Sunday, October 25, 2009

Alexandria May Predate Alexander the Great

Maarten van Heemskerck's fanciful 16th century engraving of ancient Alexandria.

History records that the important Egyptian port city of Alexandria was first settled by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. But now, examination of sediment layers indicate the city may have existed hundreds of years earlier.

Whether the early settlement was Greek, Egyptian or affiliated with some other culture isn't known. Nor can scientists say exactly how big the settlement might have been. But the possibility of an earlier existence is supported in Homer’s "The Odyssey," which significantly predates Alexander the Great. In Book 4, Homer mentions a one-day sail from the coast near the Nile to the nearby island of Pharos, suggesting that a port settlement was already there.

According to LiveScience:

... In the past few years, scientists have found fragments of ceramics and traces of lead in sediments in the area that predate Alexander's arrival by several hundred years, suggesting there was already a settlement in the area (though one far smaller than what Alexandria became).

Christopher Bernhardt of the U.S. Geological Survey and his colleagues took sediment cores (long cylindrical pieces of sediment drilled from the ground) that featured layers going as far back as nearly 8,000 years ago as part of a larger climate study of the area.

… At a mark of 3,000 years ago, Bernhardt's team detected a shift in pollen grains from native grasses and other plants to those from cereal grains, grapes and weeds associated with agriculture. They also found a marked increase in charcoal particles, all of which suggests that a settlement pre-dated the great city of Alexandria.

"At this point I don't think you can tell much about the people themselves," Bernhardt says.

Click here for the LiveScience article.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lost City of Ubar Lies Beneath Arabian Sands

Artist's conception of the ancient fortress city of Ubar.

The ancient city of Ubar was important to the lucrative trade of frankincense from about 2800 BC till 300 AD when, according to legend, Allah rebuked its people for squandering their lives and then ~ like the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah ~ destroyed the city by sinking it beneath the sand.

In the 1990s, amateur archaeologists Nicholas Clapp and Ranulph Fiennes made world headlines by discovering the fabled city.

They were led to Ubar by the book Arabia Felix by desert adventurer Bertram Thomas, the first European that crossed the Rub Al Khali, the unimpregnable vast sand desert that covers most of the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. During his travels Thomas had noticed that the tribes living in the region of the Dhofar mountains in South Oman considered themselves the descendants of the "People of 'Ad", who were associated in the Qur'an with Ubar. When making his famous crossing of 'The Sands' he came across ancients caravan tracks at approximately 18°45'N -52°30'E that were explained by his Arab guides as 'the road to Ubar'.

Clapp got fascinated by the Ubar story and started reading everything he could lay his hands on. Fiennes had been stationed in Oman in his military time and had roamed around in southern Oman extensively, with the lost city always in the back of his mind . Both homed in on southern Oman and decided to find Thomas' tracks, reasoning that all roads must lead somewhere. They got help from space technology, with NASA shuttle space images revealing pieces of the ancient tracks and converging to the small oasis settlement of Shisur, which is now identified as Ubar.

Excavations at Sishur revealed a sizeable walled fortress that had partly collapsed in a large sinkhole. It had clearly collapsed after the fortress was built, taking down almost the full interior space of the fortress and a sizeable part of the gate and adjacent walls.

Originally the fortress had eight or more towers, connected by a 2.5 to 3 metres high wall and almost one metre thickness, built of local limestone. The main internal building was in the northwestern corner of the fortress. The Qur'an tells of "a city with lofty buildings," which the excavations revealed. The towers guarded the most important source of water before the Rub Al Khali, now hidden in the collapsed sinkhole.

The reddish streaks in this NASA radar image from the space shuttle show ancient paths leading to and around the Ubar site, which had literally sunk into an underground water hole.

Click here for a web page dedicated to the discovery of Ubar.
Click here for the legend regarding the destruction of the city.
Click here for more information on the image from the space shuttle.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bulgarian Tsar's Quarries Are Discovered

Ruins indicating the Tsar's limestone quarries.

Archaeologists have unearthed the limestone quarries Bulgaria's Tsar Simeon I The Great (893-927 AD) employed in building his imperial palaces. The quarries ~ located close to the village of Srednya in Northeast Bulgaria ~ were found by accident by employees of the Shumensko Plato Natural Park, who were mapping the region.

According to

They saw a small cave, and thought that was a small rock monastery of the type that have been found elsewhere in Northeast Bulgaria because there was rectangular spots in the walls of the cave that looked fit for placing icons.

“When I saw all that, I nearly passed out. I needed several minutes to realize what was in front of my eyes was an old quarry,” said Georgi Maystorski, Director of the Shumen Museum.

After their initiate explorations this week, the archaeologists are 100 percent sure that they have made an absolutely unique discovery, solving a mystery that scientists had been trying to resolve for about 100 years; i.e. where did the materials for the enormous and marvelous construction projects of Tsar Simeon I The Great came from.

In their words, the structure of the stones at the site of the quarry is exactly the same as in the ruins of the imperial palace and fortress walls of Veliki Preslav.

Tsar Simeon was the ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire in 893-927 AD, shortly after Bulgaria adopted Christianity in 864, and the Slavic script in 886. He is known for expanding Bulgaria from Constantinople and Athens to Central Europe, occupied by today's Hungary.

Click here for the article.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lost Cities of the World ~ Carthage

While the region still exists, not much is left of the ancient seaport which was destroyed not once but twice, first by the Romans during the Punic war in 146BC. But the city rose again to be a Mediterranean trading port before being sacked by the Arabs in 698 AD. The ruins, scattered across Byrsa Hill in Tunisia, can be visited, with part of an aqueduct still visible.

(From the

Stash of Tablets Enables New Study of Aramaic

New technologies are helping scholars at the University of Chicago analyze nearly 700 ancient documents in Aramaic, one of the Middle East’s oldest continuously spoken and written languages. The Aramaic texts were incised in the surfaces of clay tablets with styluses or inked on the tablets with brushes or pens.

According to the University of Chicago:

Discovered in Iran, these tablets form one of the largest groups of ancient Aramaic records ever found. They are part of the Persepolis Fortification Archive, an immense group of administrative documents written and compiled about 500 B.C. at Persepolis, one of the capitals of the Achaemenid Persian Empire.

Archaeologists from the Oriental Institute discovered the archive in 1933, and the Iranian government has loaned it to the Oriental Institute since 1936 for preservation, study, analysis and publication.

The Persepolis texts have started to provide scholars with new knowledge about Imperial Aramaic, the dialect used for international communication and record-keeping in many parts of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires, including parts of the administration at the imperial court of Persepolis. These texts have even greater value because they are so closely connected with documents written in other ancient languages by the same administration at Persepolis.

“We don’t have many archives of this size. A lot of what’s in these texts is entirely fresh, but this also changes what we already knew,” said Annalisa Azzoni, an assistant professor at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University. “There are words I know were used in later dialects, for example, but I didn’t know they were used at this time or this place, Persia in 500 B.C. For an Aramaicist, this is quite an important discovery.”

Click here for the University of Chicago press release.
Photo shows one of the Persepolis tablets.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oldest Submerged City Found to be Even Older

Ruins of Pavlopetri on the seabed.

The world’s oldest submerged town ~ Pavlopetri, off the southern Laconia coast of Greece ~ contains ceramics dating back to the Final Neolithic period. Archaeologists now believe the town was occupied 5,000 years ago, some 1,200 years earlier than originally thought.

As a Mycenaean town, the Pavlopetri site offers potential new insights into the workings of Mycenaean society. Pavlopetri has added importance as it was a maritime settlement from which its inhabitants coordinated local and long distance trade.

Dr Jon Henderson, an underwater archaeologist from the University of Nottingham, tells ScienceDaily: “This site is unique in that we have almost the complete town plan, the main streets and domestic buildings, courtyards, rock-cut tombs and what appear to be religious buildings, clearly visible on the seabed. Equally as a harbor settlement, the study of the archaeological material we have recovered will be extremely important in terms of revealing how maritime trade was conducted and managed in the Bronze Age.”

This summer an organized team of archaeologists conducted a detailed digital underwater survey and study of the structural remains, which until this year were thought to belong to the Mycenaean period ~ around 1600 to 1000 BC. Their investigations revealed another 150 square meters of new buildings as well as ceramics that suggest the site was occupied throughout the Bronze Age ~ from at least 2800 BC to 1100 BC.

Click here for the ScienceDaily article.
Click here for an 8-minute video on the Pavlopetri exploration.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Likely Site of Fabled Labyrinth is Found

Ancient vase depiction of Theseus slaying the Minotaur.

A team of Greek and English scholars believe they have discovered a likely location for the site of the ancient Labyrinth, the legendary maze where the mythical Minotaur supposedly roamed. The elaborate network of underground tunnels is in an old stone quarry near the town of Gortyn, formerly the Roman capital of Crete.

For the last century, the town of Knossos ~ about 20 miles from Gortyn ~ has been touted as the location of the Labyrinth. According to London’s The Indepdendent:

Nicholas Howarth, an Oxford University geographer who led the expedition (to Gortyn), said there was a danger of Gortyn being lost from the story of the Labyrinth because of the overpowering position that Knossos had taken in the legend, a position fostered by Arthur Evans, a wealthy English archaeologist who excavated the site between 1900 and 1935.

"People come not just to see the controversial ruins excavated and reconstructed by Evans, but also to seek a connection to the mythical past of the Age of Heroes. It is a shame that almost all visitors to Knossos have never heard of these other possible 'sites' for the mythical Labyrinth," Mr Howarth said.

Visitors to Knossos are told the site was almost certainly the home of the legendary King Minos, who was said to have constructed the Labyrinth for the Minotaur, a monster resulting from the mating of the king’s wife with a bull.

But the caves at Gortyn ~ known locally as the Labyrinthos Caves ~ are nearly three miles of interlocking tunnels with widened chambers and dead-end rooms, closer to the ancient descriptions of the Labyrinth.

"Going into the Labyrinthos Caves at Gortyn, it's easy to feel that this is a dark and dangerous place where it is easy to get lost,” Howarth says. “Evans' hypothesis that the palace of Knossos is also the Labyrinth must be treated skeptically."

Click here for the article in The Independent.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

'Atlantis' Eruption Provoked Massive Tsunami

Artist's conception of Atlantis ruins.

The volcanic explosion that might have obliterated the legendary isle of Atlantis also triggered a tsunami that traveled hundreds of miles along the Mediterranean coast, scientists now suggest.

The islands that make up the small circular archipelago of Santorini ~ 120 miles southeast of Greece ~ are what remain of what once was a single island, before one of the largest volcanic eruptions in human antiquity occurred between 1630 BC and 1550 BC.

Speculation has abounded as to whether the Santorini eruption may have inspired the legend of Atlantis. The explosion might have given rise to the story of a lost empire by destroying the real-life Minoan civilization that once dominated the Mediterranean.

Now, researchers diving as far as 65 feet deep off the coast of Israel have collected tubes of sediment, or cores, from the seabed. Within the cores, they found evidence of up to nearly 16 inches of sediment deposited roughly about the date of the Santorini eruption.

According to LiveScience:

The dramatic changes in life triggered by the tsunami "might have been part of the fabric of the Atlantis story," said researcher Beverly Goodman, a marine geoarchaeologist at Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences at Eilat, Israel.

Although Atlantis itself "is a myth and legend, it is informative about the experiences of the ancients," Goodman said.
"It may very well be the case that those passing the story on had heard of or witnessed events in which coastal buildings went underwater because of earthquakes; beachfront towns were flooded during tsunamis; islands were created by underwater volcanic activity. There may be that grain of truth that lent legitimacy and a certain reality to the legend of Atlantis."

To better reconstruct the Santorini tsunami, the scientists are planning to analyze deposits closer to the eruption, such as on Crete and in western parts of Turkey.

Click here for the LiveScience article.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Familiar Situations Provoked Athens' Downfall

Artist's conception of Athens in its glory.

Ancient Athens imploded during the 4th century BC amid a crippling economic downtown as its army fought unpopular wars on foreign soil and immigrants surged across its borders.

Cambridge University professor Michael Scott in his new study entitled From Democrats to Kings, contends that the collapse of Greek democracy and of Athens in particular offer a stark warning from history which is often overlooked.

"In many ways this was a period of total uncertainty just like our own time," Scott told "There are grounds to consider whether we want to go down the same route that Athens did.”

According to

It was not the loss of its empire and defeat in war against Sparta at the end of the 5th century that heralded the death knell of Athenian democracy ~ as it is traditionally perceived. Athens' democracy in fact recovered from these injuries within years. Instead, Dr. Scott argues that the strains and stresses of the 4th century BC, which our own times seem to echo, proved too much for the Athenian democratic system and ultimately caused it to destroy itself.

"If history can provide a map of where we have been, a mirror to where we are right now and perhaps even a guide to what we should do next, the story of this period is perfectly suited to do that in our times," Dr. Scott said.

"It shows how an earlier generation of people responded to similar challenges and which strategies succeeded. It is a period of history that we would do well to think about a little more right now ~ and we ignore it at our peril."

The name of "democracy," for example, became an excuse to turn on anyone regarded as an enemy of the state. Scott's study also marks an attempt to recognize figures such as Isocrates and Phocion ~ sage political advisers who tried unsuccessfully to steer Athens away from crippling confrontations with other Greek states and Macedonia.

Click here for the article.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Deforestation May Have Destroyed Mayan Culture

Mayan mural depicting the god of maize.

Using computer-based simulations and space-based imaging, a NASA-funded project is providing strong evidence that the once-vibrant Mayan culture destroyed itself through extreme deforestation.

"They did it to themselves," says veteran archeologist Tom Sever. According to NASA sources:

A major drought occurred about the time the Maya began to disappear. And at the time of their collapse, the Maya had cut down most of the trees across large swaths of the land to clear fields for growing corn to feed their burgeoning population. They also cut trees for firewood and for making building materials.

"They had to burn 20 trees to heat the limestone for making just 1 square meter of the lime plaster they used to build their tremendous temples, reservoirs, and monuments," explains Sever.

. . . "By interpreting infrared satellite data, we've located hundreds of old and abandoned cities not previously known to exist. The Maya used lime plaster as foundations to build their great cities filled with ornate temples, observatories, and pyramids. Over hundreds of years, the lime seeped into the soil. As a result, the vegetation around the ruins looks distinctive in infrared to this day."

Drought also made it more difficult for the Maya to store enough water to survive the dry season. "The cities tried to keep an 18-month supply of water in their reservoirs," says Sever. "For example, in Tikal there was a system of reservoirs that held millions of gallons of water. Without sufficient rain, the reservoirs ran dry."

For 1200 years, the Maya dominated Central America. At their peak around 900 AD, Maya cities teemed with more than 2,000 people per square mile ~ comparable to modern Los Angeles County. Even in rural areas, the Maya numbered 200 to 400 people per square mile.

Click here for the NASA article.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Scientists Accurately Reproduce Shroud's Image

One of Christendom’s most revered relics ~ the linen shroud that allegedly covered Jesus after his crucifixion ~ was dealt a blow Monday when scientists announced they could reproduce the mysterious image of a wounded man, using techniques available in the 14th century.

The Shroud of Turin is believed by man to bear the figure of a crucified man, with blood seeping out of his wounds in his hands and feet. The shroud’s believers contend the image was impressed into the linen fibers supernaturally at the time of Christ’s resurrection.

The Italian Committee for Checking Claims on the Paranormal said Monday that new evidence points to the shroud as being a medieval forgery. According to the Associated Press:

In 1988, scientists used radiocarbon dating to determine it was made in the 13th or 14th century. But the dispute continued because experts couldn't explain how the faint brown discoloration was produced, imprinting on the cloth a negative image centuries before the invention of photography.

Many still believe that the shroud "has unexplainable characteristics that cannot be reproduced by human means," lead scientist Luigi Garlaschelli said in the statement. "The result obtained clearly indicates that this could be done with the use of inexpensive materials and with a quite simple procedure."

Garlaschelli said in an interview with La Repubblica daily that his team used a linen woven with the same technique as the shroud and artificially aged by heating it in an oven and washing it with water. The cloth was then placed on a student, who wore a mask to reproduce the face, and rubbed with red ochre, a well known pigment at the time.

The shroud is first recorded in history around 1360 in the hands of a French knight ~ a late appearance that is one of the reasons why some scientists are skeptical of its authenticity.

Click here for the Associated Press article.

"Bluehenge" Circle Found Near Stonehenge

Some spotted dolerite monoliths possibly erected first at Bluehenge.

In what is being termed one of the most important prehistoric finds in decades, archaeologists this summer secretly unearthed another prehistoric circle, this one just a mile from Stonehenge.

Researchers are calling it "Bluehenge" after the color of the 27 giant Welsh stones it once incorporated, but which are now missing. According to the London Daily Mail:

Bluehenge was put up 5,000 years ago ~ around the same time as work began on Stonehenge ~ and appears to have been a miniature version of it. The two circles stood together for hundreds of years before Bluehenge was dismantled. Researchers believe its stones were used to enlarge Stonehenge during one of a number of redevelopments.

Professor Tim Darvill, Stonehenge expert at Bournemouth University, said: “This adds to the richness of the story of Stonehenge. We thought we knew it all, but over the last few years we have discovered that something as familiar as Stonehenge is still a challenge to explore and understand. It wouldn't surprise me if there weren't more circles.”

All that remains of the 60-foot-wide Bluehenge are the holes of 27 giant stones set on a ramped mount. Chips of blue stone found in the holes appear to be identical to the blue stones used in Stonehenge.
The four-ton monsters, made of Preseli Spotted Dolerite ~ a chemically altered igneous rock harder than granite ~ were mined in the Preseli Mountains in Pembrokeshire and then rolled, dragged and floated the 200 miles to the site on the banks of the Avon in Wiltshire.

Stonehenge is believed to have been built and rebuilt over 600 years in three main phases, the earliest around 300 BC.

Click here for the Daily Mail article.
Click here for the BBC article.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hawaiians Possibly Early New Zealanders

Rendition of ancient New Zealand war canoe.

Researchers are saying Polynesian canoe design suggests New Zealand was at least partially settled from Hawaii.

New data suggests a course of Polynesian settlement that started in the far western islands and jumped to the far eastern islands before then working backwards towards the original point of origin. According to the New Zealand Herald:

Archaeologists have said the Lapita peoples ~ probably from China and Southeast Asia ~ who colonized Pacific islands between about 1400 BC and 900 BC became the Polynesians who settled several island groups outwards out of Tonga and Samoa beginning about 500 BC, arriving in the Marquesas about 300 AD, the Hawaiian islands by 800 AD to 900 AD, and finally in New Zealand about 1200.

Stanford University researchers Marcus Feldman and Paul Ehrlich and biologist Deborah Rogers analyzed a 1930s study of traditional canoe design by A.C Haddon and James Hornell.

"This is not a paper about canoes," Ehrlich said. "It's a paper about whether or not there are discernable, explicable patterns in history."

They tracked functional characteristics such as outrigger attachments, construction technique, keel shape as well as painting, designs and figureheads of pre-European canoes from different island groups.

Canoe construction techniques persisted. The Polynesians brought traditional techniques, but changed decorative features as they colonized new island groups.

Click here for the New Zealand Herald article.