Monday, October 27, 2003

Scientists speculate Thera eruption larger than Krakatoa

Dr. Floyd W. McCoy, a University of Hawaii geologist who has studied the eruption of Thera for decades has proposed that it was much more violent than previously thought. During a field trip to Anafi, an island some 20 miles east of Thera, he found fresh cut roads had exposed layers of Thera ash up to 10 feet thick. Factoring in such evidence, Dr. McCoy calculated that Thera had a V.E.I. of 7.0 — what geologists call colossal and exceedingly rare. In the past 10,000 years only one other volcano has exploded with that kind of gargantuan violence: Tambora, in Indonesia, in 1816, It produced an ash cloud in the upper atmosphere that reflected sunlight back into space and produced the year without a summer. The cold led to ruinous harvests, hunger and even famine in the United States, Europe and Russia.

Dr. William B. F. Ryan, a geologist at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has woven such clues into a tantalizing but provisional theory on how distant effects might have slowly undone Crete. First, he noted that winds at low and high altitudes seem to have blown Thera's ash into distinct plumes — one to the southeast, toward Egypt and another heavier one to the northeast, toward Anatolia. Even if the changes wrought by Thera helped trees there, they apparently played havoc with delicate wheat fields.
Mursilis, a king of the Hittites, set out from Anatolia on a rampage, traveling between the plumes to strike Syria and Babylon and seize their stored grains and cereals. The subsequent collapse of Babylon into a dark age, Dr. Ryan said, also undid one of its puppets, the Hyksos, foreigners who ruled Egypt and traded with the Minoans.
He theorized that the new Egyptian dynasty had no love of Hyksos allies. So Minoan Crete, already reeling from Thera's fury, suffered new blows to its maritime trade.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

New Material Developed to Restore Ancient Frescos

"A new kind of material has been developed in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province,to help ancient frescos recover their original color.

The material, which is developed by the Xi'an Archive Protection Institute, can easily dissolve itself into organic fluorine, thus forming a kind of anti-weathering agent.

Studies have found that frescos tend to lose their colors because the pigments used eventually form a layer of compact powder, which will scatter and refract light.

However, the agent, after being sprayed on the frescos, can eliminate light scattering or refraction on the layer of compact powder and enable light to enter the pigment, hence recovering theoriginal colors. "

Monday, October 13, 2003

Jason and the Argonauts Just Ancient Shoppers?

"After fiddling about in the mud and muck of northern Greece, retracing Jason's route as detailed in Apollonius of Rhodes' telling of the Argo's journey, and wandering the hills and valleys of Georgia, some smug historians punctured Jason's fable. Rather than a hero of epic proportions, he was probably just a trader sent to the eastern end of the Black Sea on a shopping trip. There, he bartered with the Georgians, a race of people who used - and still use - sheep fleeces to pan for gold. It was 'highly likely' that Jason was 'a diplomat, a bureaucrat' rather than a warrior, and that his trials at the court of King Aeetes involved trading negotiations, not hand-to-hand combat with the undead. Such were the pedestrian origins of an incredible myth. "

These are the findings explained in the new BBC program "Jason and the Argonauts: Revealed". My son is going to be devastated. When he was young he went through a phase where each day he would come home from school and watch a tape of "Jason and the Argonauts". In fact, recently, after watching the Hallmark remake, I put in a tape of the original "Jason and the Argonauts" and found the music soundtrack as irritating as I did years ago (even though I still admire Ray Harryhausen's stop motion work). I teased my son about it on the phone (he's now grown with a family of his own) and he retorted "Hey, we don't knock the classics!" He apparently still watches it nostagically from time to time.

Elgin Marbles exhibition opens in London

"A virtual exhibition, which shows how the Elgin Marbles would look if they were reunited, has opened in London. Marbles Reunited shows those sculptures removed from Greece 200 years ago by Lord Elgin next to those which remained in Athens.
The London marbles are shown in colour while the others are depicted in white. "

Renovated Mesopotamian Gallery Opens Oct 18 at the Chicago Oriental Institute

"One of the world’s great collections of antiquities from ancient Iraq will be on display at the University’s Oriental Institute, beginning Saturday, Oct. 18. The Edgar and Deborah Jannotta Mesopotamian Gallery, remodeled as part of an ongoing renovation project, will open with an exhibition devoted to the Oriental Institute Museum’s Mesopotamian collection. "

“The gallery documents the powerful sweep of the rise and growth of civilization in the region—from its foundations in prehistoric times, through the glories of the city-states at the time of Ur, to the great empires of Babylonia and Assyria, and on into the 7th century A.D.,” said Karen Wilson, Director of the Oriental Institute Museum.

At the far end of the gallery, opposite the visitor’s center, is the most spectacular object in the Mesopotamian collection—a human-headed winged bull that stands 16 feet tall. The statue, known by many Chicagoans as the “Assyrian Bull,” is one of the museum’s most popular items and gains splendor in a new setting that calls attention to its original architectural purpose.

Six 10-foot stone reliefs from the throne-room facade in the palace of the Assyrian king Sargon II (who ruled from 721 to 705 B.C.), flank the bull statue. Oriental Institute archaeologists excavated the bull and the reliefs at Sargon II’s capital city Dur-Sharrukin, known today as Khorsabad. This stunning new installation, the Yelda Khorsabad Court, which is the result of more than 10 years of work, evokes the feeling of grandeur and power of the palaces and temples of the mighty Assyrian Empire.

I can attest to the breathtaking nature of the bull statue as I was fortunate enough to see it on a visit to the museum several years ago where I also attended the "Treasures From The Royal Tombs of Ur" exhibit.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Herodotus and Gold Digging Ants

As you know, I’ve been listening to Herodotus on my commute. Many of his descriptions of people and places are surprisingly accurate but I thought the Arabs who described how the Indians collected gold dust were playing a joke on him. He said he was told that there were ants the size of foxes that dug gold out of the ground. Men would approach these ferocious animals riding a female camel with a male camel tethered on each side. If the “ants” saw the men collecting the gold dust they would attack and the men would flee with their camels. The ants were so tenacious that they would persist in the chase. As the camels began to tire, the rider would loose one male and then the other male, presumably to be overtaken and consumed by the ants. Herodotus explained that the female camel’s motherly instincts would make her strive harder to escape the ants and return to her young.

Well, I thought this sounded like a plot from a B0-rated 1950s horror movie (Remember the movie “Them” about the huge irradiated ants?) so you can imagine my surprise when I read that Onescrites, one of Alexander’s officers, reported in his journal during their exploits in India that he had seen ants as big as foxes digging gold. Now, either Onescrites was quite familiar with Herodotus and was doing a little exaggeration of his own or both Greek translations are incorrect and the men must have been talking about ant eaters and not ants.