In a recent study by the University of Missouri, researchers have conducted a chemical and isotopic analysis of copper artefacts from southern Africa, revealing new cultural connections between the region’s inhabitants from the 5th to the 20th century.
According to Jay Stephens, a post-doctoral fellow in the MU Research Reactor (MURR) Archaeometry Lab, people residing in South Africa and the Copperbelt region of central Africa were more connected than previously thought.
“Over the past 20 to 30 years, most archaeologists have framed the archaeological record of southern Africa in a global way with a major focus on its connection to imports coming from the Indian Ocean,” he said. “But it’s also important to recognize the interconnected relationships that existed among the many groups of people living in southern Africa. The data shows the interaction between these groups not only involved the movement of goods, but also flows of information and the sharing of technological practices that come with that exchange.”
The origin of rectangular, fishtail, and croisette copper ingots has been a topic of debate among scholars for years. Some argued that they were made only from copper ore extracted from the Copperbelt region, while others suggested they originated from Zimbabwe’s Magondi Belt. Jay Stephens has now revealed that both theories hold true.
“We now have tangible linkages to reconstruct connectivity at various points in time in the archaeological record,” he said. “There is a massive history of interconnectivity found throughout the region in areas now known as the countries of Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This also includes people from the contemporary Ingombe Ilede, Harare, and Musengezi traditions of northern Zimbabwe between at least the 14th and 18th centuries A.D.”
Researchers analysed small samples taken from 33 copper ingots to arrive at their findings. The samples were carefully selected by the researchers from archaeological collections at the Museum of Human Sciences in Harare, Zimbabwe and the Livingstone Museum in Livingstone, Zambia.
Less than one gram of each of the 33 samples was dissolved with specific acids, leaving behind a liquid mixture of chemical ions. They then conducted an analysis of the samples to determine lead isotopes and other chemical elements.
Stephens said the data they collect is one of the only remaining tangible links that exist today to those precolonial mines in Africa.
“Unfortunately, large open pit mines have destroyed a lot of the archaeological sites and broader cultural landscapes around these geological deposits,” he said. “This makes it a challenge to reconstruct the history related to these mines. It’s a concerning development, especially with the global push toward more electric vehicles which use minerals like copper and cobalt found in the Copperbelt.”
Header Image Credit : Jay Stephens
New chambers discovered in Ancient Egyptian pyramid of Sahura
An Egyptian-German archaeological mission has discovered several new chambers in the pyramid of Sahura, located in the Abu Sir Pyramid Field south of Giza.
Sahura, meaning “He who is close to Re”, was a pharaoh of Ancient Egypt and the second ruler of the Fifth Dynasty (2465 BC to 2325 BC). Sahure’s reign is seen as one of economic and cultural prosperity, opening new trading links to the land of Punt and expanding the flow of goods from the Levantine coast.
Choosing not to follow the tradition of being buried in the royal necropolises of Saqqara and Giza, Sahura instead chose for his pyramid to be constructed at Abusir. Although smaller in size than the pyramids of his predecessors, Sahura’s pyramid complex was decorated with over 10,000 m2 of finely carved reliefs, some of which are considered “unparalleled in Egyptian art.”
The interior chambers of the pyramid were extensively damaged by grave robbers during antiquity, making it impossible to precisely reconstruct the substructure plan.
Image Credit : Mohamed Khaled
A restoration project led by Egyptologist Dr. Mohamed Ismail Khaled of the Department of Egyptology at Julius-Maximilians-Universität of Würzburg (JMU) has discovered a series of storage chambers and passageways. The northern and southern parts of these chambers are badly damaged, however, remnants of the original walls and parts of the floor can still be seen.
Using 3D laser scanning with a ZEB Horizon portable LiDAR scanner, the team conducted detailed surveys to map the extensive external areas and the narrow corridors and chambers inside.
According to the researchers: “Careful documentation of the floor plan and dimensions of each storage chamber has greatly enhanced our understanding of the pyramid’s interior. During restoration, a balance between preservation and presentation was pursued to ensure the structural integrity of the chambers while making them accessible for future study and potentially the public.”
During the restoration work, the project was also able to uncover the floor plan of the antechamber which had deteriorated over time. Consequently, the destroyed walls were replaced with new retaining walls. The eastern wall of the antechamber was badly damaged, and only the northeast corner and about 30 centimetres of the eastern wall were still visible.
Header Image – Pyramid of Sahura – Public Domain
Archaeologists identify runesmith who carved the Jelling Stone runes
Archaeologists using 3D scans have identified who carved the Jelling Stone runes, located in the town of Jelling, Denmark.
The first of the two Jelling stones was erected by King Gorm the Old in honour of his wife Thyra. Following this, a second stone was raised by King Gorm’s son, Harald Bluetooth, to commemorate his parents and to mark his victorious rule over Denmark and Norway, as well as his role in converting the Danish people to Christianity.
Researchers from the National Museum in Copenhagen have conducted 3D scans to analyse the carving tracks of the runes. Similar to handwriting, the carving techniques are relatively unique to each runesmith, as each stonemason holds the chisel at a certain angle and strikes with a certain force with the hammer.
By studying the angle of the chisel grooves and the distance between them, comparisons can be made with other rune stones, such as the Laeborg Runestone which stands approximately 30 kilometres southwest of Jelling
The analysis has revealed that the Laeborg Runestone has the same carving technique, which also has the inscription: “Ravnunge-Tue carved these runes after Thyra, his queen”.
Queen Thyra is mentioned in the two Jelling stones as the mother of Harald Bluetooth, wife of Gorm the Elder and “penitent of Denmark”, but Thyra’s name is also mentioned in two other runestones, that of Læborg, carved by Ravnunge-Tue in honor of Thyra, his queen, and that of Bække 1, which bears the inscription “Ravnunge-Tue and Fundin and Gnyple, the three made the stop of Thyra.”
For many years, researchers have debated whether Læborgstenen’s Queen Thyra is the same as the Thyra mentioned on the stones from Jelling.
According to the researchers: “The discovery in itself is interesting because it can link another person to the Jelling dynasty, but it is especially interesting because the realization brings with it another startling revelation, explains Lisbeth Imer, runologist and senior researcher at the National Museum.”
“It is an absolutely incredible discovery that we now know the name of the rune maker behind the Jelling stone, but what makes the discovery even wilder is that we know Ravnunge-Tue’s boss. It is Queen Thyra from Jelling, i.e. Harald Blåtand’s mother, there can no longer be much doubt about that, and that puts the discovery in a completely different light,” says Lisbeth Imer.
Header Image Credit : Shutterstock
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