Monday, August 30, 2010

Earliest Arrow Heads Reveal Hunting Style

Scientists in South Africa have unearthed 64,000-year-old “stone points” they say were probably arrow heads. Examination of the ancient weapons revealed remnants of blood and bone, as well as traces of plant-based resin scientists think was used to fasten them onto a wooden shaft.

The arrow heads were excavated from layers of ancient sediment in Sibudu Cave in South Africa. During the excavation the team dug through layers deposited up to 100,000 years ago.

Professor Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum in London said the work added to the view that modern humans in Africa 60,000 years ago had begun to hunt in a “new way.” Neanderthals and other early humans, he explained, were likely to have been “ambush predators,” who needed to get close to their prey in order to dispatch them.

“This work further extends the advanced behaviors inferred for early modern people in Africa,” Stringer told the BBC.

Click here for the complete BBC article.

Pagan Mask Found at Russian Site

Archaeologists recently discovered a 1,000-year-old pagan mask in the historical center of Veliki Novgorod. According to the head of the pit Victor Singh, the mask has openings for the mouth and eyes and was most likely cut from the top of a long leather boot. The back part has holes for small straps or cords, which were fastened at the back of the head.

“The mask was probably used during some pagan rites,” Singh explained. It was found in the cultural layer dating to the 12th century. In all, around 20 masks have been unearthed at the site.

Click here for the Russian InfoCentre article.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ancient Egyptian Trade Routes Unearthed

Section of the ancient trade route near Darb el-Arbain.

Discovery of a 3,500-year-old settlement in a desert oasis indicates existence of vibrant ancient desert trade routes stretching from the Mediterranean into Sudan during the early days of the Egyptian civilization.

The settlement at Umm el-Mawagir in Egypt's Kharga Oasis ~ more than 300 miles south of Cairo ~ has been excavated for the past year by a Yale University expedition, whose initial findings suggest it was an administrative post with massive baking facilities, possibly to feed local troops.
"The amount of bread production was pretty amazing," said John Darnell, head of the expedition, citing discoveries of ovens, bread molds and storerooms at the site, far out of proportion to its size. "It's probably a good bet they were basically baking enough bread to feed an army, literally," he said.
The site was home to a few thousand inhabitants and also includes remnants of mudbrick buildings, similar to those used for administrative purposes in the Nile Valley to the east, suggesting close contact between the two regions.
According to the Associated Press, the ancient routes stretched from the Darfur region in Sudan through the oases and the Nile Valley up to the ancient Palestine and Syria, with long caravans of donkeys bringing wines, luxury goods and wealth along with them. It would at least be 1,000 years before the camel made its appearance.

Click here for the complete Associated Press article.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Palace of Odysseus Believed Found

Ulysses Returns Chryseis to her Father ~ Claude Lorrain, 1648.

Greek archaeologists claim they’ve found the palace of Odysseus during excavations on the island of Ithaca in the Ionian Sea. Archaeologist Thanasis Papadopulos, who has been leading the excavation effort on Odysseus' home island for 16 years, says he has known the palace’s location since 2006.

“We found the ruins of a three-level palace with a staircase carved into the rock,” Papadopulos says. His team also found a well dating back to 13th century BC, when the Trojan War is believed to have taken place.
He says the discoveries are identical to those described in Homer's Odyssey, presumably written during 8th century BC.

The Greek Ministry of Culture has provided more funding for the continuation of the excavations. The mayor of Ithaca, Spiros Arsenis, has stated that Papadopulos' discovery is easily one of the most important discoveries in modern archeology, as reported by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Click here for the article.
Please check "comments" for more detail on the painting.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Triskaidekaphobia Has Several Ancient Sources

Norse god Loki from 17th century Icelandic manuscript.

For sufferers of triskaidekaphobia ~ dread of the numeral 13 ~ last Friday was the 2010’s most unlucky day. But it was the only Friday the 13th for the entire year, while 2009 had nine of them, the highest number of Friday the 13ths possible on the Gregorian calendar.

National Geographic News explores the topic in an article quoting from the book Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun by folklore historian Donald Dossey. In his book, Dossey explores both the origins of the unlucky sentiments regarding the number 13 and of Fridays.

According to National Geographic News:
Dossey traces the fear of the number 13 ~ aka, triskaidekaphobia ~ to a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party at Valhalla, Norse mythology's heaven. In walked the uninvited 13th guest, the mischievous god Loki. Once there, Loki arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. "Balder died, and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day," Dossey said.
There is also a biblical reference to the unlucky number 13. Judas, the apostle said to have betrayed Jesus, was the 13th guest to the Last Supper.
As for Friday, it's well known among Christians as the day Jesus was crucified. Some biblical scholars believe Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit on Friday. Perhaps most significant is a belief that Abel was slain by his brother Cain on Friday the 13th.
Meanwhile, in ancient Rome, witches reportedly gathered in groups of 12. The 13th was believed to be the devil.
Some people are so paralyzed by Friday the 13th superstitions that they refuse to fly, buy a house, or act on a hot stock tip, the article states. "It's been estimated that $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day because people will not fly or do business they would normally do," said Dossey.

Click here for the complete National Geographic article.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fate of Sphinx Nose Remains a Mystery

Napoleon viewing noseless Sphinx, by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1867.

Despite numerous theories, the fate of the Sphinx’s nose remains a mystery. In a brief article on, author Prad Patel compiles some evidence in the form of period drawings and offers some speculation. While centuries of erosion usually is identified as the culprit, his article states:
In a previous Heritage Key article, “Riddle of the Sphinx,” Robert Cook wrote about the legend that Napoleon's troops used the Sphinx's nose as target practice during the French invasion of Egypt in 1798. But did they really have such a disregard for thousands of years of history that they purposefully destroyed the nose of the Great Sphinx?
It's a bit of a confusing mystery, mainly because of the poetic license employed by some of those who knew how to draw back in the 18th century. It wasn't so much a case of there being a nose or not, but that the artists felt the Sphinx would be much more attractive and exotic to those viewing the works back in Europe if the monument didn't have a ruined nose.
Check out the article for its links to artwork and more speculation on why the nose is missing.

Click here for the complete article.

Intact nose in 1698 drawing by Cornelis de Brujin.

Sudan's Pyramids Still Perplexing

Landscape of Kush pyramids at Meroe.

While archaeologists have thoroughly excavated the 100 or so pyramids in Sudan, many aspects of the ancient Kush civilization that built them remain a mystery. According to Cosmos magazine:
Kush was one of the earliest civilizations in the Nile valley and, at first, was dominated by Egypt. The Nubians eventually gained their independence and, at the height of their power, they turned the table on Egypt and conquered it in the 8th century BC. They occupied the entire Nile valley for a century before being forced back into what is now Sudan.
At the center of the exploration is Meroe, located northeast of Khartoum and the last capital of Kush. The Meroe dynasty was the last in a line of "black pharaohs" that ruled Kush for more than 1,000 years until 350 AD. Meroe had three cemeteries containing more than 100 pyramids, smaller than their Egyptian counterparts. The largest are 30 meters tall and the angles are steep, some close to 70 degrees.

"We have a chronology, but it's not very precise," says Salah Mohammed Ahmed, deputy director of Sudan antiquities.

"We know about 50 words in Meroitic, but we need about a thousand of them to understand a language. So we have an enormous amount of work to do," Claude Rilly, head of the French section of Sudanese antiquities in Khartoum and a leading expert in the ancient language, told Cosmos.

Click here for the Cosmos Magazine article.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Site of Phoenician City is Reconsidered

Phoenician ship, from ancient bas relief.

The ancient Phoenician city of Aüza ~ known only from written records dating back 3,500 years ~ may have been in a different location than experts have long thought. By studying ancient maps and records, emeritus classics professor Sir John Boardman of the University of Oxford has pinpointed a more likely site.

“Too many people have wanted to put it much too far away,” Boardman says. Where previous historians have thought Aüza was probably far to the west, beyond Carthage in Tunisia, he puts it at a site known as Aziris, nearer to Egypt and Phoenicia. Aüza was a port city used to give the Phoenicians a foothold on the African continent.

According to LiveScience, the confusion over the site for Aüza likely stemmed from the many names the site of Aziris has had over time, and the poor records identifying where Aüza actually was. Though Boardman can't be sure he's gotten to the bottom of the matter, he thinks Aziris is the most likely place to have hosted Aüza.

The Phoenicians were a seafaring civilization that thrived between 1550 BC and 300 BC, famous for their shipbuilding capabilities and seamanship.“They were exploring the Mediterranean the same time the Greeks were,” Boardman said. “It's fashionable to think they were in rivalry, but it's much more likely they were friendly to each other.”

Click here for the article.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Europe's Stone Age Tombs Built in Brief Period

The Ring of Brodgar, a Neolithic tomb in Orkney, Scotland.

New research indicates western Europe’s huge prehistoric tombs were built in an isolated burst of activity around 4000 BC instead of throughout the Stone Age. “It trivializes the tombs to call it a fad, but building such structures seems to have become a fashion where great numbers were built and then there was a cessation for centuries,” says archaeologist Chris Scarre of Durham University.

According to USA Today:
Rather than a single “megalithic” culture stretching across Europe, the outburst of mound tombs likely represents an idea reaching local cultures, he suggests, which then “stopped and started” across the centuries. 
“One big implication is the realization that the people buried in this fashion represent only a small fraction of the people who were alive then,” Scarre says. “Until the Roman era, thoughtful burial of the dead may have been a rare thing in this part of Europe.”
Improved dating of materials such as birch bark, bone and stone left in the tombs now reveals the clustered construction times of the mounds, according to Scarre.

Click here for the article.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mayan Pigment is Basis for New Dye

Warrior with Azul Maya background, the basis for new long-lasting dyes.

To create a new dye intended to last a thousand years, physicists are basing their formula on a pigment that already has lasted that long ~ the brilliant blue the ancient Mayans used on their temple walls.

“This pigment has been stable for centuries in the hostile conditions of the jungle,” Eric Dooryhee of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., told Fox News. “We're trying to mimic it to make new materials.”
Unlike most organic pigments, which tend to break down over time, the pigment Maya Blue is remarkably resistant -- not only to natural weathering, heat, and light, but also to strong acids and solvents in the laboratory. 
Pre-Columbian Mesoamericans, who lived in Central America before the first Spaniards arrived, developed the pigment about 1700 years ago. Archaeologists rediscovered it in 1931 at the site of the ancient Mayan capitol Chichen Itza. 
Mayans made the pigment by mixing indigo plants and a type of clay called palygorskite. A bowl retrieved from the Sacred Cenote revealed traces of all of these materials, each of which was considered to be a healing substance by the Mayans.

After examining clay-like materials with similar structures, Dooryhee and his colleagues successfully combined indigo with zeolite ~ used in products as diverse as cement, laundry soaps, nutritional supplements, and cat litter ~ to make a new kind of long-lasting blue pigment.

Click here for the complete article.
Click here for earlier article on Mayan blue.

Small Human Population Survived Ice Age

Mouth of African cave that may have sheltered Ice Age humans.

A devastating ice age nearly 200,000 years ago may have reduced the world’s human population to a few hundred people who survived in caves in southernmost Africa before eventually migrating to other parts of the globe as the climate became more hospitable.

A growing number of scientists believe this scenario accounts for humans’ limited genetic diversity compared to other species. According to the Mail Online:
“Shortly after Homo sapiens first evolved, the harsh climate conditions nearly extinguished our species,” says Professor Curtis Marean of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University. “Recent finds suggest the small population that gave rise to all humans alive today survived by exploiting a unique combination of resources along the southern coast of Africa.”
Marean has discovered ancient human artifacts in isolated caves ~ containing archaeological remains going back at least 164,000 years ~ in an area known as Pinnacle Point in South Africa. Humans would have been able to survive there because of rich vegetation available in the area, plus the sea would have been a good source of food as currents carrying nutrients would have passed by the shore, bringing with them a plentiful supply of fish.

Many researchers believe that modern humans evolved about 195,000 years ago in East Africa, and within 50,000 years had spread to other parts of the continent. It is thought that 70,000 years ago a dry period caused Red Sea levels to fall and the gap across its mouth to shrink from 18 miles to eight miles, enabling migration to Arabia.

Click here for the complete article.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Westerners, Not Natives, Caused Island's Demise

Mounting evidence is absolving the people of Rapa Nui ~ also known as Easter Island ~ of violent ways, pointing instead to widespread destruction on the island by westerners who discovered it in the early 18th Century.

Dr. Karina Croucher of the University of Manchester says her research casts new light on the aboriginal people of Rapa Nui.

“Easter Islanders’ ancestors have been unfairly accused by Westerners of being primitive and warlike, for toppling statues ~ or moai ~ and for over-exploiting the island’s natural resources,” she contends. “They were a people who saw themselves as connected to the landscape, which they carved and marked as they did their own bodies and the moai statues.”

 “Rather than a story of self-inflicted deprivation, I agree with the view that substantial blame has to rest with Western contact, ever since Easter Island’s first sighting by Jacob Roggeveen in 1722,” she continued.
“Visitors brought disease, pests and slavery, resulting in the tragic demise of the local population and culture.
There is little archaeological evidence to support the history of internal warfare and collapse before contact with the outside world.”

Click here for the article.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tunnel May Lead to Missing Teotihuacan Tombs

A long-sealed tunnel ~ believed to date back 1,800 years ~ has been found under the ruins of Teotihuacan and containing chambers that may hold tombs of the ancient city's early rulers. According to ABC News:
Experts say a tomb discovery would be significant because the social structure of Teotihuacan remains a mystery after nearly 100 years of archaeological exploration at the site, which is best known for the towering Pyramids of the Moon and the Sun. No depiction of a ruler, or the tomb of a monarch, has ever been found, setting the metropolis apart from other pre-Hispanic cultures that deified their rulers.
 Archaeologists had suspected the hidden tunnel’s existence following a heavy rainstorm in 2003 caused the ground to sink at the foot of the Temple of Quetzacoatl, in the central ceremonial area of the ruins just north of Mexico City.

Click here for the article.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Research Questions Authorship of Dead Sea Scrolls

Section of the scrolls recently on display in Jerusalem.

New research indicates the Dead Sea Scrolls ~ discovered some 60 years ago in caves near the ancient settlement of Qumran ~ may have originated elsewhere. And instead of the scrolls being the work of a Jewish sect called the Essenes, the actual authors may have come from several Jewish groups, including those fleeing Jerusalem during the Roman siege circa 70 A.D.

"Jews wrote the Scrolls, but it may not have been just one specific group,” archaeologist Robert Cargill tells National Geographic News. An article on the magazine’s website states:
Recent findings by Yuval Peleg, an archaeologist who has excavated Qumran for 16 years, are challenging long-held notions of who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Artifacts discovered by Peleg's team during their excavations suggest Qumran once served as an ancient pottery factory. The supposed baths may have actually been pools to capture and separate clay. 
And on Jerusalem's Mount Zion, archaeologists recently discovered and deciphered a two-thousand-year-old cup with the phrase "Lord, I have returned" inscribed on its sides in a cryptic code similar to one used in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 
To some experts, the code suggests that religious leaders from Jerusalem authored at least some of the scrolls.
The Essenes may have actually been Jerusalem Temple priests who went into self-imposed exile in the second century B.C., after kings unlawfully assumed the role of high priest. They may have escaped to Qumran to worship God in their own way. While there, they may have written some of the texts that would come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Click here for the article.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Graffiti in Pompeii Was Respected and Plentiful

Graffiti was plentiful on the walls of Pompeii.

The people of Pompeii used graffiti ~ a respected for of writing in the ancient Roman world ~ to express goodwill.

“They were much nicer in their graffiti than we are,” says Rebecca Benefiel, a classicist from Washington & Lee University who has spent six summers studying the doomed city’s graffiti. “There are lots of pairings with the word ‘felicter,’ which means ‘happily.’ When you pair it with someone’s name, it means you’re hoping things go well for that person. There are lots of graffiti that say ‘Felicter Pompeii,’ wishing the whole town well.”

According to
From the very beginning, archaeologists noticed copious amounts of graffiti on the outsides of (Pompeii’s) buildings. In the late 1800s, scholars began making careful copies of Latin inscriptions throughout the ancient Roman world, including Pompeii, and cataloging them. This effort is a boon to scholars like Benefiel, since more than 90 percent of Pompeii’s recorded graffiti have since been erased by exposure to the elements.
Based on the graffiti found on both exterior walls and in kitchens and servant rooms, Benefiel surmises that the emperor Nero was much more popular than we tend to think. She’s also found that declarations of love were common, and that the people of Pompeii displayed their cleverness via graffiti, from poetry contests to playful combinations of the letters that form Roman numerals.

Click here for the article.