Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sahara chronicles last stand of a Berber warrior queen

I watched a very interesting two-hour program about the Sahara and the history in that region on History Channel International yesterday. I was particularly interested in the segment about a Berber warrior queen that arose during the late 7th century to lead her people against invading Arabs in 669 CE. It's been many years ago that I read a book entitled "Warrior Queens" by celebrated historian Lady Antonia Fraser. I learned about several female warrior leaders in that book that I had never encountered before but even Lady Fraser seems to have overlooked Al Kahena.

[Image - Berber Woman, Emile Vernet-Lecomte, French, 1870]

I was able to find this interesting article about Dahia Al Kahena on the web though. An abstract:

"According to Arab chroniclers of the time, Kahena was half queen and half sorceress with dark skin, a mass of hair and huge eyes. When she was angry or possessed by her demons, her eyes would turn red and her hair would stand up on end. The chroniclers may have had an interest in painting a fiendish image of this woman. Yet such propaganda may have done more to contribute to her reputation as a fearsome opponent. Kahena amply demonstrated her fiery mettle when, in 696, she led a Berber force which routed an Arab army in the plains below the Atlas mountains spanning modern-day Algeria and Tunisia. So numerous were the Arab casualties that Arab chroniclers renamed the wadi where the battle took place as the `Valley of Disaster'. Like a latter-day Boadicea, or a precursor to Joan of Arc, this female warrior this female warrior was proving a troublesome enemy to the invaders.

Legend may have grown around Kahena, but she was an all-too-real opponent for the caliphs forces. She proved utterly ruthless in conducting a guerrilla war of harassment. She adopted a scorched earth policy by having all the standing crops destroyed in order to deprive the Arab army of any sustenance from the land. This act, however, aroused resentment among settled tribes, who sent emissaries to the Arab commander asking him to come to their assistance.

In 699 the caliph, tired of the interminable struggle, decided to strike a decisive blow. He sent into North Africa the largest army ever seen in the region. The force was made up of Arab troops reinforced by thousands of Berbers who had turned against Kahena."

Like Boudicca, Al Kahena's revolt ended in a slaughter although her final battlefield was the huge colosseum built by the Roman emperor Gordian at the trading crossroads of Al Jem. However, she did not take her sons with her into death but ordered them to go to the Arab commander and offer their service. They were accepted into the caliph's service and later became outstanding leaders in their own right.

According to Wikipedia, her sons' acceptance was accomplished by an Arab officer that Al Kahena had captured early in her career and adopted.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Onassis Cultural Center to host Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens

I really need to plan a visit to the Onassis Cultural Center in New York. I wanted to see the exhibit about life in Sparta they hosted a couple of years ago but the Historical Novel Society conference I attended in Albany was scheduled too late. I'm afraid I won't get to see this excellent exhibit either as I'll be just back from Rome in March and would not have enough "recovery" time to turn around and attempt another trip to New York so soon.

[Image - Although this sculpture of a mid-4th century BCE Attic woman from Acharnae Menidi discovered before 1827 is part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is not part of the upcoming exhibit, it typifies the subtle grace and modesty depicted in sculpture of the period. This image is included in my Flickr image archive. I have licensed all images with Creative Commons for free non-commercial use with the attribution "Photo by Mary Harrsch". Any derivatives must also be shared in like manner]

The galleries of the Onassis Cultural Center in New York will be transformed into evocations of ancient Greek sanctuaries, each filled with artistic masterpieces assembled from international collections, for the major exhibition Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens. On view from December 10, 2008, through May 9, 2009, the exhibition brings together 155 rare and extraordinary archaeological objects in order to re-examine preconceptions about the exclusion of women from public life in ancient Athens. The story told by these objects, and experienced in the galleries, presents a more nuanced picture than is often seen, showing how women’s participation in cults and festivals contributed not only to personal fulfillment in Classical Greece but also to civic identity.

Among the treasures being brought to New York for the exhibition are marble statues of the goddesses Artemis and Athena (National Archaeological Museum, Athens); a white-ground vase with an image of Artemis, by the Pan Painter (State Hermitage Museum, Petersburg); a red-figure vase with an image of Iphigenia, the legendary heroine worshiped as a cult figure and seen as a model for priestesses (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Ferrara); a vase showing the Trojan priestess Theano, another model for priestesses, receiving the Greek warriors who had come to recover Helen from Troy (Vatican Museums); and a limestone grave marker (conserved with support from the Onassis Foundation) carved with the image of a young woman in bridal costume, holding a votive offering (State Museums of Berlin). Interspersed with these and other exquisite artworks are archaeological objects that document the religious practices of Classical Athens and tell the complex story of women’s roles in that society.

Worshiping Women tells this story in three main chapters. “Goddesses and Heroines” introduces the principal female deities of Athens and Attica, in whose cults and festivals women were most actively engaged: Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, and Demeter and her daughter Persephone. This first section also investigates the role of heroines, a special group of women believed to have lived in the distant past, who like Iphigenia became important figures of cult worship after their deaths.

The second chapter, “Women and Ritual,” explores the practice of ritual acts such as dances, libations, sacrifices, processions and festivals in which women were active in classical antiquity. Here the critical role of the priestess comes to light, specifically in her function as key-bearer for the temples of the gods.

In the final chapter, “Women and the Cycle of Life,” the exhibition explores how religious rituals defined moments of transition. Because the most important transition in a girl’s life was understood to be marriage, the wedding took on great significance, with its rituals depicted on a variety of vases associated with nuptial rites and wedding banquets. Death was another occasion on which Athenian women took on major responsibilities, such as preparing the deceased for burial and tending the graves of family members.

N.S. Gill's post about the exhibit in her "About Ancient History" blog included a link to a fascinating article about the ancient festival of Thesmophoria. An abstract:

Before the Thesmophoria festival itself, there was a preparatory night-time festival called the Stenia. At the Stenia women engaged in Aiskhrologia, insulting each other and using foul language. This commemorated Iambe's successful attempts to make the grieving mother Demeter laugh.

[This almost sounds like modern antics associated with male bonding!]

During the Stenia portion of the Thesmophoria women may have placed fertility objects, molded bread [in the shape of male genitals], pine cones and piglets, in a snake-filled chamber called a megaron.

The objects were later retrieved and ceremonially carried to an altar during a night time torch-lit procession commemorating Demeter's search for her kidnapped daughter Persephone. Aristophanes' comedic play Thesmophoriazusae tells the story of a man trying to infiltrate the Thesmophoria. Maybe Clodius of Roman fame got his idea to sneak into the celebration of the Bona Dea and seduce Julius Caesar's wife after reading the Thesmophoriazusae!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Has "Timeline" been realized at some point in the future?

This article caught my attention. I enjoyed the late Michael Crichton's book "Timeline" and liked the movie as well although it could have been improved by casting someone besides Paul Walker in one of the leading roles. At least Gerard Butler pretty much made up for that. I considered it purely science fiction though. But this discovery of a 100-year old watch in a 400-year old sealed tomb makes one pause. Perhaps we are going to crack the time travel mystery in the future after all!

[Photo by Europics]

ARCHAEOLOGISTS are stumped after finding a 100-year-old Swiss watch in an ancient tomb that was sealed more than 400 years ago.

The real-life tomb raiders were the first visitors to the Ming dynasty grave in Shangsi, southern China, since its occupant's funeral.

Inside they discovered a miniature watch encrusted in mud and rock in the shape of a ring marked 'Swiss', as reported by the Austrian Times.

Jiang Yanyu, former curator of the Guangxi Museum, said: "When we tried to remove the soil wrapped around the coffin, suddenly a piece of rock dropped off and hit the ground with metallic sound.

"We picked up the object, and found it was a ring. After removing the covering soil and examining it further, we were shocked to see it was a watch."

Inscription on Sudanese ram statues may hold key to Merotic

I have always been fascinated by the process used to decipher ancient scripts. I think that is why I was so anxious to view the Rosetta Stone when I visited the British Museum a couple of years ago.

Three ancient ram statues newly discovered in Sudan could help decipher the oldest script in sub-Saharan Africa whose secrets are mysterious to the modern world, a Western archaeologist said on Tuesday.

The rams were excavated at El-Hassa, 180km north of Khartoum, on a sacred causeway leading to an ancient temple, said Vincent Rondot, head of the French Section of the Directorate on Antiquities of Sudan.

The site is one of the most southern temples built to Amum, considered an omnipotent god, creator and guardian by people who lived throughout the Nile valley during the Merotic period 300 BC to 450 AD, said Rondot.

Key to the discovery three weeks ago is a royal inscription that bears the name of little known king Amanakhareqerem, said Rondot, whose unit is funded by the French foreign ministry.

"Merotic language is one of the last antique writings that still waits for its understanding... and it is the most ancient (sub-Saharan) African language written in script," Rondot told reporters.

Experts can pronounce the text and can read names, but cannot understand the words. Merotic is a branch of the same linguistic tree as languages spoken in contemporary Sudan and Eritrea, the archaeologist said.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Unlooted Chachapoyan city discovered in the Andes are examining a recently discovered, exceptionally
well-preserved city carved into the Andes mountains by the ancient
Peruvian Chachapoya tribe.According to the Daily Telegraph, local hikers were the first to
stumble upon the city ruins, covering close to 12 acres of a
mountainside in Peru’s northern Amazon.
When the hikers arrived, they found a nearly 500-meter high waterfall
surrounded by lush jungle scenery, and buildings set upon the face of a
cliff. The city’s remoteness has protected it from looters,
leaving “ceramics and undisturbed burial sites” intact.

“We suspect that the ancient inhabitants used this as a lookout
point from where they could spot potential enemies,” said
Archaeologist Benedicto Pérez Goicochea to the Daily Telegraph. - Finding Dulcinea

The Chachapoyas, also called the Warriors of the Clouds, were an Andean people living in the cloud forests of the Amazonas region of present-day Peru. The Incas conquered their civilization shortly before the arrival of the Spanish in Peru. When the Spanish arrived in Peru in the 16th century, the Chachapoyas were one of the many nations ruled by the Inca Empire. Their incorporation into the Inca Empire had not been easy, due to their constant resistance to the Inca troops.

Since the Incas and the Spanish conquistadors
were the principal sources of information on the Chachapoyas, unbiased
first-hand knowledge of the Chachapoyas remains scarce. Writings by the
major chroniclers of the time, such as El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega,
were based on fragmentary second-hand accounts. Much of what we do know
about the Chachapoyas culture is based on archaeological evidence from
ruins, pottery, tombs and other artifacts.

The chronicler Pedro Cieza de León offers some picturesque notes about the Chachapoyas:

"They are the whitest and most handsome of all the people that I have seen in Indies,
and their wives were so beautiful that because of their gentleness,
many of them deserved to be the Incas' wives and to also be taken to
the Sun Temple (...) The women and their husbands always dressed in woolen clothes and in their heads they wear their
llautos, which are a sign they wear to be known everywhere."

Cieza adds that, after their annexation to the Inca Empire, they adopted customs imposed by the Cuzco-based Inca.

The name Chachapoya is in fact the name that was given to
this culture by the Inca; the name that these people may have actually
used to refer to themselves is not known. The meaning of the word Chachapoyas may have been derived from sacha-p-collas, the equivalent of "colla people who live in the woods" (sacha = wild p = of the colla = nation in which Aymara is spoken). Some believe the word is a variant of the Quechua construction sacha puya, or people of the clouds. - Wikipedia

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Grave of Real D'Artagnan found in the Netherlands

Dutch archaeologists believe that they have located the tomb of Louis XIV musketeer Charles de Batz de Castelmore d'Artagnan in a small Catholic church in the Netherlands.

According to a leading French historian, Charles de Batz de Castelmore dArtagnan, who served Louis XIV as captain of the Musketeers of the Guard, was buried a few kilometres away at Saint Peter and Paul Church in Wolder, Holland, The Times Online reports.

The trail is very precise, according to Odile Bordaz, author of several works on the musketeer.

She has marked down theories that d'Artagnans body was brought back to France, and has been insisting the Dutch authorities and the Catholic Church approve an archaeological dig of the site.

According to recently discovered documents, during the siege, bodies of French officers were buried in the nearest Catholic Church. D'Artagnan died during the Siege of Maastricht on June 25, 1673.

Alexandre Dumas wrote the novel The Three Musketeers in 1844 after reading about d'Artagnans exploits in Les Memoires de Monsieur d'Artagnan, which was published almost 150 years earlier.

Bordaz also said that d'Artagnan reputation as a lady killer was absolutely right

The musketeers and their officers led joyous lives and multiple conquests not only on the battlefield but also in the secret of the alcoves, she said.- From CathNews

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Ancient Apulian treasures to be returned to Italy

Ritual Water Jar (loutrophoros) with Perseus Battling the Sea Monster Greek made in Apulia South Italy 340-330 BCE TerracottaSwitzerland will return 4,400 Roman artifacts to Italy which were seized from a Basel art dealer and were probably stolen from illegal digs, the SDA news agency reported on Thursday.

[Vases, like this example of an Apulian loutrophoros (ritual war jar) depicting Perseus battling a sea monster, are among the treasures seized in a raid on Basel art dealer]

The objects include vases, statues, mosaics and bronze items from pre-Christian times which were found in the Basel warehouse of an Italian art dealer as part of an investigation launched in 2001 on Italy's request.

"We felt like we had been transported back to ancient Rome," the SDA agency quoted investigator Mario Plachesi as saying.

After 80 officers worked for months to catalogue the items - most of which are likely from Apulia in southern Italy - the Swiss authorities are now handing them back. A further 1,400 artifacts, probably from Greece, were also found in the warehouse but will stay in Basel.

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Ramses III's linen girdle centerpiece of new Liverpool World Museum Egyptian gallery

HEAVILY guarded in a north Liverpool ware-house, within a special container power-sealed with a dozen rivets, there lies a treasure greater than either of its counterparts from Tutan-khamen’s tomb.

The battle girdle worn by the last of Egypt’s great battling pharaohs, Rameses III, is delicately coiled on a bed of layered tissues: a 3,000-year- old gem as priceless as our own crown jewels.

The five-metre exquisitely embroidered multi-coloured linen belt will form the centrepiece of Liverpool World Museum’s new Egyptian gallery.

The girdle would have been donned by Rameses as he proudly rode his war chariot on campaigns against invaders.

It is an item, held in Liverpool since the 1860s, but known to scholars the world over.

The belt is among 1,500 items that go on display from December 5.

Among the others likely to vie for attention are five mummies, including one of a female contemporary of Cleopatra, who inspired a classic novel from the celebrated Victorian writer Henry Rider Haggard.

The new permanent exhibition covers life in Egypt from the time of Menes, the first king, who reigned 3000 years BC, through to the time of the pharaohs, and on to the periods of the Greek and Roman occupations...

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C. David Claudon's Cleopatra Costume Site Interesting

I stumbled across C. David Claudon's Ceopatra Costume article while I was looking for a picture of Ramses II's girdle. I found it very interesting

The Cleopatra Costume on Stage and in Film

Perhaps one of the most well-known Egyptian pharaohs, Cleopatra VII Philopater ("father-lover") has captured the imaginations of countless artists and authors. In William Shakespeare's The Tragedie of Anthonie, and Cleopatra, (better known as Antony and Cleopatra), John Dryden's All for Love, Victorien Sardou's Cleopatra, George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, and the numerous Cleopatra-peopled films of the twentieth century, each artist has invested his own period's interpretation in the lady. Any study of the costumes worn on the stage and screen by actresses playing Cleopatra VII first requires familiarity with what the Egyptian pharoah herself might have worn. To do this, the costumes described can be divided into two categories: those worn as "everyday" clothes and those worn for state or religious occasions.

The clothes worn as everyday dress were probably Hellenic Greek in origin, for Cleopatra was a Roman-sponsored monarch, whose Greek ancestors had ruled Egypt since the death of Alexander the Great. This Roman apparel, described by Barton (1961), was based on Greek dress. It consisted of an underdress of soft linen or silk (the tunica interior) and a long over-robe (the stola) of the same material. Over these two garments would be worn the palla, or draped outer-cloak.

Barton describes the range of color for this ensemble:

Colors mentioned in contemporary texts include scarlet, violet, mari-gold yellow, crocus yellow, hyacinth-purple (which would be nearer our modern shade than the Tyrian), rust, sea-green or blue, and green. Probably the tints of the garments themselves were fairly light and bright (not what we understand by "pastel," but stronger) and designs were applied in deeper tones. (p. 88)

On her feet, if she wore complete Roman garb, Cleopatra could wear either sandals (solae) for house-wear or shoes (calcei) if she went outdoors. Those shoes were made of leather and also varied in color from white to red, green or pale yellow.

- More

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shaman graveIn a dusty cave in Israel, archaeologists have unearthed a 12,000-year-old grave that they say may be the resting spot of one of the earliest known shamans. The grave contains the artfully arranged bones of a roughly 45-year-old woman as well as a collection of animal and human body parts, including a complete human foot, 50 tortoise shells, and bones from a wild boar, an eagle, and a leopard.

“What was unusual here was there were so many different parts of different animals that were unusual, that were clearly put there on purpose,” said researcher Natalie Munro…. This care along with the animal parts point to the grave belonging to both an important member of the society and possibly a healer called a shaman…. Such healers mediate between the human and spirit worlds, often summoning the help of animal spirits along their quests, according to the researchers [LiveScience].

In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [subscription required], researchers describe the cemetery of a prehistoric Natufian settlement. The Natufian culture, which lasted from roughly 15,000 to 11,500 years ago, played a central role in the transition from foraging to farming and was the first known society to live in year-round settlements. Burials of the dead increased dramatically in number among the Natufians, indicating that these people assigned much symbolic importance to treatment of the dead [Science News].

The woman’s skeleton was separated from the other 26 burial sites found in the cave, and her grave was the only one lined with slabs of limestone. Ten large stones had been placed on her head, arms, and pelvis, perhaps to hold her body in a particular position, or because the community was trying to keep the shaman and her spirit inside the grave, [study coauthor Leore] Grosman said. It is likely that the 50 tortoises were brought live to the site and were eaten as part of a feast surrounding the burial, according to the researchers [Bloomberg].

- Compiled by Eliza Strickland

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Karanis target of 1st Archaeology Field for US Undergrads the UCLA students, exploring the sprawling agricultural settlement that was Karanis and uncovering plant remains and animal bones from the fourth through sixth centuries is turning into the trip of a lifetime.

[Karanis textile]

Just two weeks into the dig, the field school has made some new discoveries.

"Based on dates in Greek papyri previously found at Karanis, the city was thought to have been abandoned in the fourth century … but the section we are working on dates from the fourth to the sixth centuries, which expands the occupation of Karanis by approximately two centuries," Wendrich said. "It certainly was rural, but it was also a large town, in which the inhabitants, mostly small landowners, created a comfortable life for themselves."

There are more mysteries to uncover, she added.

"One of the main mysteries is how the city inhabitants were provided with water," Wendrich said. "Karanis lies in the desert at the edge of the Fayum depression, and there were several canals that ran near the town. To date, six bath houses have been identified, but it is as yet unclear how the water from the canals reached the town."

Karanis is now believed to have been inhabited from 300 BC to the sixth century. The field school is uncovering plant remains, animal bones, textiles, basketry, leather and fragments of papyrus.

It's all part of the adventure of being in Egypt's first officially sanctioned field school for American undergraduates. See UCLA Egypt Archaeology blog for personal experiences.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Valley of Elah yields oldest Hebrew text ever found

Archaeologists in Israel said on Thursday they had unearthed the oldest Hebrew text ever found, while excavating a fortress city overlooking a valley where the Bible says David slew Goliath.
Archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel shows a shard of pottery at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem October 30, 2008. Archaeologists in Israel said on Thursday they had unearthed the oldest Hebrew text ever found, while excavating a fortress city overlooking a valley where the Bible says David slew Goliath. (REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

The dig's uncovering of the past near the ancient battlefield in the Valley of Elah, now home to wineries and a satellite station, could have implications for the emotional debate over the future of Jerusalem, some 20 km away.

Archaeologists from the Hebrew University said they found five lines of text written in black ink on a shard of pottery dug up at a two-hectare site called Elah Fortress, or Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Experts have not yet been able to decipher the text fully, but carbon dating of artefacts found at the site indicates the Hebrew inscription was written about 3,000 years ago, predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by 1,000 years, the archaeologists said.

Several words, including "judge", "slave" and "king", could be identified and the experts said they hoped the text would shed light on how alphabetic scripts developed.

In a finding that could have symbolic value for Israel, the archaeologists said other items discovered at the fortress dig indicated there was most likely a strong king and central government in Jerusalem during the period scholars believe that David ruled the holy city and ancient Israel.

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Genetic Links to Ancient Phoenicians Focus of New Research Phoenicians, enigmatic people from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, stamped their mark on maritime history, and now research has revealed that they also left a lasting genetic imprint.

Scientists reported Thursday that as many as one in 17 men living today on the coasts of North Africa and southern Europe may have a Phoenician direct male-line ancestor.

These men were found to retain identifiable genetic signatures from the nearly 1,000 years the Phoenicians were a dominant seafaring commercial power in the Mediterranean basin, until their conquest by Rome in the second century B.C.

The scientists who conducted the research said this was the first application of a new analytic method for detecting especially subtle genetic influences of historical population migrations

Samples of the male Y-chromosome were collected from 1,330 men now living at six sites known to have been settled in antiquity as colonies and trading outposts of the Phoenicians. The sites were in Cyprus, Malta, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and the Palestinian territories.

Each participant, whose inner cheek was swabbed for the samples, had at least three generations of indigenous ancestry at the site. To this was added data already available from Lebanon and previously published chromosome findings from nearly 6,000 men at 56 sites throughout the Mediterranean region. The data were then compared with similar research from neighboring communities having no link to Phoenician settlers.

From the research emerged a distinctive Phoenician genetic signature, in contrast to genetic traces spread by other migrations. The scientists thus concluded that, for example, one boy in each school class from Cyprus to Tunis may be a descendant of Phoenician traders.

"We were lucky in one respect," said Pierre Zalloua, a geneticist at Lebanese American University in Beirut who was a principal author of the journal report. "So many Phoenician settlement sites were geographically close to non-Phoenician sites, making it easier to distinguish differences in genetic patterns."

In the journal article, the researchers wrote that the work "underscores the effectiveness of Y-chromosomal variability" in tracing human migrations. "Our methodology," they concluded, "can be applied to any historically documented expansion in which contact and noncontact sites can be identified."

Zalloua said that with further research it might be possible to refine genetic patterns to reveal phases of the Phoenician expansion over time - "first to Cyprus, then Malta and Africa, all the way to Spain." Perhaps, he added, the genes may hold clues to which Phoenician cities - Byblos, Tyre or Sidon - settled certain colonies.

Wells, a specialist in applying genetics to migration studies who is also an explorer-in-resident at the National Geographic Society, suggested that similar projects in the future could investigate the genetic imprint from the Celtic expansion across the European continent, the Inca through South America, Alexander's march through central and south Asia and multicultural traffic on the Silk Road. - More from the International Herald Tribune

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Can High Tech Tools Find Tomb of Genghis Khan? article naturally caught my eye as I am currently listening to Conn Iggulden's first novel in his trilogy about Genghis Khan and have found it both thrilling and fascinating. It is historical fiction but hopefully Iggulden has not strayed too far from the facts. His incarnation of "Timujin" is a warrior of admirable strength and skill as well as a man of vision and deep conviction. Some may also perceive him as ruthless although I think he demonstrated more restraint than other men spawned in such an environment. The tribal society Iggulden depicts on the unforgiving steppes is that of a hard people struggling often just to survive in a land where the dispossesed or just unfortunate are prey to any passing group who simply want their meager belongings even if they are just an old worn dell (coat) and a small pouch of rancid mutton. But it was from these very wanderers that Genghis Khan forged a nation.

I also saw the award-nominated film "Mongol" that gave further insight into the nomadic cultures of the 13th century. It, too, is supposed to be one of a trilogy of films and I eagerly await its successors.

Somewhere beneath the wind-swept deserts of Mongolia lies the body of
one of the most enigmatic warlords in history, a ruthless but brilliant
leader who united his people and built the largest empire in the world.
Nearly 800 years after Genghis Khan died, the legends continue to grow,
as do the mysteries.

Now, a young scientist at the University of California, San Diego, is
hoping to succeed, where others have failed, and answer a question that
has puzzled historians for centuries: Where, precisely, is the tomb of
Genghis Khan?

Albert Yu-Min Lin doesn't plan to search for his answer with
the traditional tools of archaeology, a small pick and good brush.
Instead, he will rely on high-tech, and if he is successful, he will
find the long-sought tomb without turning a single space of dirt.

"We're trying to locate the tomb, not dig it up," said Lin, who lived for awhile in Mongolia with a family of horsemen.

Lin's tools will be "non invasive" implements, ranging from
satellite photos, ground-penetrating radar, and sensitive devices that
can detect clues that the ground was disturbed hundreds of years ago.

Lin has already begun his search with satellite photos donated by
GeoEye, Corp., that could hold clues to "anomalies" on the surface that
could indicate an ancient disturbance of the soil. Lin is an affiliate
research scientist in UC San Diego's Center for Interdisciplinary
Science in Art, Architecture and Archaeology.

The satellite images are the first phase of the three-year
project. If he finds some promising sites, and if he gets approval from
local authorities, he will lead a team of researchers for on-site,
non-intrusive investigations. They will use several new techniques,
including magnetometry, which can pinpoint subsurface disturbances,
like ditches and plowing, by detecting variations in soil magnetism
against the general background of the Earth's magnetic field.

Archaeologists have used that technology to locate other sites,
but it does have limitations. It is effective if the area has been
burned at some time in the past, because burning changes the magnetic
properties of the surrounding soil by altering the magnetism of tiny
iron particles. But a grave is less likely to show up because the hole
usually is immediately refilled with the same dirt.

Ground penetrating radar could also be used to create reasonably clear
images of the first few feet of soil, but it, too, has its limitations.
It does not work as well in moist soils, because water attenuates the
signal. However, the burial site is probably in a high desert location
with typically dry soils.- More from ABC News

Hotel construction halted after survey shows ancient Susa perimeter three times as big as originally thought construction of Laleh and Amir Zargar hotels began following authorization of the project by the Khuzestan Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Department (KCHTHD) in 2007.

However, the projects were halted after cultural heritage enthusiasts caused a media frenzy and in early September 2008, Shush Cultural Heritage Center (SCHC) director Mohammadreza Chitsaz said that the project had been banned following a series of expert investigations.

Meanwhile, a deputy director of the Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO) said in mid October that there are no obstacles to the construction of the hotels.

A team led by Mohammad-Taqi Ataii made 61 excavations at Susa and determined a 1200-hectare perimeter for the city as 32 of the digs have resulted in identification of ancient strata.

The previous demarcation, which had been carried out decades before, determined a 400-hectare perimeter for Susa.

Susa consists of many satellite suburbs, villages, and workshops said Boucharlat, adding that the city is not limited to the 400-hectare perimeter.

It most likely that there are many ancient sites and artifacts in the area, which should be safeguarded by Iranian cultural officials, Boucharlat said.

Susa was an ancient city in the Elamite, Persian, and Parthian empires of Iran, located about 150 miles east of the Tigris River in Khuzestan Province of Iran.

Susa is one of the oldest known settlements in the region, probably founded around 4000 BC, although the first traces of an inhabited settlement date back to 7000 BC. - More - Tehran Times

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Carbon Dating of Cooper ruins in Jordan bolster biblical record of King Solomon

RuinsA massive copper smelting plant in the biblical land of Edom is at least three centuries older than researchers previously believed, placing it firmly in the traditional timeline of King Solomon, considered the greatest ruler of Israel, researchers reported.

The existence of Solomon 3,000 years ago has been questioned by some scholars over the last two decades because of the paucity of archaeological evidence supporting the biblical record and the belief that there were no complex societies in Israel or Edom capable of building fortresses, monuments and other sophisticated public works, such as large mines, in the 10th century BC.

"This is the most hotly debated period in biblical archaeology today," said archaeologist Thomas E. Levy of UC San Diego, who reported the new radiocarbon dates for the copper smelting operation in modern-day Jordan in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Critics, however, charge that Levy is overinterpreting the importance of the radiocarbon dates, because there is no evidence of habitation at the earliest dates to go with them. That suggests the site was operated periodically by nomads and not associated with any city or kingdom, much less an empire, according to archaeologist Piotr Bienkowski of the University of Manchester in Britain.

According to the Old Testament, Solomon was the son of King David and Bathsheba who brought Israel to its ancient fruition, ruling an empire that stretched from the Euphrates to the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. He is said to have built the First Temple in Jerusalem, amassed a fortune in gold and written the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs.

The current center of the controversy is a 24-acre site called Khirbat en-Nahas -- Arabic for "ruins of copper" -- about 30 miles south of the Dead Sea and 30 miles north of the famed archaeological site of Petra in Jordan. It is the largest Iron Age copper factory in the Middle East.

The most notable characteristic of the site is the massive accumulation of black slag produced during the ancient smelting process. The site includes more than 100 buildings, including a fortress. Mines and mining trails abound.

Because wood was used to produce the heat for smelting, charcoal samples are available for dating. Two years ago, Levy reported radiocarbon dates from the site indicating that mining was taking place in the 10th century BC. Finkelstein and others objected, noting that archaeological evidence in the nearby highlands of Edom showed no evidence of habitation before the 8th century BC.

To answer those criticisms, Levy's team excavated through 20 feet of slag near the center of the site, carefully documenting the location of each bit of charcoal and other artifacts. The charcoal was then dated by physicist Thomas Higham of Oxford University.

The bottom stratum of the site revealed a period of extensive mining that lasted for about 40 years around 940 BC and produced 9 feet of slag. There was then a major disruption in mining about 910 BC, followed by a resumption in the 9th century BC. the stratum associated with the disruption, they found an Egyptian scarab from the eastern Nile delta and an amulet linked to the Egyptian goddess Mut.

The "tantalizing question," Levy said, is whether these artifacts are associated with the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonq I (known as Shishak in the Bible), who conquered much of Palestine following the death of Solomon.

Records in Egypt show that Sheshonq's troops occupied Hazevah, about eight miles from Khirbat en-Nahas.
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Coping with Fear: The Truth About Hell by Edwin Black

This article was originally written at the turn of the millennium and has been reprinted from time to time since then. I imagine it surfaced again now since Halloween is fast approaching. However, I found it very interesting because it points out how mistranslations of original ancient text have found their way into modern religious conceptions of things as basic as heaven and hell. I suspect few of the traditional followers of these religions even realize some of the teachings that have become fundamental to the doctrines they profess have such less-than-divine origins.

Coping with Fear

The Truth About Hell

by Edwin Black

Israel Topics - HellBelow the Old City walls in Jerusalem there is a ravine that begins as a gentle, grassy separation between hills, but then quickly descends south into the rocky earth. Eventually, the ravine becomes a steep, craggy depth, scarred on the far side by shallow caves and pits that vaunt hollowed-out chambers and narrow crypts.

Until recent years, everywhere one could see the scorches and smolder from trash fires. Rivulets of urine trickled down from open sewers at the cliffs above, watering thorn bushes, weeds and unexpected clumps of grass among the outcroppings. One could smell the stench of decaying offal, the congealed stink of putrefied garbage, and the absorbed reek of incinerated substances seared into the rock face. Crows circled low. Worms and maggots slithered throughout.

Listen. Imagine. Some cannot help but hear the tormented screams of babies being burned alive, the macabre incantations of the idolatrous in gruesome celebration, the agonized cries of helpless victims, and every other echo of death and disconsolation that dwells here so pervasively that not even the centuries can silence them.

Welcome to Hell. The real Hell. This is Jerusalem's Gei Ben Hinnom, the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom. The Valley was named for an alien non-Semitic family, the Hinnom clan that predated the First Temple period and immediately established the locale as a place of abomination. Gei Ben Hinnom became Ge Hinnom (Valley of Hinnom, and eventually Gehenna in English or Gehennem in Arabic and Hebrew.

Those who walked through the Biblical "valley of the shadow of death" walked here. Images of unending torture and fire as punishment for a life of evil originated in this hideous acreage. The prophets always understood that Hell existed, not as a hidden, allegorical place deep beneath the ground maintained as a fable of fear. Hell is on Earth, just a short walk from the path of righteousness that leads to the Temple Mount.

Perhaps it is fitting that the path to Hell begins delightfully. In recent years, the northern and unoffensive length of the valley has become a zone of chic gentrification: exquisite townhomes, landscaped parks, a concert bowl at the Sultan's Pool, and movie theaters. But, as the ravine carves deeper and deeper between the rocky hills, and as it rounds the corners of Mt. Zion into East Jerusalem en route to the Arab village of Silwan, Gei Ben Hinnom conjoins with the Valley of the Kidron. Here it traverses a stretch of depth that has become a sort of urban no-man's-land in the struggle between Arab and Israeli. As land that defies political peace, this is the only part of the Valley that Arabs cannot improve and that Jews dare not.

Therefore, little has changed here for centuries. Still visible are the original, deep angular cuts into the flat scorched stone seating the infamous Tophet, created hundreds of years before Christ. Tophet altars are said to be named for the noisy drum that devotees of the mysterious Molech would beat to drown out the ghastly cries of children immolated in sacrifice before their own willing parents. In the black rapture of their misguided faith, mothers and fathers not only witnessed the sacrifice, but glorified the act. Beneath the ancient Tophet altars, one can still see foreboding square entryways barely big enough for a human torso to squeeze through. Within those dark depths lay a complex of carved-out crypts, as well as chambers for ritual preparation in honor of Molech.

Little is known about the god Molech. Some archaeologists, using Tophet models in Carthage, speculate that the Molech idol in Gei Ben Hinnom was equipped with outstretched cantilevered arms that extended a small platform upon which the innocent baby was tied. Slowly the platform would swivel toward the consuming flames as the baby shrieked in helpless agony. No wonder this most hideous place has repeatedly been the focus of Biblical wrath:

"He defiled Tophet, which is in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so that no one would make a son or a daughter pass through fire as an offering to Molech." II Kings 23:10.

"Therefore the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Tophet, or the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter." Jeremiah 19:16.

But how did a very authentic site of pagan abomination transmogrify into the concept of postmortuarial eternal punishment we call Hell? The tortuous course from reality on the ground to the murky mind of man has evolved along broken and jagged philosophical lines. Ironically, the concept of Hell developed less from the word of God, than by the mind of man. And its supposed physical locale was originally not in burning depths beneath the ground, but rather in a dark corner of heaven.- More

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

16th century Portuguese treasure found on Skeleton Coast

Archaeologist Bruno Werz holds astrolabes pulled from the seabed off Namibia where a Portuguese ship sank 500 years ago.ARCHAEOLOGISTS are racing against time to salvage a fortune in coins and items from a 500-year-old Portuguese shipwreck found recently off
Namibia's rough southern coast. The project, in a restricted diamond mining area, is costing a fortune in sea-walling,
but the process of maintaining a dyke to keep the sea at bay will end
next Friday, surrendering what is left to the sea again.

"The vast amounts of gold coins would possibly make this discovery the largest one in Africa outside Egypt," Lisbon maritime archaeologist Francisco Alves said. The 16th-century Portuguese trade vessel was found by chance as mine workers created an artificial sand wall with bulldozers to push back the sea for diamond dredging, Namibian archaeologist Dieter Noli told reporters invited to view the site.

"One of them noticed an unusual wooden structure and round stones, which turned out to be cannonballs," he said.

The abundance of objects unearthed where the ship ran aground along Namibia's notorious Skeleton Coast, where hundreds of vessels were wrecked over the centuries, has amazed experts.

Six bronze cannon, several tonnes of copper, huge elephant tusks, pewter tableware, navigational instruments and a variety of weapons, including swords, sabres and knives, have been pulled from the sand.

More than 2300 gold coins weighing about 21 kilograms and 1.5 kilograms of silver coins had been found, Mr Alves said. The ship's contents suggest it was bound for India or Asia.

"About 70% of the gold coins are Spanish, the rest Portuguese," he said. Precise dating was
possible thanks to examination of the coin rims, showing some were minted in October 1525 in Portugal.

About 13 tonnes of copper ingots, eight tonnes of tin and more than 50 large elephant
tusks together weighing 600 kilograms have also been excavated from the seabed.The copper ingots are all marked with a trident indent, which was used by Germany's famous Fugger family of traders and bankers in Augsburg who delivered to the Portuguese five centuries ago," South African archaeologist Bruno Werz said.

The copper ingots are all marked with a trident indent, which was used by Germany's famous Fugger family of traders and bankers in Augsburg who delivered to the Portuguese five centuries ago," South African archaeologist Bruno Werz said.

At one point it was thought the wreck was the ship of legendary Portuguese explorer Bartolomeo Diaz, the first known European to sail around the southern tip of Africa in 1488.

Around 1500, he and his sailing vessel went missing and were never found.

hope that the Oranjemund find might resolve the mystery ended when it
was established that the coins on the shipwreck were put into
circulation 25 years after Diaz's disappearance.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gold artifacts recovered from Archaic-period graves in Pella

Photo Archaeologists have unearthed gold jewellery, weapons and pottery at an ancient burial site near Pella in northern Greece, the birthplace of Alexander the Great, the culture ministry said on Thursday.

The excavations at the vast cemetery uncovered 43 graves dating from 650-279 BC which shed light on the early development of the Macedonian kingdom, which had an empire that stretched as far as India under Alexander's conquests.

Among the most interesting discoveries were the graves of 20 warriors dating to the late Archaic period, between 580 and 460 BC, the ministry said in a statement.

Some were buried in bronze helmets alongside iron swords and knives. Their eyes, mouths and chests were covered in gold foil richly decorated with drawings of lions and other animals symbolizing royal power.

"The discovery is rich in historical importance, shedding light on Macedonian culture during the Archaic period," Pavlos Chrysostomou, who headed the eight-year project that investigated a total of 900 graves, told Reuters.

Pavlas said the graves confirmed evidence of an ancient Macedonian society organized along militaristic lines and with overseas trade as early as the second half of the seventh century BC.

Among the excavated graves, the team also found 11 women from the Archaic period, with gold and bronze necklaces, earrings and broaches.

Nine of the graves dated to the late classical or early Hellenistic period, around the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. - More

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Glacier-free Schnidejoch passes yields ancient artifacts

Figure 1Receding Alpine glaciers have uncovered a trove of ancient artifacts in recent years. Last month, Swiss archaeologists announced that they had dated some of the items to as far back as 4500 B.C.E.--1000 years before the famous Iceman.

The owner of the items--a piece of wooden bowl and leather from a shoe--remains missing. But he has been named "Schnidi" after the Schnidejoch pass, where the items were found. "We now know that the findings at Schnidejoch are the oldest [yet discovered] in the Alps," said Albert Hafner, chief scientist at the Archaeological Survey of the Canton of Bern, at a news conference.

Since 2003, when record-high summer temperatures caused extensive melting of the ice at the 2756-meter-high pass, archaeologists have retrieved 300 items of hunting gear, fur, leather and woolen clothing, and tools belonging to early travelers or hunters moving between the Rhône Valley and parts north. Radiometric dating at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology indicates that a bow, a birch-bark quiver, and arrows were dropped in the pass in the early Bronze Age, about 4000 years ago. Other finds include Roman coins and needles dating to about 200 C.E. and fragments of early and late Medieval apparel. - More

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Lava pool measurements may predict next eruption of Vesuvius

Image: volcanoThe magma pool feeding the Italian volcano that destroyed Pompeii in AD 79 has shifted in the past 2,000 years, a discovery that could help in predicting future eruptions, researchers said in the journal Nature.

Vesuvius is in southern Italy near Naples, one of the most densely populated volcanic regions in the world. Its crater is 4,200 feet above and 13 miles away from Naples, Italy's third largest city.

Scientists had thought the pool remained constant over the past 4,000 years but new investigations detailed on Wednesday showed the chamber had actually shifted higher between the Pompeii eruption in AD 79 and the Pollena one in AD 472.Knowing the location of the lava pool is important because more pressure builds up the deeper a pool is, resulting in more powerful eruptions, said Michel Pichavant, a geologist at the University of Orleans in France, who worked on the study.

The findings can help build more accurate models to predict damage from future eruptions by factoring in the movement of these pools, he said. - More

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Rare sacrifice of pregnant victim found in pre-Inca tomb

Archaeologists in Peru say they have discovered the jawbone of a fetus among the remains of a sacrificed woman in a pre-Inca tomb, suggesting the Lambayeque culture practiced the atypical sacrifice of pregnant women and their children.

The remains of the woman and unborn child were found in a tomb with three other sacrificed women and several sacrificial llamas, lead archaeologist Carlos Wester La Torre told The Associated Press.

In all, Wester La Torre's team reported finding the remains of seven women in two tombs at the Chotuna Chornancap archaeological site, each showing signs of having been cut at the throat.

The sacrifice of a pregnant woman "is very unusual" in the pre-Inca world, said respected Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva, who was not involved in the discovery.

"The concept of fertility was well respected, so this could represent a sacrifice for a very important religious event," he said Wednesday.

Chotuna Chornancap is a sacred site of the Lambayeque culture, which flourished in northern Peru between 800 and 1350 A.D. - More

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Channel 4 produces short about Odysseus Unbound project

British Channel 4 has produced a video short about progress on the Odysseus Unbound project. Report shows mysterious Ithaca, home of Odysseus the hero of Homer's Odyssey, is a step closer to being found.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Studies of ancient pottery show milking animals occured as early as seventh millenium

Until now, researchers thought that the
processing, storage and use of domesticated cow, sheep and goats' milk
in the Middle East and the Balkans began around 5,000 BCE. But now an
international team of archeologists, including an Israeli from the
Hebrew University, have concluded on the basis of milk residue in over
2,200 pottery vessels from the area that it goes back 2,000 more years.

Yossef Garfinkel of HU's archeology institute and colleagues in the UK,
the US, the Netherlands, Greece, Turkey and Romania published their
findings in a recent issue of Nature. The authors note that
"the domestication of cattle, sheep and goats had already taken place
in the Near East" by the eighth millennium BCE. "Although there would
have been considerable economic and nutritional gains from using these
animals for their milk and other products..., the first clear evidence
for this appears much later, from the late fifth and fourth millennium.
Hence, the timing and region in which milking was first practiced
remain unknown."

But the scientists examined thousands of pottery vessels from
the Middle East and southeastern Europe that were created seven to nine
thousand years ago and found clear organic evidence that they contained
milk lipids from domesticated animals.

The use of domesticated animals for milk, wool and pulling
without killing them for meat "marks an important step in the history
of domestication," they write. Some researchers have argued that as
soon as animals are domesticated, the benefits of these products would
have been exploited rapidly; others suggested that the lack of early
evidence of arts, plows and milking scenes shows that domesticated
animals were first exploited mostly for meat and hides.

Evidence of milk lipids on the pottery at Shikmim
and Sha'ar Hagolan in Israel showed that dairy products were consumed
here between the seventh and fourth millennia BCE, the article
reported. The earliest use was in Turkey.

"Organic residues preserved in pottery not only extend the
history, but show that milking was particularly important in areas more
favorable to cattle, compared to other regions where sheep and goats
were more common," they concluded. -

Final weeks of Hidden Treasures of Afghanistan Exhibit in Washington D.C.

A treasure hunter's fantasy - bronze sculptures, intricate ivory
carvings, painted glass, and more than 20,000 gold pieces. These are
among the nearly 230 objects on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Most of the artifacts in this exhibition have never been exhibited here in the United States.

When you look at these "hidden treasures," you begin to understand
why - they are some of the most important archaeological discoveries of
our time, dating from 2200 B.C. to around the second century A.D. The
oldest are a set of gold bowl fragments from Tepe Fulloi.

"They were found by a series of farmers in northern Afghanistan who
had no idea that these were 4,000-year-old treasures," said Hiebert,
the curator of the exhibition. "And they were so happy with their good
luck of having found these golden bowls that they immediately started
to divide up their good luck."

For thousands of years, Afghanistan attracted settlers and nomads,
traders and artisans ... and conquerors, beginning with Cyrus the Great
of Persia in the sixth century B.C., followed by the Greek Alexander
the Great 200 years later. His followers founded cities like Ai Khanum
in northern Afghanistan, known in ancient times as Bactriaj.

One object, a water spout, was still is working condition when it
was found, Hiebert explained. "It's completely iconic of the kind of
art that the Greeks would bring to the Afghan area to impose and to
show their culture. And it became part of the fabric of the art of

There are stone sculptures made in the Greek style, a Corinthian
capital, an ancient sundial, and one of the oldest artifacts found at
Ai Khanum, a ceremonial plaque made of gilded silver dating from around
300 B.C.

The exhibit "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures From The National Museum,
Kabul," is at the National Gallery of Art through September 7, 2008. The exhibit will then travel to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, California (where I hope to see it) and be on display October 24, 2008 - January 25, 2009. Then it moves on
to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (February 22-May 17, 2009) and then to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (June 23-September 20, 2009).

Ancient city in western Turkey waits to be unearthed

An ancient city in western Turkey, discovered by smugglers of
ancient artifacts at an illegal excavation six years ago and recovered
with soil by officials, now waits to be unearthed.

Local officials asked archaeologists to dig the region in Saruhanli
town of the western province of Manisa to bring to light the ancient
city which is thought to be dated from around 3rd or 4th century B.C.

"Six years ago, smugglers found a few pieces of historical artifacts
at an illegal dig here. There were mosaics of a stag's head among them.
But no researches have been carried out since then," Suleyman Cinar,
mayor of the village of Buyukhanli in the region, said.

"We believe that there is an ancient Roman city hidden beneath the soil," he said.

Cinar also said the city could be the outskirts of the nearby
ancient city of Sardis, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia
where the first money was coined in history."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Stone Age Cemetery in Sahara Yields Evidence of Early Hunters

When Paul C. Sereno went hunting dinosaur bones in the Sahara, his
career took a sharp turn from paleontology to archaeology. The
expedition found what has proved to be the largest known graveyard of
Stone Age people who lived there when the desert was green.

In its first comprehensive report, published Thursday, the team, sponsored by the National Geographic Society,
described finding some 200 graves belonging to two successive
populations. Some burials were accompanied by pottery and ivory
ornaments. A girl was buried wearing a bracelet carved from a hippo
tusk. A man was interred seated on the carapace of a turtle.

most poignant scene was the triple burial of a petite woman lying on
her side, facing two young children. The slender arms of the children
reached out to the woman in an everlasting embrace. Pollen indicated
that flowers had decorated the grave. [Image by Mike Hettwer/National Geographic]

The sun-baked dunes at the
site known as Gobero preserve the earliest and largest Stone Age
cemetery in the Sahara, Dr. Sereno’s group reported in the
current issue of the online journal PLoS One. The findings, the
researchers wrote, open “a new window on the funerary practices,
distinctive skeletal anatomy, health and diet of early hunter-fisher-gatherers, who expanded into the Sahara when climatic conditions were favorable.”

The initial inhabitants at Gobero, the Kiffian culture, were tall
hunters of wild game who also fished with harpoons carved from animal
bone. Later, a more lightly built people, the Tenerians, lived there,
hunting, fishing and herding cattle. An examination of their fossilized
skeletons indicated that both cultures lived and ate relatively well.

From an analysis of the skeletons and pottery in those two seasons,
scientists identified the two successive cultures that occupied the
settlement. The Kiffians, some of whom stood up to six feet tall, both
men and women, lived there during the Sahara’s wettest period,
between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago. They were primarily
hunter-gatherers who speared huge lake perch with harpoons.

A. A. Garcea, an archaeologist at the University of Cassino in Italy,
identified ceramics with wavy lines and zigzag patterns as Kiffian, a
culture associated with northern Africa. Pots bearing a pointillistic
pattern were linked to the Tenerians, a people named for the
Ténéré Desert, a stretch of the Sahara known to
Tuareg nomads as a “desert within a desert.”

Christopher M. Stojanowski, an archaeologist at Arizona State University,
said the two cultures were “biologically distinct groups.”
The bones and teeth showed that in contrast to the robust Kiffians, the
Tenerians were typically short and lean and apparently led less
rigorous lives. Perhaps, Dr. Stojanowski said, they had developed more
advanced hunting technologies for taking smaller fish and game.

shapes of the Tenerian skulls are puzzling, researchers said, because
they resemble those of Mediterranean people, not other groups from the
southern Sahara.

Dr. Sereno said in an interview that both
cultures, the Tenerians in particular, appeared to have settled into
semi-sedentary lives in a more or less year-round community. Families,
he said, are not usually part of mobile hunting parties, and yet many
of the burials at the site are of juveniles. The abundant refuse mounds
also attested to long-term occupation. - New York Times

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Did cooking food improve cognitive processes?

"For a long time, we were pretty dumb. Humans did little but make "the same very boring stone tools for almost 2 million years," he said. Then, only about 150,000 years ago, a different type of spurt happened - our big brains suddenly got smart. We started innovating. We tried different materials, such as bone, and invented many new tools, including needles for beadwork. Responding to, presumably, our first abstract thoughts, we started creating art and maybe even religion.

"To understand what caused the cognitive spurt, Khaitovich and colleagues examined chemical brain processes known to have changed in the past 200,000 years. Comparing apes and humans, they found the most robust differences were for processes involved in energy metabolism.

The finding suggests that increased access to calories spurred our cognitive advances, said Khaitovich, carefully adding that definitive claims of causation are premature.

The research is detailed in the August 2008 issue of Genome Biology.

The extra calories may not have come from more food, but rather from the emergence of pre-historic "Iron Chefs;" the first hearths also arose about 200,000 years ago.

While other theories for the brain's cognitive spurt have not been ruled out (one involves the introduction of fish to the human diet), the finding sheds light on what made us, as Khaitovich put it, "so strange compared to other animals." - More

Dacian Grave Unearthed in the Ukraine

"Romanian archaeologists discovered an ancient cemetery, which experts consider the largest necropolis ever found in the Dacian area. They made their discovery in Malaia Kopalnia, Ukraine, 20km from the Romanian border. It should reveal more about the Dacians' burial rites. Women's graves contained fibulas, jewels, buckles, rings and chain loops, while the men's graves contained weapons, such as a one-bladed sword called "fica", spurs, spearheads and other objects."

DNA Analysis Suggests No Interbreeding With Neanderthals

"The mystery of what killed off the Neanderthals about 30,000 years ago comes a step closer to being solved with a study suggesting that they formed a tiny population that had been teetering on the brink of extinction.

Neanderthals first appeared in Europe at least 300,000 years ago but they disappeared after the arrival of anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens, who first arrived in Europe 50,000 years ago. This has led to speculation about whether the Neanderthals interbred with the new arrivals to form a hybrid population that became submerged in the human gene pool, or were instead wiped out by them, either through competition for resources or by violence.

The latest evidence, an analysis of DNA recovered from a 38,000-year-old fossilised thigh bone, suggests the Neanderthals did not interbreed with modern humans but were eradicated by them.

DNA extracted from an adult Neanderthal man who lived near caves in what is now Croatia also revealed that the Neanderthals in Europe probably never numbered more than 10,000 individuals at any one time – a precariously small population size.

The new evidence about the demise of the Neanderthals comes from the complete sequence of DNA within tiny cellular structures known as mitochondria. This mitochondrial DNA is maternally inherited and is easier to isolate from ancient bones than the conventional DNA found within the cell nucleus.

The scientists repeatedly decoded the mitochondrial DNA from the 38,000-year-old Neanderthal bone 35 times to make sure that they had the correct genetic sequence, so that they could use it as an accurate comparison against the mitochondrial DNA of modern humans and chimpanzees – man's closest living relative

"For the first time, we've built a sequence from ancient DNA that is essentially without error," said Richard Green, who led the investigation at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

"It is still an open question for the future whether this small group of Neanderthals was a general feature, or was this caused by some bottleneck in their population size that happened late in the game," said Dr Green.

Archaeological evidence shows that Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans, known as Cro-Magnon man, occupied the same habitats and sites at overlapping periods of time but there is no hard evidence that there was any direct contact between the two last species of humans to share living space.

"There's no proof that they saw each other, only that they inhabited the same place at about the same time but I think it's likely that they came across one another," said Adrian Briggs, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute, who was part of the study.

"What we've done is confirm that the mitochondrial DNA of Neanderthals and modern humans was so different that it forms powerful evidence that there was very little if any interbreeding between the two species," said Dr Briggs.

"We have also got tantalising evidence that the Neanderthals formed a small population and we can only speculate as to what happened to them. Small population sizes are always more prone to extinction and they have a greater chance of something going wrong."

Speculation about who the Neanderthals were, and what happened to them, has raged ever since the first Neanderthal skull was excavated from the Neander Valley, near Düsseldorf, in 1856.

It is now generally agreed that they were not the direct ancestors of modern humans but a side-branch on man's extensive family tree. However, some anthropologists have clung to the belief that they must have interbred with humans at some stage in their history, which means that there is a little bit of Neanderthal in us all.

However, a number of DNA studies, including the latest published in the journal Cell, have found little to support that theory. Whenever it has been possible to analyse the sequence of heavily degraded DNA fragments extracted from Neanderthal bone, it shows that the genetic variation lies well outside the variation seen in modern humans.

The latest study suggests, for instance, that the Neanderthals last shared a common ancestor with modern humans some 660,000 years ago – long before the emergence in Africa of Homo sapiens as a distinct species about 100,000 years ago.

However, the scientists who carried out the study emphasised that their work cannot as yet completely rule out the possibility that there was some limited, small-scale interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans, at some place between the Caucasus and western Europe – the geographic range of the Neanderthals.

One of the best bits of evidence in support of that idea emerged about a decade ago when scientists found the skeleton of a young boy who had died about 25,000 years ago in what is now Spain. His thick-set features suggested he was hybrid of Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon – but other scientists believed he was just an unusually stocky lad."...More