Sunday, November 30, 2008

Romulus Murder Site to be On Display

Romulus and brother Remus and the she-wolf from an image on an ancient Roman coin.

After a half-century of being hidden beneath a slab of concrete, people will be able to view the black marble paving stones ~ called the “Lapis Niger” ~ where Romulus, the first king of Rome, was brutally murdered.

Professor Angelo Bottini, Superintendent of Archeology in Rome, said the underground spot where Romulus is traditionally said to have been killed and dismembered, had been covered over with cement since the 1950s. Recent rains had damaged the covering, and he’s decided to remove it.

According to legend the twins Romulus and Remus jointly founded Rome in the eighth century BC. Romulus became sole ruler after killing Remus in a dispute over omens indicating which of them had the support of the gods. However, Romulus fell foul of the Senate, and was murdered at the age of 53 in 717 BC. According to the historian Plutarch, the senators were "exasperated by the imperious behaviour of Romulus toward them, and plotted against his life.”

She-Wolf or Prostitute?

Legend has it that Romulus and Remus were the grandsons of Numitor, ruler of the kingdom of Alba Longa who was deposed by his brother Amulius. The brother ordered a slave to kill the twins, but instead they were cast into a river in a basket and saved by a she-wolf, who suckled them until a shepherd found them.

Some scholars believe the word "Lupa" refers not to a wild animal but to a woman, since it was the nickname for a prostitute.

Click here for the Times of London article.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ancient Welsh Fortress is Digitally Unearthed

The digital re-creation of the fort, minus the overgrowth.

The fortress today, hidden beneath centuries of trees and undergrowth.

A massive Iron Age hill fortress that once loomed over the Welsh countryside now has been digitally reconstructed. The Iron Age hill fort in central Wales was a major feat of civil engineering, researchers say.

Gaer Fawr, a 2,900-year-old structure, has been consumed by woods and foliage. "Because Gaer Fawr is densely wooded, it's been little understood in the past," said Royal Commission archaeologist Toby Driver."Our new survey has shown what a very impressive and advanced building it was. This was a very bold architectural statement by Iron Age people."

The survey undertaken by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. It involved thousands of measurements taken in 2007, which were used build a digital terrain model of the 21-acre site. Measurements were made manually using lasers beamed to handheld posts, each bearing a reflector, Driver said.

"The thought behind the survey was that if we could map the contours underneath the woods, we could then strip the trees off and then see what the fort looked like in the landscape," he added.

The results show the oval-shaped stronghold was defended by five tiers of stone-faced earthen ramparts, each measuring up to 26 feet in height.

Click here for the National Geographic article.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Peruvian Ruins Said to be 5,500 Years Old

The ancient Peruvian settlement ruins were unearthed about nine miles from Palpa, above, south of Lima.

Peruvian and German archaeologists has discovered a 5,500-year-old human settlement near the southern town of Nazca, south of Lima.

"The find consists of a group of homes in which 19 graves were found, including the remains of a child younger than one with possible evidence of having been mummified," reported the newspaper El Comercio.

The article also said the find is the first discovery in southern Peru of an inhabited site corresponding to the late portion of the archaic period some 3,500 years before Christ.

Ornaments in Graves

One of the project researchers said that the excavations made at the site since last October enabled the team to find the remains of eight small oval-shaped and circular homes made by digging deep pits in the ground. Also found were up to 19 graves of children and adults interred individually inside the homes, which would seem to indicate that they were buried there after the homes were abandoned.

In some of the graves, archaeologists found carved bones and snail-shells, deer horns, necklaces and bracelets made from shells, but there was no concrete evidence of offerings to the dead or to dieties.

The researchers are seeking to expand their knowledge about the culture of southern Peru in the early epochs from about 5,500 years ago up to the Inca civilization in the 16th century.

Click here for the Latin American Herald Tribune article.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Chinese May Have Worn Red 15,000 Years Ago

Researchers believe the color red could have been used in Chinese clothing 15,000 years ago.

According to Li Zhanyang, a researcher with Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, an excavation team at the Xuchang ruins recently found from the soil strata dating back 15,000 years ~ the late Paleolithic Era ~ more than 20 pieces of hematite, one of iron oxides commonly used as a dyestuff, alongside three dozen thin instruments made of animal tooth enamel, plus seven needles made of the upper cheek tooth enamel of a rhinoceros sub-species now extinct.

It is the first time in China that iron oxide of such high concentration has been excavated from the ruins of the late Paleolithic Era, said Li. "Through excavation, we are confident that these hematite were deliberately brought to the Xuchang ruins from afar by ancient people, as Xuchang does not produce such minerals."

The Xuchang ruins made headlines in foreign media in January when Chinese archaeologists found a human skull dating back at least 80,000 years in the ruins.

"I believe the people who lived there might have used hematite to dye clothes, which was quite different from Upper Cave Man at Zhoukoudian of Beijing who used hematite as a sacrifice to the dead, or from Europe, where ancient people there used hematite to draw cave murals."

Li said lab work proved the thin instruments made of animal tooth enamel might have be used as articles similar to buttons in present times.

"There has been evidence suggesting people dating back 15,000 years could have made advanced fur apparel. If that is true, the most popular color might have been red," said the Chinese archaeologist.

Click here for the China View article.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fable Number 173 ~ The Man Bitten by the Dog

A man who had just been badly bitten by a dog was looking for someone who could heal his wound. He ran into a man who told him, “Here is what you need to do: Let the blood from your wound drip onto a piece of bread and then feed the bread to the dog who bit you. If you do that, your wound will be cured.” 

The man who had been bitten by the dog replied, “But if I do that, every single dog in the city will want to bite me!”

Moral: If someone honors a wicked man, the wicked man will not return the favor, since his only friends are other wicked men like himself.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ornate Thracian Chariot Found in Bulgaria

The ornamental chariot is about four feet wide with its wheels.

Archaeologists unearth the chariot at the site of the Thracian aristocrat's tomb.

Archaeologists have unearthed an elaborately decorated 1,800-year-old chariot at an ancient Thracian tomb in southeastern Bulgaria.

"The lavishly ornamented four-wheel chariot dates back to the end of the second century AD.," Veselin Ignatov, who heads the excavation, told The Associated Press from the site near the village of Karanovo.

The bronze-plated wooden chariot is decorated with scenes from Thracian mythology, including figures of a jumping panther and the carving of a mythological animal with the body of a panther and the tail of a dolphin. With wheels, it measures four feet across. It was found during excavations in a funerary mound believed to be the grave of a wealthy Thracian aristocrat.

First mentioned in Homer's Iliad as allies of Troy, the Thracians were an Indo-European nomadic people who settled in the Balkans 5,000 years ago. They were conquered by Rome in the 1st century and were assimilated by invading Slav peoples in the 6th century. They had no written language, and so left no records. Fierce warriors and horse-breeders, the Thracians were also skilled goldsmiths. They established a powerful kingdom in the 5th century BC.

Click here for the Associated Press article.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Iron Age Slab Indicates Soul Separate from Body

The stone slab with the inscription saying the cremated man's soul continued to live in the stone itself.

Archaeologists in southeastern Turkey have discovered an Iron Age chiseled stone slab that provides the first written evidence in the region that people believed the soul was separate from the body.

Part of an expedition sponsored by the University of Chicago, the archaeologists found the 800-pound basalt stele ~ 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide ~ at Zincirli, site of the ancient city of Sam’al. Once the capital of a prosperous kingdom, it is now one of the most important Iron Age sites under excavation.

The stele is the first of its kind to be found intact in its original location, enabling scholars to learn about funerary customs and life in the eighth century BC. At the time, vast empires emerged in the ancient Middle East, and cultures such as the Israelites and Phoenicians became part of a vibrant mix.

Cremation Was Common

The man featured on the stele was probably cremated, a practice that Jewish and other cultures shun because of a belief in the unity of body and soul. According to the inscription, the soul of the deceased resided in the stele. It was discovered last summer in a small room that had been converted into a mortuary shrine for the royal official Kuttamuwa, self-described in the inscription as a “servant” of King Panamuwa of the eighth century BC. The inscription reads in part:

“I, Kuttamuwa, servant of Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber(?) and established a feast at this chamber(?): a bull for [the storm-god] Hadad, ... a ram for [the sun-god] Shamash, ... and a ram for my soul that is in this stele. …”

It was written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and in a local West Semitic dialect similar to Aramaic and Hebrew.

The finding sheds a striking new light on Iron Age beliefs about the afterlife. In this case, it was the belief that the enduring identity or “soul” of the deceased inhabited the monument on which his image was carved and on which his final words were recorded.

Click here for the complete University of Chicago new release.

Remains of King Herod's Tomb Are Unearthed

Remains of the sarcophagus believed to be King Herod's.

Excavations at Herod's tomb at Herodium.

An Israeli archaeologist believes he has unearthed the 2,000-year-old remains of two limestone sarcophagi that contained remains of one of Herod's wives, Malthace, and a daughter-in-law.

Other findings announced by Ehud Netzer of Jerusalem's Hebrew University provided new evidence of the lavish lifestyle of the Roman-era monarch known as the "King of the Jews." Herod, a Roman-anointed king who ruled Judea from 37 BC until his death in 4 BC.

The Gospel of Matthew accuses Herod of ordering the Massacre of the Innocents ~ the slaughter of male infants in Jesus' birthplace of Bethlehem ~ out of fear of losing his throne.

At a visit to the dig site in Herodium, outside Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, where one of Herod's palaces once stood, Netzer on Wednesday showed reporters evidence of what he said was a mausoleum at the site where the remains of the sacrophagi had been found. Some bones were also found nearby but Netzer could not verify they belonged to any of the Herod dynasty.

Jewish Rebels Destroyed Casket

After Herod's death in the 1st century B.C., Herodium became a stronghold for Jewish rebels fighting Roman occupation, and the palace site suffered significant battle damage before it was destroyed by Roman soldiers in A.D. 71, a year after they razed the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

The insurgents reviled the memory of Herod as a Roman puppet. Netzer and his team believe that the violence inflicted on the first stone casket they found suggests the rebels knew it held the king's bones.

"That sarcophagus was found shattered all over the place. It seems it was taken from its place and was destroyed in a fit of rage," said Roi Porat, one of Netzer's assistants on the digs. "That, among other things, is what tells us it was the sarcophagus of Herod."

Netzer said the remains of the monarch and his relatives likely disappeared when their tombs were smashed, possibly by Jewish rebels against the Romans from 66 to 72 AD.

Frescos Depict Farm Scenes

Netzer (shown at left) said his team was surprised when they came across further evidence of Herod's cushy lifestyle, a well-preserved mural of gazelles decorating walls of what Netzer believes was luxury seating for a theater.

“What we found here, spread all around, are architectural fragments that enable us to restore a monument of 25 meters high, 75 feet high, very elegant, which fits Herod's taste and status," he said.

In Herod's private box at the auditorium, diggers discovered delicate frescoes depicting windows opening on to painted landscapes, one of which shows what appears to be a southern Italian farm, said Porat. Just visible in the paintings, dating between 15 and 10 B.C., are a dog, bushes and what looks like a country villa.

Site surveyor Rachel Chachy-Laureys said the paintings were executed using techniques unknown in the Holy Land at the time and must have been done by artisans imported from Rome.
"There has been no other discovery of this type of painting in the Middle East, as far as we know, until now,” she said.

Click here for the Reuters article.
Click here for the Associated Press article.
Click here for Herod info ~ plus a video ~ from National Geographic.

View from lower Herodium.

View of the fortress at upper Herodium.

Herodium also was a pleasure palace for Herod.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Internal Ramp Might Explain Pyramid's Mystery

This 4-minute video explains the internal-ramp theory.

A French architect may have solved the mystery of how ancient Egyptians were able to move two million stone blocks ~ each weighing about 2.5 tons ~ to construct the Great Pyramid.

A little-known cavity spiraling upward inside the pyramid’s structure seems to support the theory that the 4,500-year-old monument to Pharaoh Khufu was constructed from the inside out.

The presence of a spiraling inclined interior tunnel contradicts the prevailing wisdom that the monuments were built using an external ramp. "The paradigm was wrong," French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin said recently. "The idea that the pyramids were built from the outside was just wrong. How can you resolve a problem when the first element you introduce in your thinking is wrong?"

He says for centuries Egyptologists have ignored evidence of an internal ramp.To deliver blocks to the 481-foot peak at a reasonable grade, the ramp would extend a mile, and workers would have had to continually increase its height and length as the pyramid rose.

Click here for the full National Geographic article.

Ancient Earrings Found in Spain & Jerusalem

Ancient earrings are in the news these days, with two significant finds within days of each other.

A 2,300-year-old pair of earrings (at left in photo) was discovered in Spain during archaeological excavation work at the necropolis Coimbra del Barranco Ancho in Jumilla.  Archaeologists believe the grape-cluster design on the earrings is related to the millennia-old winemaking activities in the region.

In Jerusalem, archeologists have discovered a 2,000-year-old gold earring (at right in photo) beneath a parking lot next to the walls of Jerusalem's old city. It is inlaid with pearls and emeralds and was made sometime between the first century BC and the beginning of the fourth century AD.

The earring was discovered during excavation of the ruins of a building from the Byzantine period, dating from around the fifth century AD. It appears to have been crafted using a technique similar to that depicted in portraits from Roman-era Egypt.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Did You Hear the One About . . . "

A man buys a slave and a little while later wants to return him. The seller wants to know why and the buyer says because the slave is dead.

"By the gods," answers the slave's seller, "when he was with me, he never did any such thing!"

You might recognize this joke from a 4th Century AD joke book as reminiscent of the popular Monty Python sketch involving a man returning a dead parrot to a pet shop. The 1,600-year-old Philogelos: The Laugh Addict is one of the world's oldest joke books. Many of its 265 gags prove that sex, dimwits, nagging wives and flatulence have been topics of jokes for centuries.

According to a Reuters report:

In many of the jokes, a slow-witted figure known as the "student dunce" is the butt of the jokes. In one, the student dunce goes to the city and a friend asks him to buy two 15-year-old slaves: "No problem," responds the dunce. "If I don't find two 15-year-olds, I'll get one 30-year-old."

In another, someone asks to borrow the student's cloak to go down to the country. "I have a cloak to go down to your ankle, but I don't have one that reaches to the country," he replies.

The manuscript is attributed to a pair of ancient comedians named Hierocles and Philagrius. Little is known about them except that they were most likely the compilers of the jokes, not the original writers, according to Reuters.

Other one-liners in Philogelos may baffle a modern audience, such as a series of jokes about a lettuce, which only make sense in light of the ancient belief it was an aphrodisiac.

Click here for the Reuters article.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stash of Phoenician Jugs Found in Lebanon

An archeologist extracting a Phoenician earthenware jug.

Documenting locations of some of the 100 jugs unearthed so far.

Archaeologists in southern Lebanon have unearthed more than 100 Phoenician pottery jars dating back 2,900 years. The jars were used to hold human remains following cremation. "The big jars are like individual tombs. The smaller jars are left empty, but symbolically represent that a soul is stored in them," Ali Badawi, the archaeologist in charge in Tire, told Reuters.

Lebanese and Spanish archaeologists discovered the jars at a Phoenician site in the southern coastal city of Tire. Phoenicians are known to have thrived from 1500 B.C. to 300 B.C and were also headquartered in the coastal area of present-day Syria. The Phoenicians' earliest cities included Byblos, Tire and Sidon on Lebanon's coast. From Tire, Phoenicians are thought to have expanded into other colonies on the Mediterranean coast.

"These discoveries help researchers who work on past Phoenician colonies in Spain, Italy and Tunisia, to pin down a large number of their habits and traditions," said Maria Eugenia Aubet, who leads the Spanish archaeological team.

"Especially since there are few studies of the Phoenicians in their motherland of Lebanon," Aubet said, adding that the remains proved that the Phoenicians had a vision for life after death.

New Bone-Oracle Symbols Discovered in China

Example of ancient Oracle Bone Script on a turtle's shell.

Archaeologists in China’s Shaanxi province recently unearthed more than 1,100 oracle bone characters, shedding new light on their symbolism.

The find was made at a cluster of tombs in Qishan county that date back to the Western Zhou Dynasty in the 11th Century BC. Among the finds is the character for "king,” which could help archaeologists learn more about the lives of the Zhou kings and the region in which they lived.

Zhou Chunmao, a researcher with the Shaanxi archaeology research institute, told China Daily this week that the discovery of the new oracle bone scripts has great significance for the understanding of the formation of the Western Zhou dynasty and the structure of society at that time.

Since the first oracle bones were found in 1898, Chinese archaeologists have unearthed more than 100,000 pieces of bone and tortoiseshell inscribed with characters. Oracle bone script is the earliest recorded form of Chinese writing, dating back to the Bronze Age.

The oracle bones ~ also known as Dragon bones ~ were made of turtle shell, burned and inscribed in a process of divination known as pyromancy. Due to the fundamental importance of fire in society, it is quite likely that this was one of the earliest forms of divination.

Click here for the article in China Daily.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Queen Sesheshet Pyramid Is Discovered

The base of the newly discovered pyramid.

An archaeologist cleans hieroglyphics found on the pyramid.

Egypt chief archaeologist Zahi Hawass today announced the discovery of a 4,300-year-old pyramid in Saqqara, the sprawling necropolis and burial site of the rulers of ancient Memphis.

The pyramid ~ the 118th discovered so far in Egypt ~ is believed to belong to Queen Sesheshet, mother of King Teti who was the founder of the 6th Dynasty of Egypt's Old Kingdom, according to the Associated Press.

Hawass' team has been excavating the site in Saqqara ~ about 12 miles south of Cairo ~ for two years. He says the discovery was only made two months ago when it became clear that the 16-foot-tall structure uncovered from the sand was a pyramid.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mystery Surrounds 1,000-Year Lapse in Rites

Some of the standing stones marking Kilmartin Glen's ancient ceremonial site.

Archaeologists are having trouble accounting for a mysterious millennium-long absence of activity at an ancient Scots religious site.

Kilmartin Glen is one of the most important Neolithic sites in Europe, predating both the Pyramids and Stonehenge. Hunter-gatherer tribes practiced sacred rites there from 3700 BC or even earlier, to about 1100 BC. It contains at least 350 ancient monuments, including burial cairns, rock carvings and standing stones in addition to the spectacular remains of the fortress at Dunadd, capital of the kingdom of Dalriada.

But archaeologists have identified a period of almost 1,000 years in which no monuments were erected and the population virtually disappeared. There is some speculation that a dramatic climate change may have affected the area’s inhabitants.

“Kilmartin Glen is one of the richest archaeological areas in Scotland, with a very high concentration of ritual sites.” Alison Sheridan, head of early prehistory at the National Museum of Scotland, told the Times of London this week. “It was a place for ceremony, for burying people, and observing the movements of the Sun and the Moon.”

“We are not too certain what happened between 1100 BC and 200 BC,” Sheridan told the Times. “A hoard of swords has been found and a few artifacts buried as gifts to the gods in the late Bronze Age between 1000 and 750 BC. But there are few structures and no settlements. When you start getting settlements again around 200BC they are in little fortified settlements.

“It was no longer a happy valley, and people raided each other,” she said.

Click here for the London Times Online article.
Photo above shows Neolithic carvings at Kilmartin Glen.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Monsoons Affected Dynasty Health and Decline

Scientists studying a 1,800-year-old stalagmite in China have determined that a severe lack of rainfall likely caused social unrest contributing to the downfall of the Tang, Yuan and Ming dynasties. Conversely, periods of heavier summer monsoons prevailed during China’s “golden age” Northern Song Dynasty.

"The waxing and waning of summer monsoon rains are just one piece of the puzzle of changing climate and culture around the world," said Larry Edwards, geologist at the University of Minnesota and a co-author of the paper appearing in the journal Science. The study was a cooperative effort of the University of Minnesota and Lanzhou University in China.

The work rests on climate data preserved in a 118-millimeter-long stalagmite found in Wanxiang Cave in China’s Gansu Province. It was formed over 1,810 years, with stone at its base dates from190 AD, and stone at its tip from 2003, the year the stalagmite was collected. By measuring amounts of the elements uranium and thorium throughout the stalagmite, researchers can correlate amounts of rainfall ~ a measure of summer monsoon strength ~ to specific timeframes.

"Summer monsoon winds originate in the Indian Ocean and sweep into China," said Hai Cheng, author of the paper and a scientist at the University of Minnesota. "When the summer monsoon is stronger, it pushes farther northwest into China."

According to an article on Science Daily:

A lack of rainfall could have contributed to social upheaval and the fall of dynasties. The researchers discovered that periods of weak summer monsoons coincided with the last years of the Tang, Yuan and Ming dynasties, which are known to have been times of popular unrest.

Conversely, the scientists found that a strong summer monsoon prevailed during one of China's "golden ages," the Northern Song Dynasty. The ample summer monsoon rains may have contributed to the rapid expansion of rice cultivation from southern China to the midsection of the country. During the Northern Song Dynasty, rice first became China's main staple crop, and China's population doubled.

For example, the study showed that the dry period at the end of the Tang Dynasty coincided with a previously identified drought halfway around the world, in Meso-America, which has been linked to the fall of the Mayan civilization.

The study also showed that the ample summer rains of the Northern Song Dynasty coincided with the beginning of the well-known Medieval Warm Period in Europe and Greenland. During this time--the late 10th century--Vikings colonized southern Greenland. Centuries later, a series of weak monsoons prevailed as Europe and Greenland shivered through what geologists call the Little Ice Age.

Click here for the complete article on Science Daily.

The National Science Foundation is correlating data on Asians monsoons, temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere and Alpine glacier growth and retreats, with historical societal developments.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Viking Burial Rituals Were Highly Theatrical

Viking grave in longboat shape in Sweden.

A study of thousands of excavated Viking graves suggests that rituals were performed at the graveside in which stories about life and death were presented as theatre, with live performances designed to help the passage of the deceased from this world into the next.

Neil Price, head of archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, believes these rituals may have been the early beginnings of the Norse sagas, telling stories about men and gods in the pagan world. He says a close study of the graves and the artifacts they contained ~ as well as contemporary accounts of Viking funerals ~ presents a far more complex picture of their lives than the simple myth of the Viking raider.

Price said that the burial rituals suggested the Vikings had no defined religion, but instead made up a set of spiritual beliefs, which were then acted out at the graveside. “There seem to have been something like stage directions dictating how these rituals were to be enacted,” he said. “Eyewitness accounts suggest that there were as many as ten days of ritual, with enormous time and effort put into the performances.”

Many Artifacts

Detailed analysis of the burials revealed a remarkable variety of objects found alongside the bodies, from everyday items to great longships, wagons and sledges, together with animals of many different species and even human sacrifices.

“No two graves were the same,” Price says. Some bore evidence of a military career, with whole ships containing the corpse left open. Other graves were found to have had animal remains ~ one had no fewer than 20 decapitated horses ~ and occasionally there were human remains as well. Some Vikings were buried with their wives and families, others were laid to rest in more simple single graves.

Sophisticated Pagans

“What emerges from these studies is that these were an immensely sophisticated people, with a complex set of beliefs, and a strong interest in poetry. It was an utterly different world from ours,” Price says. “They were aggressively pagan, and strongly anti-Christian, perhaps as a reaction to the Christian missionaries. But there is great richness in this non-Christian world.”

Most of the existing records on Norse mythology date from the 11th to 18th centuries, having gone through more than two centuries of oral tradition that is thought to carry the seeds of Germanic legends such as the Valkyrie, the Niebelungen and Siegfried.

Click here for the London Times article.

Peruvian Temple Reveals Spider-God Image

The carved image of the spider god has a spider's neck and head, the mouth of a large cat, and a bird's beak.

Recent investigation of a 3,000-year-old temple on Peru’s north coast is revealing more information about the spider god popular in ancient Cupisnique culture, which thrived from roughly 1500 to 1000 BC.

The adobe temple was found this summer and called Collud. It is the third Cupisnique temple discovered in the area in recent years. The spider-god image appears often in other sites created during Peru's Early Formative Period, 1200 to 400 BC, including the Garagay temple in Lima and the Limón Carro site in northern Peru.

The Collud image combines a spider's neck and head, the mouth of a large cat, and a bird's beak, according to archaeologist Ignacio Alva. The spider is also carved with lines radiating from its neck, creating a web-like appearance. The web symbolizes hunting nets, a sign of human progress and prosperity, Alva said.

Richard Burger, an expert on the Chavin culture that followed the Cupisnique, first identified the spider deity in stone bowls found at the Limón Carro site. The importance of spiders owed partly to their connection with life-giving rain, he said.

"They were associated with divination of rainfall because spiders come out before rain," said Burger, an archaeologist at Yale University who was not involved with the Lambayeque excavation.

The spider deity was also associated with textiles, hunting, war, and power. Burger said, "There is an image of spider deities holding nets filled with decapitated human heads, so there was an analogy with successful warriors and claims of power."

Click here for the National Geographic article.
Click here to go directly to a National Geographic video on the find.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Shaman's Grave Is One of World's Oldest

Sketch shows locations of the female shaman's body as well as the assortment of animal parts and another human foot apparently left as offerings in the female healer's grave.

A 12,000-year-old burial site in Israel has revealed what appears to be one of the earliest known graves of a female shaman. The remains were discovered in a small cave that functioned as a burial site for at least 28 individuals. Her grave was separated from the others by a circular wall of stones.

The shaman's grave contained offerings including 50 tortoise shells, a human foot, tail vertebrae from an extinct type of cattle, skulls from two members of the weasel family, bony wing parts from a golden eagle, the forearm of a wild boar and a nearly complete pelvis from a leopard. Such healers mediate between the human and spirit worlds, often summoning the help of animal spirits along their quests, according to the researchers who unearthed the burial site.

"What was unusual was there were so many different parts of different animals, clearly put there on purpose," Natalie Munro, a zoo archaeologist at the University of Connecticut, told LiveScience.

Great pains were likely taken long ago to collect the animal remains for the grave, not to mention the long trek that must have been made from the closest domestic site at the time, about six miles away, the researchers noted. This care ~ along with the animal parts ~ points to the grave belonging to both an important member of the society and possibly a shaman, according to research published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The woman was about 45 years old when she died and stood just under five feet. Wearing of her teeth and other aging signs on the bones suggested the woman was relatively old for her time.

The human foot lying alongside the body came from an adult individual who was much larger than the women. "What's interesting is it's only the foot," Munro told LiveScience. "She hasn't been disturbed, but a part of another human body was definitely put into the grave. It could be related to the fact they were moving body parts around sometimes, but we don't know why."

The woman was part of the Natufian culture, a group of hunter-gatherers who lived from 15,000 to about 11,500 years ago in the area that now includes Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Click here for the LiveScience article.

The shaman's grave was separated from the other graves by a circular wall of stones.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fable Number 329 ~ The Beauty Contest of the Birds

A beauty contest was held and all the birds went to be judged by Zeus. Hermes fixed the appointed day and the birds flocked to the rivers and ponds where they shed their shabby feathers and preened their finer ones. The jackdaw, however, had no natural advantages to commend his appearance, so he decorated himself with the feathers that had been cast aside by the other birds. The owl alone recognized her own feathers and took them away from the jackdaw, and she incited the other birds to do the same. When the jackdaw had been stripped bare by everyone, he went before the judgement of Zeus naked.

Moral: Adornments that do not belong to you can lead to humiliation.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Copper Mines Date to King Solomon's Times

Excavation at the gate of Khirbat en-Nahas, where the copper-mining culture existed in the 10th Century BC.

Archaeologists have determined that a copper-producing society existed in southern Jordan nearly twelve centuries years ago, pointing to the controversial possibility that Israel’s King David and his son Solomon controlled copper production, as contended in the Old Testament.
A long-disputed claim that King Solomon’s copper mines were located near the Jordanian site must now be taken seriously, a team of archaeologists report in the October 28 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Edomite lowlands, home to a large copper ore zone, have been ignored by archaeologists because of the logistical difficulties of working in this hyper-arid region. But with an anthropological perspective, and using high precision radiocarbon dating, this new research demonstrates two major phases of copper production—during the 12th to 11th centuries B.C. and the 10th to 9th centuries B.C. In this period evidence was found of construction of massive fortifications and industrial scale metal production activities, as well as over 100 building complexes.

“We have conclusively shown that industrial-scale copper production occurred at this site in the 10th and ninth centuries B.C., which resonates with Old Testament descriptions of vibrant, complex societies in the same area at that time,” says team leader Thomas Levy of the University of California.

Click here for the article in Science News.
Click here for an article from the  University of California.

See the video!
Here is an excellent video of the Solomon-era findings, including comments by Thomas Levy and some critics of some of the conclusions. The video is 12 minutes long.

Mayan Olmec Sculpture Poses Mysteries

Archaeologists present new findings regarding the mysterious sculpture during Thursday's press conference in Guatemala City.

Two mutilated Mayan Olmec sculptures found in June and August in Guatemala are now believed to have been pieces of a single, enigmatic figure, carved sometime before 200 BC. According an article in the Guatemala Times:

This sculpture presents an imposing character, decorated with insignias of power with certain Olmec characteristics such as the sign U on the sash. Something very surprising is that this character is carrying a small human figure on his back. This small human figure has the position of his arms on his chest and hands folded down, and very straight legs, similar to those infants who are often found in the lap of the Olmec jade figures. These infant figures have been interpreted by some archaeologists as divine beings or ancestors. The quality of the volume and complete form of the sculpture conveys the formal concepts of Olmec art sculpture; however, this sculpture seems strange.

The character is standing on the capital of a column of rectangular sides. The capital was carved in the shape of the head of a monster bat or monster of the earth (Cauac). This form of representation of the monster Cauac with Mayan features is found a few decades later in other classic Maya cities, as in Quirigua and Copan. In Quirigua and Copan the steles have the monster Cauac on the base on which the rulers are standing.

It is important to note that the small figure on the back of the standing character is literally joined by an extended cloth or skirt to the head of the bat. It is evident that the intention of the sculptor of this figure was to communicate the importance of the union of the carrier of the ancestor with the monster of the earth.

Among the questions for which archaeologists are seeking answers:
  • Why is the character carrying a small figure on his back?
  • Who is the character and who is the little creature?
  • Why is this character standing on a bat?
  • Why is the sculptural style of the character apparently different from that of the style of the bat?
  • What is the message that the sculpture is transmitting? What is the message transmitted by the two texts in early glyphs?
  • Why was this sculpture destroyed and its pieces then included in the structure of the wall?
  • Where had this sculpture have been standing so it could be seen from all four sides?
Archaeologists and specialists in Mayan culture are calling the sculpture of the Carrier of the Ancestor of Tak'alik Ab'aj an unprecedented finding.

Click here for the article in the Guatemala Times.

Drawing indicates how the two pieces fit together to form a single sculpture, carved sometime before 200 BC.