Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rare Mayan Tomb Found in Guatemala

Archaeologists have penetrated a Mayan pyramid in a Guatemalan jungle and uncovered the sealed tomb of a ruler who lived 1,600 years ago. The significance is epic, says Stephen Houston, the Brown University archaeologist in charge of the operation: “It’s a great, great rarity.”
 “Once we opened an area of about 30 to 40 inches, it became clear that the surface was covered with human bone, pieces of jade, textiles,” Houston said of the Mayan site.
There was more than that. There were also the bones of six children and possibly those of an adult male who rested on a raised bier that had collapsed during the passing centuries.
“There seemed to be a vessel with an alcoholic substance that exploded and left a strange, chalky material around,” he said. The 1,600-year-old textiles still retain color. “You can see the weaving.” 
The El Diablo pyramid is one of the largest in Central America, Houston said, and was part of a religious complex in the Mayan city of El Zotz. He estimated that the site had been inhabited over a period of 2,000 years, if not longer.

Click here for the complete article.
Photo shows bust recovered from tomb.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Earliest Illustrated Christian Book is Saved

A page from the Garima Gospels.

A British charity has saved the world's earliest illustrated Christian book, which was found at a remote Ethiopian monestary.

The Garima Gospels are named after a monk named Abba Garima who arrived in Ethiopia from Constantinople in 494 AD. Legend has it that he was able to copy the gospels in a day because God delayed the sun from setting. The relic has been kept ever since in the Garima Monastery near Adwa in the north of the country.

According to the London Mail:
Experts believe it is also the earliest example of book binding still attached to the original pages. The survival of the Gospels is incredible considering the country has been under Muslim invasion, Italian invasion and a fire in the 1930s destroyed the monastery's church. 
They were written on goat skin in the early Ethiopian language of Ge'ez. There are two volumes which date from the same time, but the second is written in a different hand from the first. Both contain illustrations and the four Gospels.
Though occasional travelers have mentioned the texts since the 1950s, it was thought they dated from the 11th century at the earliest. Carbon dating, however, gives a date between 330 and 650, overlapping the date Abba Garima arrived in the country.

Click here for the complete article.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Arthur's "Round Table" Actually a Huge Structure

Artist's conception of Round Table from 13th Century.

Researchers exploring the legend of Britain’s King Arthur now believe his stronghold of Camelot was built on the site of a recently discovered Roman amphitheatre in Chester. The familiar legend describes his knights gathering at a round table where they would receive instructions from their King.

But rather than it being a piece of furniture, historians believe the meeting site would have been a vast wood and stone structure allowing more than 1,000 of his followers to gather.

According to the London Telegraph, the latest thinking is that regional noblemen would have sat in the front row of a circular meeting place, with lower ranked subjects on stone benches grouped around the outside. Rather than Camelot being a castle, it would have been housed within a structure already built and left over by the Romans.

Historian Chris Gidlow said: “The first accounts of the Round Table show that it was nothing like a dining table but was a venue for upwards of 1,000 people at a time. We know that one of Arthur’s two main battles was fought at a town referred to as the City of Legions. There were only two places with this title. One was St Albans but the location of the other has remained a mystery.”

Click here for the complete article.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Linguists Find Ancient Language Links

Section of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve where migration occurred.

Linguists are finding ancient-language connections between remote Asian tribes and native peoples in North America, providing more evidence of an ancient migration across the Bering Land Bridge.

The work of Western Washington University linguistics professor Edward Vajda with the isolated Ket people of Central Siberia is revealing more and more examples of an ancient language connection with the language family of Na-Dene, which includes Tlingit, Gwich'in, Dena'ina, Koyukon, Navajo, Carrier, Hupa, Apache and about 45 other languages.

Of the 1,200 Ket people, only about 100, all older than 55, still speak the language. The importance of studying a disappearing language goes far beyond a personal linguistic interest, Vajda explained.

According to
"It's a new way to understand human prehistory before there were historians to write it down,” he told “Isolated languages like Ket have developed features that are very unusual and interesting, and they help us to understand the human mind and human language ability."
"We linguists should not be the focus of attention here," Vajda added. "What is important are the languages and especially the Native communities themselves."
Vajda takes no credit for coming up with the Asian language connection.
"People developed the beginnings of these ideas even 300 years ago, and in 1923 someone made the specific claim I am arguing for," he said. "My work builds on vocabulary comparisons made by other linguists in the late 1990s as well."

Click here for the complete article.
Photo shows re-created Na-Dene woman.
Thanks to Christopher Hileman for forwarding the article.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Was Cleopatra's Suicide by Lethal Drug?

Death of Cleopatra by Jean Andre Rixens, 1874

A new study contends Cleopatra died of swallowing a lethal drug cocktail and not from the bite of an Egyptian cobra snake called an asp. According to Christoph Schäfer, historian and professor at the University of Trier in Germany: “There was no cobra in Cleopatra's death.”

Author of a best-selling book in Germany, Cleopatra, Schäfer searched historic writings for evidence to disprove the 2,000-year-old asp legend. 
"The Roman historian Cassius Dio, writing about 200 years after Cleopatra's demise, stated that she died a quiet and pain-free death, which is not compatible with a cobra bite,” he told Discovery News. “Indeed, the snake's venom would have caused a painful and disfiguring death.”
According to German toxicologist Dietrich Mebs, a poison specialist taking part in the study, symptoms occurring after an asp bite are very unpleasant, and include vomiting, diarrhea and respiratory failure. "Death may occur within 45 minutes, but it may also be longer with painful edema at the bite site," he said. "At the end, the dead body does not look very nice with vomit, diarrhea, a swollen bite site."
Ancient texts also record that Cleopatra's two handmaidens died with her -- something very unlikely if she had died of a snake bite, said Schäfer.

The Queen of the Nile committed suicide in August 30 B.C. at the age of 39, following the example of her lover, the Roman leader Marc Antony, who killed himself after losing the Battle of Actium.

Click here for the complete Discovery News article.

Cave Etchings May Help Date Rise of Egypt

A section of dancing figures etched into the stone.

Archaeologists say prehistoric rock drawings discovered in a remote Egyptian cave ~ depicting dancing figures and strange headless beasts ~ may provide clues about the rise of Egyptian civilization. According to Reuters:
Rudolph Kuper, a German archaeologist, said the detail depicted in the "Cave of the Beasts" indicate the site is at least 8,000 years old, likely the work of hunter-gatherers whose descendants may have been among the early settlers of the then-swampy and inhospitable Nile Valley.
Some 5,000 images are painted or engraved into the cave’s stone.

“It is the most amazing cave in North Africa and Egypt,” Karin Kindermann, a member of a team that recently made a trip to the site 560 miles southwest of Cairo, told Reuters. “You take a piece of the puzzle and see where it could fit. This is an important piece.”

Click here for the Reuters article.