Harvard University scientists have confirmed that a 19th century French treatise in its libraries is bound in human skin, Harvard University said this week, after a bevvy of scientific testing.
Arsene Houssaye’s “Des destinées de l’âme” (On the destiny of the soul) is part of the antique book collection of the university’s Houghton Library, which specializes in rare and antique works.
Harvard conservators and scientists used several methods to test the origin of the book binding material, using microscopic samples. Through these tests, they were able to exclude the possibility that the book cover was made from the skin of a goat, a sheep or another animal. Read more.
COPÁN, Honduras — “We have to get you there for the ‘magic hour,’ ” said Bill Fash, peering through the spidery crack on the windshield of his old Ford pickup as he drove two visitors to the main Maya ruins in Copán.
The enchanted time of day at the majestic UNESCO World Heritage site comes at dusk, when the sun stretches its fingers across the massive Maya monuments and the lush valley floor. Encircled by mountains, the ruins contain an ancient world of buried secrets that members of the Harvard community and residents of Copán have been uncovering for decades.
As the long shadows receded into dusk, these primeval secrets seemed to hide once more. Read more.
Indiana Jones practiced archaeology with a bull whip and fedora. Joseph Greene and Adam Aja are using another unlikely tool — a 3-D printer.
Greene and Aja work at Harvard University’s Semitic Museum, using 3-D printers and 3-D scanning software to recreate a ceramic lion that was smashed 3,000 years ago when Assyrians attacked the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nuzi, located in modern day Iraq.
Using a process called photomodeling, the Harvard team photographed sculpture fragments in the museum’s collection from hundreds of angles to create 3-D renderings of each piece, then meshed them together to form a semi-complete 3-D model of the original artifact. They compared the digital model to scans of full statues found in the same location, noting the gaps and creating the missing pieces and support structures out of 3-D printed parts and CNC carved foam. Read more.
After nearly a century away, Harvard archaeology has returned to Iraq.
Jason Ur, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, earlier this year launched a five-year archaeological project—the first such Harvard-led endeavor in the war-torn nation since the early 1930s—to scour a 3,200-square-kilometer area around Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, for signs of ancient cities and towns, canals, and roads.
Already, Ur said, the effort is paying massive dividends—with some 1,200 potential sites identified in just a few months, and potentially thousands more in the coming years.
"What we’re finding is that this is, hands down, the richest archaeological landscape in the Middle East," Ur said. Read more.
BOSTON (AP) — A Harvard University journal says it hasn’t fully verified research that purportedly shows some early Christians believed Jesus had a wife, even though Harvard’s divinity school touted the research during a publicity blitz this week.
The research centers on a fourth-century papyrus fragment containing Coptic text in which Jesus uses the words “my wife.” On Tuesday, Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King announced at an international conference that the fragment was the only existing ancient text in which Jesus explicitly talks of having a wife.
Harvard also said King’s research was scheduled to be published in the Harvard Theological Review in January and noted the journal was peer-reviewed, which implied the research had been fully vetted.
But on Friday, the review’s co-editor Kevin Madigan said he and his co-editor had only “provisionally” committed to a January publication, pending the results of the ongoing studies. In an email, Madigan said the added studies include “scientific dating and further reports from Coptic papyrologists and grammarians.” Read more.
In the tomb of King Tutankhamen, the elaborately painted walls are covered with dark brown spots that mar the face of the goddess Hathor, the silvery-coated baboons — in fact, almost every surface.
Despite almost a century of scientific investigation, the precise identity of these spots remains a mystery, but Harvard microbiologist Ralph Mitchell thinks they have a tale to tell.
Nobody knows why Tutankhamen, the famed “boy king” of the 18th Egyptian dynasty, died in his late teens. Various investigations have attributed his early demise to a head injury, an infected broken leg, malaria, sickle-cell anemia, or perhaps a combination of several misfortunes.
Whatever the cause of King Tut’s death, Mitchell thinks those brown spots reveal something: that the young pharaoh was buried in an unusual hurry, before the walls of the tomb were even dry. Read more.