Thursday, September 30, 2010

Early Roman Temple to Mithras Discovered in France

Early depiction of Mithras killing a bull.
Archaeologists excavating at Angers, France, have discovered the remains of a temple ~ dating to the third century AD ~ dedicated to the Indo-Iranian god Mithras. In the temple sanctuary, a typical bas-relief of the god Mithras wearing his Phrygian cap shows him slaughtering a bull ~ the so-called tauroctony. The depiction was intentionally damaged in ancient times, possibly by early Christians trying to suppress the pagan cult.

According to the London Independent:
The earliest evidence of occupation at the 9,000 square meter excavation site is dated to about 10 BC. It is believed the cult of Mithras was brought to the Roman Empire by soldiers coming from the East at the end of the first century AD.
Mithraism, a religion exclusive to men, first became popular with the elite, but quickly spread through all layers of society. Later it became known as a soldier's cult. Shrines dedicated to Mithras are most often found at the borders of the Roman Empire, where large amounts of troops were stationed. 
With the rise of Christianity, the worship of Mithras came under severe attack. Roman Emperor Theodosius banned the Mithriac mysteries in 392, along with all other pagan religions.

Click here for the complete article.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Aborigines May Have Been First to Settle Americas

Australian Aborigines on Botany Bay by Arthur Phillip, 1790.

Scientists now say there is compelling evidence that two different populations first colonized the Americas, the earliest being Australian Aborigines over 11,000 years ago.

Cranial features distinctive to Australian Aborigines are present in hundreds of skulls uncovered in Central and South America, according to evolutionary biologist Walter Neves of the University of São Paulo.

The second population to arrive ~ up to now regarded as the first migration to the Americas ~ was humans of East and North Asian origin who entered the Americas from Siberia across the Bering Strait and founded modern Native American populations, he argues. It has been believed that these Asian people spread steadily southward to eventually populate Central and South America as well.

“The results suggest a clear biological affinity between the early South Americans and the South Pacific population,” Neves says. “This association allowed for the conclusion that the Americas were occupied before the spreading of the classical Mongoloid morphology in Asia.”

According to Cosmos magazine:
Until about a decade ago, the dominant theory in American archaeology circles was that the 'Clovis people' ~ whose culture is defined by the stone tools they used to kill megafauna such as mammoths ~ was the first population to arrive in the Americas. 
They were thought to have crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia into Alaska at the end of the last Ice Age, some 10,000 or so years ago, following herds of megafauna across a land bridge created as water was locked up in glaciers and ice sheets.
But in the late 1990s, Neves and his colleagues re-examined a female skeleton that had been excavated in the 1970s in an extensive cave system in Central Brazil known as Lapa Vermelha. Dubbed Luzia, the skeleton is between 11,000 and 11,400 years old. “We believe she is the oldest skeleton in the Americas,” Neves said.

Click here for the complete article.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pyramid "Grid" May Be Key to Construction

Bryn's drawings may unlock pyramid's construction secrets.

According to a Norwegian architect, researchers have been so preoccupied by the weight of the stones comprising Egypt’s ancient pyramids that they’ve overlooked two major problems: How did the Egyptians know exactly where to put the enormously heavy building blocks, and how was the master architect able to communicate highly precise plans to a workforce of 10,000 illiterate men?

These were among the questions that confronted Ole J. Bryn, an architect and associate professor of Architecture and Fine Art with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology when he began examining Khufu's Great Pyramid in Giza. Khufu's pyramid ~ better known as the Pyramid of Cheops ~ consists of 2.3 million limestone blocks weighing roughly 7 million tons. At 146.6 meters high, it held the record as the tallest structure ever built for nearly 4,000 years.

According to ScienceDaily:
What Bryn discovered was quite simple. He believes that the Egyptians invented the modern building grid, by separating the structure's measuring system from the physical building itself, thus introducing tolerance, as it is called in today's engineering and architectural professions.
Bryn has studied the plans from the thirty oldest Egyptian pyramids, and discovered a precision system that made it possible for the Egyptians to reach the pyramid's last and highest point, the apex point, with an impressive degree of accuracy. By exploring and making a plan of the pyramid it is possible to prepare modern project documentation of not just one, but all pyramids from any given period.
As long as the architect knows the main dimensions of a pyramid, he can project the building as he would have done it with a modern building, but with building methods and measurements known from the ancient Egypt, Bryn says.
If the principles behind Bryn's drawings are correct, according to ScienceDaily, then archaeologists will have a new "map" that demonstrates that the pyramids are not a "bunch of heavy rocks with unknown structures" but, rather, incredibly precise structures.

Click here for the complete article.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

King Herod's Private Theater Box is Located

Frescos found in the once-extravagant theater in Herod's palace.

Archaeologists in the Judean desert have excavated a lavish, private theater box in King Herod's winter palace. The room provides further proof of Herod’s thirst for extravagance, say the archaeologists from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Herod was ruler of the Holy Land under Roman occupation from 37 to 4 B.C. He is known for his extensive building throughout the area, including the 400-seat theater where his private box was found.

Herod commissioned Roman artists to decorate the theater walls with elaborate paintings and plaster moldings around 15 B.C. Upper portions feature paintings of windows overlooking a river and a seascape with a large sailboat.

Click here for the Associated Press article.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another 37 Ancient Tombs Found Near Pellas

Greek archaeologists last week announced discovery of 37 ancient tombs dating back to the Iron Age in a cemetery near the ancient Macedonian capital of Pellas.

Discoveries at the site included a bronze helmet with a gold mouthplate (shown at right), weapons and jewelry in the tomb of a warrior from the 6th century BC.

The newly discovered tombs brings the total to about 1,000 tombs ~ dating from 650 BC to 280 BC ~ discovered in the area since archaeological work began in 2000. The tombs contain iron swords, spears and daggers, as well as vases, pottery and jewelry of gold, silver and iron.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Temple to Athena Nike Now Restored

The temple during the restoration process.

The Greek temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis is now fully restored, following a decade-long facelift. Built between 427–424 B.C. ~ while Athens was fighting Sparta for control of the Greek world ~ the building was dedicated to the city's patron goddess Athena in her capacity to bring victory in battle.

 According to the Associated Press, the compact temple survived intact until the late 17th century, when it was demolished to provide material for a gun emplacement. It was rebuilt after Greece's independence from Ottoman rule in 1829.
Athena Nike had two dates with restoration crews over the last two centuries — one in 1935, another in the 1830s — and the latest top–to–bottom refurbishment was aimed to fix mistakes from previous restoration efforts for good. 
"We have used the latest technology, following successful experimentation with stress and aging," project head Dionysia Mihalopoulou told the Associated Press. "The choice and use of materials was the best possible, they will not corrode." 
Starting in 2000, workers took down 315 marble sections weighing up to 2–1/2 tons, laying bare a concrete foundation slab that was replaced by a stainless steel grid. Crews replaced the concrete additions with sections of new marble from ancient quarry sites ~ whose brilliant white contrasts with the old stone's patina in places like the walls and columns to make clear they are modern additions. 
Every block was returned to the original position selected by the temple's ancient architects.

Click here for the Associated Press article.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tetracycline Found in Ancient Nubian Mummies

Ancient Egyptian depiction of royal beer drinking.

Africa’s ancient Nubians were using the antibiotic tetracycline 2,000 years ago, likely obtaining it in the beer they had consumed since early childhood. Large doses of the drug ~ which was officially patented in the United States in 1950 ~ have been found in mummies dating back to 350 AD.

According to Discovery News:
Some of the first people to use antibiotics, according to the research, may have lived along the shores of the Nile in Sudanese Nubia, which spans the border of modern Egypt and Sudan.
“Given the amount of tetracycline there, they had to know what they were doing,” said co-author George Armelagos, a biological anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta. “They may not have known what tetracycline was, but they certainly knew something was making them feel better.” 
Armelagos was part of a group of anthropologists that excavated the mummies in 1963. His original goal was to study osteoporosis in the Nubians, who lived between about 350 and 550 A.D. But while looking through a microscope at samples of the ancient bone under ultraviolet light, he saw what looked like tetracycline -- an antibiotic that was not officially patented in modern times until 1950.
At first, he assumed that some kind of contamination had occurred.
“Imagine if you're unwrapping a mummy, and all of a sudden, you see a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses on it,” Armelagos said. “Initially, we thought it was a product of modern technology.”
Scientists were able to trace the source of the antibiotic to grain that was contaminated with a type of mold-like bacteria called Streptomyces. Grains that are stored underground can easily become moldy with Streptomyces contamination, though these bacteria would only produce small amounts of tetracycline on their own when left to sit or baked into bread. Only when people fermented the grain would tetracycline production explode.

Nubians both ate the fermented grains as gruel and used it to make beer.

Click here for the Discovery News article.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pompeii Victims Died of Heat, Not Suffocation

Vesuvius Erupting at Night, William Marlowe, circa 1768.

Many Pompeii residents who died in the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius were roasted to death instead of dying by suffocating in ash, as is commonly thought. New research indicates temperatures hit nearly 600 degrees (300 Celsius).

A new Italian study uses digital models of the eruption’s pyroclastic surges to compute size, density and velocity, as well as analyzes human remains. According to Heritage Key:
Most of Pompeii's inhabitants who survived the early phase of the eruption, during which buildings collapsed, died by exposure to extreme heat, according to the Italian study.  A hot mixture of fine ash and hot gas came flowing down the volcano's slopes, a raging current which caused numerous fatalities at Pompeii, about 10kms from the volcano's vent. The researchers found that even at the flow's termination point, temperatures of over 250°C (482°F) caused instant death.
The 79 AD Vesuvius eruption caused six major pyroclastic surges and flows, each increasing in power. The three early surges stopped ahead of Pompeii's north-western walls, while the three later surges passed over the town. Although less powerful than the last two surges (whose reach extended more than 15 km from the vent), and in spite of little material damage and an ash deposit of only 3cm, the fourth pyroclastic surge (S4) caused most of the fatalities at Pompeii. 
Researchers attribute many of the bodies seemingly frozen in action to “cadaveric spasm,”
Often associated with violent death, it means an instantaneous rigor occurs, crystallizing the last activity prior to death. Cadaveric spasm commonly involves only groups of muscles. Only exceptionally – for example in battle situations, due to exposure to extreme heat – would it affect the entire body.
Seventy-six per cent of the victims showed limb contraction while a 'pugilistic attitude' (limb flexures that result from dehydration and shortening of tendons and muscles) was found in 64% of the S4 casualties. Both post-mortem postures are generally observed as secondary effects in victims exposed to extremely high temperatures, and according to the authors, wrongly attributed to attempts at self-defence by previous studies.
Researchers add that being literally cooked alive may have been a quick death. “At Pompeii, a rise of temperature to more than 250°C in less than 30 seconds, would have (hopefully) heated the victims brains to a point of unconsciousness within a few seconds, as well as instantly boiled the victims' nerve endings,” the article states.

Click here for the Heritage Key article.

Plaster casts of Pompeii victims' bodies.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dry Fields Reveal Ancient English Sites

Crop lines indicating ancient circular structure in Yorkshire.

An extended dry summer in Britain has resulted in the appearance of ghostly outlines of several hundred previously unknown ancient sites buried in fields across the English countryside. According to Reuters:
Known as crop marks, the faint outlines of unseen buried structures emerged because of the length of the dry spell, leading the national conservator to label 2010 a vintage year for archaeology.
The outlines show up when crops grow at different rates over buried structures. Shallower soils tend to produce a stunted crop and are more prone to parching, bringing to light the new features.
"It's hard to remember a better year," said Dave MacLeod, a senior investigator with English Heritage. "Crop marks are always at their best in dry weather, but the last few summers have been a disappointment."
One of this year's most important finds is a Roman camp in Dorset, southwest England. Experts say it is a relatively rare structure in that part of the country with only three others known of in the region. The lightly built defensive enclosure, which emerged from parched barley fields, provided basic protection for Roman soldiers on maneuvers in the first century AD.

In the Holderness area of the East Riding of Yorkshire, an area rich in agricultural land on the east coast, 60 new, mainly prehistoric sites, were found in just one day, according to Reuters. Archaeologists say at least 200 new historic sites have been discovered with detail on many more existing structures revealed for the first time.
Click here for the Reuters article.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ancient Amazonia Was Home to Millions

Traces of ancient Amazonian structures visible by satellite.

Instead of virgin jungle untouched by humans, the Amazon forest was home to a spectacular civilization capable of managing the jungle and cultivating crops to feed perhaps 20 million people, according to recent archaeological researchers.

According to the Washington Post:
The findings are discrediting a once-bedrock theory of archaeology that long held that the Amazon, unlike much of the Americas, was a historical black hole, its environment too hostile and its earth too poor to have ever sustained big, sedentary societies. Only small and primitive hunter-gatherer tribes, the assumption went, could ever have eked out a living in an unforgiving environment.
But scientists now believe that instead of stone-age tribes, like the groups that occasionally emerge from the forest today, the Indians who inhabited the Amazon centuries ago numbered as many as 20 million, far more people than live here today. “There is a gigantic footprint in the forest,” said Augusto Oyuela-Caycedo, 49, a Colombian-born professor at the University of Florida who is working this swath in northeast Peru.
The evidence is not just here outside tiny San Martin de Samiria, an indigenous hamlet hours by speed boat from the jungle city of Iquitos, according to the Post article. It is found across Amazonia.
Along the Xingu, an Amazon tributary in Brazil, Michael Heckenberger of the University of Florida has found moats, causeways, canals, the networks of a stratified civilization that, he says, existed as early as A.D. 800. 
In Bolivia, American, German and Finnish archaeologists have been studying how pre-Columbian Indians moved tons of soil and diverted rivers, major projects of a society that existed long before the birth of Christ.
Click here for the Washington Post article.