Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Did Welsh Explore America 300 Years Before Columbus Sailed?

A portion of the 855-foot stone wall at Fort Mountain, perhaps built by early Welsh explorers.

One of the stone wall's circular 'pits' formed likely for defensive purposes.

More evidence is pointing to the potential validity of expeditions by Welsh explorers in the southern portion of North America some 300 years before Columbus set sail. As the legend goes, the group arrived at Mobile Bay around 1170, made their way up the Alabama and Coosa rivers and built stone fortifications at several spots near present-day Chattanooga, Tenn.

Dana Olson, an author who has spent decades trying to prove the legend, said circumstantial evidence on both sides of the Atlantic is too compelling to ignore.

"I've traveled all over the country finding these forts. Some of them are pretty well known, but I'm still uncovering some of them," Olson, author of The Legend of Prince Madoc and the White Indians, told the Associated Press.

Indians or Welshmen?

The stone structures have long been a topic of debate. Many scientists have come to believe that the walls at Fort Mountain in Georgia and other Southeast sites were built by native Americans between 200 B.C. and A.D. 600.

"We're not exactly sure what purposes these enclosures served," said Wood, the UGA archaeologist. "But they were likely well-known gathering places for social events. Seasonal meetings of friends and kin, trading of goods, astronomical observance, and religious or ceremonial activities may have occurred there."

Yet supporters of the Madoc legend say the wall's tear-shaped designs are similar to ruins found in Wales or elsewhere in Great Britain.

They cite an 1810 letter from John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, who said that in 1782 he was told by an Indian chief that the walls were built by white people called the Welsh who lived in the region before the Cherokee.

Never to Return

They were driven out with the promise that they would never return to Cherokee lands, Sevier said in the letter, and they supposedly traveled to the Ohio valley or downstream to the Mississippi. There is also evidence of a major battle between 1450 and 1660 at the Falls of the Ohio, which Olson said was the scene of the "big battle began between the red Indians and the white Indians" ~ the Welsh.

Click here for the complete Associated Press article.
Click here for Robert Sewell's informative site with links.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Satellite Technology Locating Many Ancient Sites

Even though the northern enclosure wall of the Great Aten Temple is buried beneath a modern Egyptian cemetery, using Quickbird high resolution satellite imagery, it's possible to see the buried wall.

Archaeologists are making important new discoveries with the help of high-tech equipment, but most believe they have only skimmed the surface of the existing ancient sites.

"Everyone's becoming more aware of this technology and what it can do," Sarah Parcak, an archaeologist who heads the Laboratory for Global Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, recently told CNN. "There is so much to learn."

In the past decade the resolution of images from commercial satellites has sharpened enough to be useful to archaeologists. Today, scientists can use them to locate ruins ~ some no bigger than a small living room ~ in some of the most remote and forbidding places on the planet.

Many More Sites Becoming Visible

Parcak’s work in Egypt has yielded hundreds of finds in regions of the Middle Egypt and the eastern Nile River Delta. She conducted surveys in the eastern Nile Delta and Middle Egypt in 2003 and 2004 that confirmed 132 sites that were initially suggested by satellite images, according to CNN. Eighty-three of those sites had never been visited or recorded.

In the past two years, she has found hundreds more, she said, leading her to amend an earlier conclusion that Egyptologists have found only the tip of the iceberg.

"My estimate of 1/100th of 1 percent of all sites found is on the high side," Parcak said.

Archaeologists working in much more verdant climates ~ such as Cambodia and Guatemala ~ also have used the technology to locate undiscovered ruins. They are able to see similarities between the vegetation at known sites and suspected sites that showed up in fine infrared and ultraviolet images covering wide areas of forbidding terrain.

"For the work I do [in Egypt], I need wet season images as wet soil does a better job at detecting sites with the satellite imagery data I use," Parcak said. "I can pick the exact months I need with the NASA satellite datasets."

Click here for the complete CNN article.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"God With Us"

I want to take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a happy and safe holiday season. Blessings to you and your loved ones.

Emmanuel~ "God with us" ~ is a name used in the Bible in Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 8:8. It also appears in Matthew 1:23 in the Christian New Testament. Christian belief holds that the Emmanuel is the Messiah foretold in the other prophecies of Isaiah.

In Isaiah 8:8, Palestine is called the land of Emmanuel, though in the other passage it is termed the land or the inheritance of God, so that Emmanuel and God are identified. Again, in the Hebrew text of Isaiah 8:9-10, the Prophet predicts the futility of all the enemies' schemes against Palestine, because of Emmanuel.

A number of the Church Fathers, such as St Irenaeus, Lactantius, St Epiphanius, St John Chrysostom, and Theodoret, regarded the name "Emmanuel" not merely as a pledge of Divine assistance, but also as an expression of the mystery of the Incarnation by virtue of which the Messiah will be "God with us."

Christians hold that Emmanuel as described in Isaiah cannot be an ideal or metaphorical person, and cannot be identified with the regenerate people of Israel, nor with religious faith, for "he shall eat butter and honey." It is thought that both the text and the context indicates that the Prophet does not refer to a child in general, but points to an individual.
~ From Wikipedia

Monday, December 22, 2008

Plato's Cave in Award-Winning Animation

This afternoon, while researching information on Plato's Allegory of the Cave for an article I'm writing, I found this little treasure. It's an animated rendition of the allegory from Plato's Republic, written in 380 BC.

According to the little movie's creators, Bullhead Entertainment: "It is a story showing how true reality is not always what it seems to be on the surface. It is a story of open-mindedness and the power of possibility. We have adapted and brought it to life by shooting thousands of high-resolution photographs of John Grigsby's wonderful clay animation."

It runs 3.5 minutes and won First Place at this year's USA Film Festival Short Film and Video Competition.

Click here for the Bullhead Entertainment site.

Two More Ancient Tombs Found in Saqqara

Workers continue digging around openings of the newly discovered tombs at Saqqara, south of Cairo.

Panels of hieroglyphics adorn the entrances to both tombs.

Egyptian archaeologists have found the tombs of two court officials ~ one in charge of pyramid-building, the other of music ~ from the reign of Pharaoh Unas.

"We announce today a major important discovery at Saqqara, the discovery of two new tombs dating back to 4,300 years ago," Zahi Hawass, Egypt's antiquities chief, said earlier today.

One belonged to Iya Maat, supervisor of pyramid-building under the reign of Unas. He organized the acquisition of granite and limestone from Aswan and other materials from the Western Desert.

The second tomb housed the remains of Thanah, who was in charge of singers in the court of Unas. The entrance of Thanah's tomb shows carved images of her smelling lotus flowers.

Tomb Contents Long Stolen

Both tombs feature hieroglyphics at their entrances but the contents of the tombs have long since been stolen, Hawass said, adding that 70 percent of Egypt's ancient monuments remain buried under sand.

The death of Unas brought to an end the fifth dynasty, as he did not have a male heir. His daughter is widely believed to have become a queen to the first king of the sixth dynasty, which is considered to be the last dynasty of the Old Kingdom (2613-2494 BC), after which Egypt descended into famine and social upheaval.

Click here for the complete Reuters article.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rare Cremation Pit Found on Georgia Island

Georgia Department of Natural Resources archaeologist Jenn Bedell, left, and Council on American Indian Concerns archaeologist Tom Gresham examine artifacts from the cremation excavation on Ossabaw Island.

Archaeologists have discovered an unusual American Indian cremation pit on an island six miles off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, containing bones of fingers or toes, mixed with charcoal, bits of burned logs and pottery shards 1,000 to 3,000 years old.

According to the Associated Press, the find has led researchers to suspect that American Indians used the ancient pit to burn bodies of the dead, making it a rare example of cremation among the early native inhabitants of the southeastern U.S.

"It's a special sort of burial," said Tom Gresham, an archaeologist who worked on the excavation and serves on Georgia's Council on American Indian Concerns. "The way Indian tribes over time buried their dead varied tremendously. But cremations are fairly rare."

Hoping for Carbon Dating

The site of the pit is on Ossabaw Island, one of Georgia's wildest barrier islands. Researchers have found evidence that humans came to Ossabaw more than 4,000 years ago. It's believed Indians at first may have used the island as a winter camp to feed on shellfish before moving inland to hunt deer in the spring.

Burial mounds on Ossabaw typically hold intact human remains. Archaeologists believe the cremation pit dates to the Woodland Period between 1000 B.C. and 900 A.D. They hope to narrow that time period by carbon dating the charcoal from the pit.

Click here for the complete Associated Press article.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Neanderthals' Cellular Overheating May Have Led to Their Extinction

Meet Wilma, the first model of a Neanderthal based in part on ancient DNA evidence. Click here for National Geographic information on her image and additional photos.

Neanderthals may have produced so much internal heat that a steadily warming climate caused their extinction about 24,000 years ago.

Scientists at Newcastle University in England have put forward the theory after examining a particular form of genetic material obtained from the fossilized bones of Neanderthals. By comparing it with that found in modern humans, they discovered that Neanderthals had key differences in the sections responsible for producing energy in all living cells.

Professor Patrick Chinnery, a neurogeneticist at Newcastle University, believes the differences in this mitochondrial DNA could have caused Neanderthals to be inefficient at producing energy, meaning their cells leaked heat.

Searching for Genetic Clues

"The question is why did Neanderthals disappear?” he told the Telegraph of London. “There are lots of explanations to do with changes in climate and the food supply. Differences in these mitochondrial DNA sequences might explain why modern humans were able to survive while Neanderthals were not.

"We found a number of differences within a certain part of the mitochondrial DNA that were quite unlike anything we see in modern humans,” he said. “It is difficult to get a definitive answer, as it is rather like looking through a misty window. We can only get clues to what went on."

Genome Research Continuing

Mitochondria are tiny structures found inside all living cells and are the biological power stations that produce the energy cells need to survive by converting sugar from food into energy.

Scientists have also been attempting to read the entire Neanderthal genome in the hope that it will shed more light on the differences between them and modern humans. Recent work by scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany revealed that Neanderthals shared a language gene that is only found in modern humans. The controversial findings raised the debate about whether Neanderthals were capable of speech.

Neanderthals are thought to have evolved from a common ancestor shared with modern humans around 400,000 years ago. It is thought they died out around 10,000 years after modern humans began spreading in Europe.

Click here for the complete Telegraph article.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Proof: Akhenaten Was King Tut's Father

This scene, depicted on the backrest of King Tut's throne, shows how he would lean back in a relaxed manner while his wife, Anchesenamun, rubbed ointment into his shoulder.

An inscribed limestone block appears to solve one of history's greatest mysteries: who fathered King Tut?

"We can now say that Tutankhamun was the child of Akhenaten," Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, tells Discovery News.

Hawass discovered the missing piece of limestone block a few months ago in a storeroom at el Ashmunein, a village 150 miles south of Cairo. Once reassembled, the slab has become "an accurate piece of evidence that proves Tut lived in el Amarna with Akhenaten and he married his wife, Ankhesenamun," while living in el Amarna.

The finding offers evidence against another leading theory that the minor king Smenkhkare was King Tut’s father.

Tut Married His Half-Sister

The text also suggests that the young Tutankhamun married his own half sister.

"The block shows the young Tutankhamun and his wife, Ankhesenamun, seated together. The text identifies Tutankhamun as the 'king's son of his body, Tutankhaten,' and his wife as the 'king's daughter of his body, Ankhesenaten,'" Hawass said.

"We know that the only king to whom the text could refer as the father of both children is Akhenaten, himself. We know from other sources that Ankhesenamun was the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Now, because of this block, we can say that Tutankhamun was the child of Akhenaten as well," Hawass said.

Click here for the complete Discovery News article and slide show.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Teutonic Knight Rulers Found in Polish Cathedral

Illustration from the circa 1305 Manesse Codex showing the habit of a Teutonic knight. The helmet, however, is consistent in style with those of the secular figures depicted in the Codex.

Three silk-draped skeletons found in a cathedral crypt have been identified as grand masters who ruled the Teutonic Knights in the 14th and 15th centuries.

An archaeologist in the city of Kwidzyn — the Teutonic fortress of Marienwerder in the Middle Ages — said today that DNA tests indicate the remains are those of Werner von Orseln, the knights' leader from 1324-1330; Ludolf Koenig, who ruled from 1342-1345; and Heinrich von Plauen, who reigned from 1410-1413.

"Taking everything into account, we see that we are dealing with Teutonic Knights grand masters," Bogumil Wisniewski, an archaeologist who spearheaded the search, told The Associated Press. "We are 95, 96 percent sure it is them."

Paintings and Malnutrition Support Findings

He said the skeletons were found in wooden coffins and draped in silks, some painted with gold. DNA tests matched their age to that of the death age of the three grand masters. They also revealed temporary malnutrition in one of the skeletons that could match the 10-year imprisonment of von Plauen.

While Wisniewski acknowledged he could only be completely certain of the identities "if I met each face-to-face and he told me his name," he said several other indicators supported the find, including wall paintings in the cathedral showing the three grand masters and historic documents saying that von Orseln and Koenig were buried there.

The Order of the Teutonic Knights was founded in the late 12th century to aid German pilgrims in the Holy Land. It became a military order, wearing trademark white coats with black crosses, forcefully bringing Christianity to pagan Prussians. It was crushed by Polish and Lithuanian forces at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410.

Click here for the Associated Press article.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ancient Ram Statues May Hold Key to One of Africa's Oldest Languages

Inscriptions on the base of these newly discovered statues of rams at el-Hassa may hold the key to understanding the Meroitic language.

Archaeologists this week announced the discovery of three ancient statues in Sudan with inscriptions that could bring them closer to deciphering one of Africa's oldest languages. The stone rams ~ representing the god Amun ~ were carved during the Meroe empire, a period of kingly rule that lasted from about 300 BC to AD 450.

Vincent Rondot, director of the dig carried out by the French Section of Sudan's Directorate of Antiquities, told Reuters News that each statue displayed an inscription written in Meroitic script, the oldest written language in sub-Saharan Africa.

"It is one of the last antique languages that we still don't understand,” he said. “We can read it. We have no problem pronouncing the letters. But we can't understand it, apart from a few long words and the names of people."

He said experts were still trying to work out the meaning of the words by comparing them with broken remnants of similar royal dedications in the same script. The statues were found three weeks ago under a sand dune at the site of a temple to the god Amun, an all-powerful deity represented by the ram in Sudan.

Click here for the Reuters article.

Workers clear soil away from the ram statues at the site of the Meroitic town in Sudan.

Ruins May Prove Link Between Peru's Ancient Wari and Moche Cultures

The discovery of this entire ancient Wari city in northern Peru were announced today at the Cerro Patapo archaeological site.

Researchers digging in northern Peru have discovered the ruins of an entire city that may provide the "missing link" between two ancient cultures.

According to a report on Reuters, scientists say the find ~ located 14 miles from the Pacific coast city of Chiclayo ~ likely dates to the Wari culture, which existed in what is now Peru between about 600 and 1100 AD. If these assumptions prove correct, the discovery would connect the ancient Wari civilization to the Moche culture, which flourished from about 100 AD to 600 AD.

Researchers say the buried city includes ceramics, bits of clothing and the well-preserved remains of a young woman. It also shows evidence of human sacrifice, with special spots designated for the purpose and a heap of bones at the bottom of a nearby cliff.

"It provides the missing link because it explains how the Wari people allowed for the continuation of culture after the Moche," Cesar Soriano, chief archaeologist on the project, told Reuters.

The Wari people made their capital near modern-day Ayacucho, in the Andes, but travelled widely and are known for their extensive network of roads. Earlier this year, archeologists at the Huaca Pucllana ruins in Lima, located some 500 miles south of Chiclayo, discovered a mummy that is also thought to be Wari.

Click here for the Reuters article.
Click here for the post on the mummy's discovery.

Battlefield's Discovery Will Rewrite History

Tennis balls on stakes indicate where weapons and other artifacts have been unearthed on the wooded hilltop near the town of Kalefeld.

Yesterday’s announcement of the discovery of a 3rd Century battlefield between Roman legionnaires and Germanic tribes is the topic of another excellent article, this one in Spiegel Online.

Finding evidence of Roman fighting forces so far north is surprising, archaeologists say. Germany was once considered prime territory for Roman conquest. But in 9 AD thousands of Roman legionaries were slaughtered in a forest near modern-day Bremen, the article notes.

"We thought that with the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, the Romans gave up on this region and pulled back behind the limes," or frontier fortifications further south, Henning Hassmann, the Lower Saxony Conservation Department's lead archaeologist, told Spiegel.

But evidence found in woods outside the small town of Kalefeld may force historians to take a new look at the Roman presence in Germany. More than 600 artifacts, ranging from axe heads and wagon parts to coins and arrowheads, have been found on a forested hill called the Harzhorn.

Click here for the Spiegel article.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Early German Battlefield Shows Extensive Roman Presence into the 3rd Century

Roman dagger recovered from battlefield between Roman Legions and Germanic tribes.

Archaeologists are rewriting history with the discovery of the site of a third-century battle between Roman soldiers and Germanic tribes in what is now Germany’s Lower Saxony.

“The find can be dated to the third century and will definitely change the historical perception of that time,” archaeologist Henning Haßmann said last week. “The find indicates a massive Roman military presence."

Until now historians believed that the battle of the Teutoburg Forest ~ which took place in 9 AD ~ resulted in the Roman’s Empire withdrawal from Germania without any further attempt to conquer the land beyond the Rhine River. But the unearthing of the battleground near the village of Kalefeld proves Rome didn't give up its expansionary ambitions until much later than previously assumed.

“It is pretty normal to find evidence of Roman culture all over even up in Scotland, but a find like this in northern Germany is really amazing,” Haßmann said. “And it's spectacularly well preserved.”

The dig has already brought some 600 artifacts to light during the last three months, most of them ancient weapons.

This recovered decorative piece is part of a Roman binder for a knife case.

Here are three catapult arrow tips recovered from the Lower Saxony battlefield.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ancient Antikythera 'Computer' Reconstructed

The story is told of how the author Cicero in the first century BC first examined the legendary Antikythera invented by Archimedes. The Roman wrote:

The invention of Archimedes deserves special admiration because he had thought out a way to represent accurately by a single device for turning the globe those various and divergent movements with their different rates of speed. The moon was always as many revolutions behind the sun on the bronze contrivance as would agree with the number of days it was behind it in the sky.

A device of this nature was hauled from the sea about a century ago and finally has been mechanically deciphered. It is a surprisingly sophisticated device capable of accomplishing the very actions Cicero described.

Check out the video above of the reconstruction of the Antikythera, 
then click here for the fascinating new article in New Scientist online.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Oregon Cave Find Among Year's Top Discoveries

I admit to a gush of local pride when I saw that Archaeology Magazine this week listed the Oregon Paisley Cave discovery among its Top 10 Discoveries of 2008. Here’s part of what the magazine stated:

The remarkable discovery of 14,300-year-old feces in eastern Oregon's Paisley Cave provided the earliest direct evidence of human colonization of the Americas. Known in the laboratory as coprolites, the feces were proof positive that humans lived in North America well before the Clovis people, long thought to have been the first arrivals, around 12,000 years ago. Thanks to a new technique for isolating genetic samples from materials such as ice, soil, and now fecal matter, researchers were able to extract human DNA from the coprolites. The improbable "artifacts" opened a new chapter in the debate over the identity of the first Americans.

The Paisley Cave discovery shares Top 10 honors with the discovery of the Maya sacred blue pigment, the carved record of the belief in the soul as separate from the body, the Wari war mask in Peru, and many others ~ nearly all of which have appeared as posts on Ancient Tides this year.

Click here for the complete Archaeology Magazine list.

Photo shows University of Oregon archaeologist Dennis Jenkins with human coprolite found at Paisley Caves.

Ancient Brain Found Inside English Skull

Dark area shows location of remaining brain tissue.

British archaeologists have unearthed an ancient skull containing an unusually well-preserved brain. Scientists said Friday the gray matter was more than 2,000 years old — the oldest ever discovered in Britain.

One expert unconnected with the find called it "a real freak of preservation." The skull was severed from its owner sometime before the Roman invasion of Britain and found in a muddy pit during a dig at the University of York in northern England this fall, according to Richard Hall, a director of York Archaeological Trust.

Finds officer Rachel Cubbitt realized the skull might contain a brain when she felt something move inside the cranium as she was cleaning it, Hall said. She looked through the skull's base and spotted an unusual yellow substance inside. Scans at York Hospital confirmed the presence of brain tissue.

Tissue Has Contracted

Hall said it was unclear just how much of the brain had survived, saying the tissue had apparently contracted over the years. Parts of the brain have been tentatively identified, but more research was needed.

"This brain is particularly exciting because it is very well preserved, even though it is the oldest recorded find of this type in the U.K., and one of the earliest worldwide," she said. It’s a mystery why the skull was buried separately from its body, suggesting human sacrifice or ritual burial as possibilities.

Far older preserved brains ~ thought to be approximately 8,000 years old ~ were found in 1986 when dozens of intact human skulls were uncovered in a peat bog in Windover Farms in Florida.

Click here for the Associated Press article.

Excavating continues at the University of York in northern England where the 2,000-year-old skull was found.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gobekli Site Prompts Debate on Origin of Farming

Digital image showing layout of the large temple and placement of the pillars, which are thought to have supported some sort of roofs. Photos below depict some of the carvings on the ancient pillars.

Research surrounding the extraordinary Gobekli Tepe temple in Turkey ~ whose pillars are judged to be 5,000 years older than any other structure ever found on earth ~ continues to ignite debate.

An article this week on EurasiaNet, an online news service, discusses what the temple tells us about the origins of agriculture. Scientists are taking deeper looks into the impact of climate change as well as the more mundane motive of supplying large amounts of food necessary for huge hunter-gatherer ceremonies.

Here is that portion of the article.

But debate still rages - and probably always will - about what it was that led Neolithic groups to transfer almost all their energies into farming.

For many experts, climate change was behind the transformation. Global temperatures had been warming gradually since the last Ice Age. Between 10,800 and 9,500 BC., they suddenly plummeted again.

The Greenland ice cap cooled by roughly 15 degrees. Rain stopped falling on the Fertile Crescent. "The region where grasses could be cultivated shrank to the very upper edges of the Middle East, northern Syria and southeastern Turkey," says Ofer Bar-Yosef, MacCurdy Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at Harvard and a doyen of paleolithic studies.

"Even there, resources were limited - people wanted to keep them for themselves."

But the location, age and sheer size of Gobekli Tepe have led some to posit a radically different explanation for the change. "The intense cultivation of wild wheat may have first occurred to supply sufficient food to the hunter-gatherers who quarried 7-ton blocks of limestone with flint flakes," writes Stephen Mithen, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading, in the United Kingdom.

The move to farming may "have been driven as much by ideology as by the need to cope with environmental stress."

Klaus Schmidt appears in two minds about the theory. In a book he wrote in German about Gobekli Tepe, he suggests that "temples came first, and cities followed." Sipping sugary tea outside a portakabin at the entrance to the site, he is more circumspect.

"There is no doubt this was a place of huge feasts, and hunter-gatherers would have had difficulty gathering together enough food to feed large groups," he says. "Some American colleagues say such feasts may have been the origin of domestication."

His caution stems from growing evidence uncovered over the last five years or so that domestication was a much longer process than previously believed.

Experts now think farmers probably sowed grain for at least a thousand years before domesticated strains appeared. In 2004, French archaeologists showed how neolithic settlers had corralled wild cattle in southern Turkey before transporting them to Cyprus.

Professor Bar-Yosef has had his doubts about the theory of ideological farmers since the start. "First you need to get your economy working," he says. "Then you build the monuments that justify the complex social organization that requires."

Complex, he adds, can sometimes mean unjust. "You can’t build places like Gobekli with kibbutzim," he says. "I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody somewhere in the Fertile Crescent finds evidence of slave labour in the near future."

Click here for the entire EurAsiaNet article.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More Relics Found Near Mysterious Pyramid

Archaeologists continue to debate the origin of the mysterious Huapalcalco pyramid in the central Mexican state of Hildalgo.

Sculptures recently found in central Mexico point to a previously unknown culture that likely built a mysterious pyramid in the valley of Tulancingo, a major canyon that drops off into Mexico's Gulf Coast.

Most of the 41 artifacts "do not fit into any of the known cultures of the Valley of Tulancingo, or the highlands of central Mexico," said Carlos Hernández, an archaeologist at Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History in the central state of Hidalgo.

Many of the figures are depicted in a sitting position, with their hands placed on their knees. Some have headdresses or conical hats with snakes at the base, which could represent Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl, the Aztec god of the wind. One figure shows a man emerging from the jaws of a jaguar. They are also made of flat stucco—a combination of fine sand, lime, and water—and painted blue or green to the give the appearance of jade.

All of the artifacts date to the Epiclassic period between A.D. 600 to 900.

Found Near Mysterious Pyramid

Some of the artifacts were also found near the mysterious Huapalcalco pyramid in Hidalgo, whose origin has been a source of debate among archaeologists. Its proportions, along with smaller structures that were painted black and white, do not correspond to the Toltec or Teotihuacan cultures of the same area and time period.

The Teotihuacan people, who lived from 400 B.C. to A.D. 700, constructed one of the largest pyramid complexes in the pre-Hispanic Americas, which refers to cultures that lived on the continent before the Spanish conquest of the Western Hemipshere.

The Toltecs, who came afterward, were made up of several groups of South Americans that together formed an empire famous for its artists and builders in the Teotihuacan capital of Tula from A.D. 900 until the 1100s.

Click here for complete National Geographic article.

Questions Again Arise on Origin of Sphinx

Digital rendition of Sphinx with an original lion's head.

The Sphinx as it looks today with its pharaoh's head.

A concept long argued by some past and current archaeologists and Egyptologists ~ that the Sphinx is much older than usually thought and that its pharaoh’s head is a revision of an earlier head ~ are now receiving publicity again.

Accepted thought is that the monument outside Cairo, which has the head of a pharaoh and the body of a lion, was built around 4,500 years ago. But geologist Colin Reader has found that rain erosion suggests it was built many years earlier, long before the building of the pyramids.

Researchers have also determined that the Sphinx’s body and head are disproportionate, suggesting it was not originally a pharaoh. Historical architect Jonathan Foyle, who worked with Reader on the project, says the head and body are massively out of proportion, adding that the reason could be that the Sphinx originally had an entirely different head ~ that of a lion. To early Egyptians the lion was a much more potent symbol of power than the human face.

The Great Sphinx is thought by most Egyptologists to represent the likeness of King Khafra. It is also believed by others that Djadefre, the elder brother of Khafra, built the Sphinx to honor his father Khufu. This would place the time of construction somewhere between 2550 BC and 2450 BC.

However the limited evidence linking the Sphinx to Khafra is circumstantial and somewhat ambiguous, according to the London Daily Mail.

Geologist Robert Schoch concluded that the Sphinx must be much older than currently believed after an investigation in the 1990s. He claims the amount of water erosion the Sphinx has experienced indicates a construction date no later than the 6th millennium BC or 5th millennium BC, at least two thousand years before the widely accepted construction date and 1,500 years prior to the accepted date for the beginning of Egyptian civilization.

Click here for the Daily Mail article.

Monday, December 8, 2008

More on Discovery of 'Cloud People' Citadel

The recently discovered citadel is on the edge of a cliff, providing an excellent vantage point for spotting approaching enemies.

More news is coming out of the northern jungles of Peru regarding the newly discovered citadel belonging to the “Cloud People,” the latest an article in the London Telegraph.

The buildings found on the Pachallama peak are in remarkably good condition, estimated to be over 1,000 years old and comprised of the traditional round stone houses, according to the Telegraph.

The area is completely overgrown with the jungle now covering much of the settlement but explorers found the walls of the buildings and rock paintings on a cliff face. Archaeologist Benedicto Pérez Goicochea said: "The citadel is perched on the edge of an abyss. We suspect that the ancient inhabitants used this as a lookout point from where they could spot potential enemies."

Citadel Provides Beautiful Panorama

The ruins were initially discovered by local people hacking through the jungle. They were drawn to the place due to the sound of a waterfall. The local people "armed with machetes opened a path that arrived at the place where they saw a beautiful panorama, full of flowers and fauna, as well as a waterfall, some 500 metres high," said the mayor of Jamalca, Ricardo Cabrera Bravo.

When in 1535 the Spanish Conquistadores arrived in Peru, they found willing allies in the Cloud People for their fight against the Incas. They were eventually wiped out by small pox and other diseases brought by the Europeans. The women of the Chachapoya were much prized by the Incas as they were tall and fair skinned. The Chronicler Pedro Cieza de León offers wrote of the Chachapoyas:

"They are the whitest and most handsome of all the people that I have seen in Indies, and their wives were so beautiful that because of their gentleness, many of them deserved to be the Incas' wives and to also be taken to the Sun Temple."

Click here for the Telegraph article, plus a video on a Peruvian mummy.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Archaeologists Still Probing 'Plain of Jars'

A few of the 2,000 massive jars scattered across the Laotian plain.

Archaeologists are continuing to explore the mysterious Plain of Jars in northeastern Laos despite great personal risk. Some 2,000 gigantic jars are scattered across the highland where the U.S. during the Vietnam War dropped millions of cluster bombs, 30 percent of them still unexploded.

According to an article in Malaysia's The Star magazine, UNESCO archaeologists are continuing to dig in seven out of 58 identified jar sites.

“We believe the Plain of Jars holds a piece of the puzzle of an ancient civilization that is now extinct,” says archaeologist Julie Van Den Bergh, chief technical advisor for the Lao-Unesco Safeguarding the Plain of Jars program. “The jars date back to the Early Iron Age (500 BC to 200 CE). But who made these jars? There are an estimated 2,000 jars so there must have been a huge civilization then that has vanished 2,000 years ago. What were the people doing here? Were they trading?”

The jars are in clusters, some with as many as 400 in a grouping. Some are about nine feet tall and weigh 13 tons. Several come with angular or round disks that could have been lids, carved with images of humans, monkeys or tigers.

Click here for Malaysia's The Star article.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rome's Oil Lamp 'Factory Town' Discovered

A selection of oil lamps recovered in Modena, with the bottoms of the lamps clearly marked with their brand names, Fortis being the most popular.

Italian researchers have discovered the ‘factory town’ where oil lamps that lighted the ancient Roman empire were made. Ruins were found in the north-central Italian city of Modena, near the city’s ancient walls.

"We found a large ancient Roman dumping filled with pottery scraps. There were vases, bottles, bricks, but most of all, hundreds of oil lamps, each bearing their maker's name," Donato Labate, the archaeologist in charge of the dig, told Discovery News.

Firmalampen, or "factory lamps," were one of the first mass-produced goods in Roman times and they carried brand names clearly stamped on their clay bottoms. Modena contained lamps by the most famous brands of the time: Strobili, Communis, Phoetaspi, Eucarpi and Fortis.

Popular Fortis Brand Was Imitated

These manufacturers had their products sold on the markets of three continents. Fortis was the trendiest of all pottery brands and its products were used up to the end of the second century A.D.

“Fortis gained such a name for its lamps that its stamp was copied and reproduced throughout the empire. It was one of the earliest examples of pirated brands," Labate said.

Scholars have long thought that the fashionable Fortis originated from Modena -- then called Mutina -- but until now no evidence had been found for that claim. "We know now for sure that Fortis came from Mutina. The city was a major pottery center, a cluster of pottery workshops, as the variety of brand names on the newly discovered items testifies," Labate said.

Labate added that kilns were located outside the city walls to prevent fires from breaking out in the city.

Click here for the Discovery News article.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Stone Age 'Venus' Figures Found Near Moscow

Four sides of the finished "Venus" figurine, resembling other Stone Age female carvings found from Sibera to western Europe.

Russian archaeologists digging southeast of Moscow have unearthed a cache from the Stone Age, including two human figurines, an inscribed rib from a mammoth and another small carved bone.

"The finds enrich the inventory of Upper Palaeolithic art and broaden the known distribution of specific types of art objects in the East European Upper Palaeolithic," Dr. Sergey Lev of the Russian Academy of Sciences told BBC News. "In terms of the splendour and variety of its art pieces, Zaraysk is on a par with such famous sites as Kostenki and Avdeevo."

The 22,000-year-old figurines are a type of "Venus" statuette, examples of which have been found in locations ranging from the mountains of Spain as far east as Siberia. However, their cultural significance remains a point of debate among anthropologists.

A "Spectacular" Find

At Zaraysk, the two figurines were found carefully buried in storage pits. Underneath each was a round deposit of fine sand toward the south; toward the north, there was a deposit of red ochre, an iron-based pigment. Each of the figurines had been covered with the shoulder-blade of a mammoth.

One is presumed to be finished and stands at a height of nearly 7 inches the other is clearly unfinished and about half as big. Both resemble examples of such statuettes found at the Avdeevo site to the southwest, suggesting cultural links between the two.

"This collection of artefacts is spectacular in a number of ways, not only for the range of representations of both humanistic and animal but also for the range of materials that is used," says Jeffrey Brantingham, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). "These finds are really incredibly rare, and they offer a unique picture into human Upper Palaeolithic life."

Click here for the complete BBC News article.
Click here for a CNN article on the discovery.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rainforest Citadel Linked to "Cloud People"

An ancient Chachapoyas village near where the lost city was discovered.

An overgrown, fortified citadel discovered in the Amazon rainforest may be linked to the legendary Cloud People of Peru, an ancient, white-skinned civilization that fell victim to war and disease in the 16th century.

The tribe had white skin and blonde hair, features that intrigue historians because there is no known European ancestry in the region, where inhabitants are normally much darker skinned.

The citadel is tucked away in one of the most far-flung areas of the Amazon. It sits at the edge of a chasm that the tribe may have used as a lookout to spy on enemies. The main encampment is made up of circular stone houses overgrown by jungle over 12 acres, according to archaeologist Benedict Goicochea Perez.

The Cloud People once commanded a vast kingdom stretching across the Andes to the fringes of Peru's northern Amazon jungle, before the Incas conquered it. The cloud reference is to the rainforests filled with cloud-like mist.

Victims of Measles, Smallpox

The people are believed to have sided with the Spanish-colonialists to defeat the Incas, but were killed by epidemics of European diseases, such as measles and smallpox. Much of their way of life, dating back to the ninth century, was also destroyed through pillaging that left little for archaeologists to examine.

Until recently, much of what was known about the lost civilization was from Inca legends, according to the London Daily Mail. Even the name they called themselves is unknown. The term Chachapoyas, or “Cloud People,” was given to them by the Incas.

Chachapoyas chronicler Pedro Cieza de Leon wrote of the tribe: “They are the whitest and most handsome of all the people that I have seen, and their wives were so beautiful that because of their gentleness, many of them deserved to be the Incas' wives and to also be taken to the Sun Temple. The women and their husbands always dressed in woolen clothes.”

Click here for the complete Daily Mail article.

A stretch of Amazonian rainforest in northern Peru, once the territory of the Cloud People.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More Evidence of David's Battle with Goliath

David and Goliath by Osmar Schindler, 1888.

The discovery of a second fortified gate at the Elah Fortress near Bet Shemesh, Israel, may be evidence of the Biblical battle between young David and the giant Goliath.

The Bible describes David as battling Goliath in the Elah Valley near Sha'arayim, which means "two gates" in Hebrew, said Hebrew University archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel. "All the sites from this period uncovered so far had only one gate. We have two gates and this is very unusual."

The gate, constructed of stones weighing up to ten tons, is located on the site's eastern side, facing Jerusalem.

The discovery is the second recent find to be made at the Elah Fortress. In October, Garfinkel revealed a 3,000-year-old pottery shard with text believed to be Hebrew—then hailed as the most important archaeological discovery in Israel since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The fortress is the first site found from the Iron Age in what was once territory controlled by King David. "Everything comes together—the geography, the Bible, and the radiometric dating. It's no coincidence," Garfinkel said.

Click here for the complete National Geographic article.

The massive second gate at the ancient Israeli fortress, indicating it may be the Biblical Sha'arayim, where David battled Goliath.

Aerial view of the Elah Fortress, where artifacts are being unearthed dating back to the presumed time of King David.