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Michael Cordonsky and Noa Evron, Tel Aviv University

Archaeologists Uncover an Ancient Soldier’s Request: 'Send Wine'

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Michael Cordonsky and Noa Evron, Tel Aviv University

The year was 600 BCE, and a Judahite soldier named Ḥananyahu was in search of a drink. “If there is any wine, send [some],” he wrote to a quartermaster from a fortress about a day's walk away. For 2600 years, the message was hidden. But researchers rediscovered it on the back side of an ostracon, or text written on clay using ink, that has been displayed in the Israel Museum for decades, as The New York Times reports.

Ostracon No. 16, excavated in 1965, was part of a group of 100 Hebrew inscriptions discovered in the fortress of Arad, located in the southern region of what was then the Kingdom of Judah (in what is now Israel). Many were orders for provisions addressed to Elyashiv, the Arad quartermaster.

Ḥananyahu’s wine request went undiscovered because the ink it was written with could no longer be seen with the naked eye. As detailed in a new study, researchers from Tel Aviv University used multispectral imaging (taking images at multiple different wavelengths) to reveal the invisible messages that had gone unnoticed for more than 50 years. While the front side of the ostracon had already been well studied before this, the new imaging revealed 20 more words on the front side that had never been deciphered before, including friendly greetings and a discussion of exchanging oil and silver. The back side, which was thought to be blank until now, revealed 17 new words, beginning with the request for wine. The researchers weren't able to confirm exactly how much wine Hananyahu wanted, though.

Ostraca get harder to read after they’ve been excavated, because the ink fades easily over time. The study’s authors make the case that all of these archaeological artifacts discovered up until now should be subject to this sort of imaging. “Although [multispectral] imaging can occasionally provide legibility improvement even decades after the exposure of the ostraca, undoubtedly results would have been far superior and more complete had [multispectral] imaging been done prior to the ink deterioration process,” they write.

If this technology had been available back in 1965, we might have been able to discern exactly how much wine Hananyahu wanted.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
9-Year-Old Boy Trips Over the Bones of a Long-Extinct Elephant Relative
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A 9-year-old boy quite literally stumbled across a new paleontological discovery when he tripped over a giant skull while hiking in Las Cruces, New Mexico in November 2016. As The New York Times reports, the fossilized bones have been identified as the million-year-old remains of a Stegomastodon, a long-extinct distant relative of the modern elephant.

It all began with a game of chase: Jude Sparks, now 10, was running from his younger brothers when he tumbled face-first over what appeared to be a giant tusk. "My face landed next to the bottom jaw," Sparks told ABC news affiliate KVIA-TV. "I look farther up and there was another tusk."

Sparks's parents thought it looked like an elephant skull; his brother, a cow skull. As for Jude himself, he eyed the oddly shaped bones, and "just knew it was not something that you usually find," he later told the Times.

The Sparks didn't dig up the bones, but they did take a cell phone picture. Later, they compared the snapshot to elephant skulls, but they weren't 100 percent identical. So to solve the mystery once and for all, the family sought the opinion of Peter Houde, a biology professor at New Mexico State University.

Houde instantly recognized the skull as that of a Stegomastodon, a creature that belonged to the animal family Gomphotheres and is a distant cousin of ancient mammoths and modern elephants. Stegomastodons roamed the Earth in the past few million years, and may have been hunted by early humans. This particular specimen is at least 1.2 million years old. Theories for the Stegomastodon's extinction include climate change or the arrival of mammoths, which may have led to a competition for food resources, according to National Geographic.

Mammoth fossils are relatively common across the western portion of North America, but only a couple hundred Stegomastadons have been found throughout the world. The Sparks had serendipity on their side, as they visited the site right after heavy rains had exposed the Stegomastodon skull.

Together, Houde and the Sparks family reburied the skull and sought permission from the landowner to excavate the find. Once they obtained a team, a permit, and funding, they got to work and dug up the skull in May.

"All of the protein is gone from these fossils, and the bone is very, very brittle and fragile," Houde told KVIA. "And as soon as the sediment is taken away from around it, it just falls apart completely on its own. So we have to use preservatives to stabilize it before we remove the sediment around it. And then build plaster and wooden casing around it to remove it safely. It's a big job."

The Stegomastodon will likely go on display at New Mexico State University, providing students, faculty, and visitors alike with an up-close view of the rare fossil.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Melting Glacier Reveals Bodies of Swiss Couple Missing Since 1942
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On August 15, 1942, Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin ventured to the meadow above their house in the Swiss Alps to milk their cows. What should have been business as usual turned into a harrowing missing-persons case when the married couple never returned. Now, nearly 75 years later, two frozen bodies that likely belonged to Marcelin and Francine have been found in the dwindling Tsanfleuron glacier near their former home, Reuters reports.

An employee at the Les Diablerets resort in Switzerland's Valais canton saw the remains near a ski lift earlier in July. The bodies, one male and female, were perfectly preserved down to their belongings and 1940s attire. Experts believe the couple perished after falling into a crevasse. Like other Alpine glaciers, the Tsanfleuron glacier has been hit hard by rising temperatures associated with climate change. The glacier finally revealed the missing bodies this summer after years of receding.

When Marcelin and Francine vanished, they left behind seven children who never gave up hope of finding them. Seventy-nine-year-old Marceline Udry-Dumoulin, the couple’s youngest child, told a local newspaper the discovery brings her a "deep sense of calm."

The bodies will now undergo DNA testing to verify their identities. Once that's taken care of, Udry-Dumoulin plans to give her parents "the funeral they deserved."

[h/t Reuters]

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