium carbonate with a high degree of purity. The opaque object is about the shape of a scarab, a symbol of rebirth.

The size and positioning of the scarab suggest it could be an amulet that was placed in the mummy’s wrappings over the abdomen to protect the child in the afterlife. Yet this is still relatively speculative since the CT scan’s resolution wasn’t high enough to make out the nature of the object with a high degree of certainty.

In any event, a pure calcium carbonate scarab wasn’t cheap, hinting about the social status of the mummy. The person was probably from the upper echelons of Egyptian society, perhaps even royalty.

Portrait found attached to the mummy dating from 150-200 A.D. Credit: Stuart Stock.

Although the researchers cannot establish the cause of death of the five-year-old girl, the CT scans did not reveal any sign of skeletal trauma, so a violent end can be ruled out.

As often happens with ancient burials, studies like these raise more questions than they answer. But that’s just expected when dealing with any good mystery.

The findings appeared in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Ancient teeth show Hyksos rule of Ancient Egypt was an internal takeover

A group of archaeologists has exposed the truth behind an over 3,000-year-old myth surrounding Hyksos remains in ancient Egypt, suggesting that their rule over the Nile Delta was not the result of conquest over the pharaohs but instead the rise to power of longtime immigrants.

A painting representing the Hyksos invasion. Credit Flickr

About 3,600 years ago, the pharaohs briefly lost control of northern Egypt to the Hyksos. These new rulers looked and acted like people from an area stretching from present-day Syria in the north to Israel in the south. The established narrative for this historical event is that the Hyksos were an invading force.

A group of researchers analyzed human remains from extensive burial sites in the ancient Hyksos capital, about 120 kilometers northeast of Cairo, and arrived at a different conclusion. They argue that the new rulers were descended from numerous Asiatic populations who had been living in Egypt for generations.

“Utilising the extensive burial areas to contribute one of the largest isotopic studies of ancient Egypt to date, this study is the first to use archaeological chemistry to directly address the origins of the enigmatic Hyksos Dynasty, the first instance in which Egypt is ruled by those of foreign origin,” the researchers wrote.

Back in the 1940s, researchers identified the ancient Hyksos capital city, Avaris, at a site in the Nile delta about 120 kilometers northeast of Cairo. In their new study, archaeologist Chris Stantis from Bournemouth University and colleagues analyzed teeth taken from skeletons buried at Avaris to get a clearer picture of the Hyksos.

To do so, the researchers focused on strontium, an element found in virtually all rocks, but which also makes its way into our food and water supply, eventually ending up in our bones and teeth. Different areas have different ratios of two strontium isotopes, which means that growing up along the Nile river actually shows in your teeth.

As teeth form in childhood, tiny quantities of strontium metal in food are incorporated into the enamel. By comparing the balance of strontium isotopes in enamel with those in the region’s soil, researchers can judge where an individual grew up. They examined teeth from 36 skeletons and discovered that 24 of the individuals were foreign-born.

They couldn’t tell where the foreigners hailed from, but they said their findings show Egypt had welcomed immigrants for hundreds of years before the Hyksos rose to power. The “northeastern Nile Delta represented a multicultural hub long before the Hyksos rule,” they wrote in the study.

Historian and archaeologist Anna-Latifa Mourad from Macquarie University, who was not involved with the study, told Science Magazine that this conclusion makes sense. Archaeologists have found little evidence for the fighting and destruction that should have occurred at Avaris if the city had been captured by foreign invaders.

“These results challenge the classic narrative of the Hyksos as an invading force,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Instead, this research supports the theory that the Hyksos rulers were not from a unified place of origin, but Western Asiatic whose ancestors moved into Egypt during the Middle Kingdom lived there for centuries, and then rose to rule the north of Egypt.”

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Tattoos in ancient Egypt may have been common

Tattooing may have been more widespread in Ancient Egypt than previous thought. A new study seems to suggest after researchers analyzed mummies that were inked with different motifs.

An infrared scanner pointed on a mummy’s shoulder revealed two eyes symbolizing protection and a hieroglyph of a bent papyrus plant. Credit: A. AUSTIN.

Although mummification can preserve tissue in extraordinary condition it also discolors and darkens the skin. This makes spotting tattoos incredibly challenging. Tattoos fade during a person’s lifetime, after all, not to mention after thousands of years.

But thanks to infrared photography, it is possible to differentiate a tattoo’s ink from mummified tissue. This is what a team of researchers did on the mummies of seven women, which were found at Deir el-Medina, near the extravagant tombs of the Valley of the Kings.

The team, led by Anne Austin, an anthropologist at the University of Missouri, made their first investigations in 2014 after researchers noticed markings on the neck of one of the Deir el-Medina mummies. These markings were not painted on, as initially thought, but were actually tattoos. The body of this female alone was adorned with no fewer than 30 tattoos on her neck, back, and behind the shoulders.

The tattoo featured sacred motifs in ancient Egyptian culture, such as scarab beetles, lotus flowers, cobras, cows, or baboons. Other tattoos looked like hieroglyphs used in Egyptian writing. This suggests that the woman may have been a healer or priestess.

In their new study, the researchers describe tattoos on six other mummified women adorned with similar motifs. One of the women had a human eye on her neck, for example, which is known to be an ancient Egyptian symbol associated with protection.

Previously, tattoos had been found on only six other Egyptian mummies. These findings suggest that perhaps researchers simply had used the right method to spot them and that perhaps the practice was much more widespread than previously thought.

The oldest known tattoos actually belong to the famous 5,250-year-old Ötzi the Iceman mummy, found in the Alps. Ötzi had at least 61 tattoos that we know of, for instance. Elsewhere, ancient tattoos have been found in mummies found in Sibia or the Ukok Plateau.

This may be just the beginning. Who knows what scientists might find if they use this method to probe the skin of the thousands of mummies stored in museums around the world.

The findings were reported at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting held in San Diego in November.

The Nile is 30 million years old — and held together by movements in the Earth’s mantle

The River Nile over Cairo, Egypt. Image credits: Fakharany / Wikipedia.

It’s harder to imagine a more imposing river than the Nile. Stretching over 6,650 km (4130 miles) long and serving as an essential water source since time immemorial, the Nile is a lifeline across northern Africa. Ancient Egyptians considered the Nile river to be the source of all life, and believed the river to be eternal.

Recent research seemed to back that idea up — well, maybe the Nile wasn’t eternal, but it was around for a few million years — which is eternal by humanity’s standards.

The Nile has a surprisingly steady path, nourishing the valleys of Africa for millions of years and shaping the course of civilizations. But for geologists, that was weird.

Why is the Nile so steady when rivers (particularly larger rivers in flat areas) tend to meander so much?

Now, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin believed they’ve cracked that mystery, and it has a lot to do with movement inside the Earth’s mantle.

“One of the big questions about the Nile is when it originated and why it has persisted for so long,” said lead author Claudio Faccenna, a professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. “Our solution is actually quite exciting.”

Convection belts in the mantle.

The team traced the geologic history of the Nile, correlating it with information from volcanic rocks and sedimentary deposits under the Nile Delta. They also carried out computer simulations that recreated tectonic activity in the area over the past 40 million years.

They linked the Nile’s behavior to a mantle conveyor belt.

“We propose that the drainage of one of the longest rivers on Earth, the Nile, is indeed controlled by topography related to mantle dynamics (that is, dynamic topography).”

The Earth’s interior is dominated by the mantle, and the mantle is not static. Large swaths of the mantle are moved around by convection. Sometimes, parts of that are pushed towards the surface. This upwelling magma has been pushing up the Ethiopian Highlands, helping to keep the river flowing straight to the north instead of wending its way sideways. This uplift, researchers conclude, is responsible for the gentle and steady gradient that keeps the Nile on a consistent course.

The Nile famously flows steadily to the North. Image credits: NASA.

Getting to this conclusion, however, was not straightforward — and it wouldn’t have been possible without state-of-the-art geophysical modeling. This proved to be the glue that pieced the entire theory together.

“I think this technique gives us something we didn’t have in the past,” said Jackson School scientists Petar Glisovic, one of the authors who is now a research collaborator at the University of Quebec.

As a consequence of this study, the researchers also showed that the Nile must be at least as old as the Ethiopian highlands — so this puts its age at 30 million years, which is several times more than previous estimates.

The study was published in Nature.

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.

Archaeologists opened the big, black sarcophagus found in Egypt

Some ten days ago, archaeologists unearthed a black sarcophagus near the city of Alexandria, Egypt. The sarcophagus was a total mystery — no one know who or what was inside, and no one was really sure what to expect.

To add to the puzzle, this was the biggest sarcophagus ever found in Alexandria, measuring 185 cm (72.8 inches) in height, 265 cm (104.3 inches) in length, and 165 cm (65 inches) at its widest. Now, archaeologists have finally opened the tomb and so far, there’s no curse upon them.

The granite sarcophagus weighs 27 tonnes (59,500lb) and is believed to date from the early Ptolemaic period, which began in 323 BC after the death of Alexander the Great. Image credits: Egypt Ministry of Antiquities.

The finding has naturally sparked Indiana Jones-like curiosity in people all around the world. Some were expecting the remains of Alexander the Great, while others speculated of an ancient curse (for whatever reason) — but reality will probably disappoint both of those groups.

According to Egyptian news outlet El-Watan, the first thing archaeologists opening the sarcophagus noticed was the pungent stench — something you’d expect from a sarcophagus that’s been buried for many centuries.

Inside the sarcophagus, there were three male skeletons in a reddish-brown puddle. Their identity has not been confirmed, but the lack of any precious metals or jewelry means they’re unlikely to have been royals.

“We found the bones of three people, in what looks like a family burial… Unfortunately the mummies inside were not in the best condition and only the bones remain,” said Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The three men were possibly warriors since one skull appeared to be injured by an arrow. An alabaster bust, its features eroded far beyond recognition, was also discovered near the sarcophagus. It seems plausible that the bust belongs to whoever was interred inside the sarcophagus, but that’s nigh-impossible to prove given the advanced state of decay.

Image credits: Egypt Ministry of Antiquities.

To some, the finding may be a bit disappointing. As Gizmodo’s Adam Clark Estes put it, “there was no curse, no apocalyptic scenario, no Alexander the Great. There were just a bunch of human bones soaking in sewage.” But the finding is remarkable nonetheless.

In between the constant looting, plundering, and Alexandria’s growing urbanization, any findings in the area are noteworthy. The fact that this sarcophagus was so big and contained not one but three skeletons is also interesting, and after all, it’s still a 2000-year-old tomb that’s been unearthed.

Modern archaeology is not as much about big findings as it is about describing the lives and telling the stories of ancient people. We want to know how these people lived, how they started families and built things, how they faced struggles and what they liked to do. In that regard, this finding is as important as any.

Credit: Pixabay.

From the pyramids to Stonehenge – were prehistoric people astronomers?

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Ever since humans could look up to see the sky, we have been amazed by its beauty and untold mysteries. Naturally then, astronomy is often described as the oldest of the sciences, inspiring people for thousands of years. Celestial phenomena are featured in prehistoric cave paintings. And monuments such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge seem to be aligned with precision to cardinal points or the positions where the moon, sun or stars rise and set on the horizon.

Today, we seem to struggle to imagine how ancient people could build and orient such structures. This has led to many assumptions. Some suggest prehistoric people must have had some knowledge of mathematics and sciences to do this, whereas others go so far as to speculate that alien visitors showed them how to do it.

But what do we actually know about how people of the past understood the sky and developed a cosmology? A scientific discipline called “archaeoastronomy” or “cultural astronomy”, developed in the 1970s, is starting to provide insights. This subject combines various specialist areas, such as astronomy, archaeology, anthropology and ethno-astronomy.

Simplistic methods

The pyramids of Egypt are some of the most impressive ancient monuments, and several are oriented with high precision. Egyptologist Flinder Petrie carried out the first high-precision survey of the Giza pyramids in the 19th century. He found that each of the four edges of the pyramids’ bases point towards a cardinal direction to within a quarter of a degree.

But how did the Egyptians know that? Just recently, Glen Dash, an engineer who studies the Giza pyramids, proposed a theory. He draws upon the ancient method of the “Indian circle”, which only requires a shadow casting stick and string to construct an east-west direction. He outlined how this method could have been used for the pyramids based on its simplicity alone.

So could this have been the case? It’s not impossible, but at this point we are in danger of falling into a popular trap of reflecting our current world views, methods and ideas into the past. Insight into mythology and relevant methods known and used at the time are likely to provide a more reliable answer.

Stonehenge sun. Credit: simonwakefield/Flickr, CC BY-SA.

This is not the first time scientists have jumped to conclusions about a scientific approach applied to the past. A similar thing happened with Stonehenge. In 1964, the late astronomer Gerald Hawkins developed an intricate method to use pit holes and markers to predict eclipses at the mysterious monument. However, this does not mean that this is how Stonehenge was intended to be used.

Way forward

To start understanding the past we need to include various approaches from other disciplines to support an idea. We also have to understand that there will never be only one explanation or answer to how a monument might have been aligned or used.

So how can cultural astronomy explain the pyramids’ alignment? A study from 2001 proposed that two stars, Megrez and Phad, in the stellar constellation known as Ursa Major may have been the key. These stars are visible through the entire night. Their lowest position in the sky during a night can mark north using the merkhet – an ancient timekeeping instrument composing a bar with a plumb line attached to a wooden handle to track stars’ alignment.

The benefit of this interpretation is that it links to star mythology drawn from inscriptions in the temple of Horus in Edfu. These elaborate on using the merkhet as a surveying tool – a technique that can also explain the orientation of other Egyptian sites. The inscription includes the hieroglyph “the Bull’s Foreleg” which represents the Big Dipper star constellation and its possible position in the sky.

The use of the two stars Megrez and Phad of Ursa Major to line up with the cardinal north direction (meridian indicated in orange) as simulated for 2562BC. Credit: Daniel Brown.

The use of the two stars Megrez and Phad of Ursa Major to line up with the cardinal north direction (meridian indicated in orange) as simulated for 2562BC. Credit: Daniel Brown.

Similarly, better ideas for Stonehenge have been offered. One study identified strange circles of wood near the monument, and suggested these may have represented the living while the rocks at Stonehenge represented the dead. Similar practices are seen in monuments found in Madagascar, suggesting it may have been a common way for prehistoric people to think about the living and the dead. It also offers an exciting new way of understanding Stonehenge in its wider landscape. Others have interpreted Stonehenge and especially its avenue as marking the ritual passage through the underworld with views of the moon on the horizon.

Cultural astronomy has also helped shed light on 6,000-year-old passage graves – a type of tomb consisting of a chamber of connected stones and a long narrow entrance – in Portugal. Archaeologist Fabio Silva has shown how views from inside the tombs frame the horizon where the star Aldebaran rises above a mountain range. This might mean it was built to give a view of the star from the inside either for the dead or the living, possibly as an initiation ritual.

Fieldwork at one of the passage graves in Portugal, Dolmen da Orca. Next to the stone structure is a replica tent to simulate the view from inside of the passage grave. Credit: Daniel Brown.

Fieldwork at one of the passage graves in Portugal, Dolmen da Orca. Next to the stone structure is a replica tent to simulate the view from inside of the passage grave. Credit: Daniel Brown.

But Silva also drew upon wider supporting evidence. The framed mountain range is where the builders of the graves would have migrated with their livestock over summer. The star Aldebaran rises for the first time here in the year – known as a helical rising – during the beginning of this migration. Interestingly, ancient folklore also talks about a shepherd in this area who spotted a star so bright that it lit up the mountain range. Arriving there he decided to name both the mountain range and his dog after the star – both names still exist today.

Current work carried out by myself in collaboration with Silva has also shown how a view from within the long, narrow entrance passages to the tombs could enhance the star’s visibility by restricting the view through an aperture.

But while it is easy to assume that prehistoric people were analytic astronomers with great knowledge of science, it’s important to remember that this only reflects our modern views of astronomy. Findings from cultural astronomy show that people of the past were indeed sky watchers and incorporated what they saw in many aspects of their lives. While there are still many mysteries surrounding the meaning and origins of ancient structures, an approach drawing on as many areas as possible, including experiences and engaging in meaning is likely our best bet to work out just what they were once used for.

Daniel Brown, Lecturer in Astronomy, Nottingham Trent University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Archaeologists discover stunning Greco-Roman temple in the Egyptian desert

It took scientists a while before they realized the enormity of their discovery. Aside from the temple itself, archaeologists have also discovered a trove of artifacts, including statues, coins, and pottery.

Image Credits: Egypt Ministry of Antiquities.

The discovery was made in Egypt’s Western Desert, some 348 miles west of Cairo and 200 miles south of the Mediterranean Sea, in the Siwa Oasis. As archaeologist Sarah Parcak explained, it’s not every day that you find this kind of temple.

“What’s amazing is you don’t tend to hear every day of new temples found in Egypt,” space archaeologist Sarah Parcak, who isn’t involved in the dig, told Elaina Zachos at National Geographic. “It’s going to shed more light on the history of Siwa Oasis.”

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”Panel title” footer=””]Some 2,200 years ago, Egypt already had a rich history, but was in a state of decline. Ramesses III, widely considered the last “great” pharaoh from the New Kingdom, who ruled between 1279–1213 BC, was struggling with dwindling finances and wars with the Sea People, who invaded Egypt by land and sea.[/panel]

Image Credits: Egypt Ministry of Antiquities.

The historical timeline of the oasis isn’t clear, but it seems that it has been inhabited for at least 12,000 years. However, it’s been one of the most isolated Egyptian settlements, deep in the desert — but not isolated from the influence of other cultures. The newly found temple dates from between 200 BCE and 300 CE, a period when Egypt was under Hellenistic and then Roman rule, thus explaining the nature of the temple. During this period, the influence of Ancient Greek and Roman people was felt in all layers of Egyptian life, including architecture, but not many buildings remain from that time, making this finding extra special.

Within the temple, archaeologists have uncovered a sculpture of a man’s head and two limestone lion statues, as well as impressive pottery and lots of coins. The total extent of the temple is not yet known, and the temple hasn’t been dated, but archaeologists believe that the it may offer valuable information about the Greco-Roman period in Egypt.

“I’m hopeful that this excavation team is going to uncover the settlements or the houses of the priests,” Parcak says.

Interestingly, the oasis is most known as the location where the Greek king Alexander the Great consulted the oracle of Ammon. Unfortunately, history didn’t record what Alexander asked and what the oracle answered.

The archaeological dig is still a work in progress, and researchers expect more findings in the future. Ayman Ashmawi, the head of the ministry’s Ancient Egyptian Antiquities department, says several other digs are planned for this year.

Archaeologists discover the 4,400-year-old tomb of a high ranking Egyptian priestess

Archaeologists in Egypt have unveiled the tomb, which features impressive paintings of a priestess, offering a rare glimpse into the ancient life of a high ranking woman.

Image credits: Egypt Antiquities Ministry.

Hetpet was a priestess of Hathor, the primaeval goddess of joy, feminine love, and motherhood. Female priestesses weren’t common in ancient Egypt, but Hathor was somewhat of an exception since she was the patron god of women. Previous findings have suggested that some of Hathor’s priestesses were tattooed and also dubbed as dancers and singers. After all, at one point, Hathor was the most popular of the Egyptian gods, and more festivals were dedicated to her honor than any other Egyptian deity.

It’s not clear how the life of a priestess differs from her male counterpart, which is what makes the finding even more intriguing.

The tomb is well-preserved and features impressive paintings, mostly depicting Hetpet hunting and fishing. Other paintings show images of dancing, singing, and even monkeys — which were commonly kept as pets at the time. However, monkey paintings are extremely uncommon. In one instance, the animals are shown picking fruit and carrying a basket, while in another, a monkey is dancing in front of an orchestra. This is only the second painting of a dancing monkey found in Egypt — the first one dating from the 12th century BCE, more than 3,000 years later.

Image credits: Egypt Antiquities Ministry.

It’s unclear if Hetpet herself cherished monkeys, if it has to do with her worshipping, or if it’s something different altogether.

“The tomb has very distinguished wall paintings, in a very good conservation condition, depicting ‘Hetpet’ standing in different hunting and fishing scenes or sitting before a large offering table receiving offerings from her children,” Egypt’s antiquities ministry said in a statement.

“Scenes of reaping fruits, melting metals and the fabrication of leather and papyri boats as well as musical and dancing performances are also shown on walls,” they said.

Hetpet lived during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty, during a prosperous time referred to as the Old Kingdom. This was the greatest age of pyramid building, when pharaohs erected many of the monuments that still stand tall and proud today. Khaled el-Enany, the Egyptian antiquities minister, said that it appears that Hetpet was an important person in her time, with a “strong link” to the royal palace.

Unfortunately, the tomb appears to have been looted at some point. Hetpet’s mummy has been stolen, as well as her statue and any valuables which may have been buried along with her.

In Egypt, this is the first archaeological finding of the year. Authorities hope that much more will come, rekindling the interest for Egyptian archaeology and bringing along an influx of tourists.

DNA study shows 4,000 year-old mummies are half brothers

A genetic analysis has revealed that two mummies named “The Two Brothers” are, in fact, brothers. The two mummies were buried some 3,800 years ago and stirred quite a debate.

The tomb of the ‘mummy brothers’. Site map showing the burial location with a diagram of the tomb and the burial of the two coffined mummies in situ. On the right are the inner coffins of Nakht-Ankh (above) and Khnum-Nakht (below). Credits: Drosou et al (2018) / Journal of Archaeological Science.

In 1907, Sir Flinders Petrie, a well-known Egyptologist, uncovered a rather unusual burial chamber. The burial chamber hosted not one, but two individuals. In a small chamber placed within the courtyard of a bigger tomb, Petrie found four coffins: two for the human bodies, and another two inner anthropoid coffins for each. He also uncovered a canopic box with four canopic vessels as well as three statuettes of the tomb owners, some wooden models of servants, models of boats and some pottery vessels.

The entire complex was moved to Manchester in 1908, where it has resided ever since at the Manchester Museum. But anthropologists had a puzzling question they couldn’t answer: were the two actually brothers?

Hieroglyphic inscriptions on the coffins indicated that the two people were Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh, the sons of a local governor. Not long after they were brought in, both men were unwrapped by the UK’s first professional female Egyptologist, Dr. Margaret Murray. Murray concluded that the skeletal morphologies of the two were quite different — different enough to say that they’re not related. She concluded that one of them must have been adopted.

The two mummies, side by side. DNA was extracted from the teeth, which were checked to see if they were firmly attached to the skeleton. The mummies suffered no damage in the process. Image credits: Museum of Manchester.

So for the longest time, the Two Brothers were actually thought to be not brothers — not biological brothers, in any case. With no way to solve this problem, the issue was simply dropped until the advent of DNA sampling. In 2015, ‘ancient DNA’ was extracted from their teeth to solve the mystery and now, the results are finally in.

Analysis revealed that both of them belonged to mitochondrial haplotype M1a1, which indicates that they had the same mother. However, the Y chromosome sequences (which were less complete) indicated significant differences between the two, which likely means that they had different fathers. The results were confirmed by several independent laboratories and researchers by only analyzing teeth firmly embedded in their sockets to ensure that they belonged to the correct individual.

The presence of identical mtDNA indicates that Nakht-Ankh and Khnum-Nakht had a maternal relationship, consistent of a shared mother or perhaps a more distant kinship relationship such as cousins or uncle-nephew. So there was some truth to their different physiologies, but the two were still related — probably half-brothers. Dr. Konstantina Drosou, of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester who conducted the DNA sequencing, said:

“It was a long and exhausting journey to the results but we are finally here. I am very grateful we were able to add a small but very important piece to the big history puzzle and I am sure the brothers would be very proud of us. These moments are what make us believe in ancient DNA. ”

The study, which is being published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, is one of the first to successfully use the typing of both mitochondrial and Y chromosomal DNA in Egyptian mummies. Unfortunately, placing the finding into a broader context is impossible, as this is the only example of two men buried together in an intact Pharaonic tomb. It might be an indication of polyandry (polygamy in which a woman has more than one husband) happening in Ancient Egypt, but at this point, it’s simply impossible to tell.

Egyptian Archaeologists find 3,500 year old multi-tomb in Luxor

They used to say all the tombs in Egypt had been found. They were wrong.

Credits: Twitter / Egyptian Antiquities Ministry.

Egyptologists have found the exquisite tomb of a royal goldsmith who lived near Luxor. The tomb isn’t in a very good shape after all this time, but archaeologists did uncover statuettes, mummies, pottery, and other burial artifacts, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, Khaled al-Anani:

“We found many objects of the funerary equipment inside and outside the tomb. We found mummies, coffins, funerary combs, funerary masks, some jewellery, and statues. The work did not finish yet.”

The highlight is a statue of Amenemhat, the goldsmith of the god Amun, the period’s most powerful deity sitting beside his wife. Given that this statue is generally associated with abundance and riches, officials hope that work in the area will uncover even more valuables. Archaeologists also discovered four new names, which seem to suggest that more tombs await discovery in the area.

“What about those four new names? How about their tombs? Their tombs are not discovered yet. But I believe they are owners of the tomb,” he said. “I believe, inshallah [God willing], for the coming season, we are going to do our excavations. We are going to do our excavations in this area. So I believe we can find one, or two or maybe four if we are going to be very lucky, four of them in this area.”

Wearing masks and latex gloves to avoid doing damage, archaeologists uncovered a trove of objects. They also found several mummies belonging to ancient Egyptian people, their sarcophagi covered with intricate red, blue, black, green, and yellow drawings and sculptures of their owner’s faces. At this point, it’s not clear how these mummies are related to Amenemhat and to each other, but one theory is that… they’re not. The tomb might have been opened to accommodate more mummies during the 21st Dynasty, about 3,000 years ago, to protect them in a period when grave robbing was very common. Given the stash that was found in the trove, they seem to have been successful.

Credits: Twitter / Egyptian Antiquities Ministry.

The findings were made in Luxor, the ancient city of Thebes, the great capital of (Upper) Egypt during the New Kingdom, and the glorious city of Amun. This is also close to the famed Valley of the Kings, the resting place of some of Egypt’s most important rulers, including Tutankhamun and Ramses III. It’s impressive that after all this time, after over a century of research and diggings, we can still find new things. In fact, we may have just scratched the surface.

“Modern Egypt is built on top of ancient Egypt,” former Egyptian minister of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, told The Guardian. “Until now we’ve only found 30 percent of the Egyptian monuments; 70 percent is still buried.”

Ancient egyptian prosthetic thumb recovered from Theban tomb TT95. Credit: Matjaž Kačičnik.

Ancient prosthesis: a 3000-year-old Egyptian wooden toe

Ancient egyptian prosthetic thumb recovered from Theban tomb TT95. Credit: Matjaž Kačičnik.

Ancient Egyptian prosthetic toe recovered from Theban tomb TT95. Credit: Matjaž Kačičnik.

Almost 3,000 years ago in Egypt, a priest’s daughter lost her left toe. She didn’t die of infection but she didn’t feel content to walk the rest of her days through the streets with a missing digit either. So she had a wooden prosthesis perfectly matching her foot made for her. Though thousands of years have since past, this medical wonder has withstood the test of time, much to the delight of Egyptologists from the University of Basel.

This piggy went to Luxor

The Swiss researchers used modern microscopy, X-ray technology, and computer tomography to investigate the ancient wooden prosthetic in unprecedented detail. This way, they learned about the materials and techniques used to fashion the medical artifact recovered from the necropolis of Sheikh ´Abd el-Qurna close to Luxor.

The Early Iron Age artificial toe illustrates top-notch skill from behalf of the craftsmen who fashioned it. These people were clearly very familiar with human physiognomy being careful to emulate even the subtlest curves and features of the human toe. It was also very practical, demonstrating a keen sense of engineering, judging from the extension and the robust structure of the belt strap. It must have been very costly too — the wearer was of high status indeed.

It is a very fortunate find. Not only has the prosthesis withstood the elements and the test of time, but it survived ruthless bandits too. It was retrieved from a plundered burial chapel at the graveyard hill of Sheikh ´Abd el-Qurna. The thieves must have cared very little for a wooden ‘trinket’ when so much flashy richness awaited.


View of the excavation area in the cemetery of Sheikh ´Abd el-Qurna (© University of Basel, LHTT. Image: Matjaž Kačičnik)

The chapel is part of a group of monumental, beautiful rock-cut tombs dated from the late 15th century BC raised for the small but influential upper class close to the royal family. Much later, the site turned into a home for locals – a process that began with the early Christian hermits and only ended in the early 20th century. For the past two years, Swiss researchers have been studying the Egyptian cemetery in hope of learning more about the ruling elite of the time.

Right now, the researchers are busy building digital models of the elevation, landscape, and architecture of this burial complex. Also, if you found this prosthesis interesting, read on about the 16th-century iron hand of a ‘cyborg knight’. 

Digital elevation model of the south western part of Sheikh ´Abd el-Qurna’s cemetery. Marked in color are the elevations of the excavation site. (© University of Basel, ETH Zurich. Model: E. Friedli/Z. Gojcic)

Digital elevation model of the southwestern part of Sheikh ´Abd el-Qurna’s cemetery. Marked in color are the elevations of the excavation site. Credit: University of Basel, ETH Zurich. Model: E. Friedli/Z. Gojcic

Egypt mummy

First DNA analysis of mummies shows ancient and modern Egyptians don’t really have much in common anymore

In an impressive scientific breakthrough, an international team of researchers reports sequencing the genomes of ancient Egyptian mummies for the very first time. The study helps tie some of the loose ends around the river Nile in Middle Egypt and the ancient population that inhabited the region for millennia. One striking finding is that modern Egyptians are far more related to Sub-Saharan Africans than ancient Egyptians, who were most closely related to ancient populations in the Levant.

Egypt mummy

Sarcophagus of Tadja, Abusir el-Meleq. Credit: bpk/Aegyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, SMB/Sandra Steiss.

For many researchers working with DNA sequencing, Egypt is both a blessing and curse. It’s an almost ideal scientific proving ground because of its rich and well-documented history. It’s always been at the crossroads between many populations and cultural influences from Africa, Asia, or Europe. The practice of mummification which can be traced back to 6,000 years ago is also a godsend for many researchers since they have to rely less on the accidental preservation of remains. The ancient Egyptians did all the dirty work for them!

At the same time, Egypt’s aggressive climate, which is very hot and humid, can easily degrade the DNA. Even though archaeologists know of thousands of Egyptian mummies that are thousands of years old, the conditions in the tombs are such that the long-term survival of DNA in Egyptian mummies is very unlikely.

But thanks to a lot of hard work and recent advances in genetic sequencing, an international team was able to make a breakthrough and come up with an unprecedented glimpse into the genetic history of Egypt. The collaboration is comprised of researchers from the University of Tuebingen, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, the University of Cambridge, the Polish Academy of Sciences, and the Berlin Society of Anthropology, Ethnology, and Prehistory.

For their work, the authors sampled 151 mummified individuals from the archaeological site of Abusir el-Meleq, along the Nile River in Middle Egypt. In total, they recovered mitochondrial genomes (from the mother’s side only) from 90 individuals, and genome-wide datasets from three individuals over a 1,300-year time span. These results were then compared to modern populations.

Map of Egypt, showing the archaeological site of Abusir-el Meleq (orange X), and the location of the modern Egyptian samples used in the study (orange circles). Credit: Graphic: Annette Guenzel.

Map of Egypt, showing the archaeological site of Abusir-el Meleq (orange X), and the location of the modern Egyptian samples used in the study (orange circles). Credit: Graphic: Annette Guenzel.

This data allowed the researchers to assess the continuity in the genetic makeup of the ancient inhabitants of Abusir el-Meleq, but also to test previous hypotheses up to now confined to the realm of speculation.
“We wanted to test if the conquest of Alexander the Great and other foreign powers has left a genetic imprint on the ancient Egyptian population,” explains Verena Schuenemann, group leader at the University of Tuebingen and one of the lead authors of this study, in a statement.
Strikingly, despite going through various periods of foreign rules, from the Roman Empire to Macedonia, the Egyptian population remained relatively unaffected genetically during the 1,300-year timespan. At the same time, the data suggests modern Egyptians share approximately 8% more ancestry on the nuclear level with Sub-Saharan African populations than with ancient Egyptians.

“This suggests that an increase in Sub-Saharan African gene flow into Egypt occurred within the last 1,500 years,” explains Stephan Schiffels, group leader at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena.

It’s amazing to finally hear about genetic investigations in ancient Egyptian mummies. Seemingly against all odds, science yet again proves that sometimes we must merely wait for technology to catch on with our needs. In the process, we now have a much richer understanding of Egypt’s population history.

Intact, 3,800 year-old tomb uncovered in Egypt

The tomb hosted the brother of one of the most influential governors of ancient Egypt’s Twelfth Dynasty. Archaeologists hope that this could offer new insight onto what kind of role the ruler’s entourage played in ancient Egyptian society.

archaeology egypt

Paintng on the sarcophagus. A well preserved mummy was also found, covered with a polychrome cartonnage, collars and a mask. Image credits: Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities.

The discovery was made by the Spanish Archaeological Mission in Qubbet El-Hawa, which translates to Hill of Wind. Alejandro Jiménez-Serrano, head of the Spanish mission from the University of Jaen. He says that the tomb was pretty much intact, and contained pottery, two cedar coffins (outer and inner) and a set of wooden models, which represent funerary boats and scenes of daily life, as well as a mummy which is still under study.

Inscriptions mark the tomb as belonging to Shemai, son of Satethotep and Khema, brother of Sarenput II. This was one of the most influential families of the time, as Sarenput II was not only governor of Elephantine, but also general of the Egyptian troops and responsible for the worship of several Egyptian gods.

Researchers have a pretty good idea about the family of Shemai, having previously located 14 other family members. They hope that the finding of so many family members will help them paint a detailed social picture, indicating the role that everyone played in the higher class. The social system of ancient Egypt was a lot like a pyramid, with the Pharaoh sitting on top (technically, the gods were the only ones above the pharaoh), the nobles and priests coming next, followed by the soldiers, scribes, merchants, artisans, farmers, and at the bottom of it all, the slaves. Social mobility was not impossible (for instance, a farmer boy becoming a scribe), but moving up the pyramid wasn’t the easiest thing in the world.

The necropolis where the tomb was found is the same one where rock carvings depicting masked men hunting an ostrich were previously found. The painting, barely visible due to the effect of time, pushed back the age of the archaeological area by about one millennium.

During the nineteenth Dynasty a queen by the name of Nefertari was in power with Ramesses the Great. Pictured is a painting of Nefertari found in her tomb. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Mummified knees likely belonged to one of Ancient Egypt’s most famous queens, Nefertari

During the nineteenth Dynasty a queen by the name of Nefertari was in power with Ramesses the Great. Pictured is a painting of Nefertari found in her tomb. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

During the nineteenth Dynasty a queen by the name of Nefertari was in power with Ramesses the Great. Pictured is a painting of Nefertari found in her tomb. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Scientists used radiocarbon analysis on a pair of mummified knees and established these likely belonged to the beautiful spouse of Pharoah Ramses II. The woman, known as Nefertari, was buried in a lavish tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Queens during the 19th Dynasty, around 1250 B.C.E.

A forgotten beauty

Legend has it Nefertari Merytmut (meaning The Beautiful Companion, Beloved of Mut) used to be one of the most beautiful and powerful queens in ancient Egypt. The first historical mentions of Nefertari appear around the time she was 13 years old and got married to 15-year-old Ramses II, who would go on to be remembered as Ramses the Great. Not much is known about her life prior to her becoming a queen but it’s likely she belonged to a noble family, though not part of the royal family.

Nefertari should not be confused with Nefertiti, another beautiful and powerful Egyptian queen which ruled a century prior.

Though Ramses would go on to rule for 67 years and married seven different queens, fathering forty daughters and forty-five sons, Queen Nefertari would remain his favorite. Ramses’ love for Nefertari would often be celebrated with monuments and poetry dedicated to her honour.

It’s likely Nefertari also had an important political role in the kingdom, although shadowed by the limelight shone on the great king. For instance, early in his reign, Ramses II was at war with the neighboring Hittites. Once peace was made, Nefertari wrote letters to the king and queen of the Hittites. She also sent gifts to the queen, including a gold necklace.

All that remains

The mummified legs are all that's left of Nefertari -- even these are put into question. Credit: : Habicht et. al

The mummified legs are all that’s left of Nefertari — even these are put into question. Credit: : Habicht et. al

After she died, Nefertari’s mummified remains were stored in the largest and most beautiful tomb in the Valley of the Queens. Unceremoniously named QV66, the tomb was plundered many times throughout history before official excavations opened in 1904. The thieves stole many jewels, treasures, and even Nefertari’s sarcophagus which contained her mummy. But the thieves might not have left with all of her.

As was the practice at the time, not all of the queen’s remains were stored in the same sarcophagus. A pair of mummified legs were spared the looting but it was never clear if these belonged to the late queen.

“Having studied the woman, and having looked as so many images of her beautiful face, I think there is a sense of immense irony that physically this is what we have got,” said for The Guardian Joann Fletcher from the University of York, a co-author of the research published in the journal PlosOne. “She has been reduced to knees. But because we don’t give up – it’s like: ‘we have got the knees, well, let’s do what we can with them.’”

The fragments, now housed at the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy. Scientists who analyzed the fragments say these belonged to a 40-year-old woman who died around the time of Nefertari’s passing. Chemical analysis of the mummy legs confirmed the materials used to embalm the legs are consistent with 13th century BC mummification traditions.

Pair of sandals retrieved from the tomb. Credit: Turin Museum

Pair of sandals retrieved from the tomb. Credit: Turin Museum

It’s not uncommon for tombs to be reused and during extreme events like floods, it’s not unheard of mummies washing up in tombs. However, judging from the expertise, care, and quality that went into mummifying the pair of legs, the researchers concluded that the person in question was certainly of high status. Together with the chemical analysis of the fragments and the artifacts retrieved from the tomb where the knees were found, Fletcher and colleagues conclude that these mummy legs likely belonged to Nefertari.

“The evidence we’ve been able to gather about Nefertari’s remains not only complements the research we’ve been doing on the queen and her tomb but really does allow us to add another piece to the jigsaw of what is actually known about Egyptian mummification,” said Fletcher in a statement for the press.



Forensic experts reconstruct the face of a 2,300 year old Egyptian mummy

University of Melbourne researchers can now show you what ancient Egyptians looked like. They created a 3D-printed replica skull from CT scans of a mummy’s head and forensic reconstruction techniques to bring it back to life.

Reconstruction of an Egyptian woman cca. 300 BC.
Image credits Jennifer Mann/Paul Burston/University of Melbourne

A short while ago, researchers reconstructed the face of a woman who lived in Bronze Age England. Now, Australian researchers from the University of Melbourne brought the face of an even older culture back to life. Not just awesome, but educational too — the team says this reconstruction will teach students about diagnosing pathologies in former populations.

“The idea of the project is to take this relic and, in a sense, bring her back to life by using all the new technology,” said team member Varsha Pilbrow.

“This way she can become much more than a fascinating object to be put on display. Through her, students will be able to learn how to diagnose pathology marked on our anatomy, and learn how whole population groups can be affected by the environments in which they live.”

The mummy — just a wrapped head, severed from the body — was actually found by accident in the university’s collections area by a curator performing an audit. The team thinks it was brought here by Frederic Wood Jones, an archaeologist turned anatomy professor who taught there in the early 1900s.

“Her face is kept upright because it is more respectful that way,” said museum curator Ryan Jefferies. “She was once a living person, just like all the human specimens we have preserved here, and we can’t forget that.”

Reconstructing the face was the only way to ensure that the mummy was preserved, as Jefferies grew concerned that the skull was beginning to rot from the inside out. Naturally, the team couldn’t just unwrap the head as this might have caused irreparable damage to the head. So, the team took a CT scan of the mummy to understand what was going on inside. Seeing the CT scan made them realize that this was a great forensic and teaching opportunity in collaborative research, according to Jefferies.

They enlisted the help of a team of forensic experts from Monash University to reconstruct the face starting from the skull. The Monash team reckoned that the mummy was female — the team named her Meritamun — and likely lived sometime around 300 BC. A more precise dating will soon be available once the skull is carbon dated.

Imaging specialist Gavan Mitchell was able to use a 3D printer to create an exact replica of the skull, which the team turned over to forensic sculptor Jennifer Mann. She painstakingly reconstructed the mummy’s face using clay and all of the data gathered by the forensic team.

The replica skull.
Image credits Varsha Pilbrow/Gavan Mitchell/University of Melbourne.

“It is incredible that her skull is in such good condition after all this time, and the model that Gavan produced was beautiful in its details,” Mann said. “It is really poignant work and extremely important for finally identifying these people who would otherwise have remained unknown.”

The final result is a fully reconstructed face, the closest we’ve come ever to seeing an ancient Egyptian woman.

The team hasn’t yet published their results in a peer-reviewed journal, so the technique still awaits proper scrutiny.

So while we wait, check out this video to see the reconstruction in action:

Archaeologists uncover 4,500-year-old 59-foot boat at a site in Egypt

Archaeologists from the Charles University in Prague have made a stunning discovery in Egypt: they found a stunningly well preserved long boat, buried for four and a half millennia.

Viiew of the boat during the process of excavation (Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology, V.Dulikova)

The discovery was made at Abusir, “the House or Temple of Osiris” and an extensive necropolis with many well documented findings. But Egypt still has a story to tell. In 2009, Czech archaeologists started to dig and work around a local mastaba, a type of rectangular stepped tomb made of mud bricks. The imposing size of the mastaba, as well as the architectural details and the name of king Huni (Third Dynasty) discovered on one of the bowls made them think there’s more to find – and they were right.

After digging for over 5 years, they uncovered an 18 m-long wooden boat covered by wind-blown sand. Located some 12 meters away from the mastaba, it is still clearly part of the burial site. The boat’s condition is simply stunning; not only are the wooden planks and joinery intact after 4500 years, but even the original rigging is still in place, probably aided by the dry sand. Researchers believe studying these elements will shed a new light on Egyptian boat building.

Viiew of the boat during the process of excavation (Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology, V.Dulikova)

But equally interesting is the burial site itself – the practice of burying someone alongside a boat. We don’t know who this person was because all revealing writings have faded away. He wasn’t a royal member because he wasn’t buried in or around a pyramid, but he was still important enough to be buried in a mastaba – so we’re clearly talking about a member of the elite society. The practice is also not new, but this is the biggest boat ever found in a burial site by a wide margin.

“It is by all means a remarkable discovery. The careful excavation and recording of the Abusir boat will make a considerable contribution to our understanding of ancient Egyptian watercraft and their place in funerary cult. And where there is one boat, there very well may be more.” adds director of the excavations, Miroslav Bárta.

Abusir is one relatively small segment of the extensive “pyramid field” that extends from north of Giza to below Saqqara. It is currently one of the most significant active sites in Egypt being, among other things, the origin of the largest find of Old Kingdom papyri to date.