Ötzi – a new understanding of the holy grail of glacial archaeology

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Reinhold Messner (right) looking at Ötzi after more ice had melted or been hacked away.

Ötzi the iceman is the holy grail of glacial archaeology, nothing less. The discovery of the 5300-year-old mummified body and the associated artefacts created a media frenzy and great public interest. Today, 250000 people visit the Ötzi Museum in Bolzano each year to get a glimpse of Ötzi and the exhibited artefacts. A wealth of scientific papers, popular books and documentaries have been published.

Ötzi was discovered in 1991 in a gully at the Tisenjoch pass close to the Italian/Austrian border. The original interpretation by the Innsbruck-based archaeologist Konrad Spindler was that Ötzi froze to death in the gully. He was quickly covered by a glacier and remained encased in ice until he melted out in 1991. How else could the body and artefacts be so well preserved?

Read the rest of this fascinating story here.

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Ramesses III was murdered!

From WA:

Ramesses III was murdered in a palace coup led by his wife and son, archaeologists announced on 17th December.

A number of ancient Egyptian documents, including the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, record an attempt on the 20th Dynasty pharaoh’s life in 1155 BC, the final year of his reign, and that the chief conspirators were Tiye, one of Ramesses’ secondary wives, and her son Pentawere. The coup, known as the ‘harem conspiracy’ failed, with the throne passing to the king’s designated successor, Ramesses IV, but Egyptologists have long debated whether the assassination attempt was successful.

Now researchers, led by Dr Albert Zink from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman of the European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen in Italy, have carried out CT scans of the pharaoh’s mummified remains, revealing a deep cut across his throat that severed the trachea, oesophagus, and major blood vessels.

‘The extent and depth of the wound indicated that it could have caused the immediate death of Ramesses III,’ the team say, in their paper newly published in the British Medical Journal. ‘This study gives clues to the authenticity of the historically described harem conspiracy and finally reveals its tragic outcome. ’Our CT analysis provides evidence that the conspirators killed Ramesses III by cutting his throat.’

The researchers’ forensic investigations suggest that the damage to Ramesses III’s throat is unlikely to have been caused after his death, while no accounts of ancient Egyptian embalming methods suggest that opening the throat was part of the mummification process.

Sarcophagus box of Ramesses III, on display in Louvre

Further evidence of foul play came with the discovery of a wedjet (Horus eye) amulet which had been carefully placed inside the wound – perhaps by embalmers, hoping that its healing properties would restore the king in the next world, after which they covered the injury with a thick collar of linen layers.

At the same time, the team have announced the identification of a ‘possible candidate’ for the mummy of one of the culprits, Prince Pentawere – who reportedly took his own life after being found guilty of conspiracy against his father. The remains of 18-20-year-old ‘Man E’ were found in the same royal cache as Ramesses III at Deir el Bahari, but it had not previously been established who he was.

Bone samples taken from both mummies were analysed, revealing identical Y chromasomal DNA, and genetic similarities strongly suggesting a father-son relationship between the two individuals. While it is not possible to establish which of Ramesses’ many sons this could be, unusual aspects of his mummification suggest that he was not laid to rest with the honours expected for a 20th Dynasty royal.

There is no evidence that the man’s internal organs or brain were removed, the team say, and his body had been covered with a goatskin – a material considered to be ritually impure by the ancient Egyptians.  This could be interpreted as a post-mortem punishment, the team suggest, though his cause of death remains subject to speculation. His inflated thorax and compressed skinfolds around the neck could suggest violent actions such as strangulation preceding his death, though these effects could also be influenced by decomposition.

The mystery of bog bodies

From USAtoday:

Scholars have long tried to make sense out of one of the oddities of the archaeological world —bodies pulled from ignominious burials in cold water bogs everywhere from Ireland to Russia.

Hundreds of these bog bodies have been found over the past two centuries. But who were they and why were they dispatched to the great beyond in mucky swamps? The theories range from executed deserters, to witches to everyday people.

The Irish Countess of Moira back in 1783 launched scholarly explorations by suggesting that bog bodies were victims of Druid ceremonies. Others, citing the ancient Roman writerTacitus, quickly saw them most likely as executed deserters. Arguments over individual finds have continued ever since the first look that year by the Countess at the Northern Ireland “Drumkeeragh” bog body, a woman dressed in wool clothes.

“Unfortunately the focus has been almost exclusively on the most spectacular finds, the mummified bodies,” says archaeologist Moten Ravn of Denmark’s Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, writing in the current Acta Archaeologica journal. Rather than arguing from just one body, Ravn suggests a survey of all the bodies might offer better clues to how they ended up buried in bogs.

What is a bog and how does it preserve anything? Cold-weather swamps, basically, where mosses turn waters brown. Roughly 560 bog bodies have turned up in Denmark alone, Ravn notes, usually discovered when farmers try to turn wetlands into farmland. His survey focuses on 145 bog bodies dating to the early Iron and late Bronze Age, roughly 500 BC to 100 BC, the pre-Roman era in northern Europe.

Acids found in bog waters have mummified some of the bodies, or more accurately tanned them into leather. Mosses release chemicals that leach calcium from the bodies, “which means that the bones of the bog bodies take on the consistency of rubber,” Ravn writes. Other bogs rich in lime have preserved other bodies only as bones.

Scholars have raced up and down the human pecking order in ascribing identities to the bodies. The historian Niels Petersen in 1835 decided that the “Haraldskaer” woman’s body found at the site of a copper factory belonged to the Norwegian Queen Gunhilde, drowned by King Harald Blatund (Bluetooth) in the Ninth Century. By 1907, archaeologist Johanna Mestorf became convinced they were all executed criminals, noting many of the bodies were bound and naked.

Shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nazi archaeologists dominated bog body research starting in the 1930’s until the end of the Third Reich, Ravn notes, “interested in proving that the so-called Nordic race were direct descendants of the proto-Germanic race,” dating back to the Bronze Age.

All of these ideas have problems, starting with Queen Gunhilde, who was unlikely to have been buried in leather scraps, as she was found. Also a 2004 Journal of Archaeological Science study notes that carbon dating finds the “Haraldskaer” bog body was actually 2,500 years old, not in King Bluetooth’s reign.

As for executed criminals, Ravn notes there are only 21 Danish cases where the bodies have demonstrably been restrained, which, “may be a general protection against ghosts and not something reserved for criminals,” he writes. About 34% of the Bronze and Iron Age bodies in his sample are clothed, and clothing may not endure in bogs as well as flesh does, explaining its absence. A 2009 study, also in the Journal of Archaeological Science led by Ulla Mannering of the University of Copenhagen, reports 44 instances of bog bodies found with clothes in Denmark, most dating to the Roman era.

The Nazi theory is just crackers, of course, with even their own archaeologists pointing out bog bodies turned up in Ireland and elsewhere, even as far south as Crete, far outside any “proto-Germanic” home.

Instead, “most archaeologists today support the sacrifice theory,” Ravn writes. Proposed in the 1950’s, the basic idea is that bog bodies were mostly offerings to the Nordic gods Odin or Nerthus (“Mother Earth”), with the rest either murder or accident victims. People were mostly cremated in the era, a point which suggests a bog burial must have been a special event.

An alternative is the idea proposed in 2002 by historian Allen Lund that the bog bodies belonged to witches. Ancient people knew about the preserving nature of bogs and sought to suspend their supernatural foes in a state between life and death to forestall being haunted by them.

Ravn proposes a new theory to explain some of the bog bodies — maybe they were just people who died of natural causes and were sent to their burial in the bogs by their relatives. There is nothing special about the range of 145 people in his survey, men, women, young and old. Some were clearly placed in excavated holes lined with bark and cotton, buried with glass beads or gold jewelry in their mouths, a Roman custom. In Celtic myths, bogs and lakes were places of healing, Ravn suggests. “Is it possible that there was a wish to pass on these healing characteristics of the bog to a person who died a natural death so that the deceased could arrive healthy in the realm of the dead,” he asks.

Overall, bog bodies are “not so easy to explain,” Ravn says. The oldest one, the Koelbjerg woman, dates to 10,000 years ago. Others date to modern times, such as Johann Spieker, a hawker (person who used trained falcons to hunt), who died in 1828. “The reason that people were given their final resting place in the bog was not because of any one single tradition or one single ritual,” Ravn concludes. “Some were due to accidents and others to murder. Some may have been sacrificed and others may have died of natural causes and were buried in the bog.”

From USAtoday.

 

Egypt to Reveal the Results of DNA Testing on King Tut’s Mummy

On Sunday, 31st January, Egypt’s antiquities department made the announcement that they will soon reveal the results of DNA testing conducted on the world’s most famous ancient king, Pharaoh Tutankhamun, which was undertaken to answer lingering mysteries over his lineage. Archaeology chief Zahi Hawass said at a conference that he would announce the results of DNA tests and CAT scans on February 17.

The results of DNA and CAT scans on King Tut’s mummy will be compared to those made of King Amenhotep III, who may have been Tutankamun’s grandfather.

The testing of Tut’s mummy is part of a wider program to check the DNA of hundreds of mummies to determine their family relations and identities. It is hoped that the program will help to determine Tut’s family lineage, something which has long been a source of mystery.

The identity of Tutankamun’s parents is not definitively known, though many experts believe that he is the son of Akhenaten, the 18th Dynasty pharaoh who tried to introduce monotheism to Egypt 3,500 years ago. His mother is believed to be one of Akhenaten’s queens, Kiya. Others, however, suggest that Tut was the son of a lesser known pharaoh that followed Akhenaten.

Tut was one of the final kinds of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, ruling during a crucial, tumultuous time when Akhenaten’s monotheism ended and powers were returned to the priests of the country’s multiple deities.

The department has announced ambitious plans to conduct DNA tests on Egyptian mummies, including tests on all royal mummies and the two dozen unidentified ones stored at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It is believed that some of the sting could show that some of the royal mummies on display are not who they were thought to be. One of their big goals is to find the mummy of Nefertiti, Akhenaten’s wife legendary for her beauty.

Hawass has long rejected DNA testing be conducted on Egyptian mummies by foreign experts, and just recently allowed such projects to go forth on the condition that they be done only by Egyptians. With funding from the Discovery Channel, a $5 million DNA lab was created at the Egyptian Museum.

In addition, Hawass announced Sunday that a robot would be sent inside the Great Pyramind of Khufu to learn the secrets of its hidden passageways.

SOURCE