Sunday, December 16, 2012

Skull Fraud 'Created' the Brontosaurus

With the correct skull, it's an Apatosaurus as shown here.

This post concerns the very, very ancient, but it’s here because it’s a fascinating tale. It seems the fierce competition for fame between two palentologists ~ O.C. Marsh of Yale and Edward Cope of Philadelphia ~ led to the false creation of the Bronosaurus, a creature that, as it turns out, never existed.
According to NPR, quoting Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History:
It was in the heat of this competition, in 1877, that Marsh discovered the partial skeleton of a long-necked, long-tailed, leaf-eating dinosaur he dubbed Apatosaurus. It was missing a skull, so in 1883 when Marsh published a reconstruction of his Apatosaurus, Lamanna says he used the head of another dinosaur — thought to be a Camarasaurus — to complete the skeleton. 
"Two years later," Lamanna says, "his fossil collectors that were working out West sent him a second skeleton that he thought belonged to a different dinosaur that he named Brontosaurus." 
But it wasn't a different dinosaur. It was simply a more complete Apatosaurus — one that Marsh, in his rush to one-up Cope, carelessly and quickly mistook for something new.
You can easily guess the rest of the story. What’s particularly amazing is that the two warring paleontologists even ordered some dinosaur skeletons to be smashed to pieces while still in the ground, just so the other fellow wouldn’t unearth them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Constantine the Complex

Rome's long and enigmatic chain of emperors was rife with complex personalities, few the match of Constantine (282-337). In his new Constantine the Emperor, biographer David Potter makes a case for this emperor's historical prominence.
"No Roman emperor had a greater impact on the modern world than did Constantine. The reason is not simply that he converted to Christianity but that he did so in a way that brought his subjects along after him.” 
"Alongside the visionary who believed that his success came from the direct intervention of his God, resided an aggressive warrior, a sometimes cruel partner, and an immensely shrewd ruler. These characteristics, combined together in a long and remarkable career, are those that restored the Roman Empire to its former glory."
Potter, a professor of Greek and Roman history at the University of Michigan, actually offers this major hunk of history in a surprisingly readable and compelling manner. His description is excellent of Constantine's complicated world with its spreading Christian influence, altogether as good a story as the sordid family strife surrounding this emperor.

Potter's book ~ published by Oxford University Press ~ is available from Please see the link at the top of the "Ancient Tides Books" column at the left of this page.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Native American Genetic Source is Located

Artist rendition of crossing Bering Strait.

Northern European populations ~ British, Scandinavians, French and Eastern Europeans ~ descend from a mixture of two ancestral populations, one of which is related to Native Americans. This genetic discovery helps understanding of both Native American and Northern European ancestry, while explaining genetic similarities among the very divergent groups.
According to Science Daily, quoting Nick Patterson, first author of the report published in the November issue of Genetics magazine:
 "There is a genetic link between the paleolithic population of Europe and modern Native Americans. The evidence is that the population that crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia into the Americas more than 15,000 years ago was likely related to the ancient population of Europe."
One of these ancestral populations was the first farming population of Europe, whose DNA lives on today in relatively unmixed form in Sardinians and the people of the Basque Country, and in at least the Druze population in the Middle East.
The other ancestral population is likely to have been the initial hunter-gathering population of Europe. These two populations were very different when they met. Today the hunter-gathering ancestral population of Europe appears to have its closest affinity to people in far Northeastern Siberia and Native Americans.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Nazca Lines Still Provoke Mystery

Since their startling discovery in Peru’s coastal area during the 1920s, mystery still surrounds the so-called Nazca lines, depicting several massive images decipherable only from high altitudes.
The vast majority of the lines date from 200 BC to 500 AD, to a time when a people referred to as the Nazca inhabited the region. The earliest lines, created with piled up stones, date as far back as 500 BC.
According to
The purpose of the lines continues to elude researchers and remains a matter of conjecture. Ancient Nazca culture was prehistoric, which means they left no written records.  
One idea is that they are linked to the heavens with some of the lines representing constellations in the night sky. Another idea is that the lines play a role in pilgrimage, with one walking across them to reach a sacred place such as Cahuachi and its adobe pyramids. 
Yet another idea is that the lines are connected with water, something vital to life yet hard to get in the desert, and may have played a part in water-based rituals.
In the absence of a firm archaeological conclusion a number of fringe theories have popped up, especially several aligned with “ancient astronaut” theories. A less radical suggestion is that the Nazca people used balloons to observe the lines from high altitudes, something for which there still is no archaeological evidence.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Smashed Skulls Indicate Stone Age Fears

Several of the smashed skulls, all of young men.

Evidence that some Stone Age cultures may have considered dead young men to be threatening to living people could be the reason groups of newly discovered skulls were buried with smashed-in faces.
The 10,000-year-old skulls were found in Syria. They appear to have been dug up several years after being buried with their bodies, separated, then reburied. No one knows why Neolithic societies buried clusters of skulls - often near or underneath settlements.
Like those found in other caches, they have been cleanly separated from their spines, suggesting they were collected from dead bodies that had already begun to decompose. Patterns on the bone indicate that some had been decomposing for longer than others, making it likely that they were all gathered together for a specific purpose.
Most of the skulls belonged to adult males between 18 and 30 years old.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Confusion Still Surrounds Mary Magdalene

Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene, Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1311.

As any reader of the New Testament knows, there are several women named Mary and scripture is not clear as to which is which. Meanwhile, readers make a number of assumptions regarding Mary Magdalene, most of which are unsubstantiated in scripture. is exploring this situation in a detailed article by James Carroll, who writes:
In one age after another her image was reinvented, from prostitute to sibyl to mystic to celibate nun to passive helpmeet to feminist icon to the matriarch of divinity’s secret dynasty. How the past is remembered, how sexual desire is domesticated, how men and women negotiate their separate impulses; how power inevitably seeks sanctification, how tradition becomes authoritative, how revolutions are co-opted; how fallibility is reckoned with, and how sweet devotion can be made to serve violent domination—all these cultural questions helped shape the story of the woman who befriended Jesus of Nazareth.
One of the first matters Carroll addresses is the biblical presence of multiple Marys:
There are several Marys—not least, of course, Mary the mother of Jesus. But there is Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus. There is Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and Mary the wife of Clopas. Equally important, there are three unnamed women who are expressly identified as sexual sinners—the woman with a “bad name” who wipes Jesus’ feet with ointment as a signal of repentance, a Samaritan woman whom Jesus meets at a well and an adulteress whom Pharisees haul before Jesus to see if he will condemn her. The first thing to do in unraveling the tapestry of Mary Magdalene is to tease out the threads that properly belong to these other women. Some of these threads are themselves quite knotted.
The article also discusses a key aspect of the Magdalene confusion that carries contemporary overtones is the male need to dominate women, especially in the Catholic Church.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Key Myths Have Behavioral Links to Real World

Beowulf slaying his foe.
Ancient myths including Beowulf, Homer’s Illiad and the traditional Irish poem Táin Bó Cuailnge likely are based on real communities and people, according to researchers who compared the complex web of the characters’ relationships with the type of social networks occurring in real life.

Scientists at Coventry University calculated characters’ popularity based on how many relationships they had with other characters and whether they were friends or enemies. Then they examined the overall dynamic between the cast as a whole.

According to the The Telegraph:
Their results, published in the journal Europhysics Letters, showed that the societies depicted in the stories strongly mirrored real social networks of company directors, film actors and scientists which had been mapped out by other academics.

In contrast they found that four works known to be entirely fictional ~ Shakespeare's Richard III, Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of Rowling's Harry Potter series and Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo ~ contained telltale signs of being fictional.
"In the myths but also in real social networks, you tend to have sub-communities who do not know anybody else," says Pádraig Mac Carron, co-author of the report. "In fiction, everyone tends to be completely connected with each other."
"In reality you also have popular people with hundreds of friends, then a few people with maybe 70, and a lot of people with a lot less friends," he adds. "But [in fiction] you get a lot of characters who have the same number of friends. Almost everyone that Harry Potter knows and interacts with also meets and interacts with Ron and Hermione, for example."
Click here for the article.
Small photo shows Page 1 of Beowulf.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stamp May Be Evidence of Biblical Samson

Samson and the Lion by Hayez

Archaeologists digging near Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem have uncovered a tiny seal that could possibly be the first evidence of Samson, the Biblical slayer of Philistines.

The seal appears to depict the Old Testament story of Samson, whose might was undone by his lust for the temptress Delilah, and his fight with a lion. It measures less than an inch in diameter, shows a large animal with a feline tail attacking a human figure.

According to the Daily Mail:
The seal was discovered at a level of excavation that dates it to roughly the 11th century BC, when Israelite tribes had moved into the area after Joshua's conquest of Canaan. It was a time when the Jews were led by ad hoc leaders known as judges, one of whom was Samson. 
 The location also indicates that the figure on the seal could represent Samson, according to Israeli archaeologists Professor Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr Zvi Lederman. 
Beit Shemesh is regularly mentioned in the Old Testament, most notably in chapter 6 of the book of Samuel I - the ruler of Israel immediately after Samson - as being the first city encountered by the ark of the covenant on its way back from Philistia after having been captured by the Philistines in battle.
 A popular character in the Old Testament, Samson was said to have been given supernatural strength by God to allow him to overcome his enemies. He discovered his strength when he was accosted by a lion on his way to propose to a Philistine woman, killing it with his bare hands.

Smaller photo shows the small stamp archaeologists have unearthed. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Vikings Valued Personal Cleanliness

Historians have studied the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry for details.

Vikings are often thought to be filthy, roughhewn warriors, but the contrary seems to be closer to the truth ~ some were borderline fastidious. 
“Several archaeological finds have revealed tweezers, combs, nail cleaners, ear cleaners and toothpicks from the Viking Age," says Louise Kæmpe Henriksen, a curator at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde.
According to
The finds suggest that cleanliness meant a lot to the Vikings. Written sources from medieval England also back up this view. In his chronicle from 1220 – a couple of centuries after the Vikings had ravaged England – John of Wallingford described the Vikings as well-groomed heartbreakers: 
”They had also conquered, or planned to conquer, all the country’s best cities and caused many hardships for the country’s original citizens, for they were – according to their country’s customs – in the habit of combing their hair every day, to bathe every Saturday, to change their clothes frequently and to draw attention to themselves by means of many such frivolous whims. In this way, they sieged the married women’s virtue and persuaded the daughters of even noble men to become their mistresses,” wrote Wallingford.
Cleanliness was one of five discussions has presented to refute the top five popular myths regarding Vikings. Others include that Vikings wore horned helmets, looked like we do today, wore clothing admired throughout the world, and were scarred by battle wounds.