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UPenn museum identifies 6,500-year-old 'mystery skeleton' lying in its basement

Transferring all of your documents to a digital format can be efficient and helpful in a lot of ways, and for a Pennsylvania museum, the process uncovered a rare piece of history that was “hidden,” in a sense, in its own facility.

A museum affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania known simply as The Penn Museum said on Tuesday that as staff members worked to digitize some old records, they determined the origin of a 6,500-year-old mystery skeleton that had been sitting in the basement for about 85 years.

The records came from a well-known expedition to the ancient city of Ur, which was led by Sir Leonard Woolley from 1922-1934, and involved archaeologists from both the British Museum and UPenn. Though the museum knew the skeleton was there, the lack of catalog card or identification number made it impossible to know just where it came from.

The skeleton, which was uncovered by Woolley’s team in around 1930 from a layer of silt possibly left over from a large flood, is said to be complete and was determined to be that of a man who died around the age of 50. Dubbed “Noah,” researchers believe he was well-muscled and would have stood at around 5’8”-5’10”.

It’s reportedly a pretty rare find, especially since it is a complete skeleton, and is roughly 2,000 years older than any of the remains from the site in the museum’s possession.

Ur is located in what is now southern Iraq and Woolley’s work there is regarded as the “definitive” excavation of the site. Among the discoveries the team made were the graves of 16 kings and queens and an elaborate complex of graves that Woolley called, The Great Death Pit.

In June, the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology were surprised to find their own artifacts from Ur lying around. While clearing out some lab space, staff members came across a box revealed to contain food remains from a 4,500-year-old royal tomb. The pottery, seeds, and small animal bones are believed to have been food offerings.

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