Monday, April 26, 2010

Head Believed to be Octavius Augustus

A well-preserved marble head of Octavius Augustus ~ part of a sculpture from the early Roman period ~ and a small torso were excavated Friday at Stobi archaeological site, according to the Macedonian International News Agency.
According to its features, the sculpture was intended to immortalize emperors and notable citizens from the first and second century A.D. It was housed in a temple, which was robbed soon after it was demolished in the classical era.

Melting Ice Reveals More Ancient Tools

Global warming continues to reveal ancient artifacts buried under ice patches for thousands of years. Some of the latest finds are in the Mackenzie Mountains in the arctic regions of North America.

Ice patch archeology is a recent phenomenon that began in Yukon. In 1997, sheep hunters discovered a 4,300-year-old dart shaft in caribou dung that had become exposed as the ice receded. Scientists who investigated the site found layers of caribou dung buried between annual deposits of ice.

Archaeologist Tom Andrews of the International Polar Year Ice Patch Study first became aware of the importance of ice patches when word about the Yukon find started leaking out. In 2000, he cobbled together funds to buy satellite imagery of specific areas in the Mackenzie Mountains and began to examine ice patches in the region.

Results have been extraordinary. Andrews and his team have found 2,400-year-old spear throwing tools, a 1,000-year-old ground squirrel snare, and bows and arrows dating back 850 years.

"The implements are truly amazing,” Andrews says. “There are wooden arrows and dart shafts so fine you can't believe someone sat down with a stone and made them."

Click here for the complete article.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Analysis Puts Homo Erectus Earlier

Cranial reconstruction of Java Man, aka Homo erectus.

After convincing colleagues that Homo erectus may have persisted on the Indonesian island of Java as recently as 30,000 years ago ~ recent enough to have coexisted with modern humans for more than 100,000 years ~ anthropologists last week presented new analyses suggesting the fossils may predate Homo sapiens by hundreds of thousands of years.

“It’s confusing right now, but I suspect that Homo erectus’ age on Java is still relatively young,” said Christopher Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum. A new analysis of sediment on Java suggests that animal fossils on the island date to between 200,000 and 150,000 years ago, providing a possible framework for when H. erectus lived there, he added.

According to Science News:
It all depends which radiometric method you use to assess the fossils’ age, New York University anthropologist Susan Antón reported at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
Antón and an Indonesian colleague lead a team that first announced in 1996 that sediment at two H. erectus sites on Java dates to between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago. Those “remarkably young” dates, based on analyses of radioactive elements in fossil-bearing sediment, suggest that H. erectus survived well into the era dominated by modern humans, Antón said. Many researchers now accept those dates.
New analysis ~ based on measurements of radioactive argon’s decay in volcanic rock above and below the fossils ~ puts H. erectus’ age on Java at roughly 550,000 years. It’s not clear why these estimates differ so dramatically and which one is more accurate, Antón said.

Click here for the complete article.

Poisoned Drinking Water Killed the Chinchorro

Arsenic in the drinking water killed many of Chile’s coastal Chinchorro people some 7,000 years ago, based on hair analysis of mummified remains.

"I believe these ancient people were continuously exposed to arsenic by drinking contaminated water with high arsenic levels endemic to the Camarones region," study leader Bernardo Arriaza tells National Geographic, which adds:

Some 7,000 years ago the Chinchorro became the first society known to practice mummification, which transcended social class and included adults, children, and even fetuses. Arriaza hypothesizes that fetuses and newborns were especially susceptible to arsenic.

Arriaza and colleagues studied hair samples from 46 ancient mummies previously found in five different sites throughout the arid valley. The results showed that nine of every ten Chinchorro mummies ~ ranging from 7,000 to 600 years old ~ had hair with arsenic levels of more than one microgram of arsenic per gram of hair, which is high enough to cause health problems.

Click here for the complete article.
Photo shows naturally mummified Chinchorro child.

Ancient Ugarit Language Shows Links to Arabic

Small clay tablets found in the lost city of Ugarit in Syria are revealing an alphabet very similar to the Arabic and Greek alphabets, showing distinct links with Arabic in both word meanings and grammar.

The Ugaritic language ~ discovered by French archaeologists  in 1928 ~ is known only in writings found in the lost city of Ugarit, near the modern Syrian village of Ras Shamra. Their discovery has been termed “the greatest literary discovery from antiquity since the deciphering of the Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mesopotamian cuneiform.”

According to the Global Arab Network:

It has been extremely important for scholars of the Old Testament in clarifying Biblical Hebrew texts and has revealed more of the way in which ancient Israelite culture finds parallels in the neighboring cultures.

Literary texts discovered at Ugarit include the Legend of Keret, the Aqhat Epic (or Legend of Danel), the Myth of Baal-Aliyan, and the Death of Baal ~ the latter two are also collectively known as the Baal Cycle ~ all revealing a Canaanite religion.

Click here for the complete article.
Photo shows some recovered Ugarit tablets.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tell Zeidan Holds Clues to Earliest Mesopotamia

Painted Ubaid pot fragments recovered from the Tell Zeidan site.

Archaeologists in northern Syria area researching prehistoric Mesopotamia to better understand what set the stage for the world’s first cities and the invention of writing.

According to the New York Times:
In two seasons of preliminary surveying and digging at the site known as Tell Zeidan, American and Syrian investigators have already uncovered a tantalizing sampling of artifacts from what had been a robust pre-urban settlement on the upper Euphrates River. People occupied the site for two millenniums, until 4000 B.C. ~ a little-known but fateful period of human cultural evolution. 
Scholars say that Tell Zeidan should reveal insights into the Ubaid period ~ from 5500 to 4000 BC ~ when irrigation agriculture became widespread, long-distance trade grew, powerful political leaders arose and communities divided into social classes of wealthy elites and poorer commoners.

Click here for the complete article.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More Megalith Clues Point to Ritual Animal Killings

Some of the few megaliths still standing at Dartmoor.

Nine megaliths in a remote part of Dartmoor, England, may shed light on the meaning behind prehistoric stone megaliths such as Stonehenge. The Dartmoor stones were recently carbon-dated to around 3500 BC, and likely predate Stonehenge. Both sites feature standing stones aligned to mark the rising of the midsummer sun and the setting of the midwinter sun.

Archaeologist Mike Pitts says that "huge quantities of barbecued juvenile pig bones" were found near Stonehenge, indicating that the animals were born in the spring and killed not far from the site "for pork feasting" in midwinter.

According to Discovery News:
"The general feeling is that the sun was symbolizing or marking the occasion, rather than being the ritual focus itself, so it probably was not sun worship," added Pitts, who is author of the book "Hengeworld" and is one of the leading experts on British megaliths. This feasting was not just a meaningless pork party, and might have been more akin to a post-funeral wake today. 
Pitts believes the "solstice alignment phenomenon perhaps has something to do with death." As he explains it, the setting sun and shorter days of winter would have represented the passage into the darkness of the underworld, and the reverse as the days start to lengthen again.
"At Stonehenge," he continued, "the dark navy-colored bluestones may themselves represent ancestors or spirits from the underworld, while the big orangey-pink (before weathering) sarsens could reflect summer and light."

The Dartmoor megaliths are now lying flat. Their toppling has helped historians, however, since peat above and the below the stones permitted the carbon dating, extremely rare for such monuments.

Click here for the Discovery News article.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Translation Reveals Octavian's Name on Stele

Philae Court with Temple of Isis in the background.

New translation of a 29 BC Roman victory stele bears the name of Octavian Augustus ~ the military commander who defeated Cleopatra and Mark Antony in the Battle of Actium ~ in a place traditionally reserved for the names of Egyptian Pharaohs. Historians generally believe that Octavian never was crowned as a pharaoh, even though he ruled over Egypt following Cleopatra’s suicide in 30 BC.

According to an article in Heritage Key:
The stele was erected at a time when Octavian was still paying lip service to restoring the Roman Republic. He would not be named “Augustus” by the Roman Senate until 27 BC. In the years following that, he would gradually acquire more power.
The victory stele is written in three languages (like the Rosetta Stone) - Egyptian hieroglyphics, Latin and Greek. It was erected by priests at the Temple of Isis at Philae, which is near the first cataract, the traditional border between Egypt and Nubia.
The stele has been known to scholars for about 100 years. However, the hieroglyphic writing is difficult to translate as the symbols are not clear on the stone.

Click here for the Heritage Key article.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

'Afterlife Door' from Tomb is Recovered

A large red granite false door that ancient Egyptians believed was the threshold to the afterlife has been recovered near the Karnak Temple in Luxor. The door belongs to the tomb of User, a powerful advisor to the 18th dynasty Queen Hatshepsut.

The door ~ measuring nearly six feet high and 19 inches thick ~ is engraved with religious texts and various titles used by User, including mayor of the city, vizier and prince, antiquities chief Zahi Hawass was quoted as saying.

"The newly discovered door was reused during the Roman period. It was removed from the tomb of User and used in the wall of a Roman structure," said Mansur Boraik, who headed the excavation mission.

Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt between 1479 BC and 1458 BC, was the longest reigning female pharaoh.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Scientists Link Biblical Plagues to Climate Change

Plagues of Egypt by Joseph Turner, 1800.

Researchers have found evidence of natural disasters that could have precipitated the Biblical10 plagues of Egypt. They claim the plagues ~ which led to Moses freeing the Israelites from slavery in the Book of Exodus ~ can be attributed to changes in the climate and environmental disasters that happened hundreds of miles away.

Archaeologists now say the plagues occurred at an ancient city of Pi-Rameses on the Nile Delta, the capital of Egypt during the reign of Rameses the Second, between 1279 BC and 1213 BC. The city was abandoned around 3,000 years ago.

Climatologists have discovered that a dramatic shift in the climate in the area occurred towards the end of Rameses the Second's reign, moving from a warm and wet climate to an extended dry period.

"Pharaoh Rameses II reigned during a very favourable climatic period,” says Augusto Magini, a paleoclimatologist at Heidelberg University. "There was plenty of rain and his country flourished. However, this wet period only lasted a few decades. After Rameses' reign, the climate curve goes sharply downwards. There is a dry period which would certainly have had serious consequences."

The scientists believe this switch in the climate was the trigger for the first of the plagues.

Click here for the complete London Telegraph article.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Effort Continuing to Find Authors of Scrolls

Caves where the scrolls were found in the remote area of Qumran.

Researchers including scholars and archaeologists continue to seek the identity of the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, more than 800 documents found in 1947 in the remote West Bank site known as Qumran. The scrolls contain previously unknown prayers, hymns, commentaries and other information ~ written between 300 BC and 70 AD ~ in what is generally considered one of the most important collections of religious texts in he Western world. is featuring an excellent wrap-up of current scholarly thinking regarding authorship of the scrolls. Among the findings:
One assumption that is now widely accepted is that the majority of the scrolls did not originate at Qumran. The earliest texts date to 300 B.C.—a century before Qumran even existed as a settlement—and the latest to a generation before the Romans destroyed the site in A.D. 68. A few scrolls are written in sophisticated Greek rather than a prosaic form of Aramaic or Hebrew that would be expected from a community of ascetics in the Judean desert. And why would such a community keep a list, etched in rare copper, of precious treasures of gold and silver—possibly from the Second Temple in Jerusalem—that had been secreted away? Nor does the word “Essene” appear in any of the scrolls.
One conclusion is that the definitive answer to authorship likely will be resolved by “archaeologists scrutinizing Qumran’s every physical remnant (rather) than by scholars poring over the texts.”

Click here for the complete article.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

New Data May Locate Mystery Pyramid

Pyramid of Unas in foreground is near suspected site of Userkare's tomb.

Based on new astronomical and topographical findings, archaeologists believe the missing pyramid of Userkare ~ an obscure pharaoh that ruled Egypt some 4,300 years ago ~ could lie at the intersection of a series of invisible lines in South Saqqara.

Connecting the funerary complexes raised by kings of the 6th Dynasty between 2322 and 2151 BC, the lines would have defined the sacred space of the Saqqara area, based on dynastic lineage, religion and astronomical alignment.

"We are talking of meridian and diagonal alignments, with pyramids raised at their intersections. The only missing piece in this sort of grid is the pyramid of Userkare," Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan's Polytechnic University, told Discovery News.

Known only from the king lists, Userkare was the second pharaoh of the 6th Dynasty. He took power after Teti I was murdered, perhaps in a conspiracy he himself had maneuvered.

"When Pepi I took control a few years later, Userkare disappeared from history. Finding his tomb might help understand those obscure years. The walls in his burial might also contain intact copies of the Pyramid Texts," Magli said, referring to the oldest known religious texts in the world that were carved on the walls and sarcophagi of the pyramids at Saqqara during the 5th and 6th Dynasties of the Old Kingdom.

Click here for the complete article.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Were Puebloans Victims of Cultural Brutality?

Wilcox examines an Arizona cliff dwelling known as Keet Seel.

Anthropologist Michael Wilcox argues in his new book, The Pueblo Revolt and the Mythology of Conquest, that the story of Native peoples in New Mexico has more to do with cultural brutality than disease.  

In the book he calls on fellow scholars to embrace a new approach ~ "indigenous archaeology" ~ to understand Native American history by seeing the connections between artifacts and other scientific evidence and the narratives of living indigenous peoples. In doing so, he argues, archaeologists could better explain why indigenous populations persist. According to the Stanford University News:

Wilcox's new book is a story within a story. The first story recounts the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 ~ the only successful expulsion of colonialists in the Americas at the hands of Native Americans. His retelling is based on a reexamination of primary documents and his own archaeological excavations at Old Cochiti, south of Santa Fe in New Mexico. In the second story, he shows how the conquest history favored by historians, anthropologists and archaeologists fails to explain why the Puebloan people succeeded in their revolt and persist today.

"I always joke that Indians have been disappearing longer than almost any group in history," said Wilcox. "The presence of four and a half million Native Americans in the United States is a complete mystery to most people. There is no story that explains what they are still doing here."

Click here for the complete article and a video.