Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mayor of Memphis Tomb Rediscovered

The world learned today that archaeologists have unearthed the 3,300-year-old tomb ~ lost under sand since treasure hunters stole pieces of it during the 19th century ~ of the mayor of ancient Egypt’s capital city, Memphis. The mayor, named Ptahmes, also served as army chief, overseer of the treasury and royal scribe under Seti I and his son and successor, Ramses II, in the 13th century BC.  According to the Associated Press:
The discovery of his tomb earlier this year in a New Kingdom necropolis at Saqqara, south of Cairo, solves a riddle dating back to 1885, when foreign expeditions made off with pieces of the tomb, whose location was soon after forgotten.
"Since then it was covered by sand and no one knew about it," said Ola el-Aguizy, the Cairo University archaeology professor who led the excavation. "It is important because this tomb was the lost tomb."
Some of the artifacts ended up in museums in the Netherlands, the United States and Italy as well as the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, providing the only clues about the missing tomb.

A team from Cairo University's archaeology department found the tomb during new excavations of the area that started in 2005, el-Aguizy said. The inner chambers of the large, temple-style tomb and Ptahmes' mummy remain undiscovered. In the side sanctuaries and other chambers they uncovered, archaeologists found a vivid wall engraving of people fishing from boats made of bundles of papyrus reeds. There were also amulets and fragments of statues.

Click here for the ABC News article.
Click here for the MSNBC News article.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Divers Explore Cleopatra's Palace

Diver examining the limestone blocks of the Isis temple.

Divers today explored the submerged ruins of a palace and temple complex from which Cleopatra ruled, swimming over heaps of limestone blocks hammered into the sea by earthquakes and tsunamis more than 1,600 years ago.

According to the Associated Press, the international team is painstakingly excavating one of the richest underwater archaeological sites in the world and retrieving stunning artifacts from the last dynasty to rule over ancient Egypt before the Roman Empire annexed it in 30 BC.
Using advanced technology, the team is surveying ancient Alexandria's Royal Quarters, encased deep below the harbor sediment, and confirming the accuracy of descriptions of the city left by Greek geographers and historians more than 2,000 years ago.
 Since the early 1990s, the topographical surveys have allowed the team, led by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, to conquer the harbor's extremely poor visibility and excavate below the seabed. They are discovering everything from coins and everyday objects to colossal granite statues of Egypt's rulers and sunken temples dedicated to their gods.
 “It's a unique site in the world,” said Goddio, who has spent two decades searching for shipwrecks and lost cities below the seas.
Tuesday's dive explored the sprawling palace and temple complex where Cleopatra, the last of Egypt's Greek-speaking Ptolemaic rulers, seduced the Roman general Marc Antony before committing suicide upon their defeat by Octavian, the future Roman Emperor Augustus.

Click here for the complete article.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mummies in Newly Discovered Tombs

A sarcophagus from inside one of the newly discovered tombs.

Archaeologists south of Cairo have discovered 57 tombs, most of which hold a painted wooden sarcophagus with a mummy inside, Egyptian authorities announced today. The oldest tombs date back to around 2750 BC., during the period of Egypt's first and second dynasties. Twelve belong the 18th Dynasty, which ruled Egypt during the second millennium BC, and included well-known pharaohs such as Tutankhamun, Akhenaten and Queen Hatshepsut.

The mummies dating to the 18th Dynasty are covered in linen decorated with religious texts from the Book of the Dead and scenes featuring ancient Egyptian deities, authorities said. Abdel Rahman El-Aydi, head of the archaeological mission that made the discovery, said some of the tombs are decorated with religious texts that ancient Egyptians believed would help the deceased to cross through the underworld.

One of the oldest tombs is almost completely intact, with all of its funerary equipment and a wooden sarcophagus containing a mummy wrapped in linen. In 31 tombs dating to around 2030-1840 B.C, archaeologists discovered scenes of different ancient Egyptian deities, such as the falcon-headed Horus, Hathor, Khnum and Amun, decorating some of the tombs.

Click here for the complete article.

Laser Images Reveal Mayan Metropolis

Laser images of Caracol clearly depict Caana palaces and temples.

Laser technology has enabled anthropologists to strip away thick layers of rain forest to reveal images of the ancient Mayan metropolis of Caracol, showing it to be far larger than previously thought.

In an April 2009 flyover, scientists employed Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) equipment ~ bouncing laser beams off the ground ~ to construct a 3-D map of the settlement in western Belize.  Revealed were previously unknown buildings, roads, and other features.

According to National Geographic, University of Central Florida anthropologists Arlen and Diane Chase have spent decades hacking through the tangled undergrowth that has engulfed the powerful city that thrived between 550 and 900 AD. Among other features, the LiDAR images captured Caracol's tallest buildings, a set of palaces and temples called Caana.

"It's like literally removing all of the plant growth, so that we can see down below," Arlen Chase said.

Click here for the article and several of the 3-D images.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Exploring the Mysterious Portolan Maps

Section of the amazingly accurate 1559 map by Mateo Prunes.

One of the most mysterious topics in world history concerns a handful of maps depicting the world’s geography with a precision that far exceeded the tools and abilities of the day’s mapmakers. The Library of Congress this week convened a conference, “Re-Examining the Portolan Chart: History, Navigation and Science” to discuss maps originating about 1275. According to today’s Washington Post:
It is a rare representative of one of the world's greatest and most enduring mysteries: Where and how did medieval mapmakers, apparently armed with no more than a compass, an hourglass and sets of sailing directions, develop stunningly accurate maps of southern Europe, the Black Sea and North African coastlines, as if they were looking down from a satellite, when no one had been higher than a treetop?
The earliest known portolan (PORT-oh-lawn) chart, the Carta Pisana, just appears in about 1275 -- with no known predecessors. It is perhaps the first modern scientific map and contrasted sharply to the "mappamundi" of the era, the colorful maps with unrecognizable geography and fantastic creatures and legends. It bears no resemblance to the methods of the mathematician Ptolemy and does not use measurements of longitude and latitude.
 And yet, despite it's stunning accuracy, the map "seems to have emerged full-blown from the seas it describes," one reference journal notes. No one today knows who made the first maps, or how they calculated distance so accurately, or even how all the information came to be compiled.
While maps such as the Carta Pisana are indeed worthy of in-depth research, I’m also drawn to even more mysterious examples, such as the Piri Reis map from 1513, which has been the topic of a couple of books, the most fun ~ even if perhaps not the most accurate ~ being Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, first published by Charles Hapgood in 1966.

Click here for the Washington Post article.
Click here for more on the Piri Reis map.
Click here for a Wikipedia overview of ancient maps.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tomb May Link Zoque and Mayan Cultures

Pyramid containing the ancient tomb in Chiapa de Corzo.

Archaeologists are hoping the 2,700-year-old pyramid in Chiapa de Corzo in southern Mexico can help settle debate on origins of the mysterious Zoque civilization.

The pyramid tomb ~ see post below for more information ~ is a window into how two unique cultures emerged from the Olmec, one of the oldest civilizations in the New World. The Olmec fanned out from their Gulf of Mexico homeland around 1200 BC and influenced many later Mesoamerican civilizations.

In the centuries prior to the construction of the recently unearthed tomb, Chiapa de Corzo likely was a large village along a major trade route operated by the Olmec from their capital city, La Venta, on the Gulf Coast. As Chiapa de Corzo gained wealth and power it began to assert its own identity.

The newly discovered tomb ~ which includes Olmec and Zoque traits ~ suggests this transition was well underway by 700 BC. Emerging from the influence of the Olmec, the nascent Zoque culture at Chiapa de Corzo may have been influencing other cultures, including the Maya Empire.

Click here for the National Geographic article.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tomb Believed Oldest in Mesoamerica

Body in the tomb is believed to have been a high priest or ruler.

Archaeologists in southern Mexico have discovered a 2,700-year-old tomb that may be the oldest such burial documented in Mesoamerica. It holds a man about 50 years old, buried with jade collars, pyrite and obsidian artefacts and ceramic vessels.

Archaeologist Emiliano Gallaga said the tomb dates to between 500 and 700 BC. “We think this is one of the earliest discoveries of the use of a pyramid as a tomb, not only as a religious site or temple,” he said.

The tomb was found at a site built by Zoque Indians in Chiapa de Corzo. It may be almost 1,000 years older than the better-known pyramid tomb of the Mayan ruler Pakal at the Palenque archaeological site, also in Chiapas.

The man is thought to have been a high priest or ruler of Chiapa de Corzo, a prominent settlement at the time. The body of a one-year-old child was laid carefully over the man's body inside the tomb, while that of a 20-year-old male was tossed into the chamber with less care, perhaps sacrificed at the time of burial.

Click here for the complete Guardian article.
Click here for a lengthier New York Times article.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Statue Unearthed near Amenhotep Tomb

Upper portion of the newly discovered Thoth statue.

A colossal statue of the Egyptian deity of wisdom, Thoth, has been unearthed near the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III during archaeological works aimed at controlling the subterranean water level on Luxor's west bank, according to the London Independent.

The 3.5-metre red granite statue is one of several artifacts discovered in the area since excavations began. The head of a 2.5-metre statue depicting Pharaoh Amenhotep III in a standing position ~ possibly the best preserved depiction of the pharaoh’s face found to date ~ was unearthed at the King's funeral temple at Kom El-Hettan only months ago. A statue of the god Thoth in the shape of a baboon was also discovered. Last year two black granite statues of Amenhotep III were found at the temple, as well as a 5-metre statue similar to the Thoth statue just found.

Amenhotep III ruled Egypt between 1390 BC and 1352 BC, and recent DNA and forensic research suggests that he was probably the grandfather of Tutankhamun. His temple was built closer to the river than any other temple at Thebes and within 200 years it had collapsed.

Click here for the complete article.

Friday, May 14, 2010

New Claim of Noah's Ark Discovery

Chinese archaeologist examines some timbers possibly of Noah's Ark.

Turkish officials are considering requesting UNESCO World Heritage Status for a site on Mount Ararat where Chinese and Turkish explorers believe they have found the ruins of the biblical Noah’s Ark. Researchers from the Noah’s Ark Ministries International say carbon dating of the wooden ruins place them at 4,800 years old, approximately the time the legendary ark may have been afloat.

Yeung Wing-Cheung, from the Noah's Ark Ministries International research team, said: "It's not 100 percent that it is Noah's Ark, but we think it is 99.9 per cent that this is it." He said the structure ~ found at the 13,000-foot elevation ~ contained several compartments, some with wooden beams, they believe were used to house animals.

The group of evangelical archaeologists ruled out an established human settlement on the grounds none have ever been found above 11,000ft in the vicinity, Yeung said. Obtaining the UNESCO designation would enable the site to be protected while a major archaeological dig is conducted.

According to the Bible, the ark came to rest on a mountain. Many believe Mount Ararat ~ highest point in the region of eastern Turkey ~ is where the ark and its inhabitants ran aground.

Click here for the complete article and a video of the find.