Nine miles from the volcano the Maasai call the “Mountain of God,” researchers have cataloged a spectacularly rare find: an enormous set of well-preserved human footprints left in the mud between 5,000 and 19,000 years ago.
The more than 400 footprints cover an area slightly larger than a tennis court, crisscrossing the dark gray mudflat of Engare Sero, on the southern shore of Tanzania’s Lake Natron. No other site in Africa has as many ancient Homo sapiens footprints—making it a treasure trove for scientists trying to tell the story of humankind’s earliest days. . . .
For custodians of the ancient heritage of the Middle East and North Africa, the recent rise of Islamist extremist groups has posed a dire challenge. Since its seizure of the historic Iraqi city of Mosul in early 2014, Islamic State has pillaged and demolished mosques, shrines, churches and other sacred sites across the region. The group continues to launch “cultural cleansing” operations from Tikrit to Tripoli.
In this grim procession, there have been occasional victories for culture over extremism, like the recapture last month of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, which may now be restored to something of its previous glory. A less familiar case of cultural rescue features an unlikely hero: a 51-year-old book collector and librarian named Abdel Kader Haidarain the fabled city of Timbuktu, in the West African country of Mali.
The story begins in April 2012, when Mr. Haidara returned home from a business trip to learn that the weak Malian army had collapsed and that nearly 1,000 Islamist fighters from one of al Qaeda’s African affiliates, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, had occupied his city. He encountered looters, gunfire and black flags flying from government buildings, and he feared that the city’s dozens of libraries and repositories—home to hundreds of thousands of rare Arabic manuscripts—would be pillaged.
The prizes in Mr. Haidara’s own private collection, housed in his Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, include a tiny, irregularly shaped Quran from the 12th century, written on parchment made from the dried skin of a fish and glittering with illuminated blue Arabic letters and droplets of gold. His collection also boasts many secular volumes: manuscripts about astronomy, poetry, mathematics, occult sciences and medicine, such as a 254-page volume on surgery and elixirs derived from birds, lizards and plants, written in Timbuktu in 1684. “Many of the manuscripts show that Islam is a religion of tolerance,” he told me.
Mr. Haidara knew that many of the works in the city’s repositories were ancient examples of the reasoned discourse and intellectual inquiry that the jihadists, with their intolerance and rigid views of Islam, wanted to destroy. The manuscripts, he thought, would inevitably become a target.
Standing before the majestic gold, ochre and white frescos of Tutankhamun’s tomb, British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves on Monday passionately defended his daring theory that Nefertiti is buried in a secret chamber.
With the help of a sophisticated radar, Reeves aims to prove Nefertiti is buried there in a hidden chamber of the young pharaoh’s underground tomb that long hid the most fabulous treasure ever discovered in Egypt.
Archaeologists have never discovered the mummy of this legendary beauty who played a major political and religious role in the 14th century BC.
Nefertiti actively supported her husband Akhenaten, the pharaoh who temporarily converted ancient Egypt to monotheism imposing the single cult of sun god Aton.
Reeves’s theory is that Nefertiti is buried in a room adjacent to the tomb of Tutankhamun, the son of Akhenaten.
According to Reeves, the boy king, who died unexpectedly at 19, was buried in a rush in an underground burial chamber that was probably not intended for him.
British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves talks to journalists before visiting the burial chamber of King …
His death would have forced priests to reopen Queen Nefertiti’s tomb 10 years after her death because the young pharaoh’s own had not yet been built, Reeves said at Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, southern Egypt.
In the burial chamber, just a few steps away from the darkened mummy of the boy king who died in 1324 BC after just nine years on the throne, the archaeologist pointed to a fresco representing Tutankhamun and his successor Ay.
– Radar to scan the walls –
Circled by archaeologists and officials from Egypt’s antiquities department, Minister of Antiquities Mamduh al-Damati listened attentively to the expert from the American University of Arizona as Reeves said the frescos in the chamber could conceal two secret doors.
“The theory is a very good theory but it doesn’t mean it’s true. The best theories don’t always work,” he added with caution, in the midst of the Valley of the Kings where on November 29, 1922 another British Egyptologist, Howard Carter, discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. . . . .
British archaeology team uncovers stunning Aksumite and Roman artefacts
Spectacular 2,000-year-old treasures from the Roman empire and the Aksumite kingdom, which ruled parts of north-east Africa for several centuries before 940AD, have been discovered by British archaeologists in northern Ethiopia.
Louise Schofield, a former British Museum curator, headed a major six-week excavation of the ancient city of Aksum where her team of 11 uncovered graves with “extraordinary” artefacts dating from the first and second centuries. They offer evidence that the Romans were trading there hundreds of years earlier than previously thought.
Schofield told the Observer: “Every day we had shed-loads of treasure coming out of all the graves. I was blown away: I’d been confident we’d find something, but not on this scale.”
She was particularly excited about the grave of a woman she has named “Sleeping Beauty”. The way the body and its grave goods had been positioned suggest that she had been beautiful and much-loved.
Schofield said: “She was curled up on her side, with her chin resting on her hand, wearing a beautiful bronze ring. She was buried gazing into an extraordinary Roman bronze mirror. She had next to her a beautiful and incredibly ornate bronze cosmetics spoon with a lump of kohl eyeliner.”
The woman was also wearing a necklace of thousands of tiny beads, and a beaded belt. The quality of the jewellery suggests that she was a person of very high status, able to command the very best luxurious goods. Other artefacts with her include Roman glass vessels – two perfectly preserved drinking beakers and a flask to catch the tears of the dead.
There was also a clay jug. Schofield hopes that its contents can be analysed. She believes it would have contained food and drink for the afterlife.
Although “Sleeping Beauty” was covered only with soil, her grave was cut into a rock overhang, which is why the finds survived intact.
The team also found buried warriors, with each skeleton wearing large iron bangles. They may have been killed in nearby battlefields. . . . .
“A collection of 32 ancient Egyptian artefacts is to return back to Egypt in June after Egypt successfully asserted ownership of the objects.
Ali Ahmed, director of antiquities repatriation, told Ahram Online that the objects included limestone and wooden statues as well as a collection of limestone blocks from chapels across dfferent pharaonic periods.
The objects were seized by the Swiss police within the framework of a bilateral agreement between Egypt and Switzerland that prohibits the illegal import and export of cultural properties.
Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty said the objects are to be handed over to Egypt’s ambassador to Switzerland at the Federal Office for Culture in Bern during an event to mark tenth anniversary of the passage into Swiss law of a prohibition on illegal trade in cultural property.”