Ancient Egyptians were getting inked up earlier than we thought.
A new analysis of two mummies shows the pair were sporting tattoos. The mummies belong to a collection of six found in 1900. They were named the Gebelein mummies after the region in which they were found. Now in the possession of the British Museum, they were reanalyzed as part of an ongoing project to reexamine valuable artifacts.
Both individuals date anywhere from 3351 B.C. to 3017 B.C., making them some of the earliest known bearers of tattoos. The next known example of ancient Egyptians getting tattoos doesn’t appear for more than a millennia later.
Only Ötzi the Ice Man, a cave man dating back to about 3370 B.C., has earlier evidence of tattoos.
Unlike Ötzi’s tattoos, which have more geometric designs, the Egyptian tattoos are the earliest known examples of figurative tattoos, or tattoos that represent images. The new findings are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
What initially looked like a smudge was reexamined with infrared imaging, which allows scientists to see the markings on the mummified skin with more clarity. On the male body, scientists spotted the images of a wild bull and what appears to be a Barbary sheep.
The woman’s body contains four “S”-like symbols on her top shoulder joint and an “L”-shaped line on her abdomen that archaeologists think might be a stave, or wooden staff.
Both bodies contained tattoos that were inked into the dermis, the thicker part of their skin, with an ink made of some sort of soot. Copper instruments found in nearby regions have been previously suggested as tattooing tools.
What the Tattoos Tell Us
The find suggests, for the first time, that both men and women in ancient Egyptian societies had tattoos.
Previously, archaeologists assumed that only women living during ancient Egypt’s predynastic period, from 4000 B.C. to 3100 B.C., had tattoos. This theory was based on figurines that depicted women with tattoos.
These tattoos represent the first time archaeologists have found examples of tattoos on people that mirror motifs used in art.
Both the images on the male and female seem to suggest a symbolic relevance, but archaeologists aren’t quite of their exact meaning.
“The sheep is quite commonly used in the predynastic [Egyptian period] and its significance is not well understood, whereas the bull is specifically to do with male virility and status,” says study author and British Museum curator Daniel Antoine.
CT scans on the man showed he was in his early 20s when he died. A cut in his shoulder and damage to one of his ribs suggests he died from a stab wound to the back.
As to the meaning of the woman’s tattoos?
“I don’t think there’s a good explanation at the moment,” says Antoine. “It’s meant to emphasize things, but I’m not sure why. It was maybe to draw attention to a crooked stave below. It’s an era before writing, so we can only draw parallels.”
The paper further suggests that the placement of the tattoos on the woman’s shoulder and abdomen mean the woman was someone who had religious knowledge or a high status.
Researching the tattoos further may help archaeologists better understand Egypt’s early visual language, says the curator.
Archaeology Dig In Spain Yields Prehistoric ‘Crystal Weapons’
How do you feel when you see a beautiful crystal? Perhaps the perfection of the diamond, or the vivid colors of the different gems are your thing? The fact is that people have been fascinated by crystals ever since they had first discovered them.
The names of the gems come from ancient cultures which were pretty much obsessed with them, adding them to their jewelry, kitchenware and weapons.
Do you know that even the Bible describes the new Jerusalem after the apocalypse built all in gems and crystals?
An archaeology dig in Spain shows that crystals were an object of fascination and ritual even back in the 3rd millennium BC. At the site of Valencina de la Concepción, archaeologists uncovered a number of shrouds decorated with amber beads and they also found a “remarkable set” of ‘crystal weapons’.
The Monterilio tholos, excavated between 2007 and 2010, is “a great megalithic construction…which extends over 43.75 m in total.” It has been constructed out of large slabs of slate and served as a burial site.
The period in which this site was built was well known for the excavation of metals from the ground, and where there is excavation – there can also be crystals. In the case with the Monterilio tholos, the people there found a way to shape the quartz crystals into weapons.
However, the spot where these crystals were uncovered is not associated with rock crystal deposits, so it means that these crystals were imported from somewhere else.
The rock crystal source used in creating these weapons has not been pinpointed, but two potential sources have been suggested, “both located several kilometers away from Valencina.”
As the academic paper which focuses on these crystal weapons states, the manufacture of the crystal dagger “must have been based on accumulation of transmitted empirical knowledge and skill taken from the production of flint dagger blades as well from know-how of rock-crystal smaller foliaceous bifacial objects, such as Ontiveros and Monterilio arrowheads.”
The exact number of ‘crystal weapons’ found in the site has been estimated to “10 crystal arrowheads, 4 blades and the rock crystal core of the Monterilio tholos.”
Interestingly enough, although the bones of 20 individuals were found in the main chamber, none of the crystal weapons can be ascribed to them. The individuals had been buried with flint daggers, ivory, beads, and other items, but the crystal weapons were kept in separate chambers.
These crystal weapons could have had ritualistic significance and were most probably kept for the elite. Their use was perhaps closely connected to the spiritual significance they possessed. Indeed, many civilizations have found crystals as having a highly spiritual and symbolical significance.
The paper states that “they probably represent funerary paraphernalia only accessible to the elite of this time-period. The association of the dagger blade to a handle made of ivory, also a non-local raw material that must have been of great value, strongly suggests the high-ranking status of the people making use of such objects.”
Malapa skeletons are the same hominin species
Image Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0 Brett Eloff
Anthropologists have published the results of a new study in to two fossil skeletons found in South Africa.
The skeletons, which were unearthed in 2008 at the fossil site of Malapa within the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site near Johannesburg, belong to an early hominin known as Australopithecus sediba.
More complete than the famous ‘Lucy’ specimen from Ethiopia, the skeletons were of a young male and adult female – both believed to be somewhere around two million years old.
For a time, it wasn’t even clear that the two belonged to the same species, but now, following a decade of research in to the finds, researchers have concluded that they are indeed the same.
The study has also revealed more about what these early hominins may have been like.
“Our interpretations in the papers suggest that A. sediba was adapted to terrestrial bipedalism, but also spent significant time climbing in trees, perhaps for foraging and protection from predators,” wrote New York University anthropologist Scott Williams.
“This larger picture sheds light on the lifeways of A. sediba and also on a major transition in hominin evolution, that of the largely ape-like species included broadly in the genus Australopithecus to the earliest members of our own genus, Homo.”
Source: Heritage Daily
Ancient Roman Cemetery is Full of Mysterious Headless Skeletons
In England, excavations for developments of the housing kind often lead to developments of the archeological kind. While digging holes for foundations in the tiny old town of Great Whelnetham, Suffolk, in eastern England, construction workers found a Roman-era cemetery with a macabre mystery … many of the skeletons were headless, with the skull placed either between the knees, between the feet or even under a knee. Criminals? Vampires? Anti-development zombies? Something worse?
“The incisions through the neck were post-mortem and were neatly placed just behind the jaw. An execution would cut lower through the neck and with violent force, and this is not present anywhere.”
Archeologist Andrew Peachey of Archaeological Solutions, an independent archaeological contractor providing archaeological monitoring and research for urban excavations, was called in by developer Havebury Housing Partnership to investigate the cemetery, which contained 52 skeletons of which 17 had their heads removed and placed elsewhere. Seventeen more were “deviant” burials where the skeleton was face down or in a fetal position. There were also 4 skulls with no bodies. (Photos of the remains can be seen here.) The rest of the bodies were placed with heads intact in the usual face-up burial position. Peachey’s initial analysis determined that the cemetery was from the 4th century CE and that the headless bodies were not the result of executions.
“This appears to be a careful funeral rite that may be associated with a particular group within the local population, possibly associated with a belief system (cult) or a practice that came with a group moved into the area.”
But what kind of cult? Peachey tells the East Anglian Daily Times that headless burials such as these are extremely rare in Britain. He also pointed out a second mystery – the deceased appeared to be healthy when they died. Most were middle-aged or older (with a few children under 10) and in good shape.
“They were well nourished, and several had very robust upper arms/bodies consistent with a working agricultural population.”
Peachey proposes that they could have been slaves or a labor force brought in to work the fields, but the care used in the removal of the heads and their placement suggests these were members of the community and buried with respect. He has no explanation for why they died so healthy – although many had dental problems, most had healed, and evidence of tuberculosis was common in 4th century agrarian communities, so they weren’t killed by the disease nor beheaded postmortem to prevent them from rising and spreading the disease again.
The people of the Pacific island of Kiribati exhume their dead and remove their skulls to be displayed as sign of reverence in hopes the spirit will protect them. Could a similar culture or cult in 4th century England had a similar practice?
Not surprisingly, the remains have been removed to a local museum and the development is expected to be completed in July. While the skeletons and detached skulls are being analyzed for more information on the who’s and why’s of the strange burial practice, people will soon be living where they laid undisturbed for centuries. Would you want to move right in or wait for the explanation?
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