6500-Year-Old Skeleton Rediscovered In Museum Basement

Echo Fain

Archaeologists at Penn Museum announced Tuesday that they had re-discovered a 6,500 year old skeleton which was forgotten in a basement eight decades ago.

Call him Noah. He was muscular, a few inches short of six feet tall, and died at 50. For his time period, he was probably taller than the average and he lived to a surprising old age.

The news agency Reuters reported that a summer project to digitize paper records has turned up the documentation.

The mystery skeleton came from an expedition conducted by the British Museum and the Penn Museum. From 1922 to 1934, the two institutes worked together in modern-day Iraq on a dig beneath the ruins of a cemetery which dates to 2,500 BCE.

Noah is 2,000 years older than any other human remains found at the Royal Cemetery of Ur dig site and he's intact, a rarity for his age.

Ancient Skeleton

The skeleton was found in 1930 by renown British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley and his team. Woolley's records showed that he'd sent the remains to Penn Museum, but the documentation was misplaced.

Until museum researchers, working on the digitization project, found dig site photographs of the skeleton.

Noah was found in a deep layer of silt 40 feet (12 meters) below the surface of the cemetery ruins. This layer of silt is believed by some archaeologists to be proof of a massive inundation that could be the origins of the flood story from the Bible's Book of Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh. The flood-stratum layer at Ur covers an area 400 miles long and 100 miles wide.

The archaeological dig was based in southern Iraq, near modern-day Nasiriyah.

Noah came from a depth several feet deeper than the Mesopotamian tombs found in the cemetery. Sir Woolley came to the conclusion that the area may have been an island village at a time when the entire region was under water and that the graves were washed out into the silt bed left behind by receding flood waters.

According to UPI, Woolley's team found 48 or more graves in a flood-plain, an area which was once subject to regular flooding. The skeletons there were unusually old, dating to an early era known as the Ubaid period (ca. 6500-3800) but only one was intact and fit to be removed. The skeleton and the dirt surrounding him was excavated and coated in wax and shipped to London first. Upon reaching Philadelphia, however, he was lost to time -- only one of a multitude.

It has been revealed that Penn Museum, associated with University of Pennsylvania, had listed the skeleton as "Not Accounted For" in 1990 in its object catalog. But that is not where the story ends. Two years ago, the project for digitizing records from the Ur expedition uncovered proof that Penn Museum had received two skeletons from Woolley. The object catalog was used to locate the unknown remains.

Now that he has an identity, the examinations begin.

DNA testing on skeletons is fast becoming a common practice in archaeology today due to how much information can be gathered from examining the unseen details of genetic life. Previously, the Inquisitr reported on how the plague was tracked to a 14th century mass grave in Central London with the use of forensic technology to study the diets and health of the 660-year-old skeletons.

Given the evolution of technology since the 1930s, Noah is an exciting find. With DNA testing, he could give the museum's archaeologists and researchers a deep insight into the everyday life of a time period for which there is little information. Data of any kind about Ur's people is scarce; this discovery will add to the body of knowledge about diet, disease, stress, trauma, and even the ancestry of an ancient Sumerian city-state in Mesopotamia.

Given what he could tell us about the ancient world, Noah might have just become the most important skeleton in the museum.

[Image Courtesy Of upi.com]