Merit Ptah, the ancient Egyptian often cited as the “first woman doctor,” was likely made-up in the 1930s. A historian confused some names, and their mistake ended up in a book that has gone on to be widely cited.
The good news? The doctor who was mistakenly called Merit Ptah does exist! Her name was Peseshet, she was an “Overseer of Healer Women,” and there is strong evidence thanks to the 2400 BCE tomb of her son.
Cyrus the Great, the founder of the first Persian Empire, conquered the millennia-old city of Babylon on October 12th, 539 BCE. Local inscriptions tell us it was without a fight, or even a siege. This was probably because local rulers recognized all was lost and decided to give in and hope for a good settlement.
But Greek historian Herodotus tells a more exciting version. According to him, the city’s walls crossed the river Euphrates. Unable to get past the walls, Cyrus had sappers drain the river upstream into a nearby lake, until the river’s level fell “about to the middle of a man’s thigh.” As the Babylonians celebrated a religious festival the Persians simply walked -- dripping -- into a dancing city.
Whether it was surrendered or it was captured, Babylon would belong to the Persian Empire and Cyrus’ descendants for the next 200 years.
Archaeologists worked with primatologists to re-examine wall-paintings of monkeys in a Minoan building buried in volcanic ash around 1600 BCE. at the site of Akrotiri, which is located on the Greek island of Thera in the Aegean Sea. No monkeys are known to have lived in Greece at the time. Most of the monkeys in the painting have been identified as olive baboons, which are native to Egypt, but one monkey, with distinctive fur and an S-shaped tail, was identified as a grey langur, a species that lives in Nepal, Bhutan, and the Indus Valley of India. It was already known that the Minoans had contact with Egypt. And this wall mosaic hints at contacts with the Indus River Valley civilization, as well. Or perhaps it demonstrates the far-reaching and interconnected nature of the trade networks even in the Bronze Age.
A 110-foot-long courtyard surrounded by a majestic Minoan building have been found at Sissi on Crete's northern coast. It was built around 1700 BCE and with its fine plastered floors, the site is similar in size and opulence to other palaces on the island from the same period. But Sissi lacks many typical palace features. It has no storage rooms, no administrative materials, and no industrial areas. A variety of ritual objects have been found, suggesting that it was used for religious purposes more than governmental ones.
Nearby, a tomb of a woman dating to about 1400 BCE has also been found. The lady was buried with an ivory-handled bronze mirror, a necklace of gold beads, and bone and bronze pins which held her clothing. The tomb is typical Mycenaean, making it the first such grave found so far east on Crete. Her grave is contemporary with a Mycenaean-era complex constructed around 1400 BCE and abandoned around 1200 BCE.
Coral reefs have existed for over 400 million years!
It is known that animal herding, which had been in northeastern Africa since about 8,000 years ago, made it to southern Africa by about 2,000 years ago. But it has been an open question whether the pastoral life was brought south by immigrants, or whether it was adopted by hunter-gatherers already in the area. A multinational team of scientists recently examined 41 genomes from individuals who lived in Africa between 4,000 and 300 years ago. The genomes suggested that pastoralists migrated from southwestern Asia into eastern Africa around 5,000 years ago. They interbred with local foragers, mixing genomes. However, about 3,300 years ago, the inbreeding ceased.
Pastoralism had already been established by this point. The immigrants were now locals. So this study creates a new question: why did the genomes separate? What happened that pastoralists and hunter-gatherers suddenly stop intermarrying?
Recent work on the mummies of working people at Deir El-Medina in Egypt suggest that tattoos were much more common than previously thought 3,000 years ago. In the local cemetery, seven mummified women have been identified with tattoos. One had over 30! The subject of the tattoos included sacred motifs such as Wadjet eyes, baboons, cobras, cows, scarab beetles, and lotus flowers. Some tattoos appear to have religious meaning, while others appear to offer healing or protection. Just like today, ancient Egyptians got tattoos for many reasons.
A fragment of a cave lion figurine estimated to be 45,000 years old was unearthed in Siberia’s Denisova Cave. The cave is already famous for holding the first and so far only evidence of homo denisova, a homonid species that co-existed with and intermarried with homo sapiens. The newly-found fragment is carved from wooly mammoth ivory andmeasures about 1.6 inches long and less than one-half inch tall. It depicts the animal’s shoulders, belly, and hip, which is extended as if the lion is in motion. The figurine was decorated with notches and painted with red ochre. It is not clear at this time if the object was carved by Denisovans or by modern humans.
Oyster eaters have been avoiding the shellfish during the summer months — and so lowering their risk of food poisoning — for at least 4,000 years. That’s the major finding of a new study examining remains of the Boonea impressa, a parasitic snail that latches onto oyster shells, in a 230-foot shell ring built by the inhabitants of St. Catherine’s Island off the coast of Georgia.
The snail has a predictable 12-month life cycle, and so by measuring the length of its shell, the scientists were able to estimate when its oyster host had been harvested by humans. Based on the size of the snail shells on the oyster shells in the ring, oyster harvest was limited to the late fall, winter, and spring. This avoids not only the summer months, but the time when southeastern oysters spawned as well. In other words humans knew how to ensure they would have food for next year.