Strange skulls – skulls decorated with 8,000-year-old glue found in Israel – Brief Article

Inside the Boulder-filled Nahal Hemar cave, in a dry region southwest of the Dead Sea, Neolithic cave dwellers some 8,000 years ago stashed stone masks, jewelry, marine shells, and skulls covered with thick black crisscrossing. Archeologists who discovered and excavated the small cave in 1983 had assumed that the brittle black material on the skulls was asphalt because of its color and the site’s proximity to the largest asphalt deposits in israel. But geochemist Arie Nissenbaum of the Weizmann institute of Science in israel recently analyzed the material and found that it isn’t asphalt at all. It’s collagen — a fibrous protein taken from animal skin, cartilage, and bone and still the main ingredient in some types of glue. Carbon-14 dating indicates that these Neolithic people — who didn’t even make pottery — were using glue thousands of years before the Egyptians.

Nissenbaum and his colleague, Jacques Connan of the French oil company Elf-Aquitaine, were reconstructing ancient trade routes when they came across the Nahal Hemar cache. “We didn’t expect anything interesting,” Nissenbaum says. “It was serendipity, really.” His chemical analysis of the asphalt- revealed that it consisted of large amounts of nitrogen and the amino acids hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine, tipping him off that the material was derived from collagen.

Nissenbaum believes that the very dry climate of the Nahal Hemar cave region preserved the collagen, which he suspects came from animal skin, probably from herbivores such as wild ibex or maybe even domesticated goats, since the people who made the glue lived around the time of the agricultural revolution, and fossils of both animals have been found in the region.

Besides using the collagen to decorate skulls, the ancient people also used it to waterproof rope baskets and containers. One f lint blade was still glued to a sickle shaft. The most curious items are without doubt the decorated skulls. Might they be religious objects of some sort? Nissenbaum doesn’t know. “Archeologists suggested that this cave was used essentially as a depository for all kinds of important objects, perhaps cult objects,” he says. “I can’t speak about religion — we don’t know anything about these people, whether they had religion or not — but the cave seemed to be a depository for those things that were most precious to them.”

It’s no Nautilus, but the Shinkai 6500 is the world’s deepest-diving manned submersible. While on board the 31-foot-long craft this summer, James Hunt, a marine biologist at the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center in Yokosuka, spotted this worm swimming near his window while the submersible was exploring deep in the Japan Trench, 21,000 feet below the surface of the western Pacific Ocean. The new worm, a member of a class of segmented marine worms called polychaetes, represents an as yet unnamed species. “It looked unlike any polychaete I had ever seen,” says Hunt, who spotted about a dozen of the worms paddling about in the deep. The new worm is totally transparent — all its internal organs are visible in its six-inch-long, three-quarter-inch-thick body. it also has at least 18 paddle-like legs that it uses to undulate through the water. Hunt isn’t sure what the worm feeds on but says that without a doubt” there’s more life to be found at these depths. Next year he hopes to catch a few of the glassy creatures for an in-depth study in special aquariums on board the Shinkai.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Discover

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