jueves, 31 de mayo de 2012

First Prehistoric Twins Discovered in Iberian Peninsula

ScienceDaily (May 30, 2012) — Researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) have discovered the remains of newborn twin girls in the archaeological site of Olèrdola in Barcelona. They date back to between the middle of the 4th century B.C. to the beginning of the 2nd century B.C. The findings are the first bone remains of twins to be recorded in the Iberian Peninsula

"This is the first documented case in the Iberian Peninsula. There has been much talk of possible twins but never has sufficient data been gathered in the field to determine whether findings belong to the same chronological moment in time, nor has data ever been found on the same stratigraphic level to guarantee with such certainty like in this instance," as explained by Eulalia Subira, researcher at the UAB and coauthor of the study published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.
The remains were found in the archaeological site of Sant Miquel d'Olèrdola in Catalonia and it is expected that they belong to two girls between 38 and 40 weeks of gestation who were buried at the same time in the same grave with their legs entwined.
According to the study, "none of the bone remains show pathological evidence of the cause of death but it could have been a consequence of difficult pregnancy or childbirth. Lack of sufficient hygiene could have lead to infant and maternal mortality in Prehistoric times."
In order to test this finding, scientists used forensic anthropology methods, first determining the age and sex. "The specialist carrying out such assessment was 'blind'. In other words, she was not told at any time that both individuals were found next to each other or that they could be twins."
The age of the twins was estimated by taking the tooth germs, the length of the bones and the state of ossification. In addition, experts used photographs of the site to see whether they had been buried at the same time or not, they spoke with archaeologists, who indicated that the two remains had been found in the same grave, and they studied the planimetries.
Subirà points out that "they also carried out DNA analysis but it was not possible to obtain DNA data on one of the individuals despite repeating sampling taking and analysis."
Children buried near to their mothers
This discovery offers new information to the numerous documented cases of child burials during the Iberian Age, when perinatal children were not buried in cemeteries.
"The Olèrdola archaeological site is itself very interesting. It has always been said that throughout the Iberian Age newly born children were not buried in cemeteries. In this case, they were found in a skin tanning and dying area: in other words, a space dedicated to work," points out Subirà.
For the researcher, finding newly born children buried in a work area could indicate that it was where the mothers used to work. This provides information on society and the attachment relationship that parents had with deceased newly born children.
"Recognition of this type of burial will be of great assistance in the future when it comes to interpreting the socio-cultural impact of the arrival of twins in a pre or proto-historic population, their treatment and their life expectancy. We are currently working in the same archaeological site but on more recent remains," as the researcher concludes


Ancient Mummy Child Had Hepatitis B

LiveScience Staff

A mummified child in Korea whose organs were relatively well preserved has produced the oldest full viral genome description. A liver biopsy of the mummy
revealed a unique hepatitis B virus (HBV) known as a genotype C2 sequence, which is said to be common in Southeast Asia.
The first discovery of hepatitis in a Korean mummy came in 2007. The new work provided more detailed analysis.
The research, announced today, was detailed in the May 21 edition of the scientific journal Hepatology.
Carbon 14 tests of the clothing of the mummy suggests that the boy lived around the 16th century during the Korean Joseon Dynasty. The viral DNA sequences recovered from the liver biopsy enabled the scientists to map the entire ancient hepatitis B viral genome.
Using modern-day molecular genetic techniques, the researchers compared the ancient DNA sequences with contemporary viral genomes disclosing distinct differences. The changes in the genetic code are believed to result from spontaneous mutations and possibly environmental pressures during the virus evolutionary process. Based on the observed mutations rates over time, the analysis suggests that the reconstructed mummy's hepatitis B virus DNA had its origin between 3,000 to 100,000 years ago.
Additional analysis of the ancient HBV genomes may be used as a model to study the evolution of chronic hepatitis B and help understand the spread of the virus, possibly from Africa to East-Asia. It also may shed further light on the migratory pathway of hepatitis B in the Far East from China and Japan to Korea as well as to other regions in Asia and Australia where it is a major cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The study was done by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Seoul National University and other institutions.
The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through the contact with infected body fluids, including from mothers to their babies, through sexual contact and intravenous drug abuse. There are over 400 million carriers of the virus worldwide, predominantly in Africa, China and South Korea, where up to 15 percent of the population are cariers of the virus, according to the World Health Organization.
In recent years, universal immunization of newborns against hepatitis B in Israel and in South Korea has lead to a massive decline in the incidence of infection.


domingo, 20 de mayo de 2012

Ka Nefer Nefer Mask: New details

Prosecutors Reveal New Details of Theft Claim in St. Louis Art Museum Ka Nefer Nefer Mask Forfeiture

 Prosecutors in the case of United States v. Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer today filed a Reply in Support of Its Motion to Reconsider. The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri hopes to reverse a judge's April dismissal of the case. The government ultimately seeks to forfeit the allegedly stolen Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask located at the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM) and return it to Egypt. SLAM denies that the mask is stolen and asserts ownership over the artifact.

The museum filed an objection earlier this week to the government's motion requesting the judge to reconsider the dismissal of the case. Today's pleading by the government responds to the museum's objection.

The government says that it should be permitted to amend its original complaint if the court continues to uphold its dismissal order. The prosecution goes on to reveal more specific allegations that it would articulate in a revised complaint:

"To the extent ... that a fuller explanation of the new allegations to be incorporated into an amended complaint would aid the Court in assessing the United States’ request for time to seek leave to amend, the United States is glad to elaborate. If deemed necessary by the Court, the United States' proposed amended complaint would:

• expressly allege that the Mask was stolen from box number fifty-four at Saqqara between 1966 and 1973;

• recite the provisions of the controlling Egyptian cultural patrimony law, Law No. 215, which provides that ancient artifacts excavated after 1951 are the national property of the Republic of Egypt, and establish the absence of any facts that would authorize the Museum’s ownership of the Mask under Egyptian law;

• summarize the relevant Egyptian export laws, which required application to be made to the Egyptian government before the Mask could be exported from Egypt, and allege the absence of any record of lawful exportation;detail the sale agreement between the Art Museum and the sellers for the purchase of the Mask, including the obligation of the sellers to provide copies of applicable export and import licenses, and allege the breach of those obligations;

• advance allegations regarding the sellers’ knowledge of the falsity of the Mask’s supposed provenance, as well as information regarding the criminal history of the sellers, to suggest the illicit nature of the sale;

• describe the Museum’s merely pro forma “investigation” into the Mask’s provenance to support the inference that it knew or was willfully blind to the fact that the Mask was stolen property both before and after its importation;and
 offer citations to numerous other provisions of law, including but not limited to Egyptian [patrimony] law No. 215 and 18 U.S.C. §§ 2314 and 2315 [the National Stolen Property Act], to bolster the conclusion that the Mask was imported into the United States 'contrary to law.'
 Federal attorneys further argue that "that the Museum apparently now concedes, for the first time on this Motion, that probable cause, not a preponderance of the evidence, is the ultimate trial burden that the United States will have to bear. The Museum also appears to agree that the United States should not have to allege 'the date, location, or motive behind the stealing, let alone the identity of the thief' in order to meet that burden, so long as it can establish that the Mask is 'stolen.' The Museum likewise appears to admit that an artifact is considered 'stolen' if its private ownership
 violates originating country’s patrimony laws."

Prosecutors add that SLAM does not correctly construe the law or the facts of the case. The U.S. Attorney's Office writes

"The Museum takes a detour, however, when it attempts to distinguish United States v. One Lucite Ball Containing Lunar Material on the ground that 'until 1983, there was no Egyptian law that unequivocally established Egyptian ownership of items like the Mask.' That claim is not only outside the face of the complaint; it is also incorrect. As the United States set out in its Motion to Strike the Museum’s claim for lack of standing, Egyptian law has provided for national ownership of cultural artifacts like the Mask since at least 1951. While it will ultimately be for the Court to determine whose interpretation of Egyptian law is correct, any such determination is a matter of law that did not need to be pled, and in fact was not pled, on the face of the complaint. Thus, any such contention of the Museum’s is beyond this Court’s consideration on this motion."

[Blogger's sidebar: United States of America v. One Lucite Ball containing Lunar Material (one Moon Rock) and One Ten Inch by Fourteen Inch Wooden Plaque is a federal district court case where authorities successfully seized a moon rock originally given by President Richard Nixon to Honduras. The rock was bought for $50,000 by claimant Alan Rosen, who purchased the moon rock from a retired Honduran military officer. The moon rock went missing from the Honduran presidential palace during the 1990's. The case resulted in the forfeiture of the lunar rock to the federal government in 2003 after government lawyers argued that the rock was stolen from Honduras and smuggled into the United States in violation of 19 U.S.C. 1595a(c)(1)(A), the same statute invoked in the Ka-Nefer-Nefer case.]

lunes, 14 de mayo de 2012

Secrets of the tomb of Neferinpu


The Czech Institute website has been updated with a summary, including photographs, of the recently publicized discovery of an Old Kingdom tomb at Abusir.

The story of the exploration of the mysterious tomb of priest Neferinpu, who lived in ancient Egypt in the 24th century BC has been unfolding already for two years and its end is still nowhere within our sight. The tomb was discovered in the spring of 2006, and in the same season, the chapel which housed the cult of this priest and other members of his family was also brought to light.


The story of the exploration of the mysterious tomb of priest Neferinpu, who lived in ancient Egypt in the 24th century BC has been unfolding already for two years and its end is still nowhere within our sight. The tomb was discovered in the spring of 2006, and in the same season, the chapel which housed the cult of this priest and other members of his family was also brought to light.

The tomb itself measured 14 x 9 meters and the eastern part of its superstructure contained a long corridor chapel, to the west of which there are the mouths of five shafts. The shafts lead to the tomb’s substructure and to five burials, four of which have been examined hitherto. The chapel also contained, still in situ, the lower part of the so-called false door, a magical gate which connected the ancient Egyptians with the realm of the dead to the west of the Nile valley. The decoration of the limestone door was executed in unusually high quality and besides Neferinpu’s name and idealized figure, the decoration included also the list his titles. Therefore we know that he was employed as a mortuary priest in the Abusir pyramid complexes of kings Neferirkare and Niuserre, where the Czech team has been working since the 1970s under the direction of Professor Miroslav Verner. The chapel had originally contained another three false doors, these have, however, been destroyed probably already in antiquity.

Neferinpu was also a king’s confidant, overseer of the judgement hall, priest of the goddess of justice Maat, royal herald and priest of the sun god Re in the sun temple at Abu Ghurab. Such a sequence of titles is typical for ancient Egyptian officials, who could hold both priestly and secular offices.

The burial chamber was explored during last November, and it necessitated the cooperation of a number of scholars and scientists from various fields. The burial chamber was well hidden at the bottom of a 10 meters deep shaft, and the entrance was covered by a wall of stones and bricks. After this wall had been carefully dismantled, the entrance to the burial chamber appeared. The chamber measured approximately 4 x 2 m and was a little less than 1.30 m high, and it was to a large extent occupied by a large limestone sarcophagus containing the intact body of the ancient Egyptian dignitary. Items of burial equipment were scattered around the sarcophagus, including 10 beer jars with sealings, wooden canopic chest with four limestone cases for the mummified viscera, 75 limestone vessels for symbolic offerings of food and drinks, offerings of beef, and a stone blade. The beer jars (one for each day of the ancient Egyptian week) should have originally contained beer, but as the ancient Egyptians were usually rather pragmatic even in their faith, they filled them only with Nile mud to lower the expenses.

The greatest surprise, however, was the burial itself. After the lid has been shifted aside under very strict security measures, we were looking at the badly mummified and almost destroyed body of Neferinpu himself and at his personal belongings. He lay stretched out on his back and with his head to the north. Along his left side there was a long wooden staff decorated with golden strips, and his left hand held the kherep sceptre, a symbol of his high rank and authority. At his left shoulder there was a beautiful wooden head-rest and somewhat closer, a small alabaster vessel originally containing aromatic oil. He was also wearing a golden collar. His arms, head and wrists were decorated with bracelets of faience beads, of which several hundreds were found.

According to preliminary anthropological findings, Neferinpu died at the age of approximately 50 years – this means that he reached quite an old age for an ancient Egyptian.

Years 2008 and 2009 should bring the final answer to the numerous questions connected with this tomb, above all with respect to the additional unexplored underground rooms, which are still awaiting the archaeologists in the tomb. Even now it is, however, clear that his intact burial chamber represents a unique source of knowledge for the many disciplines that are employed in the course of Czech excavations on the pyramid field at Abusir.

viernes, 11 de mayo de 2012

X-ray of a cat born to be a mummy

Caroline Morley, online picture researcher

Image: G. Gnudi and team)
Cats held a special place in ancient Egyptian culture. They appear frequently in its iconography, most famously providing the body of the Great Sphinx in Giza and deified as the cat goddess Bastet.
Ancient Egyptians are also famed for mummies, so it is not surprising that they mummified their favourite animals to provide company, currency or protection for the dead. Preserved peregrine falcons, baboons, crocodiles and gazelles have all been discovered in tombs.
At 2000 years old, this mummified cat lived relatively late in ancient Egyptian history. By this time, cats were reared and killed near temples specifically for mummification. This X-ray, made by Giacomo Gnudi and a team at the National Museum and University of Parma, Italy, shows the cat was just four to five months old at death, and when dead was bound in an exaggerated, compressed upright sitting position similar to that in contemporaneous hieroglyphics.
"The fact that the cat was young suggests that it was one of those bred specifically for mummification," said Gnudi. The X-ray also shows a hole at the base of the cat's skull that may have been made in a sacrificial ceremony for Bastet or to drain the skull's contents.
It is not know exactly where the mummy was found, because it was bought from an antiquarian in the 18th century for the National Museum of Parma. Not only was it part of a roaring trade when it was initially mummified, but animal mummy remains were so common that in the 19th century they were shipped in bulk to Liverpool, UK, to be used as fertiliser. Luckily this specimen escaped to tell us its secrets of its own sacrificial fate.