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Ancient mummy labels help to reconstruct climate of Roman Egypt

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A project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) is using mummy labels to help reconstruct the climate of Roman Egypt.

Mummy labels are small labels made of wood, faience, or ivory, that were attached to mummies during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

The label would generally have an inscription written in Greek or demotic (and sometimes in hieratic or hieroglyphs) that named the deceased, their family, or a short prayer for the afterlife. The labels were used as a means to identify the deceased after the mummification process for when they were being transported to a necropolis for burial.

These small labels could even play the role of a cheap substitute for funerary stelae, as sometimes indicated by their shape and the fact that they could be identified as wy.t or στήλη “stela.”

As part of a new study, researchers are analysing the tree rings on the wooden labels in a process known as dendroclimatology. This reveals a wealth of climatic data, as tree rings are wider when conditions favour growth and are narrower when times are difficult during periods of drought.

The results of the study are published in the International Journal of Wood Culture, where the researchers analysed 300 labels and looked for matching sequences to give a broader view of what the climate was like in the areas of the eastern Mediterranean, in modern-day Lebanon, the Greek islands, or the mouth of the Nile during the period of Roman Egypt (30 BC – AD 641).

“That’s why mummy labels are ideal for our purposes”, explains François Blondel, an archaeologist at the University of Geneva. “Not only are there thousands of them in museums around the world, they’re made from lots of different tree species, such as pine, cypress, cedar and juniper”.

There are a few good years here and an unfortunate succession of droughts there, but the actual dates are still unclear, François Blondel explains. “We can’t yet assign a precise date to the rings and the events they record”.

The next step going forward will therefore be to locate these events in history. With luck, the scientists will find a datable specimen. Then, by looking for overlaps with other labels from the same tree species and region, they should be able to pinpoint the exact date. If not, they will have to resort to radiocarbon dating.

By combining several samples of wood taken along the rings of the same specimen, it is possible to statistically reduce dating uncertainty – to virtually zero in the best-case scenario. The scientists still have to find the right specimens and, above all, obtain permission from museums for invasive radiocarbon analysis.

SNSF

https://doi.org/10.1163/27723194-bja10017

Header Image Credit : SNSF

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Archaeology

Clusters of ancient qanats discovered in Diyala

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An archaeological survey has identified three clusters of ancient qanats in the Diyala Province of Iraq.

A qanat, also known as a kārīz, is a system for transporting water from an aquifer or water well over long distances in hot dry climates without losing water to evaporation.

Qanats use a sequence of vertical shafts resembling wells, linked by a gently inclined tunnel that serves as a conduit for channelling water. Qanats efficiently transport substantial volumes of underground water to the surface without requiring pumps.

The water naturally flows downhill by gravity, with the endpoint positioned at a lower level than the origin. When the qanat is still below ground, the water is drawn to the surface via water wells or animal driven Persian wells.

Image Credit : State Board of Antiquities & Heritage

Some Qanats are divided into an underground network of smaller canals known as kariz, functioning similarly to qanats by staying beneath the surface to prevent contamination and evaporation. In certain instances, water from a qanat is stored in a reservoir, usually with nighttime flow reserved for daytime usage.

The technology for qanat’s first emerged in ancient Iran around 3,000-years-ago and slowly spread westward and eastward.

A recent survey within the Diyala Province has discovered three clusters of qanats stretching between the areas of Jalulaa and Kortaba. Initial studies dates the clusters to around AD 1000, a period known as the “Iranian Intermezzo”, when parts of the region were governed by a number of minor Iranian emirates.

The first cluster consists of 25 wells on a linear alignment connected to an adjacent 10 metre deep water channel. The second cluster also has 25 wells and is connected to a 13 km long hand dug channel, while the third cluster consists of 9 wells connected to water canals dug on both sides.

Header Image Credit : State Board of Antiquities & Heritage

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

16,800-year-old Palaeolithic dwelling found in La Garma cave

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Archaeologists have discovered a 16,800-year-old Palaeolithic dwelling in the La Garma cave complex, located in the municipality of Ribamontán al Monte in Spain’s Cantabria province.

The La Garma cave complex is a parietal art-bearing paleoanthropological cave system on the southern side of the La Garma Hill.

The cave complex is noted for one of the best preserved floors from the Palaeolithic period, containing more than 4,000 fossils and more than 500 graphical units.

A project led by Pablo Arias and Roberto Ontañón from the University of Cantabria has recently announced the discovery of a Palaeolithic dwelling within the cave system, described as “one of the best preserved Palaeolithic dwellings in the world.”

The dwelling is an oval space and is delimited by an alignment of stone blocks and stalagmites that supported a fixed structure of sticks and skins leaning against the cave wall. The total area of the space is around 5 square metres that centred on a camp fire.

Archaeologists also found vestiges of various daily activities associated with Magdalenian hunters and gatherers at the dwelling, including evidence of stone manufacturing, bone and antler instruments, and the working of fur.

In total, over 4,614 objects have been documented, such as dear, horse and bison bones, 600 pieces of flint, needles and a protoharpoon, shells of marine mollusks, as well as numerous pendants worn by the cave dwelling inhabitants.

Additionally, the researchers also found a number of decorated bones, including a remarkable pierced aurochs phalanx engraved with a depiction of both the animal itself and a human face—a distinctive artefact unique to the European Palaeolithic era.

Due to the national importance of the discovery, the team used innovative non-intrusive techniques in their study of the dwelling. This includes continuous tomography of the soils, 3D cartography, the molecular and genetic analysis of soils and Palaeolithic objects, mass spectrometry, and hyperspectral imaging.

Header Image Credit : University of Cantabria

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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