August 7, 2014
6,500 Year Old Human Skeleton Re-Discovered In Museum Storage Room
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Anybody who has ever cleaned out a closet knows the feeling of finding some long-forgotten item, but scientists at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia have taken it to a next level – re-discovering a 6,500-year-old human skeleton that had been kept for decades in one of their own storage rooms.
The skeleton, which is complete, has been stored in a coffin-like box for 85 years, its identifying documentation having all but vanished, the museum said in a statement. However, an ongoing summer project to digitize old records from a world-famous excavation resulted in that documentation being rediscovered, allowing the staff to identify the history of the skeleton.
The skeleton was discovered by Sir Leonard Woolley's joint Penn Museum/British Museum team during a 1929-1930 excavation in what is now southern Iraq. This makes it approximately 2,000 years older than the remains and materials discovered at the famed Mesopotamian “royal tombs,” and a visual examination revealed that it is of a male who had been well-muscled, was at least 50 years old, and was roughly 5’9” tall, according to the Associated Press (AP).
“Woolley's records indicated that he had shipped a skeleton over, and the team digitizing his records had uncovered pictures of the excavation, which showed the skeleton being removed from its grave,” said Reuters reporter Daniel Kelley. The remains were found 40 feet below the ground at the Royal Cemetery of Ur dig site, buried beneath in a deep layer of silt believed to have been the result of a massive flood beneath the cemetery itself.
After the bones were recovered, Woolley’s team had the bones and the soil surrounding them coated in wax, then had it shipped first to London before it finally made it to Philadelphia and the Penn Museum. The re-discovery of the skeleton coupled with advanced research techniques not available when it was originally recovered could lead to new insights about the origins, diet, diseases, trauma and stress of a population about which little is known.
The records were discovered by William Hafford, one of the researchers on the digitization project, who then brought them to the attention of Dr. Janet Monge, the museum' chief curator. Dr. Monge was aware of the unusual skeleton in the closet, which is one of an estimated 2,000 complete human skeletons in the museum’s collections, but until now there had been no information to explain where or when it had come from.
According to Kelley, the man to whom the remains belong has been named Noah by the museum, and he is a rare example of an intact skeleton dating as far back to 4500 BC. While the museum has other remains from ancient Ur, which is located approximately 10 miles from Nassiriya in southern Iraq, Noah is said to be around 2,000 years older than any remains previously discovered by the excavation at the cemetery, he added.
Oddly enough, AP writer Kathy Matheson reported that researchers at Bristol University in the UK discovered a box of materials from the same Ur expedition back in June. The box was found on top of a cupboard and contained pottery, seeds and other objects dating back some 4,500 years – but it remains a mystery how the materials found their way to Bristol, which had no connection to the Woolley expedition.
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