400 Mysterious Ancient Stone Structures Discovered in Saudi Arabia

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400 Mysterious Ancient Stone Structures Discovered in Saudi Arabia

 400 Mysterious Ancient Stone Structures Discovered in Saudi Arabia
Mysterious stone structures that archaeologists call “gates,” due to their loose resemblance to old-fashioned field gates, have been discovered in Saudi Arabia.

Credit: Google Earth

Almost 400 mysterious stone structures dating back thousands of years have been discovered in Saudi Arabia, with a few of these wall-like formations draping across old lava domes, archaeologists report.

Many of the stone walls, which archaeologists call “gates” because they resemble field gates from above, were found in clusters in a region in west-central Saudi Arabia called Harrat Khaybar.

The gates come in a number of different shapes and sizes. Some of the gates, which archaeologists call “I-type” gates, contain one wall with heaps of rock at the ends of the wall. Two I-type gates, built side by side, can be seen in this picture along with other gates.

The archaeologists involved in the research aren’t sure of the purpose, or even the exact age, of these gates. [See Images of the Mysterious Stone Structures in Saudi Arabia]

Discovered mainly through satellite images, a few of the gates are actually located on the side of a volcanic dome that once spewed basaltic lava, researchers found.

The gates “are stone-built, the walls roughly made and low,” David Kennedy, a professor at the University of Western Australia, wrote in a paper set to be published in the November issue of the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy. The gates “appear to be the oldest man-made structures in the landscape,” Kennedy noted, adding that “no obvious explanation of their purpose can be discerned.”

Another cluster of gates. The longest gate in this picture is about 950 feet. Why the gates cluster together is unknown. The gates tend to be located in lavafields that are inhospitable for human life. However thousands of years ago these areas would have been wetter and contained more life.

The smallest of the gates extends about 43 feet (13 meters), while the longest is 1,699 feet (518 m) long, or longer than an NFL football field. Many have multiple stone walls that, in some instances, form a rectangular design; some of the others, called “I” type gates, have only one stone wall with heaps of stone at each end.

“Gates are found almost exclusively in bleak, inhospitable lava fields with scant water or vegetation, places seemingly amongst the most unwelcoming to our species,” Kennedy wrote. Thousands of years ago, he noted, the landscape was more hospitable to human life. Other types of stone structures — such as “kites,” which were used to hunt animals, and “wheels,” named for their shape — have also been discovered in these lava fields.

Other types of stone structures have also been found in Saudi Arabia. Often these stone structures are built on top of or even inside gates. This suggests that the gates are older than the other stone structures. This picture shows a gate that has a triangle stone structure with heaps of stone that lead to a bullseye shaped stone structure (possibly a tomb).

The kites, wheels and other types of stone structures were typically found to be built on top of these gate-like walls, suggesting that the gates predate these stone structures, Kennedy said. The remains of lava flows are also sometimes found on top of the gates, indicating that the gates are also older than some of the flows, Kennedy said.

Most of the gates were discovered through satellite surveys, and no archaeological fieldwork has been conducted on them. However, in the 1980s, before the gates were discovered, volcanologists Vic Camp and John Roobolmapped an area of the Harrat Khaybar that included a lava dome festooned with gates and other stone structures. This lava dome is located near a taller lava dome, called Jabal Abyad,which means “white mountain” in Arabic.

This picture of the lava dome that has gates on it was taken in the 1980s by Vic Camp. The taller lava dome behind it is called “Jabal Abyad” a name which means “white mountain” in Arabic. The lava domes are no longer active although in the past basalt lava poured from them.

The lava domes are no longer active, Camp said, adding that in the past, basaltic lava covered some of the stone structures, including the gates.

“We see several areas where the younger lavas are devoid of such [stone] structures, although surrounded by several [stone structures],” Camp told Live Science. One of the stone structures is partially covered in hardened lava, photographs show. Camp estimates that some of the gates around the lava dome were built around 7,000 years ago.

Archaeological fieldwork is necessary to determine what the gates are and when, exactly, they date to, Kennedy said.

Travis Hearn, a research assistant with the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East, contributed to the journal article; and Kennedy also worked with members of the Desert Team, a group of Saudi Arabian citizens who were the first to map some of the stone structures and visit some of the sites.

Originally published on Live Science.


Top 10 Artifacts And Places Frozen In Time

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Top 10 Artifacts And Places Frozen In Time



In archaeology, an untouched pot shard is more valuable than a gold statue moved miles from its original stand. To understand the great puzzle of our past, context is crucial.

How and where an unmoved object is found can retrieve authentic history—from previously unknown rituals and chapters of known history to rare information about vanished cultures. Lost cities, art, and even structures known only from descriptions are being seen for the first time.

10The Unused Roman Oven

Photo credit: Live Science

In 2014, developers eyed a patch near Falkirk, a town in Scotland. Per law, before the shopping center’s first brick was allowed to land, archaeologists had to sweep the site. The area previously delivered Roman fortifications which heightened the chance of a hidden ancient presence.

After some shoveling and dusting, archaeologists uncovered a familiar structure with a twist. Two sunken chambers formed a trademark 8-shape that connected them. Appearing undisturbed from the day it was built was a 2,000-year-old Roman oven.

Normally, Roman ovens yield the ash and charcoal of ancient cooking. This one was squeaky clean, with no such layers or scorching. In fact, archaeologists suspected that it had never even been used.

Due to the missing morsels of ancient meals, more evidence is needed to confirm its purpose. However, the shape and site suggest that it was a military bread oven. Similar and confirmed bakers’ tools have popped up in Roman camps throughout Scotland.

At the Falkirk excavation, items surfaced that support an army settlement, including hobnails from soldiers’ sandals and a bolt head.

9The Antarctica Fruitcake

Photo credit: Smithsonian Magazine

The first buildings in Antarctica were raised at Cape Adare in 1899. Recently, over a thousand artifacts were removed for study and preservation. Included in the haul was a surprise: a 106-year-old fruitcake still wrapped in its original wax paper.

Unlike the rusted cake tin in which it was found, the fruity snack looked ready to serve. A clue to the identity of the person who could not resist bringing fruitcake along to the edge of the world was the bakery’s name on the tin. Huntley & Palmers always provided baked provisions for Robert Falcon Scott, a British explorer.

It was likely left behind when Scott departed from the cabin in a bid to reach the South Pole first. The famous Terra Nova expedition (1910–1913) turned out to be fatal.

His team eventually reached their destination, but Norwegian explorers had beaten them to it a month earlier. Scott’s entire team perished on the return trip when they froze to death. The well-preserved cake, with only a whiff of rancid butter, will be treated with stabilizing chemicals and returned with other artifacts to be displayed in the Cape Adare cabin.

8Unknown River Tools

Photo credit: Live Science

Amateur archaeologists investigated an extinct river in Wales and found something that made the experts sit up and take notice. While working at the Bronze Age site in 2017, the amateurs discovered stone tools on the 4,500-year-old streambed.

Numbering about 20, the limestone utensils were triangular and showed signs of heavy use. They ranged from 5 centimeters (2 in) to 22 centimeters (8.6 in) long.

Two things made them uniquely fascinating. They appeared to have been arranged deliberately under the water when the stream still existed. Also, after archaeologists picked each other’s brains, they realized that nobody had ever seen such artifacts before.

The tools were roughly shaped into points, which were scarred and pitted from a mystery purpose. One guess considers the hand tools as engraving stones. During the Bronze Age, rocky surfaces were abundantly adorned with carvings and symbols.

Another half-understood feature stands next to the river near the triangles, although the two have no clear connection other than belonging to the same community. Discovered years earlier, the mound once turned out huge amounts of scalding water. Freshly fired stones heated the water in a pit to likely use for domestic needs.

7El Castillo’s Queens

Photo credit: businessinsider.com

Long before the Inca, the Wari people ruled the Andes. They were widespread, but archaeologists struggle to document their culture. Most sites have been irreparably damaged by looters.

In 2013, aerial images of a Wari location showed artificial angles. Archaeologists then visited El Castillo de Huarmey, a pyramid site near the coast in Huarmey.

Incredibly, the lines led to a massive mausoleum below. Not only did looters miss it after repeated raids, but the deceased appeared untouched. Sitting in rows were 63 individuals.

Three women received better burials than the rest. Within the 1,200-year-old hall, each had her own chamber filled with precious metals and artifacts. Identified as Wari queens, it became the culture’s first royal tomb to be discovered intact.

There were weaving instruments and jewelry made of gold. Brightly decorated ceramics and alabaster vessels showed skill in pottery and crafting. Silver jewelry and bronze axes were also present.

However, not everything was cultured behavior by today’s standards. Some women in the tomb are suspected to be sacrifice victims. Insect pupae in the royal remains hinted at a gruesome ritual. The corpses were occasionally removed by Wari citizens and left outside for a while.

6Timeless Ships

Photo credit: National Geographic

Usually, sunken ships retain a few recognizable characteristics while the rest rot and rust away. The Black Sea is different. Eastern Europe’s major rivers feed a permanent layer of freshwater on top of the heavier seawater. This blocks oxygen from reaching the salty layer. Without oxygen, decay is impossible in the icy depths and doomed ships keep their looks.

When over 40 wrecks were recently found off the coast of Bulgaria, it was like finding a collection of bottled ships from different eras. Together, they cover a thousand years of human history (9th–19th centuries).

Some are so well-preserved that the decks contain coils of rope, carvings, and wooden structures. One medieval ship displayed a captain’s quarterdeck—the first to be physically seen in the archaeological record. It was probably Venetian and the most intact of its type ever discovered.

As a sought-after trade route for many nations, researchers estimate that the time-frozen fleet at the bottom of the Black Sea could number in the thousands.Called “one of archaeology’s greatest coups,” more surprises could wait below deck. In 2002, a Black Sea wreck yielded 2,400-year-old dried fish steaks inside a pot.

5Burghead Fort

Photo credit: Live Science

The threadbare history of the Wari looks plentiful against Scotland’s Picts. Most accounts of them are secondhand descriptions. The Romans called the tattooed tribes “Picts” (“painted people”), but their true name is lost.

A Pictish fort, referred to as Burghead Fort, disappeared beneath the town of Lossiemouth in the 1800s. Archaeologists checked in 2015 to see if anything remained. Excavations busted the belief that Lossiemouth wiped out the older settlement.

The diggers found evidence that Burghead was a stronghold of their Northern territory. Inside were major ruins, including a longhouse. The news was exciting because many already thought the fort was an important royal seat. The ruins could reveal the nature of the community, a crucial factor in understanding how power was distributed at Pictish sites.

Inside the longhouse was a coin, minted during the life of English king Alfred the Great. This dated the fort to the ninth century when the Picts had to deal with Vikings and settlers. The coin was Anglo-Saxon, proving that the Picts traded long-distance. But oddly, it was pierced. One theory suggests that perhaps the Picts wore their money on necklaces.

4House Of The Tesserae

On January 18, 749, artisans were busy installing floor mosaics when anearthquake struck the city of Jerash. The disaster toppled the house and sealed everything as it was that day, including one of the workers.

Situated in modern-day Jordan, ancient Jerash is well studied except for the northwest quarter. That was where the “House Of The Tesserae” protected its timeless interior until its discovery in 2017.

Named for the small tiles that wove together the mosaics, the house provided rare insights and answers. It froze the moment before the earthquake struck. The whole house had been emptied beforehand for the extensive redecorating.

Walls were being prepared for painting. The top floor’s mosaic was already completed with geometric designs. The ground level was in progress and gave elusive clues about a certain issue.

For a long time, nobody knew how mosaics during the eighth century’s early Islamic period were made. Were the tiny limestone tesserae cut on-site, or were they created elsewhere? A metal hammer near containers of freshly carved tiles suggests that they were chiseled at the house.

3The Lost Civilization

Photo credit: National Geographic

Adventurers have hunted the mythical White City of Honduras for decades. In 1940, explorer Theodore Morde came back from the Mosquitia rain forest, claiming to have found it. Fearing looters, Morde never disclosed the location.

In 2012, an aerial scan detected man-made features under Mosquitia’s forest canopy. For more than a mile were signs of buildings and water canals. Three years later, a ground expedition braved unexplored swaths ofjungle to see what was going on down there.

What they found was dramatic.

The team walked into an untouched lost city with plazas, earthworks, mounds, and an earthen pyramid. Near the pyramid were 52 half-buried statues, among them a snarling jaguar head, ceremonial stone seats, and vessels.

The carvings were possibly part of the city’s last rites, ritually offered before the place was abandoned. Crafted between AD 1000–1400, their undisturbed positions, along with the rest of the pristine city, offer a unique opportunity to view a civilization so unknown that it has yet to be given a name.

Whether this is the legendary White City remains to be seen. To protect valuable clues from destructive looters, the location remains secret.

2The Soldiers Before Hadian’s Wall

Photo credit: The Guardian

The 117-kilometer (73 mi) wall in Northumberland was raised in AD 122 to defend Rome’s frontier in Britain. In 2017, a floor of the fourth-century fort of Vindolanda was lifted with little expectation.

Instead, they encountered the living quarters of some of the first soldierstasked with keeping the locals under control. The barracks were built in AD 105, long before Hadrian’s barrier, and belonged to a cavalry unit of about 1,000 men.

Cavalry weapons, including exceptionally rare swords, and horse tack littered the floors. Toys and personal possessions showed that the soldiers’ families also lived there.

Around 30 years after the camp was apparently abandoned in a panic, the Romans returned. They poured concrete for new barracks and sealed thousands of artifacts in an oxygen-free state. Things that usually rot remained pristine—wooden tablets, leather, and cloth. Riding equipment shone, and strap junctions retained their alloy links, a highly scarce occurrence.

The collection allows a priceless study of those who lived in the hot zone when the Britons rebelled, possibly the reason why the camp fled. It is also valued for adding a unique chapter to the prelude to Hadrian’s Wall.

1Tall el-Hammam

The biblical city of Sodom, destroyed by God for the debauchery of its residents, was described as the biggest settlement in Jordan’s eastern side during the Bronze Age. In 2005, archaeologists chose the relatively unstudied Tall el-Hammam as a candidate.

The monumental mound was at the right place and was the biggest Bronze Age site even outside of the required region. A decade of excavations revealed the remarkable builders who had managed Tall el-Hammam as a powerhouse while other cities in the area folded.

Archaeologists describe the scope of the city-state as “monstrous.” Ancient construction continued from 3500–1540 BC, adding formidable defensive walls and ramparts, towers, plazas, buildings, monuments, and a palace. The rampart system alone consists of millions of bricks and forms a fortified superstructure over 30 meters (100 ft) tall.

Like many ancient cities, Tall el-Hammam came to a sudden and mysterious end. That the city-state previously survived factors that had killed off the surrounding great cities makes it even stranger.

After 700 years as a veritable ghost town, a new population grew during the Iron Age II period (1000–332 BC). More building was done, some of it great, but nothing ever equaled the glory of the Bronze Age again.

Satan’s Enigma: ‘Possessed’ Nun’s 17th-Century Letter Deciphered

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Satan’s Enigma: ‘Possessed’ Nun’s 17th-Century Letter Deciphered

Satan's Enigma: 'Possessed' Nun's 17th-Century Letter Deciphered

A letter supposedly written by a nun possessed by Satan has been deciphered.

Credit: Daniele Abate

A mysterious letter written more than 300 years ago by a Sicilian nun who claimed to be possessed by Satan has finally been deciphered. Scientists used a deep-web code breaker to read the letter.

The message — indeed devilish — describes God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as “dead weights,” the researcher said.

It was penned by Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione, a 31-year-old nun living at the convent of Palma di Montechiaro in Sicily. On Aug. 11, 1676, she was found on the floor of her cell, her face covered in ink, holding a note written in an incomprehensible mix of symbols and letters, according to historical records. Sister Maria apparently said the letter was written by the devil in an attempt to get her to turn away from God and toward evil, historical accounts suggest. [In Photos: ‘Demon Burials’ Discovered in Poland Cemetery]

The message, just 14 lines of jumbled, archaic letters, has for centuries defied every attempt at understanding its meaning.

Now, scientists at the Ludum science museum in Sicily have used an intelligence-grade code-breaking software to solve the mystery. They also looked at historical records of the nun and her life, to learn more about the woman.

“When working on historical decryption, you cannot ignore the psychological profile of the writer. We needed to know as much as possible about this nun,” Ludum Director Daniele Abate told Live Science.

Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione, born Isabella Tomasi (she was an ancestor of Italian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa), entered the Benedictine convent when she was only 15 years old, according to historical records.

“The letter appeared as if it was written in shorthand. We speculated that Sister Maria  created a new vocabulary using ancient alphabets that she may have known,” Abate said.

To find out for sure, the researches first tested the software they used with some standard shorthand symbols from different languages. They found that the nun’s letter contained a mix of words from ancient alphabets such as Greek, Latin, Runic and Arabic.

“We analyzed how the syllables and graphisms [or thoughts depicted as symbols] repeated in the letter in order to locate vowels, and we ended up with a refined decryption algorithm,” Abate said.

He said the team did not have great expectations for the outcome.

“We thought we could just come out with a few words making sense. But the nun had a good command of languages,” he said, adding “the message was more complete than expected.”

Rambling in nature and not entirely understandable, the letter, in addition to calling the Holy Trinity “dead weights,” goes on to say that “God thinks he can free mortals … The system works for no one … Perhaps now, Styx is certain.”

In Greek and Roman mythology, Styx is the river separating the netherworld from the world of the living.

Abete said the letter suggests that Sister Maria suffered fromschizophrenia or bipolar disorder. “The image of the devil is often present in these disorders. We learned from historical records that every night she screamed and fought against the devil,” Abate said.

For the church of that time, the letter was instead considered the outcome of her struggle against “innumerable evil spirits,” according to a written account about the occurrence by Abbess Maria Serafica.

According to Serafica’s account of the nun’s behavior written shortly after the incident, the devil would have forced Sister Maria (who was later blessed) to sign the letter. She heroically opposed the demand by writing, “Ohimé” (oh me), which is the only comprehensible word in the letter, Serafica wrote.

The research has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Original article on Live Science

Bronze Arm Found at Antikythera Shipwreck

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Bronze Arm Found at Antikythera Shipwreck

Bronze Arm Found at Antikythera Shipwreck

A bronze right arm, preserved from the shoulder to the fingers, was recently recovered from the Antikythera shipwreck.

Credit: Brett Seymour/EUA/ARGO

A graceful bronze arm that was once attached to a statue dating to the first century was recently recovered from a famed shipwreck near the Greek island of Antikythera. That site has already yielded a treasure trove of artifacts, including the mysterious astronomical computer and calculator called the Antikythera mechanism.

The newly discovered limb joins other bronze and marble statue fragments discovered during the same expedition. Together, these artifacts indicate that there are likely more statues to be found buried in the seabed around the wrecked vessel, representatives of the “Return to Antikythera” project reported in a statement released today (Oct. 4).

Divers with the expedition, part of an international partnership under the supervision of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports (HMCS), visited Antikythera between Sept. 4 and 20 and recovered other precious relics in addition to the statue pieces, according to the statement. Those finds included a mysterious metal disk decorated with an image of a bull. [In Photos: Diving for Famed Antikythera Shipwreck]

As it happens, a bronze statue arm was also the very first object recovered from the wreck when it was discovered in 1900, according to theexcavation project website.

Experts afterward determined that the vessel likely sank between 70 B.C. and 60 B.C., and is 2,085 years old. It carried a vast cargo of luxury goods, including glassware, gemstones, coins and jewelry, and statues of marble and bronze; hundreds of these objects were recovered in 1976 in an expedition conducted by the underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau.

During the recent expedition, archaeologists were drawn to certain features on a part of the seafloor that suggested the area might merit a closer look, field project co-director Brendan Foley, a researcher with the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Lund University in Sweden, told Live Science in an email. Those features included a red marble plaque and a marble statue base.

A rectangular slab of marble embedded in the seafloor drew the attention of underwater archaeologists.

A rectangular slab of marble embedded in the seafloor drew the attention of underwater archaeologists.

Credit: Brett Seymour/EUA/ARGO


“We investigated further, test trenched [dug trenches at the site without excavating further], metal detected and began to find extremely interesting finds, including wooden-hull remains, large bronze nails and spikes from the hull, and then the bronze sculpture elements,” Foley said.

In addition to the bronze arm and the marble pieces, the archaeologists found a bronze statue piece with clothing folds, and a highly oxidized disk with four holes punched along its edge, HMCS representatives reported in a statement. Scans of the disk revealed the shape of “possibly a bovine animal” under layers of detritus and corrosion, according to the statement.

The scientists also found wooden ship parts; their condition and location, relative to where the cargo was found, will help experts peer back in time and reconstruct the scene of the shipwreck, HMCS representatives said.

Radiography of a disk revealed the image of an animal, possibly a bull, under layers of corrosion.

Radiography of a disk revealed the image of an animal, possibly a bull, under layers of corrosion.

Credit: Brett Seymour/EUA/ARGO


Many fascinating objects have emerged from the site over time, but one of the best-known finds is a celestial calculator known as the Antikythera mechanism, which was also salvaged during initial dives to the site in 1900. This complex machine is thought to be capable of displaying dates, the positions of the moon and sun, and planetary cycles, as well as predicting eclipses over a period of 223 months.

Then, in August 2016, archaeologists detected evidence of human remainsin the wreck, providing a possible source of ancient DNA. The remains, a skeleton, were not the first found at the site; bones were also recovered from the Antikythera shipwreck in 1976. But for the first time, technology existed that could allow scientists to extract genetic information from the preserved organic material.

While the prospect of an ancient “computer” or the extraction of 2,000-year-old DNA sounds arguably more exciting than the newly discovered statue arm, the recent finds are historically significant, Foley told Live Science. Few bronze sculptures from ancient Greece have survived to the modern age, and none that were previously found underwater were recovered directly from an archaeological site, he said. This provides critical historical context for artifacts, he explained.

“We have the chance to bring scientific methods to bear on these sculptures, to excavate carefully and precisely, and then give back to the world fabulous ancient artwork,” he said. [In Photos: Mission to 2,000-Year-Old Antikythera Shipwreck]

The scientists’ work is far from over. Antikythera still holds many secrets in its watery ruins, and the archaeologists plan to return in the spring to uncover more of those mysteries, Foley said.

“We have some large boulders to remove in order to access the bronze sculptures that are surely beneath them. And we have a lot of sediment to excavate, so we can expose, document and recover the goods that were in the ship’s cargo hold,” he said.

The site covers a lot of ground, measuring approximately 164 square feet (50 square meters) at ocean depths ranging from 131 to 184 feet (40 m to 56 m), Foley said. The team has scanned much of the area with metal detectors, and the researchers have mapped the surrounding area of 34,449 square feet (10,500 square m) using sonar. But to date, they have opened only 10 test trenches, just two of which have been excavated.

Those two trenches account for only a fraction of the site, Foley told Live Science.

“The most time-consuming aspect of the investigation is excavation,” Foley said. “Lots of work ahead of us.”

Original article on Live Science.

Top 10 Unusual Things Found On Ancient Surfaces

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Top 10 Unusual Things Found On Ancient Surfaces



Ancient surfaces swing from dusty old clay to opulent metals and dyes. Whether they belong to breathtaking artifacts or boring pots, surfaces can tell a missing story as much as the artifact itself.

Sometimes, what hides in the cracks can solve sticky secrets or confound the experts further. Myths can be scientifically supported or old beliefs banished. Remarkably, at times, the unexpected shines through—the personality of an ancient artist or the cringeworthy ingredients used to create dyes.

10The Smiley Pot

Photo credit: timesofisrael.com

It is not often that one encounters an ancient potter with a sense of humor. A 4,000-year-old pot has archaeologists smiling because of an unexpected discovery on its surface.

In 2017, when it was unearthed in Turkey near the Syrian border, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It was another shattered vessel from a site that has seen seven years of excavations and plenty of artifacts. The restoration team pieced together the big-bellied pot and noticed something very familiar to people today.

A smiley face.

Sometime around 1700 BC, somebody dotted a pair of eyes into the wet clay and underlined it with a smile. The white vessel with its single handle was used to drink sherbet, a sweet liquid. While its purpose was clear, it might never be known why the artist added the happy expression.

Even so, the image is now considered history’s oldest smile. The site, Karkamis, once belonged to the Hittites, a Canaanite nation. It was also there that the Battle of Carchemish was fought. This clash, which occurred in 605 BC, was recorded in Jeremiah 46:2.


Photo credit: discovermagazine.com

In the 2000s, Brazilian geologists began finding strange caves. Most had level floors and long, arched tunnels that wound into complex underground networks of exits, chambers, and passageways. They did not appear to have been made by any natural geological event.

Something found on the ceilings and walls offered a clue. Massive grooves crisscrossed the surface, and closer examination determined that these were ancient claw marks.

What makes the whole thing so strange is the scope of the so-called paleoburrows. They are huge, even for the extinct giant sloths or armadillos that are the suspected architects. The biggest burrow was found in Rondonia in the Amazon. The combined length of its passages was 610 meters (2,000 ft). The primary tunnels were once 1.8 meters (6 ft) high and, at most, 1.5 meters (5 ft) wide.

Over the course of its creation, which took generations of diggers, thecreatures removed 4,000 metric tons from the hill. There is no explanation for why the animals needed the elaborate shelters or why there are none in North America where giant sloths and armadillos also roamed thousands of years ago.

8Long-Distance Grave Tar

Photo credit: Live Science

A different sort of ship was found near River Deben in England. While it showed damage from active duty, the 27-meter (90 ft) ship was used as atomb. The discovery happened eight decades ago at Sutton Hoo, an ancient cemetery and one of Britain’s most important burial sites.

Packed with precious metals and jewels, the ship is believed to be the tomb of King Raedwald, who died in AD 624 or 625. But none of this was as intriguing as a black substance found throughout the craft. It was initially thought to be Stockholm Tar, a waterproofing agent.

With better technology available in 2016, tests returned a surprising result. The tar-like material was a rare kind of bitumen exclusive to the Middle East. What the petroleum-based asphalt was doing on the ship is not definitely understood.

However, the sought-after product fit with other valuable grave goods. Some were also imported, including from Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean. The Sutton pieces also bore impressions as if once fastened to now-gone material like leather or wood. The concentric marks indicated turning, either from the attached object or the bitumen being used as a tool.

7A Coffin Artist’s Fingerprints

Photo credit: BBC

In 2005, a restoration team worked on an Egyptian casket at the Cambridge Fitzwilliam Museum. The coffin belonged to a priest named Nespawershefyt who died around 1000 BC. Somebody peeked underneath the lid and found the fingerprints of a kindred spirit—a coffin artisan.

These did not belong to the dirty fingers of a colleague but the craftsmen who finished the coffin 3,000 years ago. For some reason, the ancient workers handled the inner lid before the varnish had dried. As a result, their impatience left a couple of fingerprints behind for posterity.

However, the researchers were delighted with this personal touch. Another snippet about the carpenters came to light after the artifact underwent a CT scan at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. It turned out that they added extensive readjustments to the coffin’s original shape.

The fingerprints were only made public 11 years later in 2016 when they were included in the first major exhibition that focused on Egyptian artists and how their styles evolved over 4,000 years.

6Green Magic For Children

Photo credit: NBC News

Egyptians took colors seriously and assigned meaning and qualities to each one. Researchers knew that green represented growth, crops, and health. It was important enough to be placed as a scarab carving near a mummy’s heart.

But nobody had an inkling why green also featured prominently when it came to Egyptian children. According to ancient records and hieroglyphics, youngsters even wore green makeup.

A recent discovery suggests that Egyptian parents believed that the shade would protect their offspring. While examining a child mummy, a bag was found on the body. Poking through the bag’s leather was a bright green amulet. Oddly, the stone was chrysocolla.

When the child died 4,700 years ago, Egypt was forming its early history and malachite was the most available green mineral. Chrysocolla was a rare commodity available only in the Sinai and the Eastern Egyptian Desert.

A previous grave find, a chrysocolla statuette depicting a youngster, supports the theory that the mineral (like the color green) “belonged” to children. Several experts agree that the amulet found on the toddler, who died of malaria, was probably meant to provide health and safety in the afterlife.

5Confirmation Of Scythian History

Photo credit: National Geographic

When archaeologist Andrei Belinski cleared a burial mound, he found something that he kept secret for years. Located in Russia, the mound was a kurgan, a Scythian grave.

The Scythians were fearsome nomads who left nothing but thousands of kurgans behind. Any new information about their culture is prized. In 2013, Belinski’s team found a hidden chamber full of gold jewelry and vessels. The 2,400-year-old treasure was a complete surprise. To avoid looting, the discovery was kept quiet.

The beautiful vessels revealed tantalizing history, myths, and behaviors of the Scythians. On the inside, a sticky black residue was identified as cannabis and opium. This brings the first confirmation of ancient Greek historian Herodotus’s claims that the nomads used drugs during rituals.

On the outer surface, scenes showed what could be their violentunderworld. Another vessel depicted Scythian men battling each other, the old killing the young. This could be Herodotus’s “Bastard Wars.”

The historian wrote that after 28 years away fighting the Persians, the men returned home to find the grown children of their wives, who had been fathered by slaves. The fine details of the slaughter gave researchers their first good look at Scythian haircuts, shoes, weaponry, and even the sewing work of the clothes.

4Bread Of Saint Francis

Photo credit: iflscience.com

In Italy, the Friary of Folloni faced a harsh and hungry winter. One night, according to a 700-year-old legend, an angel delivered bread and left it on the doorstep of the friary.

The monks’ benefactor was not the angel. They believed that the food was sent by Saint Francis of Assisi, who was in France at the time. The monks even kept the alleged bread bag for seven centuries.

Scientists wanted to find out if the relic was indeed that old and, if possible, find traces of what was really once inside it. The cloth’s age placed it somewhere between 1220–1295, perfect for the year of the miracle in 1224.

Next, the researchers examined the inner surface of the textile and found ergosterol. This biomarker appears in mold linked to baking, brewing, and agriculture. Chances are that the medieval material came into contact with bread.

Together with the relic’s age, the data backs up the myth. The researchers graciously admitted that the bread could have been delivered to the struggling friary in 1224. However, since the bag was used as an altar cloth for 300 years, it could also have picked up ergosterol from bread that way.

3New Testament Dyed With Urine

Photo credit: seeker.com

Another religious artifact from Italy, this time from the town of Rossano, is a partial Bible called the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis. Containing only the gospels of Matthew and Mark, the 1,500-year-old book is among the most ancient New Testament illuminated manuscripts.

Scholars have long wondered about the lovely purple pages. Back in the day, dyes were difficult to make. It was assumed that the parchment had been treated with a known technique of the time involving a snail extract that produced Tyrian purple.

In 2016, X-ray fluorescence could not detect bromine in the pages. Bromine is the identifying thumbprint of Tyrian purple. Taking a chance, scientists turned to the Stockholm papyrus, a dye recipe book penned around AD 300.

After whipping up several mixtures, a chemical match was found. The manuscript’s dark lavender came from orcein. This was extracted from the lichen Roccella tinctoria with fermented urine. The process needed ammonia, and there was no source other than the urine.

The same study also disproved claims that certain drawings in the 188-page codex were added centuries later. Tests revealed that it was impossible. All the ornate images were created with the same palette.

2Tutankhamen’s Hasty Burial

Photo credit: Live Science

In 2010, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities experienced panic. Something was happening in Tutankhamen’s tomb that they could not explain. Brown blotches marred nearly every surface, invading paintings, plaster, and even silver.

Concerned that tourists’ breathing encouraged the growth of microbes, the council called experts from Los Angeles. The spots were indeed microbes but long dead. The organisms sparked a double mystery.

DNA analysis failed to identify the matter apart from the possibility that it was a fungus. Secondly, its presence added a twist to an already-mysterious pharaoh. Tutankhamen had died suddenly around 3,000 years ago. Now it seems that he was buried just as quickly.

The most educated guess is that Tutankhamen died without his own tomb. Pharaohs prepared their graves long before death. In this case, one was commandeered, hastily prepared, and sealed while the paintings and plaster were still wet.

This moisture, combined with the skin cells and breathing of the artists, allowed the microbes to populate. Indeed, the blotches have been found in no other Egyptian tomb. This leaves a tantalizing riddle: Why was the king buried so fast?

1Spontaneous Color In Manuscripts

Photo credit: Live Science

Another purple pigment damages scrolls all over the world. The ancient scribes never added the color, which spontaneously obscures ancient writings and destroys parchment.

To get to the bottom of the angry spots, researchers studied an affected book from the Vatican Secret Archives. The goatskin scroll is a 5-meter-long (16 ft) petition written in AD 1244. Its margins are bruised purple, and some pages are completely blocked out.

Suspecting microbes, researchers took flakes for gene sequencing. Unlike the mysterious strain in Tutankhamen’s tomb, this type could be identified. When the marine bacteria showed up, however, everyone was stunned. The scroll’s history did not include any time near the ocean.

But the afflicted manuscripts had one thing in common—they were made of animal hides. This was the clue that cracked the case. Hides were cured with sea salt, which added the marine organisms, including purple-producing species.

These bloomed in the goatskin scroll whenever the temperature and humidity became just right. Unfortunately, some snacked on the hide’s collagen, causing pieces to fall off. The damage is irreparable, but researchers remain hopeful that they can safely remove the remaining pigment one day.

Photos: 2,000-Year-Old Tombs Found in Egyptian Oasis

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Photos: 2,000-Year-Old Tombs Found in Egyptian Oasis

Egyptian oasis

Credit: Egypt Ministry of Antiquities

Ancient Pueblo Rock Art Depicts a ‘Celebratory’ Solar Eclipse

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Ancient Pueblo Rock Art Depicts a ‘Celebratory’ Solar Eclipse

The rock art depicting a solar eclipse, possibly from A.D. 1097, looked “more celebratory than frightening,” said a University of Colorado archaeoastronomer.

Credit: J Mckim Malville/University of Colorado

Millions of people will gaze at the Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21, shooting photographs and taking selfies. A thousand years ago, early Pueblo people, called Chacoans, captured their experiences of a total solar eclipse by carving it into a rock — a circle with looping streamers that resemble the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona.

Not only does this rock art, or petroglyph, depict a solar eclipse with a gigantic eruption of plasma called a coronal mass ejection (CME), its looping lines may have evoked a wondrous, inspirational experience, said solar astronomer J. McKim Malville, a University of Colorado Boulder professor emeritus, who is an expert in archaeoastronomy.

“The petroglyph looks more celebratory than frightening,” Malville told Live Science. “If our interpretation is correct, they tried to depict theextraordinary sight of the corona, like nothing seen before — associated [it] with a deity that was even more mysterious and powerful than they imagined.” [See Photos of the Petroglyph of the Solar Eclipse]

Malville discovered the petroglyph in 1992, while on a scientific excursion into Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, with W. James Judge, then a professor of anthropology at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. They found the petroglyph among others pecked into a large boulder called Piedra del Sol, near the ruins of a cultural hub for the Chacoans, who thrived there between A.D. 900 and 1150.

A petroglyph found in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico depicts a solar eclipse with a huge coronal mass ejection (an eruption of plasma from the sun).

A petroglyph found in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico depicts a solar eclipse with a huge coronal mass ejection (an eruption of plasma from the sun).

Credit: J Mckim Malville/University of Colorado

When he saw it, Malville immediately recognized something familiar.

“Some people might see it as a bug or a tick or a spider,” he said. “But it struck me as very similar to photographs of coronal mass ejections that I’d seen, and drawings.”

In 2014, Malville and professor José Vaquero of the University of Extremadura in Cáceres, Spain, published a study in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry describing the discovery. They knew that an eclipse had occurred in the region on July 11, 1097, and that the sun’s corona and even CMEs are visible to the naked eye during totality (when the moon’s shadow completely blocks the sun’s light from reaching Earth). But they needed evidence that the sun was in a period of heightened activity, known as solar maximum, when such ejections are most common. It occurs about every 11 years or so, with some variation in the intensity, Malville said.

He and his colleague consulted several sources to determine the level of activity around the time of the eclipse. They looked at data from ancient tree rings, which store traces of atmospheric carbon from photosynthesis and also provide a natural calendar of annual growth. During periods of high solar activity, the sun’s more intense magnetic fields deflect cosmic rays from reaching Earth, reducing the amount of radioactive carbon, found as isotope carbon-14, in tree rings. For the period around 1097, the carbon-14 isotopes were low.

Naked-eye observations of sunspots recorded in ancient Chinese texts also indicated higher solar activity, as did historical data from northern Europeans on the annual number of so-called “auroral nights.” The evidence pointed to high levels of activity on the sun during the 1097 eclipse. [The 8 Most Famous Solar Eclipses in History]

“It turns out, the sun was in a period of very high solar activity at that time, consistent with an active corona and CMEs,” Malville said in news statement.

The depiction itself, a circle with looping streamers radiating from the edge, struck Malville as something jubilant, not frightening.

There are cultures that consider eclipses as dangerous and fearsome omens during the moments when the day turns into “night,” Malville said.

But not all.

He recalled viewing the June 30, 1972, eclipse in Kenya, camped at the eastern edge of Lake Turkana among Turkana, Samburu and El Molo tribes. During the eclipse, the El Molo went into their huts, as they do every evening, remaining there until light returned; they didn’t seem influenced at all by the event, he said. But the other tribes came to the campsite to view the eclipse.

This particular event lasted 7 minutes, an unusually long time, and the people there had a chance to see the beauty of the corona during totality.

“The brightness of the corona is about the brightness of the full moon, so it’s easily seen with the naked eye,” Malville said. (REMEMBER, never look directly at the sun or a solar eclipse without special protective viewers, though you can look at the eclipse without glasses ONLY during the couple of minutes of totality.)

Afterward, the people performed dances to celebrate the eclipse and thank the astronomers for the chance to see it.

Malville thinks that the 1097 eclipse in Chaco Canyon may have stirred a similar sense of wonder in the early Pueblo people. After 1100, the people built 10 large houses, called the Great Houses in Chaco, all of which are in areas that provide dramatic views of the rising or setting sun at the winter or summer solstices, he said.

“There is the possibility that the glory of that experience for the people living in Chaco in 1097 was transformed to an increased reverence for or an increased appreciation of the sun,” Malville said.

He has a theory about why some modern people might claim that ancient civilizations were terrified by eclipses.

“They have never seen the full glory of an eclipse themselves,” he said.

Originally published on Live Science.