Saturday, June 14, 2003

Greek Mosaic from 500 B.C. Unearthed in Israel

The birth of the Hellenistic period, when Greek culture began to spread far beyond its native territory, has long been set around 334 B.C. to 323 B.C., when Alexander and his troops began their 20,000-mile conquest, thundering from Macedonia south through what is now Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. The troops then set off for Persia and India. But, a University of California, Berkeley-led group of researchers, excavating the ancient town of Dor in Israel, is challenging the common history that credits the Macedonian king with initiating the spread of ancient Greek culture throughout the Middle East during his conquest of the region during the 4th century B.C.

Team members will direct their attention to the wealth of materials found at the ancient Israelite seaport site of Dor, established by the Canaanites around 2,000 B.C. and once the harbor of King Solomon. Alexander the Great passed by Dor on his march from Tyre to Gaza and Egypt, by which time the city hosted a lively mixture of Phoenicians, Jews, Greeks and others. Finds thus far have included a 5th century B.C. headless statue of the Greek winged goddess Victory, together with fragments of a demolished Greek temple, and an elaborate and intricate mosaic floor featuring a masked actor from a Greek comedy.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Drought Brought An End To The Mayan Civilization

I saw an interesting program Friday night on the collapse of the Mayan civilization, "Ancient Apocalypse: The Fall of the Mayan Civilisation". Although I saw it on the Discovery Times Channel, it was apparently produced by the BBC. Remembering the devastating droughts of his childhood, Texas archaeologist, Dick Gill, theorized that drought caused the Mayan collapse. But he had quite a time getting other scholars to give his theory serious consideration. He combed historical records looking for references to drought and found such references not only in Spanish records of 1795 but even in a Mayan text that had escaped the Spanish conflagration. He also studied weather patterns and discovered that at the time of the Mayan collapse, there was evidence of unusually cold weather in the Arctic and northern Europe. Further investigation revealed that a high pressure system that normally remains in the central north Atlantic occasionally moved southwest. Each time this occurred, the Arctic would experience record cold and Central America would experience drought. The clincher came when a team of archaeologists from the University of Florida that were studying core samples from the bed of Lake Chichancanab in the Yucatan peninsula found evidence that in the ninth century the area experienced the driest period in 7,000 years.

I am always fascinated by such discoveries that produce an answer to mysteries that were discussed in my history classes as a child. I felt a similar thrill when evidence was discovered that the dinosaurs extinction was the result of a meteor impact.