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Athenian 'snake goddess' gets new identity

© Athenian Agora Excavations
A mysterious "snake goddess" found in Athens is painted on a plaque with a molded face.
Seattle - A mysterious "snake goddess" painted on terracotta and discovered in Athens may actually be Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest.

Once linked to the worship of the dead, the goddess is flanked by two snakes on a slab of terracotta about the size of a piece of notebook paper. She has her hands up above her head, which has given her the nickname "the touchdown goddess" thanks to the resemblance of the pose to a referee's signal. The goddess is painted in red, yellow and blue-green on a tile, with only her head molded outward in three dimensions. This unusual piece of art was found amid a jumble of gravel and other terracotta fragments in 1932 in what was once the Athenian agora, or public square.

The catch, however, is that the snake goddess isn't originally from the agora. The gravel and figurine fragments were fill material, brought in from an unknown second location to build a path or road in the seventh century B.C.

"Not only is our snake goddess unidentified, but she's homeless," said study researcher Michael Laughy of Washington and Lee University in Virginia. "She got mixed up in that road gravel, presumably obtained near the site of her original shrine."

Pills

Ancient remedies found in shipwreck

© Naples National Archaeological Museum, Wikimedia Commons
The doctor Japyx heals Aeneas.
An ancient doctor likely knew the composition of the medicines loaded aboard a doomed ship preparing to sail into the Mediterranean. But it would be another approximately 2,200 years until anyone else learned the ingredients of the six grey pills, which were lost beneath the waves along with the rest of the ship, known as the Relitto del Pozzino.

A team of Italian archeologists, chemists and biologists deciphered the chemical clues to the composition of an ancient medicine packed in the cargo of a ship sunk in 18 meters (59 feet) of water off the coast of Tuscany.

The six flat disks were held in a tin container which was probably once held in a larger wooden box that rotted away. Other medical implements of the time were found nearby.

Discovery News reported on an earlier study that discovered the medicine contained a mixture of mineral and plant materials, but not exactly which chemicals.

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Baby bones found scattered in ancient Italian village

© Anthony Tuck
The bucolic site was occupied for centuries, but the bones were found scattered on the floor of 7th-century B.C. structures in the village.
Seattle - The death of an infant may not have been an occasion for mourning in ancient Italy, according to archaeologists who have found baby bones scattered on the floor of a workshop dating to the seventh century B.C.

The grisly finds consist of bone fragments uncovered over years of excavation at Poggio Civitate, a settlement about 15 miles (25 kilometers) from the city of Siena in what is now Tuscany. The settlement dates back to at least the late eighth century B.C. Archaeologists excavating the site have found evidence of a lavish residential structure as well as an open-air pavilion that stretches an amazing 170 feet (52 meters) long. Residents used this pavilion was as a workshop, manufacturing goods such as terracotta roof tiles.

In 1983, scientists uncovered a cache of bones on the workshop floor, consisting mostly of pig, goat and sheep remains. But among the bony debris was a more sobering find: two arm bones from an infant (or infants) who died right around birth.

In 2009, another baby bone surfaced at the workshop, this one a portion of the pelvis of a newborn. [See Images of the Infant Bones]

The bones "were either simply left on the floor of the workshop or ended up in an area with a concentration of discarded, butchered animals," said Anthony Tuck, an archaeologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who presented an analysis of the bones Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America.

Camera

Identity of Princess Diana's mystery friend revealed

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© RR Auction COA
The 10 x 8 glossy news photo of a young Diana lying in bed with a young man seated behind her
Reclining on a bed in a ski chalet, a young man leaning cosily against her, this is a teenage Princess Diana pictured before she met her husband.

The question of her companion's identity was solved last night when it was confirmed to be Adam Russell, an Old Etonian and the great-grandson of former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

The picture, to be sold at auction in America later this year, is thought to have been taken in 1979 or 1980, and despite the intimacy it depicts, Mr Russell was said to be "just a friend" of Diana's.

The pair had been injured on the same ski trip and were relaxing togather when the photo was taken.

Had "smitten" Mr Russell made his feelings about her known sooner, the whole future of the British monarchy could have been very different, it was suggested.

Andrew Morton, the royal biographer, told ITV News: "They kept each other company while the others went skiing and at the end of the holiday Adam was somewhat smitten but absolutely nothing happened.

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Eight million animal mummies found in Saqqara

© Photo courtesy of NG
Ikram with a dog mummy.
During routine excavations at the dog catacomb in Saqqara necropolis, an excavation team led by Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo (AUC), and an international team of researchers led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University have uncovered almost 8 million animal mummies at the burial site.

Studies on their bones revealed that those dogs are from different breeds but not accurately identified yet.

"We are recording the animal bones and the mummification techniques used to prepare the animals," Ikram said.

Studies on the mummies, Ikram explains, revealed that some of them were old while the majority were buried hours after their birth. She said that the mummified animals were not limited to canines but there are cat and mongoose remains in the deposit.

"We are trying to understand how this fits religiously with the cult of Anubis, to whom the catacomb is dedicated," she added.

Ikram also told National Geographic, which is financing the project, that "in some churches people light a candle, and their prayer is taken directly up to God in that smoke. In the same way, a mummified dog's spirit would carry a person's prayer to the afterlife".

Saqqara dog catacomb was first discovered in 1897 when well-known French Egyptologist Jacques De Morgan published his Carte of Memphite necropolis, with his map showing that there are two dog catacombs in the area.

Document

Collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts found in Afghanistan fox cave

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© AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana
Academic director of the National Library of Israel professor Haggai Ben-Shammai displays a document from a collection of discarded religious Jewish writings.
Israel's National Library has acquired 1,000-year-old Jewish documents discovered in Afghanistan. The collection of 29 pages includes writings by Saadia Gaon, and has been compared in significance to the 19th-century discovery of the Cairo Genizah.

The rare documents were discovered by villagers near the Iran-Uzbekistan border in a cave believed to be the home of a family of foxes. The manuscripts include religious writings, as well as letters and civil contracts written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Persian, and in a variety of alphabets.

The cache, sometimes known as the Afghan Genizah, has "rocked the world of scholars" who study ancient manuscripts, as well as the dealers who buy and sell them, Haaretz reported.

The key manuscript acquired by the library is a page from Saadia Gaon's commentary on the Bible. The document is a 10th-century commentary on Isaiah 34, written in Judeo-Arabic.

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© AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana
Academic director of the National Library of Israel professor Haggai Ben-Shammai displays a document from a collection of discarded religious Jewish writings.

Magnify

Ancient city reveals a Goddess sculpture

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© DHA photo
A marble sculpture head of Artemis from the fourth century uncovered in Aydın’s Alabanda.
A marble sculpture head of Artemis from the fourth century BC has been uncovered in the ancient city of Alabanda as the archeological excavations there come to a close. In some of the excavations made at the site, the doors of the ancient city were uncovered, the head of the excavation team, Aydın Adnan Menderes University Archeology department academic Suat Ateşlier said. The walls from the Byzantine era were also found, he added.

These walls and the road were uncovered near the Temple of Apollo, said Ateşlier. "We have also found a very valuable sculpture head in the same area. The quality of the sculpture is very good, and it is in very good condition. This is a goddess sculpture." He added that experts believed it was of the goddess Artemis, the sister of Apollo.

Ateşlier said they had started in July and this season many newly excavated artifacts has been uncovered at the site. The team closed the excavations on Dec. 20.

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Ancient carving shows stylishly plump African princess

© Krzysztof Grzymski
Dating back around 2,000 years and discovered in a palace in the ancient city of Meroe in Sudan, this relief appears to show a princess who is, fashionably, overweight.
A 2,000-year-old relief carved with an image of what appears to be a, stylishly overweight, princess has been discovered in an "extremely fragile" palace in the ancient city of Meroë, in Sudan, archaeologists say.

At the time the relief was made, Meroë was the center of a kingdom named Kush, its borders stretching as far north as the southern edge of Egypt. It wasn't unusual for queens (sometimes referred to as "Candaces") to rule, facing down the armies of an expanding Rome.

The sandstone relief shows a woman smiling, her hair carefully dressed and an earring on her left ear. She appears to have a second chin and a bit of fat on her neck, something considered stylish, at the time, among royal women from Kush.

Team leader Krzysztof Grzymski presented the relief, among other finds from the palace at Meroë, at an Egyptology symposium held recently at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Blackbox

Dried squash holds headless French king's blood?

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© Corbis
Louis XVI (1754-1793), King of France and Navarre from 1774 to 1791.
Two centuries after the French people beheaded Louis XVI and dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, scientists believe they have authenticated the remains of one such rag kept as a revolutionary souvenir. Researchers have been trying for years to verify a claim imprinted on an ornately decorated calabash that it contains a sample of the blood of the French king guillotined in Paris on January 21, 1793.

The dried, hollowed squash is adorned with portraits of revolutionary heroes and the text: "On January 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation". He is then believed to have placed the fabric in the gourd, and had it embellished.

The sinister souvenir has been in the private hands of an Italian family for more than a century, said the team of experts from Spain and France which published its findings in the journal Forensic Science International.

Two years ago, analysis of DNA taken from blood traces found inside the ornate vegetable revealed a likely match for someone of Louis' description, including his blue eyes.

But not having the DNA of any kingly relation, researchers could not prove beyond doubt that the blood belonged to Louis.

Until now.

Pyramid

2,750-year-old temple discovered in Israel

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© Skyview/Israeli Antiquities Authority
An overhead view of the excavation site
Israeli archeologists have discovered the remains of an ancient temple that is nearly 3,000 years old and was once home to a ritual cult.

"The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple," excavation directors Anna Eirikh, Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz said in a statement released by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The temple remains were discovered at the Tel Motza site, located to the west of Jerusalem. The Israeli Antiquities Authority has been conducting excavation efforts at the site and says that along with the temple remains itself, the findings include a "cache of sacred vessels" estimated to be 2,750 years old.

"Among other finds, the site has yielded pottery figurines of men, one of them bearded, whose significance is still unknown," the statement from Khalaily and Kisilevitz reads.

NBC's Cosmic Log notes that the discovery was made during preparations for a new section of Israel's Highway 1. Because of the number of historical sites and artifacts in and near Jerusalem, the Israeli government typically conducts similar archeological excavation efforts before beginning construction on major infrastructure projects.