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ARCHAEOLOGY

Ancient Egyptian mummy unearthed by Spaniards

Spanish archaeologists have discovered a 3,600-year-old Egyptian mummy inside a wooden sarcophagus adorned with rare feather drawings in the ancient city of Luxor, Egypt's antiquities ministry said Thursday.

Ancient Egyptian mummy unearthed by Spaniards
Photo: SCA/AFP

The two metre-long and 50 centimetre-wide (6.5 feet by 20 inches) sarcophagus was in good condition and its colours were still bright, the ministry said in a statement.

Antiquities minister Mohamed Ibrahim said feather drawings are rarely found on ancient coffins.

"The sarcophagus goes back to the 17th dynasty (1600 years BC)," said Ali El-Asfar, the head of the antiquities ministry's pharaonic department.

"Its owner could have been an important statesman, according to the sarcophagus's preliminary examination and its inscriptions."

The sarcophagus bears hieroglyphic inscriptions meant to ease the journey to the afterlife, in accordance with pharaonic beliefs.

The feather drawings symbolise the ancient Egyptian goddess of law Maat, who was believed to have weighed the hearts of the dead against a feather to determine their status in the afterlife.

The discovery was made in an ancient burial site on Luxor's west bank, near a tomb belonging to the storehouse administrator of Queen Hatshepsut, a member of the 18th dynasty who ruled Egypt from 1502 to 1482 BC.

The Spanish archeological team, which has been working in Luxor for 13 years, discovered last year the wooden sarcophagus of a five-year-old boy that goes back to the 17th dynasty.

Luxor, a city of around 500,000 residents on the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt, is an open-air museum of intricate temples, tombs of pharaonic rulers and landmarks such as the Winter Palace hotel, where crime novelist Agatha Christie is said to have written "Death on the Nile."

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ARCHAEOLOGY

Study confirms ancient cave art in southern Spain was created by Neanderthals

Neanderthals, long perceived to have been unsophisticated and brutish, really did paint stalagmites in a Spanish cave more than 60,000 years ago, according to a study published on Monday.

Study confirms ancient cave art in southern Spain was created by Neanderthals
Photo: Joao Zilhao/ICREA/AFP

The issue had roiled the paleoarchaeology community ever since the publication of a 2018 paper attributing red ocher pigment found on the stalagmitic dome of Cueva de Ardales (Malaga province) to our extinct “cousin” species.

The dating suggested the art was at least 64,800 years old, made at a time when modern humans did not inhabit the continent.

But the finding was contentious, and “a scientific article said that perhaps these pigments were a natural thing,” a result of iron oxide flow, Francesco d’Errico, co-author of a new paper in the journal PNAS told AFP.

A new analysis revealed the composition and placement of the pigments were not consistent with natural processes — instead, the pigments were applied through splattering and blowing.

(Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

What’s more, their texture did not match natural samples taken from the caves, suggesting the pigments came from an external source.

More detailed dating showed that the pigments were applied at different points in time, separated by more than ten thousand years.This “supports the hypothesis that the Neanderthals came on several occasions, over several thousand years, to mark the cave with pigments,” said d’Errico, of the University of Bordeaux.

It is difficult to compare the Neanderthal “art” to wall paintings made by prehistoric modern humans, such as those found in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave of France, more 30,000 years old.

But the new finding adds to increasing evidence that Neanderthals, whose lineage went extinct around 40,000 years ago, were not the boorish relatives of Homo sapiens they were long portrayed to be.

The cave-paintings found in three caves in Spain, one of them in Ardales, are throught to have been created between 43,000 and 65,000 years ago, 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

The team wrote that the pigments are not “art” in the narrow sense of the word “but rather the result of graphic behaviors intent on perpetuating the symbolic significance of a space.”

The cave formations “played a fundamental role in the symbolic systems of some Neanderthal communities,” though what those symbols meant remains a mystery for now.

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