Category: owenjarus - Part 3

4600-year-old Skeleton Discovered in Northern Ontario

A team of archaeologists, working with the Kitchenuhmaykoosik Inninuwug First Nation, has discovered a 4,600-year-old burial at the mouth of the Bug River, on the south side of Big Trout Lake in Canada.

Big Trout Lake is located in the far northwest of the province of Ontario. Even today its difficult to access. The provinces road system stops nearly 400 kilometres south of the area, making planes the most practical way to get in and out.

The lake is located on the same latitude as Manchester, but the climate is far colder. In the winter the temperature can go down below -30 degrees Celsius. The area around the lake is heavily forested with evergreen trees. The population encompassed by the Kitchenuhmaykoosik Inninuwug First Nation community is estimated to be around 1,200.

Kitchenuhmaykoosik Inninuwug chief Donny Morris told me in an interview that a group of fishermen were the first to come across the bones. Water levels were high on the lake last fall causing the shoreline to erode, exposing the burial.

Chief Morris called in local police to investigate. He also contacted Lakehead University archaeology Professor Scott Hamilton. The police determined that the bones were ancient and Professor Hamilton took over the task of determining who this fellow was.

The burial

Hamilton said that its very unusual for aboriginal burials to be studied in Canada as laws and ethics generally prohibit excavation. In Canada, certainly in Ontario, human burial excavations simply dont happen except in salvage circumstances, he said.

This is one of those circumstances.

So what did they find?

The skeleton is of a fully grown adult male, likely in his late 30s or early 40s. Its pretty much intact from the knees and forearms upward, said Hamilton. He was roughly five and a half feet tall with a very, very robust muscular build. Investigators could determine this because parts of the bone, which attach to the muscles, were well developed.

It is not known why he died, however he appears to have been given a formal burial. Theres a flat slab of granite thats associated directly with the bones, said Hamilton. It looks very much like a purposeful grave.

The team is not certain why this slab was buried with him, well be taking a closer look at the stone as part of our analysis to see if we can see any evidence of function, said Hamilton. He added that the team also found red ochre covering the bones. (Its) a very faint red ochre staining in the sediments and on the bones. It would have been applied to the mans body before he was buried.

The use of red ochre is seen in burials all over the world, including prehistoric North America. The color may have held religious significance to the people who buried the man.

Radiocarbon dates indicate that he lived around 4,600 years ago although that number may change slightly as the date is calibrated. To put this in context, the man would have lived in Big Trout Lake at roughly the same time that the Great Pyramids were being built in Egypt.

What did he eat?

The team is performing oxygen and nitrogen isotope tests on the skeleton to determine what kind of diet he consumed. So far tests indicate that in addition to hunting land animals the man loved fish!

Fish is clearly an important part of the diet, we can see that in the nitrogen numbers, said Professor Hamilton. The team also examined the calculus around the teeth and found starch. Clearly plant food was also an important part of his diet, said Hamilton adding, we havent been able to figure out what plants contributed that starch.

How did he live?

This man’s lifestyle would have been very different to those of people living in Ancient Egypt or the Near East at that time. The -30 degree temperature calls for an approach that doesnt involve building pyramids.

These folks are very much adapted to the kinds of resources that one finds in the boreal forest, said Hamilton. These resources are highly seasonal in their availability and the season of comparative plenty is often spring, summer and perhaps early fall.

These seasonal resources include fish spawns, migratory water fowl, caribou migration and even wild rice.

This results in very, very low population density (and) very high population mobility as people are moving over very large territories over the course of the year. This means that the man would have been part of a family-based band. That is a small number of related people who travel together.

The hardest part of the year was, of course, winter. The winter seasons are generally a time of some scarcity and hardship as spatially concentrated food disappears, said Hamilton.

That means that sub-arctic people, in order to survive year in, year out through generations, have to have a seasonal cycle thats highly mobile, he said. They can place themselves on the landscape where they can predict resources will be available and follow the seasonal cycles of availability.

The past is very recent…

Hamiltons research indicates that this lifestyle continued for an exceptionally long period of time. The past is very recent in the far north, he said.

“Back in the 20s and before, people at that time were nomadic living in the bush and not staying in one place….”

When Europeans appeared in the 17th century the people continued to live this lifestyle. These northern hunters, trappers and fishers (continued) to supply themselves with food predominately from the land from the product of their hunt from the product of their gathering of wild produce, said Hamilton.

They may be gathering and harvesting those resources with European technology but theyre (still using a) fairly significant amount of traditional technology canoes, snowshoes, footwear, clothing, he said. What we see is this really interesting mix, an admixture, of traditional technology and the incorporation of new technology to practice a traditional life.

This continues into the 20th century. In fact a fascinating story, described on the Kitchenuhmaykoosik Inninuwug First Nation website, talks about encountering a hairy being out in the forest:

Back in the 20s and before, people at that time were nomadic living in the bush and not staying in one place. During rainy and snowy weathers, they said there is a being covered with some hair and was mostly constructed with skeleton. (It) used to fly and made (an) awful horrible scream/sound. If you saw it, you would go insane.

Canada didnt really have much of a presence in far northern Ontario until very recently, said Hamilton. In fact many communities, including Kitchenuhmaykoosik Inninuwug, did not sign a treaty with Canada until 1929.

In this rather technical treaty they were forced to cede land to the crown:

NOW THEREFORE we, the said Ojibeway, Cree and other Indian inhabitants, in consideration of the provisions of the said foregoing Treaty being extended to us, do hereby cede, release, surrender and yield up to the Government of the Dominion of Canada for His Majesty the King and His Successors forever, all our rights, titles and privileges whatsoever in all that tract of land, and land covered by water in the Province of Ontario, comprising part of the District of Kenora (Patricia Portion) containing one hundred and twenty-eight thousand three hundred and twenty square miles, more or less, being bounded on the South by the Northerly limit of Treaty Number Nine; on the West by Easterly limits of Treaties Numbers Three and Five, and the boundary between the Provinces of Ontario and Manitoba; on the North by the waters of Hudson Bay, and on the East by the waters of James Bay and including all islands, islets and rocks, waters and land covered by water within the said limits, and also all the said Indian rights, titles and privileges whatsoever to all other lands and lands covered by water, wherever situated in the Dominion of Canada.

The crown did, however, promise that a reserve would be set aside for them:

AND HIS MAJESTY through His said Commissioners agrees and undertakes to set side reserves for each band as provided by the said aforementioned Treaty, at such places or locations as may be arranged between the said Commissioners and the Chiefs and headmen of each Band.

Change comes to an ancient lifestyle

Major changes started to occur in Ontarios Far North at around the time the treaty was signed. The ancient practice of people living in small bands declined and communities became larger and less mobile.

The really big changes come about surprisingly recently perhaps as late as the end of the Second World War in many cases, said Professor Hamilton. Despite these changes important elements of this ancient lifestyle live on, including the language. If you go to many of the communities of the far north now, the elders still predominately speak Cree or Ojibway.

Today the Kitchenuhmaykoosik Inninuwug First Nation has a nursing station, restaurant, band office, airport and ice skating rink. They even have a website. But despite all the modern conveniences, the people still practice hunting, fishing and trapping.

Old legends also live on, heres another interesting one, available on the Kitchenuhmaykoosik Inninuwug website:

A weird, odd looking foot-long animal (a cross breed of an otter & beaver or muskrat) with a rat tail with white almost a human face was discovered floating on the mainland shore of Kitchenuhmaykoosib drowned. No one knows what it is but our ancestors used to call it the Ugly One. It is rarely seen but when seen especially if it is dead, it’s bad omen and something bad will happen according to our elders and ancestors.

Chief Morris said that soon, after all the archaeological analysis is complete, the 4,600-year-old man will be laid to rest again. Although the world has changed this fellow will, once again, receive the dignity of a proper burial in the land of his descendents.

I asked the chief to describe the ceremony how do you honor a 4,600-year-old man who was buried very simply, with red ochre and a granite slab? Do you buck history and have an elaborate gathering? The chief replied simply, it will probably just be a memorial service.

Australian Museum Curator Janet Carding New CEO of Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum

Canadas largest museum has picked a curator from down under to lead them into the next decade.

Janet Carding has been Assistant Director, Public Programs & Operations at the Australian Museum inSydney, since 2004. She also teaches the Museums and Galleries administration segment of the University of Sydneys Museum Studies program.

She will be taking over as CEO and Director of the Royal Ontario Museum after William Thorsell, the museums current leader, retires in August.

Like the ROM the Australian Museum has a collection that stretches into ancient times. In particular it has a large collection devoted to the aboriginalcultures of Australia.

She started her career at the Science Museum in London, UK. The museum said in a press release that, Cardings scope of work includes managing projects during construction of the Science Museum’s Welcome Wing extension, leading exhibition development teams, and coordination of a review of the National Museum of Science and Industry, London (NMSI), resulting in new strategic direction and organizational changes.”

In a statement Carding said that, Im delighted to accept this important position with the Royal Ontario Museum, and am looking forward to building on the momentum of Renaissance ROM, ensuring that its success endures and the Museum thrives, adding, I intend to strengthen and deepen the ROMs relationship with its many audiences, and its place at the heart of the community.

She holds a Masters degree from the University of London in the History of Science and Medicine.


As discussed in a blog earlier this week, Carding will take over a museum that has been physically transformed. William Thorsell presided over a $270 million expansion that saw its Bloor Street frontage turned into a giant crystal. The expansion project was called Renaissance ROM.

An immediate challenge for Carding will be to finish the final elements of the expansion. The ROM has plans to build new galleries dedicated to Nubia and the Eastern Roman Empire however they need to get the funds first.

She is also going to be leading the museum at a time when governments are looking at cutting their spending. Canadas federal government is running a deficit of $50 billion a year and the Province of Ontario is dealing with a $20 billion annual shortfall.

Calling all west-coast Egypt fans – King Tut event to take place in Vancouver!

While the golden kings exhibition has left Canada for southern climes, those in Vancouver will have an opportunity to learn more about him and more specifically how his artefacts reinforced his position as pharaoh.

Professor Katja Goebs research looks at Egyptian pharaohs and the artefacts that cement their hold on power. Her most recent book Crowns in early Egyptian Funerary Literature: Royalty, Rebirth, and Destruction, examines the white and red crowns ofUpper and Lower Egypt. They possess a wide-ranging symbolism that transcends the terrestrial sphere to encompass the divine and the cosmos, death and rebirth, she wrote in the book preview.

On June 22 she will be giving a talk, at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver Canada, about how King Tuts treasures upheld his role as an Egyptian pharaoh.

Even though Tut was a short-lived king, his reign occurred at a crucial time in Egyptian history. He ascended to the throne not long after the death of Akhenaten -whose rule wascharacterized by a revolution in Egyptian religion. The Aten, the sun disc, become the focus of worship and an iconoclasm was unleashed that saw other Egyptian religious figures be chiselled out.

Tut, although he was only a child, witnessed the end of this system and the return of traditional Egyptian beliefs. Each item in this glorious collection served to underpin a kingship ideology that portrayed the pharaoh asson and representative of the sun-god by employing both traditional and innovative motifs, reads the preview for Professor Goebs lecture.

It takes place at 6 pm (local time) in room 208 in the Buchanan Tower, 1873 East Mall. Its a free event.

Inaugural lecture

This will be the first event hosted by the newly formed Vancouver chapter of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities.

There is important research going on in the west coast city. Last fall I wrote about Professor Thomas Schneiders work on Egyptology during the Nazi era. It is fascinating stuff and, presuming all goes well, Professor Schneider will be discussing his research in an upcoming book.

The Vancouver chapter can be contacted at

ROM set to announce new CEO… but what should his or her goal be?

In a matter of weeks, or even days, the Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto Canada,will be announcing who their next CEO is going to be.

I dont have any knowledge as to who it is, but, can certainly say that the new leader has an almost impossible act to follow.

William Thorsell, the museums current leader, will be retiring in August. His ten year termat the museum was one of unprecedented growth. Under his leadership the ROM built an expansion that saw its Bloor Street frontage turned quite literally into a giant crystal.

Collections that had been in storage from the Middle East, South Asia, South America, the American Southwest and Oceania are now on display inside the crystal. The museum is also in the process of building new galleries dedicated to Ancient Rome and Byzantium.

Over the past decade the museum has managed to land some major special exhibits. Last summer it played host to a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. This summer it will open the largest Terracotta Warriors show ever to come to North America.

It even got the opportunity to display the (second) oldest copy of the Ten Commandments – albeit for one week only. The line to see the scroll tailed off for nearly a kilometre.

Of course Thorsells rule was no pax ROMana there was plenty of controversy to go around. The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit attracted street protests, and a request from Jordan that the scrolls themselves be seized. The museum also made an error in showing the James Ossuary in 2002. It blew up on them when an Israel Antiquities Authority investigation determined the inscription on it to be fake. There is also an active, indeed never-ending, architectural debate going on about the merits of designing the expansion in the shape of a crystal.

But whats a museum without some controversy? Its common now for major museums and galleries to take some tough headlines. Take a look at the Elgin Marbles and the British Museum, the Louvre andallegedlystolen artefactsor the Met and naked art stunts … Ok maybe that last one doesnt count.

So what challenges will the ROMs new CEO face? And more importantly – what great project should Canada’s largest museum now embark on?

CHALLENGE ONE – Nubia and Eastern Rome

One of the ROMs strengths is that it has a comprehensive collection of Nubian antiquities. Archaeologist Pamela Rose, who recently discovered a 1st millennium BC dark age settlement at Qasr Ibrim, stopped by Toronto specifically to examine pottery samples at the museum.

Last January museum officials told Heritage Key that theyare hopeful that funding would emerge to build a new Nubian gallery, along with one dedicated to the Eastern Roman Empire. However since that time no announcement about these galleries has been made. It seems that one of the top priorities for the new CEO is to turnhopes into financial reality.

CHALLENGE TWO – Government funding

Thorsell enjoyed strong support from all levels of government during his term. The federal government and the province both helped fund the museums projects.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls came to the museum the premier himself was there to announce support. When the museum needed money to kick-start its Rome and Byzantine galleries, the federal minister for infrastructure, John Baird, showed up in January 2010 to cut a check.

The new CEO will probably find financial support for major projects harder to come by. Restraint is the operative word used by politicians in Canada when describing the future.

The Ontario government is running a budget deficit of nearly $20 billion CDN and has already announced delays in building new light rail transit in Toronto. The federal government is facing a deficit in the neighbourhood of $50 billion and their stimulus program, which is funding construction of the new Rome and Byzantine galleries, will be ending in the spring of 2011.

The ROM, of course, is not captive to the government when it comes to funding. It charges fees for admission and museum membership.It also has an active fundraising program. In fact the ROMs crystal expansion is named after Michael Lee-Chin, one of its biggest contributors.

If government goes to ground with fundingthenmoney fromadmission/membership and private donations will be all the more important for the ROM and a top priority for the new CEO.

CHALLENGE THREE – The next big project

What do you do after galleries for Nubia and Eastern Rome have been built? Do you plan another large expansion?

That seems unlikely.

In order to do that, you need two things space and money. The museum is bordered by the University of Toronto on the west Bloor on the north and Queens Park crescentto the east. To the south lies the defunct McLaughlin Planetarium which has recently been sold tothe University of Toronto(which has its own need for space).

So even if the cash were readily available it would be pretty hard to do a major spurt of growth without knocking down a building somewhere.

No, the next big project needs to be one that doesnt involve construction cranes. One avenue the museum should look at is building up its research capabilities by hiring more archaeologists, geologists and life scientists, and fully funding their research.

The next big project needs to be one that doesnt involve construction cranes.

Its a worthy goal and one that is already being pursued to some extent.

Just a year ago the museum hired Dr. Clemens Reichel, the director of the Hamoukar project in Syria. The work his team is doing is amazing, to say the least. We now know that Hamoukar is one of the oldest cities in the world and also experienced the first known war in human history. It pitted the sites local residents against Uruk, no less! As Im writing this his team is in the field continuing their investigation of the site.

Dr. Robert Masons work is another example of headline grabbing research at the museum. Last summer his team found a Neolithic era landscape that has stone circles, alignments and, what appears to be, burial cairns. They will be back in the field this summer trying to learn more about it.

So what other reasons are there to hire more archaeologists and do more research?

For one thing archaeological research is not anywhere near as expensive as building an expansion. To doresearch you need good lab facilities (already available at ROM/U of T), a large research library (again readily available at ROM/U of T), an annual salary (60/70 K a year for an entry levelcurator). After that you need funds for travel, conservation, equipment, some field assistants… and thats about it. In comparison the costsfor the ROM’s expansion were estimatedto be$270 million dollars.

Another point to consider -right now is an excellent time to hire archaeologists.

The financial crisis has hit academia hard, leaving many recent grads looking for institutions willing to fund their research. If the ROM were put five ads up, right now, advertising $60,000 a year jobs for recent grads withresearch programs ready to go they would have some excellent proposals.

Finally, think of the positive benefits this would have for students and Toronto residents. Researchers not only research but lecture at local universities and public events. Dr. Reichel, for instance, teaches Near Eastern archaeology at U of T. He also talked about his research at a free public colloquium, at the museum, in February.

New archaeologists would not just be bringing their research projects to the museum but to the city at large.

The million mummy question: Why are there a million mummies buried near Snefu’s Seila pyramid?

Nearly 4,600 years ago a third dynasty pharaoh named Snefru launched one of the greatest construction projects in human history.

He decided, for reasons that are unknown to us, to build four pyramids scattered at different places across Egypt. He constructed two of them at Dashur (the Red and Bent pyramids), one at Meidum and another at a place called Seila. Together they used up more material than Khufus pyramid at Giza.

Casing stones were used to give them a smooth appearance in other words make them into true pyramids.” This was the first time in Egyptian history that this was done.

Today a team from Brigham Young University, in Utah, is investigating these pyramids, trying to figure out why Snefru would build four of them in the way he did.

One of the puzzles the team is trying to decipher involves a cemetery not far from the Seila Pyramid. Its a 40 minute hike away and research indicates that it has an enormous number of mummies. We estimate over a million bodies in this cemetery, said Professor Kerry Muhlestein in an interview with Heritage Key. Its very very densely populated by mummies.

Only a small percentage of them have been unearthed. Weve been digging there for 30 years and we could dig there for a hundred more and still have only done a small percentage, said Muhlestein.

Results indicate that the cemetery was not in use during Snefrus time. In fact the earliest burials appear to be from the Middle Kingdom at least 600 years after the Seila pyramid was constructed. Furthermore most of the burials are even later than that.

For the most part the cemetery is Graeco-Roman period, from the Ptolemaic era down to the end of the Byzantine era, said Muhlestein. This period started when Alexander the Great entered Egypt in 332 BC.

So the question is why did so many people who lived long after Snefrus reign choose to be buried so close to the Seila Pyramid?

A sacred place

Making this question more enticing is that this wasnt just a local cemetery. People seem to have come some distance to be interned here.

Its such a huge cemetery its hard to account for where all these people would have lived the population centres around there dont seem to substantiate that many burials, said Professor Muhlestein.

Maybe these are people coming from a variety of communities, all around, being buried in this place. Were not sure what would account for such a large number of burials.

Could there be a connection to the pyramid? Despite the fact that it was built thousands of years before most of these people were buried? Muhlestein believes that its a real possibility but one hard to prove unless textual evidence is found. It probably is at least partially responsible for why theres a cemetery there, said Muhlestein.

It seems very reasonable to suppose that the pyramid designated that as a sacred place, he said. Once that place is a sacred place it typically will remain a sacred place.

A family of mummies

In early 2010 the Brigham Young team continued their work. The university has a program that lets students learn field techniques while excavating at the site.

Its an interesting, and indeed fairly rare, opportunity for students. You wont find too many field-schools, who accept undergraduates, operating in Egypt. Muhlestein said that they have had an excellent experience with this program and the most recent dig turned up, what appears to be, a family who lived at some point during the early/mid 1st millennium AD, when Christianity was widespread in Egypt.

They found an adult male and female buried close together with an infant at their feet and a toddler on their chest. We think this might be a family but well have to do some DNA analysis to know for sure, said Muhlestein.

Each of them was buried with their head facing to the east, this is probably indicative of the advent of Christianity, said Muhlestein.

The family does not appear to have been very wealthy. They were mummified, but without all the chemical treatments seen in wealthier burials. A poor mans version of mummification, is how Muhlestein described it.

The only grave goods the team found were palm branches. The mummies were covered with a layer of wrapping, which had ribbons on it, that had badly deteriorated.

The million mummy question: Why are there a million mummies buried near Snefu’s Seila pyramid?

Nearly 4,600 years ago a third dynasty pharaoh named Snefru launched one of the greatest construction projects in human history. He decided, for reasons that are unknown to us, to build four pyramids scattered at different places across Egypt. He constructed two of them at Dashur (the Red and Bent pyramids), one at Meidum and another at a place called Seila. Together they used up more material than Khufu’s pyramid at Giza. Casing stones were used to give them a smooth appearance – in other words make them into “true pyramids.” This was the first time in Egyptian history that this was done. Today a team from Brigham Young University, in Utah, is investigating these pyramids, trying to figure out why Snefru would build four of them in the way he did. One of the puzzles the team is trying to decipher involves a cemetery not far from the Seila Pyramid. It’s a 40 minute hike away and research indicates that it has an enormous number of mummies. “We estimate over a million bodies in this cemetery,” said Professor Kerry Muhlestein in an interview with Heritage Key. It’s “very very densely populated by mummies.”

Toronto G20 Summit: Terracotta Warriors to Guard ROM

Its confirmed the Terracotta Warriors show will be opening on June 26at the RoyalOntario Museum, inToronto rightat the startof a G20 summit.

It will be the largest Terracotta Warriors show ever to hit North America. Featuring 250 artefacts, including 16 human terracotta figures.

While the Terracotta Warriors show will be opening many other venues will be closing.

The CN Tower will be closed, the University of Toronto campus (which surrounds the museum) will be shut down and even the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team have moved their weekend home games to Philadelphia. A security cordon will also be in place around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, preventing visitors from accessing much of the downtown area.

Making matters more interesting is that the official protest site, for the G20, will be at Queens Park, about 100 meters south of the museum. Protest groups say they will not remain in that zone.

But, nevertheless, the museum just released a statement saying that the show shall go on.

The ROM will be open for business as usual during this period and is looking forward to a successful exhibition launch,” the statement reads. The museumdeclined to comment on what extra security precautions willbe inplace.

Terracotta Army Stays Until 2011

One other piece of news regarding the warriors – and one which is definitely in the good news category – is that the warriors will be staying in Toronto until the New Year. January 2, 2011 is now confirmed as the exhibition’s closing date, said senior publicist Marilynne Friedman in an email. I’m so pleased that we have it through the holiday season!

ROM Lecture Series to Accompany Terracotta Warriors Exhibition

On June 26the Terracotta Warriors will be coming to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada.

Curated by the museums own Dr. Chen Shen,the showincludes 16 human terracotta figures, a terracotta horse and, yes, a terracotta dog (albeit from the Han period). In total there are about 250 artefacts -making it the largest warriors show ever to come to North America.

Accompanyingtheexhibitionwill be a lecture series, the details of which the museum has just announced.

Therewill be14 lectures in total, allof whichstart at7pm in the Eaton theatre, inside the museum itself.

The price for one lecture is $28, going down to $25 for members and students. Package deals are also available – $84 for four lectures (going down to $75 for members and students). You can even purchase tickets for all 14 lectures.If you want to see them all it costs $252 for non-members and $225 for members and students.

If you want to buy a package I would suggest getting a ROM membership first. An individual membership costs $90 a year and you get free admission, to the museum, year round. Also the museum has said that members can see the Terracotta Warriors show as often as they wish – for free!


Lets look at some of the lecture highlights:

For nearly 20 years Dr. Duan Qingbo has been the chief archaeologist in charge of the First Emperors mausoleum leading the excavation work. His archaeological team has been responsible for the recent major archaeological discoveries at this site, including the stone armour pit, the civil official pit, the acrobat pit, and many others, said the museum in a release. On October 21 Dr. Qingbo will come to Torontoto talk abouthis work. The lecture is in Mandarin but an English translation will be provided.

One lecture Im particularly interested in will be given by Professor Robin Yates of McGill University, who has been studying the laws used in the time of the first emperor. In 1975 legal documents were found buried with a low-ranking Qin official.The museum said in their release thatthese fascinating legal documents are only known by specialists.

Dr. Roberto Ciarla will be talking about Chinese Philosopher Han Fei, who lived 280-233 BC. He lived in the first emperors lifetime but died before the unification of China in 221 BC. Dr. Ciarla will be discussing how his ideas influenced Qin Shi Huang.

Torched Shang Dynasty City Huanbei Was Destroyed by its Own Rulers

The Shang Dynasty of Ancient China is known for its divinations, oracle bone inscriptions and large urban centres. Now archaeologists have a new mystery to ponder. A team of researchers excavating a 3,300 year old Shang Dynasty palace-temple complex at the ancient city of Huanbei have discovered that it was burned down after only 50 years of use.

Making it more enticing is that it wasnt burnt down by an invasion force, but by the citys own rulers. They stripped the complex of all its goods before committing the act. The only thing they left behind were human sacrifices at least 40 of them in the largest building.

The palace-temple complex was at the centre of Huanbei. When the city was in use it had a population of at least 10,000 people. After Huanbei was gone, a city called Yinxu was built to the southwest. It remained the Shang capital until the end of the dynasty. Both cities are located in the area of modern day Anyang.

Shang is the first Chinese dynasty that archaeologists can prove actually existed. Scholars havent pinned down exact dates for its rise and fall, but it dies out around the middle of the 11th century BC.

Exploring Huanbei

Professor Zhichun Jing, of the University of British Columbia, has been working with colleagues in China to excavate and study Huanbei. He took the time to talk to Heritage Key about the latest findings.

He explained that Huanbei is a massive site larger than modern day Central Park in New York City. The palace-temple complex is in the centre of the city and is 41 hectares large. The rest of Huanbei totals about 470 hectares.

Only a small portion has been excavated or surveyed, said Jing.

Religion played an important role in its life. The planning of the city has to do with Shang cosmology, said Jing. Everything is actually oriented at 13 degree east of the north, something which is seen at other Shang sites. Understanding this cosmology is something that the team is trying to do.

The complex was surrounded by a wall, making it look like a city within a city. It had at least sixty buildings. The largest of them is a structure called ‘F1’. Its 174 meters wide by 90 meters long making it the largest building ever found in Bronze Age China. Archaeologists believe that it served both as a palace and as an ancestral temple. Jing explained that Shang Kings, at this time, served both a religious and administrative function, you really cannot separate the palace from the temple, he said.

This structure was low-lying (no more than three stories tall). Stone was used at the base of its columns and the walls were made of earthen material, such as rammed earth and adobe. Jing said that this earthen material was very sturdy – as hard as any brick.

A gateway at its southern end had two openings that would have let people into the building. Numerous sacrificial pits were found there. Once you’d gone through the gateway you would find yourself in a massive courtyard, much of which is unexcavated.

The main hall was on the north side of the building and had many walled chambers. There were 10 doorways there that would have made it easy for people to get out into the courtyard.

To the north of this massive structure, there was a second building that archaeologists refer to as F2. Its the second largest structure at Huanbei, measuring 92 meters east-west and 68.5 meters north-south. Again earthen materials were used in its construction. The foundations were made of silty and dark grey clay. Yellow and clay silt were used above it. This building would also have played a religious/administrative role.

Professor Jing generously released detailed virtual reconstructions of these two buildings. They can be seen alongside this article.

Burning it down

One would expect that a 41 hectare palace-temple complex would yield loads of artefacts pottery, gems and exotic items, the kind of stuff that gets museum curators excited. But in this case the team found very little.

The floor of the buildings is very clean said Professor Jing.

Lets move and take everything with us and then destroy the city by a severe set of fire

All the buildings… are covered by a single layer of the red burnt earth, which are the collapse deposit due to a fire, he said. The whole palace city (was) destroyed by a single fire.

Now, this doesnt look like a military attack. If that were the case how could the defenders move so much stuff so quickly? Also where are the bodies or evidence of a battle?

No this palace wasnt burnt down by invaders. It was torched by its own occupants. Lets move and take everything with us and then destroy the city by a severe set of fire, said Jing, explaining how this would have worked.

The palace area wasnt the only thing to vanish. The rest of Huanbei seems to have been abandoned as well.

This city survived only for a half-century, after its collapse another city (Yinxu) was constructed just across the river, said Professor Jing.

Human Sacrifices

There is one important thing the occupants didnt remove before they burned it down its human sacrifices. The largest building has at least 40. This is a really large number of sacrificial pits, said Professor Jing. He added that this number is likely to grow as excavation continues.

Human sacrifice was not unusual during the Shang Dynasty. Most medium/large size tombs, from this time period, have human sacrifices. Thousands of them have been found at Yinxus royal cemetery.

Archaeologists cannot yet say for sure who the sacrificial victims at Huanbei were. Professor Jing said that more scientific analysis needs to be done on them. But based on oracle bone inscriptions found at other Shang sites, he does have a working idea.

According to oracle bones inscriptions the victims for the ritual killings (were) likely the captives of the war the Shang engaged with neighbours, said Jing. Definitely by the end of the dynasty the war captives were the primary source of human victims.

Another possibility is that some of the sacrifices might be criminals, who were made to pay the ultimate price for their alleged crimes.

Strontium analysis performed on human bones show that when Yinxu was first founded, after the abandonment of Huanbei, many of the sacrifices were local people, likely criminals.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

A city as massive as Huanbei will take many years to excavate and explore. Thankfully, this is one of those rare cases where archaeologists have the luxury of time.

Even though only a small portion of the site has been excavated, Huanbei, along with Yinxu, has recently been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site a designation that will help protect it from modern development. Over 30 square kilometres have been designated as protected.

Without the threat of a bulldozer archaeologists will be able to excavate the site slowly and carefully, without having to dig until resources for conservation become available.

New Egyptian Gallery in Kansas Museum Features “Virtual Reincarnation Machines”

Cartonnage for head of Meretites. Image Credit - Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has just opened a new Egyptian gallery that features the coffin, cartonnage and shabtis of an Egyptian noblewoman who died around 2,300 years ago.

Her name was Meretites which means beloved by her father. Her funerary artefacts date to some point between 380-250 BC. This date means that she may well have been contemporaneous with Alexander the Great and witness to a remarkable period of Egyptian history.

Alexander the Great advanced into Egypt in 332 BC, taking over power from the Persians. He would go on to conquer an empire that stretched from Macedonia to the modern day India-Pakistan border. After his death in 323 BC a power vacuum ensued.

His generals battled over who would control his empire and in the end it was divided up. Ptolemy I Soter became the ruler of Egypt, starting a dynasty that continued until the suicide of Queen Cleopatra in 30 BC.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum acquired the coffin and shabtis in 2007. They are believed to have originally been from somewhere in Middle Egypt. Artefacts no longer leave Egypt on a permanent basis so these objects were certainly discovered many decades ago.

Click to open a slideshow of images from the New Egyptian Gallery in Kansas Museum.

A Beautiful Coffin

The coffin is well preserved and shows some beautiful imagery. The outer coffin is eight feet long and the inner coffin is seven feet long. There is no mummy inside of it.

Both the inner and outer coffins are painted with elaborate images meant to ensure the resurrection of Meretites: Nut, the sky goddess, who boldly outstretches her wings to protect Meretites; chattering baboons that raise their arms in adoration of the sun; and Egyptian dung beetles that push the great solar disk through the heavens. Each figure, each color and each hieroglyph follow a formula intended to allow entry into the afterlife, said the museum in a news release.

In addition to the coffin the museum has 305 shabti figurines that would have accompanied Meretites. Shabtis are miniature figures that were created to do the work of the deceased in the afterlife. The museum also has cartonnage meant for the head of Meretites.

Museum curator Robert Cohon, who is in charge of ancient art at the museum, was ecstatic at being able to exhibit allthese artefacts. Our visitors especially families and kids are going to be wowed by the power and presence of the coffins, he said in the release. The coffins were virtual reincarnation machines that were absolutely necessary for the deceased to enter the afterlife.