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M. Aldenderfer

Archaeologists Find Tomb Artifacts Linking Nepal to Silk Road

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M. Aldenderfer

History—or, rather, our present-day discovery of history—is full of surprises. Take the Silk Road, for example. The commerce and cultural exchange facilitated by the legendary trade network were hugely influential in the advancement of civilizations from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. Maps of the routes are well established, yet archaeologists say they may have found a new stop, high in the Himalayas. Their report was published in the journal Science and Technology of Archaeological Research.

The researchers hadn’t started out looking for Silk Road artifacts. Anthropologist Mark Aldenderfer had been excavating a series of 10 shaft tombs in the Nepalese village of Samdzong. The tombs had been buried for centuries and were only revealed in 2009 when a seismic event broke off the front of the cliff in which they were hidden. So far, the tombs have yielded the lovingly enshrined remains of more than 100 people.

Aldenderfer found the surprising artifacts in a tomb known as Samdzong 5, which contained only two bodies: one adult and one child. These bodies had been laid to rest in luxury, surrounded by wooden, bronze, copper, and glass cups, trays, jewelry, and beads. One of the most interesting items was a mask of gold and silver (shown above), which the researchers believe likely covered the adult’s face. The edges of the mask were perforated, suggesting it had once been sewn to cloth. 

Cloth is a tricky thing. Unlike metal, glass, or stone, it degrades relatively quickly under normal conditions, so archaeologists don’t often recover textiles. But Samdzong 5 was littered with scraps of silk fabric, thanks to the dry climate and high elevation (more than 13,000 feet above sea level).

What’s more, those scraps weren’t local. “There is no evidence for local silk production,” lead author Margarita Gleba said in a press statement, “suggesting that Samdzong was inserted into the long-distance trade network of the Silk Road."   

All of the objects found in the tomb underwent chemical analysis. Previous researchers had examined the cups, jewelry, and beads in previous studies and concluded that they’d been produced elsewhere, in places like India and Sri Lanka, or down on the Tibetan plateau. 

The recent study took a closer look at the scraps of silk using scanning electron microscopes (for super close-up imaging of the fibers), liquid chromatography to test the dyes, and micro-Raman spectrometry to identify any pigments. The tests revealed that the silk, too, was the product of trade, with components from both local and far-flung sources.

"The data reinforce the notion that instead of being isolated and remote, Upper Mustang was once a small, but important node of a much larger network of people and places,” Gleba said. "These textiles can further our understanding of the local textile materials and techniques, as well as the mechanisms through which various communities developed and adapted new textile technologies to fit local cultural and economical needs."

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For the First Time in 40 Years, Rome's Colosseum Will Open Its Top Floor to the Public
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The Colosseum’s nosebleed seats likely didn’t provide plebeians with great views of gladiatorial contests and other garish spectacles. But starting in November, they’ll give modern-day tourists a bird's-eye look at one of the world’s most famous ancient wonders, according to The Telegraph.

The tiered amphitheater’s fifth and final level will be opened up to visitors for the first time in several decades, following a multi-year effort to clean, strengthen, and restore the crumbling attraction. Tour guides will lead groups of up to 25 people to the stadium’s far-flung reaches, and through a connecting corridor that’s never been opened to the public. (It contains the vestiges of six Roman toilets, according to The Local.) At the summit, which hovers around 130 feet above the gladiator pit below, tourists will get a rare glimpse at the stadium’s sloping galleries, and of the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill.

In ancient Rome, the Colosseum’s best seats were marble benches that lined the amphitheater’s bottom level. These were reserved for senators, emperors, and other important parties. Imperial functionaries occupied the second level, followed by middle-class spectators, who sat behind them. Traders, merchants, and shopkeepers enjoyed the show from the fourth row, and the very top reaches were left to commoners, who had to clamber over steep stairs and through dark tunnels to reach their sky-high perches.

Beginning November 1, 2017, visitors will be able to book guided trips to the Colosseum’s top levels. Reservations are required, and the tour will cost around $11, on top of the normal $14 admission cost. (Gladiator fights, thankfully, are not included.)

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Discover Ancient Sunken City in the Mediterranean
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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari

Early on July 21, 365 CE, an 8.5 magnitude earthquake shook the eastern Mediterranean, triggering a powerful tsunami. The Egyptian city of Alexandria was damaged, towns crumbled on the island of Crete, and the Roman port city of Neapolis, located on the coast of North Africa, was largely swallowed by the wave, according to historical records. Now, after being hidden under water for more than 16 centuries, the remains of Neapolis have been discovered by archaeologists off the coast of northeast Tunisia. This, according to the AFP, confirms accounts that the city was a casualty of the ancient natural disaster.

Following several years of exploration, researchers from the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari in Italy have discovered nearly 50 acres of watery ruins near the modern-day city of Nabeul. They include streets, monuments, homes, mosaics, and around 100 tanks used to make garum, a fish-based sauce that was so popular in ancient Rome and Greece that it's been likened to ketchup. 

These containers suggest that Neapolis was likely a major producer of garum, making the salty condiment an integral part of the city's economy. "Probably the notables of Neapolis owed their fortune to garum," expedition head Mounir Fantar told the AFP.

Neapolis ("new city" in Greek) was originally founded in the 5th century BCE. While it was an important Mediterranean hub, its name doesn't appear too often in ancient writings. According to The Independent, it may because the city sided with the ancient city-state of Carthage—founded in the 9th century BCE by a seafaring people known as the Phoenicians—in the last of a series of three wars, called the Punic Wars, against Rome.

The Third Punic War stretched from 149 to 146 BCE, and led to the burning of Carthage. (It was later rebuilt as a Roman city by Julius Caesar.) Neapolis may have been punished for its wayward allegiance, which may explain why it's rarely mentioned in historical accounts.

You can view a video of the city's ruins below.

[h/t AFP]

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