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M. Aldenderfer
M. Aldenderfer

Archaeologists Find Tomb Artifacts Linking Nepal to Silk Road

M. Aldenderfer
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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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Scientists Discover a Mysterious Void in the Great Pyramid of Giza
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The Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest in all of Egypt, was built more than 4500 years ago as the final resting place of the 4th Dynasty pharaoh Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops), who reigned from 2509 to 2483 BCE. Modern Egyptologists have been excavating and studying it for more than a century, but it's still full of mysteries that have yet to be fully solved. The latest discovery, detailed in a new paper in the journal Nature, reveals a hidden void located with the help of particle physics. This is the first time a new inner structure has been located in the pyramid since the 19th century.

The ScanPyramids project, an international endeavor launched in 2015, has been using noninvasive scanning technology like laser imaging to understand Egypt's Old Kingdom pyramids. This discovery was made using muon tomography, a technique that generates 3D images from muons, a by-product of cosmic rays that can pass through stone better than similar technology based on x-rays, like CT scans. (Muon tomography is currently used to scan shipping containers for smuggled goods and image nuclear reactor cores.)

The ScanPyramids team works inside Khufu's Pyramid
ScanPyramids

The newly discovered void is at least 100 feet long and bears a structural resemblance to the section directly below it: the pyramid's Grand Gallery, a long, 26-foot-high inner area of the pyramid that feels like a "very big cathedral at the center of the monument," as engineer and ScanPyramids co-founder Mehdi Tayoubi said in a press briefing. Its size and shape were confirmed by three different muon tomography techniques.

They aren't sure what it would have been used for yet or why it exists, or even if it's one structure or multiple structures together. It could be a horizontal structure, or it could have an incline. In short, there's a lot more to learn about it.

In the past few years, technology has allowed researchers to access parts of the Great Pyramid never seen before. Several robots sent into the tunnels since the '90s have brought back images of previously unseen areas. Almost immediately after starting to examine the Great Pyramid with thermal imaging in 2015, the researchers discovered that some of the limestone structure was hotter than other parts, indicating internal air currents moving through hidden chambers. In 2016, muon imaging indicated that there was at least one previously unknown void near the north face of Khufu's pyramid, though the researchers couldn't identify where exactly it was or what it looked like. Now, we know its basic structure.

A rendering shows internal chambers within the Great Pyramid and the approximate structure of the newly discovered void.
ScanPyramids

"These results constitute a breakthrough for the understanding of Khufu's Pyramid and its internal structure," the ScanPyramids team writes in Nature. "While there is currently no information about the role of this void, these findings show how modern particle physics can shed new light on the world's archaeological heritage."

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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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