Uncovering the Past: Stonehenge recycled, a lead wand, and Nefertiti found

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As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

Is Nefertiti in Tut’s Tomb?
Or more accurately, was Tutankhamun buried in Nefertiti’s tomb? That’s the theory put forth by archaeologist Nicholas Reeves. He believes that when Tutankhamun died unexpectedly, the front part of his step-mother Nefertiti’s tomb was partitioned and Tut was laid to rest in the front half. In November, infrared and radar technology confirmed that there is at least one hidden space behind Tut’s burial chamber, and it is still sealed 3,300 years after Nefertiti’s rule ended.

Nefertiti is known as one of the most beautiful women in the world, thanks to discovery of a famous bust in 1922. She may also have been one of the most powerful. Married to Egypt’s “Heretic King,” Akhenaten, who is famous for changing the official religion of Egypt from a polytheistic one to a monotheistic one, Nefertiti may have been co-regent with her husband. She may also have succeeded him as Pharaoh Smenkhkare, a feat only three women accomplished in Egyptian history.

Tut’s tomb and his grave goods have long puzzled archaeologists. The tomb is much smaller than those used for other rulers and is laid out like a queen’s, not a Pharaoh’s, tomb. The golden mask covering his face had its lobes pierced in the manner of a female, not a male. Questions about the tomb came to head when the Spanish group Factum Arte, which specializes in replicating artistic works, posted high resolution photos of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Reeves saw fissures in its north and west walls that he thought could be two doors leading to two as yet unopened chambers.

He then brought in infrared and radar imaging technology, which confirmed his theory of hidden chambers. One is most likely a storeroom, but the other one is larger and could be the final resting place of Nefertiti. The next step is to drill a small hole in the wall of the tomb and insert a camera to see if there is, in fact, another burial chamber concealed. If there is, it may take years to open the chamber and catalogue the contents.

Does a newly discovered tunnel in an Aztec pyramid lead to the tomb of Tenochtitlán’s rulers?
Archaeologists in Mexico are also hot on the trail of undisturbed tombs of ancient rulers. They have found a tunnel that they say leads to two sealed chambers, which could contain the remains of the Aztec rulers of Tenochtitlán.

So far, cremated remains, cremains, of Aztec rulers have never been found.

In 2013, archaeologist Leonardo López Luján discovered the 27-foot-long tunnel leading into the center of a ceremonial platform, known as the Cuauhxicalco. The mouth of the tunnel was sealed and, when they opened it, they found gold ornaments and the bones of infants and eagles. Now they believe the tunnel goes even further back, leading to two entrances and possibly burial chambers. After dating the tunnel, archaeologists speculate that, if there are remains in the chambers, they may be of Moctezuma I and his successors. Moctezuma I was the second Aztec emperor and ruled from about 1440 to 1469.

The blocked-up entrances will be excavated in 2016.

Intact Etruscan Tomb Found
Some tombs are found after decades of careful searching; others are found by sheer chance. A farmer working his fields in Italy plowed right into an intact Etruscan tomb dating from the 4th century BCE. A team of archaeologists were called in and were confronted by a rare find: the doors to the tomb were still sealed.

Once inside the space, archaeologists found a burial chamber containing two sarcophagi, four alabaster marble urns containing cremains, and assorted grave goods.

The Etruscans ruled over large parts of what is now Tuscany starting in 900 BCE and lasting until Rome finally swallowed them in 300 BCE. The Etruscans were known for their fine art, written language, road building abilities, and extensive trading networks.

Italian officials say the tomb will be opened to the public for viewing after it is restored and studied.

From Etruscan displayed in Milan [Photo Credit: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / Wikimedia

From Etruscan displayed in Milan [Photo Credit: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / Wikimedia

6000 Year Old Lead Wand Found
As sometimes happens, archaeologists find something historically important, but don’t always know what the item is. The lead and wood object may be a wand used for ceremonial purposes or it could be a drop spindle for making yarn.

This unusual object was found in a cave in Israel’s northern Negev desert and is the the oldest evidence of smelted lead in the entire Levant. The cave has been excavated since the 1970’s but new areas of the cave complex were mapped out in 2012. This year, archaeologists found a small chamber used for burials and the tiny lead wand was just laying on the floor of the chamber.  

The artifact has a lead base only 1.4 inches long with an 8.8 inch long stick attached. The object could be a wand or mace-like like object used for ceremonial purposes, similar to other club-like objects found in the southern Levant. Since it’s smaller than other ceremonial clubs, it may be something else.

It also may be a spindle. The wood shaft could be the spindle rod with the lead base serving as a whorl. Yet there’s a challenge to the spindle theory. The whorl, if it is a whorl, would be so heavy it could have only produced a very coarse yarn.

Whatever this object once was, it was important enough to be placed as a grave good and pushes back the earliest date for known smelting of lead in the Levant by almost 1000 years.

3D Printing Shows Spear is Really a Horn
For almost 200 years it was thought that this Bronze Age artifact was a spear butt. However, a PhD student in Australia used 3D printing to discover what the object really was.

Billy Ó Foghlú, an archaeology student at Australian National University, took measurements of the “spear butt” to make a 3D replica. When he had the copy, he found it looked (and sounded) like the mouthpiece of an Irish horn.

New Bronze age settlement found in Scotland
You never know what archaeologists can find when they go for a walk. Several archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands, the University of Manchester, and the University of Central Lancashire were strolling along the beach on the Orkney Islands, on their way to an established dig, when they stumbled on a Bronze Age settlement. Not only was it an as of yet undiscovered settlement, it was also one of the largest ones on the Scottish isles and one of the best preserved. They estimate there are 14 houses spanning a half mile along the beach.

Stone Tools in Renew a Controversial Debate about Monte Verde
The dig site at Monte Verde and the archaeologist at the center of it are no strangers to controversy. Tom Dillehay and Monte Verde first became archaeological lightening rods decades ago when Dillehay discovered humans had occupied South America thousands of years earlier than thought. While controversial then, it is now an accepted fact that humans were living in the Monte Verde area 14,500 years ago.

However, new discoveries are once again pushing that date back another 4000 years.

Dillehay has found stone tools and evidence of cooked meat and plants dating back 18,500 years ago. Since DNA evidence shows humans left Siberia no earlier than 23,000 years ago, the migration to Monte Verde in the southern tip of South America would have been exceptionally fast. Casting doubt on the new date  is the absence of any human occupation in North America before 14,300 years ago.

Dillehay said his team has found 39 stone artifacts, as well as plants and animal bones, that appear to be remains from cook fires. Other archaeologists question if the stone artifacts were made by humans and if the plant and animal remains were burned in naturally occurring fires.

Monte Verde [Photo Credit: Jardín Botánico Nacional / Flickr]

Monte Verde [Photo Credit: Jardín Botánico Nacional / Flickr]

Once again, Monte Verde and Dillehay will need to prove themselves to a skeptical archaeological community.

Stonehenge might be a hand-me-down Monument
The more we learn about Stonehenge; the more it becomes a mystery. Archaeologists now believe that the large stones making up the monument were originally part of a different monument. Around 5000 years ago, the stones were extracted from a quarry in Pembroke, Wales, and then set up as a monument at a nearby site. The 80 stones, each weighing between one to two tons, stood at this unknown site for around 400 years.

Then neolithic peoples transported the stones 180 miles to their present location in Wiltshire using only  ropes, levers, and sheer manpower. Now archaeologists are searching for the site where the stones originally stood. What did that interim monument look like and why was it taken apart and moved after 400 years?

Chimps entered the Stone Age
Humans are not the only primates to have entered a Stone Age. Now chimpanzees of west Africa, capuchin monkeys in Brazil, and long-tailed macaque monkeys in Thailand have all been confirmed to have entered their own Stone Ages.

While many other animals have been known to use plants and sticks as tools, it was thought that only humans have used and fashioned stone tools. Yet at least 4300 years ago, chimps routinely began doing the same thing and passing that knowledge down through generations. This has given rise to a new speciality in science: primate archaeology.

The primates generally use the rocks as a pounding tool to open tough nuts, and they opted for larger and heavier stones than the neolithic humans would have chosen.

Will the chimpanzees, monkeys, and macaques advance further and master the art of fire and cooking their food? They may have the capacity, but it appears unlikely to happen as their populations shrink through habitat destruction and hunting. Smaller populations often can’t sustain and spread new technologies. This creates another layer to an ethical dilemma of how humans impact other species.