Secret HistoryS


Who killed Ramesses III?

CT Scan
For more than a century, Egyptologists have puzzled over the mysterious demise of Ramses III in 1155 B.C.E. According to trial records preserved on the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, an assassin murdered the pharaoh during a bloody palace coup. But was this truly the case, and if so, who led the plot?

A new study published today in BMJ shows that Ramesses III died violently after conspirators slashed his throat and reveals that one of the alleged ringleaders, Ramesses's son Pentawere, may have later been strangled. The research team arrived at these findings after analyzing both DNA samples and CT scans from two mummies: Ramesses III (with linen bandage, above right) and a previously unidentified young man found with him in a cache in Deir el Bahari.

The unidentified 20-year-old (shown with arrows pointing to unusual compressed skin folds) proved to be one of Ramesses's sons: He appeared to have been strangled (also evidenced in the scan by overinflated thorax) and buried with a goat skin, a pelt that ancient Egyptians deemed ritually impure and therefore a mark of dishonor befitting an assassin. Sitting on a throne has long been a perilous business, it seems.


Cranial deformation discovered in 1000 year old Mexican cemetery

Close to the small Mexican village of Onavas, south Sonora, archaeologists have uncovered the first pre-Hispanic cemetery of that area, dating to around 1,000 years ago.
© INAHJuvenile burial with shell bracelet and earrings.
A unique burial ground
© INAHIndividual buried with a turtle shell placed over the abdomen.
The burial ground consists of 25 individuals; 13 have intentional cranial deformation and five also have dental mutilation, cultural practices which are similar to those of pre-Hispanic groups in southern Sinaloa and northern Nayarit, but until now, have not been seen in Sonora.

Some of the individuals were wearing ornaments such as as bangles, nose rings, earrings, pendants made from shells found in the Gulf of California, and one burial contained a turtle shell, carefully placed over the abdomen.

However, the archaeologists noted that the burials were not accompanied by the expected offerings and containers.

For archaeologists, the discovery is exciting new evidence of cranial deformation, something which has not been recorded before in the Sonora cultural groups.

"This unique find shows a mix of traditions from different groups of northern Mexico. The use of ornaments made from sea shells from the Gulf of California had never been found before in Sonoran territory and this discovery extends the limit of influence of Mesoamerican peoples farther north than has been previously recorded," said archaeologist Cristina Garcia Moreno, director of the research project.

Garcia Moreno has been conducting work on behalf of Arizona State University with approval of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).


So, 21.12.2012 is the end of the world?

No, stop panicking. The Maya were not New Age gurus - but they could still teach our leaders a thing or two

Nasa's visualisation of the world's end was meant to launch on 22 December, but was posted on YouTube 10 days early.

There is clearly something about the combination of pyramids and ancient calendars which appeals to our inner kookiness. In the 19th century, even a scientist as brilliant as Piazzi Smyth, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, was convinced that the future of the human race had been encrypted within the Great Pyramid of Giza. Nowadays, enthusiasts for predictive code-matrices look not to ancient Egypt but to the Yucatan. There, back in the first Christian millennium, calculations are widely believed to have been made that foretell the end of the world. The date? A mere six days' time: 21 December.

Time to stock up on the baked beans, then? Not quite. To worry that the world will end next Friday would be to misunderstand the ancient people whose calendar supposedly pinpoints the date as terminal. The Maya, unlike their contemporaries in Christian Europe, did not live under the shadow of apocalypse. Their conception of the immensity of time was so precocious as to be almost chilling. An inscription on a temple in the great city of Palenque discusses events that are scheduled to take place in the year AD 4772. The cycles of the Maya calendar, far from ending in 2012, are destined instead to revolve for eons and eons.


Scientists accused of distorting theory of human evolution by misdating bones

© Paul Hanna/ReutersA skull from one of the bodies found in a pit in Spain.
Briton says Spanish researchers are out by 200,000 years and have even got the wrong species

It is the world's biggest haul of human fossils and the most important palaeontology site in Europe: a subterranean chamber at the bottom of a 50ft shaft in the deepest recesses of the Atapuerca cavern in northern Spain. Dozens of ancient skeletons have been unearthed.

La Sima de los Huesos - the Pit of Bones - has been designated a Unesco world heritage site because of its importance to understanding evolution, and millions of euros, donated by the EU, have been spent constructing a museum of human antiquity in nearby Burgos.

But Britain's leading expert on human evolution, Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, has warned in the journal Evolutionary Anthropology that the team in charge of La Sima has got the ages of its fossils wrong by 200,000 years and has incorrectly identified the species of ancient humans found there.

Far from being a 600,000-year-old lair of a species called Homo heidelbergensis, he believes the pit is filled with Neanderthal remains that are no more than 400,000 years old. The difference in interpretation has crucial implications for understanding human evolution.

"The Atapuerca finds are hugely important," said Stringer. "There is no other site like it in terms of numbers of bones and skulls of our ancient predecessors. It is the world's biggest collection of ancient human fossils and the team there has done a magnificent job in excavating the site. However, if we cannot correctly fix the age and identity of the remains then we are in trouble. Getting that wrong even affects how we construct our own evolution."

Comment: For more information of the difficulties faced by scientists in understanding our evolution see:
The Hidden History of Human Evolution


What the Romans didn't do for us

Briton road
© Caroline Malim/James Reed PRA reconstruction of the different levels of the road discovered at Bayston Hill quarry in Shropshire.
The discovery that a Roman road may in fact have been made by Iron Age Britons offers a glimpse of a far more sophisticated society than previously thought

It's not a question often asked, but perhaps it should be. What did the Druids do for us? The discovery of a road in Shropshire that was built by pre-Roman engineers suggests that indigenous Britons may have been much more accomplished than we - or the Romans - liked to imagine. The road itself tells the story well.

The route had long been known as a lost Roman road, named Margary No 64 after the man who first mapped what everyone assumed to be the country's earliest network. It was visible as a low earthwork and as marks in ploughed fields, and in 1995 archaeologists dug up a bit. Sure enough, it looked Roman.

But in 2009, quarrying by Tarmac was due to destroy 400m of it, giving archaeologists a rare opportunity to expose a long section of road, some of it, crucially, very well preserved. At first, it still looked Roman, from its cambered, cobbled surface on a metre of hardcore and a clay base, to the ditches at the sides with a thin scatter of Roman rubbish. However, dig director Tim Malim noticed that the road had twice been rebuilt, and knew its history could be dated using a technique that tells you when buried mineral grains were last exposed to sunlight.


UK experts say Stonehenge was place of healing

© Kirsty Wigglesworth, Associated PressIn this Monday March 31, 2008 file photo, archaeology students Steve Bush, right, and Sam Ferguson, left, sieve through earth amongst the stones at Stonehenge, England. Two British archeologists say the first excavation at the site of Stonehenge in more than 40 years has shed new light on the purpose of the landmark. Professors Geoffrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill told journalists Monday, Sept. 22, 2008, that Stonehenge was a kind of primeval Lourdes. They say the stone circle was a center of healing which attracted the sick and infirm from all over prehistoric Europe. They also say they have dated the first stone monuments at the site to about 2,300 B.C.
The first excavation of Stonehenge in more than 40 years has uncovered evidence that the stone circle drew ailing pilgrims from around Europe for what they believed to be its healing properties, archeologists said Monday.

Archaeologists Geoffrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill said the content of graves scattered around the monument and the ancient chipping of its rocks to produce amulets indicated that Stonehenge was the primeval equivalent of Lourdes, the French shrine venerated for its supposed ability to cure the sick.

An unusual number of skeletons recovered from the area showed signs of serious disease or injury. Analysis of their dental records showed that about half were from outside the Stonehenge area.

"People were in a state of distress, if I can put it as politely as that, when they came to the Stonehenge monument," Darvill told journalists assembled at London's Society of Antiquaries.

He pointed out that experts near Stonehenge have found two skulls that showed evidence of primitive surgery, some of just a few known cases of operations in prehistoric Britain.

"Even today, that's the pretty serious end of medicine," he said. Also found near Stonehenge was the body of a man known as the Amesbury Archer, who had a damaged skull and badly hurt knee and died around the time the stones were being installed. Analysis of the Archer's bones showed he was from the Alps.

Darvill cautioned, however, that the new evidence did not rule out other uses for Stonehenge.


New hints into human ancestry could lead to rethink of 'Out Of Africa' theory

© Pamela Willoughby, University of Alberta This 2012 image shows a structure used by inhabitants of the region for well over 200,000 years.
Research and excavations by a Canadian researcher from sites in southern Tanzania could lead to a rethinking of the 'Out of Africa' narrative that describes the human diaspora around the globe, according to a new report in the journal Quaternary International.

Led by Pamela Willoughby, the Iringa Region Archaeological Project has uncovered artifacts that suggest a constant human occupation between today and at least 200,000 years ago at two sites, Mlambalasi and nearby Magubike.

"Some of these sites have signs that people were using them starting around 300,000 years ago. In fact, they're still being used today," said Willoughby, from the University of Alberta's Department of Anthropology. "But the idea that you have such ancient human occupation preserved in some of these places is pretty remarkable."

The finding also supports the so-called "bottleneck theory", which says that all humans are descended from one genetic lineage of people who left Africa around 50,000 years ago.

Within the Magubike site is a large rock shelter with an intact overhanging roof. Excavations of the shelter yielded unique artifacts and fossils that date from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. Earlier artifacts from the shelter include human teeth, animal bones, shells and thousands of stone tools.


Hans Christian Andersen's first fairy tale discovered

Hans Christian Handersen
© Thora Hallager/Wikimedia CommonsHans Christian Handersen. The photo was taken in October 1867 by photographer Thora Hallager.
Danish experts believe they have found the first fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875).

Titled Tællelyset (The Tallow Candle), the ink-written manuscript was found by local historian Esben Brage at the bottom of an archive box. Brage made the discovery in October in the historical archive on the island of Funen, where the Danish author was born.

Two months later, historians confirmed that the six-page manuscript was indeed written by Andersen. They dated the document to the mid-1820s, when the writer was in his late teens.

"I am in no doubt that it has been written by Andersen," Ejnar Stig Askgaard of the Odense City Museum told the Danish daily Politiken.

The newspaper has translated and published a version of the story in English.

The front page of the document reads "To Madam Bunkeflod from her devoted H.C. Andersen."

A vicar's widow, Mme Bunkeflod lived opposite Andersen's childhood home. Historians know that the writer visited her often as a child, borrowing her books.

"The fairy tale was a present. A present of thanks to a woman whose home had been very important to him," Askgaard said.


Brain-removal tool left in mummy's skull

Brain Removal Tool
© RSNA RadioGraphicsCT scans of a 2,400-year-old female mummy revealed a tubular object embedded in its skull between the brain's left parietal bone and the resin filled back of the skull. It would turn out to be a tool used for the removal of the brain. This is only the second time that such a tool has been reported in the skull of an ancient Egyptian mummy.
A brain-removal tool used by ancient Egyptian embalmers has been discovered lodged in the skull of a female mummy that dates back around 2,400 years.

Removal of the brain was an Egyptian mummification procedure that became popular around 3,500 years ago and remained in use in later periods.

Identifying the ancient tools embalmers used for brain removal is difficult, and researchers note this is only the second time that such a tool has been reported within a mummy's skull.

The discovery

Located between the left parietal bone and the back of the skull, which had been filled with resin, the object was discovered in 2008 through a series of CT scans.

Researchers then inserted an endoscope (a thin tube often used for noninvasive medical procedures) into the mummy to get a closer look and ultimately detach it from resin to which it had gotten stuck.

"We cut it with a clamp through the endoscope and then removed it from the skull," said lead researcher Dr. Mislav Čavka, of the University Hospital Dubrava in Zagreb Croatia, in an interview with LiveScience.

They found themselves peering at an object more than 3 inches (8 centimeters) long that would have been used for liquefying and removing the brain. "It almost definitely would have been used in excerebration [brain removal] of the mummy," Čavka said.


Archaeologists uncover Europe's first civilization?

© Balkan Heritage Field School.
A team of archaeologists have unearthed additional evidence of what may have been Europe's first civilization at a site located near the town of Pazardzhik in southern Bulgaria. Known as Yunatsite, it is a Tell (mound containing archaeological remains) about 110 meters in diameter and 12 meters high, rising above fields next to a small Bulgarian village by the same name. The Tell contains remains of an urbanized settlement dated at its earliest to the early fifth millenium BC.

Directed by Yavor Boyadzhiev of the National Institute of Archaeology and Museums, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, excavators have unearthed artifacts such as weapons, Spondylus jewels, decorated fineware pottery, shards marked by characters/pictograms, and evidence of structures dated to 4900 BC, including fortifications and a recently discovered wooden platform that was likely the floor of a building that had been destroyed by fire.

The excavations are revealing an age-old story of warfare and human cruelty. Writes Boyadzhiev, et. al. at their website: "The Copper age settlement was destroyed by invaders around 4200-4100 cal. BC. Among the ruins of the last Chalcolithic horizon are found the skeletons of its last inhabitants (mainly children and elderly men and women): a testimony of a cruel massacre. Those who survived returned and resettled for a while the devastated settlement but soon even they left it and Tell Yunatsite was abandoned for more than 1000 years". [1]