Archeology part 2: a new Egyptian queen, cooking, Santa Claus

SciTech is again diving into the past, because 2022 is turning out to be a great year for archeology! As archaeologists keep finding things, we keep reporting on them, so let’s jump into another set of amazing looks into our past.

A new Egyptian queen

Let's start with what’s possibly the biggest find this week: the tomb of a previously unknown Egyptian QUEEN. Move aside Nefertiti and Cleopatra because Queen Neith is here to stay.

This pyramid was unearthed when excavating around King Tut’s tomb just last week. Jennifer Nalewicki of Live Science explains that the area Tut was buried in was also home to the pyramid of Teti, the first king of the Sixth Dynasty of Egypt, who was worshiped as a god in the New Kingdom period, leading to many people wanting to be buried around him. Apparently this included Neith and her previously-undiscovered pyramid. Ella Kipling of HITC notes that although we know very little about Queen Neith at the moment, we do know that she was likely named after the goddess Neith, the “patroness of Sais in the Nile River delta,” as two previous female leaders also had names inspired by her. The archeologists note that “It is amazing to literally rewrite what we know of history, adding a new queen to our records.”

That’s not all that was at this site — Sarah Cascone of ArtNet furthers that archeologists also think they found the remains of Tut’s generals and advisors. Nalewicki explains that archeologists discovered “22 [interconnected] shafts, ranging from 30 to 60 feet [9 to 18 meters deep], all with New Kingdom burials.” Within these were 300 New Kingdom coffins each painted with unique faces and with the name of the person inside, and a “huge limestone sarcophagus.” Even more shocking, the mummies inside these coffins were found in good condition, speaking to the advancement of the technology at the time. Further artifacts include games, figurines, statues, and a metal axe.

So for those who argue against the archeology in Egypt, consider this — without these finds, our historical knowledge would be incomplete. So long as it’s done ethically, this is one of the only ways we have to learn about the ancient world.

The first use of fire

If you read any sci-fi books talking about how to identify intelligent lifeforms (or pay attention to how scientists approach the history of human evolution), then you’ll know that the big milestones for our evolution into a civilization include the first use of tools, including controlled use of fire as a tool. An important example of this? Using fire to cook food, an action that changed what humans eat entirely.

Ariel David of Haaretz explains that archeologists found the earliest conclusive evidence of the use of controlled fire to cook food with 780,000 year old fish teeth. It was already known that humans could use fire, as proven with findings of ash at many sites, but these findings do not say whether the fire was used to cook, to burn garbage, or for warmth, or if the fire was even lit on purpose. Indeed, Tel-Aviv University notes that the previous conclusive evidence of humans using fire to cook only dated back 170,000 years, meaning this finding lengthens our understanding of the evolution of humans by 610,000 years.

The teeth were found at Gesher Benot Ya’akov, a site in northern Israel where early humans lived along the Jordan river. David notes that of all the fish remains, it was 95 percent teeth that were found. Archeologists hoped this was because fire softened fish bones so that only the teeth survived, which would be a result of cooking the fish. She notes that archeologists tested these teeth with X-ray diffraction to determine if they had expanded due to heat, and determined that they indeed had expanded at rates consistent with heat at low temperatures. This suggested that the fish were cooked, not burned for disposal (which would have been with a hotter flame).

Tel Aviv University explains the implications, noting that this shows not only the importance of fishing in ancient societies but adds to a long history of cooking food and suggests high cognitive capabilities of these early hunter-gatherers. They note that “gaining the skill required to cook food marks a significant evolutionary advance, as it provided additional means for making optimal use of available food resources.”

Indeed, cooking these fish might have been what jump-started our entire civilization.

The body of Santa Claus

Ok, it’s not ~really~ Santa Claus. But the tomb of Saint Nicholas, the Saint who was known so much for gift-giving that he inspired the tale of Santa Claus, was found.

Let’s be honest, that’s not quite right either. Parts of Saint Nicholas’ bones have been found since 1953, it’s just we didn’t know it was his yet. Heritage Daily explains that shortly after his death, Saint Nicholas was reburied in the St. Nicholas Church, which was built over the site where he was a bishop. However, his body was moved to the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari shortly after, and then once again moved to the San Nicolò al Lido monastery basilica in Venice during the First Crusade. However, Heritage Daily furthers, apparently they didn’t move all of him, because in 1953, bone fragments in both Bari and Venice were identified as the same person (although whether they were Saint Nicholas was unknown).

Tre Goins-Phillip of CBN news notes that finally, his tomb has been reportedly discovered underneath an ancient church in Turkey, which was used by Orthodox Christians from the fifth through twelfth century. The church itself was only found in 2017, as it was formerly submerged by the Mediterranean Sea and was built over top. The site is full of statues of Saint Nicholas, and his tomb was found in the center of the remains, buried under around five feet of marble.

Francesca Aton of ArtNews reports on the importance of this finding, because not only did they unearth flooring that Saint Nicholas would have walked on, but this church is one of the first findings from the time period that he lived in. But we here at The Tartan are simply happy to report that we finally found Santa Claus’ body.