Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Clues Unearthed on the "Golden Chiefs"

Gold pendant found in tomb.

Recently found tombs in Central America are providing new clues about the “golden chiefs of Panama,” a mysterious, unnamed civilization.
"It's really a very spectacular find, probably the most significant" for this culture since the 1930s, when the nearby Sitio Conte site, also in central Panama, yielded a wealth of gold artifacts, anthropologist John Hoopes tells National Geographic. Until now, Sitio Conte provided the only major evidence of the golden-chiefs culture, which can be traced from about A.D. 250 to the 16th century, when Spanish conquerors arrived on the scene.
Dated between A.D. 700 and 1000, the new artifacts were excavated two miles from Sitio Conte, at a site called El Caño. A few years ago, archaeologist Julia Mayo of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute decided to reinvestigate El Caño. Not long after digging had begun, in 2008, the team uncovered the skeleton of a high-ranking chief, clad in circular breastplates embossed with ghoulish faces, patterned arm cuffs, and a belt of large golden beads.
The most recent dig, in early 2011, uncovered a similarly adorned chief in a multilevel burial pit once sheltered by a wooden roof. Surrounding this golden chief are at least 25 carefully arranged bodies, making the assemblage the largest of the six El Caño burials revealed to date, according to National Geographic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Linen Indicates Scroll's Likely Essene Authorship

A Qumran cave near the site of the Essene settlement.

Analysis of fabrics found in caves at Qumran points to the Essenes sect as authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In all, some 200 textiles have been analyzed.

According to
The research reveals that all the textiles were made of linen, rather than wool, which was the preferred textile used in ancient Israel. Also they lack decoration, some actually being bleached white, even though fabrics from the period often have vivid colours. Altogether, researchers say these finds suggest that the Essenes, an ancient Jewish sect, "penned" some of the scrolls. 
A breakthrough in studying these remains was made in 2007 when a team of archaeologists was able to ascertain that colorful wool textiles found at a site to the south of Qumran, known as the Christmas Cave, were not related to the inhabitants of the site. This meant researchers were able to focus on the 200 textiles found in the Dead Sea Scroll caves and at Qumran itself, knowing that these are the only surviving textiles related to the scrolls.
However, the analysis is not conclusive proof. An archaeologist who has excavated at Qumran told LiveScience that the linen could have come from people fleeing the Roman army after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and that they are in fact responsible for putting the scrolls into caves.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Egyptian Carvings Among World's Oldest

Scientists have dated rock carvings found in Qurta, Egypt, to be between 15,000 and 23,000 years ago, making them the oldest Egyptian works of art known to exist and among the oldest art found anywhere.
These carvings offer views of animals that the Paleolithic hunters encountered ~ mostly the wild predecessors of the domestic cattle of today. Other carvings, called petroglyphs, depict hippos and gazelles. Humans are found, too, among the drawings, but usually they are shown only as stick figures.
The researchers said that the carvings have more in common with the drawings found in Lascaux, the cave in France, as opposed to the art of the Egyptian dynasties. The Lascaux cave paintings have been dated to 17,300 years ago, or about the same era as this new discovery in Egypt.
"As such, they're not considered as Egyptian art, because it predates the appearance of Egyptian culture," said Yale's Colleen Manassa, assistant professor of Egyptology. She added that it even pre-dates "by a long shot" the predynastic art that was the precursor to Egyptian art.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stone Age Artist Studio May Go Back 100,000 Years

Abalone shells and stone utensils were used to mix ochre.

Archaeologists have uncovered a 100,000-year-old “studio” in South Africa in which early humans apparently mixed some of the first known paint. Dwellers of the cave used stones for pounding and grinding colorful dirt enriched with a kind of iron oxide to a powder, known as ocher.

Based on artifacts in the cave, the artists then blended the ocher with the fat of mammal-bone marrow and a dash of charcoal. Traces of ocher were left on the tools, and samples of the reddish compound were collected in large abalone shells, where the paint was liquefied, stirred and scooped out with a bone spatula, according to the New York Times.
Archaeologists said that in the workshop remains they were seeing the earliest example yet of how emergent Homo sapiens processed ocher, one of the species’ first pigments in wide use, its red color apparently rich in symbolic significance. The early humans may have applied the concoction to their skin for protection or simply decoration, experts suggested. Perhaps it was their way of making social and artistic statements on their bodies or their artifacts. 
 The discovery reaches back to when modern Homo sapiens were known to have started using paint. Previously, no workshop older than 60,000 years had come to light, and the earliest cave and rock art began appearing about 40,000 years ago.
The well-known animal depictions of Cro-Magnon artists in the caves of Europe would come even later, the Times stated. The animals on the walls of Lascaux in France, for example, were painted some 17,000 years ago.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Göbekli Structures May Have Been Homes

Ancient Turkish structures believed to be the world’s oldest temples may not have been religious buildings after all. Archaeologist Ted Banning of the University of Toronto says that the buildings found at Göbekli Tepe simply may have been houses for people.

The buildings at Göbekli were found in 1995 by Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute and colleagues from the Şanlıurfa Museum in Turkey. The oldest of the structures at the site are immense buildings with large stone pillars, many of which feature carvings of snakes, scorpions, foxes, and other animals.

According to
The presence of art in the buildings, the substantial effort that must have been involved in making and erecting them, and a lack of evidence for any permanent settlement in the area, led Schmidt and others to conclude that Göbekli must have been a sacred place where pilgrims travelled to worship, much like the Greek ruins of Delphi or Olympia. If that interpretation is true it would make the buildings, which date back more than 10,000 years to the early Neolithic, the oldest temples ever found. 
However, Banning offers an alternative interpretation that challenges some of Schmidt’s claims. He outlines growing archaeological evidence for daily activities at the site, such as flintknapping and food preparation. 
“The presence of this evidence suggests that the site was not, after all, devoid of residential occupation, but likely had quite a large population,” Banning said.
Banning goes on to argue that the population may have been housed in the purported temples themselves. He disagrees with the idea that the presence of decorative pillars or massive construction efforts means the buildings could not have been residential space.