Sunday, May 27, 2007
The remains, seated in an upright position in an unusual tomb and flanked by shells, pottery, vessels, and jade adornments, suggest a surprisingly diverse culture and complex political system in the influential Maya city of Copan around A.D. 650.
Located at the western edge of modern-day Honduras near the border with Guatemala, Copan, was one of the most important Maya sites, flourishing between the fifth and ninth centuries A.D.
But until now, much about the political makeup and cultural range of the city—famous for its funerary slabs—has been poorly understood.
The position of the body, the structure of the tomb, and several unexpected artifacts suggest the interred individual was a political or priestly figure, said discoverer Allan Maca, an archaeologist at Colgate University in New York State.
The entombed individual was found with "a jade pectoral hung from a necklace of dozens of jade beads of various sizes," Maca said. Because jade was a precious commodity, he added, the jewels represent "a level of control over economic resources."
"The incised design on the pectoral likely represents a political title or social affiliation that links this individual to other major sites around the city," Maca said.
The remains belong to a 50-year-old man with various illnesses. He had poor use of his left arm, poor arterial flow through his upper spinal cord, and a chronic infection of the skull known as mastoiditis, according to a bioarchaeological analysis by Katherine Miller of Arizona State University.
Maca discovered the tomb in 2005 in the Copan Archaeological park.
But Maca—whose work was funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration—only announced his findings last week, in conjunction with officials from the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, after months of excavation.
"The tomb is characterized by a split vault created by interlocking lintels [load-bearing horizontal supports]," said Maca, who is also the director of the Project for the Planning of Ancient Copan.
"The chamber was accessed from above by a stuccoed stone chute that descends from the surface of the temple," he continued.
Maca said the features allowed the tomb to be "reentered years after the original interment, for purposes of ancestor veneration."
The tomb's location, some 1,300 feet (400 meters) west of the Acropolis, Copan's ceremonial core, was unexpected, Maca added.
"The design is without precedent in the Maya area and is the first elaborate tomb construction to be discovered outside the ceremonial center of Copan," he said.
The grandiose tombs belonging to members of the Copan dynasty, royal court, and royal family are typically found in Copan's Acropolis, Maca explained. Copan archaeologists have focused their research in the central area for many recent decades as well as much of the 19th century.
"As we begin to think more broadly about the great extent of the royal city, and about how to protect it against modern looting and population growth, we are coming to understand that the dynasty manifested its power in sectors of the Copan Valley that have never been explored," Maca said.
There are other oddities to the tomb.
The position of the buried individual—seated with legs crossed—was not common in Copan or in the Maya lowlands during the Classic period, which lasted from about A.D. 300 to 900.
And several vessels found in the tomb, made in sets specifically for the burial, bear "a type of false or alternative hieroglyphics unlike those used by the ancient Maya," he said.
Some of the pottery vessels likely came from the south near present-day El Salvador, Maca added.
"Thus it is unlikely that these were made in Copan and probable that they signify some sort of cultural affiliation with that region," he said.
Also found in the tomb were seashells laid in a pattern that appears to represent a kind of cosmological map and may be representative of the waters in Maya creation mythology, Maca said."
I'm particularly curious about the non-Mayan "hieroglyphs" discovered in the tomb. I wonder if they resemble Mayan glyphs with differences or are truly from some other culture? Again, I wish there were pictures available!
Chinese scientists who analyzed the DNA of the remains say the man, named Yu Hong, belonged to one of the oldest genetic groups from western Eurasia.
The tomb, in Taiyuan in central China, marks the easternmost spot where the ancient European lineage has been found (see China map).
"The [genetic group] to which Yu Hong belongs is the first west Eurasian special lineage that has been found in the central part of ancient China," said Zhou Hui, head of the DNA laboratory of the College of Life Science at Jilin University in Changchun, China.
Hui led the research, which will be published in the July 7 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The tomb containing Yu Hong's remains has been undergoing excavation since 1999.
It also contains the remains of a woman of East Asian descent.
The burial style and multicolor reliefs found in the tomb are characteristic of Central Asia at the time, experts say.
The people pictured in the reliefs, however, have European traits, such as straight noses and deep-set eyes.
"The mixture of different cultures made it difficult to confirm the origin of this couple, and the anthropologists also could not determine the race of these remains, owing to the partial missing skulls," Hui said.
To learn more about the history of the couple, Hui's team studied their mitochondrial DNA, a type of DNA inherited exclusively from the mother that can be analyzed to track human evolution.
Carvings found in the tomb depict scenes from his life, showing him to have been a chieftain of the Central Asian people who had settled in China during the Sui dynasty (A.D. 580 to 618).
The carvings suggest that his grandfather and father lived in northwest China's Xinjiang region and were nobles of the Yu country for which he is named.
Yu Hong died in A.D. 592, at the age of 59. His wife, who died in A.D. 598, was buried in the same grave.
Adichanallur is an Iron Age site in southern India. The Iron Age in south India is dated from 1,000 to 300 B.C. Alexander Rea, Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India, excavated in Adichanallur between 1889 and 1905 and found artefacts including bronze figurines, gold diadems and pottery.
In Jorwe, in Ahmadnagar district in the Deccan, H.D. Sankalia in northern India, Professor of Proto-Indian and Ancient Indian History, Deccan College Research Institute, Pune, undertook excavations in the 1950s and found pottery including thin-walled pots, pots with spouts, and flat bronze axes.
The ASI, Chennai Circle, took up excavation again at Adichanallur in 2003 and 2004 when T. Satyamurthy was Superintending Archaeologist. The exercise yielded a spectacular range of pottery and artefacts including big urns carrying skeletons, black and red ware, pots, vases, thin-walled beakers, bowls, pot lids with white dots in linear design, black ware, pots with spouts, miniature pottery, copper bangles, iron knives, beads and so on. Thousands of potsherds were found at Adichanallur. Among these was one that had stunning motifs of a woman in a knee-length dress, a deer with big horns, crocodiles, standing paddy and a crane.
A pot stands out
The ASI also found for the first time at Adichanallur black and red urns — black inside and red outside. What stood out was a pot with a long neck, flared rim, bulging belly at a 60-degrees angle and truncated bottom.
Dr. Satyamurthy said the long-necked, flared-rim pot was typical Jorwe-ware. Pot lids with white dots in linear design had been found up to the Deccan. Thin-walled pots occurred not only at Adichanallur but Jorwe, Hallur, Tekkalalota and other sites.
So Dr. Satyamurthy, who was the director of excavation at Adichanallur, has proposed that material culture must have travelled from Adichanallur to the Deccan. Hitherto, archaeologists believed that the spread occurred from the Deccan to south India.
Dr. Satyamurthy said: "When we first excavated this pot, we suspected the influence of Jorwe on Adichanallur. But when I analysed the Adichanallur pottery discovered by Rea, which are in the Government Museum, Chennai, and the recently excavated pottery at Adichanallur, I found that about 25 per cent of the pottery, especially those with white dots, had travelled from Adichanallur to other sites. Since... anthropological studies also show that different kinds of races lived in Adichanallur, we are tempted to conclude that the movement of culture took place from Adichanallur to the Deccan."
The people of Adichanallur had good technical knowledge of pottery-making, he said. They made black and red ware of thin fabric. They could impart plasticity to clay.
While other sites yielded miniature black and red ware, Adichanallur had big-size black and red urns. So the possibility of material culture having spread from Adichanallur to the Deccan could not be ruled out, he said.
When I was in England last year, I was treated to a wonderful elderblossom sorbet at Ingtham Mote and was surprised to find the flower-flavored desert so fruity and delicate. So, I couldn't help but notice this article about the ancient culinary use of rose petals dating back to the time of the Persians.
"It's difficult to imagine a Persian sweet or Middle Eastern baklava without the aroma of rose water, but you may not know that roses have a place in traditional Latin American kitchens, too. Cooking with flowers is especially ingrained in Mexico, where two aroma-loving cultures came together in the 16th century.
Walk into any Mexican market and you will find packets of dried rose buds and petals sold as rosa de castilla, the generic term for the perfumed Mediterranean Gallic rose (Rosa gallica), one of the oldest cultivated roses in the southern Mediterranean, brought to the New World by Spanish settlers.
In pre-Columbian times, Mexican cooks colored and flavored foods and beverages with magnolia blossoms and flowers from a tree related to the custard apple (anón), among others. The Spaniards, meanwhile, had embraced the ancient Islamic tradition of flavoring savories and sweets with roses, jasmine, violets and orange blossoms.
The blooms that filled the gardens of Islamic Spain were not the single-stemmed tea roses with blooms as large as platters that many gardeners favor today, but the more delicate single- or double-petaled blossoms of the Gallic rose, the Centifolia rose (popularized by the Romans) and the Damask rose, known in Spanish as rosa de Alejandría or rosa damascena.
From the latter, Andalusians distilled a potent extract (rose water) using a method perfected in ancient Persia. Cooks used it lavishly to flavor syrups, dried-fruit fillings and even savories like rabbit cooked in assertive sauces. Rose petals and buds were turned into jellies and sweetened pastes, which were stirred into braises."
Saturday, May 26, 2007
The tomb, which lies at Dier Al Barsha, near Minya in the Nile Valley, is thought to around 4,000-years-old and belonged to a high-ranking official.
Around 200 miles south of Cairo, the complete tomb contains wooden statues depicting workers carrying out tasks like making beer, manufacturing bricks, grinding cereal and rowing boats.
Belonging to a man named Henu, a supervisor of religious affairs and estate manager, experts are now examining the tomb and its contents, including the remains of the tomb owner.
The team from Leuven Catholic University reportedly uncovered the tomb by accident and it is one of the best preserved burial places from the first intermediate period (2181 to 2050 BC) ever found.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
I was doing some research on an image of a "killed" Greek helmet that I photographed at the Walters Art Museum several years ago and came across this article about a relatively new non-destructive technique for analyzing artifacts to see if they are a true antiquity or have been "tampered with".
"Neutron diffraction, an established diagnostic tool for materials analysis and non-destructive testing of engineering components, can also be used to characterise archaeological artefacts and museum objects. The phase and microstructural information obtained – without damaging an object of value – can help answer questions of authenticity, as recent investigations of 16th-century silver/copper coins and an obviously repaired 7th-century BC Greek bronze helmet show.
Neutron diffraction is a rather new diagnostic tool for studying archaeological materials. Neutrons easily penetrate through thick coatings or corrosion layers and provide information from the bulk rather than from surface areas; sampling techniques such as coring or even powdering for analysis some portion of a museum object can therefore be avoided. The large neutron beams generally used illuminate a considerable volume portion of the object and, as a result, average and representative structural information is obtained – the problems associated with the si0ngle-spot analysis of many conventional archaeometric techniques are therefore avoided. Neutron diffraction provides information on the mineral and metal phase compositions or corrosion products in objects, on the crystal structures of the constituent phases and on the microstructures. In the material sciences it is widely used for volume
texture analysis, i.e. determination of the orientations of the crystallites in polycrystalline material. Many
processes such as primary crystallisation or plastic deformations impose a characteristic texture on the
material which means that, for example, details of the production method may be imprinted in the
microstructure. Mapping grain orientation distributions – a technique called texture analysis –
reveals the creation and deformation history of an object. The crystallite distribution can be displayed
via ‘pole figures’, 2D projections of the spatial orientation distribution function that are obtained by
recording diffraction patterns for a multitude of sample orientations. The structure and texture
information can therefore provide clues on the type of material and the manufacturing techniques used
by the ancient craftsmen. " - Genuine or fake? Neutron diffraction for non-destructive testing of museum objects , Isis 2003 Science Highlights.
As for the helmet they analyzed, they discovered the nose piece had been replaced and, like the helmet I photographed at the Walters, had been ritually "killed".
"It was the custom for victorious Greek cities to dedicate tropaia, ‘trophies’ of armour from the defeated, in the sanctuary of one of the gods. When the trophy collapsed from age or when the sanctuary became too full the armour was buried, but first it was ‘killed’ as part of the process of offering it to the gods: the cheekpieces were bent
back and the noseguard turned up to render the helmet useless in this world. The finder of the helmet – probably in the 19th century and in order to sell it – straightened out the cheekpieces, which cracked at the edges and left a clear fold-line running across each of them. It is also clear that the noseguard had come off altogether, probably during
similar cosmetic straightening by the finder, for there is a clear overlapping join at the bridge of the nose."
I wonder if the Romans had any special rituals for disposing of war trophies?
Friday, May 11, 2007
This film sounds like it will be fascinating. I do hope we will be able to get it online through iTunes or Netflix.
"Iran's Experimental and Documentary Films Center has launched the production of a documentary about the history of ancient Persia.
Iranian filmmaker Pejman Fakharian began to shoot the docudrama titled 'Persia, Capital of the World' on Monday, May 7.
The film is based on extensive research conducted by Iranian experts and corroborated by Zoroastrian sources.
Accounts given by Herodotus, Plutarch, and several other ancient historians have been compared and information has been extracted for use in the screenplay.
The 90-minute film covers Persian history from the Median Empire to the Sassanid Dynasty (226 BCE - 651 CE).
The construction of Persepolis and Choghazanbil, both registered as part of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, will be among the most important aspects of the docudrama.
The producer of this film wants to depict a truthful account of the Battle of Thermopylae, based on historical fact. This will counter the distorted and historically inaccurate images produced by the film '300'."
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
I enjoy reading the historic case studies analyzed by attendees of this conference. I digitized the reports on Pericles, Claudius, Beethoven, Mozart, and Custer and posted them to my web page History's Medical Mysteries.
I'll need to add this report about King Herod:
Scholars believe they have solved a 2,000-year-old mystery of how King Herod died, suggesting he was probably a victim of kidney disease.
The king, who reputedly ordered the executions of one wife, three sons and the slaughter of thousands of baby boys in an attempt to destroy the baby Jesus, died aged 69 in 4BC.
Experts in the US looked at texts giving a description of Herod's symptoms during his final days to make their analysis.
Herod the Great expired from chronic kidney disease probably complicated by Fournier's gangrene
Dr Jan Hirschmann, research co-ordinator
"The texts we depend on for a close description of Herod's last days list several major features of the disease that caused his death - among them, intense itching, painful intestinal problems, breathlessness, convulsions in every limb and gangrene of the genitalia."
The research presented their conclusions at this year's historical Clinical Pathologic Conference (CPC) in the US on 25 January in Baltimore.
Dr Hirschmann said: "When I first looked at the general diseases that cause itching, it became clear that most of them couldn't explain a majority of the features of Herod's illness."
He first considered Hodgkin's disease and some diseases of the liver, but concluded the disorder that accounted for nearly all the features of Herod's illness was chronic kidney disease.
However, one feature of Herod's illness - gangrene of the genitalia - was not explained by this diagnosis.
Dr Hirschmann said: "I finally concluded that the most likely explanation was that his chronic kidney disease was complicated by an unusual infection of the male genitalia called Fournier's gangrene."
However, the National Kidney Research Fund is sceptical of the scientists' conclusions.
See also: www.vidyya.com/
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
"Although scholars have studied the Inca road system’s importance in forging and controlling the pre-Columbian empire, John A.Ochsendorf of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology here said, “Historians and archaeologists have neglected the role of bridges.”
Dr. Ochsendorf’s research on Inca suspension bridges, begun while he was an undergraduate at Cornell University, illustrates an engineering university’s approach to archaeology, combining materials science and experimentation with the traditional fieldwork of observing and dating artifacts. Other universities conduct research in archaeological materials, but it has long been a specialty at M.I.T.
Students here are introduced to the multidisciplinary investigation of ancient technologies as applied in transforming resources into cultural hallmarks from household pottery to grand pyramids. In a course called “materials in human experience,” students are making a 60-foot-long fiber bridge in the Peruvian style. On Saturday, they plan to stretch the bridge across a dry basin between two campus buildings."
Thursday, May 03, 2007
A brass Coptic bowl was recently unearthed when gardener Helen McGlashon (26) found a human skull while digging on her vegetable patch off Palmerston Road, in Woodston, Peterborough (UK).
Fearing it was a murder victim, she called police who launched a full-scale excavation of the site on February 17. But forensic pathologists later concluded the bones actually belonged to an Anglo-Saxon man when the ancient bowl was found nearby.
Historians believe the valuable Coptic bowl, which was made in the Mediterrean 1,300 years ago, could have only been owned by an extremely rich prince or warlord from the Saxon kingdom of Mercia.
They believe the ceremonial washing bowl was placed on the chest of the Anglo-Saxon as he was buried – a sign of extreme wealth in pagan culture.
The tomb is seven thousand years old and was the burial chamber of a tribal chieftain. There is a heavy upright log in each corner, believed to have originally held an aboveground structure over the two-metre by two-metre tomb. Inside, said Zalai-Gaal, archaeologists found polished stone axes and other stone tools typical of the late Stone Age, as well as the largest stone knife ever to be recovered from that period. They also discovered a decorated bullhorn, a marble war club and an axe head that though stone, bears the shape of a Bronze Age weapon. Scientists believe the tribe was aware of metal tools but did not have the metal to make any, leading them to copy the form. Also discovered was a necklace made of hundreds of bronze beads, combined with shells from the Mediterranean, the latter obviously traded goods, said Zalai-Gaal. One had to be extraordinarily wealthy to have a necklace like this, he pointed out.