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Tag Archives: archaeology

‘Magnificent’ baptismal font discovered at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, Palestinian officials say

By James Rogers | Fox News

An ancient 1,500-year-old baptismal font has been discovered during renovation work at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem is Jesus’ birthplace, according to Christian tradition. The font is estimated to date back to between 501 and 600 A.D.

Ziad al-Bandak, head of a Palestinian presidential committee leading the church renovation, said Saturday that international experts are arriving in the biblical West Bank town to examine the receptacle.

Al-Bandak described the Byzantine font as a “magnificent” discovery that had been covered by the larger known vessel.

Palestinian Minister and Head of Restoration Commission for Church of the Nativity, Ziad al-Bandak (C) holds a press conference on the discovery of a baptismal font at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank on June 22, 2019.

Palestinian Minister and Head of Restoration Commission for Church of the Nativity, Ziad al-Bandak (C) holds a press conference on the discovery of a baptismal font at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank on June 22, 2019.(Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

UNESCO World Heritage site, the Church of the Nativity is located about 6.2 miles south of Jerusalem. The church is built on the site identified as Jesus’ birthplace by Christian tradition.

A restoration project was launched five years ago to overcome decades of neglect at the historic church.

Palestinian news agency WAFA reports that a ceremony to celebrate the end of the restoration project, which was planned for November, has been pushed back to May 2020. The postponement will allow the three churches in charge of the Church of the Nativity to undertake a restoration of the church’s grotto, WAFA reports.

A baptismal font is discovered at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank on June 22, 2019. Baptismal font at the Church of the Nativity, considered to be the birthplace of Jesus, is estimated to be from the 501-600 A.D.

A baptismal font is discovered at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank on June 22, 2019. Baptismal font at the Church of the Nativity, considered to be the birthplace of Jesus, is estimated to be from the 501-600 A.D. (Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The baptismal font was discovered during restoration work at the Church of the Nativity.

The baptismal font was discovered during restoration work at the Church of the Nativity. (Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

In a separate project at the site of an ancient city on the West Bank, archaeologists have been hunting for evidence of the tabernacle that once housed the Ark of the Covenant.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Ancient city gate from the time of King David discovered in Israel

The find was made during an excavation at the ancient city of Bethsaida. “There are not too many monumental discoveries dating from the reign of King David,” Rami Arav, associate professor at the University of Nebraska and Bethsaida excavation director, told Fox News via email. “This is absolutely a significant contribution to biblical archaeology and biblical studies.”

Arav explained that Bethsaida was founded in the 11th century B.C. as a pre-planned city and the capital of the Biblical kingdom of Geshur. “The city included a place, granary, city walls, city gate, a high place in the city gate, and a cobblestones courtyard in front of the gate,” he said.

The city was destroyed in 920 B.C. “Since this is the period of time of King David and since the Bible narrates that King David married Maachah the daughter of Talmai the king of Geshur, it is reasonable that King David walked on these very cobblestones when he visited the city,” Arav added.

King David bearing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem depicted in the early 16th century. From a private collection.

King David bearing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem depicted in the early 16th century. From a private collection.(Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

An ancient stele, or monumental stone slab, was discovered adjacent to the gate’s tower. The stele depicts the Moon-god worshipped by the ancient Aramean people.

Arav explained that the discoveries were made during the 32nd season of excavations in the ancient city. The project was initially sponsored by Israel’s Haifa University, then by the University of Nebraska at Omaha. It is now sponsored by the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Post reports that a gate discovered at the site last year likely dates from the First Temple period when the city was known as Zer.

In a separate project, last year archaeologists in Israel uncovered an ancient site that may offer fresh insight into the biblical kingdom of David and Solomon.  The kingdom is described in the Hebrew Bible but has long divided historians.

While some experts believe that it existed in the 10th century B.C., others have questioned its existence, citing a lack of evidence of royal construction at the center of the region where the kingdom is said to have existed.

However, part of the building at Tel ‘Eton in the Judean foothills has been dated to a period in history that coincided with the supposed joint kingdom, according to a study published in the journal Radiocarbon.

In another project, soldiers at a paratrooper base in Southern Israel recently uncovered a Biblical-era watchtower.

The watchtower, which dates back to the 8th century B.C., was revealed during recent excavations by Israel Defense Forces troops working under the direction of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Neolithic people made fake islands more than 5,600 years ago

Hundreds of tiny islands around Scotland didn’t arise naturally. They’re fakes that were constructed out of boulders, clay and timbers by Neolithic people about 5,600 years ago, a new study finds.

Researchers have known about these artificial islands, known as crannogs, for decades. But many archaeologists thought that the crannogs were made more recently, in the Iron Age about 2,800 years ago.

 The new finding not only shows that these crannogs are much older than previously thought but also that they were likely “special locations” for Neolithic people, according to nearby pottery fragments found by modern divers, the researchers wrote in the study.

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People smoked pot to get high 2,500 years ago, study says

Getting high on marijuana may not be a modern pastime, as archaeologists have found the earliest clear evidence to date that people were smoking cannabis for its psychoactive properties some 2,500 years ago.

They found evidence of burned cannabis with high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (the cannabis ingredient responsible for the high) on 10 wooden incense burners, known as braziers; the burners were found alongside eight human burials at an ancient site known as Jirzankal Cemetery (also called Quman Cemetery) on the Pamir Plateau of western China.

One of the tombs that archaeologists excavated on the Pamir Plateau.

One of the tombs that archaeologists excavated on the Pamir Plateau. (Xinhua Wu)

The burners all carried a mystery residue, which a chemical test soon revealed to be cannabis. “To our excitement, we identified the biomarkers of [cannabis],” study co-researcher Yimin Yang, a professor in the department of archaeology and anthropology at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, told reporters at a news conference. [25 Odd Facts About Marijuana]

Researchers have known for decades that ancient people in eastern China cultivated cannabis as long ago as 3500 B.C. But this cannabis was grown as an oil-seed and fiber crop, and so it had low psychoactive properties. In other words, the ancient people harvesting cannabis for these purposes probably weren’t smoking or ingesting it for its high.

The cannabis residues found in the braziers, however, tell another story. It’s likely that ancient people purposefully selected cannabis plants with high THC levels and then smoked them as part of a ritual or religious activity associated with these burials, “perhaps, for example, aimed at communicating with the divine or the deceased,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Ancient cemetery

Archaeologists began excavating Jirzankal Cemetery in 2013, and were intrigued to find the braziers, which held heating stones. To determine what these ancient people had burned, the archaeologists partnered with Yang’s team, which used a technique known as gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to analyze the chemical residues on the braziers.

In the first test, the researchers found biomarkers of cannabis on the internal charred wood of a brazier. Then, they analyzed an ancient sample of cannabis from the 2,500-year-old Jiayi Cemetery in Turpan, China, where the plant was found laid across a man’s chest as a burial shroud. This test showed preserved components of cannabis, including cannabinol (CBN), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabicyclol (CBL).

While THC does not preserve well, CBN is a good indicator that it’s present. Intriguingly, the researchers found ample CBN on the wooden braziers and on two of the stones, indicating that its THC levels were higher than those typically found in wild plants. As a control, they tested samples from the outside of the braziers, but didn’t find any cannabinoids.

Of note, the burials are more in line with the ancient mortuary practices from ancient Central Asia, including the modern-day countries of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, than they are from China, the researchers said.

Where did the psychoactive pot come from?

Most wild cannabis, as well as early cultivated varieties of the plant, contain low levels of psychoactive compounds. So where did this high-THC variety come from?

The researchers have two main ideas. Perhaps a wild variety of pot with high psychoactive levels arose naturally, and then humans found and cultivated it. “I agree that humans are always going to be looking for wild plants that can have effects on the human body, especially psychoactive effects,” study co-researcher Robert Spengler, the laboratory director at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, told reporters.

How did cannabis with high THC levels come about? Given that Jirzankal Cemetery is high up in the mountains — more than 9,800 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level — perhaps the plants encountered stressors there that led them to create more psychoactive properties, the researchers said.

In this line of thinking, the extreme mountain environment — such as low temperatures, low nutrient availability, high exposure to ultraviolet rays and strong light intensity — may have caused the plants to change how they produced or metabolized certain compounds, which could lead to the creation of greater amounts of psychoactive compounds, the researchers said.

“This is potentially linking these plants — the plants with higher THC production — to higher elevation,” Spengler said. “But that’s all fairly theoretical, so we really cannot pinpoint exactly what the mechanisms for the higher THC level are.”

Another idea is that humans — either intentionally or inadvertently — played a role in increasing the plant’s psychoactive properties. Perhaps people bred different marijuana plants that led to varieties with higher THC levels.

“Some of them may have been rapidly domesticated by humans simply moving them or transporting them [along trade routes such as the silk road] … from the Caucasus all the way to East Asia,” Spengler said. “So, it’s possible that humans were still inflicting evolutionary changes on these plants without actually intensively cultivating them.”

That said, it’s still an “open debate” whether the psychoactive pot occurred naturally, or whether humans played a role, he said.

The study is the latest to look at cannabis’s origins and historic uses. In May, another group of researchers posited that the cannabis plant likely originated high on the Tibetan Plateau, according to an analysis of fossil pollen. The new finding “provides yet another piece in the biomolecular archaeological puzzle of the ‘abiding mystery of Central Asia’ and its impact on human cultural and biological development through the millennia,” Patrick McGovern, the scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science. “Much more remains to be learned.”

The study was published online today (June 12) in the journal Science Advances.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Stone block with mysterious 12,000-year-old engravings discovered at prehistoric hunting site

Archaeologists in France have uncovered a mysterious carved stone block at a prehistoric hunting site.

The stone was found during excavations at Angouleme in southwestern France.  A number of engravings have been carved into the sandstone, including horses, deer and an aurochs, an extinct species of wild cattle.

Drawings on the stone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

Drawings on the stone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

“The most visible engraving, that of a headless horse turned to the right, occupies half the surface,” according to a translated statement from French national archeological research organization Inrap. “The rump and the saddle follow the curves of the natural edge of the stone. Very fine incisions may suggest the coat”.

The area where the stone was found was used as a hunting site by the prehistoric Azilian culture. Other items discovered at the site include tools for stripping carcasses.

Side face of the sandstone block.

Side face of the sandstone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

Experts think that the stone is about 12,000 years old. More research will be done to precisely date and gain more information from the artifact.

Other mysterious stones have been grabbing attention in France. A village in Brittany, for example, recently offered a reward to anyone who can decipher a strange inscription on a centuries-old rock.

Last year, archaeologists announced the discovery of 12,000-year-old cave drawings in Eastern France.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and Madeline Farber contributed to this article.  Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Bronze Age Siberian “Birdman” wore a collar of beaks and skulls

Bronze Age Siberian ‘Birdman’ wore a collar of beaks and skulls

Archaeologists have unearthed a Bronze Age skeleton that was buried with an unusual garment: a collar or headdress made of dozens of bird beaks and skulls.

The so-called birdman’s remains, which date to about 5,000 years ago, were discovered at the Ust-Tartas dig site in Siberia’s Novosibirsk region, The Siberian Times reported .

The collar of beaks and skulls may have been a protective garment like armor, or may have been worn for rituals, Kobeleva said. While the birds have not yet been identified, they were likely large shore birds, such as herons or cranes , according to The Times.

Archaeologists still don’t know exactly how the skulls and beaks were attached to each other or to a piece of fabric, as the scientists have not yet detected any holes drilled into the bones so they could be stitched together, The Times reported.

And the “birdman” had company; the archaeologists discovered a two-tiered grave nearby. An upper layer held the bodies of two children, who were approximately 5 and 10 years old when they died. On the lower level — and underneath a wooden divider — was the skeleton of an adult male.

A number of artifacts were buried with the man. One object the researchers found near the skull was a type of mask made of two bronze hemispheres with circular eyeholes, and a bronze crosspiece, according to The Times. Polished stones near the body were thought to be ceremonial, suggesting that this individual — along with the beak-wearing birdman — conducted rituals for his Bronze Age group.

“Both men must have carried special roles in the society,” Kobeleva told The Times.

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Man who lived 700 years ago gets brand-new face

(Credit: Dr. Chris Rynn, University of Dundee)

(Credit: Dr. Chris Rynn, University of Dundee)

Gizmodo calls his face “haunting,” but to UK researchers, seeing the mug of the man known as Context 958 is nothing short of astounding. His visage was revealed at the two-week-long Cambridge Science Festival this month, as were details about who he was: in short, a 13th-century working-class man who died in middle age, had apparently lived a life of indigence, and whose face was reconstructed by scientists based on his teeth and bones, per a Cambridge press release.

Context 958’s skeleton, analyzed as part of the university’s “After the Plague” project, was discovered along with about 400 others between 2010 and 2012 in a medieval-era graveyard underneath one of the college’s schools.

The bodies, which date from the 1200s to the 1400s, came from the Hospital of St. John the Evangelist, which used to exist across from the cemetery.

Context 958, who was found buried face-down in his burial spot, is believed to have been a few ticks older than 40 and boasted a “robust skeleton with a lot of wear and tear,” which means he likely had a physically challenging job, says Cambridge professor John Robb.

However, unlike others who lived in poverty, Context 958 appears to have chowed down on meat and fish, suggesting that he worked in a specialized niche that gave him access to this ample food supply.

What makes the discovery of his body and others in the same demographic notable, Robb says, is that it gives researchers a chance to study how the poor lived in England more than 700 years ago.

“The less money and property you had, the less likely anybody was to ever write down anything about you,” he notes. (This living man’s face was reconstructed using 3D printing.)

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