Friday, February 25, 2011

Origin of More Stonehenge Rocks is Located

19th Century engraving of Stonehenge's monoliths.

Scientists believe they have located the origin of a number of the famous bluestone monoliths forming the inner circle and horseshoe configurations at Stonehenge.

According to Culture 24:
One type of bluestone, the so-called spotted dolerite, was convincingly traced to the Mynydd Preseli area of North Pembrokeshire in the 1920s, but the origins of many of the others have remained a mystery. Now geologists at the museum in Cardiff believe they have identified the source of one of the rhyolite types.
A team led by Keeper of Geology Dr Richard Bevins has been using “standard petrographical techniques” and “laser ablation induction coupled mass spectrometry” on samples from Stonehenge and Pembrokeshire.
Their findings, which involve the application of zircon chemistry as a new tool for “provenancing rhyolitic lithics,” point to a source for the stones in an area north of the Mynydd Preseli range, in the vicinity of Pont Saeson.
The results may also provide some new clues about how and why the stones were transported to the Stonehenge area.

“It has been argued that humans transported the spotted dolerites from the high ground of Mynydd Preseli down to the coast at Milford Haven and then rafted them up the Bristol Channel and up the River Avon to the Stonehenge area,” explained Dr Bevins. “However, the outcome of our research questions that route, as it is unlikely that they would have transported the Pont Saeson stones up slope and over Mynydd Preseli to Milford Haven.”

Click here for the article.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sumerian, Akkadian Languages Resuscitate History

Sumer, 2600 BC, world's earliest record of music and instruments.

“We are resuscitating a dead civilization through the understanding of its dead languages,” says Gonzalo Rubio of current studies of the world’s first written languages, Sumerian and Akkadian. “ When one studies an economic document from ancient Mesopotamia, there are names of individuals entering a contract or making a purchase. These are all people who lived three or four thousand years ago, people whose names were forgotten and buried in the sand until modern scholars brought them back to a modicum of life in their articles and books.”

Rubio, an assyriologist at Pennsylvania State University, was interviewed by on
When an assyriologist holds a tablet inscribed with cuneiform characters, be it in Sumerian or in Akkadian, there is a chance that she or he may be the first person to read that text again after millennia of oblivion. Even if one is not the epigrapher who first looks at the tablets found at an archaeological site, even as a scholar reading texts at a museum, there is an overwhelming feeling of discovery and recovery, the excitement of bringing a civilization back to life by understanding it, text by text, tablet by tablet.
He said that, in terms of structure, Akkadian resembles Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Arabic, but that Sumerian actually is closer structurally to Native American languages.

Click here for the interview.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Nordic Petroglyphs Present Burial Mystery

Footprint petroglyphs found beneath tomb.

During a recent, routine excavation of a Norwegian burial mound, archaeologists unexpectedly unearthed a group of Bronze Age petroglyphs. "We believe these are very special in a Norwegian context," says project manager Anne Haug of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

First found were the remains of two cremations, a burnt layer that contained fragments of bone. Underneath, archaeologists found petroglyphs, including eight drawings showing the soles of feet, with cross hatching and five shallow depressions. Two boat drawings and several other drawings of feet soles with toes were also found just south of the burial mound.
“This is a special discovery, and we are not aware of similar findings from Trøndelag County,” Haug says. “The tomb might have been deliberately constructed over the petroglyphs as part of funeral ritual.  Based on the type of petroglyphs and especially the drawings of the foot soles, we have dated the artwork to the Bronze Age, about 1800 to 500 BCE.” 
“Why there are foot sole drawings beneath the tomb is a puzzle. But if we interpret the find in terms of a fertility cult, it may be that the soles represent God and life-giving power. That means that you can have both life and death represented in one place,” she says.
Haug says that there was a similar discovery in Østlandet, an area called Jong in Bærum, where petroglyphs illustrating foot soles were found under a tomb that dated back to the Bronze Age.

Click here for the article.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tools Indicate Earlier Migration from Africa to Arabia

Jebel Faya, where the stone tools were found.

Ancient stone tools unearthed from a once-fertile area near the Persian Gulf indicate early humans migrated from Africa much earlier than previously thought. The artifacts from Jebel Faya and dated to 120,000 years ago, were created with several techniques, including “bifacial reduction” ~ removing material from two rock faces ~ that was abundant in Africa, but has never before been found in the Arabian Peninsula.

“When I looked at this material, none of it looked Near Eastern,” said Anthony Marks, an archaeologist with Southern Methodist University who analyzed the tools. “The more I looked at the material, the more it became clear that it had a connection with the kind of tools of East Africa.”

According to PBS:
Tools like this were believed to be used to kill and butcher animals, scrape fat from hides, make clothes from animal skin and create other, possibly wooden, tools. Scientists dated the artifacts with a technique called optically stimulated luminescence data.
“In essence, this is a technique which allows us to determine the time which has elapsed since sand grains were last exposed to sunlight,” said Simon Armitage, a professor of geography with Royal Holloway, University of London, and co-author on the study.
Additional evidence supports the theory that these tools belonged to a group of people that migrated from Africa to Arabia, scientists say. The standard model, which relies on data from mitochondrial DNA, says the first humans left Africa about 60,000 years ago, traveled to Arabia and eventually, about 50,000 years ago, arrived in Australia.
Marks says he’s skeptical that the migration occurred so quickly. “The earlier movement out of Africa makes a lot more sense to me.” Plus, 120,000 years ago, the now-aird area had been transformed by monsoon rains into lush grasslands with lakes and acacia trees. Briefly, sea levels were low and the Red Sea was relatively easy to cross.

Click here for the PBS article.
Click here for the BBC article.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Aspects of Indian Mounds Remain Mysterious

Artist's conception of Etowah Mounds in Cartersville, Georgia.

Mound-building remains one of the greatest mysteries of early Native American culture in the Southeast and the expansive valleys bordering the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee rivers. recently published a concise overview of the mounds. According to the article:
Since most Indian mounds in the United States have been abandoned since 1600 AD or earlier, erosion, cultivation and exploratory excavations have radically changed their appearance from when they were in use.  Visitors to historic sites, where mounds have been preserved, do not realize that they were once earthen buildings with brightly colored decorative motifs on the side.  Most mounds also had large ceremonial ramps or at least wooden steps leading to the top.  As a result, laymen often view the remnants of these huge structures as something akin to landscaping, rather than true forms of public architecture.
The article also notes that the mounds were built with human labor, and that the mound-building Native Americans had no beasts of burden or excavation machinery. Soil, clay, or stones were carried in baskets on the backs of laborers to the top or flanks of the mound and then dumped, and hundreds of thousands of man-hours of work were required to build each of the larger mounds. 

Click here for the article.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Did Vikings Navigate with Polarized Sunlight?

Viking navigators may have employed a sølarsteinn, or “sunstone,” capable of tracking polarized light to help them establish sailing directions even when the sun was hidden from view.

Early mention of such a practice is in the Icelandic sage of Sigurd and is now being researched to determine if polarized light did play a role in the wide-ranging journeys of Viking explorers. According to Nature News:
The saga describes how, during cloudy, snowy weather, King Olaf consulted Sigurd on the location of the Sun. To check Sigurd's answer, Olaf “grabbed a sunstone, looked at the sky and saw from where the light came, from which he guessed the position of the invisible Sun.” In 1967, Thorkild Ramskou, a Danish archaeologist, suggested that this stone could have been a polarizing crystal such as Icelandic spar, a transparent form of calcite, which is common in Scandinavia.
Scattering by air molecules in the atmosphere causes sunlight to become polarized, with the line of polarization tangential to circles centered on the Sun. So Ramskou argued that by holding a crystal such as calcite up to the sky and rotating it to check the direction of polarization of the light passing through it, the Vikings could have deduced the position of the Sun, even when it was hidden behind clouds or fog, or was just beneath the horizon.
Researchers now are updating studies done in 2005 on the potential use of a sunstone and polarized light.

Click here for the article.

Monday, February 14, 2011

St. Valentine's Day's Brutal History

Depiction of Lupercalian festivities.

The ancient origins of St. Valentine’s Day are obscure. Historians see the celebration of the day stretching back to early Rome, with several embellishments ~ especially commercials ones ~ occurring in the succeeding centuries.

According to NRP:
From February 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.
The Roman romantics "were drunk. They were naked," says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.
The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival – or longer, if the match was right.
The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name. Emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine on February 14 of different years in the 3rd century AD. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine's Day.

Click here for the complete article.