A Philadelphia museum of archaeology reports it has made a significant discovery of a 6,500-year-old skeleton -- and it didn't have to go outside its building to find it.
The intact human skeleton, examples of which are extremely rare from that time period, had been long kept in a box in one of the museum's storage rooms but with no identifying documentation or label, said officials at the Penn Museum, part of the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1930 University researchers with colleagues at the British Museum had excavated the remains in southern Iraq from the location of the ancient city of Ur.
Half of the artifacts unearthed in that dig remained in Iraq, while the other half was split equally between the museums.
The Philadelphia museum's anthropology section was aware they had a skeleton in storage, however its significance escaped notice for years until a project was underway to digitize records associated with museum holdings, officials said.
Digitizing manager William Hafford worked with the field records of the original discoverers working at the Iraq site, attempting to match objects in the museum with inventory lists from the 1930 dig.
The original records said Penn would be given two skeletons from the dig, but museum records showed one of them "not accounted for" by 1990.
Asked about it, museum physical anthropology curator Janet Monge said she wasn't sure of the location of the Ur skeleton but told Hafford the museum did have an unidentified "mystery skeleton" in a basement storeroom that had been there for the last eight decades.
"So we went, found the crate, opened it up and compared it to the field notes and the field photographs, and we had a match," Hafford said.
The rediscovered skeleton had been originally been buried in a grave dug into deep layers of silt when found in Iraq, suggesting the burial took place after an epic ancient flood.
For that reason Penn Museum researchers decided to nickname the rediscovered skeleton "Noah."
It is of a man in his 50s, about 5 feet 9 inches tall and "well-muscled," Monge said.
Further examination, including a possible CT scan, may reveal details of his diseases, diet and ancestral origins, she said.
The Penn Museum collection includes around 2,000 complete human skeletons, alone with more than 150,000 bones from all periods of human history.
It is not unusual for museums holding hundreds of thousands of items to have questions about some of their holdings, Monge said.
"I have quite a few specimens that are cold case, orphaned museum collections," she said.