Sunday, August 30, 2009

Remains of Aphrodite Cult Are Found

Remains of an ancient cult that worshipped the love goddess Aphrodite have been unearthed in the southern Golan Heights.

Archaeologists there have discovered a cache of three figurines of Aphrodite ~ whom the Romans called Venus ~ dating back about 1,500 years. The figurines, made of clay, are about 30 centimeters tall. They depict the nude goddess standing, with her right hand covering her private parts ~ a type of statue scholars refer to as "modest Venus."

According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite was born of the ocean foam at the place where the testicles of the Titan Uranus were cast into the sea by his son Cronus, who castrated him. According to another story, she is the daughter of Zeus, king of the gods. Aphrodite was a popular goddess, represented in statues all over the Greek and Roman world. The best known of these is is the Venus de Milo, on display at the Louvre.

"Aphrodite was the goddess of love, but also the goddess of fertility and childbirth," Professor Arthur Segal of the University of Haifa told

"Pregnant woman hoping for a safe birth would sacrifice to her, as would young girls hoping for love. Mainly, flowers, rather than animals, would be sacrificed to Aphrodite,” he said. “The figurines we found were made in a mold in rather large numbers. They would be offered to the goddess in a temple by supplicants, or kept above one's bed."

Click here for the complete article.
Photo shows a similar Aphrodite statue in the "modest Venus" pose.

Beads Were Earliest Form of Adornment

Shell beads recently unearthed in Morocco confirm early humans were consistently wearing and likely trading symbolic jewellery as early as 80,000 years ago.

These beads add to similar finds dating back as far as 110,000 years ago in Algeria, Morocco, Israel and South Africa, confirming beads as the oldest form of personal ornaments. The findings and conclusions were reported last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS).

A team of researchers recovered 25 marine shell beads dating back to around 70,000 to 85,000 years ago from sites in Morocco, as part of the European Science Foundation EUROCORES programme 'Origin of Man, Language and Languages'. The shells have man-made holes through the centre and some show signs of pigment and prolonged wear, suggesting they were worn as jewellery.

"Either people went to sea and collected them, or more likely marine shell beads helped create and maintain exchange networks between coastal and inland peoples. This shows well-structured human culture that attributed meaning to these things," said Francesco d'Errico, lead author and director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

For scientists, beadworks are not simply decoration, they also represents a specific technology that conveys information through a shared coded language.

"The early invention of the personal ornament is one of the most fascinating cultural experiments in human history," d'Errico continued. "The common element among such ornaments is that they transmit meaning to others. They convey an image of you that is not just your biological self."

Click here for the complete press release.
Photo shows two of the ancient Moroccan shell beads.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Birth of China Culture May Have Been Fragmented

Stretch of the Yellow River in early evening.

New research casts serious doubt about China’s founding dynasty, dispelling the concept that the civilization arose as a single national culture along the Yellow River.

Since 2004, archeologists headed by Wang Wei of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing have begun tying together a broader picture of China's origins.

“Most of us accepted that the Yellow River was the origin of Chinese civilization. But as we’ve done more research, we have found other cultural areas," Wei says.

In particular, the Xia dynasty ~ written about as the founder of the Chinese state by Confucius around 600 B.C. ~ seems suspect.

Click here to read the complete article.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bronze Age Timber Ritual Site Found in Ireland

Archaeologists unearth the remains of the timber circles.

Remains of a 4,000-year-old ritual circle in Tyrone County, Northern Ireland, are being deemed especially rare because the site was made of timber and not stone.

“The specific use of timber circles is not well understood but it is thought that they were used as ritual sites, perhaps for feasting or for commemorating the dead," archaeologist Kirsty Dingwall told the BBC. She said radiocarbon dating had confirmed that the site dates to the middle of the third millennium BC.

She said it was "made up of two concentric rings of timbers focussed on a central area, which appear to have replaced an earlier series of large pits".

“It had a large monumental porch on one side with a line of substantial timbers along the front, which would have formed an impressive fa├žade for anyone approaching the circle,” she added. "The outer ring of the double circle comprised pits holding four posts in a square arrangement, which would themselves have pinned sections of wattle or planked walling in place."

"As a result, we can be fairly certain that it would not be possible to see into the centre of the circle from the outside, unlike other timber circles elsewhere in the British Isles, or at stone circles such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire or Callanish in Scotland, where an observer would have had glimpses of the activity.

“As timber circles are generally thought to have some form of ritual importance, the issue of restricting the views of what was happening inside the circle is an interesting one," Dingwall said.

Click here for the complete BBC article.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Massive Caves Lie Beneath Giza's Pyramids

An explorer peers into caves and tunnels beneath the pyramid field.

An enormous system of caves, chambers and tunnels lies beneath the Pyramids of Giza, according to a British explorer who claims to have found the lost underworld of the pharaohs.

"There is untouched archaeology down there, as well as a delicate ecosystem that includes colonies of bats and a species of spider which we have tentatively identified as the white widow," British explorer Andrew Collins told Discovery News.

He details his findings in the book Beneath the Pyramids to be published in September. He says he tracked down the entrance to the mysterious underworld after reading the forgotten memoirs of a 19th century diplomat and explorer.

"In his memoirs, British consul general Henry Salt recounts how he investigated an underground system of 'catacombs' at Giza in 1817 in the company of Italian explorer Giovanni Caviglia," Collins said.

According to Collins, the caves ~ which may be hundreds of thousands of years old ~ may have both inspired the development of the pyramid field and the ancient Egyptian's belief in an underworld.

"Ancient funerary texts clearly allude to the existence of a subterranean world in the vicinity of the Giza pyramids," Collins says.

Click here for the complete Discovery News article.

Well-Preserved Taino Site Found in Puerto Rico

U.S. and Puerto Rican archaeologists have found what may be the best-preserved pre-Columbian site in the Caribbean. They say the discovery could shed light on every aspect of Indian life in the region, from sacred rituals to eating habits.

The site in southern Puerto Rico may have belonged to the Taino or pre-Taino people that inhabited the island before European colonization, although other tribes are a possibility. It contains stones etched with ancient petroglyphs that form a large plaza measuring 130 feet by 160 feet, which could have been used for ball games or ceremonial rites, said Aida Belen Rivera, director of the Puerto Rican Historic Conservation office.

The petroglyphs include the carving of a human figure with masculine features and frog legs.
Archaeologists also uncovered several graves with bodies buried face-down with the legs bent at the knees - a style never seen before in the region.

The plaza may contain other artifacts dating from 600 A.D. to 1500 A.D., including piles of refuse from daily life, Rivera said.

"I have visited many sites and have never seen a plaza of that magnitude and of those dimensions and with such elaborate petroglyphs," said Miguel Rodriguez, member of the government's archaeological council and director of a graduate school in Puerto Rico that specializes in history and humanities.

Click here for the complete Sun Journal article.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Evidence Points to Cahokian Human Sacrifice

Portion of mounds still remaining at the Cahokia site.

An Illinois anthropologist contends the Midwest’s ancient Cahokian culture practiced mass human sacrifice, in contrast to the pastoral, nearly idyllic way the culture usually is depicted. Timothy R. Pauketat, a University of Illinois archaeologist and professor of anthropology, has described his findings in his new book, Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi.

According to an article in Sunday’s Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat:

Ancient Cahokia, which reached its peak about 1150 A.D. with a population of 20,000, was a religious center of farmers and hunters that probably influenced much of what archaeologists call the Southeast Ceremonial Complex, a string of similar but smaller sites found from Illinois to northern Florida.

It was abandoned about 100 to 200 years later and its descendants are believed to be the various tribes from historic times. At the time of its zenith, Cahokia rivaled London in population and was America's most-populous city until Philadelphia eclipsed it in the 18th century.

. . . In this society, often referred to as the Mississippian Culture, women played much more of a role than convenient sacrificial victims, Pauketat said. And even in this death ritual, women were respected, unlike some of the men whose remains were found with heads lopped off. "The women never show injury,” he said. “There is no trauma. So that means either they drank poison or they were strangled. But, that's speculation. They were very carefully placed into these pits."

Pauketat said that at Cahokia, religion drew people from small farming villages across the region.

"People recognized in Cahokia a supernatural power on a scale and of a kind that was probably unknown in North America north of Mexico," he said.

Click here for the News-Democrat article.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rare Assyrian Letter Pleads for Reinforcements

Depiction of the fall of he Assyrian Empire from the 15th century Nuremburg Bible.

In a remarkable archeological find, a letter scratched into a clay tablet by an ancient Assyrian leader in 630 B.C. begs for military reinforcements that never arrived. But more than 2,500 years later, the letter has been unearthed almost intact by archaeologists, offering an unprecedented glimpse into the downfall of the one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world.

Assyrian leader Mannu-ki-Libbali is believed to have written the letter shortly before the ancient city of Tushan was overrun by Babylonian invaders ~ its temples and palaces pillaged, then torn down or set aflame.

In the 30-line letter, the author despairs that he lacks the necessary equipment and manpower to stave off the enemy, suggesting that the issue of military resources may be as old as warfare itself.

According to the London Times:

The letter is written on a clay tablet in ancient Assyrian, using a script called cuneiform based purely on lines and triangles. It was written by jabbing a quill with a triangular-shaped nib into wet clay. Different letters were formed by superimposing identical triangles in different combinations.

John MacGinnis, an archaeologist from the University of Cambridge who led the excavation, said: “The letter is written during the process of downfall. The chances of finding something like this are unbelievably small.” Mannu-ki-Libbali laments that he has neither the equipment nor the troops needed for the onerous task ahead. He lists cohort commanders, craftsmen, coppersmiths, blacksmiths, bow makers and arrow makers as essential to building a resistance.

The letter, found during the excavation of an Assyrian acropolis in southeastern Turkey, gives a remarkable insight into the final collapse of the empire and suggests that the Assyrians may have been militarily unprepared and put up a feeble resistance.

Click here for the complete London Times article.
Lower photo shows the recovered letter.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Could This Be the World's Earliest Map?

Portions of he 14,000-year-old map show surviving topographical features close to the cave where the stone tablet was discovered.

Estimated to be about 14,000 years old, a stone tablet found in a cave in northern Spain is believed to contain the earliest known representation of a landscape. The tablet is seven inches by five inches and less than an inch thick. It appears to depict mountains, rivers and areas of suitable foraging and hunting.

A team from the University of Zaragoza spent 15 years deciphering the etched lines and squiggles after unearthing the artifact in 1993.

"We can say with certainty that it is a sketch, a map of the surrounding area," said Pilar Utrilla, who led the research team. "Whoever made it sought to capture in stone the flow of the watercourses, the mountains outside the cave and the animals found in the area."

"The landscape depicted corresponds exactly to the surrounding geography, complete with herds of ibex marked on one of the mountains visible from the cave itself," she said.

The research, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Human Evolution, improves our understanding of early human capacities related to spatial awareness, planning and hunting.

"We can't be sure what was intended in the making of the tablet but it was clearly important to those who populated the cave 13,660 years ago," added Utrilla. "Nothing like this has been discovered elsewhere in western Europe."

Click here for the complete Guardian article.

Lost Cities of the World ~ Troy

Remains of the fabled city from the pages of Homer were discovered in the 19th century in Anatolia in Turkey. Legend has it that, following a siege, the Greeks plundered and then burnt the settlement to the ground. At an ancient mound at Hisarlik, archeologists have found 20-foot walls and evidence of nine cities at the site, one of which could be the sacked city.

(From the

Friday, August 7, 2009

UN Wants More Research on Sardinia as Atlantis

Scholarly debate continues to heat up over the possibility that Sardinia is the lost isle of Atlantis. Generally believed to have been located ~ if Atlantis really existed at all ~ somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, recent research by Italian journalist Sergio Frau has named Sardinia as the locale of the mythic realm.

Though Frau’s book ~ entitled The Pillars of Hercules ~ has sold well over 30,000 copies to date, a group of 250 Italian academics have drawn up a position paper dismissing Frau’s theory and claiming it damages Sardinian history by sensationalizing it.

Now, however, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is saying Frau’s idea bears further investigation. It has pulled together archeologists, academics, geologists and historians to determine the direction of future studies regarding Atlantis. According to the Malta Independent:

Traditional theories have placed Atlantis somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean because Plato said it was beyond the Pillars of Hercules which, according to another ancient writer, Erathosthenes, were at the Straits of Gibraltar. But Frau believes Erathosthenes, a librarian and geographer who lived in Alexandria in the third and second centuries BC, got it wrong and that the Pillars of Hercules were actually on Sicily. . . If the Pillars of Hercules really were in Sicily, Sardinia would be the obvious location for Atlantis.

A catastrophic event is thought to have struck Sardinia during the Bronze Age, around 1178-1175 BC . Although Plato dated Atlantis to 9,000 years before his time, many historians think he meant 900 years.

Click here for the complete Malta Independent article.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ancient Cup Has Hebrew Script for "God"

Script containing the Hebrew word for "God" on the ancient cup.

American archaeologists have found an extremely rare 2,000-year-old limestone cup inscribed with 10 lines of Aramaic or Hebrew script in the Old City of Jerusalem. According to a Los Angeles Times report:

Such ritual cups are common, especially in areas that were inhabited by priests, but usually they are unmarked or bear only a single line of text, such as a name, said archaeologist Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who led the dig. "To have 10 lines of text is unprecedented," he said in announcing the find last week.

The script is not eroded or degraded, but is in an informal cursive script and is apparently deliberately cryptic. Researchers know it contains the Hebrew word for God ~ YHWH or Yahweh ~ indicating priests probably used it in rituals.

Gibson said it could take two to six months to decipher its meaning.

Click here for the complete Los Angeles Times article.

Scales Tipping Against Biblical "Great Flood"

The form on Turkey's Mt. Ararat often cited as the ark's resting place.

Scientists continue to haggle over whether the Biblical account of the “Great Flood” is historical fact or simply myth. So far, evidence points to some sort of climactic catastrophe occurring several millennia ago, but its scope and magnitude are up for debate.

The Epoch Times yesterday ran a summary of the research's current status. Here are some of the main points:

Contemporary hypotheses suggesting that the rapid growth of the Black Sea was a consequence of an incredible rainfall of planetary proportions has never received great sale. Based on a large framework of scientific laws, predominantly geological, which have been established on the basis of empirical observation over the years, makes this a rather improbable scenario.
In the first place, skeptical geologists propose that for such a flood to have occurred, we would find a similar stratum throughout the world covered with pebbles, sludge, boulders, and other elements. It is curious that this layer cannot be found, even more so when the flood narrated by the Bible had taken place in a time as recent as 3000 B.C. 

Neither can be found the strata of fossils, with different animal and vegetable species occupying specific soil layers. According to flood logic, the animal remains of all species before the big flood (including the extinct dinosaurs) should be found today in only one stratum, without any distinction. But paleontology completely contradicts these suppositions.

Then there’s the fact that, as with the account of Jesus Christ, the nearly identitical story has been told in other cultures, in earlier times.

With respect to non-Biblical myths about a purifying flood, these can be found in the Hindu, Sumerian, Greek, Acadia, Chinese, Mapuche, Mayan, Aztec, and Pascuanese (Easter Island) cultures, among others. Several of these stories appear to possess surprisingly similar common factors.

Among the most repeated themes are those of celestial announcements ignored by the people, the great flood itself, the construction of an arc to preserve life from the flood, and the later restoration of life on the planet. 

Click here for the complete Epoch Times article.