Thursday, January 26, 2012

Skeletal Remains Found of Pre-Incan Mass Sacrifice

Several of the skeletons of willing sacrificial victims.

More than a hundred skeletons believed to be remains of victims of a ritual mass sacrifice have been discovered in a pit next to the ancient Huaca Las Ventanas pyramid in northern Peru. The pyramid is part of the pre-Incan Sicán site, the capital of the Lambayeque people—also known as the Sicán—who ruled Peru's northern coast from about A.D. 900 to 1100.
According to National Geographic:
Perhaps more than a hundred bodies—buried nude and some of them headless—lie in the newfound pit, according to Haagen Klaus, a bioarchaeologist at Utah Valley University in Orem who is studying the finds. 
The bodies are almost all adult males, with the exception of two children, each accompanied by what appears to be an adult woman. 
Despite the huge mass burial, the Sicán were not warmongers, Klaus stressed. Instead the Sicán culture used an economy based on trade to build an empire that, at its peak around A.D. 1000, spanned thousands of miles across what is now Ecuador and Peru.
All the dead in the newfound pit were likely willing participants from local communities engaged in a ritual that celebrated death so that "new life could emerge in the world," Klaus said in an email to National Geographic News."Sicán was holy ground, and only the most sanctified of religious rituals involving ancestors appear to have taken place there. Mass ritual sacrifice appears to be the most likely interpretation" of the discovery.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Satyr Masks from Wine Ceremonies Recovered

Two masks dating to 1 A.D. and found in a grave during excavations in the central Anatolian Necropolis site may shed light on ancient culture.
Anadolu University Archaeology Professor Taciser Sivas said the masks were the most beautiful historical findings of the year. 
“The masks were broken, but we have repaired the broken pieces,” she explained. “There are horns of a mythical figure on one of the masks, symbolizing a satyr [a half-human and half-goat god]. The other is bigger and white, with black and red hair.”
Sivas said the masks symbolized abundance and plentitude at wine-harvest ceremonies and were still being produced through the end of the Roman period. 
“Masks were used during religious ceremonies,” she added. “It is very significant the masks were found in Şarhöyük, as Eskişehir became the capital of Turkish world culture.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Persistent Drought Ended City of Angkor

Bayon temple at Angkor, constructed in the 12th century.

The ancient city of Angkor likely collapsed due to failure to battle drought, scientists find.
First established in the 9th century, Angkor was capital of the Khmer Empire, the major player in southeast Asia for nearly five centuries. It stretched over more than 385 square miles ~ the most extensive urban complex in the preindustrial world.
Suggested causes for the fall of the Khmer Empire in the late 14th to early 15th centuries have included war and exploitation of the land. Recent evidence suggests that prolonged droughts might have been linked to the decline of Angkor. For instance, tree rings from Vietnam suggest the region experienced long spans of drought interspersed with heavy rainfall.
To learn about how the Khmer managed their water, scientists analyzed a 6-foot-long core sample of sediment taken from the southwest corner of the largest Khmer reservoir, the West Baray, which could hold 1.87 billion cubic feet of water, more than 20 times the amount of stone making up the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nebuchadnezzar Shows Up on Babel Stele

Carving of Nebuchadnezzar is clearly visible on the right.

A team of scholars has discovered what might be the oldest representation of the biblical Tower of Babel. The inscription was carved between 604 and 562 BC on a black stone named the Tower of Babel stele.
The Tower of Babel stele stands out as one of "the stars in the firmament of the book," according to Andrew George, a professor of Babylonian at the University of London. The spectacular stone monument clearly shows the Tower and King Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled Babylon some 2,500 years ago.
Credited with the destruction of the temple of Solomon in 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar II was also responsible for sending the Jews into exile, according to the Bible. The first Babylonian king to rule Egypt, he is also famous for building the legendary Hanging Gardens, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, and many temples all over Babylonia.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

World's Oldest Astrology Board Discovered

Representation of Cancer on the ivory board.

Researchers exploring a Croatian cave have discovered a 2,000-year-old astrology board, believed to be the oldest such astrologer’s tool ever found. Surviving portions include 30 ivory fragments engraved with the zodiac signs for Cancer, Gemini and Pisces.

According to
"This is probably older than any other known example," according to Alexander Jones, a professor at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. "It's also older than any of the written-down horoscopes that we have from the Greco-Roman world ~ we have a lot of horoscopes that are written down as a kind of document on papyrus or on a wall but none of them as old as this."
Archaeologists are uncertain of the board’s origins. Astrology originated in Babylon around 2,400 years ago. Around 2,100 years ago, it spread to the eastern Mediterranean, becoming popular in Egypt, which at the time was under the control of a dynasty of Greek kings.
"It gets modified very much into what we think of as the Greek style of astrology, which is essentially the modern style of astrology," Jones said. "The Greek style is the foundation of astrology that goes through the Middle Ages and into modern Europe, modern India (and) so on."
Radiocarbon dating shows that the ivory used to create the zodiac images dates back around 2,200 years ago, shortly before the appearance of this new form of astrology.
Croatian cave where researchers found the board.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

More Details Emerge on Cahokia Settlement

Layout of Cahokia on the west bank of the Mississippi River.

Bit by bit, more information is being discovered related to the massive Native American mound settlement called Cahokia in western Illinois. 
According to an article in Science:
A millennium ago, this strategic spot along the Mississippi River was an affluent neighborhood of Native Americans, set amid the largest concentration of people and monumental architecture north of what is now Mexico. 
Back then, hundreds of well-thatched rectangular houses, carefully aligned along the cardinal directions, stood here, overshadowed by dozens of enormous earthen mounds flanked by large ceremonial plazas. … Cahokia proper was the only pre-Columbian city north of the Rio Grande, and it was large even by European and Mesoamerican standards of the day, drawing immigrants from hundreds of kilometers around to live, work, and participate in mass ceremonies.
Recent excavations have uncovered evidence of more than 500 thatched houses and workshops where residents created goods. Cahokia may have expanded out into a primitive metropolitan area that served as residence to tens of thousands of Native Americans, researchers believe.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Deforestation Brought on Mayan Demise

Mayan ruins at Palenque, with regrown forests.

Severe deforestation the Mayans inflicted on their own environment hastened the end of their civilization in the 8th and 9th centuries, according to new research.
The deforestation in Central America contributed to drought, and researchers have long suspected that drought contributed to the end of Mayan society, along with internal conflicts and overpopulation.
According to and MSNBC:
Using new reconstructions of vegetation stretching back 2,000 years, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies climatologist Benjamin Cook and colleagues found that forest-clearing by Mayan farmers worsened drought conditions in the area. 
When the Mayans cleared forests, they exposed land surface with a higher albedo, or reflectivity, than the dark-green forest canopy. This land surface reflected energy back into the atmosphere rather than absorbing it, lessening the amount of energy on the land surface available to do things like convect water vapor to form clouds and thus rain. The result was a decline in precipitation by 10 percent to 20 percent. 
With less rain, the soil dried out, so any extra energy went to warming the surface rather than evaporating water. The result was a rise in surface temperature by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius). The lack of rainfall and boost in heat would have been bad news for a society whose survival depended on their farmlands.
European invaders after 1492 destroyed the Mayan population by up to 90 percent in areas, and the result was a regrowth of forest as human pressures were reduced. Cave records confirm the pattern of drying during deforested periods and more precipitation when forests bounced back.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Significant Orkney Temple Predates Stonehenge

Artist's conception of a section of the Ness of Brodgar.

A 5000-year-old temple in Orkney, at the northern tip of Britain, could be more important than Stonehenge, some archaeologists are saying. Known as the Ness of Brodgar, it may replace Stonehenge as the center of Neolithic culture.
So far, the remains of 14 Stone Age buildings have been excavated, but thermal geophysics technology has revealed that there are 100 altogether, forming a kind of temple precinct. The site also contains Britain’s earliest known wall paintings.
“The excavation of a vast network of buildings on Orkney is allowing us to recreate an entire Stone Age world,” according to Neil Oliver. “It’s opening a window onto the mysteries of Neolithic religion.” 
Experts believe that the site will give us insights into what Neolithic people believed about the world and the universe. 
Some parts of the temple are 800 years older than Stonehenge, which lies 500 miles to the south in Wiltshire. The site is very close to the Ring of Brodgar stone circle and the standing stones of Stenness, and is surrounded by a wall believed to have been 10-feet high.
Archaeologists found red zigzag lines on some of the buildings’ inner walls that they believe is Stone Age art – the oldest ever found. So far only around 10 per cent of the site has been examined – and it could take decades to uncover and analyse everything there.