World news in brief: sunken Nabataean altars, ancient ice skates, and signs of the zodiac

A round-up of some of the latest archaeological discoveries from across the globe.

Zodiac symbols in Egyptian temple

For almost 2,000 years, the painted walls and ceilings of the Temple of Khnum in Esna, Upper Egypt, lay concealed beneath layers of soot and dirt, but restoration work, begun five years ago, is now uncovering the building’s ornate decorations (CWA 114). The latest discovery is a set of relief images of the signs of the zodiac. The zodiac is part of Babylonian astronomy and did not arrive in Egypt until the Ptolemaic period, probably introduced by the Greeks. It is found in decorations on private tombs, and in astrological texts, but is very rarely seen in temple decorations, making this a remarkable discovery. In addition to the zodiac signs, the newly uncovered ceiling decoration shows several planets, including Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, as well as constellations that were used in antiquity to measure the passing of time.

Image: Ahmed Amin, Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Ice skate from China

The oldest known ice skate in China has been found in the mountainous Xinjiang region in the north-west of the country. The discovery was made in the Gaotai Ruins, a Bronze Age site with a settlement and tomb complex, dated to c.3,600 years ago. The skate was found in a noble tomb, and is made of a straight piece of ox or horse bone with holes at either end so that it could be strapped to a shoe. The blade is much flatter than modern skates, but looks very similar to other examples from prehistoric Europe. It has therefore been suggested that the find may represent evidence of connections between East and West at the time. The excavations also uncovered the remains of dozens of parts of wooden wagons, thought to have been used in the construction of a platform surrounding the tombs, before being dismantled and buried.

Sunken Nabataean altars

Underwater archaeologists have discovered two marble altars from the early 1st century AD, which were part of a submerged temple complex built by the Nabataeans in the Roman port of Puteoli, now off the coast of Pozzuoli, Italy. The Nabataeans, trading people from the Arabian Peninsula, established a base in Puteoli, the largest commercial port in the Roman Mediterranean, in the early imperial period. Multiple fragments of a temple dedicated to the Nabataean god Dusares have been discovered since the 18th century, but its location remained approximate. Now precision topography has been used to pinpoint the complex and provide a better understanding of this complicated area of the port, where the sacred buildings of foreign communities stood side by side with warehouses for the many goods passing through Puteoli.