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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

Archaeologists may have discovered the lost city of Tu’am

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Excavations in the Umm Al Quwain area of the UAE have revealed 6th century ruins that could be the lost city of Tu’am.

The ruins are situated on Al Sinniyah Island, part of a collection of small islands on the western part of the Khor Al Bidiyah peninsula.

Previous studies on the island have revealed a pearling village and monastery, which has been the focus of the latest season of excavations.

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a larger settlement, with the earliest signs of occupation dating back to the 4th century AD and peaking in the 5th or 6th century.

The team uncovered traces of large semi-urbanised tenement buildings measuring 30 square metres, which are tightly packed around narrow walkways. According to the researchers, the settlement could be the lost city of Tu’am as described in Ancient Arab texts.

Tu’am was a regional capital on the Gulf coast that was famed for its pearl fishing industry and trade in precious gems.

The population went into decline following a plague and regional tensions, and subsequently was abandoned. Mass graves in the vicinity support the historical account of plague, as the skeletal remains show no evidence of trauma or a violent death.

“Our archaeological work has discovered the largest settlement by far ever found on the Gulf coast of the Emirates,” said Prof Tim Power of UAE University.

“And it’s exactly the right period for the city described in the early Islamic geographical sources. It’s clearly a really important place. No one has ever found it.”

Professor Power explained that while they have not found irrefutable evidence (such as an inscription bearing the town’s name), no other major settlements from this period have been discovered on the coast, strengthening the argument that the settlement is Tu’am. “It’s a process of elimination,” he explained.

Header Image Credit : Umm Al Quwain Department of Tourism and Archaeology

Sources : NUAE

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

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Archaeology

New findings in North America’s first city

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Cahokia was the largest urban settlement of the Mississippian culture, a mound-building pre-Columbian civilisation that emerged in the Midwestern, Eastern, and South-eastern United States.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the city was founded around AD 1050 along the banks of the Mississippi River, located near present-day St. Louis, Missouri.

The city covered an area between six to nine square miles (notably larger than many contemporary European cities such as London) and was home to up to 20,000 inhabitants at its peak.

Following the tradition of the Mississippian culture, the people of Cahokia constructed large earthen mounds – ranging from raised platforms, conical, and ridge-top designs – involving the movement of 55 million cubic feet of earth over a period that lasted several decades.

The largest mound is known as “Monks Mound,” named after a group of Trappist monks, which rises to a height of 290 metres and was once the tallest building construction in North America.

Image Credit : MattGush – iStock

Archaeologists and students from Saint Louis University (SLU) have recently conducted a series of excavations on the western periphery of the Cahokia Mounds.

The team unearthed 900-year-old ceramics, microdrills, structures, and wall trenches dating from around AD 1100 to 1200, during the Sterling Phase of the Mississippian Period. According to the archaeologists, the finds offer new insights into a crucial period in the chiefdom’s development, coinciding with Cahokia’s rapid population growth.

The excavations follow an aerial survey by SLU and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency using Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to conduct Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) to determine whether further mounds or archaeological features lie within the acres of thick forests and swampy land near the site’s main complex.

Header Image Credit : Alamy

Sources : KSDK

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

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