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5 Creepy Archaeological Discoveries

Creepy – archaeological – discoveries…

What could possibly be more self-explanatory?

So let’s dispense with the wordy intro and dive right in shall we?  

Russian “Amazon” Warriors

In early 2020 the remains of four ancient female warriors unearthed in western Russia caused quite a stir in archaeological circles. 

Buried together, the deceased ranged in age from about 12 to 50 at the time of their deaths around 2,500 years ago. 

Similar graves had been discovered previously, but few contained occupants of such varying ages, and more interestingly, the youngest girl’s tendons had been severed after death to allow her legs to be positioned as if she were riding a horse, which she must have done during her short life.  

All had been laid to rest on traditional wooden bedlike platforms that had been covered with grass mats, and other telling artifacts were found as well. 

They included bracelets made from glass beads, multiple iron weapons like knives and spear heads, and a polished bronze mirror, all of which identified them as belonging to the Scythian nomadic culture that flourished on the vast steppes between Eastern Europe and Asia between about 2,700 to 1,600 years ago. 

Scythia-Parthia
Scythia-Parthia 100 BC. By Dbachmann, is licensed under CC-BY-SA

But unlike the legends of female warriors of truly “Amazonian” proportions, these Russian women weren’t ten feet tall. 

In fact, they were about the same size as most women today, but they all died at the same time from wounds sustained during battle.  

Archaeologists determined that they were probably buried in November or December based on the remains of a lamb found with them. 

Bone analysis revealed that the animal was between 6 and 8 months old, and since spring lambs are generally born in March or April, they were able to approximate when the women were buried.  

The ends of the lamb’s bones were greenish and showed signs of polishing, which meant they’d been cooked in a bronze pot, probably to sustain the deceased on their journey through the afterlife. 

In addition, the oldest woman was adorned with an ornately engraved ceremonial headdress, which at about 70 percent pure, was of much higher quality than most gold of the era. 

In other words, she was a person of high standing. 

Though young women were considered adults much earlier back then than they are now, the 12-year-old girl was probably a warrior-in-training, though she died alongside sisters, aunts, and possibly even her mother. 

But despite the site’s uniqueness, more than a dozen similar graves of women warriors have been exhumed in west-central Russian villages near the Ukrainian border in recent years. 

The finds lend credence to the theory that bands of warrior women did roam much of the region, but determining the sex of historic remains isn’t easy. 

This is largely due to decomposition, the fact that male humans don’t have telltale penis bones like other animals, and persistent contemporary social biases, that together have led historians and archaeologists to assume that nearly all warriors of yesteryear were men and boys. 

Now it’s evident that this isn’t the case, and previously unavailable DNA analysis is bearing it out.  

Prior to recent finds it was often assumed that tales of women warriors were little more than fanciful stories, despite the fact that they were mentioned and depicted much farther back in historic texts and works of art. 

But as the idea of women warriors became more accepted, whispers of purported lesbianism and misandry soon followed.

There’s little evidence to support the claims, but though they weren’t giants, many warrior women may have been nearly as physically able as men. 

In 2017 the remains of a 20-something Armenian woman showed musculature and skeletal development similar to a man’s.

She also had an arrowhead lodged in her leg and was adorned with jewelry and multiple scars indicative of numerous battles. 

What’s not clear however, is whether these women fought alongside men or independent of them, or whether the societies in which they lived were matriarchal or patriarchal.

It has been theorized that they may have been left behind to defend land and homes while the men were off waging war in far off lands. 

Sadly, archaeologists concede that the grave was ransacked and looted long before they discovered it, and that the missing items would have shed more light on the lives and deaths of the women. 

That said, it’s evident that they were buried in much the same way as men of high social and military status would have been, so even if they weren’t members of a tribe of all-women warriors, they probably enjoyed nearly equal status with their male counterparts. 

Headless Vikings

While on a relatively mundane dig near Dorset along England’s south-central coast, archaeologists made one of the most unique discoveries in recent memory.

dorset weymouth
Geology map of Dorset. By Steinsky, is licensed under CC-BY-SA

They immediately began recording the positions of mounds of still partially covered bones, and what they eventually found was a mass grave containing the headless remains of more than four dozen Viking warriors.  

Uncovered in the summer of 2009, radio-carbon dating determined the remains to be about 1,000 years old, which showed that the Vikings probably lived between AD 910 and 1030, a period when many coastal Brits regularly clashed with marauding seafarers from the north. 

But though the Viking’s heads had been decapitated, they were stacked neatly in a pile separate from the other bones. 

As successive layers of earth were stripped away it became apparent that they’d been manipulated prior to burial, and that they were grouped together by type. 

In other words, pelvises were in one pile, femurs in another, rib cages in another, and so on. 

The question was, why? 

It was theorized that the Vikings had attacked a local village but had been overpowered and killed by the indignant citizens. 

Then after killing the invaders, they stripped the deceased’s bodies of clothes and other useful items like weapons, tools and shoes, before dismembering them. 

Perhaps just the unmitigated bloodlust of a population who’d been on the receiving end of horrific violence once too often, the heads may initially have been carried off as macabre trophies, mantelpiece curiosities, or perhaps placed on pikes around the village to ward off those who might show up later to exact revenge.  

If so, the  heads were eventually returned to the burial site, probably about the same time they began rotting and stinking. 

But archaeologists also found that the cuts and strike marks on the Viking’s were all delivered from the front after they were already dead, which disproved the notion that they’d been ripped apart by a violent mob or killed in battle.

On the contrary, the precise nature of the wounds seemed to show that they’d been ritually slaughtered – as in sacrificed – albeit in a manner not previously seen in the region. 

Whatever their motivation for such wanton butchery, it’s one of the few incidents in recorded history in which Vikings were the ones who ended up without their heads, because this ghoulish distinction was usually reserved for their victims. 

If the fearsome and battle hardened marauders were defeated by villagers who presumably had boring jobs as cobblers, carpenters and fisherman, it’s likely that they knew their adversaries were coming, had far superior numbers, and were organized by someone with formal military training.  

Black Sarcophagus

In the summer of 2018, archaeologists discovered an immense black sarcophagus in Alexandria, Egypt that had remained untouched just 15 feet (4.5 m) beneath the ground for approximately two millenia. 

Unwittingly unearthed at a construction site, the largely intact burial box tipped the scales at a whopping 60,000 pounds (27,215 kg), making it among the largest ever discovered. 

Black granite sarcophagus of the vicerof of Kush, Merymose, circa 1350 BC, originally from Thebes. EA 1001.
Black granite sarcophagus of the vicerof of Kush, Merymose, circa 1350 BC, originally from Thebes. EA 1001. By Captmondo, is licensed under
CC-BY-SA

Believed to date from the early Ptolemaic dynasty which began around BC 325, unlike others from the era, the Black Sarcophagus was built from dark granite and encased in a thick layer of mortar that was in surprisingly good condition. 

While antiquities authorities decided what to do with the find, some historians surmised that the relic may contain the remains of one of history’s most influential figures – Alexander the Great. 

Though there wasn’t any evidence, the object’s unique color and immense size led them to believe that, at the very least, a person or people of some importance resided inside. 

On the other hand, some worried that the vault’s blackness was an overt warning, and that opening it was a really bad idea. 

After all, it’s commonly believed that diseases, germs, microbes and even ancient hexes can lay dormant indefinitely. 

The legend of the “Mummy’s Curse” began in the early 1920s, when famous English Egyptologist Lord Carnarvon died shortly after opening Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.

The culprit was almost certainly a mosquito bite inflicted around the same time, but since then the rumors have continued to circulate, and it is possible that mold, bacteria and deadly pathogens can survive for extended periods in states of dormancy. 

Nonetheless, Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry gave a select group of archaeologists permission to open the sarcophagus. 

Due to the lid’s weight they had trouble raising it, and when it had been lifted just a few inches they were hit by an odor so pungent that they hastily lowered it back into place. 

Later they donned facemasks, gloves and hazmat suits and called in the heavy equipment. 

Inside they found three skeletons partially submerged in a reddish brown sludge composed of putrefied blood, liquefied organs, excrement and urine that’d been stewing for a long, long time. 

Thankfully the tomb didn’t contain any deadly viruses or curses, and it became evident almost immediately that those who’d been laid to rest inside didn’t have as high a social standing as expected. 

In fact, the mummified remains hadn’t been cared for particularly well, and in the end the deceased were probably little more than servants or run-of-the-mill foot soldiers assigned to the royal family. 

The skull of one had been cracked by a spear or an arrow, and to add to the mystery, a decayed and unidentifiable alabaster bust lay among the waterlogged bones as well. 

If they were soldiers, the bust could’ve been from their commander, or perhaps the Pharaoh who’d reigned at the time of their death, both of which would have shed more light on exactly who they were and how they ended up together in an ominous black granite box. 

World’s Unluckiest Man

When Mount Vesuvius erupted near Pompeii in AD 79, the force of the explosion was so great that hundreds or thousands of multi-ton rocks were sent hurtling through the sky. 

Many smashed through homes and buildings miles away, but at least one fell in an even more unlikely place – on top of an already terrified man who may have been running for his life. 

Or at least, that’s how archaeologists originally thought the scenario played out. 

Since the man was found face down near Pompeii Archaeological Park with a huge rock covering the upper portion of his body, junior diggers, local volunteers and even a few well regarded archaeologists concluded that it was an open and shut case. 

rock on the skeleton

However, subsequent investigations turned up a few interesting clues that had been overlooked. 

First, before his untimely death the man had suffered from a leg infection that was so advanced that it may have eventually been fatal if he hadn’t been killed in the eruption. 

The infection would have made him particularly slow, and where others may have been fast enough to at least get indoors immediately after the eruption, he was not. 

Because so few people are killed by flying rocks, he’s often referred to as the “world’s unluckiest man,” but some scientists now admit that they may have gotten it all wrong, largely because when the rock was removed they found that the man’s skull, limbs, spine and torso were largely intact and uncrushed. 

His death was therefore almost certainly caused by something else – probably asphyxia resulting from pyroclastic flow, which is how the vast majority of victims perish during volcanic events. 

Pyroclastic flows are dense roiling masses of ash, superheated gasses and pulverized lava fragments that are spewed outward during volcanic eruptions. 

In the case of Vesuvius, the volume of the pyroclastic flow probably measured in the tens or hundreds of thousands of tons. 

Amazingly hot and moving at breakneck speed, it killed and obliterated much of what was in its path, including the poor Pompeiian guy with a bum leg. 

The man’s final resting place along a narrow alley surrounded by multi-story villas made it unlikely that the rock had rained down on him from above as previously thought. 

Archaeologists now believe that he was attempting to get away from the pyroclastic flow, and possibly looking over his shoulder while hobbling away when he was hit with a hot wall of vapors and ash that knocked him down and either killed him immediately or rendered him unconscious. 

Then either already dead or incapacitated, the rock was carried along by the encroaching lava and ultimately came to rest on top of him when the flow subsided.

So the man was definitely unlikely, but probably not any more unlucky than the other 16,000 folks who were killed in the epic event. 

Old “Knife Arm” 

While excavating northern Italy’s Longboard Necropolis in the mid-’80s, archaeologists discovered the remains of a man with a unique prosthetic appendage that lived between 1,200 and 1,400 years ago. 

Hundreds of skeletons were unearthed in the necropolis, and like the memorable scene from the Godfather, a horse without its head. 

Despite these unique finds however, the one-armed man stood out. 

Though his normal left arm was extended by his side, what was left of the right one was bent at the elbow and laid across his abdomen. 

Just a few inches away, aligned with his amputated wrist was a large knife blade, as well as a corroded metal buckle and two strips of decomposed organic matter that were later determined to be leather. 

Many of the men at Longboard had been buried with knives and tools, but Knife Arm’s  implement of choice was different.

Subsequent investigations suggested that his prosthetic arm wasn’t capped with a clumsy makeshift hand, but a removable knife blade that was attached by a beltlike strap.  

Bone analysis revealed that the man was between 40 and 50, or well past his prime by the standards of the day.

His arm had been amputated around the mid-forearm years before, probably after a traumatic injury like a compound fracture from a fall, or being crushed by a large stone. 

Even back then medical amputations were relatively common, but most people who lost limbs didn’t live very long afterward.  

So, why a knife?  

After all, having a lethal blade instead of a hand would be intimidating to others, and downright dangerous when instinctively scratching an annoying itch near one’s eye or groin. 

Though there was some disagreement as to whether the knife was a prosthesis at all, most archaeologists now agree that the bulbous calcium deposits on the ends of the severed bones are particularly telling. 

These build-ups are common on amputated bones, and furthermore, the man’s teeth provided more evidence for the prosthetic theory. 

The molars on the side of the missing limb were deformed and nearly stripped of their enamel, which meant that instead of using his good arm and hand to tighten the strap, he used his teeth and jaws. 

Over the years after multiple daily fastenings and refastenings, his teeth deformed – so much so that they caused an infection in his jawbone, which ironically may have been what killed him. 

The man’s shoulder also showed evidence of stress consistent with muscular and skeletal compensation due to a missing limb, but it’s not clear whether the knife was used as a fighting or defensive implement, or if the man worked in some trade where it came in “handy,” like as a butcher. 

Whatever the case, long before the age of antibiotics, he made a remarkable recovery and lived a relatively long life. 

Though the manner of his burial suggests that he was a person of low status, his survival points to significant value placed on human life, even for the poor and damaged.

Since it’s likely that the man wouldn’t haven’t been able to afford the operation or prosthesis on his own, he may have had some kind of financial help, or paid by bartering instead of using cash. 

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