Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bear's DNA May Settle Cave Art Dispute

A small section of art in the Chauvet Cave.

Researchers have turned to the DNA of Europe’s long-extinct cave bear to solve controversy surrounding the age of the spectacular art in the Chauvet Cave of southeastern France.

Following its discovery in 1994, radiocarbon dating suggested the cave’s images were around 30,000 years old ~ nearly twice as old as the Lascaux cave art in southwestern France. The archaeological world rapidly was polarized, with many agreeing with the 30,000-year-old date, while other archaeologists said the dating was seriously flawed.

According to New Scientist:
To try to settle the controversy, Jean-Marc Elalouf of the Institute of Biology and Technology in Saclay, France, and his team have turned to the remains of cave bears. Along with mammoths and other huge mammals, cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) dominated the European landscape until the end of the last ice age.
The Chauvet cave contains several depictions of cave bears, and Elalouf argues that these must have been painted while the bears still thrived in the area. To pin down when the bears disappeared, his team collected 38 samples of cave bear remains in the Chauvet cave and analyzed their mitochondrial DNA.
They found that almost all the samples were genetically similar, suggesting the cave bear population was small, isolated and therefore vulnerable. Radiocarbon dating showed the samples were all between 37,000 and 29,000 years old, hinting that by the end of that period they were extinct, at least locally.
Martina Pacher of the Commission of Quaternary Research in Vienna, says cave bears became extinct at least 24,000 years ago. "So the results at Chauvet are not surprising, and I agree with their conclusions," she says.

Click here for the complete article.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More Evidence of Pre-Clovis American Settlement

Examples of Clovis-era tools.

Thousands of 15,500-year-old stone tools unearthed over the past several years prove that the Clovis culture was not the first human population in the Americas, according to archaeologists writing in a recent issue of Science magazine.

According to the BBC:
A number of digs across the Americas in recent decades had already hinted that the "Clovis first" model was in serious trouble. But the huge collection of well-dated tools excavated from a creek bed 60km (40 miles) northwest of Austin (Texas) mean the theory is now dead, argue the Science authors. 
"This is almost like a baseball bat to the side of the head of the archaeological community to wake up and say, 'Hey, there are pre-Clovis people here, that we have to stop quibbling and we need to develop a new model for peopling of the Americas'," Michael Waters, a Texas A&M University anthropologist, told reporters.
Hunter-gatherers were thought to have crossed from Siberia into Alaska via a land bridge that became exposed when sea levels dropped. Evidence indicates this occurred as far back as about 13,500 years. But an increasing number of archaeologists have argued there was likely to have been an earlier occupation based on the stone tools that began turning up at dig sites with claimed dates of more than 15,000 years.

Click here for the complete article.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Earliest Christ Image on Tiny Lead Book?

The image experts are eager to examine more closely.

The image on the small leaden page may be of a bearded young man with flowing curly hair, possibly with a crown of thorns on his brow. After lying for nearly 2,000 years hidden in a cave in the Holy Land, the fine detail is difficult to determine.

But if genuine, this could be the first-ever portrait of Jesus Christ, possibly even created in the lifetime of those who knew him.

The extraordinary picture of one of the recently discovered hoard of up to 70 lead codices found in a cave in the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee is one reason Bible historians are eager to examine the ancient artifacts. The tiny booklet is a little smaller than a credit card and is sealed on all sides, with a three-dimensional representation of a human head on both the front and the back. One appears to have a beard and the other is without.

Beneath both figures is a line of undeciphered text in an ancient Hebrew script. One of the booklets appears to bear the words ‘Savior of Israel’ ~ one of the few phrases so far translated.

Click here for the complete article.

Ancient Books May Reveal Early Christianity

One of the ancient books, about the size of a credit card.

Their origin is still in question, but biblical scholars say that if 70 tiny ancient books are authentic, they may be as important as the Dead Sea Scrolls in understanding early Christianity.
**At least one biblical scholar has questioned the authenticity of these items. I'll post new evidence ~ pro or con ~ as the research continues.**
First discovered five years ago, the collection of books ~ their lead pages bound with wire ~ could unlock some of the secrets of the earliest days of Christianity. On pages not much bigger than a credit card, are images, symbols and words that appear to refer to the Messiah and possibly the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Adding to the intrigue, many of the books are sealed, prompting academics to speculate they are actually the lost collection of codices mentioned in the Bible’s Book Of Revelation.

According to the London Daily Mail:
The books were discovered five years ago in a cave in a remote part of Jordan to which Christian refugees are known to have fled after the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. Important documents from the same period have previously been found there. 
Initial metallurgical tests indicate that some of the books could date from the first century AD. This estimate is based on the form of corrosion which has taken place, which experts believe would be impossible to achieve artificially. If the dating is verified, the books would be among the earliest Christian documents, predating the writings of St Paul.
David Elkington, a British scholar of ancient religious history and archeology, and one of the few to have examined the books, says they could be “the major discovery of Christian history.”
“It is a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church,’ he said. 
The mysteries between their ancient pages are not the only riddle. Today, their whereabouts are also a mystery. After their discovery by a Jordanian Bedouin, the hoard was subsequently acquired by an Israeli Bedouin, who is said to have illegally smuggled them across the border into Israel, where they remain. However, the Jordanian Government is now working at the highest levels to repatriate and safeguard the collection.

Click here for the complete article.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Search Under Way for Mesopotamian Marshands

Euphrates flows through former Mesopotamian desert.

Ancient Sumerian scrolls noted that the first cities humans built between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were constructed on huge marshlands ~ an area today marked only by deserts and scattered settlements.

But below the surface, according to a team of researchers, lie what could be new evidence of the remains of ancient man-made systems and settlements that defined the beginnings of urbanization and the foundations of the great Mesopotamian civilizations that followed.

According to Popular Archaeology:
Preliminary surveys and investigations began last year when a team of three researchers, assistant professor of anthropology Carrie Hritz of Penn State University, Jennifer Pournelle, research assistant professor, School of the Environment, University of South Carolina, and Jennifer Smith, associate professor of geology, Washington University in St. Louis, carried out research of the Tigris-Euphrates delta region to find traces that would help them initiate an exploration of the connection between wetland resources and the emergence of some of the first cities.
They are looking at archaeological sites from the 4th millennium, B.C. up to the Islamic period.
"We were looking for evidence of past marshland and shoreline environments," said Hritz. "I and colleague Dr. Jennifer Pournelle, identified possible features such as possible ancient beach ridges on satellite imagery and were hoping to verify that on the ground. We found some evidence for preserved ancient field systems in the former marshes but were unable to provide a relative date." 
"The early period of settlement is always linked to the development of agriculture." Hritz said at the annual meeting of the Society of American Archaeology on March 31. "Southern Mesopotamia is one of the earliest locations to provide evidence for the importance of irrigation agriculture in the rise of social complexity.”

Click here for the complete article.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Effort Aimed at Solving Pueblo Mysteries

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde.

Archaeologists of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center are launching new investigations that could address several mysteries surrounding the Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest.

The Dillard site, located in the central Mesa Verde region in Colorado, is a Pueblo ceremonial center that dates from the 7th century AD. Based on surveys and test excavations, the site includes evidence of a "great kiva" ~ a room used by Pueblo Indians for religious purposes ~ measuring 10 meters in diameter and 1 meter deep, and at least several smaller structures called "pit-houses."

According to Popular Archeology:
The test excavations revealed the kiva to be one of the oldest public buildings in the Mesa Verde region. The site was first recorded during a survey in 1991 by Woods Canyon Archaeological Consultants (WCAC) preliminary to the construction of a private residential community. That survey also revealed evidence of more than 120 other pit-houses surrounding the core Dillard site, making the Dillard site and surrounding area one of the largest clusters of remains from this time period. 
Says Dr. Shirley Powell, Vice President of Programs at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center: "This new study will shed light on a pivotal, but under-investigated and poorly understood time in Pueblo history: the Basketmaker III period (AD 500 - 750). This period saw rapid population growth in the Mesa Verde region. The population boom ushered in an era of great technological advances and social change.
Through study and analysis of the recovered artifacts and revealed structures, the Crow Canyon team hopes to be able to answer key questions about this period that have escaped archaeologists for years, including where the people came from and how they made the transition from a foraging society to an agricultural one.  

Click here for the complete article.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Many Ancient Marble Statues Were Painted

Archer from Temple of Athena with painted surface.

Research at Stanford University is revealing that many ancient Greco-Roman sculptures were not displayed in their marble whiteness, but instead were brightly painted.

According to Past Horizons in interviewing the university’s Ivy Nguyen:
Though we still think of ancient Greece and Rome in terms of white marble sparkling under a hot Mediterranean sun, a new exhibition shows a Greco-Roman lady as she was meant to be seen – in technicolor. Not everyone may take to Stanford’s painted lady, but first impressions can change. “It’s very different – some have called it kind of garish,” admitted Nguyen, but she confesses that she’s gotten used to it. 
We’ve always known that ancient statues were painted: The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a vase, circa 360-350 B.C., depicting a man painting a statue of Herakles. The most important evidence is on the statues themselves – traces of paint that time did not wash from the creases and crevices in porous marble.
Nguyen’s research indicates the marble surfaces were painted, but cannot detect how many coats of paint the ancients may have applied to the sculptures.

Click here for the article and a video.