Friday, September 26, 2008

Lost Capital of Khazars Believed Found

Aerial view of the citadel of Itil, a Silk Road city that served as the Khazar capital, about 800 miles south of Moscow.

(Text below excerpted from AP article) 

A Russian archaeologist says he has found the lost capital of the Khazars, a powerful nation that adopted Judaism as its official religion more than 1,000 years ago, only to disappear leaving little trace of its culture.

The Khazars were a Turkic tribe that roamed the steppes from Northern China to the Black Sea. Between the 7th and 10th centuries they conquered huge swaths of what is now southern Russia and Ukraine, the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia as far as the Aral Sea.

Dmitry Vasilyev, a professor at Astrakhan State University, said his nine-year excavation near the Caspian Sea has finally unearthed the foundations of a triangular fortress of flamed brick, along with modest yurt-shaped dwellings, and he believes these are part of what was once Itil, the Khazar capital.

Itil, about 800 miles south of Moscow, had a population of up to 60,000 and occupied 0.8 square miles of marshy plains southwest of the Russian Caspian Sea port of Astrakhan, Vasilyev said. "The discovery of the capital of Eastern Europe's first feudal state is of great significance," he told The Associated Press. "We should view it as part of Russian history."

Adopting Judaism for Neutrality

The Khazars' ruling dynasty and nobility converted to Judaism sometime in the 8th or 9th centuries. Vasilyev said the limited number of Jewish religious artifacts such as mezuzas and Stars of David found at other Khazar sites prove that ordinary Khazars preferred traditional beliefs such as shamanism, or newly introduced religions including Islam.

Yevgeny Satanovsky, director of the Middle Eastern Institute in Moscow, said he believes the Khazar elite chose Judaism out of political expediency — to remain independent of neighboring Muslim and Christian states. "They embraced Judaism because they wanted to remain neutral, like Switzerland these days," he said.

Stalin Restricted Study

The study of the Khazar empire was discouraged in the Soviet Union. The dictator Josef Stalin, in particular, detested the idea that a Jewish empire had come before Russia's own. He ordered references to Khazar history removed from textbooks because they "disproved his theory of Russian statehood," Satanovsky said.

Only now are Russian scholars free to explore Khazar culture. The Itil excavations have been sponsored by the Russian-Jewish Congress, a nonprofit organization that supports cultural projects in Russia.

"Khazar studies are just beginning," Satanovsky said.

Click here for the complete Associated Press article.

Excavation of this 11th or 12th Century house in Itil shows the hard-burnt bricks that were restricted to use in the elusive Khazar capital.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Major Teotihuacan Exhibit Opens in Monterrey

The exhibition “Teotihuacan: City of the Gods” opened this week in Monterrey, Mexico, with more than 400 relics of the mysterious ancient city provided by museums and collections around the world. The exhibition is the largest ever assembled on Teotihuacan.

Teotihuacan was at its peak between 150 BC. and 450 AD, with an estimated 200,000 residents, making it then the largest city in the Americas, larger than Rome and likely the largest city in the world during that age. Yet experts are uncertain as to who built it and why it was suddenly abandoned around 700 AD. For years, archaeologists thought the city was of Toltec origin, but have since determined that the Toltec civilization came later, as did the Aztecs who believed Teotihuacan was a divine city. Sometime during the 7th or 8th Century, Teotihuacan was set aflame and abandoned. Again, the reason remains a mystery.

These photos show some of the ceramic sculpture featured in the exhibition.

Ramses II Bust May Lead to Temple Site

Archaeologists have unearthed a bust of Ramses II in the Nile Delta, leading them to believe they are close to finding a long-sought temple belonging to the pharaoh.

"The head is 76 cm high (around 30 inches), the nose is broken, and the false beard that was once attached to the king's chin is missing," Zahi Hawass, chief of Egyptian antiquities, said. "The discovery is important because it may indicate that the excavators are close to the ruins of a major temple of Ramses II in the area.”

Ramses II ruled Egypt from 1304 to 1237 BC and is believed to have lived to the age of 90.

Click here for the AFP article.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More Details on Paisley Cave Discovery

University of Oregon archaeologist Dennis Jenkins hands a heat-measuring device to a fellow excavator at the Paisley Caves.

The Associated Press has updated an earlier news report that I posted on Ancient Tides in June regarding the discovery in Paisley, Oregon, of ancient human feces with viable DNA. The discovery has enabled scientist to pinpoint the existence of humans in North America some 14,300 years ago. That’s 1,000 years earlier than the Clovis people, earlier thought to be the continent’s first humans.

Click here for the detailed article.

Cucuteni-Trypillians Shrouded in Mystery

Creators of what may have been Europe’s first civilization produced artwork with lines, circles and spirals reminiscent of modern Op Art.

Archaeologists call the mysterious civilization "Cucuteni-Trypillians" after the villages of Cucuteni in Romania and Trypillia in the Ukraine, where the first discoveries of this ancient civilization were made more than 100 years ago. Those were pottery dating from 5000 to 3000 BC.

"We do not know the meaning of those painted symbols, and what is the significance of the zoomorphic and anthropomorphic statuettes,” says Lacramioara Stratulat, director of the Moldova National Museum Complex of Iasi. “Everything seems to be wrapped in mystery. Most of all, we do not know how these people treated their dead. Despite recent extensive excavations, no cemetery has ever been found.”

All Settlements Burned to the Ground

The pottery's obsessive spiral and circle patterns could also help explain another strange feature of this culture. "We do not know why, but all of the 4,000 Cucuteni-Trypillians settlements were intentionally burned," says Sergiy Krolevets, director of the National History and Culture Museum of the Republic of Moldova.

One explanation is that the Cucuteni might have seen the world as cyclical — a concept they might have expressed in the circles they painted on their pottery. According to this hypothesis, every 60 years or so, they would sacrifice whole cities by intentionally burning thousands of their houses. Then they would move to create another settlement.

Click here for the Discovery article.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Findings Point to Stonehenge as Healing Center

Stonehenge, with its huge monoliths erected in a mysterious circle, was a Lourdes-style Stone Age healing center revered for its ability to cure the sick, according to new archaeological findings.

"It could have been a temple, even as it was a healing center," archaeologist Timothy Darvill said today as he and fellow archaeologist Geoffrey Wainwright disclosed some findings of recent investigations in and around Stonehenge.

The archaeologists managed to date the construction of the stone monument to about 2300 BC, a couple of centuries younger than was previously thought, according to the Associated Press. It was at that time that bluestones — a rare rock known to geologists as spotted dolomite — were shipped by hand or by raft from Pembrokeshire in Wales to Salisbury Plain in southern England, to create the inner circle of Stonehenge.

Wainwright and Darvill said the content of graves scattered around the monument and the ancient chipping of its rocks to produce amulets indicated that Stonehenge was the primeval equivalent of Lourdes, the French shrine venerated for its supposed ability to cure the sick.
An unusual number of skeletons recovered from the area showed signs of serious disease or injury. Analysis of their teeth showed that about half were from outside the Stonehenge area.

"People were in a state of distress, if I can put it as politely as that, when they came to the Stonehenge monument," Darvill told journalists assembled at London's Society of Antiquaries. He pointed out that experts near Stonehenge have found two skulls that showed evidence of primitive surgery, some of just a few known cases of operations in prehistoric Britain.

Also found near Stonehenge was the body of a man known as the Amesbury Archer, who had a damaged skull and badly hurt knee and died around the time the stones were being installed. Analysis of the Archer's bones showed he was from the Alps.

The scientists announced their findings Monday, ahead of a documentary due to air on the BBC and the Smithsonian Channel on Saturday, September 27.

Click here for the Associated Press article.
Click here for a BBC article and 2-minute video on the findings.
For more details, click here for The Guardian article.

Archaeology students sift through earth at Stonehenge to find fragments of bluestone.

Archaeologists Tim Darvill, left, and Geoffrey Wainwright with fragments of bluestones at their press conference today at the Society of Antiquaries of in London.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Prominent Archaeologist Crosses the Styx

Georgi Kitov holds a 2,500-year-old solid gold Thracian mask he unearthed in the Bulgaria town of Shipka in 2004.

“Life evolves and meanders through the years, like a river running on its way to the ocean of knowledge, and every encounter and bit of wisdom comes in handy sooner or later.”

This profound statement was waiting for me this morning in my email, written by my friend Ludmil Marcov (photo below), who’s a frequent contributor to my Quantum Spirit blog. Ludmil had been contemplating the recent death of the world-famous Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov, whom he had met several years ago in their homeland.

Ludmil, like Kitov, is Bulgarian. He’s a skilled architect, and since coming to the U.S. several years ago, has made a living creating enchanting home and garden design pieces as part of the Willow Nest business he and his wife Linda have operated in California, Oregon, Washington and now in Burton, Texas.

Ludmil knew Kitov many years ago in Bulgaria. “When I was in college, I took part in many archaeological excavations from Thracian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times,” he writes. “I was part of a team of many specialists and had a wonderful time exploring and learning from different masters in their trades. Working with scholars and craftsmen preserving and restoring the past gave me an appreciation for the past, and many of my skills were developed back then.”

Among those scholars was Georgi Kitov. In his email, Ludmil sent this obituary on Kitov from the online Bulgarian newspaper, The Sophia Echo:

All of his life, he walked through the valley of Thracian kings. Coming as a distant echo from a ghost-ruled tomb, the Thracian royalties spoke to him, called him.
He wooed them, diligently hunted for them and promised if they appeared, he would expose them to eternal glory instead.
Finally, they revealed themselves, and made him Bulgaria’s most prominent archaeologist, our very own Indiana Jones.

In 2004, reacting to a tipoff that tomb raiders were getting ready to hit a site near Kazanluk, a city 170 km east of Sofia, the Thracian scholar rushed to save, or rather try to be the first who lays hands on whatever was buried under layers of earth. He dug deep and struck gold. A solid life-size mask made of gold, positioned next to a skeleton with chopped up body parts surfaced. Gasping for breath, the archaeologist fought off one single thought that nevertheless kept coming back: Has he found the remains of the Thracian king Teres I (475/445 BCE)? “It can’t be possible,” he gasped for air. “It can’t be possible.”

Georgi Kitov died September 14 shortly after feeling sharp chest pain. He was 65.

Kitov was working on the ancient complex and presumable tomb of Thracian king Seuthes III (ca. 330/300 BCE) near the village of Starosel. Since 1992, the archaeologist and his team explored Bulgaria’s Valley of the Kings, a forested region in the central part of the country and nearly 100 km in length. The area is swelled with ancient burial mounds, no doubt left by the Thracians. After numerous mentions in ancient texts and serious archaeological finds to prove the existence of their civilization, Thracian history is still enveloped in mystery.

Ludmil closed his email with an ancient blessing for Georgi Kitov: “I wish him an easy trip over the river Stix in the underworld.”  

Click here for the Sophia Echo article.
Click here for the New York Times obituary.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Church to Darwin: "Sorry We Misunderstood."

Christians, in their misunderstanding of Charles Darwin, are committing the same mistake they made in the 17th Century in doubting Galileo when he said the earth revolves around the sun.

That’s the official conclusion of the Church of England and is being stated formally in an apology to Darwin (1802-1889). The apology is addressed directly to Darwin himself – 126 years after his death. It is to be posted on the church’s website and released formally, stating:

Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practice the old virtues of 'faith seeking understanding' and hope that makes some amends.

Darwin, in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, established evolution by common descent as the dominant scientific explanation of diversification in nature.

Opposition to Darwin's evolutionary theories is still "a litmus test of faithfulness" for some Christian movements. The Church of England, in support of its apology, says such attitudes are rooted in perceived threats to Christianity.

Galileo (1564-1642) was the most noted astronomer and scientist of his era, and his belief that the earth orbited the sun was considered heresy by the Catholic Church. The church – as has been the case with Darwin’s teachings - prohibited advocacy of Galileo's teachings on grounds it was contrary to the literal meaning of Scripture. Galileo, at the hands of the Inquisition, was eventually forced to recant, and spent the last years of his life under house arrest.

Click here for Times of India article.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Harvest Moon Originates with Norse Mythology

Monday, September 15, is the Harvest Moon, said in Norse mythology to be the most powerful of the moons for a strong harvest and plenty. It is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox.

All full moons rise around the time of sunset. However, the Harvest Moon and Hunter's Moon are special, because around the time of these full moons, the time difference between moonrise on successive evenings is shorter than usual. Thus there is no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise around the time following these full moons. In times past this feature was said to help farmers working to bring in their crops. They could continue being productive by moonlight even after the sun had set.

Often, the Harvest Moon seems to be bigger or brighter or more colorful than other moons. These effects have to do with the seasonal tilt of the earth. The warm color of the moon shortly after it rises is an optical illusion, based on the fact that when the moon is low in the sky, you are looking at it through a greater amount of atmospheric particles than when the moon is overhead.

This description from Wikipedia. Click here for full description.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Animals Herded Long Distances for Rituals

Neolithic people 5,000 years ago drove animals to Stonehenge from hundreds of miles away to slaughter them at ritual feasts.

Chemical testing on animal remains buried at Durrington Walls near Stonehenge show cattle and pigs raised as far away as Wales. The remains date from about 3000 BC, or some 500 years before the huge stone monoliths were erected at Stonehenge.

“We’re looking at communication networks and rituals that are bringing people from a large area of southern England to the Stonehenge area before the Stonehenge stones were in place,” says Dr. Jane Evans of the British Biological Survey in Nottingham. Her team analyzed the strontium content of the tooth enamel from cattle remains.

Archaeologists now believe the huge stones at Stonehenge originated in Wales, but that people were traveling long distances to visit the site and perform rituals there. There was no farming or livestock in the area of Durrington and Stonehenge at the time, so people brought their own animals for feasting.

Click here for the Guardian article.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Macedonian Warrior Graves Reveal Artifacts

Forty-three graves dating from 650 BC have been unearthed near Pella in northern Greece, providing more extensive information about the Macedonian kingdom. 

Of particular interest to archaeologists are 20 graves of warriors, some buried in bronze helmets alongside iron swords and knives. Their eyes, mouths and chests were covered with gold foil with depictions of lions and other animals symbolizing power.

"The discovery is rich in historical importance, shedding light on Macedonian culture during the Archaic period," Pavlos Chrysostomou, who headed the eight-year project that investigated a total of 900 graves, told Reuters.

Among the excavated graves, the team also found 11 women from the Archaic period, with gold and bronze necklaces, earrings and broaches.

Click here for the Reuters article.
Photo shows warrior helmet and burial faceplate from excavation.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ancient Cemetery Near Nazareth Reveals Oddities

Phallic figurines, small axes, shell pendants and engraved tokens were among the many items recently unearthed at the unusual Neolithic burial site near Nazareth.

Archaeologists are somewhat perplexed over the burial practices in a recently discovered cemetery dating back to perhaps 8500 BC near Nazareth.

Called Kfar HaHoresh, the Stone Age graves contained an abundance of phallic figurines. Many of the human bones were arranged in unusual manners. The graves of at least 65 people – predominantly males between 20 and 30 years of age – were buried in a central cemetery long before such burial practices were common.

“This is not a regular site,” said archaeologist Avi Gopher of Tel Aviv University. “There are many burials and many of them are very unusual.”

For one, centrally located cemeteries were unknown in the region in that Stone Age period, yet Kfar HaHoresh seems to have served as a burial and cult center for surrounding villages.

During the era, most statue symbolism was female, in honor of the mother goddess of agriculture. “At Kfar HaHoresh, all the gender-oriented symbolism seems to be male,” said excavation leader Nigel Goring-Morris of Hebrew University.

One young male was found buried on top of the remains of seven wild cattle. Some of the children buried there were given the same treatment as adults, such as being buried with pendants and fox jaws. Several of the bodies had skulls removed after death. Some human bones were arranged to resemble the profiles of cattle and boars. The body of a 40-year-old man was manipulated into a foetal position.

Goring-Morris and some other archaeologists are speculating that the burial practices may reflect the transition from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural society.

Click here for the National Geographic article.
Click here for the London Telegraph article.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Oldest Skeleton Could Revamp Migration Theory

An archaeologist studies a human skull in an underwater cave along the Yucatan coast near where the remains of Eve and others were discovered.

Archaeologists believe they have discovered a 13,600-year-old human skeleton deep in a Caribbean underwater cave, making it the oldest ever found in the Americas. The discovery could have profound effects on theories of how humans first reached North America.

The female skeleton, called Eve of Naharon, was found with three other human skeletons in underwater caves along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Excavation of a fourth skeleton – possibly even older than Eve – begins this month in a nearby cave.

“We don’t know how they arrived or whether they came from the Atlantic, the jungle or inside the continent,” said Arturo Gonzalez, leader of the team of scientists who have been excavating the area for four years. “The shape of the skulls has led us to believe that Eva and the others have more of an affinity with people from South Asia than North Asia.”

If he’s right, that could further contradict the theory that ancient humans first came to North America from northern Asia via an ancient land bridge across the Bering Sea. Human remains found in Chile in 1997 are at least 12,500 years old, a period in which the Bering bridge migration would not have been possible due to Arctic ice.

The three other skeletons found with Eve have been radiocarbon-dated from 11,000 to 14,000 years ago.

All were found in underwater caves about 50 feet below the surface. At the time Eve and the others would have lived there, the sea level was about 200 feet lower, and the Yucatan Peninsula was a dry prairie. Melting of the polar ice caps 9,000 years ago submerged the burial ground and the subsequent growth of stalactites and stalagmites kept the skeletons from being washed out to sea.

Click here for the National Geographic article.

Fable Number 397 ~ The Sheep, the Goat, and the Sow

A man rounded up a sow, a goat, and a sheep from his farm. While the donkey carried them all to the city, the goat and the sheep settled down quietly, but the sow's screams bothered their chauffeur, so the donkey said to the sow, "Why on earth can't you go along quietly like the others?" The sow replied, "The goat is being brought here for her milk, the sheep for his wool, but for me this is a matter of life and death!"

Moral: Each man has his own reason for acting as he does.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Figs Among Earliest Cultivated Crops

The Jordan Valley near Jericho, near where the ancient figs were found.

An assortment of ancient figs found near Jericho in Israel have convinced archaeologists that Neolithic man began using agriculture at least a thousand years earlier than previously thought.

The figs are estimated to be 11,400 years old. They had been ripened and then dried for human consumption.

Previously, archaeologists believed the earliest agriculture was domestication of cereal grains and legumes, such as peas and beans. The oldest cultivated fruits were believed to have been olives and grapes dating from the eastern Mediterranean about 6,000 years ago.

Agriculture has long been viewed as having many phases as humans shifted from scattering wild grains to raising domesticated cereal crops. “Domestication of the fig seems to comprise a new stage,” says Mordechai Kislev, an early-agriculture specialist with Bar-Ilan University.

The nine figs recovered from the Jordan Valley near Jericho lacked embryonic seeds, which means they were cultivated and not wild. Fruit fragments from the site suggest humans were maintaining the fig trees by planting live branches in the ground.

“The early propagation of fig trees, if true, has a rather important effect on the way we view the Neolithic age,” says archaeologist Joy McCorriston of Ohio State University.

Click here for the National Geographic article.
Click here for the Cosmos article.

Lower photo shows three of the ancient cultivated figs found and analyzed.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Amazon Basin Was Site of Complex Urban Society

On this satellite photo, lines radiating outward from village earthworks show the organized pattern of pre-Columbian settlements in the Amazon Basin.

Part of the Brazilian Amazon previously thought to be pristine rain forest was actually home to densely packed towns, villages and hamlets in the centuries prior to European exploration.

The newly discovered urban network was at its height between 1250 and 1650 AD and may have housed 50,000 people, scientists are saying. The sophisticated society likely was obliterated by disease carried by European explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries. Today, only isolated tribes and dense jungle remain.

Investigations headed by Michael Heckenberger, an anthropologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, show at least two major clusters of towns, each with wide roads radiating out to other communities, some of which housed thousands of people. The larger towns were walled like medieval European towns of the same period, Heckenberger said. Between the settlements – which today are completely overgrown – were patchworks of agricultural fields and ponds probably used as fish farms.

“These are far more planned at the regional level than your average medieval town,” Heckenberger said. “Here things are oriented at the same angles and distances across the entire landscape.”

Some archaeologists have argued that Amazonian soils are too poor to have supported large human populations, but the new discoveries add weight to the idea that the Amazon Basin supported large and complex societies.

Click here for the National Geographic article.
Lower photo shows primitive tribes occupying the site of the pre-Columbian urban society.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ancient Perimeter Wall Found in Jerusalem

Archaeologists work along the wall unearthed on Mount Zion.

A long-hidden perimeter wall on the south side of Jerusalem was unveiled Wednesday, giving archaeologists a clearer picture of the holy city’s boundaries 2,100 years ago. The wall is 10.5 feet high. Its blocks are not supported by mortar or any other bonding material.

Located on Mount Zion in part of Jerusalem’s Old City, the wall dates back to the Second Jewish Temple, destroyed by Romans in 70 AD, and is part of a 3.5-mile-long fortification around the city. British archaeologists first surveyed the site of the stone defenses in the 19th century. Israeli archaeologists at the current site found a shoe and beer and wine bottles the British left behind.

Click here for the Reuters UK article.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ten Ancient Observatories as Seen from Space

These photos and information are from this MSNBC page, text by John Roach and photos courtesy of GeoEye. The images wee taken b GeoEye's Ikonos satellite flying 423 miles above Earth at about 17,000 miles per hour. The selection is 10 of the ancient world's most prominent sites for tracking constellations and planetary movements.

* * * * * * * * * *

Easter Island: Statues keep eye on equinox

Hundreds of stone statues called moai (pronounced mo-eye) ring Chile's Easter Island in the remote Pacific Ocean. Almost all face inland, perhaps keeping watch over agricultural villages. But seven of the statues, located at an inland site known as Aku Akivi, gaze out over the ocean to a point on the horizon where the sun sets during the equinox, a sign that the islanders had astronomical precision.

Machu Picchu: A shrine to the sun?

The mountaintop citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru appears to some as purely an Inca shrine to the sun. Structures with purported solar alignments certainly abound. Most famous is Intihuatana, the hitching post of the sun. At noon on the spring and autumnal equinoxes, the sun rests directly above the pillar so that it casts no shadow. (In an infamous side note, a chip was knocked off the block in 2006 during a filming accident for a beer commercial.) Other structures, such as the Temple of the Three Windows and the Temple of the Sun, shine uniquely on the summer solstice.

Stonehenge: The place for a solstice party

The exact purpose of Stonehenge, an ancient ring of stones in the countryside near Salisbury, England, remains controversial. Nevertheless, its alignment with sunrise at the summer solstice makes it the world's most famous destination to celebrate the longest day of the year. The outer ring of large sarsen stones are arranged in formations that appear to mark the seasons. The bluestones in the inner ring are thought to have healing powers. Most archaeologists believe the monument, which dates to 3100 B.C., was both an astronomical observatory and a religious site.

Teotihuacan: Mystery alignment in Mexico

To this day, mystery surrounds who designed the planned metropolis of Teotihuacan, located about 25 miles north of Mexico City. But whoever the builders were, they seem to have been in tune with the motion and alignment of the stars. The grid is aligned 15.5 degrees east of north. And the Pyramid of the Sun, the third-largest pyramid in the world, is aligned so that the sun passes directly overhead on May 19 and July 25. Some scholars have invoked the motion of the Pleiades and Sirius constellations in Teotihuacan's alignment. Others point to the setting sun on Aug. 13, the day the current cycle of the Maya Long Count calendar was set in motion, as the anchor. At its height around the year 400, the city was home to perhaps 200,000 people.

Uxmal: Anchored by Venus’ rise

The ruins of Uxmal (pronounced "oosh-mahl") on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula are among the best preserved of the Maya world and rich with astronomical wonders. At the 300-foot-long Palace of the Governor, for example, the central doorway lines up with the southernmost rise of the planet Venus. At the Pyramid of the Magician, which dominates the center of the site, the western staircase faces the setting sun at the summer solstice.

Abu Simbel: Statues see sun twice a year

For most of the year, four statues in the deepest recess of the main temple at Abu Simbel in Egypt are shrouded in darkness. But on Feb. 21 and Oct. 22, a shaft of sunlight pierces the room. According to legend, the first penetration is believed to be the birthday of Pharaoh Rameses II, who had the monument carved out of a mountainside in the 13th century B.C. The October date is thought to mark his coronation. A note for modern-day visitors: The entire site was raised 300 meters between 1964 and 1968 to prevent flooding caused by construction of the Aswan High Dam.

Angkor Wat: Temple, tomb and observatory?

Some scholars believe that Angkor Wat, the renowned Hindu temple complex in Cambodia that was constructed as a tomb for King Suryvaram II in the 12th century, is infused with astronomical themes. For example, at the equinox, an observer standing in front of the western entrance gate will see the sun rise directly over the central tower of the temple. At the summer solstice, the western vantage point yields sunrise over Phnom Bok, a major hill. "To the ancient Khmers, astronomy was known as the sacred science," researchers noted in a 1976 Science study.

Casa Rinconada: A solstice marker?

Shortly after sunrise on the summer solstice, a beam of light pierces a lone window on the north-northeast side of the great kiva, Casa Rinconada, in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon, and lights up a large, irregularly spaced niche on the western wall. Many people view the alignment as an intentional marker to celebrate the longest day of the year. However, at one point in the past, a room may have blocked the window, and a support beam for the roof of the ceremonial structure may have been placed between the window and niche, casting doubt on intentional alignment. Nevertheless, the north and south doors of the great kiva are nearly perfectly aligned with true north, suggesting astronomical savvy.

Chankillo: Americas' earliest solar observatory

Archaeologists have long debated the significance of a fortified hilltop structure at Chankillo in the coastal desert of Peru, but the provenance of a line of 13 towers along a nearby hill is no longer in doubt: It's a solar observatory. The towers span the arc of the rising and setting sun from the summer to winter solstice when viewed from observing points on the east and west sides, according to research published in March 2007. The observatory dates to the 4th century B.C.

Chichen Itza: Stairway for a serpent

During the equinox sunset, the shadow of a serpent slides down the western flank of the northern staircase of El Castillo, a Maya pyramid at Chichen Itza on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The pyramid was built between the year 1000 and 1200 as a temple to the god Kukulcan, the Feathered Serpent. Other astronomical wonders at the pyramid include axes that orient with the rising sun at the summer solstice and setting sun at the winter solstice. And each of the pyramid's four sides has a stairway of 91 steps. Together with the shared platform at the top, that totals to 365 steps – the number of days in a year.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Rising Seas Damaging Viking Sites

Viking archaeological site at L'anse aux Meadows.

Global warming is destroying some ancient Viking archeological sites, according to scientists congregating this past weekend at Bradford University in England. Rising sea levels, coastal erosion, melting ice sheets and changing weather patterns are endangering many archaeological efforts across the north Atlantic, they said.

“In the past, archeological finds in places like Greenland have been found in the permafrost beneath the surface, frozen in time,” says Stephen Dockrill, the university’s senior lecturer on archaeology. “One of the biggest problems we’re facing in the north Atlantic is rising sea levels causing more coastal erosion, cutting into cliff faces where lots of archaeological sites are based.”

He said a site in the Faroe Islands where Vikings settled is being eroded, and added, “We’re also seeing erosion of deposits in this country in places like the Orkney Islands, with remains from the Neolithic and Bronce Age under threat.”

Click here for the Yorkshire Post article.