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The 6,500-year-old cold case

An archaeology museum in Philadelphia has made an extraordinary find — in its own storage rooms.

The University of Pennsylvania's Penn Museum announced Tuesday that it had rediscovered a 6,500-year-old human skeleton originally excavated from southern Iraq around 1930.

The complete remains, which had been kept in a coffin-like box, were missing documentation until researchers recently began digitizing the museum's collection from an expedition to Ur, an ancient city near modern-day Nasiriyah.

Project manager William Hafford was matching objects with inventory lists from the Sumerian trek when he came across a description of a full skeleton that he couldn't find.

He consulted Janet Monge, chief curator of physical anthropology, who happened to know of an unlabeled, mystery skeleton in the facility's basement storage area.

"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 body is believed to be that of a well-muscled man at least 50 who stood 5 feet, 9 inches tall, according to Monge. She hopes a skeletal analysis, possibly including a CT scan, will reveal more about his diet, stresses, diseases and ancestral origins.

Complete human skeletons from that era — known as the Ubaid period, from 5500-4000 B.C. — are rare, partly because the region's burial practices and type of land didn't lead to good preservation, Monge said.

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

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