Researchers stumbled upon a box of human bones that had been missing for 100 years. They may come from Viking-age royalty.

antiquity viking bones
Researchers Charlotte Rimstad (left) and Ulla Mannering (right) with some of the textiles they studied.

  • Denmark researchers recently stumbled across a box containing human bones from the Viking age.
  • The remains were thought to have been lost for the last 100 years.
  • The bones likely belonged to a wealthy man who may have been royal.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ulla Mannering and Charlotte Rimstad are used to studying textiles, not bones. Since 2018, they’ve helped reconstruct Viking-age clothing at the National Museum of Denmark by analyzing fabric from ancient burial sites. But recently, they stumbled across a box of human remains.

These weren’t your average bones, they quickly realized.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘OK, we think we have the Bjerringhøj bones actually here,'” Mannering told Insider, referring to bones from the Bjerringhøj burial mound in northern Denmark.

The gravesite likely dates back to around 970 AD. This particular set of bones is believed to have been lost for more than 100 years.

In 1868, a farmer happened upon the burial mound while collecting soil, only to discover human remains sitting atop a pile of down feathers. The deceased person, presumably a man, had been draped in wool garments woven with gold and silver threads. In his chamber were two iron axes, a beeswax candle, two wooden buckets, and a bronze kettle.

antiquity burial mound
A reconstruction sketch of the burial chamber in Bjerringhøj.

Local farmers looted the artifacts, though they were eventually recovered and sent, along with the bones, to the National Museum of Denmark. But at some point many decades ago, the bones went missing.

“We can now show that they were not really lost, but they were just misplaced in the museum,” Mannering said. “It’s a nice ending.”

Archaeological studies of the bones may just be getting started. In a new study in the journal Antiquity, Mannering and Rimstad suggest that the man was an elite – perhaps even royalty – based on the clothing and artifacts buried alongside him.

“There are so many details in this grave that place him in the absolute top part of Viking-age society,” Mannering said. “But who he was – we don’t know.”

Why did the bones go missing?

In 1986, archaeologists excavated the Bjerringhøj burial mound a second time. Before examining the site, they hunted for the lost bones in the National Museum of Denmark’s collection. But the remains never turned up, and the burial site was found to be mostly empty, save for a few fragments of textile and feathers. Researchers again combed through the museum’s collection in 2009 – but no luck.

Mannering said it’s rare for bones to simply get lost. But over the years, as the museum changed staff or moved the collection to different storage areas, it’s possible that the remains were placed on the wrong shelf and separated from the rest of the Bjerringhøj artifacts.

Antiquity bone
The left femur from the Bjerringhøj burial mound.

In her experience, she said, even archaeologists can be somewhat skittish about handling human remains, so that might explain why they wound up separated from other objects found at the site.

“Human remains like bones and skeletons and even bog bodies, though we find them fascinating today, have had a very sort of ambivalent life in many museums because they were not really considered as objects,” Mannering said. (Bog bodies are human cadavers that have been naturally preserved by acid from dead plants.)

She added: “In the past, the idea of keeping human remains as an object was against the general idea that your body has an afterlife. Even today, there are a lot of people who resent the idea that some museums exhibit bog bodies.”

Textiles suggest the man was very wealthy

To prove they’d rediscovered the lost bones of Bjerringhøj, Mannering and Rimstad used radiocarbon dating – a method that determines the age of an artifact based on how much carbon-14, a radioactive isotope, it contains. The process showed that the bones dated back to the late 10th century, around the same time that Vikings raided and colonized Europe.

The researchers also found that the textiles wrapped around the bones matched those previously discovered at the Bjerringhøj site.

In particular, woven fabric tied around a leg bone suggested that the man wore long trousers with ankle cuffs. The textiles closely resemble a pair of woven arm cuffs that were also preserved by the museum.

antiquity bracelet
A woven cuff from Bjerringhøj.

“He’s a very rich man,” Mannering said. “He has a lot of status symbols in his grave and his costume is really high status. He has very unusual tablet-woven bands made of silk and gold and silver threads.”

The new analysis suggests that the man was older than 30 and had knee problems, perhaps from riding horses.

Based on the textiles and an old description of the bones from 1872, past research proposed that the man may have belonged to the Jelling dynasty, a royal house that reigned over Denmark, England, and Norway in the early 11th century. But Mannering said researchers still doesn’t know whether he was a royal at all.

antiquity textile
The embroidered wool textile from Bjerringhøj.

The bones also aren’t preserved well enough to perform a DNA analysis, so the researchers can’t confirm the man’s sex.

“The grave has always been seen as a male grave because it has the two axes – a plain iron axe and this very, very elaborately decorated axe with a silver inlay,” Mannering said.

It’s possible, though, that the bones belonged to a woman, or that a man and woman were buried together.

“We’ve brought the bones into context again,” Mannering said. She added, “Maybe in the future, somebody else will be able to do other analyses on these finds.”

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Photos show ancient Egyptian artifacts and skeletons found in a ‘lost golden city’ built by King Tut’s grandfather

luxor hawass getty
An ancient Egyptian artifact at the site of the newly discovered “lost golden city” in present-day Luxor.

  • Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed a 3,400-year-old “lost golden city” in Luxor over the last seven months.
  • In 1935, a French excavation team searched for the city – which may be the largest ever built in Ancient Egypt – but never found it.
  • The city, named “tehn Aten,” or the dazzling Aten, was built by Amenhotep III, King Tut’s grandfather. He is considered the wealthiest Pharaoh who ever lived.
  • Photos from the site show colored pottery, scarab-beetle amulets, jewelry, wine caskets, mud bricks, and an ancient bakery. Only one-third of Aten has been uncovered so far.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
On the banks of the Nile River, 300 miles south of Cairo, sits the city of Luxor. It’s adjacent to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, where archaeologists discovered King Tutankhamen’s tomb a century ago.

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Former Egyptian minister of antiquities and archaeologist Zahi Hawass stands amongst the ruins of a newly discovered ancient city in Luxor, April 10, 2021.

Somewhere nearby, King Tut should have a mortuary temple, where priests and relatives left gifts and tribute for the pharaoh to enjoy in the afterlife. But it was never found. 

In September, archaeologist Zahi Hawass, the former Egyptian minister of antiquities, set out to find it.

 

Hawass’ team began searching an area of Luxor where Tut’s successors, Ay and Horemheb, built their mortuary temples. But instead of Tut’s temple, they uncovered an enormous, well-preserved metropolis.

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Walls of an ancient city found in Luxor, Egypt, April 8, 2021.

Within weeks of the start of their dig, Hawass’ team uncovered mud bricks stamped with Pharaoh Amenhotep III’s name. That helped them estimate the city was built 3,400 years ago, since Amenhotep III ruled between 1391 BC and 1353 BC.

“I called the city ‘the golden city’ because it was built during the golden age of Egypt,” Hawass told Insider.

Amenhotep III was King Tut’s grandfather, and “the wealthiest Pharaoh who ever lived,” according to Betsy Bryan, an Egyptologist from Johns Hopkins University.

king tut
The funerary mask of Tutankhamen, or King Tut, in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Amenhotep III ruled during a time of peace, which helped him amass unprecedented wealth, Bryan told Insider.

“He was never at war. All he did was sit back and count money for 40 years, so he built constantly,” she said.

Archaeologists knew the Pharaoh had funneled some of his riches into building a city in this area of Egypt: “This is a place we knew existed,” Bryan said. But its precise location had eluded diggers for almost a century.

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Egyptian excavation workers stand in front of the ruins of the newly discovered “lost golden city” in Luxor.

“Many foreign missions searched for this city and never found it,” Hawass said in a press release, adding it may be the largest ancient city ever found in Egypt.

In 1934 and 1935, a French excavation team searched Luxor for the “lost golden city” but came up empty, Hawass said.

Colossi_of_Memnon
The Colossi of Memnon in Luxor, May 18, 2015.

That effort failed because the French archaeologists had been looking in the wrong place, Hawass added. Figuring the city would be clustered around buildings dedicated to the Pharaoh who built it, the group searched next to the Collosi of Memnon: twin statues that depicted Amenhotep III. The Pharaoh’s mortuary temple was nearby as well — but they had no luck finding the city.

“It never occurred to them to look slightly south,” Bryan said.

The lost city, it turns out, was located to the south and west of Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple.

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Workers carry a fish covered in gold found in Luxor, April 10, 2021.

So far, Hawass’ team has uncovered remnants of the city in an area that’s at least half a square mile.  

But the city is likely far larger, Bryan said, stretching all the way to the Pharaoh’s palace at Malkata, which is almost 2 miles south of the Colossi of Memnon.

In addition to the city’s size, Hawass said, “the huge amount of artifacts” his team uncovered there makes this an unprecedented archaeological find.

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Egyptian excavation workers prepare to display ancient Egyptian artifacts like pottery vessels found in Luxor.

“It will give us a rare glimpse into the life of the ancient Egyptians at the time where the empire was at its wealthiest,” he said in a press release.

The city’s streets are flanked with buildings, some of which have walls 9 feet tall.

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A new archaeological discovery is seen in Luxor, Egypt, April 8, 2021.

Scattered throughout those structures, Hawass’ team found rooms filled with pottery, glass, metalwork, and weaving tools. Ancient Egyptians once used these objects in their day-to-day lives, but the tools had lain untouched for millennia. 

Hawass’ excavation team also found a large cemetery north of the city.

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An Egyptian excavation worker removes a cover from a skeleton found at the “lost golden city” in present-day Luxor.

They haven’t figured out how big the cemetery is yet, but the team discovered a cluster of underground tombs with stairs leading to each tomb entrance.

In one part of the cemetery, the diggers found a grave holding a skeleton with a rope wrapped around its knees.

luxor hawass
A skeleton uncovered at the “lost golden city” in present-day Luxor.

Hawass is still investigating why the body was buried in this manner.

The city seems to be divided into industrial and residential areas. In the south, archaeologists found an ancient bakery with a cooking and meal-preparation area, ovens, and pottery used for storing food.

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Egyptian excavation workers carry pottery vessels into storage.

Another neighborhood had multiple workshops: one for producing mud bricks used to build temples, and another for producing amulets.

Another part of the city was all houses. 

“For those of us interested in the people and how they did stuff, this place is a treasure trove,” Bryan said.

Nearby the cemetery, Hawass’ team found a piece of pottery containing 22 pounds of dried meat, likely from a butcher at a slaughterhouse.

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Egyptian excavation workers prepare to display ancient Egyptian artifacts ahead of a press conference on April 10, 2021.

The vessel had an inscription indicating that the meat was for a festival celebrating the continued rule of Amenhotep III.

The city dwellers were skilled craftsmen, Bryan said – they made fancy ceramic vessels, glassware, and temple decorations in the name of Amenhotep III.

luxor hawass
A scarab-beetle amulet and other amulets discovered in the “lost golden city” at Luxor.

“It really is like peeking into the king’s private storage unit,” she said. “That kind of specialization was rarely seen anywhere.” 

Hawass’ team also uncovered scarab-beetle amulets, rings, and wine caskets in the city.

luxor hawass getty
Rings of blue stone found in the “lost golden city” in Luxor.

According to Bryan, the city was Amenhotep III’s love letter to the god Aten.

“When ancient Egyptian kings built, they would dedicate their construction to a deity and associate themselves with that deity,” she said.

Aten was depicted as a sun disc. Archaeologists typically associated the deity with Amenhotep III’s son, Akhenaten, who worshipped Aten instead of the chief Egyptian god of the sun and air, Amon.

This discovery shows that Amenhotep III believed in Aten too, Hawass said — which explains why the Pharoah named the city “tehn Aten,” meaning the dazzling Aten.

After taking over from his father, Akhenaten – King Tut’s father – briefly lived in Aten. Then he moved 250 miles north to a city called Amarna, along with his people. That’s where King Tut was born.

luxor hawass
An ancient pottery vessel discovered in Luxor, Egypt.

Akhenaten’s exodus to Amarna could be why so many tools and artifacts were left behind in Aten. 

“When you pick up and move, you’re not going to take the ceramics,” Bryan said.

According to Hawass, Akhenaten fled to Amarna and built that city to escape the priests of Amon, who were displeased that their Pharaoh was worshipping a different god than their own.

Small_aten_temple amarna
Temple of the Aten in Amarna, Egypt.

Akhenaten was branded a heretic. Following his death, King Tut’s family moved to Thebes, another city in the Luxor area that served as the ancient Egyptian capital.

It’s unclear whether Aten was ever reoccupied.

Hawass said there’s plenty more to find of the “lost golden city,” since only one-third of it has been uncovered so far.

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Former Egyptian minister of antiquities Zahi Hawass speaks during a press conference on the newly discovered “lost golden city” in Luxor, April 10, 2021.

“We still think that the city has an extension to the west and to the north, and that is our goal by next September,” Hawass said. 

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6,000-year-old child skeleton found in Israel’s ‘Cave of Horrors’ along with ancient Dead Sea scrolls and world’s oldest basket

Cave of Horror Excavation
Archeologists Hagay Hamer and Oriah Amichai at the ‘Cave of Horror’ in the Judean Desert, Israel.

  • Archeologists found the child’s skeleton preserved naturally mummified in the dry cave.
  • The “Cave of Horrors” takes its name from the 40 skeletons found during excavations in the 1960s.
  • A CT scan revealed the child was aged between 6 and 12 and is thought to have been a girl.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Archeologists have discovered the 6,000-year-old skeleton of a child in the “Cave of Horrors” in Israel’s Judean Desert alongside ancient Dead Sea scrolls as well as the world’s oldest basket.

The “Cave of Horrors” takes its name from the 40 skeletons found there during excavations in the 1960s. Researchers found the child’s remains preserved naturally mummified in the dry atmosphere of the cave, which can only be accessed by climbing ropes.

A CT scan revealed that the child, who had skin, tendons, and even hair partially preserved, was aged was between 6 and 12 and is thought to have been a girl, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Prehistorian Ronit Lupu of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in a statement: “It was obvious that whoever buried the child had wrapped [them] up and pushed the edges of the cloth beneath [them], just as a parent covers [their] child in a blanket. A small bundle of cloth was clutched in the child’s hands.”

The skeleton was found along with ancient Dead Sea scrolls, which are among the earliest texts ever written in Hebrew.

World's oldest basket
Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologist Naama Sukenik at the Naama Sukenik shows the world’s oldest basket in Jerusalem, on March 16, 2021.

The newly discovered fragments of the 2000-year-old scrolls are Greek translations from the biblical books of Nahum and Zechariah, found in the Book of the 12 Minor Prophets in the Jewish Tanakh.

However, the only Hebrew included in the text is the name of God, The Independent noted, and the scrolls are thought to have been hidden during a Jewish revolt against Rome, NBC News added.

The world’s oldest basket dating back to 10,000 years ago was also found, as well as arrowheads and coins thought to be from the Bar Kochba revolt period in other caves, The Guardian reported.

The authority commissioned the excavation back in 2017 following reports of plundering by looters, The Guardian noted.

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A pit full of 6,200-year-old skeletons is now the oldest known example of ‘indiscriminate, mass killing’

mass grave croatia
Commingled skeletons in the Potočani mass burial site in Croatia.

  • Archaeologists discovered 41 skeletons buried 6,200 years ago in a giant pit in Croatia.
  • The victims, most of whom were unrelated, were executed at the same time.
  • A new study suggests the grave is the site of the oldest documented massacre ever found.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A man in a Croatian village was digging a foundation for his new garage in 2007 when he uncovered a pit full of skeletons.

New research about the mass grave suggests the bones belong to 41 people – children and adults – who were killed together and buried 6,200 years ago in the modern-day village of Potočani. The study, published in the journal PLoS One, suggests it’s the oldest documented massacre in the archaeological record.

Many of the victims, the analysis showed, had been stabbed in the head. After examining the bones and extracting DNA – a process that took years – the researchers concluded that most of the individuals in the 7-by-3-foot pit weren’t related to one another, and that they ranged in age from 2 to 50. There was almost an equal number of males and females.

“This is the oldest known case of indiscriminate, mass killing that we know of,” James Ahern, an anthropologist at the University of Wyoming who co-authored the study, said in a press release.

Many of the victims’ skulls had multiple stab wounds

Ahern and his team were invited to the burial site in 2012, which is when they started inventorying the skeletons and determining the victims’ ages, sex, and manner of death. They differentiated between men and women as well as adults and children via known, identifiable anatomical differences.

The researchers figured out that of the 41 skeletons, 21 were male and 20 were female. About half were children between the ages of 2 and 17.

Thirteen of the skeletons had injuries on the sides or backs of their heads: The skulls showed evidence of being stabbed, cut, or bludgeoned. Some skulls had up to four puncture wounds.

The bones of the other 28 victims didn’t reveal how they died, but “their deaths were almost certainly violent,” according to Ahern.

“Individuals could have been strangled, bludgeoned, cut or stabbed in soft-tissue areas or in manners that did not damage underlying bones,” he said.

mass grave croatia
The skull of a young adult female found at a mass burial site in Potočani, Croatia.

None of the victims had wounds on their faces or arms. Mario Novak, an archaeologist at the Institute for Anthropological Research in Zagreb and a co-author of the study, told National Geographic that this suggests they were immobilized and had their hands tied, since people tend to use their forearms to block incoming blows.

“They were not defending themselves,” Novak said, adding, “I would say that this was a pre-planned mass execution.”

Given the pit’s location, archaeologists at first guessed these people may have been victims of a World War II skirmish. But they were wrong: After dating the bones and some pottery fragments discovered nearby, the researchers determined all 41 victims were buried at the same time in 4,200 B.C.E.

This suggests the dead were part of the Lasinja culture, some of Europe’s earliest pastoralists and metal workers.

The murders are still a mystery

Jablanovec Croatia
Jablanovec in the city of Zaprešić, Zagreb County, Croatia.

The researchers found no clues as to who killed the people in the pit, or why.

The fact that there were nearly the same number of men and women ruled out the idea that the victims died in “a battle between two armed forces,” the study authors wrote.

DNA from 38 of the skeletons revealed that 11 were close kin, but the other 70% of the victims weren’t related. So the killers weren’t targeting a particular family either.

These findings, coupled with the wide age range of the dead, points to seemingly indiscriminate, systematic violence, according to Ahern.

The killers could have been rivals of the Lasinja people, or perhaps Lasinja themselves, Novak said.

One possible explanation for the mass killing could be some type of climatic upheaval. When the climate changes, resources like crops, livestock, and water can become scarce. If that scarcity overlaps with a population boom, it can prompt groups to try to take over others’ territories and resources, Ahern said.

Researchers studying other mass killings in the archaeological record have come to similar conclusions. Take the sacrifice of more than 260 Chimú children and 460 llamas in ancient Peru, for example: Experts think the Chimú may have sacrificed children to placate angry weather gods during a season of heavy rain and flooding.

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The remains of a Chimú child ]sacrificed approximately 800 years ago in modern-day Peru.

“Increases in population size cause groups to overextend their local resources and require expansion into other areas. Both climate change and population increase tend to cause social disruption and violent acts, such as what happened at Potočani, that become more common as groups come into conflict with each other,” Ahern said.

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Archaeologists discovered 2 ancient graves near Stonehenge, containing bones of a young woman and baby

stonehenge
Inside the sarsen circle at Stonehenge.

British archaeologists have found two ancient graves near Stonehenge.

The discovery was the result of a survey of a 2-mile-long area just south of the monument. It’s a required step before a new highway tunnel can be constructed under Stonehenge; government officials approved the tunnel last year but stipulated that the land must first be searched for artifacts.

The surveyors found the grave of a young woman and another with bones from a baby about a mile southwest of the monument. Both graves date back roughly 4,500 years, which is roughly the age of the bluestones that make up Stonehenge’s inner circle.

According to Matt Leivers, an archaeologist with Wessex Archaeology who is helping to survey the area, the woman and baby were likely related to the people who erected the monument.

“The later arrangements of bluestones would have been built around the time these people lived and died – if they weren’t the builders then they might have been their relatives, or perhaps their children or grandchildren,” he told Insider.

The land around Stonehenge has yielded graves, pottery, and animal bones

Beaker burial
A grave of a woman in her 20s who died 4,500 years ago, found a short distance from Stonehenge.

The baby’s grave contained tiny ear bones, while the young woman’s skeleton suggests she died in her 20s or 30s. According to Leivers, both individuals were part of the Beaker culture, a group of people who lived in Europe between about 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.

The Beaker people are named after the pottery vessels they were typically buried with, which serve as markers of their identity, Leivers said. The infant was buried near a plain beaker, the woman was curled around an ornate one. 

The woman’s grave also contained an object made from shale, pictured below.

“It may have been a ceremonial cup purposefully damaged before it was laid in the grave, or it may be the cap off the end of a staff or club,” Leivers said in a press release.

A cylindrical shale object from a Beaker burial.JPG
An object made of shale, discovered in a 4,500-year-old grave near Stonehenge.

In addition to the two graves, the archaeologists unearthed two pots filled with cremated remains in the land surrounding Stonehenge. They also found pottery fragments, animal bones, and used flints.

To the southeast of the monument, they found ditches that might have been part of a 2,500-year-old Iron Age fort, as well as other older ditches from the late Bronze Age, 3,500 years ago.

An 18-month survey of the area is about to start

Stonehenge sits on England’s Salisbury Plain. The land near the monument is empty of buildings, but one of the main roads from London to southwestern England, A303, passes right by it. The new tunnel is meant to eliminate the sounds, smells, and sights of that road traffic.

The project is slated to cost £1.7 billion ($2.4 billion US), with construction starting in 2023. But first, Wessex archaeologists are hunting for anything buried near the tunnel’s proposed location.

Late Bronze Age vessel being excavated south of Longbarrow Crossroads on the A303.JPG
An archaeologist uncovers a Bronze Age pot that’s about 3,500 years old.

The full survey of the area hasn’t begun in earnest yet; it’s slated to start this spring, with between 100 and 150 archaeologists, and last 18 months. The Beaker graves are among the very first findings.

“It is very unlikely, almost impossible, that we’ll find anything that would stop the road now,” Leivers said. The goal is to find a route for the road and tunnel that “avoids as much archaeology as possible,” he added.

“It’s only where the road enters into and exits from the tunnels, and along the approach roads and new junctions that the archaeology will be impacted,” he explained, since most artifacts and graves are found near the surface, whereas the tunnel will be bored much deeper.

Stonehenge was like ‘Washington DC with a big dollop of religion’

stonehenge
Stonehenge.

Stonehenge was built in two waves of flurried construction 5,000 and 4,500 years ago. Archaeologists have determined that some of the monument’s stones came from Wales, and others from a woodland area nearby. But Stonehenge’s purpose is still a mystery.

David Nash, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, previously told Insider that it might have been a ground for burials and cremation, or perhaps a place of ancient healing. Leivers, meanwhile, thinks Stonehenge was the ceremonial center of southern England, a place of spiritual and political power.

“Think of Washington DC with a big dollop of religion,” he said.

That’s likely why the Beaker people wanted to be buried there, Leivers added: “By the Beaker period, it had been a place of importance for many many centuries and its fame meant that people wanted to visit it.”

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Archaeologists unearthed 210 sarcophagi in an Egyptian city of the dead. They’d remained undisturbed for at least 2,500 years.

saqqara january 2021
A sarcophagus found near Queen Nearit’s funerary temple in Saqqara, which was unveiled on January 17, 2021.

More than two millennia ago, ancient Egyptians were laid to rest in Saqqara, an ancient city of the dead. Their organs were removed, and their bodies wrapped in linens. Priests placed them inside coffins adorned with intricate hieroglyphics.

The mummies stayed buried in those sarcophagi for thousands of years – until their recent discovery by Egyptian archaeologists. In the last four months, researchers have discovered a trove of at least 210 coffins entombed deep within shafts below the Saqqara sand.

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced the most recent finding on Sunday: 52 burial shafts containing more than 50 wooden coffins that are estimated to be 3,000 years old. The sarcophagi brought the total number of human coffins found since September from at least 160 to 210 or more.

The sarcophagi were “completely closed and haven’t been opened since they were buried,” according to the ministry. Egyptologists have opened a few of them to analyze and display the mummies inside.

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A mummy is displayed during the official announcement of recent findings from Saqqara on January 17, 2021.

The photos below show how archaeologists found the coffins and other artifacts buried beneath Saqqara.

Many of the newly discovered coffins are decorated with illustrations of Egyptian gods and excerpts from the “Book of the Dead.”

saqqara january 2021
One of the 50 wooden sarcophagi found and displayed at Saqqara in January.

“The Book of the Dead” is an ancient manuscript that guides souls through the afterlife.

In one of the burial shafts, alongside the coffins, archaeologists discovered a 13-foot-long, 3-foot-wide papyrus scroll. It contained an excerpt from the “Book of the Dead.”

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Findings from inside the Saqqara burial shafts. The far right table contains the 13-foot-long excerpt from the Book of the Dead.

The archaeologists also discovered artifacts in the shafts, including a bronze axe from a leader of a pharaoh’s army, bird-shaped sculptures, a limestone tableau, and a set of ancient board games.

This new discovery marks the first time 3,000-year-old sarcophagi have been found at Saqqara, according to the ministry.

saqqara january 2021
Decorated wooden sarcophagi from Saqqara on display during the official announcement of the discovery on January 17, 2021.

The 50 coffins are roughly 500 years older than the most ancient sarcophagi previously found in the city.

The coffins’ age confirms that Egyptians buried their dead in Saqqara during the New Kingdom era, between the 16th and the 11th centuries BCE. That’s far earlier than Egyptologists initially thought.

saqqara january 2021
The underside of a wooden sarcophagus discovered at Saqqara.

The discovery will “rewrite the history of this region,” Zahi Hawass, head of the Saqqara archaeological mission, said in a statement.

Most of the coffins found at Saqqara are about 2,500 years old. Mostafa Waziri, the general director of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, unveiled at least 100 such sarcophagi in November.

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Colored coffins from Saqqara on display October 3, 2020.

That added to the total of 59 Saqqara coffins that had been found in September and October.

Archaeologists picked one sarcophagus to open live in front of an audience at a small event on November 14.

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Archaeologists examine a mummy inside a newly discovered coffin on November 14, 2020 in Saqqara, Egypt.

Then they conducted an immediate, real-time X-ray of the mummy inside.

The live X-ray event showed the mummy was a male with perfect teeth who was between 5-foot-4 and 5-foot-7.

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An Egyptian archaeologist restores a newly discovered ancient sarcophagus at Saqqara, November 14, 2020.

He was buried with his arms crossed over his chest — a position, Waziri said, that symbolizes royalty. 

 

“Very rich, elite, high ranked people” owned some of the Saqqara coffins, Waziri told NBC News.

saqqara november egypt mummies
Khaled El-Enany, Egyptian minister of tourism and antiquities, and Mostafa Waziri, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, inspect a mummy during a press conference at Saqqara, November 14, 2020.

Many of the Saqqara coffins were “well-gilded, well-painted, well-decorated,” he said.

November wasn’t the first time that archaeologists publicly opened a coffin: Egyptian officials also opened one on stage in an October press conference.

saqqara november egypt mummies
Newly discovered ancient coffins on display during a November 14, 2020 press conference in Saqqara.

The November 14 event was, however, was the first time researchers had X-rayed the mummy inside.

In November, archaeologists also unearthed more than 40 artifacts in three burial shafts, according to Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s minister of tourism and antiquities.

saqqara november egypt mummies
An Egyptian archaeologist restores a newly discovered ancient statue during a press conference at Saqqara.

These included gilded statues and funerary masks. El-Enany said the artifacts and coffins will be distributed to three museums in Cairo for display.

Those artifacts are merely a fraction of the items found in a string of discoveries at Saqqara.

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Khaled El-Enany and Mostafa Waziri peer at a sarcophagus in Saqqara.

El-Enany announced in September that a set of 13 sarcophagi had been found at the bottom of a 36-foot-deep shaft.

He said on Twitter that finding that first coffin cache was “an indescribable feeling.”

The shaft had three offshoots branching away from it, so El-Enany predicted at the time that more undiscovered sarcophagi were likely still buried in the shaft. He was right.

Two weeks later, the ministry announced that archaeologists had found 14 more sarcophagi. That brought the total to 27.

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A sarcophagus discovered in Saqqara, Egypt.

In a statement on Facebook, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said the finding is “the largest number of coffins with one burial” discovered since a group of 30 coffins were unearthed at Al-Assasif cemetery in Luxor the prior year.

Archaeologists kept finding more sarcophagi in the weeks that followed. On October 3, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced the discovery of another 32 coffins.

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A 2500-year-old coffin discovered in a burial shaft in the desert near Saqqara necropolis in Egypt.

That brought the total to 59.

Despite being buried for 2,500 years or more, most of the Saqqara sarcophagi have retained a lot of their original paint and hieroglyphics.

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Mostafa Waziri looks at a 2,500-year-old coffin discovered in a burial shaft near Saqqara necropolis.

With the exception of the handful of coffins opened by Egyptian officials and archaeologists, the coffins have been sealed since their burial.

The identities of the people inside the sarcophagi “have not been determined,” the ministry said in September. But Waziri said the X-rayed mummy was likely someone wealthy.

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Multiple coffins discovered in a burial shaft in the desert near the Saqqara necropolis in Egypt .

The coffins were mostly found stacked on top of each other in various burial shafts.

Archaeologists have uncovered troves of artifacts in almost every burial shaft they’ve excavated.

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Mostafa Waziri looks at a statue found in one of the 2,500-year-old coffins discovered in a burial shaft in the desert near Saqqara necropolis.

In September, they uncovered a wooden obelisk just over a foot tall that’s adorned with paintings of Egyptian gods and goddesses, CNN reported.

The ancient Egyptians buried their dead in Saqqara – which is 20 miles south of Cairo in the Western Desert – for some 3,000 years.

People enter the Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara outside Cairo.
People enter the Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara outside Cairo.

Saqqara was the necropolis, or city of the dead, for the ancient capital of Memphis. Its name likely derives from Sokar, the Memphite god of the dead.

Not all Egyptians were buried under the necropolis’s sand: Pharaohs like King Teti and their wives were entombed in pyramids.

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Workers excavate a site at Saqqara, January 17, 2021.

Archaeologists discovered a pyramid belonging to one of Teti’s wives at Saqqara in 2010, but her name wasn’t mentioned on the walls inside.

That gave rise to a mystery about the ancient woman’s identity — she was an unknown member of Egyptian royalty who ruled more than 4,200 years ago. Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced Sunday that excavators had finally discovered the wife’s identity.

Diggers uncovered a funerary temple near Teti and his wife’s burial pyramids with a name on the wall: Queen Nearit.

“I’d never heard of this queen before. Therefore, we add an important piece to Egyptian history about this queen,” Hawass told CBS News.

Saqqara is home to one of Egypt’s oldest pyramids: the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which was built about 4,600 years ago.

The pyramid was built in 2650 BC for King Djoser, third dynasty, the site of Saqquarah. The site was discovered in 1926 by French architect Jean Philippe Lauer.
The Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara.

The architect Imhotep built the pyramid to house the remains of King Djoser, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh from the Third Dynasty.

It was the first building ever made of stone, and it paved the way for other pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Another tomb found in Saqqara, this one 4,400 years old, belonged to a royal purification priest who served during the reign of King Nefer-Ir-Ka-Re.

A journalist tours inside the step pyramid of Djoser in Egypt's Saqqara necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, on March 5, 2020.
A journalist tours inside the step pyramid of Djoser in Egypt’s Saqqara necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, on March 5, 2020.

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced that finding in 2018.

Researchers also unearthed a huge cache of animal mummies at Saqqara in November 2019.

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A feline mummy displayed after the announcement of a new discovery in the Saqqara necropolis, November 23, 2019

They found two rare mummified lion cubs, as well as mummified birds, crocodiles, cats, cobras, and an enormous mummified scarab beetle.

Ancient Egyptians mummified and buried millions of animals, often treating creatures like hawks, cats, and crocodiles with the same reverence that they would a human corpse.

The mummified lion cubs are about 2,600 years old.

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A mummy of a cat displayed after the announcement of a new discovery in the Saqqara necropolis, November 23, 2019.

The cubs were only eight months old when they were mummified. Other mummified wildcats were found alongside the two lions. 

It was the first complete mummy of a lion or lion cub ever found in Egypt, according to Waziri.

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The head of cat statue displayed after the announcement of a new discovery in the Saqqara necropolis, November 23, 2019.

The Egyptians believed animals were reincarnations of gods, so they honored them by mummifying the creatures and worshipping these animals in temples. Mummified animals could also serve as offerings to those gods.

Saqqara will likely yield even more discoveries in the coming months.

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A newly discovered sarcophagus from Saqqara, January 17, 2021.

“Actually, this morning we found another shaft,” Hawass told CBS News on Monday. “Inside the shaft we found a large limestone sarcophagus. This is the first time we’ve discovered a limestone sarcophagus inside the shafts. We found another one that we’re going to open a week from now.”

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published in September 2020.

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The carcass of a young woolly rhinoceros that died thousands of years ago was found almost perfectly preserved in the Siberia permafrost. Researchers even found the animal’s horn.

woolly rhino siberia
Researchers discovered a frozen woolly rhinoceros carcass in the permafrost of Yakutia, Siberia.

  • A local resident from Yakutia, Siberia found the ancient carcass of a juvenile woolly rhino in melting permafrost.
  • Researchers said the carcass is between 20,000 and 50,000 years old, and the most complete young woolly rhino ever found.
  • Most of the rhino’s fur coat, hooves, and internal organs are intact — researchers even found the animal’s horn nearby.
  • One expert thinks the rhino drowned when it was three or four years old.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Alexei Savvin stumbled upon an unprecedented find walking near the Tirekhtyakh River in Yakutia, Siberia last August: an almost perfectly-preserved woolly rhino carcass.

Most of the rhino’s hooves, teeth, and internal organs were still intact. The animal still had some of its thick, fur coat, and researchers even found its horn, which had broken off but lay nearby.

After analyzing the carcass, Siberian scientists announced on Tuesday that the rhino likely lived between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago. 

It is one of the most intact ancient rhinos ever found.

“The young rhino was between three and four years old and lived separately from its mother when it died, most likely by drowning,” Valery Plotnikov, a paleontologist from the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the Siberian Times.

“The rhino has a very thick short underfur, very likely it died in summer,” Plotnikov added.

woolly rhino siberia
A local resident of Yakutia, Siberia found a frozen woolly rhino in August. The carcass still had intact fur.

The rhino used its horn to forage for food

Siberian scientists hope to take the carcass to a laboratory for radiocarbon dating next month in order to get a better sense of how many thousands of years ago the animal died. There, they aim to also discover what gender the rhino was.

For now, they’re waiting for roads to open up between where Savvin found the rhino and the nearby city of Yakutsk.

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A scientist holds up a tooth from a frozen woolly rhino discovered in Yakutia, Siberia in August 2020.

According to Plotnikov, finding the rhino’s small horn was a stroke of luck.

“This is a rarity, since it decomposes rather quickly,” Plotnikov told local outlet Yakutia 24 TV. The researchers found traces of wear on the horn, which suggests the rhino used it to gather food, Reuters reported.

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Researchers found the woolly rhino’s tusk near its frozen carcass in Siberia.

Woolly rhinos lived throughout Europe and northern Asia until they went extinct about 14,000 years ago near the end of the last Ice Age. The creatures had two horns – one small horn between its eyes and another large one that protruded upward – and were covered in a thick, fur coat.

These herbivores munched on grasses; adults could reach lengths of 13 feet and weigh up to 2.2 tons (4,400 pounds).

Not the first find of its kind

woolly rhino siberia
A woolly rhinoceros replica on display in the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield, UK.

Discoveries like this one are likely to become more common as Earth’s temperatures continue to rise.

As the planet warms, the permafrost – ground in the Northern Hemisphere that remains frozen all year – is beginning to thaw. As it melts, ice-age creatures like this woolly rhino that were entombed for tens of thousands of years are starting to be unearthed.

In 2014, scientists found a baby woolly rhino carcass – nicknamed Sasha – in the same region of Siberia that this new rhino was found.

Sasha lived 34,000 years ago and was covered in strawberry blond-colored fur, according to the Siberian Times.

The baby rhino died at the age of seven months and had two little horns. 

Yakutia yielded another find in 2019: scientists discovered a 40,000-year-old severed wolf’s head, complete with fur, teeth, brain, and facial tissue on the banks of a river.

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A severed wolf’s head dating back to the Ice Age was found in Russia

In a similar finding this past September, Siberian researchers announced they’d found a perfectly preserved adult cave bear – with its nose, teeth, and internal organs still intact. Scientists think the bear died 22,000 to 39,500 years ago. Its species, Ursus spelaeus, lived during the last ice age and then went extinct 15,000 years ago.

The Lyakhovsky Islands, where the bear was found, are also replete with remains of woolly mammoths from the last ice age.

ice age bears siberia
A carcass of an Ice Age cave bear found on Great Lyakhovsky Island between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea in northern Russia.

The Siberian permafrost has also revealed two perfectly preserved extinct cave-lion cubs, as well as an ancient baby horse that died in a mud pit 42,000 years ago. The foal’s hair, skin, tail, and hooves were all intact.

Read the original article on Business Insider