Mummies in Chile Subject to Melting
The Museum at the University of Tatapaca in northern Chile houses a number of mummies dating back to 5000 BCE, believed to be the oldest in the world, according to the curator Mariela Santos. Over the last few years she has noticed that the mummies are melting, disintegrating and turning into a mysterious black ooze. The staff have called in a Harvard scientist Ralph Mitchell, a bacteria specialist, to investigate. He has come to the conclusion that the mummies are victims of climate change, due to the increased humidity over northern Chile in the last ten years, and the common micro-organisms have become voracious consumers of collagen, the main component of the skin of the mummies. Mitchell warned that this was the first case known to him but that the phenomenon may be increasing and affecting other valuable remains in other locations.
The mummies in question are known as the Chinchorro mummies. There are about 120 at the museum and date from a community of hunter-gatherers. They are unusual in that they include human foetuses, and the early deaths are considered to have been due to arsenic poisoning caused by drinking water poisoned by volcanic eruptions. The mummies have survived due to the arid conditions of the Atacama Desert where they were excavated. Mitchell and the museum curators are working on a solution and consider that humidity and temperature control offer the best solution. To achieve that a new museum is planned at cost of $56 million, by the Chilean government, where each mummy will be housed in its own glass cubicle with its own microclimate, and it is hoped that will save them. But Santos is not optimistic and said: “from the moment they are taken out of the ground they start deteriorating.”
Ancient Treasures of Palmyra Threatened
Islamic State fighters are in occupation of Palmyra, whose remains were designated as a UNESCO world heritage site and listed as being in danger in 2013. The fate of its antiquities remains unclear. Also known as Tadmur, Palmyra was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, and stands at the intersection of important routes to Damascus and Homs. Two weeks ago, while fighting was proceeding at two kilometres from the city Syrian antiquities Chief Abdulkarim said that the international community was not doing anything to protect the antiquities but “would weep and despair” after the damage had been done, as had happened in Iraq. In Palmyra, he said, the Roman-era colonnades, some well-preserved temples and a theatre were under direct threat from the Islamic extremists who were converging on the city.
Hasmonean Aqueduct Exposed in Jerusalem
During the construction of a sewage line in the Har Homa district to the south of Jerusalem, a section of the lower aqueduct constructed by the Hasmonean kings to distribute water throughout the city two thousand years ago, was found by archaeologist Ya’akov Billig, director of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). According to Billig, the aqueduct had been built in open areas around the city, but due to modern expansion, it was now buried under several residential areas. The aqueduct was one of the principal sources of water for the inhabitants and was preserved for two thousand years until replaced by a piped and pumped system in modern times. Due to its historic interest, the aqueduct will be further exposed, studied and preserved by the IAA, who plan to make sections accessible and visible to the public.
Oldest Musical Image Found in Western Galilee
A cylinder seal impression of the Early Bronze Age of about 3000 BCE was identified by the IAA as the scene of a Mesopotamian wedding in which the king has sexual congress with a goddess, and the seated figures are holding a musical instrument that looks like a lyre. Yoli Shwartz of the IAA said, “the seal’s engraving includes music and dancing, a banquet, a meeting between the king and the goddess and their sexual union.” Archaeologists claim that the inscription represents the sacred marriage rite conducted by the king with a priestess, representing the goddess, and was a necessary ritual to increase fertility of the crops and animals. The small relic, the oldest representation of a musical instrument yet found in Israel, will be exhibited to the public at a forthcoming symposium at the Hebrew University to be entitled, “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll”.
Visitors Archaeology Centre Approved Conditionally
A large visitor’s centre planned to be built over the Givati Parking lot, located opposite the City of David entrance and south of the Dung gate, has been approved by the National Planning Appeals Board, subject to severe restrictions. The plan was to build a large complex of exhibition spaces, offices, parking places and facilities for visitors on pilotis or stilts so as to preserve the existing archaeological remains on the site. There were objections to the plan, known as the Kedem Centre, from two environmental groups that thought it was very near to the City walls and would oversail them visually and destroy the archaeological remains on the site. The Kedem Centre was the brainchild of the Elad Foundation, who are sponsoring the City of David excavation, and wanted to see a suitable complex to provide facilities for visitors coming to the site and give them an explanation of its importance. The plan has now been approved but with the condition that it be reduced in size and height so as not to dominate this sensitive area. Another condition has been that the plan for the preservation of the archaeological remains must be submitted for public approval before building work commences.
Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem