A criminal trial has begun of an archaeologist accused of forging a trove of Roman artifacts that allegedly show a third-century depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion, Egyptian hieroglyphics and the early use of the Basque language. [Read more about the event.]
Israel and its neighbors are a rich archaeological ground. Hardly a month goes by without the excavation of some 2,000-year-old bit of human history. This past year was no exception. Archaeologists uncovered new mosaics, altars, churches and villages with ties to ancient Hebrew and Biblical texts. They also found new secrets in texts themselves. Read on for some of the most intriguing biblical discoveries of 2019.
An altar with a tale to tell
Image credit: Photo courtesy Adam Bean)
A stone altar discovered in Ataroth, Jordan, is etched with tantalizing clues about a rebellion that took place more than 2,800 years ago.
The rebellion is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, which tells of an uprising by the kingdom of Moab against the kingdom of Israel. According to the Biblical tale, Moab had to pay Israel tribute in the form of lambs and wool. Then, the king of Moab, Mesha, grew frustrated with this arrangement and raised an army against the larger power. A stele, or inscribed stone, discovered in 1868 in Dhiban, Jordan, records that Mesha successfully conquered the Israeli-controlled city of Ataroth.
The altar, first excavated in 2010, was analyzed and its contents reported in the journal Levant this year. Its inscription — partly written in the Moab script — confirms that Mesha and his army did conquer Ataroth, mentioning the loot of bronze from the defeated city. Another portion of the inscription describes 4,000 foreign men “scattered and abandoned in great number” and mentions a “desolate” city.
Church of the Apostles?
(Image credit: Zachary Wong)
A Byzantine-era church discovered in northern Israel may be a long-lost place of worship built above the home of the apostles Peter and Andrew.
The structure was discovered this year near the Sea of Galilee. It dates back about 1,400 years and still holds the remains of intricate mosaics and carved marble. Its discoverers believe that the church may be on the site of the Jewish fishing village of Bethsaida, the town where Jesus Christ is said in the Bible to have fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. If so, the church could be the legendary “Church of the Apostles,” which was built to honor two of Jesus’ original disciples, one of whom (Peter) would become the first leader of the early Christian church.
The claim, however, is disputed by other researchers, who argue that they’ve been excavating Bethsaida at a nearby site called et-Tell. Stay tuned for further excavations that might settle the debate.
Origin of the Philistines
One of the most intriguing Biblical discoveries of 2019 occurred not in desert sands, but in the DNA of ancient individuals buried at a Philistine archaeological site.
The DNA analysis suggests that the Philistines descended from people who migrated to the Levant (an area encompassing the eastern Mediterranean) from Greece, Sardinia or the Iberian Peninsula some 3,000 years ago.
The Philistines are a people repeatedly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and also in the writings of ancient Egyptians. These texts led archaeologists to the city of Ashkelon, in what is today Israel, where they found artifacts reminiscent of those seen in Bronze Age Greece. The new genetic analysis cements those ties,
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)
Remember that stele from Dhiban, Jordan, that told the tale of King Mesha defeating the Israelites at Ataroth? Well, that same stele was at the center of another Biblical controversy in 2019: Does its inscription confirm the existence of a Moab king named Balak?
Balak gets a mention in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Numbers, but there hasn’t been any non-Biblical confirmation that he existed. This year, researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel tried to decipher some of the hard-to-read portions of the Mesha stele (which is broken and held at the Louvre in France) using a rubbing of the stele that was created before it was broken. They concluded that one fragment contained a B, which may stand for Balak … or for something completely different.
“We can read one letter, b, which they’re guessing may be filled out as Balak, even though the following letters are missing,” Ronald Hendel, a professor of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science. “It’s just a guess. It could be Bilbo or Barack, for all we know.”
A historic synagogue near Kraków, Poland, was mostly destroyed by Nazis during World War II, but a secret hoard of precious ritual objects that was hidden there remained undetected and undisturbed — until now.
Recently, restorers at the Old Synagogue, an 18th-century temple in Wieliczka, Poland, unexpectedly found a cache of Jewish artifacts and other silver items in a large, wooden crate that had been concealed under the floor. They uncovered the crate while digging a hole to test the soundness of the building’s foundation, the Jewish Chronicle reported.
The box — which measures about 3 feet high, 2 feet wide and 4 feet long (80 by 70 by 130 centimeters) — was crammed with around 350 objects, including a silver goblet with flowery designs, bronze vases inscribed with Hebrew writing and silver-plated candlesticks, according to the Chronicle.
Also among the artifacts were two menorahs (nine-armed candelabras that are lit during Hanukkah), two rimonim (decorative ornaments that crown a Torah scroll) and an ornate silver plaque that hung at the front of a Torah, Polish news outlet Gazeta Wyborcza reported. On the plaque were raised images of lions on pillars holding a crown over the Ten Commandments, and an attached silver chain led to a yad, a ritual pointer used for reading the Torah.
Time had rotted the wooden frame of the hidden box, but the objects inside, packed tightly together, were in good condition. Most of them are thought to date to the 19th century and would have been used in religious rituals, though there were some unusual exceptions: 18 badges from military caps of infantry officers in the Austro-Hungarian army. The badges bore the initials of Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph, who ruled from 1848 until 1916, according to Gazeta Wyborcza.
One possible explanation is that military caps were used to line the box and protect the ritual objects at the time when they were packed up and buried. But the fabric later rotted away, leaving only the badges behind, Michał Wojenka, a researcher with the Jagiellonian University Institute of Archaeology and leader of the investigation of the artifacts, told Gazeta Wyborcza.
When the box was hidden and who concealed it remain unknown. However, further investigation of the religious artifacts could reveal clues about individuals in Wieliczka’s Jewish community, as ritual objects are often inscribed with the names of the people who donated them, according to the Chronicle.
Approximately 1,135 Jews lived in Wieliczka according to records from the 1920s, but most of the community was deported and murdered during World War II, and few who survived returned to the city after the war ended, the Chronicle reported.
Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week
By LiveScience Staff 4 hours ago
Each week we find the most interesting and informative articles we can and along the way we uncover amazing and cool images. Here you’ll discover incredible photos and the stories behind them.
A hardy grey feline in Russia got a new lease on life after suffering from frostbite. The female cat, named “Dymka” (Russian for “mist”) was found in 2018, buried in the Siberian snow, with four frostbitten paws, ears and a tail.
The frostbite was so extensive that veterinarians had to amputate those limbs. But researchers at the Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) in Tomsk, Russia created specially-designed titanium paws for the cat, then fused them to her leg bones. The cyborg-like appendages combine titanium rods with flexible black “feet” with textured, grippy bottoms. The new limbs were implanted in July 2019. Just 7 months-later, scientists posted adorable video of Dymka stretching, playing and strolling.
The world’s largest telescope just took the highest resolution picture ever of our home star, and it looks just like caramel corn. The incredibly detailed image revealed details about the sun’s roiling magnetic field that previously only showed up as tiny specks. This gorgeous image of the sun was captured with the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), perched high on the Haleakala mountain on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
The new telescope isn’t even fully completed yet, but when it comes online, it will delve into one of the sun’s biggest mysteries: Why the sun’s outer layer, called the corona, is hotter than its visible surface. Researchers unveiled the image during a news conference on Friday, Jan. 24.
Asking what’s the world’s tiniest dinosaur is a bit of a trick question. (Hint: birds are actually dinosaurs). But the tiniest known extinct dino was the wee feathered creature known as Ambopteryx longibrachium. This pint-sized specimen, found in northeastern China, measured a mere 13 inches (32 centimeters) long and weighed just 11 ounces (306 grams).
The Jurassic era creature sported thin, membranous wings like a bat. And it may not have prowled Jurassic skies alone; another bat-winged dino, Yi qi, also known the “dark knight” of the Jurassic, was also discovered in China. Yi qi had a wingspan of 23 inches (60 cm) and a weight of 13 ounces (380 grams).
When skygazers in Finland trained their eyes on the heavens in 2018, they never expected to discover an entirely new phenomenon. But that’s exactly what happened when they noticed eerie, undulating waves of glowing green light.
The enthusiasts were part of a Facebook group dedicated to cataloguing and discussing aurora, and contacted an expert about the luminous light shows — Minna Palmroth, a professor of computational space physics at the University of Helsinki. When Palmroth saw images of these mesmerizing green dunes, she soon realized they had identified an entirely new type of aurora.
These gorgeous light shows, known as “the dunes,” occur when disturbances in the upper atmosphere, known as gravity waves, interact with aurora. Gravity waves move the molecules in the atmosphere around, creating alternating folds of oxygen-rich and oxygen-depleted sky. As charged particles from the sun slam into the atmosphere, the areas with more oxygen glow green, creating the alternating stripes characteristic of the dunes.
Paleontologists in Utah uncovered the missing skull of a towering, meat-eating dinosaur.
The skeleton of this massive carnivore was first found in a hunk of rock so huge they needed explosives to excavate it and a helicopter to transport it. But when first discovered, the skeleton was missing its head. Scientists only found the skull later, using a radiation detector.
Dubbed Allosaurus jimmadseni, after paleontologist James Madsen Jr. (1932-2009), the primeval monster had horns over its eyes and 80 razor-sharp teeth.The fearsome predator grew up to 29 feet long (9 meters) and weighed 4,000 lbs. (1.8 metric tons). A. jimmadseni is the oldest allosaurs known to paleontologists, predating the other North American species by 5 million years. Researchers described the allosaurus in a Jan. 24 study in the journal PeerJ.
A torpedo-like robot named Icefin has ventured to Antarctica’s most dangerous glacier, and found something extremely troubling. The Thwaites glacier, nicknamed the Doomsday glacier because it is melting so fast, is bathing its underbelly in a sea of surprisingly warm water.
The water at the sea’s boundary is more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) warmer than freezing, according to news reports. That’s even worse than climate scientists expected, and spells trouble because Thwaites glacier not only accounts for a huge amount of sea level rise, but its floating ice sheets also keep the rest of the glacier from flowing into the sea.
NASA’s best infrared eye in the sky, the Spitzer Space Telescope, was officially turned off on Thursday (Jan. 30) It winked on in 2003 and was meant to run for only 2.5 years, but ran more than a decade longer than that. During its 16-year run, the iconic telescope captured stunning images of the cosmos, discovered never-before seen rings around Saturn, and spotted exoplanets circling around the cool, red-dwarf star known as Trappist-1.
One of its most gorgeous snapshots is this ethereal image of the Orion nebula, taken in 2006.
This massive star factory, located 1500 light-years away from Earth, shows young hot stars glowing in red, along with still forming stars in a reddish hue.
Puffs of smoke
A camera onboard the Landsat-8 satellite captured this gorgeous image of ash and steam billowing out of Japan’s Nishinoshima volcanic island, about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of Tokyo, NASA’s Earth Observatory reported. During this recent activity, seen on Jan. 26, lava oozed into the ocean and sent steam plumes into the air near the coastline. Emissions from the volcanic island continued from Jan. 15 to Jan. 21. The tiny island is actually the submerged caldera (a volcanic depression) of the northern Volcano Islands of Japan. Calderas form as a result of giant eruptions, when loads of magma from below come to the surface and the land once held up by that mass sinks under its own weight.
Neon green spider
Scientists recently discovered a brilliant-green spider that uses math to weave its web. Because of the stunningly precise geometry of its webs, the team decided to name it after the “Lady Gaga of mathematics.”
The newly discovered spider, Araniella villanii, got its moniker from French mathematician Cédric Villani. Villani, who won math’s prestigious Fields medal in 2010, is known not only for his genius, but also for his sense of style.
The researchers who discovered the neon green spider decided to honor Villani in part because he always wears a spider pin on his lapel. The bright new spider was described Jan. 22 in the journal ZooKeys.
The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation just released a report on the health of coral reefs along the Kingdom of Tonga, a Polynesian archipelago made up of some 170 South Pacific islands. Many of the islands are uninhabited and surrounded by coral reefs. The extensive survey found that those reefs are “moderately healthy,” but the reef fish and the communities of invertebrates are in need of attention.
The scientists found that although the fish species appeared diverse, most were small, with very few large, commercially valuable fish, the researchers said in a statement. The teams also made recommendations, including the education of local fishermen about the importance of specially managed areas, as well as better documentation of fish catch and the fostering of sustainable fishing practices.
Researchers reporting in the journal Science on Jan. 24 have created essentially mini brains, more specifically 3D models showing the development of the human forebrain (the front part of the brain that includes the thalamus and hypothalamus). They created these cool-looking models to study a process involving chromatin, which is the stuff our chromosomes are made of. They also looked at how genes were expressed in the forebrain. Their results mapped out the genetic risk of neurodevelopmental disease in certain cells during development.
[Read more about the research in the journal Science.]
Archaeologists used to unwrap Egyptian mummies with much fanfare in front of crowds, a stunt that destroyed cultural history and disrespected the deceased individual. Now, researchers can use computed tomography (CT) scans to noninvasively learn about mummies without literally unwrapping them.
Here is a look at the science behind “Mummies,” an exhibit about Peruvian and Egyptian mummies that runs from March 20 until Jan. 7, 2018, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and then returns to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
A special exhibit offering a detailed viewing of rarely seen Egyptian and pre-Columbian Peruvian mummies called “Mummies” is open at the American Museum of Natural History. One mummy included is known as the “Gilded Lady,” a well-preserved mummy from Roman-era Egypt.
Egyptians used mummification to honor the dead and guarantee the deceased’s spirits and bodies were reunited in the afterlife.
Mummification was used in many more areas than only Egypt. The exhibition presents preserved remains that come from South American cultures and were created at least 1,500 years prior to those from Egypt.
Egyptians employed a complicated process in their mummification practices, including detailed embalming rituals, beautifully decorated sarcophagi and magnificent burial tombs meant to discourage grave robbers.
Technology peers into history
Present-day technology allows archaeologists to study ancient mummies without destroying the specimens. A computed tomography (CT) scanner snaps hundreds of X-ray images, noninvasively providing views of history.
Using 3D printing, the “Mummies” exhibition allows visitors to physically explore different aspects of these ancient cultural practices. Figurine offerings from the Egyptian and Peruvian mummies are available for examination.
Discovering details about each layer of a mummy from either Egyptian or Peruvian culture is made simple and educational via interactive digital touch screens.
In Peru, people in the Chancay culture from a millennium ago would have topped the colorfully wrapped bodies of their mummified kin with uniquely decorated “false heads.”
Peruvian pit burial
The Chancay culture practiced pit burials. In this exhibit, a life-size example shows how the entire extended family would have been buried together. Living family members could access the site to provide food and drink for the deceased loved ones. This access also meant mummies could be involved in festivals and special events with the living.
Mummies in the Chancay culture found in present-day Peru were often buried with pots filled with “chicha,” or beer made from corn. The Chancay would often refill food and drink offerings for their loved ones.
Detailed ceramic pots and jars are often found with mummies. The Paracas culture offered objects like this double-spouted jar that bears the face of a jaguar.
Egypt and parts of Peru may have similarly dry desert climates, but mummification in the regions is notably different. The differences are likely connected to the beliefs about the practice. “Mummies” explores the similarities as well as the differences between the cultures, societies, environments and burial traditions.
These limestone jars carved with representations of the four sons of Horus were designed to hold the organs of the dead. The symbols of the four deities were carved upon removable lids and were placed to protect the organs and serve the dead through the afterlife.
In touch with history
Another touch-screen station allows guests to handle a canopic jar model. This specimen would have held a mummy’s stomach.
Millions of animal mummies have been discovered in cemeteries. Archaeologists explain that these were not pets, but rather offerings to Egyptian gods who were associated with specific animals.
Items buried with mummies in Egyptian tombs provided for the dead in the afterlife. Wealthy Egyptians were buried with servants represented by figurines called shawabti. Preferably a year’s worth of servants along with 36 overseers, one for each Egyptian week, were supplied as well.
Likely, this gazelle was raised at a temple specifically to be mummified for a burial offering.
A baby crocodile was intricately wrapped and buried as an offering in an Egyptian tomb.
Remembering their past
At the “Mummies” exhibition, guests can tour a life-size burial from 26th-Dynasty Egypt. This represents a time when Egyptians explored their own past, reviving early traditions of art, architecture and tomb design.
Coffins from the 26th Dynasty era tended to have much more decoration, hearkening back to previous times. The hieroglyphs on this coffin were inspired by “The Book of the Dead,” a series of texts believed to help a person traverse the underworld and find the afterlife.
Made to order
Using hieroglyphics, Egyptian coffins were often personalized to the deceased. The individual’s name as well as the gods assisting in that person’s journey were engraved on the coffin.
A coffin from Egypt’s 25th or 26th Dynasty has much detail. The deceased man is shown being assisted by Thoth, the ibis-headed god; Osiris, the god of the underworld; and Anubis, the jackal-headed god.
Wealthy Egyptians imported materials for their coffins, but less fortunate citizens used scarce, native trees to create their coffins. This painted coffin bears the marks of time with its red paint faded and worn, exposing the simple construction and wood grain.
After hundreds of years as a province to the Roman Empire, Egypt’s culture changed. This coffin bears no hieroglyphics, and the hair and clothing look less Egyptian and more Roman.
Sneak a peek
After a CT scan of the Gilded Lady is conducted, details emerge: She was in her 40s and had curly hair as well as a slight overbite. She may have suffered and died from tuberculosis, an often-deadly but common sickness at the time.
Brought to life
Using the technologies available, experts created this sculpture to show what the Gilded Lady may have looked like in real life.
Before his time
“Mummies” provides an inside look at this extremely decorative coffin. A young boy of roughly 14 years who died in the Ptolemaic era of ancient Egypt was found inside.
The coffin for the young man features detailed paintings of the sky goddess Nut and the sons of Horus.
A sad story
CT scans of the intricately decorated coffin disclose a young mummified boy placed in an oversized coffin.
Creating a face
Using the CT scans and a 3D-printed skull model, French artist Elisabeth Daynès created a sculpture of the boy mummy.
Back to life
The 14-year-old boy who was mummified now has a face after his death centuries ago in Egypt.
In preparation for the “Mummies” exhibit opening, Mary Cochran, JP Brown, and Kris Kleckler from The Field Museum, Chicago, put the Gilded Lady in place.
Inside the American Museum of Natural History, JP Brown, associate conservator at the Field Museum, Chicago, cleans and details the “Gilded Lady” in preparation for display at the “Mummies” exhibition.
A massive burial ground holding the remains of several high priests of ancient Egypt, along with their assistants, has been discovered in the northern part of the site of Tuna el-Gebel, Egypt’s antiquities ministry announced Thursday (Jan. 30).
So far, the archaeologists have unearthed 20 stone sarcophagi (coffins) made of a “very good quality of limestone” in the burial ground, which lies about 170 miles (270 kilometers) south of Cairo, said Mostafa Waziri, the general secretary of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, during a news briefing.
In addition, the burials together contained some 700 amulets, some made of gold or precious stones, along with more than 10,000 shabti figurines made of faience (a glazed ceramic), Waziri said. The ancient Egyptians believed that shabti figurines served the deceased in the afterlife.
The archaeologists said they aren’t sure how many mummies are buried at the site. But given that many of the stone sarcophagi have yet to be opened, it is likely that many will be discovered, the researchers said.
“Excavations are still running. We expect to find more and more and more [discoveries] in this area,” Waziri said.
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Egypt’s Late Period
The high priests buried at the site date to what archaeologists call the “Late Period,” a time when ancient Egypt was often struggling to achieve independence from foreigners, including the Nubians, Assyrians and Persians. The earliest Late Period burials found to date are from the 26th dynasty (688 B.C. to 525 B.C.), a time when Egypt had regained its independence after the Nubians had ruled it.
The Late Period ended in 332 B.C., when the armies of Alexander the Great entered Egypt. After the death of Alexander, in 323 B.C., the descendants of Ptolemy I (one of Alexander the Great’s generals) ruled Egypt for almost three centuries, until the Romans took over the country in 30 B.C.
Though foreign powers often controlled the country, Egyptian religion continued to thrive. The various foreign rulers, including Roman emperors, tended to respect Egypt’s ancient religious traditions.
The bodies of ancient princes and princesses may have rested in two ancient tombs lined with gold that were recently found at the site of Pylos in Greece, archaeologists announced Dec. 17.
Inside the 3,500-year-old tombs, the archaeologists found intricately carved jewelry and human remains, though they can only speculate as to whether the bodies belong to royalty.
The archaeologists also can’t say how many bodies are buried in the tombs, or anything about their sex and ages, since their analysis of the human bones is ongoing, they noted.
Related: Photos: Mysterious Ancient Tomb in Amphipolis.
The tombs were found near what modern-day archaeologists call the “Palace of Nestor,” which was discovered in 1939, and near another tomb, found in 2015, that also contained elaborate jewelry.
When the archaeologists found the tombs, they were sealed beneath 40,000 stones about the size of watermelons. That covering was meant to protect the tombs from grave robbers — a danger in both ancient and modern times.
At the time the tombs were built, what is now called the Mycenaean civilization flourished in mainland Greece and on Crete. The Mycenaean people built massive palaces and developed a writing system that archaeologists call Linear B. This civilization flourished until around 3,200 years ago, when it collapsed.
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When the researchers excavated the tombs, they found a heap of gold leaf that had fallen from the walls of the tombs.
Golden walls were just some of the bling found in the burials. For instance, a gold ring found in one of the tombs depicts two bulls surrounded by sheaves of barley. “It’s an interesting scene of animal husbandry — cattle mixed with grain production. It’s the foundation of agriculture,” Jack Davis, a classics professor and archaeologist at the University of Cincinnati, who is co-director of the team that discovered the tombs, said in a statement.
Another intricate piece of jewelry in the tombs, an agate sealstone, depicts two lion-like creatures called “genii,” which are shown standing upright on clawed feet. The lions are carrying an incense burner and serving vase that they are giving as tribute to an altar decorated with a sapling tree and two horns, Sharon Stocker, a senior research associate at the University of Cincinnati, who is co-director of the team, said in the statement. Above the image of the lions is a 16-point star.
A gold pendant found in one of the tombs seems to have played some sort of protective role, as it depicts the Egyptian goddess Hathor. “Its discovery is particularly interesting in light of the role she played in Egypt as protectress of the dead,” Davis said in the statement.
Many more artifacts made of gold, carnelian, amethyst and amber were discovered in the tombs and are in the process of being analyzed. The artifacts shed light on trade between the Mycenaeans and other regions, as archaeologists found that the amber originated in the Baltic, while the amethyst hailed from Egypt.
The team plans to continue work in the area for at least another two years.