Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Demise of Mystery Legion May Have Been Mundane

Rome’s legendary Ninth Legion ~ Legio IX Hispana, or the “Spanish Legion” ~ was one of the oldest and most feared units in the Roman army by the 2nd century AD. Raised by Pompey in 65 BC, it fought victorious campaigns from Gaul to Africa, Sicily to and Spain, and Germania to Britain.

But sometime after 108 AD, the legion disappeared from the records. The popular version of events is that the Ninth ~ numbering some 4,000 men ~ was sent to vanquish the Picts of modern day Scotland and mysteriously never returned.

According to Heritage Key:
The real explanation is very likely much more mundane ~ the unit was probably either simply disbanded, or continued to serve elsewhere, before finally being destroyed at another battle some years later. The myth, as is so often the case, tends to overshadow the truth.
Legio IX Hispana was put together in Spain alongside the Sixth, Seventh and Eight Legions in 65 BC, and first came under the command of Julius Caesar then the Governor of Further Spain, in 61 BC.
Expert at inspiring loyalty in his troops, he found one of his most devoted veteran armies in the Ninth. Although no record of the legion’s emblem exists, we can deduce that it was probably a bull, like all of Caesar’s faithful legions.
It served in Gaul throughout the Gallic Wars from 58-51 BC, and during Caesar’s Civil War against Pompey and the Senate from 49-48 BC. Victory at Pharsalus was decisive in ensuring Caesar’s ultimate grip on the Republic, and the Ninth played a key role. He repaid its service by ~ after his African campaign of 46 BC, and ultimate triumph at the Battle of Thapsus ~ disbanding the legion, and settling its veterans at Picenum and Histria.
The one certainty is that Legio IX Hispana had been disbanded or wiped out altogether by the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180), because a listing of active legions by that Emperor makes no mention of the Ninth.

Click here for the complete article.

Archaeologists to Explore 5,000-Year-Old Tomb

The tomb near Maghere resembles a pile of rocks.

Collapse of Tirnony Dolmen near Maghera in Northern Ireland is creating a rare opportunity for archaeologists to explore a portal tomb that lies beneath ~ and determine exactly how old it is.

Normally portal tombs, which are among the oldest built structures still standing in Northern Ireland, are off limits to excavators and must be preserved. But after the massive capstone of this portal tomb fell to the ground earlier this year, archaeologists will be able to uncover the secrets it has held for millennia before repairs are carried out.

Tirnony Dolmen is between 5,000 and 6,000 years old, according to Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIIEA) archaeologist Paul Logue.

“After standing in Northern Ireland weather for over 5,000 years some of the tomb’s structural stones have begun to crack, causing the capstone to slip,” he told the Belfast Telegraph. “Before we start to repair the tomb we will excavate it to ensure that the archaeological material associated with it is recorded ahead of restoration work.”

“When the tomb was first built it would have been used for interring the bones of selected members of the local stone age community,” he explained. “This could have included men and women, young and old. Finds from inside similar tombs include pottery and flint tools, possibly left as grave goods for use by the dead in the afterlife. We hope to find out more about how this tomb was built, when it was built and how it was used.”

Click here for the complete article.

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Evidence For Big Pre-Columbian Civilization

One of the depressions near Santarém, possibly an ancient reservoir.

Pre-Columbian Indian societies that once lived in the Amazon rainforests may have been much larger and more advanced than researchers previously realized, according to archaeologists from Brazil. Working with archaeologists from the University of Gothenburg, the team has located the remains of approximately 90 settlements in an area near the city of Santarém in the Brazilian part of the Amazon.

“The most surprising thing is that many of these settlements are a long way from rivers, and are located in rainforest areas that extremely sparsely populated today,” says Per Stenborg from the Department of Historical Studies, who led the Swedish part of the archaeological investigations in the area over the summer.

According to BioScholar:
Traditionally archaeologists have thought that these inland areas were sparsely populated also before the arrival of the Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries. One reason for this assumption is that the soils found in the inland generally is quite infertile; another reason is that access to water is poor during dry periods as these areas are situated at long distances from the major watercourses. 
It has therefore been something of a mystery that the earliest historical account; from Spaniard Francisco de Orellana’s journey along the River Amazon in 1541-42, depicted the Amazon as a densely populated region with what the Spanish described as “towns,” situated not only along the river itself, but also in the inland. 
The archaeologists have come across areas of very fertile soil scattered around the otherwise infertile land. These soils are not natural, but have been created by humans.

“Just as importantly, we found round depressions in the landscape, some as big as a hundred metres in diameter, by several of the larger settlements,” says Stenborg. “These could be the remains of water reservoirs, built to secure water supply during dry periods.”

Click here for the complete article.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bacteria Causing 'Black Death' Conclusively Found

Anthropologists at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have determined that the Yersinia pestis bacteria caused the Black Death that raged across Europe in the Middle Ages. Cause of the epidemic has remained highly controversial and other pathogens were often named as possible causes, in particular for northern Europe.

 Using DNA and protein analyses from skeletons of plague victims, an international team led by the scientists from Mainz has now conclusively shown that Yersinia pestis was responsible for the Black Death in the 14th century and the subsequent epidemics that continued to erupt throughout the European continent for the next 400 years.

"Our findings indicate that the plague traveled to Europe over at least two channels, which then went their own individual ways," explains Dr. Barbara Bramanti from the Institute of Anthropology of Mainz University.

Click here for the complete article.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Breadmaking Goes Back 30,000 Years

Starch grains found on 30,000-year-old grinding stones indicate prehistoric man ate an early form of flat bread, contrary to his popular image as primarily a meat-eater. The new findings show that Palaeolithic people ground plant roots similar to potatoes to make flour, which was then made into dough.

"It's like a flat bread, like a pancake with just water and flour," Laura Longo of the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Early History told Reuters News. "You make a kind of pita and cook it on the hot stone."

The result was "crispy like a cracker but not very tasty," she added.

The grinding stones ~ each of which fit comfortably into an adult's palm ~ were discovered at archaeological sites in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic. Researchers said their findings throw mankind's first known use of flour farther back some 10,000 years. The previously oldest evidence had been found in Israel on 20,000 year-old grinding stones.

The findings may also upset fans of the Paleolithic diet, which follows earlier research that assumes early humans ate a meat-centered diet.

Click here for the complete article.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Swiss Door May Go Back 5,100 Years

Archaeologists have discovered a 5,100-year-old poplar wood door in Zurich, Switzerland. Researchers believe it was made in 3063 BC and may be one of the oldest ever found in Europe.

It has well-preserved hinges and is "remarkable because of the way the planks were held together,” said chief archaeologist Niels Bleicher, who used tree rings to determine the age of the door. It was likely built around the time construction began on Britain's renowned Stonehenge monument.

"It's a clever design that even looks good,” Bleicher said. It resembles another door found in nearby Pfaeffikon. A third door unearthed in the 19th century ~ made from one solid piece of wood thought to be even older ~ possibly dates back to 3700 BC, Bleicher said.

Click here for the article.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New Data Contradicts Mayan Calendar End Date

The Mayan Long Count calendar likely doesn’t end on December 21, 2012  ~ the date hyped by many apocalyptic thinkers ~ according to new research into the technique for translating the ancient calendar into Gregorian calendar years.

The research also contends that the actual end date of the Mayan calendar is essentially unknown within at least a 100-year span. In fact, the Mayan calendar may have already ended.

According to LiveScience:
A new critique, published as a chapter in the new textbook Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World (Oxbow Books, 2010), argues that the accepted conversions of dates from Mayan to the modern calendar may be off by as much as 50 or 100 years. That would throw the supposed and overhyped 2012 apocalypse off by decades and cast into doubt the dates of historical Mayan events. (The doomsday worries are based on the fact that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, much as our year ends on Dec. 31.) 
The Mayan calendar was converted to today's Gregorian calendar using a calculation called the GMT constant, named for the last initials of three early Mayanist researchers. Much of the work emphasized dates recovered from colonial documents that were written in the Mayan language in the Latin alphabet, according to the chapter's author, Gerardo Aldana, professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at the University of California.
Later, the GMT constant was bolstered by American linguist and anthropologist Floyd Lounsbury, who used data in the Dresden Codex Venus Table, a Mayan calendar and almanac that charts dates relative to the movements of Venus.
"He took the position that his work removed the last obstacle to fully accepting the GMT constant," Aldana said in a statement. "Others took his work even further, suggesting that he had proven the GMT constant to be correct." But according to Aldana, Lounsbury's evidence is far from irrefutable.

Click here for the complete article.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Unknown Bronze Age Civilization is Discovered

Site ancient settlement high in Caucasus Mountains.

Researchers have discovered traces of a previously unknown Bronze Age civilization in the peaks of Russia's Caucasus Mountains, using aerial photographs taken 40 years ago.

"We have discovered a civilization dating from the 16th to the 14th centuries BC, high in the mountains south of Kislovodsk," Andrei Belinsky, the head of a joint Russian-German expedition that has been investigating the region for five years, told AFP.

He said researchers had discovered stone foundations, some up to 3.3 feet high, at nearly 200 sites, all "visibly constructed according to the same architectural plan, with an oval courtyard in the centre, and connected by roads."

The decorations and forms of bronze items found in the area indicate the civilization is linked to the Kuban civilization, which was discovered at the end of the 19th century at the foot of Mount Kazbek and is known for its artistic bronze works.

Click here for the complete PhysOrg.com article.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Far From Brutes, Neanderthals Had Compassion

Neanderthal reconstruction in Prehistoric Museum of Halle, Germany.

New research indicates Neanderthals displayed “a deep seated sense of compassion” and were not the dumb brutes often depicted in archaeological lore.

“Compassion is perhaps the most fundamental human emotion,” researcher Penny Spikins of the University of York tells Discovery News. “It binds us together and can inspire us but it is also fragile and elusive. This apparent fragility makes addressing the evidence for the development of compassion in our most ancient ancestors a unique challenge, yet the archaeological record has an important story to tell about the prehistory of compassion."

Based on fossils, artifacts and other evidence, the scientists propose a four-stage model for the development of human compassion:
The first stage began six million years ago, according to the scientists, when the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees experienced the initial awakenings of an empathy for others and motivation to help them, perhaps with a gesture of comfort, or moving a branch to allow them to pass.
The second stage from 1.8 million years ago sees compassion in Homo erectus beginning to be regulated as an emotion integrated with rational thought. Care of sick individuals represented an extensive compassionate investment while the emergence of special treatment of the dead suggested grief at the loss of a loved one and a desire to soothe others feelings, the researchers conclude.
The third stage, based on findings from Europe between around 500,000 and 40,000 years ago, sees humans such as Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthals developing deep-seated commitments to the welfare of others illustrated by a long adolescence and a dependence on hunting together. There is also archaeological evidence of the routine care of the injured or infirm over extended periods. These include the remains of a child with a congenital brain abnormality who was not abandoned, but lived until five or six years old. The researchers also note that there was a Neanderthal with a withered arm, deformed feet and blindness in one eye who must have been cared for, perhaps for as long as twenty years.
In the fourth stage, the scientists say modern humans starting 120,000 years ago extended compassion to strangers, animals, objects and abstract concepts. 
“We have traditionally paid a lot of attention to how early humans thought about each other,” Spikins adds, “but it may well be time to pay rather more attention to whether or not they ‘cared.’”

Click here for the complete Discovery News article.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rare Statue of Amenhotep is Unearthed

Part of a statue of King Amenhotep III, believed to be King Tutankhamun’s grandfather, has been unearthed, Egypt's Ministry of Culture announced on Saturday. 
The 4-by-3-foot red granite statue depicts the Egyptian pharaoh wearing the double crown of Egypt, which is decorated with a sacred asp. The king is seated on a throne next to the Theban god Amun.

The ninth ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Amenhotep III (1390-1352 B.C.), reigned for 38 years during a time when Egypt was at the height of prosperity and cultural development. His mummy was found in 1898 in a tomb dubbed KV35 by French Egyptologist Victor Loret.

The statue is one of the best new finds in the area because of its expert craftsmanship," according to Zahi Hawass of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said in a statement.

Click here for the complete article.

Friday, October 1, 2010

New Report Dispels Clovis Comet-Destruction Theory

There simply is no evidence that a comet created a cataclysm that wiped out the Clovis people, the earliest known culture in North America, according to two archaeologists who have studied the situation.

Archaeologists David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University and Vance Holliday of the University of Arizona argue that there is nothing in the archaeological record to suggest an abrupt collapse of Clovis populations.

“Whether or not the proposed extraterrestrial impact occurred is a matter for empirical testing in the geological record,” they write in the October issued of Current Anthropology magazine. “In so far as concerns the archaeological record, an extraterrestrial impact is an unnecessary solution for an archaeological problem that does not exist.”

According to PhysOrg.com:
The comet theory first emerged in 2007 when a team of scientists announced evidence of a large extraterrestrial impact that occurred about 12,900 years ago. The impact was said to have caused a sudden cooling of the North American climate, killing off mammoths and other megafauna.
It could also explain the apparent disappearance of the Clovis people, whose characteristic spear points vanish from the archaeological record shortly after the supposed impact. As evidence for the rapid Clovis depopulation, comet theorists point out that very few Clovis archaeological sites show evidence of human occupation after the Clovis. 
At the few sites that do, Clovis and post-Clovis artifacts are separated by archaeologically sterile layers of sediments, indicating a time gap between the civilizations. In fact, comet theorists argue, there seems to be a dead zone in the human archaeological record in North America beginning with the comet impact and lasting about 500 years.
But Meltzer and Holliday argue that a lack of later human occupation at Clovis sites is no reason to assume a population collapse. “Single-occupation Paleoindian sites ~ Clovis or post-Clovis ~ are the norm,” Holliday said. That's because many Paleoindian sites are hunting kill sites, and it would be highly unlikely for kills to be made repeatedly in the exact same spot.

Click here for the complete article.
More discussion of the issue on Anthropology.net blog.