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6 April 2013
Ancient artifact lost in plain sight

Occasionally a rare artifact can be hidden in plain sight, without its significance being realised. This is the case with a simple carved antler horn, belonging to the Natural History museum in London (UK).
     The antler fragment was first uncovered in Neschers, France, somewhere between 1830 and 1848 CE, by a village priest called Jean-Baptiste Croizet. It was then promptly purchased by the British Museum, as part of a wider collection. Then, in 1881, the Natural History Museum separated from the British Museum and it was relocated to its current site in South Kensington, London. Later that year the antler was briefly put on display before being consigned to the store room once more. The next record of its appearance was in 1989, when it was re-catalogued and again returned to the store room.  
     Then, in 2010, during an audit carried out by the museum of all its bone and antler fossils, its true significance began to emerge. It is probably to the benefit of the artifact that its discovery took as long as it did, as the research team were able to bring to bear modern, non-destructive techniques. The team used a micro-CT scanner and 3D microscopy, which revealed not only the age (approximately 12,000 BCE) but also minute details of how the carving had been made, right down to individual scratch marks.
     The lead author of the study, Dr Silvia Bello, is quoted as saying "The use of micro 3-Dimensional technologies allows for a more objective evaluation of the metrical characteristics of an engraving, thus facilitating the quantification, rather than the mere description, of the technical procedure adopted. Moreover, archaeological digital data have the potential to enable the long-term conservation of an archaeological record and to share these data for cultural, educational and professional purposes".  

Edited from PhysOrg (21 March 2013)

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