Monday, November 23, 2009

Does Shroud Contain Jesus' Death Certificate?

Medieval manuscript page depicting Jesus's burial with shroud.

The mysterious Shroud of Turin is back in the news this week, this time with an argument for its authenticity as the death shroud that covered Jesus from the period following his crucifixion until his resurrection.

In October, scientists pronounced the shroud as a medieval forgery after they duplicated an imprint onto linen using materials existing in the 14th Century. A 1988 carbon dating of a fragment of the cloth has dated it to the Middle Ages, when the initial forgery is claimed to have occurred.

Now, however, a Vatican scholar says she has deciphered Jesus’s “death certificate” from writing obscured on the shroud, by implication placing its origin back to the time of the resurrection.

"I think I have managed to read the burial certificate of Jesus the Nazarene, or Jesus of Nazareth," says Dr. Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican secret archives. She said she reconstructed it from fragments of Greek, Hebrew and Latin writing imprinted on the cloth together with the image of the crucified man.

The letters, barely visible to the naked eye, were first spotted during an examination of the shroud in 1978, and others have since come to light.

According to the London Times:

Some scholars have suggested that the writing is from a reliquary attached to the cloth in medieval times. But Dr Frale said that the text could not have been written by a medieval Christian because it did not refer to Jesus as Christ but as "the Nazarene." This would have been "heretical" in the Middle Ages since it defined Jesus as "only a man" rather than the Son of God.

Like the image of the man himself the letters are in reverse and only make sense in negative photographs. Dr Frale told La Repubblica that under Jewish burial practices current at the time of Christ in a Roman colony such as Palestine, a body buried after a death sentence could only be returned to the family after a year in a common grave.

A death certificate was therefore glued to the burial shroud to identify it for later retrieval, and was usually stuck to the cloth around the face. This had apparently been done in the case of Jesus even though he was buried not in a common grave but in the tomb offered by Joseph of Arimathea.

Frale ~ best known for her studies of the Knights Templar ~ said she had deciphered "the death sentence on a man called Jesus the Nazarene. If that man was also Christ the Son of God it is beyond my job to establish. I did not set out to demonstrate the truth of faith.”

Click here for the London Times article.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Greeks ~ Not Romans ~ Founded French Wine

New research indicates ancient Greeks brought wine to southern France about 600 BC, dispelling the theory that the Romans were responsible for bringing viticulture to the region that became the world’s largest wine industry.

The study ~ headed by Prof. Paul Cartledge of Cambridge Univeristy ~ found that the Greeks founded Massalia, now known as Marseilles, which they then turned into a bustling trading center. Within a matter of generations the nearby Rhône became a major thoroughfare for vessels carrying terracotta amphorae containing a new exotic Greek drink made from fermented grape juice.

He said there were two main points that proved it was the Greeks who introduced wine to the region.

"First, the Greeks had to marry and mix with the local Ligurians to ensure that Massalia survived, suggesting that they also swapped goods and ideas.

"Second, they left behind copious amounts of archaeological evidence of their wine trade (unlike the Etruscans and long before the Romans), much of which has been found on Celtic sites."

Cartledge argues the new drink rapidly became a hit among the tribes of Western Europe, which then contributed to the French’s modern love of wine.

Click here for the London Telegraph article.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rare Bust of Julius Caesar Now on Display

A rare bust of Julius Caesar ~ recovered in 2007 after 20 years of exploration of the Rhone riverbed in France ~ is now on public display in Arles.

According to AFP:

The find, dated 46 BC, is all the more remarkable for likely being made during the emperor's lifetime and provides the centrepiece for the exhibition organised by Luc Long, head of the French state department for archaeological, subaquatic and deepsea research.

The unifying theme in "Caesar, the Rhone for Memory,” running to September 2010, is "to maintain the feeling of going on a journey with the archaeologists, following every stage of their work from the site of the digs right up to the restoration and exhibition of the artifacts", says its designe
r Pierre Berthier.

The collection shows ancient Arles was not only a port of passage, but decorated and monumental, says Long, "an ostentatious facade aiming to display Rome's wealth and power.”

Click here for the AFP article.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Murals Providing New Views into Mayan Life

One of the murals decorating the Maya pyramid structure.

Recently excavated Mayan murals are providing a window into the lives of ancient Mayan culture.

Uncovered during excavation of a Mayan pyramid at Calakmul, Mexico, discovery of the murals "was a total shock," Simon Martin of the University of Pennsylvania Museum told LiveScience. The Maya have been studied for more than a century, but "this is the first time that we've seen anything like this," Martin said.

According to LiveScience:

"We almost never get a view of what other layers of society are doing or what they look like, so this is one of the things that makes [the murals] so special," Martin told LiveScience.

The murals were found on the walls of one layer of the mound structure - Maya built over the top of older structures, creating buildings in layers like onions, Martin explained. While other layers were scraped up and destroyed in the effort to build over them, the layer with the murals appears to have been carefully preserved, with a layer of clay put over the murals, ostensibly to protect them.

This careful preservation "might suggest that it was something pretty special," Martin said.

The images on the mural show people engaged in mundane activities, such as preparing food. Hieroglyphic captions accompany each image, labeling each individual. In each case the term "aj," meaning "person," is used and followed by the word for a foodstuff or material.

Hieroglyphs for some words ~ such as "tobacco" and "maize-gruel" ~ were already known. Other hieroglyphs were new to researchers, especially the words for maize itself and salt, known staples of the Mayan diet.

Click here for the LiveScience article.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Remains of Lost Army Believed to be Found

Bas-relief of a Persian soldier shows earring like one found in the Sahara.

One of archaeology’s major mysteries may have been solved with the recent discovery of the remains of a Persian army that disappeared 2,500 years ago in the sands of the Egyptian desert.

After 13 years of searching, Italian researchers have located bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones in a desolate region of the Sahara desert. They believe the remains are of the lost army of Persian King Cambyses II. The 50,000 warriors were said to be buried by a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 B.C.

According to Discovery News:

According to Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun after the priests there refused to legitimize his claim to Egypt.

After walking for seven days in the desert, the army got to an "oasis," which historians believe was El-Kharga. After they left, they were never seen again.

"A wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear," wrote Herodotus.

The tale of Cambyses' lost army, however, faded into antiquity. As no trace of the hapless warriors was ever found, scholars began to dismiss the story as a fanciful tale.

Now, two top Italian archaeologists claim to have found striking evidence that the Persian army was indeed swallowed in a sandstorm. Twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni are already famous for their discovery 20 years ago of the ancient Egyptian "city of gold" Berenike Panchrysos.

A mass grave in the sand with bones believed to belong to soldiers of the lost army.

Click here for the Discovery News article.
Click here for a 3-minute video related to the discovery.
Click here for another article, this one from the London Daily Mail.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Some Scientists Rejecting Comet-Collision Theory

A prolonged frigid period led to extinction of mastodons and many other creatures, as well as the human Clovis culture.

While scientists are not disputing the existence of a frigid period known as the Younger Dryas about 12,900 years ago, an increasing number are now rejecting the theory that it was caused by Earth’s collision with a comet.

The frigid period ~ whatever its cause ~ is linked to extinction of sabertooths, mastodons, and other giant animals, and may have caused the decline of the Clovis culture.

The comet-collision theory was developed in 2007 and based on a combination of archaeological artifacts and extraterrestrial magnetic grains in soil samples found in a thin layer of sediment throughout North America. However new research, presented at a meeting of the Geological Society of America this week in Portland, Oregon, has taken aim at all of these findings.

Nicholas Pinter, a geologist at Southern Illinois University, argued that black mats described as charcoal in the 2007 research weren't actually charcoal, but were formed from ancient, dark soil formed in a long-ago wetland. Likewise, the small amounts of carbon "are not uniquely associated with high-intensity fire," he said.

According to National Geographic:

Vance Holliday, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona, added that there is no sign that the demise of the Clovis culture was caused by a comet crash.

Around the time of the cold snap, the style of spearpoints changed—which some scientists argued was evidence that the Clovis peoples had declined due to the comet impact. But Holliday said it reflects a normal evolution in preference. He compared spearpoint designs to the appearance—and disappearance—of tail fins on classic automobiles.

"We really don't know what style means in the archaeological record," Holliday said. "Tastes come and go. We don't know why." But "an extraterrestrial impact is an unnecessary solution for an archaeological problem that doesn't exist."

Click here for the National Geographic article.

Ruined Ecosystem May Destroyed the Nazca

A mountainside drawing by the Nazca people on now-barren land.

Archaeologists are concluding that the Nazca ~ who once flourished in southern Peru, beginning around 200 BC ~ severely damaged their surrounding ecosystem and provoked the collapse of their own civilization around 500 AD.

Known today for creating vast patterns in the desert that can only be seen from the air, the Nazca civilization disappeared partly because it damaged the fragile ecosystem that held it in place, a study found. Author Oliver Whaley, of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said: ''The mistakes of prehistory offer us important lessons for our management of fragile, arid areas in the present.''

Recently published in the journal Latin American Antiquity, a new study found that the Nazca cleared forests to make way for their agriculture over the course of many generations.

According to the London Telegraph:

In doing so, the huarango tree, which once covered what is now a desert area, was gradually replaced by crops such as cotton and maize.

But the tree was crucial to the desert's fragile ecosystem as it enhanced soil fertility and moisture and helped to hold the Nasca's narrow, vulnerable irrigation channels in place, the researchers said.

The Nazca eventually cut down so many trees that they reached a tipping point at which the arid ecosystem was irreversibly damaged.

An El Nino-style flood then occurred, but its impact would have been far less devastating had the forests which protected the delicate desert ecology still been there, they said.

''In time, gradual woodland clearance crossed an ecological threshold - sharply defined in such desert environments - exposing the landscape to the region's extraordinary desert winds and the effects of El Nino floods,” according to Dr David Beresford-Jones of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University

Click here for the Telegraph article.