Tag Archives: archaelology

2,100-year-old king’s mausoleum discovered in China

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Archaeologists in China have discovered a mausoleum, dating back over 2,100 years, that contains three main tombs, including the tomb of Liu Fei (shown at bottom), the ruler of the Jiangdu kingdom in China.Photo courtesy Chinese Archaeology

A 2,100-year-old mausoleum built for a king named Liu Fei has been discovered in modern-day Xuyi County in Jiangsu, China, archaeologists report.

Liu Fei died in 128 B.C. during the 26th year of his rule over a kingdom named Jiangdu, which was part of the Chinese empire.

Although the mausoleum had been plundered, archaeologists found that it still contained more than 10,000 artifacts, including treasures made of gold, silver, bronze, jade and lacquer. They also found severallife-size chariot and dozens of smaller chariots.

Excavated between 2009 and 2011, the mausoleum contains “three main tombs, 11 attendant tombs, two chariot-and-horse pits, two weaponry pits” and the remains of an enclosure wall that originally encompassed the complex, a team of Nanjing Museum archaeologists said in an article recently published in the journal Chinese Archaeology. The wall was originally about 1,608 feet long on each side. [See Photos of the Ancient Mausoleum and Artifacts]

The archaeologists said their work was a “rescue excavation,” as the site was threatened by quarrying.

Liu Fei’s tomb
A large earthen mound extending more than 492 feet once covered the king’s tomb, the archaeologists say. The tomb has two long shafts leading to a burial chamber that measured about 115 feet long by 85 feet wide.

When archaeologists entered the burial chamber they found that Liu Fei was provided with a vast assortment of goods for the afterlife.

Such goods would have been fitting for such a “luxurious” ruler. “Liu Fei admired daring and physical prowess. He built palaces and observation towers and invited to his court all the local heroes and strong men from everywhere around,” wrote ancient historian Sima Qian (145-86 B.C.), as translated by Burton Watson. “His way of life was marked by extreme arrogance and luxury.”

His burial chamber is divided into a series of corridors and small chambers. The chamber contained numerous weapons, including iron swords, spearheads, crossbow triggers, halberds (a two-handled pole weapon), knives and more than 20 chariot models (not life-size).

The archaeologists also found musical instruments, including chime bells, zither bridges (the zither is a stringed instrument) and jade tuning pegs decorated with a dragon design.

Liu Fei’s financial needs were not neglected, as the archaeologists also found an ancient “treasury” holding more than 100,000 banliang coins, which contain a square hole in the center and were created by the first emperor of China after the country was unified. After the first emperor died in 210 B.C., banliang coins eventually fell out of use. [Photos: Ancient Chinese Warriors Protect Secret Tomb of First Emperor]

In another section of the burial chamber archaeologists found “utilities such as goose-shaped lamps, five-branched lamps, deer-shaped lamps, lamps with a chimney or with a saucer .” They also found a silver basin containing the inscription of “the office of the Jiangdu Kingdom.”

The king was also provided with a kitchen and food for the afterlife. Archaeologists found an area in the burial chamber containing bronze cauldrons, tripods, steamers, wine vessels, cups and pitchers. They also found seashells, animal bones and fruit seeds. Several clay inscriptions found held the seal of the “culinary officer of the Jiangdu Kingdom.”

Sadly, the king’s coffins had been damaged and the body itself was gone. “Near the coffins many jade pieces and fragments, originally parts of the jade burial suit, were discovered. These pieces also indicate that the inner coffin, originally lacquered and inlaid with jade plaques, was exquisitely manufactured,” the team writes.

The adjacent tomb
A second tomb, which archaeologists call “M2,” was found adjacent to the king’s tomb. Although archaeologists don’t know who was buried there it would have been someone of high status.

“Although it was looted, archaeologists still discovered pottery vessels, lacquer wares, bronzes, gold and silver objects, and jades, about 200 sets altogether,” the team writes.

“The ‘jade coffin’ from M2 is the most significant discovery. Although the central chamber was looted, the structure of the jade coffin is still intact, which is the only undamaged jade coffin discovered in the history of Chinese archaeology,” writes the team.

More chariots and weapons
In addition to the chariot models and weapons found in the king’s tomb, the mausoleum also contains two chariot-and-horse pits and two weapons pits holding swords, halberds, crossbow triggers and shields. [In Photos: Early Bronze Age Chariot Burial]

In one chariot-and-horse pit the archaeologists found five life-size chariots, placed east to west. “The lacquer and wooden parts of the chariots were all exquisitely decorated and well preserved,” the team writes. Four of the chariots had bronze parts gilded with gold, while one chariot had bronze parts inlaid with gold and silver.

The second chariot pit contained about 50 model chariots. “Since a large quantity of iron ji (Chinese halberds) and iron swords were found, these were likely models of battle chariots,” the team writes.

Attendant tombs
A series of 11 attendant tombs were found to the north of the king’s tomb. By the second century B.C. human sacrifice had fallen out of use in China so the people buried in them probably were not killed when the king died.

Again, the archaeologists found rich burial goods. One tomb contained two gold belt hooks, one in the shape of a wild goose and the other a rabbit.

Another tomb contained artifacts engraved with the surname “Nao.” Ancient records indicate that Liu Fei had a consort named “Lady Nao,” whose beauty was so great that she would go on to be a consort for his son Liu Jian and then for another king named Liu Pengzu. Tomb inscriptions suggest the person buried in the tomb was related to her, the team says.

Kingdom’s end
During the second century B.C. China was one of the largest, and wealthiest, empires on Earth, however, the power of its emperor was not absolute. During this time a number of kings co-existed under the control of the emperor. These kings could amass great wealth and, at times, they rebelled against the emperor.

About seven years after Liu Fei’s death, the Chinese emperor seized control of Jiangdu Kingdom, because Liu Jian, who was Liu Fei’s son and successor, allegedly plotted against the emperor.

Ancient writers tried to justify the emperor’s actions, claiming that, in addition to rebellion, Liu Jian had committed numerous other crimes and engaged in bizarre behavior that included having a sexual orgy with 10 women in a tent above his father’s tomb.

The journal article was originally published, in Chinese, in the journal Kaogu, by archaeologists Li Zebin, Chen Gang and Sheng Zhihan. It was translated into English by Lai Guolong and published in the most recent edition of the journal Chinese Archaeology.

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Ancient kingdom discovered beneath mound in Iraq

Ancient kingdom discovered beneath mound in Iraq

By Owen Jarus

Published October 01, 2013

LiveScience
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    A domestic structure, with at least two rooms, that may date to relatively late in the life of the newfound ancient city, perhaps around 2,000 years ago when the Parthian Empire controlled the area in Iraq. (COURTESY CINZIA PAPPI.)

In the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq archaeologists have discovered an ancient city called Idu, hidden beneath a mound.

Cuneiform inscriptions and works of art reveal the palaces that flourished in the city throughout its history thousands of years ago.

Located in a valley on the northern bank of the lower Zab River, the city’s remains are now part of a mound created by human occupation called a tell, which rises about 32 feet above the surrounding plain. The earliest remains date back to Neolithic times, when farming first appeared in the Middle East, and a modern-day village called Satu Qala now lies on top of the tell.

The city thrived between 3,300 and 2,900 years ago, said Cinzia Pappi, an archaeologist at the Universitt Leipzig in Germany. At the start of this period, the city was under the control of the Assyrian Empire and was used to administer the surrounding territory. Later on, as the empire declined, the city gained its independence and became the center of a kingdom that lasted for about 140 years, until the Assyrians reconquered it. [See Photos of Discoveries at the Ancient City of Idu]

The researchers were able to determine the site’s ancient name when, during a survey of the area in 2008, a villager brought them an inscription with the city’s ancient name engraved on it. Excavations were conducted in 2010 and 2011, and the team reported its findings in the most recent edition of the journal Anatolica.

“Very few archaeological excavations had been conducted in Iraqi Kurdistan before 2008,” Pappi wrote in an email to LiveScience. Conflicts in Iraq over the past three decades have made it difficult to work there. Additionally archaeologists before that time tended to favor excavations in the south of Iraq at places like Uruk and Ur.

The effects of recent history are evident on the mound. In 1987, Saddam Hussein’s forces attacked and partly burnt the modern-day village as part of a larger campaign against the Kurds, and “traces of this attack are still visible,” Pappi said.

Ancient palaces
The art and cuneiform inscriptions the team uncovered provide glimpses of the ancient city’s extravagant palaces.

When Idu was an independent city, one of its rulers, Ba’ilanu, went so far as to boast that his palace was better than any of his predecessors’. “The palace which he built he made greater than that of his fathers,” he claimed in the translated inscription. (His father, Abbi-zeri, made no such boast.)

Two works of art hint at the decorations adorning the palaces at the time Idu was independent. One piece of artwork, a bearded sphinx with the head of a human male and the body of a winged lion, was drawn onto a glazed brick that the researchers found in four fragments. Above and below the sphinx, a surviving inscription reads, “Palace of Ba’auri, king of the land of Idu, son of Edima, also king of the land of Idu.”

Another work that was created for the same ruler, and bearing the same inscription as that on the sphinx, shows a “striding horse crowned with a semicircular headstall and led by a halter by a bearded man wearing a fringed short robe,” Pappi and colleague Arne Wossink wrote in the journal article.

Even during Assyrian rule, when Idu was used to administer the surrounding territory, finely decorated palaces were still built. For instance, the team discovered part of a glazed plaque whose colored decorations include a palmette, pomegranates and zigzag patterns. Only part of the inscription survives, but it reads, “Palace of Assurnasirpal, (king of the land of Assur).” Assurnasirpal refers to Assurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.), the researchers said, adding that he, or one of his governors, must have built or rebuilt a palace at Idu after the Assyrians reconquered the city. [The 10 Biggest Battles for the Control of Iraq]

A hero facing a griffon
Another intriguing artifact, which may be from a palace, is a cylinder seal dating back about 2,600 years. When it was rolled on a piece of clay, it would have revealed a vivid mythical scene.

The scene would have shown a bow-wielding man crouching down before a griffon, as well as a morning star (a symbol of the goddess Ishtar), a lunar crescent (a symbol of the moon god) and a solar disc symbolizing the sun god. A symbol called a rhomb, which represented fertility, was also shown.

“The image of the crouching hero with the bow is typical for warrior gods,” Pappi wrote in the email. “The most common of these was the god Ninurta, who also played an important role in the [Assyrian] state religion, and it is possible that the figure on the seal is meant to represent him.”

Future work
Before conducting more digs, the researchers will need approval from both the local government and the people of the village.

“For wide-scale excavations to continue, at least some of these houses will have to be removed,” Pappi said. “Unfortunately, until a settlement is reached between the villagers and the Kurdistan regional government, further work is currently not possible.”

Although digging is not currently possible, the artifacts already excavated were recently analyzed further and more publications of the team’s work will be appearing in the future. The archaeologists also plan to survey the surrounding area to get a sense of the size of the kingdom of Idu.

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‘Meat mummies’ fed Egyptians after death

‘Meat mummies’ fed Egyptians after death

By Stephanie Pappas

Published November 19, 2013

LiveScience
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    Beef rib meat mummy from the tomb of Yuya and Tjuiu (1386-1349 BC). (PNAS)

  • meat mummies 2.jpg

    Beef rib meat mummy from the tomb of Yuya and Tjuiu (1386-1349 BC). (PNAS)

Care for some ribs? The royal mummies of ancient Egypt apparently did, as a new study finds that “meat mummies” left in Egyptian tombs as sustenance for the afterlife were treated with elaborate balms to preserve them.

Mummified cuts of meat are common finds in ancient Egyptian burials, with the oldest dating back to at least 3300 B.C. The tradition extended into the latest periods of mummification in the fourth century A.D. The famous pharaoh King Tutankhamun went to his final resting place accompanied by 48 cases of beef and poultry.

But meat mummies have been mostly unstudied until now. University of Bristol biogeochemist Richard Evershed and his colleagues were curious about how these cuts were prepared. They also wondered if the mummification methods for meat differed from how Egyptians mummified people or pets.

The team analyzed four samples from meat mummies archived at the Cairo and British museums. The oldest was a rack of cattle ribs from the tomb of Tjuiu, an Egyptian noblewoman, and her courtier Yuya. The beef dates back to between 1386 B.C. and 1349 B.C. [Gallery: Scanning Mummies for Heart Disease]

The second sample dated to between 1064 B.C. and 948 B.C. and consisted of meat from a calf found in the tomb of Isetemkheb D, a sister and wife to a high priest in Thebes. The final two samples were from the tomb of a Theban priestess, Henutmehyt, who died around 1290 B.C. One of the meat mummies found in Henutmehyt’s tomb was duck, and the other was probably goat.

The researchers conducted a chemical analysis of the bandages or the meat itself in all four samples. They found that animal fat coated the bandages of the calf and goat mummies; in the case of the calf, the fat was on bandages not in contact with the meat, suggesting it had been smeared on as a preservative rather than seeping through as grease.

The most intriguing chemical profile appeared on the beef mummy, however. The bandaging around the mummy contained remnants of an elaborate balm made of fat or oil and resin from a Pistacia tree, a shrubby desert plant. This resin was a luxury item in ancient Egypt, Evershed and his colleagues report today (Nov. 18) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was used as incense and varnish on high-quality coffins, but it was not used as a human mummification resin for at least 600 years after the deaths of Tjuiu and Yuya.

Nevertheless, it makes sense to see a sophisticated embalming substance on the beef cut, the researchers wrote. Yuya and Tjuiu were an Egyptian power couple and the parents of the wife of pharaoh Amenhotep III. As the queen’s parents, they would have merited a no-expenses-spared burial.

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1,400 Year Old Monastery on Atlantic Island

Skellig Michael – Mysterious Monastery in the Atlantic

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Nine miles off the coast of County Kerry in the west of Ireland there are two small rocky islands peeking out of the Atlantic Ocean.  The larger of the two, Skellig Michael, is home to something quite extraordinary – a 1400 year old monastery which only a handful of people get to see each year.

As you approach the island there is little, seemingly, to notice.  Yet closer inspection reveals the tell tale criss-cross of manmade paths.   Who could possibly have wanted to live here – and when?

It is thought that the monastery of Skellig Michael was founded at some point in the seventh century and monastic life persisted there for over 600 years.  Why it was abandoned is lost in the sands of time but because of the sheer inaccessibility of the island what the monks left behind remained, through the centuries, remarkably intact.

The name of the island is taken from the Irish language and means Michael’s Rock.  It is some rock, too, rising to 230 meters at its summit.  Atop this the Gaelic Monastery has become well known globally but very few make the journey to visit the site – not many are allowed. This very fact has meant that because its remoteness necessarily discourages tourists that the monastery is, for its age, wonderfully preserved.

It is easy to imagine the early Irish Christian monks leading their extraordinarily spartan day to day existence here – to say that life would have been harsh for them is something of an understatement.  Their huts, in the shape of beehives and called clochans, indicate the bareness of life on the rock.  These monks would have shrugged off all of their earthly possessions before they came to live here. Although it is not by definition a hermitage it must surely have been a lonesome existence for the monks, despite the faith which initiated their decision to move there.

The monastery itself was terraced – a necessity because of the sheer sides of the rick.  Three flights of stairs (perhaps reflecting the Holy Trinity) lead up to Christ’s Valley which is the small depression between the peaks of Skellig Michael at 130 meters.  The visitor is not disappointed when greeted by the sight of six intact clochans.

Neither are they disappointed with the sight of the two oratories, graves and the monolithic cross which are to be discovered there.  There is more recent addition too – a church which was built as late as the thirteenth century.  The construction must have been a labor – the walls are almost two meters thick.

Although Skellig Michael was not intended as such there is a hermitage on the island, distinct from the monastery.   As if a rock in the Atlantic was not isolated enough this extreme form of retreat afforded those monks who wished to contemplate the divine in complete isolation the opportunity to do so.

Daily life and its demands also had to be taken in to account and there is a latrine on the island which is situated over an enormously yawning gap in the rock to ensure that waste matter was thoroughly disposed of.  There are also the remains of a garden which the monks would use to grow essential vegetables.

There is evidence that Skellig Michael suffered several Viking raids, though quite what the visitors from the north would have hoped to pillage is questionable.  However, these raids may have caused the monks to decamp to the mainland in the twelfth century even though the later chapel was built at around the same time. One can only attempt to imagine the dread that the isolated and virtually defenceless monks must have felt at the sight of an approaching Viking longship.

As a result of the deterioration of the monastery due to the tramp of tourists’ feet, the decision was taken to severely restrict the number of visitors to the island.  13 licenses are given to tour operators annually and each may only make a single trip to the rock.

It is thought that there were never more than a dozen or so monks on the island at any one time plus an abbot.  The mystery as to the abandonment of the rock is never likely to be satisfactorily solved but in many ways the monks did the rest of the world a favor.  It is unlikely that what we see now on the island would have remained intact if the island had continued to be populated.  Its very abandonment ensured its survival.

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