Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Decrease in Solar Activity May Have Prompted Human Migration

"Bas van Geel, a biologist from the University of Amsterdam, believes that the Earth's climate took a dramatic turn about 2,800 years ago, due to a quiet period in the Sun's activity, making the tropics drier and the mid-latitudes colder and wetter. Previously damp areas, like parts of the Netherlands, became flooded and uninhabitable, while very dry, desert-like areas, such as southern Siberia, became viable places to live.

Teaming up with archaeologists has enabled van Geel to back up his theory by showing that many people were migrating at this time. Along with Dutch specialists, he has found that farming communities in west Friesland suffered increasing rainfall about 2,800 years ago. They resorted to building homes on artificial mounds, but eventually they were washed out of their farms and had to move to drier places. Meanwhile, work in Cameroon has shown that there was an arid crisis that started at about the same time. This dry patch caused some of the forest to die and savannahs to open up. These openings in the forest made it easier for people to move. Archaeological remains show that farming communities began to migrate inland.

Most recently he has worked with Russian archaeologists to show that, also about 2,800 years ago, the Scythian people took advantage of a wetter climate to explore east and west across the steppe landscapes that lie north of Mongolia. Prior to this, the land had been hostile semi-desert, but the extra moisture turned it into green, grassy steppes, enabling these nomadic tribes to travel towards both China and south-east Europe."

Unmasking Truth behind the Gold Face

Unmasking Truth behind the Gold Face: "A unique archeological finding of a solid gold mask near Kazanlak, Bulgaria has stirred the world and rocketed Bulgarian pride of its history to unknown heights.

The face with closed eyes and robust expression found in the outskirts of Shipka Peak, near the town of Kazanlak, is believed to belong to one of mightiest Thracian kings - Seutus III, whose ruling dates around V-IV century BC. According to its discoverer and head of the archeological expedition Georgi Kitov, the image outruns all its analogs found so far, as it is made of pure, solid gold weighing more than half a kilogram."

Bulgaria's Bronze King Sculptured by Phidias

Bulgaria's Bronze King Sculptured by Phidias?: "The ancient Greek sculptor Phidias might have created the unique bronze head of a Thracian ruler, recently found in Bulgaria.

The founder of the bronze head archaeologist Georgi Kitov said that Phidias might have scultured the head dated back to 5 century BC. Phidias is one of the greatest sculptors of ancient Greece some of greatest achievements were the Athena Parthenos at Athens and the Zeus in the temple of Olympia, both colossal figures of chryselephantine workmanship.

The bronze head of a Thracian ruler was discovered by a team of Bulgarian archeologists near the city of Shipka a few days ago. They say that the head might have been a part of a sculpture created in Athens for a Thracian king."

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Ancient Persian Santur Enjoys Modern Popularity

"The santur is an ancient instrument estimated to be more than 2,000 years old. It is thought to have originated in Persia, but is seen in Assyrian archaeological carvings dating from 660 B.C. The santur was brought to Europe by the Crusaders, where it evolved into the psaltery and the dulcimer, which enjoys popularity in folk music of North America, especially in the Appalachian tradition.

The trapezoid-shaped Persian santur has nine sets of quadruple strings made of bronze for the low register, and nine sets of quadruple strings made of steel for the high register, for a total of 72 strings. The strings are struck with light wooden mallets suspended by three fingers of each hand. The santur may be the only traditional Persian instrument that is not touched directly by the artist.

An 11th-century Persian poet, Manuchehri, compares the sound of the santur with melodic bird song."

Imagery of Prometheus Bound reflected in the crucifixion?

As I continue with my audio course on the "Age of Pericles" I was intrigued by an observation Professor McInerny made about the play "Prometheus Bound". He pointed out that Prometheus was made to suffer because by giving fire to mankind he not only made civilization possible but he made communication with the gods possible through the ritual burning of sacrificial victims (the smoke was deemed the medium of communication). If you consider the imagery of Prometheus' punishment, it actually almost parallels the imagery of the crucifixion. Prometheus, a divine being who is suffering for providing a conduit for humans to communicate with god(s) is "pinned" and an eagle tears open his right side to consume his liver.

I had heard lectures about Greek tragedies before that touched in this play but the point about the fire making it possible for man to create sacrificial smoke to communicate with the gods was never made.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Incas Destroyed Own Site Before Leaving

Incas Destroyed Own Site Before Leaving: "Incan pilgrims smashed and burned their own temple, and a tower containing a golden statue of a king, rather than let them fall into Spanish hands, says an Australian archaeologist.

Ian Farrington from Canberra's Australian National University is excavating the temple site in Peru with Julinho Zapata from the National University de San Antonio Abad del Cusco.

The site, called Pambokancha, is 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) from the Incan capital of Cusco.

Incas systematically smashed pottery and burnt offerings as part of closing ceremonies held before they left the area ahead of the Spaniards' arrival.

Archaeologists had found other sites that had closing ceremonies. But Farrington said this was the most extensive, with 70 to 80 buildings containing evidence of closing ceremonies.

The Incas took away items from the site before leaving the area, including some bodies from tombs, Farrington said."

Monday, September 20, 2004

British Museum to loan Cyrus Cylinder to Iran

The British Museum is lending the Cyrus Cylinder, an inscribed clay drum, that has been described as the "first charter of human rights" to Iran. Dating from 539 BC, it records Cyrus the Great's order for the humane treatment of the Babylonians after their conquest by the Persians. As BM director Neil MacGregor points out, the text has "powerful modern resonances in the context of current conflicts in the regionn."

The Cyrus Cylinder is to be lent to Tehran's National Museum for several months in 2006. The Iranian museum has also promised to send more than 50 antiquities for the BM's "Splendours of Ancient Persia" exhibition, which opens in September 2005.

Friday, September 17, 2004

MIT adds Myth, Ritual, and Symbolism to OpenCourseware Lineup

Myth, Ritual, and Symbolism I was very excited to see that MIT has started to add Anthropology courses to their OpenCourseware free offerings. For those of you that may not be aware of the initiative, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) launched a project several years ago to place all course materials for all of their courses online for anyone interested in learning to use at no cost. Most of the courses to date have been engineering and science courses but now they are beginning to add some of their more liberal arts-type courses to the lineup.

As an ancient history enthusiast, I am particularly interested in the role of myth, ritual, and symbolism in the development of ancient cultures so I was excited to see Professor Howe's course on the subject list. Here's a short excerpt from Prof. Howe's introductory lecture notes:

"Previously, many explanations of human actions and thought in terms of environmental determinism. Why do people in Alps believe in witches?---thin mountain air. Why are people in Latin America or Indonesia inferior to us Europeans? Hot, unchanging climate. Climate doesn't challenge them like our temperate climate Montesquieu said Northerners were brave, vigorous, insensitive to pain, weakly sexed, intelligent, and drunkards. Another Frenchman of the Enlightenment said Northerners faithful, loyal to government, cruel, undersexed. Southerners malicious, crafty, wise, expert in science but bad in government. Another said northern languages have lots of consonants, because people afraid to open mouths and let in cold air. Sounds silly now, but was very common, still pops up. At other extreme, many things explained in terms of some basic traits common to all humans, so-called human nature, or else by traits thought to vary biologically from one population to another. Something innate. With development of racial and biological thinking was thought to be in our blood or genes. So caught between external nature, environment, or internal nature, heredity There was a vague sense that there was something in the middle, neither biologically nor environmentally determined, called custom / tradition / lifeway / mentality / habit / usos y costumbres. But vague. Then, 19th century, word culture adopted. Borrowed from art/music, expanded to encompass everything. Most often associated with early British anthro, Edward Tylor. Was a complex whole that humans carried with them and passed on non-biologically.

Learned, not biologically programmed. Varies independently of biology. People who look very different but share same culture, and vice-versa. Carried on by a chain of learning, though doesn't mean that consciously taught. Shared: has to be group, small or large. But carried on by individuals, in their heads. Wholly or partly mental. Includes ideas, values, assumptions, procedures, practices. This does not mean that the environment and our biological natures are thus irrelevant. They may affect culture in all sorts of ways. Been suggested that all herding peoples, because of way must care for, move, guard animals, value independent personalities, aren't big believers in witchcraft but often warlike, etc. Similarly, though people in two different societies may make facial expressions differently, there are pan-human constants in expressions, so how one smiles probably combination of "human nature" and cultural peculiarities. Still many debates on relative importance of different factors. But neither the environment nor biology works by itself, with nothing in between. Cultures are systems with integrity of own, those other factors are inputs into system."

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Archeologists Looking for Legendary Sassanid Town

Archeologists Looking for Legendary Sassanid Town: A fire temple has been uncovered by archaeologists near the town of Darbandian, 20 km away from Iran and the Turkmenistan border.

"Inside the fire temple, there is an inscription engraved in a neat Pahlavi script which gives an account of a nearby town, he added. While on the two sites, archeologists have unearthed a tower, possibly for ceremonial extinguishing of fire, and a foundry.

The Sassanids (226-651) consciously sought to resuscitate Iranian traditions and to obliterate Greek cultural influence. Their rule was characterized by considerable centralization, ambitious urban planning, agricultural development, and technological improvements."

Unknown script on Jiroft insignia points to literate Sumerian neighbors

"During two excavation seasons at Jiroft, archeologists have found around 25 insignias and seals, dating back from the 3rd millennium BC to 2,300 years BC," announced team leader Dr. Yusef Majidzadeh, an Iranian born archeologist now living in France.

The insignias have had trademarks of ancient northern, southern, eastern and western parts of Persia, indicating Jiroft had been a trade hub for the whole nation, he added.

"Some of the seals depict an impression of snakes, mostly associated with ancient Pakistan and Afghanistan, while others portray Mesopotamian champions or squatting women hailing from Susa," Dr. Majidzadeh noted.

Iranian archeologists have concluded that ancient Persians packaged their goods inside earthenware vessels and/or jugs and then covered the lid with mud and sealed it with special insignias.

During the last season of excavation in Jiroft, in the southwestern province of Kerman, experts unearthed an insignia, measuring 3 cm in length and 2 cm in width, with some intriguing letters engraved on it.

Many great Iranian and foreign experts see the findings in Jiroft as signs of a civilization as great as that of Sumeria and Mesopotamia. Majidzadeh believes that Jiroft is the ancient city of Aratt mentioned in an Iraqi clay inscription as a great civilization."

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Lapita Find Considered Pompeii of the Pacific

The Pacific's Pompeii: "For decades, researchers have tried to explain the cultural and physical differences of people across the Pacific. Some argue the Lapita people were ancestral Polynesians from Southeast Asia who migrated east, some groups settling long term on islands, while others carried on. They believe Lapita people were the ancestors of the inhabitants of eastern Melanesia who now look different because of later waves of migration.

So, when New Zealand archaeologist Dr Stuart Bedford was handed a large piece of ancient broken pottery in Vanuatu this year he thought it was a joke. It had been accidentally unearthed by a bulldozer driver who was working an area last year about 10 minutes' drive southeast of Port Vila. He also noticed a lot of shellfish, cooking stones, some human bones and other broken pottery.

Most excitingly, the site contained a burial area which held the skeletal remains of the Lapita people, the first inhabitants of Vanuatu, who subsequently went on to settle New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

The remains were well-preserved because of the island uplift and later volcanic eruptions, which buried the site with ash up to one metre in some places. It represented the oldest and most intact burial site discovered in the Pacific. "It is the first time group burials of this age have been associated with Lapita."

Coin Hoard from Dead Sea Studied

Pennies from heaven: Over 300,000 Pruta coins minted in the reign of the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai), who ruled from 104-76 BCE, were discovered in the shallows of the Dead Sea.

"The average weight of each coin in the hoard is less than a gram. There are larger coins weighing over 3 grams and tiny ones weighing a tenth of a gram. Most are relatively well preserved because they rested for over 2000 years on the floor of the Dead Sea, with its low-oxygen waters.

One side of the coin displays a ship's anchor surrounded by the Greek inscription 'King Alexander.' The anchor is a royal symbol of the Seleucid rulers (heirs of Alexander the Great), and Ariel believes that Jannaeus adopted it to give his coinage standard value. In his book 'A Treasury of Jewish Coins,' numismatist Yaakov Meshorer maintains that Alexander Jannaeus may also have wanted the anchor symbol to highlight the fact that he conquered the coastal towns in the Land of Israel, from Acre in the north to Gaza and Rafah in the south."

Bulgaria Sees New Thracian Treasure

Bulgaria Sees New Thracian Treasure: "A new Thracian treasure was unearthed in a highland tomb in Bulgaria.

A golden necklace and a pair of earrings were disclosed by Bulgarian archaeologists working the region near the city Kazanlak.

The Thracian tribes lived on the fringes of the Greek and Roman civilizations, often mixing and clashing with the more advanced cultures until they were absorbed around 45 AD.

Archaeologist Georgi Kitov, head of the team, pointed out that the precious jewellery dates back to the first half of the 4th century BC. The golden beads of the necklace are hollow and the weight just 20 grams."

Hero, Hawk and Open Hand Traveling Exhibit about Mississippian Culture to Open Nov 20

The Lost City of Cahokia: Ancient Tribes of the Mississippi Brought to Life: "Hero, Hawk and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South,' opening November 20 at The Art Institute of Chicago, is one of the largest showings of artifacts, design, and architecture dating from the rise and decline of Mississippian civilizations in the Midwest and the South between 2000 B.C.E and 1600 C.E.

The objects on display include ceremonial pipes sculptured in animal and human forms, conch shells engraved with ritualistic scenes, copper repoussé plates of rulers in full regalia, masks of shell and wood, embellished ceramic vessels and figural forms, finely worked stone implements, mica figures, and jewelry. Many of the works come from private collections and have never before been viewed widely.

Hero, hawk, and open hand refer to three recurrent motifs in native mythology regarding life, death, and renewal. Pipe effigies and fertility figures depict heroes, or legendary figures--often ancestors or mythical sources of life--who were also supernatural protectors and models for human leaders. Figures such as the hawk were connected with forces in nature and were believed to be linked to humans; dreams and ritual offerings made by shamans, hunters, and rulers maintained the cycles of society. The open hand is a sign in the Native American constellation associated with the passage of the soul from the realm of the living to that of the dead. Such cosmological forces were invoked by rituals and by aligning ceremonial sites to the paths of the sun or moon and the movements of constellations."

The exhibit travels to the St. Louis Art Museum in February 2005.

Achaemenid Settlement Discovered near Bam, Iran

Achaemenid Settlement Discovered near Bam: "Iranian archeologists have managed to discover some signs of Achaemenid settlements near the ancient southern city of Bam, almost completely ruined in a horrendous earthquake last December.

Archeological studies, including aerial photos and geophysical surveys, have revealed over the past few months some historical sites with relics ranging from the Achaemenid dynasty to the Islamic era, stretched on a 20-square-km patch of land, south of the Iranian capital city of Tehran.

'One of the major finds has been the foundations of a castle with an area of 400 square meters, surrounded with remains of some houses,' Shahryar Adle, an expert with the Bam project.

Based on pottery relics and Qanat irrigating system found in the Achaemenid settlement, he estimates the area has been an agricultural and industrial city, dating back to 6th or 7th millenniums BC."

Critics say Cleveland Museum of Art acquisition encourages looting

"Prominent archaeologists and other critics say the [Cleveland] museum [of Art] shouldn't have bought a hitherto-unknown ancient bronze sculpture of Apollo because its provenance, or ownership history, is riddled with gaps. They say purchases of such works encourage the looting of archaeological sites and the global market in smuggled artworks.

'Museums like the Cleveland Museum of Art are outrageous in their acquisition policies,' said Ricardo Elia, an associate professor of archaeology at Boston University and a prominent spokesman on the ethics of collecting antiquities."

Arrian's Anabasis of Alexander the Great

I just finished listening to Arrian's anabasis of Alexander the Great. It seemed as though after Alexander's men refused to go any farther in India, Alexander seemed to have developed a death wish. Even before he was critically wounded by the Mallians, Arrian reports how he exposed himself recklessly to enemy fire several times, standing alone on the top of a wall or high point, very obvious in his glittering armor. Arrian also mentioned that in one of his major engagements on his trip south to the Indian Ocean he charged into combat without waiting for his infantry to catch up with his cavalry, like he usually did. Even Arrian makes the comment that Alexander never would have been satisfied to simply govern. He loved the challenge that conquest always presented and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Arrian also pointed out that neither of his sources, Ptolemy or Aristabulous, mentioned that Alexander said anything about his successor. Arrian surmises that the story of Alexander saying his kingdom would go "to the best man" was probably just made up by later writers. One of the Alexander biographies I read speculated that he started to indicate Krateros, whose name is very similar to the Greek words for "the best" or "the strongest" but I noticed that Arrian said Krateros was getting quite old at the time Alexander sent him back to Macedon. In fact, Alexander even sent another officer to take charge if Krateros did not survive the trip so this would seem to indicate Alexander would not have considered Krateros as capable of ruling the entire empire.

Arrian also seemed to discount the later stories about animosity between Alexander and Antipater. Alexander's main concern about Antipater was trying to keep Antipater and Olympias from each other's throats. Arrian also mentioned nothing about a physical relationship with Hephaistion. So is this another case of people reading things into references to their friendship like they do with Achilles and Patroklas? I was surprised when I listened to the complete unabridged Iliad and found nothing definitive there either about the much talked about relationship between Achilles and Patroklas.

I always thought Arrian is considered the most reliable account because he bases his narrative on the eyewitness accounts of Ptolemy son of Lagos and Aristabulous. I had always heard that the account given by Curtius Rufus was more akin to the likes of Suetonius' gossipy passages. However, maybe I should read Rufus as well to get additional perspective. (I have already read Mary Renault's trilogy and biography of Alexander and Howard Lamb's biography. I purchased Manfredi's and plan to start it soon).

Monday, September 13, 2004

3000 year-old pot found near Gansu

"Archaeologists in the northwestern province of Gansu discovered a 3,000-year-old pot with a design showing a scene of horse-pasturing in Minqin County recently.

The painted design shows a man herding eight horses. Some of these horses are bucking and some stand quietly; some have tails and some do not. All of the horses have large buttocks, slender waists and thin legs.

Surrounded by the eight horses, the wide-shouldered, slender-waisted man is in a long gown. His physique and dress are quite similar to those of ethnic people living in the horse-taming area,said Wang Haidong, Vice Chairman of the Gansu Provincial Painted Pottery Research Institute.

The pot, 22 centimeters high and 24 centimeters in diameter, has a pair of symmetrical handles on each side of its body and a sunken bottom.

It's body is painted with complicated pictures and images, and alternating black and red broken lines. "