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6,500-Year-Old ‘Noah’ Skeleton Rediscovered by Museum

Image: Researchers with skeleton
The Penn Museum's Janet Monge and William Hafford survey a 6,500-year-old skeleton from Iraq that was set aside for decades in a storage room with no identifying information. Newly digitized records have now revealed its origins. Kyle Cassidy / Penn Museum

An archaeology museum in Philadelphia has made an extraordinary find — in its own storage rooms. The Penn Museum, part of the University of Pennsylvania, announced Tuesday that it had rediscovered a 6,500-year-old human skeleton believed to have been a man at least 50 who stood 5-foot-9. The remains were originally excavated from southern Iraq around 1930.

Museum officials said the complete human skeleton had been stored in a coffin-like box but with no trace of identifying documentation. Skeletons of the same time period, particularly complete remains, are extremely rare, the Penn researchers said. They hope a skeletal analysis will reveal more about the population's diet, stresses and ancestral origins.

Image: Upper body and skull
The teeth of the 6,500-year-old skeleton are well-preserved, as seen in this view of the upper body and skull. Kyle Cassidy / Penn Museum

University of Pennsylvania researchers working with a team from the British Museum first unearthed the remains at the site of Ur, an ancient city near modern-day Nasiriyah. Janet Monge, the curator in charge of the anthropology section of the Penn Museum, had known the skeleton was in storage, but researchers weren't able to determine its significance until a records digitization project was undertaken, officials said. The effort enabled the researchers to link the skeleton to the field records of Sir Leonard Woolley, whose joint team excavated the site where it was uncovered.

The burial that produced the skeleton was cut into deep silt, indicating that the man had lived after an epic flood. That led Penn researchers to nickname their rediscovery "Noah."

— The Associated Press