Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rare Roman Bowl found in Old London Cemetery

The bowl was pieced together from fragments found at the site.

Calling it a “miracle of preservation,” archaeologists have unearthed a Roman glass bowl in an ancient cemetery beyond the walls of the old city of London. The millefiori ~ meaning “a thousand flowers” ~ dish is believed to date from around the 2nd to 3rd century AD.

"For it to have survived intact is amazing,” Jenny Hall, curator of the Roman collection at the Museum of London, told Reuters News. “In fact, it is unprecedented in the western Roman world. We are still checking out whether there are similar examples surviving in the eastern part of the empire, in ancient Alexandria for example, but it's the only one in the West.”

The dish was found about nine feet deep in the ancient cemetery in Aldgate, east London, just beyond the old city walls. Romans were required by law to bury their dead outside the city gates.

Archaeologists said the dish was colored bright red when it was first pulled from the earth. The vermilion color has slowly disappeared since excavation as the water-saturated glass dried out. The moisture had preserved the original coloring, and some of the pigment is still distinguishable around the rim.

Click here for the Reuters article.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Native Americans Had Single Ancestral Source

An international team of scientists has concluded that Native Americans derived from a single ancestral population.

“Our work provides strong evidence that, in general, Native Americans are more closely related to each other than to any other existing Asian populations, except those that live at the very edge of the Bering Strait,” said Kari Britt Schroeder, a lecturer at the University of California, Davis, and the first author on the paper describing the study.

“While earlier studies have already supported this conclusion, what’s different about our work is that it provides the first solid data that simply cannot be reconciled with multiple ancestral populations,” said Schroeder.

For years various theories had been argued regarding whether ancestors of Native Americans emigrated to the New World in one wave or successive waves, or from one ancestral Asian population or a number of different populations. The new findings are from painstakingly comparing DNA samples from people in dozens of modern-day Native American and Eurasian groups.

Click here for the UC Davis article.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Temple Images Show Pharaohs and Gods

Here are two photos released this week related to the significant discovery in the Sinai peninsula of four ancient Egyptian temples. Archaeologists believe the four and a brick fortified wall were a religious center at the eastern gateway to Egypt around 1500 BC.

The top photo shows Pharaonic King Tuthmosis II (left) in front of the god Raa Hoor Akhti carved on a wall at one of the temples. The lower photo shows Pharaonic King Ramses II (right) and Geb, god of earth, carved on a wall at another one of the temples.

Click here for my previous post, based on a Reuters article.
Click here for the Associated Press article.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Durable Maya Blue Traced to Palygorskite Clay

Maya blue is a predominant color on this ancient mask.

Ancient Mayans used a rare clay called palygorskite to produce their traditional Maya blue. The clay has been used in Mesoamerica since ancient times and was closely related to socio-cultural aspects of the Mayan culture.

Palygorskite is produced by mixing indigo, an organic dye obtained from the plant of the same name, with a base of palygorskite clay. The resulting compound is extraordinarily resistant to chemical and environmental elements.

Maya Blue was invented between the 6th and the 8th Century and can be found in sculptures, fresco paintings, codices and pre-Columbian decorations across Mesoamerica, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. It was used during the colonial period to paint frescos in churches and convents. Maya blue was rediscovered in 1931 and scientists were baffled by the stability and persistence of this color found on objects dating back to pre-Columbian times.

"Present day native communities on the Yucatan Peninsula are familiar with and use palygorskite clay for a variety of purposes, ranging from making candles on All Saints' Day and household and artistic pottery to remedies for mumps, stomach and pregnancy pains and dysentery," explained Manuel Sánchez del Río, a physicist at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble (France). Modern pharmacology uses clays like palygorskite to produce anti-diarrhea medicine, a remedy the Maya began to use more than a thousand years ago.

Click here for the complete ScienceDaily article.

Egypt's Zahi Hawass in 'Perpetual Motion'

One name more than any other has cropped up in Ancient Tides ~ that of Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s antiquities bureau. Due to his high profile in the usually modest profession of archaeology, it’s no surprise that some controversy surrounds the man.

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a feature article about Hawass, including these excerpts:

In the seven years since he was named general secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Hawass has been in perpetual motion. He personally announces every new discovery, was the force behind plans to construct 19 new museums, approved the restoration of nine synagogues in Cairo and has contributed to countless books, documentaries, magazine and newspaper articles all promoting Egyptian antiquities — and, of course, himself.

There are scientists who say he is too concerned with self-promotion and is often loose with facts. There are Egyptian antiquities workers who complain that he takes credit for their accomplishments. But his penchant for drama and his virtual monopoly over Egypt’s unrivaled ancient riches have earned him an international following and helped Egypt sell itself to tourists at a time when tourism dollars are increasingly scarce.

“Whether we like it or not, he is a star, and he lives the life of a star,” said Mahmoud Ibrahim Hussein, chairman of the antiquities department at Cairo University. “When he goes to a place, people gather around him to talk to him. Many professors give lectures; but people pay more to hear Zahi speak.”

Click here for the complete New York Times article.

Four Egyptian Temples Are Major Find in Sinai

Archaeologists have unearthed four pharaonic temples in the Sinai peninsula, including one with fortified walls that served as an important religious center at the eastern gateway to ancient Egypt.

The temples date to the rule of Thutmosis II, who reigned from about 1512 BC and was ultimately succeeded by his wife Hatshepsut, among ancient Egypt's most successful female rulers.

"The discovery is considered among the biggest discoveries in Sinai and includes the largest fortified Pharaonic temple in Sinai, at 80 meters by 70 meters," according to the Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities in a statement released today. "It is the only example of a mud brick temple in the New Kingdom era in the (Nile) Delta and Sinai."

The temple was surrounded by walls four meters thick and contained paintings of a number of Egyptian deities, including Horus, the god of the sun, as well as depictions of Thutmosis II and Ramses II.

Click here for the Reuters article.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

High-Tech Reveals More of China's Great Wall

A section of the Great Wall in disrepair.

China’s famed Great Wall has gained another 180 miles due to infrared range finders and GPS devices enabling researchers to find portions previously concealed by hills, trenches and rivers.

The newly mapped parts of the wall were built during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to protect China against northern invaders and were submerged over time by sandstorms that moved across the arid region, according to China’s national mapping agency.

The additional parts mean the Great Wall ~ construction of which began more than 2,000 years ago to prevent incursions into China by the Mongols and others ~ spans about 3,900 miles through the northern part of the country.

Recent studies by Chinese archaeologists have shown that sandstorms are reducing sections of the wall in Gansu to "mounds of dirt" and that they may disappear entirely in 20 years. These studies mainly blame the erosion on destructive farming methods used in the 1950s that turned large areas of northern China into desert. In addition, portions of the wall in Gansu were made of packed earth, which is less resilient than the brick and stone used elsewhere in much of the wall's construction.

China in recent years has begun restoring parts of the wall as well as trying to curb commercial development on or next to the ancient structure.

Click here for the Guardian UK article.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tomb May Have Held Ramses' Granddaughter

Remnants of the noblewoman's sarcaphagus displays hieroglyphics.

A 3,000-year-old tomb uncovered recently has been identified as belonging to a woman named Isisnofret, possibly the granddaughter of Pharaoh Ramses II, who reigned during the 13th century B.C.

The tomb was found in a burial complex long buried by sand and rubble on a rocky outcrop on the outskirts the ancient royal burial city of Saqqara. The complex includes the base of a pyramid, a monumental gateway, a colonnaded courtyard, and an antechamber with three cult chapels.

Though Isisnofret's chapels are in ruins, partly due to looting, archaeologists have found fragments decorated with hieroglyphics. In general, cult chapels were painted with scenes of daily life and offerings—in case the family failed to provide the real thing.

Inside Isisnofret's tomb building, a limestone sarcophagus was found holding three skeletons—degraded mummies whose ages and sexes have yet to be determined.

Archaeologists at the site are unsure why the sarcophagus holds three bodies, or even what the original state was. The sarcophagus is missing its internal, wooden coffin—perhaps stolen during the ancient pillaging that seems to have stripped the tomb of funerary objects.

Click here for the complete article.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Italian Earthquake Reveals Prehistoric Caves

Last week's powerful earthquake in central Italy unearthed prehistoric dwellings there, according Italian daily La Stampa. Some of the vaulted caves measure nearly 20 feet in height, according to Italian geologist Gianluca Ferretti.

"We are exploring them," said Ferretti, who teaches geology at L'Aquila's university. The caves date back 15,000 years, according to geologists.

"Some of the caves were hollowed out by the first shepherds to inhabit the area, who would also use them as shelters for their animals," said Ferretti's colleague, Antonio Moretti.

But while they represent a fascinating archaeological find, the caves' emergence has worried geologists. "It shows the fragility of the sediment on which the area is built," said Ferretti.

The magnitude 6.3 quake last week destroyed or seriously damaged several thousand buildings and killed about 300 people.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

New Findings Point to Ancient Druid Savagry

Ancient Romans considered Britain’s Celts ~ and their priests, whom he named Druids ~ to be a particularly savage people, and new findings seem to be bearing out that observation. Indications now point to cannibalism and ritual human sacrifice on a potentially massive scale.

After a first century BC visit to Britain, the Romans came back with horrific stories about the Celts, who had spread throughout much of Europe over a roughly 2,000-year period. Julius Caesar ~ leading the first Roman landing in 55 BC. ~ said the native Celts "believe that the gods delight in the slaughter of prisoners and criminals, and when the supply of captives runs short, they sacrifice even the innocent."

First-century historian Pliny the Elder went further, suggesting the Celts practiced ritual cannibalism, eating their enemies' flesh as a source of spiritual and physical strength.

National Geographic reports that recent gruesome finds may confirm the Romans' accounts. 

Incriminating evidence includes the 2,000-year-old, bog-mummified body of Lindow Man, discovered in England in the 1980s. At least one thing appears nearly certain about the man: He was the victim of a carefully staged sacrifice.

Other grisly clues come from a cave in Alveston, England. Skeletons belonging to as many as 150 people and dating back to about the time of the Roman conquest were discovered in 2000.

Depiction above is of Roman slaughter of Druids, which may have led to Celtic savagry.

Click here for the complete National Geographic article. The short video below is a preview to a National Geographic television special on the Druid findings.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Temple Reveals Peaceful Passage Between Ages

The ongoing dig at the Tayinat Citadel reveals the noteworthy temple.

Discovery of a well-preserved temple in Turkey ~ constructed during the time of King Solomon around the 10th Century BC ~ casts doubt on the view that the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age was violent, sudden and culturally disruptive.

Ancient sources such as the Homeric epics and the Hebrew Bible depict an era of widespread famine, ethnic conflict and population movement, including migrations of Philistines and the Israelites, also called the Sea Peoples. According to ScienceDaily:

This is thought to have precipitated a prolonged Dark Age marked by cultural decline and ethnic strife during the early centuries of the Iron Age. But recent discoveries ~ including the Tayinat excavations ~ have revealed that some ruling dynasties survived the collapse of the great Bronze Age powers.

"Our ongoing excavations have not only begun to uncover extensive remains from this Dark Age, but the emerging archaeological picture suggests that during this period Tayinat was the capital of a powerful kingdom, the ‘Land of Palastin’," says Timothy Harrison, professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Toronto and the director of the project. "Intriguingly, the early Iron Age settlement at Tayinat shows evidence of strong cultural connections, if not the direct presence of foreign settlers, from the Aegean world, the traditional homeland of the Sea Peoples."

The temple’s inner sanctuary ~ also know as its 'holy of holies' ~ will be the focus of the 2009 field season which begins on July 1.

Click here for the complete ScienceDaily article.

Number 10 ~ TREADING (Conduct)

Treading upon the tail of the tiger.

It does not bite the man. Success.

The situation is really difficult. That which is strongest and that which is weakest are close together. The weak follows behind the strong and worries it. The strong, however, acquiesces and does not hurt the weak, because the contact is in good humor and harmless. In terms of a human situation, one is handling wild, intractable people. In such a case, one's purpose will be achieved if one behaves with decorum. Pleasant manners succeed even with irritable people.

Search Intensifies for Anthony & Cleopatra Tomb

An ancient coin displaying the likenesses of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.

Archaeologists in Egypt next week begin excavating three sites in search of the tombs of the doomed lovers, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.

The sites were identified last month during a radar survey of the temple of Taposiris Magna. It is located on Lake Mariut ~ now known as Abusir ~ near the coastal city of Alexandria, and was built during the reign of King Ptolemy II (282-246 BC.)

Cleopatra, then queen of Egypt, and her Roman general lover, Mark Anthony, committed suicide after being defeated in the battle of Actium in 31 BC.

Excavators found a number of deep shafts inside the temple, three of which were possibly used for burials. Leaders of the excavation believe Cleopatra and Mark Anthony could have been buried in a deep shaft similar those already found.

Last year, archaeologists at the site also unearthed a bronze statue of the goddess Aphrodite, the alabaster head of a Queen Cleopatra statue, a mask believed to belong to Mark Anthony and a headless statue from the Ptolemaic era at the excavation site.

Click here for the Associated Press article.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Clay Figures May Be Servants, Not Soldiers

A small portion of the terracotta figures, either soldiers or servants.

A Chinese professor says the famed terracotta soldiers of Xi'an aren't soldiers at all ~ they're royal servants and bodyguards, most likely modeled after high-ranking Qin dynasty officials.

Most historians believe the 2,200-year-old clay statues buried near the emperor's tomb represent an army to guard him in the afterlife. But Liu Jiusheng of Shaanxi Normal University argues ordinary soldiers weren't allowed to get close to the emperor, even in death.

Furthermore, Liu says the figures stand at around six feet, much taller than average Chinese past or present. Liu theorizes the clay statues were probably made taller to show their elevated social status. Though not widely accepted, experts say Liu's argument is worth studying.

The 1,000-strong terracotta army was discovered near Xi'an in 1974 and was listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO in December 1987.

Dozens of Painted Mummies Found in Necropolis

One of the brightly colored mummies found near the Ilahun pyramid.

Archaeologists in an Egyptian oasis have found dozens of brightly painted mummies dating back as far as 4,000 years.

"The mission found dozens of mummies in 53 rock-hewn tombs dating to the Middle Kingdom" from 2061-1786 BC, according to Zahi Hawass announced Sunday. "Four of the mummies date back to the 22nd Dynasty (931 to 725 BC) and are considered some of the most beautiful mummies found."

The linen-wrapped mummies are painted in the still-bright traditional ancient Egyptian colors of turquoise, terracotta and gold.

The necropolis was uncovered near the Ilahun pyramid in Fayoum oasis south of Cairo. The team also found 15 painted masks, along with amulets and clay pots, Hawass said.

Click here for the Middle East Online article.

Human Evolution May Be Accelerating

Humans are continuing to evolve as our genes respond to rapid changes in the world around us. In fact, according to some anthropologists, the pressures of modern life may be speeding up human evolution.

The idea that "human evolution is a continuing process is widely accepted among anthropologists,'' Robert Wald Sussman, editor of the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, told McClatchy news. This concept contradicts the 20th-century assumption that modern medical practice, antibiotics, better diet and other advances would protect people from the perils and stresses that drive evolutionary change.

It's even conceivable, Sussman said, that our genes eventually will change enough to create an entirely new human species, one no longer able to breed with our own species, Homo sapiens.

"Someday in the far distant future, enough genetic changes might have occurred so that future populations could not interbreed with the current one,'' he speculates.

Click here for the complete article.

Peru to Protect Nazca Lines from Rainwater

A figure called La Mano (The Hand) damaged by unusual flooding.

Peru’s National Institute of Culture is preparing to protect from heavy rains the enigmatic Nazca Lines, located in the country’s southern region, according to the resident archaeologist in Nazca, Mario Olaechea.

"It's a project that will serve the whole area in general, including drainage services, to avoid events such as the one in January when rainwater accumulated and drained, covering with a clay layer of the geoglyph called La Mano", Olaechea said. "The figure has not been erased. It is still intact, only one percent was covered by the clay layer.”

In the first months of the year, heavy rains also affected the southern plains of Nazca, but without serious consequences.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Work to Uncover Massive Mayan City Begins

Thick vegetation covers the ground over the ruins of the large Mayan city.

Mexican archaeologists have begun recovery of a great Mayan city buried under tons of earth and jungle in the area of Ichkabal on the Yucatan peninsula, according to the National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH).

Previous archaeological digs in Ichkabal have indicated existence of a vast Mayan settlement of buildings, the biggest roughly 650 feet wide at the base and 150 feet high. The buildings are believed to be part of a city covering about 11.5 square miles whose study will add important archaeological information to what is known about ancient Mayan civilization.

“This is a city whose construction began in preclassic times, 250 years before Christ,” INAH said. No architectural details are visible on the surface. All that can be seen are mounds covered by “the exuberant vegetation” of the area.

The site was discovered in 1995 by a local inhabitant, who revealed the existence of pre-Colombian vestiges to two Mexican archaeologists.

Click here for the Latin American Herald Tribune article.

The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn --
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

Wooden Version of Stonehenge Found in Ireland

Artist's conception of the Stonehenge-like sacred monument in Ireland.

Archaeologists in Ireland have unearthed a mammoth wooden version of Stonehenge. It appears to have been a major structure at the ancient seat of the Irish high kings in the Hill of Tara in County Meath.

Archaeologist Joe Fenwick said a laser beam had been used to scan the ground surface to create a three-dimensional map of the site, revealing more than 30 monuments around Tara. Using another technique ~ described as taking an X-ray through the hillside ~ archaeologists discovered a ditch stretching six meters wide and three meters deep in the bedrock. The ditch, circling the Mound of the Hostages passage tomb, separated the outside world from the ceremonial center of Tara.

“The Hill of Tara had enormous ritual significance over the course of 5,000 to 6,000 years, so it's not surprising that you get monuments of the scale of the ditch pit circle," Fenwick says.

Click here for the Irish Independent article.

Ancient Israel May Have Had A Woman King

Archaeologists at Tel Beth-Shemesh have uncovered possible evidence of a mysterious female ruler of Canaan, or ancient Israel. The finding appears on an unusual ceramic plaque of a goddess in female dress, suggesting that a mighty female “king” may have ruled the city. If true, they say, the plaque would depict the only known female ruler of the region.

The plaque itself depicts a figure dressed as royal male figures and deities once appeared in Egyptian and Canaanite art. The figure’s hairstyle, though, is womanly and its bent arms are holding lotus flowers ~ attributes given to women.

The plaque, art historians suggest, may be an artistic representation of the “Mistress of the Lionesses,” a female Canaanite ruler known to have sent distress letters to the Pharaoh in Egypt reporting unrest and destruction in her kingdom.

Click here for the Science Daily article.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Jewelry, Skeletons Found in Moche Tomb

This 1,500-year-old gilded-copper-and-seashell funerary mask was found several months ago in a treasure-filled tomb of the Moche culture in Peru. It's one of two masks that shielded the face of the so-called Lord of Ucupe.

Archaeologists believe the Lord of Ucupe in life would have been covered nearly head to toe in shining metal, so as to dazzle and distract his subjects. The tomb ~ found at the base of a mud-brick pyramid ~ also contained 19 golden headdresses, various pieces of jewelry and the skeletons of two other men and a pregnant woman.

The tomb's mysterious contents and location ~ far from known Moche capitals ~ could shed new light on this little-known culture of Peru's arid northern coast. Thriving between A.D. 100 and 800, the highly agricultural Moche Indians are known in large part by their stepped pyramids, jewelry-filled tombs, and exquisite pottery and art.

Click here for the complete National Geographic article.
Click here for a video on the discovery of the Moche tomb.

Early Christian Diet Was Laden with Fish

Roman fish mosaic from the early Christian period.

Early Christians ate more fish then their non-Christian counterparts. Some scientists theorize it was because the early Christians tended to be poor. Others will content it was because the fish was the symbol of the faith. And still other, I’m sure, would attribute the fish-laden diet to the Age of Pisces that dawned during at the outset of the Christian era and also is symbolized by the fish.

“The eating habits of Rome’s early Christians are more complex than has traditionally been assumed,” writes Leonard Rutgers and his colleagues in The Journal of Archaeological Science. They analyzed 22 skeletons found in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus on the Appian Way, an area utilized in the 3rd to 5th centuries AD, although some of the skeletons were radiocarbon-dated to the 2nd century, according to the Times of London.

“While distancing themselves from Jewish food taboos and generally avoiding meat derived from pagan sacrifices, the early Christians are normally hypothesized to have eaten the same food as their non-Christian Roman contemporaries,” the team says. “Within the larger context of what is currently known about Roman dietary habits, the inclusion of freshwater fish therefore comes as unexpected and raises questions about the social origins of Christianity as well.”

“When Romans ate fish at all, they are normally believed to have consumed sea fish. Freshwater fish has not been considered as an essential ingredient in the classical Roman diet.” In AD301, the Emperor Diocletian’s Edict on Prices tried to fix the cost of freshwater fish at around a half to a third of its marine equivalent, so that even the poor could eat it. Roman fish probably came from the Tiber, and would have been a free or cheap source of protein.

Rutgers and his colleagues conclude “that at least the small selection of early Christians analyzed were all simple folk, suggesting that the inclusion of freshwater fish is indicative of a relative lack of wealth rather than of religiously motivated ascetic behavior."

Click here for the complete Times of London article.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Striving to Define Shamans vs. Priests

An important step toward clarifying ancient “religious specialists” is occurring and should provide archaeologists with a more consistent framework in defining a “shaman” versus a “priest.”

The Signs of the Sacred: Identifying Shamans Using Archaeological Evidence by Christine VanPool is being published in the upcoming Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, and the article is discussed in Kris Hirst’s archaeology blog.

According to Hirst, quoting VanPool, religious specialists are people in a given society who have a connection to the deities who control things humans cannot.

“Religious specialists are classed by dry-as-dust archaeologists as ‘craft specialists’, and the presence of craft specialists ~ people with assigned part-time or fulltime jobs including crop tending and child care and pot making and flint knapping and tending to the religious needs of a society ~ is one of those characteristics of complex societies that anthropologists (and archaeologists) use to discuss how people organize themselves,” Hirst writes.

Definitions of the two major religious specialists, based on VanPool’s paper, are:

  • A shaman is a type of religious specialist who uses altered states of consciousness to directly interact with gods and supernatural agents. Shamans are usually part time practitioners, who are part supernatural beings, at least some of the time. Shamans are generally associated with hunter-gatherer level societies. Shamans have special fetishes and their iconography (the symbols they use) include liminal creatures—creatures that are part-human, part-god, and/or part-animal; creatures that like the shaman him or herself are part in the mundane world, part in the otherwise inaccessible world of the gods.
  • A priest, in the anthropological sense, is a full-time religious specialist who acts as a representative for a society's deity or deities. Priests are generally associated with societies that have attained at least the complexity associated with regular agriculture. Priests perform regular or cyclical rituals that ease the supernatural relationship between human and god. Unlike shamans, they don't typically address issues between individuals and deities, but rather speak as a mediator between the entire society and the gods which rule the earth.

The two categories are created by archaeologists and anthropologists, and are not mutually exclusive in real-life applications ~ you can have both types of specialists in a given society.

“Some societies have shaman-priests who combine traits of both,” Hirst writes. “Further, many native religions were greatly impacted by colonization and missionaries, creating a great loss of diversity; but colonization, agricultural complexity and even urbanization does not necessarily entail a complete shift away from shamanism.”

Click here for Kris Hirst’s post.
Click here for VanPool’s original article, which requires purchase.
Photos are late 1800s portraits of shamans, mostly Siberian.

Scottish Settlement Dates Back 14,000 Years

Amateur archaeologists have uncovered Scotland's oldest human settlement, dating back 14,000 years. It’s the first proof that humans lived in Scotland during the upper paleolithic period, when nomadic humans hunted with bows and arrows and when mammoth and rhinoceros roamed the land.

Flint arrowheads were discovered in a field by the Biggar Archeology Group. The tools had been made in a way that identified them as belonging to about 12,000 BC. At that time, the North Sea was an expanse of land, over which nomadic humans roamed. Similar tools had been found in Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, but never in Scotland.

Dr Alan Saville, a senior curator at the National Museum of Scotland, who helped identify the objects, said he was "very excited" when he saw them. "This is the breakthrough," he said. "Now we are able to say for absolute certain that we had human settlement at that time in Scotland."

Click here for the complete article.

Vatican Reveals Shroud's Missing Century

The Vatican – in a surprise announcement this week – revealed that members of the Knights Templar hid and secretly venerated the Shroud of Turin for more than a century following the Crusades.

The linen shroud has been revered as the cloth in which Jesus was buried. In 1898 a photographic negative revealed the image of a bearded, wounded man somehow embedded in the fabric. The shroud disappeared from Constantinople in 1204 and resurfaced in the mid 1300s, leaving a century when its whereabouts a mystery.

The Knights Templar were founded at the time of the First Crusade in the eleventh century to protect Christians making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican Secret Archives, recently found a document in which Arnaut Sabbatier ~ a young Frenchman who entered the Knights Templar order in 1287 ~ testified that as part of his initiation he was taken to “a secret place to which only the brothers of the Temple had access.” There he was shown “a long linen cloth on which was impressed the figure of a man” and instructed to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times.

The Vatican now believes the Knights Templar rescued the shroud in Constantinople to ensure it didn’t fall into the hands of heretical groups such as the Cathars, who claimed Christ did not have a true human body, only the appearance of a man, and could therefore not have died on the Cross and been resurrected.

Radiocarbon dating tests on the Turin Shroud in 1988 indicated it was a medieval fake. However this had been challenged on the grounds that the dated sample was taken from an area of the shroud mended after a fire in the Middle Ages and was not a part of the original cloth.

The Vatican has not declared whether it is genuine or a forgery, leaving it to believers to decide. The late John Paul II said it was “an icon of the suffering of the innocent in every age.” Self-proclaimed heirs of the Knights Templar have asked the Vatican to “restore the reputation” of the disgraced order and acknowledge that assets worth some £80 million were confiscated.

Click here for the complete London Times article and a 2-minute video about the shroud.

At top is a photographic images from the shroud. Painting is a depiction of a Knights Templar member, and the society's insignia is at left.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mystery Surrounds Early Arkansas Mounds

One of the mounds in Arkansas built by unknown Native Americans.

A group of earthen mounds previously believed to have been built by members of the Toltec culture of Mexico are now attributed to unknown Native Americans. The mounts are located about 35 miles from Stuttgart, Arkansas, and comprise one of the largest archaeological sites in the Mississippi River Valley.

"People started living at this place we call Toltec Mounds some time before 700 A.D.," Robin Gabe, park interpreter at Toltec Mounds Archeological Park, says. "Distinctive aspects of the culture of the people who lived here are the arrangement and construction of the mounds, the style of decoration on the pottery and the kinds of stone tolls."

Builders' Identity a Mystery

Gabe said in the 1800’s historians and anthropologists thought the mounds had been built by the Toltec Indian tribes of Mexico, who were mound builders, but that was later proved to not be the case.

"The distinctive culture of Toltec Mounds is given the name of Plum Bayou, which is the name of a local stream," Gabe said. "We do not know what the Indians who built the mounds called themselves because they left no writing."

The people seem to have abandoned Toltec and this area sometime around 1050 A.D. It is unknown where these people went, nor do historians know who their descendants were. “We do know that these people were impressive builders and that they planned the construction of this center," Gabe said.

Click here for the Stuttgart Leader article.

Rare Mayan Pottery Featured in Exhibit

A world-renowned collection of ancient Maya painted pottery provides the focal point for Painted Metaphors: Pottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya, a new exhibition opening at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

At the center of Painted Metaphors are almost two dozen recently conserved Maya painted vessels from Chama, a Mayan village in the highlands far from the more sophisticated lowland centers of Maya culture. It was here that Penn Museum archaeologist Robert Burkitt discovered this brilliantly painted pottery, unlike anything else the region had ever produced.

Why were these ceramic cylinders, painted with elaborate scenes, made in this out of the way spot? Exhibition curator Dr. Elin Danien believes these are Painted Metaphors, or pictorial narratives, reflecting the sudden introduction of people and ideas from the lowlands of the Maya world.

Click here for the University of Pennsylvania article.
Photo shows an 8th Century vase found in Chama.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pyramids Constructed Along Extended Diagonal

A number of Egypt's most magnificent pyramids follow a pattern of invisible diagonal lines, an Italian study has concluded. According to Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan's Polytechnic University, these invisible lines would connect most of the funerary complexes raised by the kings of the Old Kingdom between 2630 and 2323 BC.

"Following these diagonals, it appears clear that the arrangement of the monuments was carefully chosen in order to satisfy a number of criteria, which include dynastic lineage, religion and astronomical alignments," Magli tells Discovery News.

The study examined the chronology and geographical location of all the pyramids of the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties, from the Step Pyramid of Djoser (2630-2611 B.C.) to the now-collapsed pyramid of Unas (2356-2323 B.C.), both in Saqqara.

"Our starting point was the so-called 'Giza diagonal,' an ideal line which connects the southeast corners of the three main pyramids and points to Heliopolis. This was an important religious center sacred to the sun god," Magli said.

"Under this model, the funerary monuments of the pharaohs stand one after another, marking the dynastic link with the preceding pharaoh," Magli said. "They are linked by a diagonal which points to Heliopolis."

Attaching new pyramids to the "Giza diagonal" became increasingly difficult as the line extended far into the desert. While the pyramids of Khufu, the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, and his son Khafre were easily aligned along the diagonal, the pyramid of Menkaure, Khufu's grandson, had to be built well into the desert to sit on the line of sight toward Heliopolis.

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Brick Kilns Discovered Near China's Great Wall

Archeologists have determined kilns in North China's Hebei province were dedicated to producing bricks for the Great Wall. The site is the closest brick production base to the Wall discovered so far.

The 600-year-old site is located in the coastal city of Qinhuangdao on farmland about 110 yards from a local section of the Wall at Chengziyu.

Archaeologist have unearthed more than forty brick kilns, all built in the Ming Dynasty, during the same period.

The Great Wall was first built by order of Emperor Qinshihuang over two thousand years ago. Its most recent large-scale reinforcement came in the early Ming Dynasty, when the empire's northern frontiers were seriously threatened.

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