10 Fascinating Ivory Artifacts Shrouded In Mystery

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10 Fascinating Ivory Artifacts Shrouded In Mystery



For millennia, people have lusted for ivory. The creamy white substance is derived primarily from the tusks of elephants. However, mammoths, walruses, whales, hippos, and warthogs have all contributed to the ivory trade.

Ancient hunter-gathers used ivory for tools as well as their most sacred objects. Since then, countless other cultures have carved ivory into items both decorative and utilitarian.

The demand for this precious substance is so great that many ivory-producing animals have been hunted to near-extinction. Today, the world struggles to find a replacement for this beautiful, useful, and utterly unsustainable resource.

Featured image credit: chessdailynews.com

10Ivory Rope Maker


Photo credit: sci-news.com

In August 2015, archaeologists discovered a 40,000-year-old, ivory rope-making tool in a cave in southwestern Germany. Initially believed to be a flute or shaft straightener, the mammoth tusk tool is 20 centimeters (8 in) long and contains four holes, each bearing deep spiral incisions.

This was not for decoration. It was cutting-edge Stone Age technology. The spirals guided plant fibers as they were twisted into rope. Hohle Fels Cave, where the tool was found, has yielded a treasure trove of well-preserved Paleolithic tools and art.

Rope was essential for mobile hunter-gather populations. For decades, the Paleolithic rope-making process remained a mystery. Rope and twine quickly decomposed and left no trace in the archaeological record other than extremely rare cases when they became embedded in fired clay. German researchers have been able to demonstrate how individual plants fibers were passed through the holes to create tough rope fibers.


9Illyrian Ivory Tablets


Photo credit: Ancient Origins

In 1979, an Albanian archaeologist discovered five 1,800-year-old ivory tablets during excavations of Durres. Fatos Tartari found the wax-coated tablets within a glass urn, which was also filled with two styluses, an ebony comb, and black liquid.

The urn was in an aristocratic woman’s tomb. The unknown liquid preserved the ivory tablets. Otherwise, wax typically detaches and disintegrates as soon as it loses moisture.

A team of German and Albanian scientists have recently deciphered the inscriptions, which shed light on the former Roman colony of Dyrrachium in the second century AD. The records indicate that women played a prominent role in ancient Illyrian culture.

The tablets indicate that the woman buried in the tomb worked as a moneylender. One record indicates that she was owed a debt of 20,000 denarii—10 times the annual wage of Roman soldiers. According to ancient historians, Illyrian women fought alongside men and held political power.

8Franks Casket


Photo credit: learn.columbia.edu

The Franks Casket is an Anglo-Saxon whale’s bone box that reflects a curious melding of Christian, Jewish, and German traditions. Dated to the early eighth century, the ivory artifact contains scenes of the Adoration of the Magi alongside the Germanic tale of Weland’s Exile. The lid depicts the Germanic hero Egil while the underside contains an image of Rome’s capture of Jerusalem in AD 70. Commentaries are inscribed in runic alphabet, Old English, and Latin.

At 23 centimeters (9 in) long, 19 centimeters (7 in) wide, and 11 centimeters (4 in) high, the ivory box likely held holy texts. Some speculate that it served as a reliquary for the cult of St. Julian at Brioude.

An account in 1291 refers to the Lord of Mercoeur visiting Brioude and “devoutly kissing an ivory box filled with relics.” In the early 19th century, a family in Auzon, France, owned the casket and used it as a sewing box.


740,000-Year-Old Animal Figure


Photo credit: Science Daily

In 2013, archaeologists were able to reattach the head to a 40,000-year-old ivory lion sculpture. Discovered in Vogelherd Cave in 1931, the cat’s body was reunited with its head, which was found on an expedition to the same site between 2005 and 2012.

It was initially believed to be a relief. Then the discovery of the head revealed that it was clearly a three-dimensional representation of the ancient predator.

Vogelherd Cave is located in southwestern Germany’s Lone Valley. Covering over 170 square meters (1,830 ft2), the cave has yielded over two dozen figurines going back to the dawn of Homo sapiens in Europe.

In addition to lions, ivory figures have been discovered representing mammoths, camels, and horses. These are considered some of “the oldest and most impressive” Ice Age artwork as well as milestones in human’s emerging cultural innovation. Bone dumps suggest that the cave was used to process and butcher game for millennia.

6Greenland Walrus Ivory


Archaeologists believe that an ancient “gold rush” prompted the Viking settlement of Greenland. However, they were not in search of precious metal. Their goal was to obtain walrus tusks.

In the 11th century, Europe’s interest in ivory exploded. The economy was driven by a desire for luxury goods, and the Vikings were quick to profit off Europe’s thirst for tusks. Walrus ivory was fashioned into jewelry, religious icons, and luxury items for nobility.

Between the 12th and 14th centuries, the Viking economy switched from bulk goods—like wool, fish, and timber—to high-end items like ivory. The mystery of why the Vikings decided to settle in Greenland, whose climate is too harsh for agriculture, may finally have been solved.

Medieval Iceland also had a walrus population. However, it was probably not enough to sustain European’s ivory addiction. On the other hand, Greenland could. Researchers are currently analyzing isotopes in walrus ivory to determine its origin.

5Venus Of Brassempouy


Photo credit: Jean-Gilles Berizzi

In 1892, archaeologists unearthed an enigmatic ivory figurine during excavations of Brassempouy in southwestern France. Dated around 23,000 BC, the “Venus of Brassempouy” contains the earliest-known detailed representation of a human face.

She has eyes, brows, a forehead, and a nose. However, she lacks a mouth. Her face contains a vertical crack, but it is probably a flaw in the ivory. It is uncertain whether her hair is in braids or covered with a headdress. Only the head and neck of the Venus was found in Grotte du Pape (“Pope’s Cave”).

The Venus of Brassempouy is one of the finest examples of Gravettian art. It was constructed around the same time as other female figurines like the Czech Republic’s Venus of Dolni Vestonice and Italy’s Venus of Savignano. This culture of ancient Venus figurines stretches well into modern-day Russia, as far as the shores of Siberia’s Lake Baikal.


4Dorset Polar Bear Effigies


Photo credit: historymuseum.ca

The Dorset people were a mysterious group of hunter-gathers that roamed the Canadian Arctic between 500 BC and AD 1000. Named after Cape Dorset, where their artifacts were first discovered, the Dorset were master ivory carvers.

Their most frequent subject was the polar bear. Hundreds of ivory Dorset bear carvings have been recovered from Greenland and Northern Canada. Some experts believe that the bears are posed in seal-hunting stances. Others suggest that certain carvings, like the “flying bear” effigies, reflect Dorset spiritual beliefs.

Soon after the Inuit encroached on their territory, the Dorset disappeared, leaving only their enigmatic artifacts to speak for them. According to Inuit lore, the Dorset—or “Tuniit”—were giants capable of single-handedly crushing a walrus’ neck and dragging the animal home.

However, they were gentle giants who kept to themselves. Art objects appear far more frequently than tools like harpoon heads and knives. Often, even Dorset utility items are decorative.

3Athena Parthenos


Photo credit: Michael Rivera

In 438 BC, Athenian statesman Pericles commissioned master sculptor Pheidias to build the Athena Parthenos in honor of the city’s patron deity. At 11.5 meters (37.7 ft) tall, the statue was massive.

Its construction was known as chryselephantine—composed of 1,140 kilograms (2,500 lb) of gold and brilliant white ivory for the goddess’ flesh. Additional glass, copper, silver, and jewels adorned the figure. Historians believe that the statue cost roughly 5,000 talents, which was more than the construction cost of the Parthenon where it was housed.

The statue would remain Athens’ greatest symbol for a millennium. In Late Antiquity, the Athena Parthenos vanished from the historical record. Some speculate that it was carried to Constantinople, where it was likely destroyed.

However, copies exist. The most notable is the Varvakeion statuette from the second century AD. Along with descriptions of the original by ancient historians Plutarch and Pausanias, experts are fairly certain what the original Athena Parthenos looked like.

2Venus In Furs


Photo credit: Siberian Times

In 1957, archaeologists discovered mysterious female figurines carved from mammoth tusk in Buret, Siberia. Dubbed “Venus in Furs,” these enigmatic ivory artifacts were not Venuses at all. Microscopic inspection revealed that some were men and others were children.

Experts now believe that the figurines represent real people from 20,000 years ago. Dressed for the Siberian winter, “Venus in Furs” figurines are the oldest representation of sewn clothing in the world. Analysis of the statues revealed various hairstyles, shoes, and accessories.

The “Venus in Furs” figurines are remarkably similar to figurines found in Malta, which is about 25 kilometers (15 mi) away. So far, 40 mammoth tusk figurines have been found at both sites in the vicinity of Lake Baikal.

Little more than half have undergone microscopic analysis. Further investigation may yield new and unexpected revelations. Many details like bracelets, hats, shoes, and bags have been dulled by time and are not visible to the naked eye.

1Lewis Chessmen


Photo credit: Ancient Origins

In 1831, 78 mysterious ivory chess pieces were discovered on Lewis beach in the Hebrides. Found with the buckle of the bag that once carried them, the Lewis chessmen are one of the most cherished Scottish archaeological treasures and the world’s most famous chess pieces. Amounting to 1.4 kilograms (3 lb) of ivory, the find contained nearly four full sets. Only one knight, four rooks, and 44 pawns are missing.

Aside from the simple octagonal pawns, each piece is filled with quirks. The queens look aghast or agonized. The stout kings are comically stoic. The rooks bite their shields in battle fury. The ungainly knights look absurd atop their small ponies. Bishops’ eyes bulge from moon faces.

Experts believe that the walrus tusk and whale tooth pieces were fashioned in Norway around the late 12th century. No one is certain who carved the Lewis chessmen or how they wound up in the Hebrides.

Dubbed the “Indiana Jones of folk music” by TimeOut.com, Geordie McElroy is the leading authority on occult music. He has hunted spell songs, incantations, and arcane melodies for the Smithsonian, Sony Music Group, and private collectors. He is also the singer of LA-based band Blackwater Jukebox.

How the Sun Looks When Your Spacecraft Suddenly Does a Back Flip

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 How the Sun Looks When Your Spacecraft Suddenly Does a Back Flip

7/15/16 3:27pm

Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng

No, the space-based Solar Dynamics Observatory isn’t on the fritz—it was actually instructed to make this flip while snapping pics of the Sun. It might sound like NASA took this thing out for a joy ride, but there’s a very good reason for the evasive maneuver.

Since 2010, the SDO has been dutifully studying the sun, sending back some of the most stunning pictures we’ve ever seen of this flaming orb. Twice each year, NASA has the SDO perform a complete 360, and it does this to the help the probe’s Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) instrument take precise measurements of the outer edge of the sun, known as the “solar limb,” as seen by the SDO.

Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng

Taking measurements with the HMI instrument is not without its challenges. The sun, with all its flares and stellar perturbations, is not a totally spherical object. This makes it tough for HMI to detect the sun’s outer perimeter when it’s perfectly still. The probe’s biannual spin allows each part of the camera to peer at the entire outer rim, allowing it to map the sun’s shape with greater accuracy.

The video shown above was taken in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths, a spectrum of light our eyes cannot detect. NASA colorized these wavelengths in gold, allowing us puny humans to view it. As the SDO performed its seven-hour maneuver, it took a photo once every 12 seconds. The resulting video makes it look the sun suddenly decided to perform a rather dramatic summersault.


George is a contributing editor at Gizmodo and io9.

Sun Spots Are More Terrifying Than Ever in New Close-Up Photos

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Sun Spots Are More Terrifying Than Ever in New Close-Up Photos

Wednesday 5:45pm

Image credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Here comes the Sun, in all its terrifying glory.

New up-close-and-personal shots from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile reveal a very large sunspot that looks remarkably like the Eye of Sauron. According to the European Southern Observatory (ESO), ALMA used radio interferometry to create the images, meaning it used antennas to receive radio waves from the Sun.

Sunspots are oases of (relative) coolness on the Sun’s visible surface, called the photosphere. While sunspots are often pretty large, this one captured by ALMA could fit roughly two Earths in it. It’s a monster.

Image credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

It’s also rather pretty, in a chaotic way.

Image credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

The ESO is particularly interested in using ALMA to study the layer above the sun’s photosphere, called the chromosphere. “The images reveal differences in temperature between parts of the Sun’s chromosphere,” the ESO said in apress release. “Understanding the heating and dynamics of the chromosphere are key areas of research that will be addressed in the future using ALMA.”

Sure, the Sun looks like the bottom of a Doritos bag. But it’s literally why we’re here, so show some respect.

[European Southern Observatory (ESO)]

Space Writer, Gizmodo

A Monster Solar Storm Could Cost the US $40 Billion Daily

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A Monster Solar Storm Could Cost the US $40 Billion Daily

Thursday 12:41pm

Image: NASA

Our planet is due to be hit with a powerful solar storm, an event that happens about once every hundred years. New research shows that losses from the ensuing blackouts could total $41.5 billion per day in the US alone, including nearly $7 billion lost in trade.

A study published in Space Weather shows that a sufficiently powerful solar storms is capable of throwing the American economy into utter turmoil by knocking out the transformers required to transmit electricity throughout the nation’s power grids. Depending on the severity of the solar blast, the daily economic cost would be in the tens of billions of dollars, with more than half of those losses coming from indirect costs beyond immediately stricken regions.

Solar storms are space weather events in which the sun, via coronal mass ejections (CMEs), spews any number of nasties our way, including x-rays, charged particles, and magnetized plasma. Our high-tech civilization is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of these storms, which have the potential to knock out everything from handheld gadgets to the entire satellite fleet.

Our sun churns out these CMEs on a fairly regular basis, but due to their highly directional nature, our planet is often spared an ensuing geomagnetic storm. One of the more well known solar storms is the “Carrington Event” of 1859, which zapped telegraph wires, caused widespread communication outages, and even ignited the Northern Lights as far south as Mexico and Cuba. In 1989, a geomagnetic storm triggered the electrical collapse of Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid and caused a widespread blackout that lasted for about nine hours. The probability of another Carrington-like event occurring within the next decade is estimated around 12 percent.

Experts are split on the possible severity of blackouts caused by a CME. Some say the ensuing outages would be relatively brief, lasting only a few hours or days owing to the resilience of the existing transmission system. Others warn that blackouts could last weeks—or even months—because damaged transmission networks would need to be replaced.

Depiction of solar activity changing the conditions in near-Earth space. (Image: NASA)

The new paper, authored by researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Risk Studies, along with several other institutions, is an attempt to quantify the daily economic losses wrought by a sufficiently powerful geomagnetic storm. Unlike previous research, this study considers the collateral affects on global trade as a result of the blackouts.

“We felt it was important to look at how extreme space weather may affect domestic US production in various economic sectors, including manufacturing, government and finance, as well as the potential economic loss in other nations owing to supply chain linkages,” noted study co-author Edward Oughton in a statement. “It was surprising that there had been a lack of transparent research into these direct and indirect costs, given the uncertainty surrounding the vulnerability of electrical infrastructure to solar incidents.”

Chart showing the blackout zones, daily customer disruptions, and daily lost in GDP, according to different scenarios. (Image: AGU)

For the study, the researchers considered several different geographical scenarios for blackouts caused by severe space weather. If only the upper US states are affected—home to eight percent of the US population—the economic loss per day could reach $6.2 billion, plus nearly another billion lost by the disrupted international supply chain. A more severe storm affecting 23 percent of the population could have a daily cost of $16.5 billion, plus an additional $2.2 billion lost in trade. Most severely, a scenario affecting 44 percent of the population could have a daily cost of $37.7 billion, plus $4.8 billion globally. In this most extreme scenario, it would take just 25 days to hit a trillion dollars in total losses. This horrendous loss of income would undoubtedly motivate the country into getting the power back up as quickly as possible.

A key finding was that the direct economic costs incurred from within a blackout zone represent only a fraction of the total cost. “On average in this study, only 49% of the total economic loss took place in the area affected by the storm, with a further 39% being lost indirectly in the U.S. outside of the blackout zone,” write the authors in the study. In total, 12 percent of the impact would be felt internationally.

Prolonged blackouts would hit the US manufacturing sector the hardest, followed by government, finance and insurance (is extreme space weather even covered by insurance companies?), and property. A crippled America affect China the most, followed by Canada and Mexico.

Importantly, this analysis on focused on the United States. The authors rightly caution:

[In] reality we could be susceptible to a multiday, multiregional extreme space weather event. As a consequence, there is a need to undertake further economic impact assessment including Europe and East Asia, with multiple blackout zones, in order to understand the potential global cost associated with this threat.

It’s impossible to know when the next big geomagnetic storm will hit the Earth, or which regions of our planet will be most affected, but there are things you can do to prepare. As any prepper worth his or her grain of salt will tell you, you should have an emergency supply kit ready to go (don’t forget to pack extra batteries for the flashlights!), and a plan for getting in touch with loved ones. To spare your gadgets from the electromagnetic onslaught, you can build your own faraday cage. And given the projected economic losses, you might want to hide a few dollars under your mattress.

[Space Weather]

George is a contributing editor at Gizmodo and io9.

Cassini Just Gave us A Rare Look at Saturn’s ‘Wavemaker’ Moon

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Cassini Just Gave us A Rare Look at Saturn’s ‘Wavemaker’ Moon

Yesterday 10:09am

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn’s tiny moon friend, Daphnis, is finally getting its close-up. In a stunning new image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, the elusive moon can be seen peeking out from within the Keeler gap of Saturn’s rings. According toNASA, the image was taken in visible (green) light by Cassini’s narrow-angle camera.

It’s the closest look at Daphnis we’ve ever had—and I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty cute.

Though Daphnis is small—just five miles in diameter—it’s mighty. As it orbits in the Keeler gap at the outer edge of Saturn’s A ring, the moon’s gravitycreates waves horizontally and vertically. That alone distinguishes the “wavemaker” moon from the 61 others orbiting the gas giant.

Cassini first observed Daphnis on May 1st, 2005. Since then, the spacecraft has been Saturn’s most popular (and only) visitor, snapping photos of geysers, flowing liquid methane and more. In November, Cassini began one of its final acts—the ring grazing phase—which is yielding up-close-and-personal shots of Saturn’s moons and rings.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. In September 2017, Cassini will end its 20-year mission by thrusting itself into Saturn’s atmosphere. At least we can expect more cool photos before then.


Space Writer, Gizmodo