Friday, December 17, 2004

Scholar claims Indus script only symbols

Science : "The Indus civilization has intrigued and puzzled researchers for more than 130 years, with their sophisticated sewers, huge numbers of wells, and a notable lack of monumental architecture or other signs of an elite class. Most intriguing of all is the mysterious system of symbols, left on small tablets, pots, and stamp seals. But without translations into a known script--the 'Rosetta stones' that led to the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics and Sumerian cuneiform in the 19th century--hundreds of attempts to understand the symbols have so far failed. And what language the system might have expressed--such as a Dravidian language similar to tongues of today's southern India, or a Vedic language of northern India--is also a hot topic. This is no dry discussion: Powerful Indian nationalists of the Hindutva movement see the Indus civilization as the direct ancestor to Hindu tradition and Vedic culture.

Now academic outsider Steve Farmer (see sidebar on p. 2028) and two established Indus scholars argue that the signs are not writing at all but rather a collection of religious-political symbols that held together a diverse and multilingual society. The brevity of most inscriptions, the relative frequencies of symbols, and the lack of archaeological evidence of a manuscript tradition add up to a sign system that does not encode language, argue historian Farmer and his co-authors, Harvard University linguist Michael Witzel and computational theorist Richard Sproat of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Instead, they say the signs may have more in common with European medieval heraldry, the Christian cross, or a bevy of magical symbols used by prehistoric peoples."

Monday, December 13, 2004

Ice-age Ivory Flute Found in German Cave

Reuters.co.uk: "A 35,000-year-old flute made from a woolly mammoth's ivory tusk has been unearthed in a German cave by archaeologists, says the University of Tuebingen.

The flute, one of the oldest musical instruments discovered, was pieced together from 31 fragments found in a cave in the Swabian mountains in southwestern Germany, the university said."

Friday, December 10, 2004

Achaemenid Settlement Discovered in Isfahan, Iran

Persian Journal: "One of the rarely-discovered settlements of Achaemenids, who used to inhabit Persia some 2,500 years ago, has been uncovered in the central city of Naein, Isfahan province.
The Achaemenid era is one of the most archeologically eventful epochs of ancient Persia, though few telltale settlements have been so far discovered.

'While demarking the boundaries of the Dar Castle in Naein just a few weeks ago, archeologists stumbled upon an Achaemenid settlement,' said Mohsen Javery, an archeologist in Isfahan.

Covering an area of 2.5 to 3 sq hectares, the dwelling is littered with Achaemenid potteries, making experts hopeful they would discover new points about the lifestyle of people living in that era."

Thursday, December 09, 2004

An Azerbaijani weighs in on "Alexander"

BakuTODAY.net

"For those of us who spend most of our time reading old books about ancient figures and events, movies like ?Alexander? offer a breath of fresh air by taking us away from the dusty pages of books and into thrilling theaters. Historical sagas like ?Alexander? make us reflect on how and why certain figures continue to intrigue our imagination and pique our curiosity. Alexander the Great of Macedonia (356-323 BC) is certainly one such figure. His mythical and factual persona has entered into oral narratives and written literatures of peoples of Central Asia and the Middle East ever since his arrival to the region in the spring of 334 BC, provoking thoughtful historical, literary, intellectual, and linguistic debates. Take the name of our homeland, ?Azerbaijan,? for instance. Does this astounding name originate from the name of our ancestors, the Azerler, or is it derived from the name of Atropathena, a general of Alexander?s who became the governor of Azerbaijan after Alexander?s death? Our historians and linguists are still debating this issue.

Narrated through the voice of Anthony Hopkins (as Greek historian Ptolemy), the film takes us on a journey through Alexander?s childhood, teens, youth and adulthood by way of some sporadic episodes, reaching its climax when Alexander defeats the Akhaemanian king Darius III in a long bloody battle in 331 BC. Having beaten the army of what the Greeks referred to as Persia, Alexander and his generals march into Babylonia. With all its splendor and grandeur, even Babylonia cannot contain the wild spirit of this restless figure. He keeps on marching and marching.

It is through Alexander?s encounters with local peoples that we come to witness a phenomenon in the movie that has captured the imagination of generations of historians for centuries: Why is this young conqueror greeted by local peoples throughout the vast Achaemenid Empire as a liberator? Why do we not find any semblance of revolt and revulsion against this man on the part of local peoples and communities? After all, who would want to be conquered and dominated by an outside force? These questions take us back not so much to Alexander?s tolerance and respect for other cultures (which he possessed to an admirable degree) but to the nature of the enemy that he defeats: the warlike tribe of Achaemenians. "

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Iranians and Greeks portrayed inaccurately in the Alexander movie

How are Iranians and Greeks portrayed in the Alexander movie?: "Despite excellent reviews of his book by critics and scholars, Dr. Robin Fox does not understand the military of ancient Persia. A typographical shot of the battle of Gaugamela, shows the Greeks advancing in ordered and disciplined ranks. In contrast, the armies of Darius III are shown as little better than an amorphous mob. This is a false image of the Achaemenid army. The Achaemenids used drums and musical instruments to direct the marching tactics of their troops in battle. Second, the Achaemeneans used the decimal system, which was in fact, unknown to the Greeks of the period. Persian units were formed in legions of 10, 100 or 1000 or 10,000. A typical term was 'Hezar-Patesh' (roughly equivalent to 'leader of a thousand men').

In addition, the Persians had developed a sophisticated system of heraldry and their troops wore standard uniforms. The Greeks were certainly excellent fighters and were thoroughly organized, but this does not mean that the Persians were not. At the time, the Greeks were militarily superior with respect to armaments, tactics and military training."

"It is (also) very interesting that Professor Fox does not refer to the Achaemenid capitals in Susa, Maracanda (Samarqand), Media or Persopolis. The destruction of Persopolis by Alexander is a major event - instead the movie shows Alexander entering the city of Babylon, implying that this was the administrative capital of Persia. Babylon was simply another satrapy of the empire; not its capital. Babylon had already been incorporated into the Persian Empire in 539 BC by Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC)."

"Babylon was not a major power at the time of Alexander. Persian arts and architecture were an eclectic synthesis of indigenous (e.g Median, Elamite), Lydian, and Mesopotamian styles, including Babylonian. The city-palace of Persopolis is very distinct and cannot be crudely termed as Babylonian."

"The portrayal of ancient Iranians is outright comical, if not insulting. The inaccurate Hollywood portrayal of Iranians is exemplified by the selection of Rosario Dawson , a very talented, beautiful and intelligent black actress, to star as Roxanna, an ancient Iranian queen from Soghdia-Bactria. Roxanna was not black, anymore than Alexander was Scandinavian. Having Rosario Dawson portrayed as Roxanna makes as much sense as having Lucy Liu, an Asian-American, portraying Queen Victoria of Great Britain.

The term Roxanna is derived from Old Iranian "Rokh-shwan" or "face (Ruksh) - fair skinned-shiny (shwan)". Roxanna was related to a North Iranian tribe known later as the Sarmatians, the remnants who survive in the Caucasus and Russia as the Ossetians (ancient Alans or Ard-Alans)

Roman sources such as Pliny repeatedly describe ancient North Iranian peoples such as the Alans and Seres as "?flaxen (blonde) haired blue eyed nomads?" (see Wilcox, p.19). Rosario Dawson does not fit the description of an ancient Iranian woman, especially from Northern Iranian stock. The Ossetians of today, descendants of ancient Northern Iranians, predominantly resemble northern Iranians and Europeans and speak an archaic Iranian language (like the Avesta of the Zoroastrians). Blondism is very common among these descendants of ancient North Iranians in cities such as Beslan and Vladikafkaz. It can be argued that Roxanna was a brunette, however, she was of Northern Iranian stock, which would still make her very different from actress Rosario Dawson."

"More puzzling is the design of Roxanna's costume in the movie. Note the photo showing the marriage of Alexander to Roxanna. Roxanna appears to wear a Burka-like veil constructed of strips of metallic mesh in which the face is partly hidden.

The headgear is partly correct if we base the costume on the Saka Paradraya Iranian speaking tribes of the present-day Ukraine (8-4th centuries BC). The decorations on the headgear are simply wrong and Iranian queens did not wear face masks of any type. "

Monday, December 06, 2004

Grisly find casts doubt on peaceful pyramid theory

The Guardian : "The ancient city-state of Teotihuacan was long thought a relatively gentle place because its art lacked the glorification of sacrifice and war so common in other Mesoamerican civilisations.

Now a team of archaeologists has gone beneath that peaceful appearance and revealed the skeletons in the city's pyramid.

The first ever excavation of the 1,900-year-old Pyramid of the Moon has uncovered the bones of a dozen adult males, 10 of them decapitated and all of them apparently offered up to the gods. Three other smaller-scale human offerings were also found in the seven-year project, which tunnelled deep into the solid stone-and-earth structure.

Though not the first sacrificial burials uncovered at the huge site just north-east of Mexico City, the skeletons in the pyramid show for the first time how central the practice was to the culture over time."

Discovery Channel Ramses a Recycle of Previous Programming

Last night I watched the heavily advertised "Ramses: Wrath of God or Man" on the Discovery Channel and was totally disgusted with it.

Essentially, Kent Weeks found four skeletons in KV-5 and selected one skull as the probable skull of the first-born son of Ramses. Why he selected this particular skull out of the four no one says. The skull has obvious damage caused by some type of weapon or blunt instrument on one side but so-called experts are called in to see if the cause of death could have been supernatural (i.e. the wrath of God).

What followed was two hours of rehashing the historicity of the Exodus including sequences of some so-called expert investigative journalist running around Egypt "discovering" the monotheistic religion of Ahkenaten. They speculated about Moses being one of Ramses own sons who was converted by remnants of followers from Amarna and basically trotted out the same information and speculations covered by their previous program on Moses and the Exodus last year. (Is this television's version of recycling?)

They made a big deal out of Ramses being less than straightforward about the battle of Kadesh and how this clearly indicates the Egyptians would not have recorded their defeat during the Exodus which explains why there has been little archaeological evidence to date to support the biblical account. Then they went on to explain away the head wound by saying that the original biblical account about the death of the first born was probably not meant to be literal. The Hebrews were armed and probably slew many Egyptian first born in the battle during their escape. What really made my jaw drop was the depiction of Nefretari and Ramses first-born nursing Ramses wounds in the campaign tent after the battle. I don't ever recall any mention of Egyptian pharaohs taking their women to battle with them, especially that far from the capital.

When the forensic tests comparing the facial geometry of the skull in question with that of the mummy of Ramses indicated a lack of familial similarity, they conceded that the only definitive answer to whether the skull was any relation to Ramses would have to come from DNA analysis and they weren't ready for that yet. (Again, no explanation was given although Zawi Hawass has been less than cooperative in approving DNA tests in the past.)

The program producers appeared to be turning themselves inside out trying not to offend religious fundamentalists while presenting information that does not support the biblical account. I would have preferred a much more scientific approach. The only important point made during the whole program was that Ramses first-born died as a mature adult, since there are references to him leading the army on a wall relief at Abu-Simbel.