Saturday, March 30, 2013

Civilization? Blame It on the Beer

Inebriation may have played a pivotal role in the formation of human society, according to speculation in a recent New York Times column:
Luckily, from time to time, our ancestors, like other animals, would run across fermented fruit or grain and sample it. How this accidental discovery evolved into the first keg party, of course, is still unknown. But evolve it did, perhaps as early as 10,000 years ago. 
 Current theory has it that grain was first domesticated for food. But since the 1950s, many scholars have found circumstantial evidence that supports the idea that some early humans grew and stored grain for beer, even before they cultivated it for bread. 
 . . . Once the effects of these early brews were discovered, the value of beer (as well as wine and other fermented potions) must have become immediately apparent. With the help of the new psychopharmacological brew, humans could quell the angst of defying those herd instincts. Conversations around the campfire, no doubt, took on a new dimension: the painfully shy, their angst suddenly quelled, could now speak their minds. 
 But the alcohol would have had more far-ranging effects, too, reducing the strong herd instincts to maintain a rigid social structure. In time, humans became more expansive in their thinking, as well as more collaborative and creative.
The article does make a point that ancient beers had far less alcohol than today’s brews, and that the distillation of more potent beer became a mere 2,000 years ago.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ancient 'Gate to Hell' is Unearthed

Ancient ruins of Pluto’s Gate ~ more colorfully known as the “Gate to Hell” ~ is believed to have been unearthed by a team headed by Francesco D'Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento in Lecce, Italy, who has been excavating the ancient Greco-Roman site of Hierapolis for years.
D’Andria says he used ancient mythology as his guide to locate the legendary portal to the underworld. “We found the Plutonium by reconstructing the route of a thermal spring,” he says. “Indeed, Pamukkale' springs, which produce the famous white travertine terraces originate from this cave.”
Scribes like Cicero and the Greek geographer Strabo mentioned the gate to hell as located at the ancient site in Turkey, noted Discovery, but nobody had been able to find it until now. Strabo (64 B.C.- 24 B.C.) wrote: “This space is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death. I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.”
The portal to the underworld seems just as bad for your health today. According to Discovery News, the fumes emanated from a cave below the site, which includes ionic columns with inscriptions to Pluto and Kore, gods of the underworld. “We could see the cave's lethal properties during the excavation,” D’Andria says. “Several birds died as they tried to get close to the warm opening, instantly killed by the carbon dioxide fumes.”
Image is a digital rendering of the site.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Clovis Comet Lacks Evidence

A group of scientists from archaeology to crystallography and physics are disputing the long-held theory that a comet crashing into the Earth some 13,000 years ago spelled doom to a group of early North American people and ice-age beasts in the region.

The prehistoric Paleo-Indian group known as the Clovis culture suffered its demise at the same time the region underwent significant climate cooling known as the Younger Dryas.

"Despite more than four years of trying by many qualified researchers, no unambiguous evidence has been found [of such an event]," Mark Boslough, a physicist at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, tells LiveScience. "That lack of evidence is therefore evidence of absence."

According to LiveScience:
In 2007, a team of scientists led by Richard Firestone of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California suggested these changes were the result of a collision or explosion of an enormous comet or asteroid. 
The theory has remained controversial, with no sign of a crater that would have resulted from such an impact. 
"If a four-kilometer [2.5-mile] comet had broken up over North America only 12.9 thousand years ago, it is certain that it would have left an unambiguous impact crater or craters, as well as unambiguous shocked materials," Boslough said. 
A large rock plunging into the Earth's atmosphere may detonate in the air without coming into contact with the ground. Such an explosion occurred in Siberia in the early 20th century; the explosive energy of the so-called Tunguska event was more than 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Boslough said the math doesn't add up. The object responsible for the Tunguska event was very small, about 130 to 160 feet (40 to 50 meters) wide. The proposed North American space rock linked with the Clovis demise is estimated to have been closer to 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) across. "The physics doesn't support the idea of something that big exploding in the air," he said.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Factors Contributed to Akkadian Fall

Today’s political strife in Syria parallels events the fall of the Akkadian empire in Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago, according to research published recently.
The Akkadian empire thrived in the third millennium BC, but around 2,200 BC drought hit and people fled from urban centers, leading to collapse of the government. The entire empire faltered amidst calamities referred to as the third-millennium Mesopotamian urban crisis.
According to Scientific American:
Until now, our understanding of the Mesopotamian urban crisis had been based on archaeological studies of ceramic artifacts and changes in the size of archaeological sites along with what we know about farming practices popular at the time. 
But archaeologist Ellery Frahm of the University of Sheffield in the UK and his colleagues used geochemical techniques and rock magnetic analyses to examine trade and the social networks associated with it instead. 
The researchers used electron microscopy and chemical analyses to examine 97 obsidian tools excavated earlier from a site called Tell Mozan, dating from the early Akkadian empire to several centuries after its demise. Located in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains in northeastern Syria, the site was known as Urkesh in antiquity, and was densely populated at the height of the Akkadian empire.
Parallels exist to the situation in Syria today. "Some archaeologists contend that the Akkadian Empire was brought down by militarism and that violence ended its central economic role in the region, and a governmental collapse is a real possibility in Syria after nearly two years of fighting," Frahm says.

Image is Mesopotamian stela depicting the god Nanna from around 2080 BC.