Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Turquoise-for-Chocolate Trades Linked American Cultures

Cylinder jars from Chaco Canyon with cacao residue.

Trading turquoise for chocolate likely linked ancient societies in the southwestern U.S. with Mesoamerican cultures in southern Mexico and Central America.

New research reveals that the Pueblo people living in the Southwest drank a cacao-based beverage imported from Mesoamerican cultures. In fact, large numbers of people throughout Pueblo society apparently consumed cacao, from low-ranking farmers to elite residents of multistory pueblos.

“Since cacao was consumed by both Pueblo elites and nonelites, active trading for cacao must have occurred with Mesoamerican states,” says archaeologist Dorothy Washburn of the University of Pennsylvania. Pueblo groups and an ensuing Southwest society traded turquoise for Mesoamerican cacao for about five centuries, from around 900 to 1400, according to findings of Washburn’s research team.

According to Science News:
Initial evidence of cacao drinking in Chaco Canyon surprised many archaeologists, who long have assumed that cultures of the Southwest and Mesoamerica had minimal contact. Yet previous Pueblo finds in Chaco Canyon include macaw remains, copper bells and decorative items that must have come from Mesoamerica, remarks archaeologist Ben Nelson of Arizona State University in Tempe.
“To find that cacao consumption was much more widespread strengthens the case for regular exchange with populations in Mesoamerica,” Nelson says. He has argued that leaders of ancient Southwestern societies appropriated selected aspects of Mesoamerican cultures for their own purposes, perhaps to justify their power and prestige.
Other researchers have matched the turquoise from mines in New Mexico to that of turquoise found at several Mesoamerican sites, including the Maya site of Chichen Itza.

Click here for the complete article.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Authorship of Several Biblical Scriptures In Question

Rembrandt's "Paul." Not such a misogynist after all?

The words “lie” and “Bible” aren’t often linked, but a leading biblical historian points out that the level of deception in the scriptures is much greater than most people think ~ especially regarding issues of authorship.

Bart Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, says that the New Testament book of 2 Peter was not written by the apostle Peter, and that Paul wrote only seven of the 13 letters ascribed to him.

Regarding the impact of such fakery, Ehrman writes:
This may all seem like a bit of antiquarian curiosity, especially for people whose lives don't depend on the Bible or even people of faith for whom biblical matters are a peripheral interest at best. But in fact, it matters sometimes. Whoever wrote the book of 1 Timothy claimed to be Paul. But he was lying about that -- he was someone else living after Paul had died. In his book, the author of 1 Timothy used Paul's name and authority to address a problem that he saw in the church. Women were speaking out, exercising authority and teaching men. That had to stop. The author told women to be silent and submissive, and reminded his readers about what happened the first time a woman was allowed to exercise authority over a man, in that little incident in the garden of Eden. No, the author argued, if women wanted to be saved, they were to have babies (1 Tim. 2:11-15). 
Largely on the basis of this passage, the apostle Paul has been branded, by more liberation minded people of recent generations, as one of history's great misogynists. The problem, of course, is that Paul never said any such thing. And why does it matter? Because the passage is still used by church leaders today to oppress and silence women. Why are there no women priests in the Catholic Church? Why are women not allowed to preach in conservative evangelical churches? Why are there churches today that do not allow women even to speak? In no small measure it is because Paul allegedly taught that women had to be silent, submissive and pregnant. Except that the person who taught this was not Paul, but someone lying about his identity so that his readers would think he was Paul. 
Ehrman is author of bestsellers including Misquoting Jesus and Jesus, Interrupted. His latest is Forged: Writing in the Name of God ~ Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

Click here for the complete article.

Monday, March 21, 2011

First Public Showing for Mysterious Sculpture

 A mysterious sculpture ~ thought by some experts to predate the pyramids of Egypt ~ is being displayed publicly for the first time in hopes of attracting international attention and fresh insights into its origins.

No expert among the many consulted over the past decade can identify the sculpture's age or artistic tradition, nor can they decipher the "ancient, yet unidentifiable language" etched into the artwork.

The large limestone object depicting two entwined and perhaps emaciated figures, "could be one of the rarest finds of its kind," according to Clarence Epstein of Montreal’s Concordia University.

The two nude subjects ~ one a male and the other possibly a female holding a child ~ are depicted in a sitting position with abnormally large heads and elongated limbs. It was brought to Canada in the 1940s by Vincent and Olga Diniacopoulos, Greek immigrants from France who had amassed a world-class collection of antiquities gathered from Egypt, Israel and other ancient sites. The family's vast collection was donated about 10 years ago to Concordia.

The Diniacopouloses considered the mysterious sculpture the centerpiece of their collection. And while there is little documentation about the artwork's provenance, the couple had listed the object under the title "The Starving of Saqqara," referring to one of Egypt's largest burial grounds.

Click here for the complete article.
Click here for another article, with more photos and a video.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ancient Israelites Worshipped Both God and His Wife

Asherah, or Ishtar, on 2nd millennium BC terracotta relief.

Findings that the ancient Israelites worshipped Asherah ~ the wife of Yahweh, the Israelites’ god ~ is gaining new prominence among biblical scholars. Accounts of Yahweh and Asherah are in the Old Testament’s Book of Kings.

The first historian to mention that the ancient Israelites worshiped both Yahweh and Asherah was Raphael Patai in 1967. The theory has gained new prominence due to the research of Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who began her work at Oxford and is now a senior lecturer in the department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter.

According to Discovery News:
"You might know him as Yahweh, Allah or God. But on this fact, Jews, Muslims and Christians, the people of the great Abrahamic religions, are agreed: There is only one of Him," writes Stavrakopoulou in a statement released to the British media. "He is a solitary figure, a single, universal creator, not one God among many ... or so we like to believe."
"After years of research specializing in the history and religion of Israel, however, I have come to a colorful and what could seem, to some, uncomfortable conclusion that God had a wife," she added.
Stavrakopoulou bases her theory on ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed primarily in the ancient Canaanite coastal city called Ugarit, now modern-day Syria. All of these artifacts reveal that Asherah was a powerful fertility goddess.

Asherah's connection to Yahweh, according to Stavrakopoulou, is spelled out in both the Bible and an 8th century B.C. inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert at a site called Kuntillet Ajrud.

J. Edward Wright, president of both The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, told Discovery News that he agrees several Hebrew inscriptions mention "Yahweh and his Asherah."
"Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible by its male editors," he added. "Traces of her remain, and based on those traces, archaeological evidence and references to her in texts from nations bordering Israel and Judah, we can reconstruct her role in the religions of the Southern Levant."
Asherah ~ known across the ancient Near East by various other names, such as Astarte and Istar ~ was "an important deity, one who was both mighty and nurturing," Wright continued.

Click here for the complete article.

Dreamtime Sees Origin of Life in Meteors

Ancient Aboriginal cave drawing.

Aboriginal dreamtime stories were linking meteorites to the origins of life thousands of years before modern science reached the same conclusion.

Duane Hamacher of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, says the Arrernte and Luritja people of central Australia have an unusually strong focus on meteors, meteorites and impact craters and knew about the nightly and yearly movements of stars. Many of their folk tales and legends feature meteorites as origins of life.

According to Hamacher, one story spoke of life coming from two rocks that fell out of the sky. "These rocks were people described as stars falling to the ground; they were like Adam and Eve," he says. "Another described how the egg of life was accidently dropped from the sky, falling to the ground and breaking into pieces, bringing life to the Earth."

Hamacher says science has recently confirmed that amino acids ~ the basic building blocks of life ~ are transported to earth by comets and meteors.

Click here for the ABC Science article.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jericho Tower Purpose Linked to Dwindling Daylight

Section of ruins of Neolithic tower at Tel Jericho.

Two archaeologists from Tel Aviv University believe the purpose of the mysterious stone tower at Tel Jericho ~ one of the earliest stone monuments yet discovered in the human history ~ is linked to the summer solstice.

According to Live Science:
Now, after studying how the sun setting on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, interacted with the tower and the landscape around it, two archeologists from Tel Aviv University have concluded the 28-foot (8.5 meter) tower symbolized power and might.
"We suggest that the tower was built not just as a marker or a time-keeping device, but as a guardian against the dangers present in the darkness cast by a dying sun's last rays of light," write the researchers, Roy Liran and Ran Barkai, in the journal Antiquity. (After the summer solstice, the nights begin to grow longer.)
Their reconstruction revealed that, as the solstice sun set, the shadow of a hill to the west fell exactly on the Jericho tower before covering the village, suggesting the monument and the start of longer nights were linked.
The tower was built approximately 11,000 years ago as hunter-gatherer society in the region was moving toward an agricultural society.

"This was a time when hierarchy began and leadership was established," Barkai told the Jerusalem Post. "We believe this tower was one of the mechanisms to motivate people to take part in a communal lifestyle."

Click here for the Live Science article.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dead Sea Search for Sodom and Gomorrah

Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, artist John Martin, 1852.

A Russian company is reportedly searching the bottom of the Dead Sea for the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah. The search is a joint effort between Russia and Jordan, with the Russian company selected because of its special underwater exploration equipment that can stand up to the extreme salinity of the Dead Sea.

According to Archaeology News:
Biblical archaeologists have several theories as to where the Sodom and its associated cities were located. According to the Torah, God overturned Sodom, Gomorrah, and three other cities because of their degeneration, sin and iniquity, turning a once fertile plain into a stark wasteland. Abraham, who prayed for the cities, was unable to prevent God from mandating their destruction.  
Archaeologists and geologists have suggested that a major earthquake or meteor storm might have been the means by which it occurred. Research has centered on the area around the Dead Sea, and the modern city of Sodom, and nearby Mount Sodom, which is made almost completely of rock salt, is considered the most likely site of the ancient cities. 
Recent NASA photographs of the area ~ indicating that the bottom of the sea is littered with debris and objects not found in other bodies of water ~ are further evidence that the cities are on the Jordanian side of the sea.

Click here for the article.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ruined Environment Caused Mayan Collapse

Jungle consumes Mayan ruins.

Deforestation and damage to the agricultural system caused collapse of the Mayan civilization, according to a leading U.S. archaeologist.

“It was a collapse and not an abandonment, because the second is temporary, while the first represents an abandonment over the long term and the destruction of the social and economic system that maintains a state, as occurred in the region,” Dr. Richard D. Hansen said at the opening of the 3rd International Congress on Mayan Culture this week in the Caribbean city of Merida.

Hansen, senior scientist at the Institute for Mesoamerican Research in the Department of Anthropology at Idaho State University, said that the fall of cities including Nakbe, Wakna and Tintal occurred toward the end of the Pre-classic period due to the excessive exploitation of natural resources.
This was similar to what occurred at the end of the Classic period (AD 300-900) in cities such as Palenque, Copan and Tikal, due to environmental damage stemming from the excessive cutting of trees for fuel and production of stucco with which they covered the buildings.
He went on to say that the “‘conspicuous’ consumption of natural resources caused deforestation and damage to the agricultural system, which hindered cultivation of enough food to maintain a population that during that period reached around 1 million residents throughout the Basin.”
Hansen said his conclusion follows 30 years of study during which he collected archaeological evidence ~ including pollen, isotopes, ceramics, among other things ~ that allowed him to verify the environmental depredation.

Click here for the article.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mesopotamian Cities Built on Marshland, Not Riverbanks

Artist's conception of the ancient city of Uruk.

An American research team believes ancient Mesopotamian cities such as Uruk and Ur were not necessarily located on the banks of the region’s main rivers, but instead thrived in the lowland marshes fed by the rivers.

“Clearly, the earliest cities were not strung out along rivers like pearls on a strand,” says Dr. Jennifer Pournelle of the University of South Carolina. “Rather, they were spread across the river delta within and along the margins of marshlands.”

Pournelle last fall led the first American archaeological research team to visit Iraq in 25 years. Her group combines excavation records and archaeological site maps with aerial and satellite imagery in order to reconstruct ancient environments. They explored the lowlands of the Tigris-Euphrates river system in southern Iraq.

Most of the previous archaeological data in Iraq was collected from 1900 through the 1950s, when little attention was paid to plants and animals, she said. The environmental contexts for museum objects and architecture were largely undocumented. When recorded at all, they emphasized grain agriculture and domesticated livestock.

Click here for the complete article.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Evidence Points to Atlantis Site in Spain

Artist's conception of Atlantis's multiple rings.

Researchers using satellite views of an ancient city submerged in southern Spain’s marshlands are claiming they may have located Atlantis. The site is 60 miles inland, just north of Cadiz. Following the researchers' scenario, a giant tsunami would have destroyed Atlantis millennia ago.

They believe the site may be Atlantis because it fits the age-old description of a multi-ringed metropolis, according to Richard Freund of the University of Hartford, Connecticut, the professor leading an international team searching for the true site of Atlantis.

Freund's discovery in central Spain of a strange series of “memorial cities” ~ built in Atlantis's image by its refugees after the city's destruction ~ gave researchers added proof, they say. Atlantis residents who did not perish in the tsunami fled farther inland and built new cities there.

While it is hard to know with certainty that the site in Spain in Atlantis, Freund said the finding the memorial cities makes him confident Atlantis was buried in the mud flats on Spain's southern coast. “We found something that no one else has ever seen before, which gives it a layer of credibility, especially for archeology, that makes a lot more sense,” he says.

Plato wrote about Atlantis some 2,600 years ago, describing it as “an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Hercules,” as the Straits of Gibraltar were known in antiquity.

Click here for the Reuters article.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cahokia Site's Significance Long Ignored

Cahokia originally covered six square miles.

The mystery of the Cahokia Mounds ~ especially the neglect this incredibly historic site in western Illinois has endured ~ is the topic of a recent National Geographic article, “America’s Forgotten City.” It’s well worth reading. An excerpt:
Cahokia Mounds may not be aesthetically pristine, but at 4,000 acres (2,200 of which are preserved as a state historic site), it is the largest archaeological site in the United States, and it has changed our picture of what Indian life was like on this continent before Europeans arrived. 
Cahokia was the apogee, and perhaps the origin, of what anthropologists call Mississippian culture—a collection of agricultural communities that reached across the American Midwest and Southeast starting before A.D. 1000 and peaking around the 13th century. The idea that American Indians could have built something resembling a city was so foreign to European settlers, that when they encountered the mounds of Cahokia—the largest of which is a ten-story earthen colossus composed of more than 22 million cubic feet of soil—they commonly thought they must have been the work of a foreign civilization: Phoenicians or Vikings or perhaps a lost tribe of Israel. 
Even now, the idea of an Indian city runs so contrary to American notions of Indian life that we can't seem to absorb it, and perhaps it's this cognitive dissonance that has led us to collectively ignore Cahokia's very existence. Have you ever heard of Cahokia? In casual conversation, I've found almost no one outside the St. Louis area who has.
 One of my favorite quotes from the article is: "If deciphering the story of history is contentious, try coming to agreement on the story of prehistory. 'You know what they say,' says Bill Iseminger, an archaeologist who has worked at Cahokia for 40 years. 'Put three archaeologists in a room and you get five opinions.'"

Click here for the complete article.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ming Dynasty Mummy Remarkably Preserved

The remarkably preserved mummy of a high-ranking woman believed to be from the Ming Dynasty was discovered recently when workers were expanding a street in eastern China.

Discovered about six feet below the road surface, the woman's features ~ from her head to her shoes ~ have retained their original condition, and have hardly deteriorated. The 700-year-old mummy was wearing traditional Ming dynasty costume, and also in the coffin were bones, ceramics, ancient writings and other relics.

The mummy, which was found in the city of Taizhou, in the Jiangsu Province, along with two other wooden tombs, offers a fascinating insight into life as it was back then.

This is the latest discovery after a lull of three years in the area. Indeed, between 1979 and 2008 five mummies were found, all in very good condition. Those findings raising the interest in learning the techniques of preservation funeral of this dynasty and customs in time to bury the dead.

Click here for the article and more photos.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Homo Sapiens' Journey to Modern Human

Scholarly debate surrounds when “archaic Homo sapiens” emerged as the modern version of humans. American Scientist recently explored the topic in an article, “Refuting a Myth About Human Origins” by John J. Shea, professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University and a research associate with the Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya.
In Europe, the oldest Homo sapiens fossils date to only 35,000 years ago. But studies of genetic variation among living humans suggest that our species emerged in Africa as long as 200,000 years ago. Scientists have recovered Homo sapiens fossils in contexts dating to 165,000 to 195,000 years ago in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley and Middle Awash Valley. Evidence is clear that early humans dispersed out of Africa to southern Asia before 40,000 years ago. Similar modern-looking human fossils found in the Skhul and Qafzeh caves in Israel date to 80,000 to 120,000 years ago. Homo sapiens fossils dating to 100,000 years ago have been recovered from Zhiren Cave in China. In Australia, evidence for a human presence dates to at least 42,000 years ago. Nothing like a human revolution precedes Homo sapiens’ first appearances in any of these regions. And all these Homo sapiens fossils were found with either Lower or Middle Paleolithic stone tool industries.
Shea delineates the various findings and frequently references his own take on the situation, as in:
For me, the most surprising aspect about the debate regarding when Homo sapiens became human is that archaeologists have not tested the core hypothesis that there were significant behavioral differences between the earliest and more recent members of our species. Because modernity is a typological category, it is not easy to test this hypothesis. One is either behaviorally modern or not. And, not all groups classified as behaviorally modern have left clear and unambiguous evidence for that modernity at all times and in all contexts. For example, expedient and opportunistic flintknapping of river pebbles and cobbles by living humans often creates stone tools indistinguishable from the pebble tools knapped by Homo habilis or Homo erectus. This similarity reflects the nature of the tool-making strategies, techniques and raw materials, not the evolutionary equivalence of the toolmakers. Thus, the archaeological record abounds in possibilities of false-negative findings about prehistoric human behavioral modernity.
Click here for the complete article.