Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Marco Polo Visited China, Scholar Says

An Italian drawing of Marco Polo's caravan from 1375.

For 300 years, historians have argued that Marco Polo did not really visit China, but had fabricated his journeys based on the information from his trips to the Black Sea, Constantinople and Persia and from talking to merchants. Now University of Tübingen Sinologist Hans Ulrich Vogel says he believes Polo.
In his new book, Marco Polo was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues, Vogel presents a comprehensive review of the arguments for and against, and follows it up with evidence from relevant Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, German and Spanish literature. The result is compelling: despite a few, well-known problems with Marco Polo’s writings, they are supported by an overwhelming number of verified accounts about China containing unique information given over centuries. 
According to Archaeology News Network:
Professor Vogel examines an area so complex and which requires such a high level of historical expertise that it has largely been neglected – Marco Polo’s descriptions of currency, salt production and revenues from the salt monopoly. Vogel concludes that no other Western, Arab, or Persian observer reported in such accurate and unique detail about the currency situation in Mongol China. 
The Venetian traveler is the only one to describe precisely how paper for money was made from the bark of the mulberry tree. He not only details the shape and size of the paper, he also describes the use of seals and the various denominations of paper money. He reports on the monopolizing of gold, silver, pearls and gems by the state – which enforced a compulsory exchange for paper money – and the punishment for counterfeiters, as well as the 3% exchange fee for worn-out notes and the widespread use of paper money in official and private transactions. 
Marco Polo is also the only one among his contemporaries to explain that paper money was not in circulation in all parts of China. It was used primarily in the north and in the regions along the Yangtze, but not in Fujian and certainly not in Yunnan, where according to Polo, cowries, salt, gold and silver were the main currencies.
This and similar information is confirmed by Chinese sources and by archaeological evidence, Vogel contends. Most of these sources were collated or translated long after Marco Polo’s time, so he could not have drawn on them.
Click here for the complete article.

Rare Sumerian Golden Mug Was For Beer

The slender spout on a 4,500-year-old golden beer mug from ancient Mesopotamia was designed to filter out unwanted particles, according to researchers assembling a collection of period artifacts for public display.
The cup is the centerpiece of Melbourne Museum's latest international exhibition, the Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia. The exhibition showcases more than 170 artifacts on loan from the British Museum, charting the history of one of the world's oldest civilizations, dating back as far as 2600 BC.
The cup was recovered from the "death pit" of Queen Puabi in the ancient city of Ur, in modern day Iraq, during an excavation led by archaeologist Leonard Woolley between 1922 and 1934. It was found in the royal cemetery amid precious jewels, musical instruments, containers once laden with food, and other riches.
"This is really rather unique,” British Museum exhibition curator Sarah Collins said. “So far archaeology hasn't uncovered tombs or riches quite like this. It's certainly a very spectacular example of the Sumerians' belief and burial and afterlife practices.
Click here for complete article.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

More Credence to Historical Jesus

Christ as imagined by Rembrandt

The debate over whether Jesus actually existed in an historical sense is large, with much intensity on both sides of the question. That’s why I find it especially interesting when a self-proclaimed agnostic who also happens to be a leading biblical scholar decides to take a bold position.

Yes, says Bart Ehrman. Jesus did exist.

Ehrman, historian and professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and author of several best-sellers relating to the Bible, recently published Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, which investigates the historical evidence regarding the existence of Jesus.

Ehrman says there is a large contingent of people claiming that Jesus never did exist, and he calls them the mythicists.
"It was a surprise to me to see how influential these mythicists are," Ehrman says. According to them, Jesus was never mentioned in any Roman sources and there is no archeological evidence that Jesus ever existed. Even Christian sources are problematic – the Gospels come long after Jesus' death, written by people who never saw the man. 
"Most importantly," he explains, "these mythicists point out that there are Pagan gods who were said to die and rise again and so the idea is that Jesus was made up as a Jewish god who died and rose again."
In his book, Ehrman marshals all of the evidence proving the existence of Jesus, "Paul knew Jesus' brother, James, and he knew his closest disciple, Peter, and he tells us that he did," Ehrman says. "If Jesus didn't exist, you would think his brother would know about it, so I think Paul is probably pretty good evidence that Jesus at least existed," he says.

Ehrman builds a technical argument and shows that one of the reasons for knowing that Jesus existed is that if someone invented Jesus, they would not have created a messiah who was so easily overcome.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Exploration May Be Near Naymlap Tomb

Figure found on mural near site.

Among the most colorful pre-Columbian Peruvian legends is of Naymlap, fearless founder of a centuries-old dynasty that supposedly ruled the Lambayeque Valley in northern Peru.
Archaeologist Christopher Donnan’s revelations about the legend are detailed in a new 268-page book that was just published by the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, Chotuna and Chornancap: Excavating an Ancient Peruvian Legend.
According to UCLA:
As the legend goes, Naymlap arrived with a vast fleet of balsa rafts carrying an entourage that included a chief wife and many concubines. He also brought with him an idol made of green stone, and he built a palace where it was installed. In his court were a trumpeter who blew through shells much prized by the Indians; a servant who scattered the dust of pulverized seashells on the ground where Naymlap tread; and servants who tended his every need, from an official bather to the keeper of his feathered shirts. 
Throughout Naymlap’s long reign, the tale continued, people enjoyed peace until his death, kept secret by his attendants who — fearing that his followers would find out their venerated leader had succumbed to this human fate — buried him in the same room where he had lived. Saddened by his mysterious disappearance, many of his followers abandoned their homes to find him.
Donnan and his UCLA team of students and fellow archaeologists found a wealth of ceramics, burials, colorful wall murals and other materials in an area that once was the location of domestic dwellings, pyramids, palace complexes, walled enclosures and a room-filled site. In other words, the archaeologist said, “What we found was perfectly in keeping with the legend.”

Mystery Surrounds Celtic Mummy in China

The mummy is that of a Bronze Age Celt, according to his DNA, but the mummy of Cherchen Man is from the Taklamakan Desert in western China. In the local Chinese language, the word “taklamakan” means “You come in and never come out.” And that seems to be the case.
According to Britain’s The Independent:
He looks like a Bronze Age European. In fact, he's every inch a Celt. Even his DNA says so. 
But this is no early Celt from central Scotland. This is the mummified corpse of Cherchen Man, unearthed from the scorched sands of the Taklamakan Desert in the far-flung region of Xinjiang in western China, and now housed in a new museum in the provincial capital of Urumqi. 
The extraordinary thing is that Cherchen Man was found - with the mummies of three women and a baby - in a burial site thousands of miles to the east of where the Celts established their biggest settlements in France and the British Isles. 
DNA testing confirms that he and hundreds of other mummies found in Xinjiang's Tarim Basin are of European origin. We don't know how he got there, what brought him there, or how long he and his kind lived there for. But, as the desert's name suggests, it is certain that he never came out.
His discovery provides an unexpected connection between east and west and some valuable clues to early European history. The bodies are far better preserved than the Egyptian mummies, and it is sad to see the infants on display; to see how the baby was wrapped in a beautiful brown cloth tied with red and blue cord, then a blue stone placed on each eye. Beside it was a baby's milk bottle with a teat, made from a sheep's udder.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sources Found for Mayan Blue Pigment

Maya blue is the man-made pigment that colored the Mayan world, associated with sacrifice and Maya deities such as the rain god Chaak.
Impervious to the effects of chemical or physical weathering, Maya blue was applied to pottery, sculpture and murals of Mesoamerica largely during the Classic and Postclassic periods (AD 250-1520), playing a central role in ancient Maya religious practice. It was also coated the victims of human sacrifice and the altars on which they were killed.
According to Past Horizons:
Scientists have already discovered that it is produced by chemically binding indigo to the clay mineral palygorskite by carefully controlled heating, though it is still not absolutely clear exactly how the Maya actually made it.  
However, science and anthropology teamed up to solve another question concerning the brilliantly hued pigment and the researchers have established a link between contemporary indigenous knowledge and the ancient sources of the mineral.
Research on sources for palygorskite has been ongoing since the late 1960s. It was recently discovered that palygorskite was well known among indigenous potters of Ticul, Yucatán. These contemporary Maya use palygorskite as a key component of their own pottery production as a temper and also prescribe the mineral for medicinal purposes for intestinal problems.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Genes Reveal Prehistoric African Migration

Stone art depiction of Africans migrating.

Researchers have uncovered the first genetic evidence for prehistoric gene flow between Africa and Europe, as far back as 11,000 years ago. This evidence predates better known migrations between Africa and Europe during the Roman Empire, Arab conquest and the slave trade.
To trace human ancestry, scientists study the DNA sequence of the mitochondria, a specialized cellular structure that produces energy for the cell and carries genetic information separate from the rest of the genome that resides in the nucleus. While the nuclear genome is a mix of genetic information from both mother and father, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed directly from mother to child without any contribution of DNA from the father. Geneticists can use these changes as markers that indicate the movements and migrations of humans in the past, and classify them into specific "haplogroups."
According to Genome Research:
"It was very surprising to find that more than 35 percent of the sub-Saharan lineages in Europe arrived during a period that ranged from more than 11,000 years ago to the Roman Empire times," said Dr. Antonio Salas of the University of Santiago de Compostela and senior author of the study. The other 65 percent of European haplogroup L lineages arrived in more recent times.
The authors explain that these contacts likely connected sub-Saharan Africa to Europe not only via North Africa, but also directly by coastal routes. Salas said it remains unknown why there was genetic flow between the Africa and Europe in prehistoric times, but one possible scenario is that some bidirectional flow was promoted when the last glaciation pushed some Europeans southward, until the glacier receded and populations returned north.