A human skull dated to about 2,684 years ago with an “exceptionally preserved” human brain still inside of it was recently discovered in a waterlogged U.K. pit, according to a new Journal of Archaeological Science study.
The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia, according to the authors, who also believe it’s one of the best-preserved ancient brains in the world.
“The early Iron Age skull belonged to a man, probably in his thirties,” lead author Sonia O’Connor told Discovery News. “Cause of death is rarely possible to determine in archaeological remains, but in this case, damage to the neck vertebrae is consistent with a hanging.”
DENNIS AND JANE DRAKE PIECHOTA
One of the smuggled tablets that were crushed when the twin towers fell. They have been returned to Iraq
In all the twists and tragedies spanning 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, few would think to look for a happy subplot in the world of archaeology. But consider the travails of 362 tiny clay tablets. Forged in southern Iraq 4,000-odd years ago, then crushed in the collapse of the twin towers, the tablets are now back in Iraq.
Decorated with cuneiform script – the oldest-known form of human writing – the tiny tablets were shipped in early 2001 from Dubai to the Port of Newark in New Jersey by smugglers. There were presumably headed to new hands in return for considerable sums of money. The tablets, each one smaller than a deck of cards, were initially valued at $330,000. In another sense, though, they were priceless, in part because they referenced one of the most powerful officials of the Third Dynasty of Ur, 2000 years before Christ.
Thank goodness for US Customs, who got wind of the delicate merchandise and confiscated it upon landing. But then something less positive happened: they put them in storage at the very bottom of one of the twin towers.
“I was aghast. I was horrified,” James McAndrew, a senior special agent with US Customs, said of the moment that he realised that along with all the human loss at ground zero, the Iraqi tablets were surely gone too. “We had stored the tablets down there, and then when 9/11 happened, the building was destroyed along with everything else,” he told The New York Times, this week, which reported the story of the tablets’ modern odyssey and return to Iraq.
The first miracle occurred when rescue teams finally reached the basement of the “pile” at ground zero and had time to begin retrieving stored items. The boxes of tablets were still there, but there was a problem: they had partly crumbled because of the collapse of the towers but also because they had been soaked with water.
Even as the tablets were formally returned to the Iraqi government at a quiet ceremony in Washington in 2008, the US State Department stepped forward with $100,000 to pay for experts in ancient artefacts in America to reassemble them more or less to the state they were in when they first showed up in Newark. That done, they were packed again and sent on the return leg of a journey that never should have been. On 7 September – almost exactly nine years after 9/11 – the tablets were received home by the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad.
“They’ve certainly been on a crazy journey,” John Russell told the Times. An art history professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, who was involved in the restoration of the tablets, Mr Russell added: “Iraq is rising from a period of considerable difficulty, and I think the restoration of these tablets and restoring them to their owners in a stable condition is kind of a nice metaphor for what the Iraqis themselves are doing.
- Detoured by 9/11 Attack, 4,000-Year-Old Tablets Make It Back to Iraq (nytimes.com)
- Hundreds of Looted Artifacts Returned to Iraq (waronterrornews.typepad.com)
Hegira 169–377 / AD 786–988, Umayyad of al-Andalus, Emirate and Caliphate periods
The most important in the Muslim West, the mosque that we know today is the result of successive extensions financed by Umayyad amirs and caliphs to consolidate their power and create capacity for a growing population. The space inside the majestic prayer room (totalling 12,000m2) is made possible through the repeated use of an ingenious system of double arches on columns organised into naves that run perpendicular to the qibla wall, creating the effect of a forest of palm trees. The room also has a maqsura (sanctuary for imam) and a mihrab (prayer niche), both sumptuously decorated.
The lower strata of the Western Wall dates to the Roman Governor Herod (r. 40–4 BC); the remaining layers date to the Umayyad period, during the rule of Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik Ibn Marwan (AH 65–86 / AD 685–705), and other Islamic periods, Roman and Islamic
Jerusalem, Palestinian Territories
This is the wall which is associated, according to Muslim beliefs, with Buraq who carried the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem on the night of the Mi’raj (Ascension). This large wall forms part of the Western Wall of al-Haram al-Sharif. Its lower stone courses were built in the Roman period; above them is the Umayyad-period strata while the upper courses date back to the Mamluk period. The Jews believe that the Western Wall belongs to the second temple and call it the Wailing Wall. It is considered the holiest of their religious sites.