Unusual-ology: “Amazonian Warrior” Burial Unearthed In Russia.

Archaeologists from the Russian Institute of Archaeology, led by Roman Mimohod, have made a fascinating discovery whilst supervising the construction of a new airport near the city of Rostov-on-Don. They have unearthed what seems to be a burial of an “Amazonian Woman”, but it is in fact the burial of a Sarmatian noblewoman, whose belongings have remained unlooted.

amazonian burial

he noblewoman’s grave remained intact and during the excavation over one hundred arrowheads were discovered along with numerous gold jewellery pieces.

The Sarmatians were nomadic people who once occupied the steppes north of the Black Sea between 5th Century BC and 4th Century AD. They were famous due to their fierce female warriors who are thought to be the inspiration for the legendary ‘Amazon Warriors’ of Greek Mythology.

The noblewoman’s grave remained intact and during the excavation over one hundred arrowheads were discovered along with numerous gold jewellery pieces, which date between 1st Century BC – 1st Century AD, and a gem that has a Phoenician inscription.

“It is rather unique, I have not seen such a combination before and have not heard about it,” Mimohood commented on the find. Due to the unusual long date range of the gold items discovered, Mimohood has remarked that “this can mean the most ancient things were handed down for a long time and finally were buried with this noble woman.”

If you’re a student – check out our ‘Quick Tips’ posts where we breakdown topics of AAFS into bite-sized chunks. We’re currently covering how to age and how to estimate the biological sex of skeletal remains, and also how to identify dental diseases! or you’re needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks are good? Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page for suggestions from peers and professors!

 

Unusual-ology: Strange 6,500-year-old Neolithic Burials Discovered in Egypt.

Unusual-ology: Strange 6,500-year-old Neolithic Burials Discovered in Egypt.

A team of archaeologists, led by Jacek Kabaciński from the Polish Academy of Sciences, have discovered the burials of sixty adults in a cemetery in Gebel Ramlah, Egypt.

Egypt Neolithic Burials

The unusual thing about these burials is the discovery of a grave that contained the skeletal remains of two individuals, one of which has deliberate cuts on their femur. These cut marks have not been seen in other Neolithic burials that have been unearthed in North Africa. But this particular grave wasn’t the only odd one they found. Kabaciński’s team found another two unusual graves one which was found to be lined with stone slabs, but it’s the third burial they discovered which is the oddest.

In the third grave, the skeletal remains of a man were found to be covered in pottery fragments, stones and lumps of red dye. Near his head a fragment of a Dorcas gazelle skull was found, which may have been used as a ceremonial headdress. The skeletal remains also showed signs of abnormal bone adhesions and fractures, leading Kabaciński to believe this man may have performed hunting rites.

Unusual-ology: Wasn’t Curiosity That Killed The Baboon… – Ancient Egyptian Pet Cemetery Found.

A team of archaeologists in Hierakonpolis have unearthed an ancient Egyptian animal cemetery, which has uncovered the remains of numerous exotic animals. The skeletal remains of numerous baboons, hippos, and other animals, have depicted a dark past for these companions of the ancient Egyptian elite.

The skeletal remains of the pets, thought to have been buried more than five thousand years ago, revealed numerous broken bones and fractures, which points to them having received harsh beatings. At least two of the baboon skeletons that were discovered had parry fractures, a common fracture of the ulna, caused when a victim is trying to shield their heads from damaging bones.

The skeletal remains of the pets, thought to have been buried more than five thousand years ago, revealed numerous broken bones and fractures, which points to them having received harsh beatings.  ©Renee Friedman

The skeletal remains of the pets, thought to have been buried more than five thousand years ago, revealed numerous broken bones and fractures, which points to them having received harsh beatings. ©Renee Friedman

The skeletal remains of a hippo calf showed evidence of a broken leg, which is thought to have been caused from the animal trying to free itself from a tether. This isn’t the only tether related injury that was discovered at the site; an antelope and a cow also showed similar injuries. The excavations at the Hierakonpolis site also revealed the remains of two elephants, two crocodiles, a leopard, and nine other exotic species. It is thought that the burial ground near to the Nile is the only archaeological evidence of such a wide assortment of zoo animals within ancient Egypt.

Wim Van Neer, a zooarchaeologist from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, noted that the ancient zookeepers “clearly had difficulty maintaining these animals”. The analysis of the skeletal remains showed that “the practical means of keeping animals in captivity were not so sophisticated as nowadays,” which would account for the numerous injuries sustained by the animals. The animals’ injuries showed signs of healing, which suggests that they were kept in captivity for a further several weeks or longer, rather than being killed immediately after obtaining them.

It is thought that the burial ground near to the Nile is the only archaeological evidence of such a wide assortment of zoo animals within ancient Egypt. ©Renee Friedman

It is thought that the burial ground near to the Nile is the only archaeological evidence of such a wide assortment of zoo animals within ancient Egypt. ©Renee Friedman

It is argued by Richard Redding, an archaeologist of the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum, that the animals’ struggle whilst being captured could have led to the injuries. Van Neer agrees that some of the injuries could have been caused by the struggle, but the forty-plus broken hand and feet bones observed on the baboon remains are just “too numerous to be due to capture”. Van Neer also pointed out that an escaping baboon would have been more likely to break the long bones rather than the metatarsals and metacarpals, whilst escaping the capturers. It is also stated that the baboon remains from more recent tombs display fewer signs of harsh treatment, which may be due to the ancient zookeepers developing better animal keeping techniques.

References:

Van Neer, W. 2015. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 25:3. Pg 253-374.

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Unusual-ology: Beheaded Massacre Victims Found in 1,400 Year Old Mayan Mass Grave.

Unusual-ology: Beheaded Massacre Victims Found in 1,400 Year Old Mayan Mass Grave.

Archaeologists have discovered a 7th-century mass grave in the Mayan city of Uxul, Mexico. The mass grave contained the dismembered skeletal remains of twenty-four victims. Nicolaus Seefield, from the University of Bonn, who made this discovery has interpreted the skeletal remains as those belonging to prisoners of war and the grave being the site of a Mayan water reservoir.

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The twenty-four dismembered skeletal remains were found within a Mayan water reservoir.

Due to being covered in a layer of clay, the victim’s skeletons were very well preserved enabling fifteen of the twenty-four skeletons to be chronologically aged and sexed. The age of the skeletons ranged between eighteen and forty-two years old, with thirteen of the skeletons being males. From looking at the skeleton’s dentition there is evidence of severe tooth decay and malnutrition, with a few of the skeletons teeth showing evidence of jade tooth inserts. The jade inserts are thought to be a sign of nobility, which could in the future help identify the victims of this massacre.

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A victim’s mandible showing a jade insert within a tooth, which is thought to be a sign of nobility.

The skeletons were badly dismembered with body parts strewn across the floor of the mass grave. Seefield observed ‘complete legs, whose bones were still in the correct anatomical articulation from the hip, to the femur, the kneecaps until the smallest toe-bones. Apart from that I also observed other detached body parts such as severed heads, complete hands, detached feet.’ The skeletal remains also displayed evidence of blunt force trauma on the foreheads, and cuts from sharp Mayan blades on parts of the skull.

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A massacre victim’s skull displaying evidence of the top portion of the skull being cut off.

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A victims foot displaying proper articulation, which means that the foot was severed from the body before being placed in the mass grave.

Seefield has noted the significance of this Mayan find, ‘It is absolutely rare to find such a mass grave in the Maya area. The only other archaeological evidence of such dismemberment of victims was in the site of Cancuén, Guatemala.’

Lead by Dr Nikolai Grube and Dr Kai Delvendakl from the University of Bonn, and Dr Antonio Benavides belonging to the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (NIAH), archaeologists have been excavating this historical Mayan city for the past five years in search of uncovering the origins and collapse of the regional states in the Mayan lowlands. There are already plans in place to excavate the western half of the water reservoir in the hope that more Mayan artefacts.

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Unusual-ology: Ten Year Old Boy Finds ‘Egyptian Mummy’ In Grandmothers Attic.

Alexander Kettler, a ten year old boy from Diepholz in northern Germany, had a startling discovery in his grandmother’s attic when he stumbled upon what appears to be an Egyptian mummy in a mysterious wooden chest. The wooden box, which is covered in ancient hieroglyphs, was apparently bought in Africa around during the 1950’s by his late grandfather. But this Egyptian mummy isn’t all he found in the wooden chest. The chest also contained a death mask and a canopic jar, where the organs removed during the mummification process are stored.

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Image of the suspected Egyptian mummy in the hieroglyph covered sarcophagus.

The boy’s father now plans to take the mysterious box to Berlin to get it examined by experts to see whether this is a genuine mummy or a fake. He believes that the sarcophagus and jar are fake but the mummy might prove to be the real deal as it’s not “something you could buy at a shop around the corner”.

If the mummy is sent off for verification it will be subjected to MRI and CT scans, which may come back negative as mummies tend to be so dehydrated that there is a lack of hydrogen atoms – which the scans rely on. The use of carbon dating will be fundamental in identifying whether this is a true Egyptian mummy or a fake.

There are lots of problems occurring in the archaeological world, from fake mummies or mummies being wrongly labelled as something there not. One such example is my Unusual-ology post focusing on the topic of a lecture I had during my undergraduate degree. The lecture explored the past of a decapitated head which had preserved soft tissue, that was on display in a Wiccan and witchcraft museum under the guise of an execution victim, which was later stored in a decorated wooden box in a Church.

References:

BBC. 2013. German boy finds ‘a mummy’ in grandmother’s attic. BBC News. Available here. 

Daily Mail. Mummy there’s a mummy in grandma’s attic! Boy discovers ‘Egyptian body’ inside an old wooden chest. Available here. 

If you’ve enjoyed this new ‘Unsual-ology’ post feature – leave a comment or a like!

If you want to read more unusual science posts click here, or to read the Unusual-ology post on the Ancient Egyptian use of lettuce as an aphrodisiac, click here. Or to read about the newly discovered ‘Entrance to Hell’ click here!

Unusual-ology: Unexpected Items in the Bagging Area…

Unusual-ology is a new post type which focuses on weird new articles/science areas that have cropped up and caught my eye.

Archaeologists have made a very peculiar discovery in a churchyard near the St Pancras train station in London. The researchers, led by Phil Emery from Ramboll Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, have stumbled upon a coffin dating back between 1822 and 1858.  What has made the coffin so strange is that it had a large selection of bones from many different animals mixed among human remains. Within the coffin were nine bones from a Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), eight mixed sets of human remains – including three skulls, and a tortoise.

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Top: Collection of the walrus bones. Bottom Left: The walrus’ back right leg. Bottom Right: The skull showing visible signs consistent with craniotomy.

The coffin was originally discovered in 2003 during excavations of the horizontal burial trench underneath the station, when the Eurostar terminal moved from Waterloo to St Pancras. Emery & Wooldridge (2011) have noted that the bones discovered have marks which are consistent to dissection, which was legalised by the Anatomy Act of 1832, with one skull showing evidence of craniotomy (drilling a hole in the skull to gain access to the brain). As the animal bones were found alongside human remains, Emery believes that the bones were used as a teaching collection from a research institute and has said that:

“The animal bone consisted of a small, moderately-preserved group of eight bones derived from a walrus of a very large size and robust build.’The sample includes bones from a lower fore-limb, a fore-foot, first and second metacarpal, the lower hind limbs, fibula, calcaneum, astragalus and first cuneiform. These bones are significantly larger than their reference equivalents held at the Natural History Museum. Microscopic examination revealed that all the St Pancras walrus bones show some degree of surface erosion and butchery marks. Three clear superficial transverse knife cuts were noted.”

The walrus bones have now been moved to the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre in Hackney, East London.

If you’ve enjoyed this new ‘Unsual-ology’ post feature – leave a comment or a like!

If you want to read more unusual science posts click here, or to read the Unusual-ology post on the Ancient Egyptian use of lettuce as an aphrodisiac, click here. Or to read about the newly discovered ‘Entrance to Hell’ click here!

 

References:

Daily Mail. 2013. The ongoing mystery around how a Pacific walrus ended up buried in a human coffin beneath London’s St Pancras station. Daily Mail News. Article available here.

Emery, P., Wooldridge, K. 2011. St Pancras burial ground: excavations for St Pancras International, the London terminus of High Speed 1, 2002–3. Gifford, London. This book can be found here. 

Telegraph. 2013. Walrus remains found buried under St Pancras station in London. Telegraph News. Available from here.

Unusual-ology: Lettuce, an ancient Egyptian sex symbol?

Unusual-ology is a new post type which focuses on weird new articles/science areas that have cropped up and caught my eye.

Can this key ingredient to salads actually be considered a sex symbol? Well Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist from the American University of Cairo, has claimed that lettuce was viewed as an aphrodisiac by ancient Egyptians, where they also used it as a phallic symbol.

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Min – the Egyptian god of fertility and lover of lettuce.

So how did a distant species of our modern day lettuce become a sexy vegetable? On numerous tomb walls, dating back to 2,000BC, there are images of lettuce which have been connected to the Egyptian god of fertility – Min, who can be found depicted with an erect penis on numerous hieroglyphs. It is thought that lettuce was Min’s favourite food, and this vegetable helped him perform sexual acts without becoming tired. Many ancient Egyptians wouldn’t have utilised lettuce in meals like we commonly do, but often as an aphrodisiac.

References:

Daily Mail. 2013. The land where LETTUCE was a sex symbol: Leafy vegetables were taken as an aphrodisiac in ancient Egypt and considered a delicacy of the god of fertility. Daily Mail Online. Click here for the article!

Ikram, S. 2012. Food, drink, and feasting (Egypt). The Encyclopaedia of Ancient History. Blackwell Publishing. Can be viewed here in .pdf– if you have a Wiley Online account.

If you’ve enjoyed this new ‘Unsual-ology’ post feature – leave a comment or a like!

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