Sunday, December 22, 2013

What is the basis for the claim that the tomb of Atahualpa has been found in Ecuador?

A history resource article by  © 2013

Mixed media sculpture of Altahualpa by artist-historian
George S. Stuart
.  Photographed at the Ojai Valley Museum
in Ojai, California
by  © 2006 The last couple of days there has been several news postings about the possible discovery of the tomb of Atahualpa, last independent Inca ruler, in the highlands of Ecuador.  Unfortunately, after reading the articles I found the claim was not particularly substantiated by more than just a statement by a group of researchers that a formation 260 feet tall by 260 feet wide has been discovered  in the Llanganates National Park in Ecuador and "might" somehow be the tomb of Atahualpa.  Of course the article also says the researchers admit the "structure" may just be an unusual rock formation.

After looking at the images, I do think the formation looks man-made but how they connected this find with Atahualpa is a mystery to me.

The article points to "artifacts" that have been recovered but there was no explanation about their purpose, how they were determined to be Incan or any attempt at dating them.  Looking at the pictures of the "artifacts" included with the article,they appear to be extremely primitive in nature - more neolithic looking than pre-Columbian.

Stone formation found in in the Llanganates National Park
in Ecuador proposed to be Atahualpa's lost tomb.
courtesy of . 
I'm also wondering what sources they are using that may have claimed Atahualpa's body was stolen by his followers and whisked off to the highlands of Ecuador.  According to Spanish sources, Atahualpa's body was partially burned then interred in a "Christian" burial after he was strangled by a garrote following a mock trial at Cajamarca in the Peruvian highlands in 1533.  Of course I must admit Atahualpa is thought to have been born in what is now present day Quito, Ecuador so it is at least plausible that remaining clan members may have sought to return his body to the region of his birth.

If the structure is a tomb, it is of such monumental size that you would think it would have had to have been built before the Spanish conquest then repurposed as I doubt the activity needed to quarry and transport the stone then build a structure of the size reported would have gone unnoticed by the Spanish.  Perhaps it was the tomb of Atahualpa's father, Huayna Capac, who engaged in a number of monumental building projects before he contracted smallpox and died in the epidemic of 1527.  Maybe it is one of Huayna Capac's food storage silos that he purportedly built around his empire.  I've got to admit, as someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest who has frequently visited Idaho, the structure sort of resembles a big potato cellar!

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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Replica tomb of King Tut to rise again in Luxor

An ancient history resource article by  © 2013

I see the committee presently overseeing Egyptian antiquities is planning to re-erect a dismantled replica tomb of King Tutankhamun, placing it beside the former residence of

Howard Carter opens the innermost shrine of Ki...
Howard Carter opens the innermost shrine of King Tutankhamen's tomb near Luxor, Egypt which one of carter's water boy discovered. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
discoverer Howard Carter on Luxor's west bank. The replica, built between 2009 and 2012 by Madrid-based Factum Arte, was constructed using 3D scanners to accurately capture the structural features of the tomb.

It was one of three tombs reconstructed as part of a project to provide an alternative to tourists when the tombs of Tutankhamun, Nefertari and Set I are closed to the public in 2014 because of damage from the respiration of the high number of visitors each tomb receives.

The project was apparently delayed by the recent civil unrest. I had always hoped to travel to Egypt and see Tutankhamun's tomb for myself but it is looking more and more unlikely as the social upheaval there continues and travel becomes increasingly difficult for me due to health issues.

Life-size composite replica of rock cut tombs near Beni Hasan Egypt
built from 2100 to 1100 BCE.
 Photographed at the Rosicrucian EgyptianMuseum in San Jose, CA by .  © 2006
At least I had a chance to explore a life-sized replica of an Egyptian rock cut tomb when I visited the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California in 2006. The replica is a composite of tombs of Egyptian governors and nobles discovered near Beni Hasan, Egypt and were built from 2100 to 1100 BCE.

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum also exhibits one of only three known remains of Apis Bulls in the world. The Apis bull, a black beast with distinct markings, was the most important of all the sacred animals in Egypt and his worship, instituted by Raneb in the Second Dynasty, began in Memphis about 2740 BCE. The bull was thought to serve as an intermediary between humans and the great god Ptah (later Osiris).

Mummified Head of an Apis Bull photographed
at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum by
 © 2006
Anyway, if, like me, you can't make it to Egypt anytime soon, maybe you can visit the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, CA instead or, at least, for the time being. If you'd like to see more of the marvelous artifacts and museum-quality reproductions on display there, check out my image set on Flickr.
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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Typhus not typhoid probable cause of the great plague of Athens

An ancient history resource article by  © 2013

The Hope Hygieia, goddess of health, feeding milk
 to a serpent 130-161 CE Roman copy of a 360 BCE Greek
 original unearthed in Ostia.
 Photographed at the Los
Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, CA

by  ©2009
This morning one of my Facebook friends sent me a copy of a short article by Manolis J. Papagrigorakis, Philippos N. Synodinos, Angeliki Stathi, Chrysanthi L. Skevaki, and Levantia Zachariadouthat that suggested typhoid fever resulting from intentional bioterrorism on the part of the Spartans caused the great plague of Athens.  Most of the evidence appeared to be based on historical precedent with authors pointing to the military siege of the city and an instance of deliberate contamination during the siege of Kirra (595-585 BCE) reported by Pausanius.  There apparently was an analysis of ancient dental pulp from remains recovered from Athens and dated approximately to the time of the great plague that may have indicated traces of typhoid fever but another citation by the same researchers dated the same year was entitled "Insufficient phylogenetic analysis may not exclude candidacy of typhoid fever as a probable cause of the plague of Athens" so it sounded to me like the study was basically inconclusive.

I am much more convinced by the careful examination of the pathological symptoms by clinical pathologists attending the Historical Clinico-Pathologic Conference at the University of Maryland's School of Medicine in October 2000 who concluded it was most likely lice-borne typhus not water-borne typhoid that constituted the great plague of Athens.

These forensic physicians specifically discounted typhoid fairly early on in their analysis because of the description of an accompanying rash by Thucydides, a survivor of the pathogen.  Thucydides describes a vivid red rash with pustules and ulcers (although there is some disagreement on the exact translation from the ancient Greek.)  The pathologists point out that this symptom is "difficult to reconcile" with a diagnosis of Typhoid Fever.  Likewise the rash is not consistent with a diagnosis of cholera, another disease related to contaminated water, either.

Bust of Thucydides from the Pushkin Museum
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The complications reported by Thucydides among survivors seemed to be the clincher for Dr. Durack, the case presenter at the conference.  Thucydides reports that survivors, like himself, often suffered from the residual effects of peripheral gangrene, blindness and/or amnesia.  Dr. Durack pointed out that the bacteria that causes typhus frequently damage blood vessels.  If the vessels where the damage occurs are in the brain, the survivor may experience amnesia or other symptoms of brain injury.  If the vessels are damaged in the optic nerve, lingering blindness may result.  If the disease causes severe vasculitis in the large vessels supplying the extremities during its course of infection, gangrene can develop.   So, although we cannot be certain unless remains with intact pathogen can be identified, I think the clinical pathologists have my vote.

If you wish to read the original article that appeared in Volume 109 of the American Journal of Medicine (October 1, 2000), I digitized a copy of if here: 

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Monday, August 19, 2013

New DVD offers salute to German war ace Günther Rall

I have been fascinated by aircraft and the adventurous men and women who have flown them since a very young age.  I have explored air museums from Cape Canaveral in Florida to the Huntsville Space and and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama to Evergreen's Air and Space Museum near my home in McMinnville, Oregon.  So, it would be natural for me to be interested in a new DVD collection from Acorn Media about Günther Rall, one of Germany's most decorated air aces of WWII.

This particular DVD entitled "Germany's Last Ace" is part of the Military Channel series "Missions that Changed the War" narrated by Gary Senise.  The most unique aspect of this DVD is that it includes clips from an actual interview with Rall not long before his death at the age of 91 in 2009.  But despite his advanced age, Rall's recollections are clear and precise and bring his life and experiences as a combat pilot in WWII vividly to life.

List of Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross recip...
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross recipient  Günther Rall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Günther Rall was born in Gaggenau, a small village in the Black Forest on 10 March, 1918.  His father was a merchant.  The economy was in a shambles after World War I so like many other businessmen, his father supported the economic reforms proposed by the newly formed Nazi party, although Rall points out that his father never became involved in politics and never joined the Nazi party.

Rall was a good student and participated in the Chrisitian Scouts program until he completed his schooling.  Then he joined the Wehrmacht and spent two years as an infantryman before he applied for officer's candidate training in 1936.  He was accepted into the War College in Dresden where a friend convinced him to join the Luftwaffe.  He was accepted and by 1938 had become a qualified pilot and commissioned as a Leutnant (Second Lieutenant).  Rall exclaims that the was sent to the French/German border with only two months of training.

Rall scored no victories during his first year in combat flying against British Spitfires and Hurricans, with Rall saying the British pilots were the toughest he ever faced.  Then, he scored his first air victory on May 12, 1940 when he shot down a Curtiss Hawk 75A fighter piloted by Czech Sgt. Chef Otto Hanzliceka, who was attacking a German reconnaissance aircraft.  This was to become the first of 275 air victories achieved during almost 800 combat missions, flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109 most of the time.

In the interview, Rall describes how the initial orders to fly bomber escort in tight formation was very unsuccessful because "you cannot dictate a fighter pilot's air space!"

Rall was eventually sent to Rumania to protect the Reich's precious oil fields from Russian bombers.  There he found terrible conditions for both the pilots and the mechanics that serviced their aircraft.
"The mechanics only had thin coveralls and no gloves", he exclaims "and the weather was brutally cold."  He went on to describe how the men lived in lice-ridden tents that offered little protection from the wind and freezing temperatures.  Then, as the war progressed Hitler launched his campaign against Russia called "Barbarossa" and Rall found himself ordered to fly three to five combat sorties a day.

At first the Russians flew badly outdated aircraft left over from the Spanish Civil War.  On the first day of the invasion, Rall said the Germans shot down over 1800 Russian piloted planes.  But as the war dragged on, the British gave the Russians American P47s that the British had received through the Lend-Lease program and more experienced Russian pilots began to deploy tactical strategies that were more effective during air combat.

After shooting down his 36th enemy aircraft, Rall himself was shot down, hard landing in a gully and breaking his back in three places.  Paralyzed on his right side, Rall explained that he was told by a German surgeon that he would never walk again, let alone fly.

Rall was shipped to Vienna to recuperate where his physicians, thinking he needed someone to encourage him, introduced him to a vivacious, young Dr. Hertha Schön.  The "prescription" worked wonders because after five months of rehabilitation he shed his full body cast and by August 1942 returned to the Russian front in time to fly in the hard fought battle of Kursk even though he had to strap his "lame leg" to the rudder pedal to fly the plane.

From August to November Rall claimed another 38 victories, bringing his total to 101. On 3 September 1942, Rall was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). On 26 November 1942 he was given the Eichenlaub to his Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes by Adolf Hitler personally. - Kaplan, Philip (2007). Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe in World War II.

Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein and others...
Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein and others receiving the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As Rall's air victories soared, first to 200 then to 250, each time he received his military honors personally from Adolf Hitler and in the interviews Rall describes his impressions of Hitler each time they met.  He describes how Hitler first appeared very confident with an impressive command of details of the developments on each front.  But as the war wore on, Hitler appeared less confident and ill-at-ease until at their last meeting when Rall received swords for his previously awarded Knight's Cross, Hitler was muttering mystically about the dark valleys ahead.  These personal observations are the true gems of this presentation.

Another thing that impressed me about this courageous officer was that he kept fighting valiantly despite dwindling fuel and supplies and even during a Gestapo investigation of his wife (he had married his doctor in 1943) who had Jewish friends that she had helped to escape to England.  Rall tells us that fortunately, the inquiries were quashed after he was awarded the swords but can you imagine how unnerving that would be for a pilot in the hair-trigger environment of air combat?

Of course when Rall was eventually transferred back to Germany to defend his homeland in the final stages of the war, he now flew against bomber fleets raining destruction upon many major cities and surely must have feared for his family even more so then, too.

It was then that he was shot down for the 8th and last time by American ace, Robert Rankin.  The DVD includes biographical backgrounds for both Rankin and his squadron commander Hubert Zemke as well as interview clips of Rankin and Zemke's son.

Rall survives a devastating infection resulting from the wounds he suffered in his last combat engagement to become a flight instructor.  Rall flew and studied several American planes that had fallen into the possession of the Luftwaffe to find their strengths and weaknesses and develop better strategies to combat them that he could teach his students.

"He flew the P-51 and was amazed at the luxury and quality of the American planes. He found they were spacious, heated, had armoured plate protection, and used materials and equipment that had been long unavailable to Germany. He explained that being unable to fly in combat probably saved his life at a time when Germany was totally outnumbered and the chances of staying alive were drastically dropping. " - Weal, John (2002). German Aces of the Russian Front.

After the war, Rall, almost unbelievably, could not find work and starts up a small woodcutting business.  But he eventually lands a job with Siemens before finally rejoining the military in 1956  as an engineer for the new Luftwaffe der Bundeswehr after the re-militarization of West Germany.  In April 1974, he is named a military attaché for NATO and retires in 1975 after achieving the rank of Generalleutnant.  Much of this DVD is based on his autobiography, Mein Flugbuch ("My Flightbook").

My main criticism of "Germany's Last Ace" centers around the producer's decision to surround the fascinating events of Rall's career with practically a complete mini-history of World War II.  Rather than enhancing the portrait of Rall, it serves to bury it in an overload of only distantly relevant information and hours of unrelated combat footage.  The division of the program into four separate episodes also results in the repetition of information in subsequent sections.  The resulting 3 hours running time should have been pared to only one or at most one and a half hours.

Recently, my husband and I have started watching a new series on the Military Channel entitled "Air Aces". Each tightly written 45-minute episode features a dramatized biography of one particular fighter pilot that includes little live action mini-dramas featuring professional actors interspersed with live reenactments and beautifully rendered CGI combat sequences created using state-of-the-art game engines like the one in Konami's "Birds of Steel" or Kalypso Media's "Air Conflicts".

Instead of hours of talking heads cut between often blurry vintage camera footage, we see the fear on the faces of ardent young men facing death rushing at them at hundreds of miles an hour captured in sharply detailed HD.  Their aircraft is as breathtaking as it was the day it rolled off the assembly line and when hit bursts into explosive showers of flame and smoke.  I was hooked on the series from the very first episode about the "Falcon of Malta", George Beurling.  (My father served aboard one of the U.S. Navy ships that were sent to supply Malta early in the war) I would love to see the series redo the profile of Günther Rall, to truly offer a worthy salute to this amazing individual.

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