Wednesday, May 15, 2019


Thousands of workers from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds labored in grueling terrain and conditions to connect the Atlantic and Pacific. Most of them were Chinese workers who were paid less for their labor than their European counterparts.

For years, railroad workers were largely overlooked in memorial events marking the railroad's completion. This year, however, their contributions and descendants are more visible than ever in 150th anniversary celebrations.

Friday marked the sesquicentennial of the Golden Spike Ceremony on May 10, 1869, in what was then Utah Territory where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads were joined. "The Transcontinental Railroad was a tremendous feat of engineering, innovation and manpower that was key to unleashing the economic prosperity of the United States for generations," US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, whose parents are of Chinese descent, said Friday in a reenactment of the ceremony at Golden Spike National Historic Park in Promontory, Utah.

In addition to Chinese workers and Latter-Day Saints who worked for Central Pacific, Irish immigrants fleeing famine and newly freed slaves laid track across the Great Plains for the Union Pacific Railroad.

Before the transatlantic railroad, train travel was available from points east to as far as St. Louis, Missouri. Anything west of the Mississippi River required travel by wagon, a trip that could take anywhere from three to six months. After the railroad was built, it took about seven days and as little as $65 to ride from New York to San Francisco.

"Snow fell so deeply that they had to build roofs over 37 miles of track so supply trains could make it through. The conditions were merciless, dangerous and harsh." Yet, even after the Chinese workers reached wage parity, they still had to pay for their own housing, clothes and food, unlike other workers.
Chinese workers are said to have laid the last rails to complete the line at the Golden Spike Ceremony before dignitaries tapped four precious metal spikes into a polished tie made from California Laurelwood.
The tie bore a silver plaque that included the officers and directors of Central Pacific along with the names of the tie maker and the donor. The spikes were symbols of the "elites" who presided over the ceremony," Stanford University history professor Gordon Chang said.

This year, however, the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association and other cultural groups championed visibility of railroad workers in events and official celebrations throughout the week.
Chinese workers were included for the first time in the annual reenactment of the driving of the Golden Spike. A lion dance was performed at the start of the Golden Spike Ceremony.
"The railroad laborers and innovators of 150 years ago helped unite our country," Chao said.


In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, bringing to the New World a bounty of wonder: coffee, horses, turnips, grapes, wine. But Columbus and his fellow explorers, in addition to bringing crops and animals we now take for granted, were also the Typhoid Marys of their time. The New World before Columbus: no typhoid, no flu, no smallpox, no measles. The New World after Columbus: epidemics of death.

For Native Americans, the problem was a lesson in basic virology. Because these microbes were as new to society as horses and coffee, nobody had built any immunity to them. Without immunity, wide swaths of people were quickly infected and killed.

Modern medicine is helping most sufferers to recover. Centuries ago, most cases ended in death.

“Indigenous peoples suffered from white brutality, alcoholism, the killing and driving off of game, and the expropriation of farmland, but all these together are insufficient to explain the degree of their defeat,” wrote the late Alfred W. Crosby, a University of Texas historian considered the preeminent expert on the Columbian Exchange. “The crucial factor was not people, plants, or animals, but germs.”


An Anglo-Saxon burial chamber found on a grassy verge next to a busy road and not far from an Aldi is being hailed as Britain’s equivalent of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Archaeologists on Thursday will reveal the results of years of research into the burial site of a rich, powerful Anglo-Saxon man found at Prittlewell in Southend-on-Sea, Essex.

When it was first discovered in 2003, jaws dropped at how intact the chamber was. But it is only now, after years of painstaking investigation by more than 40 specialists, that a fuller picture of the extraordinary nature of the find is emerging.

For one thing it is in free-draining soil, meaning everything organic has decayed. “It was essentially a sandpit with stains,” she said. But what a sandpit. “It was one of the most significant archaeological discoveries we’ve made in this country in the last 50 to 60 years.”

The remains of one of the wooden drinking cups which provided the crucial material for carbon dating the burial chamber, and the top of a wooden drinking bottle with decorated gold neck, found in the burial chamber. The research reveals previously concealed objects, paints a picture of how the chamber was constructed and offers new evidence of how Anglo-Saxon Essex was at the forefront of culture, religion and exchange with other countries across the North Sea. It also throws up a possible name for the powerful Anglo-Saxon figure for whom the grave was built.

Previously, the favorite suggestion was a king of the East Saxons, Saebert, son of Sledd. But he died about 616 and scientific dating now suggests the burial was in the late-6th century, about 580. That means it could be Saebert’s younger brother Seaxa although, since the body has dissolved and only tiny fragments of his tooth enamel remain, it is impossible to know for certain. Gold foil crosses were found in the grave which indicate he was a Christian, a fact which has also surprised historians. Sue Hirst, Mola’s Anglo-Saxon burial expert, said that date was remarkably early for the adoption of Christianity in England, coming before Augustine’s mission to convert the country from paganism. But it could be explained because Seaxa’s mother Ricula was sister to king Ethelbert of Kent who was married to a Frankish Christian princess called Bertha. “Ricula would have brought close knowledge of Christianity from her sister-in-law.”

Recreating the design of the burial chamber has been difficult because the original timbers decayed leaving only stains and impressions of the structure in the soil. But it has been possible. The Mola team estimates it would have taken 20 to 25 men working five or six days in different groups to build the chamber and would have involved felling 13 oak trees. “It was a significant communal effort,” said Jackson. “You’ve got to see this burial chamber as a piece of theater. It is sending out a very strong message to the people who come and look at it and the stories they take away from it. It says ‘we are very important people and we are burying one of our most important people’.”

Objects found include a gold belt buckle, a copper alloy flagon from the Mediterranean, a decorative hanging bowl, and gold coins. Object found include a gold belt buckle, a copper alloy flagon from the Mediterranean, a decorative hanging bowl, and gold coins. The remains of a lyre with decorative copper-alloy fittings with garnets at the center. Objects identified in the grave include a wooden lyre – the ancient world’s most important stringed instrument – which had almost entirely decayed apart from fragments of wood and metal fittings preserved in a soil stain.

The burial chamber was discovered only because of a proposal to widen the adjacent road. It was fully excavated and the research has been undertaken by experts in a range of subjects including Anglo-Saxon art, ancient woodworking, soil science and engineering.

The new Mola findings are published on Thursday ahead of a long-awaited new permanent display of Prittlewell princely burial objects at Southend Central Museum. It opens on Saturday and will include objects such as a gold belt buckle, a Byzantine flagon, coloured glass vessels, an ornate drinking horn and a decorative hanging bowl. People will also be able to explore the burial chamber online at Essex has sometimes been seen as something of an Anglo-Saxon backwater but the Prittlewell burial chamber suggests otherwise.

“What it really tells us,” said Hirst, “is that the people in Essex, in the kingdom of the East Saxons at this time, are really at the forefront of the political and religious changes that are going on.”

Tuesday, May 07, 2019


Six of the world’s top 10 great figures were Greek, a list compiled for the Massachusetts Institute of Techology Pantheon Project shows, although Homer is identified as Turkish and number 11, Archimedes, as Italian based on methodology identifying people from ancient times based on maps of today.

Number one is Aristotle, followed by Plato, Jesus Christ, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Leonardo Da Vinci, Confucius, Julius Caesar, Homer and Pythagoras in the top 10.

The project, part of the MIT Media Lab, aims to create a data-driven view of history by collecting and analyzing data on the biographies of major historical characters but also indicates Herodotus – the so-called Father of History – was Turkish, as were the ancient philosophers Thales, Heraclitus and Diogenes.

“This means that Albert Einstein is an export of Germany (since he was born in Ulm) and that individuals born in the ancient city of Babylon were assigned to Iraq,” MIT said without explaining why that doesn’t distort history.

Because of the method used, Turkey at 6.7 percent, was listed above Greece at 5.95 percent as the birthplace of globally known philosophers, none of whom were Turkish. That also meant that only 2 percent of politicians were from Greece while 4.77 percent were from Turkey, giving today’s country credit for people who weren’t born there.


Talk about black gold — chocolate was used as coin by the Maya people, and that may have a lot to do with the civilization’s decline. The Maya elite prized chocolate, which they served as an unsweetened beverage. Spanish colonial accounts from the 16h century even mention that the Maya sometimes used cocoa beans — the basis for chocolate — as currency. But was this really the case?

To find out, Joanne Baron, an archaeologist with the Bard Early College Network, started analyzing Mayan artwork from about 250 C.E. to about 900 C.E. The objects she used — murals, ceramic paintings, and carvings — are a valuable source of information even when written accounts aren’t present.

She found that in the earliest periods, no mention of cocoa or chocolate as currency exists. The earliest reference of such goods being used for exchange comes from the mid-7th century: In a painted mural displayed in a pyramid near today’s Guatemalan border, a woman offers a bowl of hot chocolate to a man, in exchange for dough. However, this only shows that chocolate was being bartered — not that it was used as currency, Baron says.

However, things change from about 691 C.E. through 900 C.E. During this period, a number of artistic pieces show commodities delivered to Maya leaders as a tribute or tax. At some point, Mayan kings started receiving cacao and woven cloth as tax, showing that both had become a form of currency.

Some researchers speculated that this may have caused significant problems — whenever there was a crop failure, it may have caused cascading economic problems. Baron’s research supports this idea, but while this would have been problematic, it’s unlikely that this was instrumental in the decline of the Maya. They used several types of currencies and would have likely been able to substitute one with the other.


The Brussels regional government has approved a request to prolong archaeological works currently taking place on the site of the former Parking 58 in the city center, now the planned location for a new administrative center for Brussels-City municipality. The works are at the moment a gigantic hole in the ground (photo) where once there was a parking garage famous for the view from its top floor. When the multi-story car park was razed, a routine architectural inspection uncovered some interesting artifacts, and construction was halted for further investigation, as the law allows.

The dig has now turned up evidence of a settlement on the banks of the Senne, the river on which Brussels grew up, with objects first thought to date to the 10th century, but which may in fact be up to three centuries older.

The finds made so far, in the center of the site to a depth of some 7.5m, have been described as “spectacular” and “of crucial importance for the history of Brussels”. Among them: a stone quay on what was the bank of the Seine dating to the Middle Ages, wooden structures even older, and tools and materials such s leather shoes and wooden combs relating to various crafts practiced back to possibly the seventh century, suggesting life was taking place on the site of what is now the city center as many as 1400 years ago.

As well as the typical finds of archaeological sites, such as tools and pottery, the extended investigation will allow microscopic examination of the soil in each level of the ground, giving a deeper insight into the conditions of life as the centuries passed.


When she and her colleagues made a small excavation in the cave, they found ancient tools, a sign of human occupation. She emailed photos of the jaw to Jean-Jacques Hublin, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute. Intrigued, he traveled to China to examine the fossil, and soon he and Dr. Zhang had begun a collaboration with other experts to learn more.

Chuan-Chou Shen and Tsai-Luen Yu of National Taiwan University handled the task of figuring out how old it was. The jaw still had bits of rock stuck to it, and these contained uranium. By measuring the uranium’s decay into thorium, Dr. Shen and Dr. Yu were able to estimate the bone’s age. The jaw turned out to be at least 160,000 years old, by far the oldest evidence of humans on the Tibetan plateau. Its antiquity also supported the scientists’ hunch that it did not belong to our own species. The proteins were not from modern humans; instead, they were a match to Denisovan DNA from Siberia.

With the new discovery and other recent finds, a picture of the Denisovans has grown clearer. Everything about their heads seems to have been big, from their giant molars to their thick jaws to their massive brain cases. Dr. Viola speculated adults may have weighed well over 200 pounds. “I’d assume they’d be very large and robust individuals,” he said. “These are like football players.” The discovery of Denisovans living at high altitude is intriguing for another reason: Tibetans today share a special genetic link to Denisovans.

Saturday, May 04, 2019


Five hundred years ago, a son of Christopher Columbus assembled one of the greatest libraries the world has ever known. The volumes inside were mostly lost to history. Now, a precious book summarizing the contents of the library has turned up in a manuscript collection in Denmark.

The newly discovered manuscript is "an absolutely gorgeous thing," says Edward Wilson-Lee, author of The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books — a biography of Columbus' son Hernando Colón. "It's about the size of a coffee table book. It's almost a foot thick. It's 2,000 pages long in beautifully, beautifully clear handwriting."

Hernando was the second out-of-wedlock son of Christopher Columbus. He was born of an affair that Columbus had when he was kicking around the Spanish court still waiting for the patronage that would launch his voyage westward. Because the voyage in 1492 was successful, Hernando grew up with a fair amount of power and privilege — but because he was born out of wedlock, he never quite gained the levels of prominence that his father did.

But he always wanted to prove himself his father's son in spirit. And so he undertook this bizarre, extraordinary project to build a universal library that would have every book in the world in it. And he very much saw this as a counterpart to his father's desire to circumnavigate the world. So Hernando was going to build a universal library that would circumnavigate the world of knowledge.

One of the things that Hernando realized was that collecting every book in the world — and this was during the early age of print when the number of books was accelerating rapidly — collecting all these books wouldn't really be very useful if you didn't have some way to organize and distill them all. So he paid an army of readers to essentially read every book in the library and distill it down to a short summary so that this enormous library could be at the disposal of a single person who would be able to control it.

This book, the Libro de los Epítomes, which contained the summary of the books in the library, is mentioned in an account of the library by his last librarian. And then it goes missing shortly after Hernando's death in 1539 and isn't really heard of for almost 500 years, until about three weeks ago — it turned up in a library in Copenhagen.

The person who collected this collection ... Arni Magnusson, appears to have bought Hernando's manuscript as part of a group of manuscripts because he wanted some of the other manuscripts in the same group. So it sat in this collection ... and no one really knew what it was until Hernando's story started to become slightly more widely known, and they realized what they were holding.

The most exciting thing about this is that many of the books that it summarizes will be books that are lost in every other form. Hernando was, in many ways, a kind of crazed visionary — like his father. Whilst most other book collectors of the day were collecting dusty old manuscripts of Plato and Cicero, Hernando was one of the few people to see the real potential of print.

And so he was going around collecting all of the kind of throwaway things that [were] really changing the world — so, early newspapers and weather reports and things like that — and bringing them back to his library. So this Libro de los Epítomes will capture for us the world of early print in ways that ... are often lost.

There's a project underway to digitize the manuscript and to transcribe it. It'll be translated for everyone whose 16th century Latin isn't that sharp, and it'll be made available to the public. ... It'll probably take five or seven years to actually get all of that done. So there's a lot of work to be done in identifying which books are in there and which ones are lost in every other form. ... But it'll eventually be made available to the public and contribute further to this fantastically exciting story.


Scientists in Chile say they have found a footprint dating from at least 15,600 years ago, making it the earliest such sign of man's presence in the Americas. The footprint was found at the Pilauco excavation in the city of Osorno (820 kilometers, or 500 miles, south of Santiago), where scientists have been digging since 2007.

Archeologists from the Austral University of Chile said the footprint was first spotted in 2011 next to a house. It took years for paleontologist Karen Moreno and geologist Mario Pino to reliably confirm that the print was human. "There are other human footprints in the Americas," Pino told the Osorno newspaper El Austral, "but none has been dated as far back."

He said scientists were able to do so by applying radiocarbon dating techniques to organic plant material where the print was found. Pino said the footprint appears to be that of a barefoot man weighing about 70 kilograms (155 pounds) and of the species Hominipes modernus, a relative of Homo sapiens.

The area in Chile has proven rich in fossils, including evidence of an ancestor of today's elephants and American horses, as well as of more recent human presence. The newer findings were published in the latest edition of the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One.

Saturday, April 27, 2019


A trio of researchers from the University of Leicester and the University of Southampton has found evidence that suggests the Avebury monument might have started out as a single-dwelling home.

The Avebury monument is a Neolithic site situated approximately 20 miles from the more famous monument Stonehenge. Like Stonehenge, Avebury is made mostly of large stones. In the case of Avebury, the stones are smaller and spread wider. The monument consists of both standing stones and other stones arranged in circles. There is also a much larger ring of stones encircling the other stone structures, which is itself encircled by an embankment. No one knows why the monument was built, though, as with Stonehenge, there are many theories. The site has not been excavated since the 1930s and is now designated as a World Heritage Site. In this new effort, the researchers sought to learn more about the monument by using modern technology rather than digging.

They claim that the evidence suggests that the house was built sometime around 3700 BC. They also found evidence suggesting that the stone square around the house was added later, as were the circles of stone that enclosed them both. They theorize that the site began as a simple abode for a single family, but was deemed special by those who came later. Those later arrivals apparently treated the house as a shrine after its inhabitants had passed on, and built the rings and other structures to honor them.


In the 1950s and early '60s, with the Cold War at its peak, the United States flew U2 spy planes across Europe, the Middle East, and central eastern Asia, taking images of interesting military targets. Though the missions typically connected Point A to Point B, say an air field and an important city, in many cases the camera kept recording between those spots, capturing thousands of photos of the desert, steppes, fields, and villages below. Such a collection can represent a goldmine for landscape archaeologists. indexed or scanned. Knowing the potential insight offered by the U2 images, Hammer and Ur began sifting through the materials. By analyzing thousands of high- and low-resolution frames, they discovered many historical and archeological features, including prehistoric hunting traps, 3,000-year-old irrigation canals, and 60-year-old marsh villages no longer visible today. The work, which they published in the journal Advances in Archaeological Practice, represents the first archaeological use of U2 spy plane imagery--and a new and exciting window into history.

The hours of work paid off, revealing many important archaeological features, including prehistoric hunting traps called desert kites in eastern Jordan, an Assyrian canal system in northern Iraq, and marshes in southern Iraq, case studies the researchers highlighted in their paper.

Desert kites, stone-wall structures that date back 5,000 to 8,000 years, were used to trap gazelle and other similar animals. The dry desert of eastern Jordan preserved many of them, but agricultural expansion in western Jordan dismantled or destroyed many more. The satellite images bring them back to life, showcasing a web of diamond-shaped enclosures with what look like long kite tails, offering the best view, to date, of these important hunting tools.

The second feature, the canal system in northern Iraq, provides insight into how an early empire maintained its power and governed, Hammer explains. "The Assyrians built the first large, long-lasting, multi-cultural empire of the ancient world, so many people are interested in how they organized territory, controlled people, built their huge cities, and managed the land," she says. "The irrigation system fed the royal capitals, made agricultural surplus production possible, and provided water to villages."

Finally, the U2 images of southern Iraq present the layout, size, and environmental position of Marsh Arab communities in the late 1950s and early 1960s, many of which disappeared after massive hydroelectric dams in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq impounded the rivers, and especially after the government of Saddam Hussein deliberately drained the marshes. Before that, "people lived a unique lifestyle there for thousands of years, herding water buffalo, building houses and all manner of things out of reeds, living on floating islands of reeds, planting date palms, and fishing," Hammer says. "Now we can study the spatial organization, demography, and lifestyles of these communities."

Sunday, April 21, 2019


The battle over oil and gas development across the high desert that surrounds Chaco Culture National Historical Park has been brewing for years. The campaign to curb drilling in one of the nation's oldest basins has spanned at least three presidential administrations, with concerns expanding beyond environmental impacts to the preservation of cultural landmarks in what historians say was once an economic and ceremonial hub.

Native American tribes joined environmentalists and archaeologists in calling for a reset in the San Juan Basin. And now, New Mexico's all-Democratic congressional delegation has reintroduced legislation aimed at protecting the area.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Chaco park includes what's left of an ancient civilization whose monumental architecture and cultural influences have long been a mystery. While the park represents the heart of the area, numerous archaeological sites lie well outside its boundaries.

Aside from archaeological sites containing stone structures and pottery shards, researchers say the landscape helps explain what drew people to Chaco centuries ago. They've noted less tangible features, such as unobstructed views to distant buttes or mountain peaks. Scientists agree the location offered something of a religious or ritualistic experience for the ancestors of today's Native American pueblos. Many of the structures align with celestial events, such as the summer solstice.

Supporters say passage of the latest federal bill would help permanently protect the area's archaeological resources and sensitive landscape. Federal land managers in recent years have denied the leasing of parcels within a 10-mile (16-kilometer) radius of the park, but the measure would formalize that practice for future development on federal inholdings within the area.

The proposed protection zone stretches across 1,420 square miles (3,680 square kilometers) of federal, state, private and tribal land. Congressional staffers say the bill would withdraw nearly 500 square miles (1,280 square kilometers) of minerals owned by the federal government. The New Mexico State Land Office also plans to withdraw state trust land within the buffer from future mineral development.

Critics have argued that the buffer is arbitrary. And, the bill will be a tough sell in the Republican-led U.S. Senate.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors, which represents a coalition of New Mexico tribes, has called for a moratorium on drilling around Chaco park. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has said his people cannot afford the risk of water contamination from drilling. However, the tribe hasn't banned it and a resolution to oppose hydraulic fracking expired this year without a final vote by tribal lawmakers. The legislation also would not halt existing development. According to the Bureau of Land Management, there are 133 active wells within the proposed buffer zone.

Navajo Nation lawmaker Daniel Tso. "We're still trying to fight for protection of those communities."

Members of Congress are touring Chaco this weekend and holding a field hearing Monday in Santa Fe on the impact of oil and gas drilling on air quality and sacred sites. The House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, led by Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva and New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, is expected to hear from tribal leaders, top state officials, archaeologists and other advocates. The hearing comes as the federal agency continues to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on revamping the basin's resource management plan. A draft is expected in a few months.


Dr. Jodi Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The new members announcement can be found here.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the oldest and most prestigious learned societies in the United States, and its members include more than 250 Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners. From the Academy’s website:

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences honors excellence and convenes leaders from every field of human endeavor to examine new ideas, address issues of importance to the nation and the world, and work together “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.”

Prof. Magness came to Carolina in 2003, after having previously taught at Tufts University from 1992 to 2002. She holds a B.A. in Archaeology and History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania. Her widely acclaimed publications include The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eerdmans 2002), The Archaeology of the Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine (Eisenbrauns 2003), and The Archaeology of the Holy Land from the Destruction of Solomon’s Temple to the Muslim Conquest (Cambridge 2012).

She is also the current President of the Archaeological Institute of America (2017-2019). She has participated in over 20 different archaeological excavations in Israel and Greece, and since 2011 she has directed excavations at the site of Huqoq in Galilee (

We congratulate Jodi on this tremendous honor!


Armand Mijares didn’t initially realize the significance of what he had found, but it would turn out to change the paleoanthropologist’s life – and rewrite human history.

At an archaeological site on the Philippine island of Luzon in 2007, his team unearthed a wide array of ancient animal bones, dated to be about 67,000 years old. The researchers couldn’t identify the fossils out in the field, so Dr. Mijares sent them to a zoologist colleague.

“He called me on my cellphone” one evening, recalls Dr. Mijares, an associate professor at the University of the Philippines. “He called me, ‘Hey, hi mate, you have human remains!’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘You have one human remain.’”

Among the ancient bones was a single human toe bone. But which human species did it belong to?

Now, after studying more hominin bones discovered at the site in 2011 and 2015, the researchers have come to a history-shaking conclusion: A human species previously unknown to science once lived on Luzon. The researchers introduced the new species, dubbed Homo luzonensis, in a paper published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

Monday, April 01, 2019


Italy’s culture minister, handed over nearly 800 artifacts to Luo Shugang, China’s minister of culture, at a meeting at the National Roman Museum Palazzo Altemps, according to a CNN report. The artifacts came to light when they were put up for sale in a town in northern Italy, and were recovered by cultural heritage authorities.

The objects are thought to have been looted from regions across China, and range in age from the Neolithic period (3500–1700 B.C.) through the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368–1664). Representatives of the two countries also signed a symbolic agreement to work together to combat

Monday, March 25, 2019


Skara Brae women archaeologists who were written out of history. The photographs were taken at Skara Brae, probably in 1929. An "excavation" on social media has provided names for four women shown in pictures of a dig in Orkney.
The women - shown in photographs taken in 1929 - had been assumed to be tourists or visitors.

But since Prof Dan Hicks, from the University of Oxford, tweeted the images they have been named as archaeologists working on the site. Those behind the search say it shows how women have been written out of the history of archaeology.

Another version of the picture shows excavator Prof Gordon Childe in a trench. One of the women in the image is clearly shown holding a trowel. Dr Antonia Thomas from the University of the Highlands and Islands told BBC Radio Orkney the photographs were "brilliant". But highly staged.

She says: "Everybody on site is looking towards Gordon Childe", who led the excavation of Skara Brae in 1928 and 1929. The Neolithic village at the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Orkney's mainland had first been uncovered by storms towards the end of the 19th Century. "But just in the foreground, within the trench area, are two women who are laughing, and looking toward Gordon Childe as well." The Neolithic village of Skara Brae in Orkney was uncovered by storms at the end of the nineteenth century One of the women is clearly holding a trowel, and close examination of their shoes suggests they are covered in mud and dust. Dr Mairi Davies from Historic Environment Scotland explained that despite the preconceptions, women were active in archaeology at the time.

"In the arts faculty at that time in some years there were actually more female students than male. And his classes reflected that gender balance. "So we know that there were several women in Prof Childe's classes at Edinburgh. And we know that some went on to be very active field archaeologists."


Now, an article published in the journal L'Anthropologie tells how University of Barcelona researchers found -in the site of Hort de la Bequera (Margalef de Montsant, Priorat)-, an artistic piece from 12,500 years ago in which humans and birds try to interact in a pictorial scene with exceptional traits: figures seem to star a narration on hunting and motherhood.

The piece they found is a 30-centimeter long limestone which shows two human figures and two birds, which the researchers identified as cranes. Since they found the piece in 2011, they underwent all cleaning, restoration and 3D copying procedures to study it in detail. Those figures were engraved in the stone board with a flint tool so that they created an organized composition compared to the other pieces of the same period.

"This is one of the few found scenes so far which suggest the birth of a narrative art in Europe, and this theme is unique, since it combines an image of hunting and a motherhood one: a birth with its young one," says the first signer of the article, ICREA researcher and lecturer at the UB Inés Domingo. "In the represented scene the birds catch the attention, they are copied or chased by two human figures," continues Domingo. "We do not know the meaning of the scene for prehistoric peoples, but what it says is that not only they were regarded as preys but also as a symbol for European Palaeolithic societies," she continues.

"We do not doubt this is an exceptional milestone in European Palaeolithic rock art due its singularity, its excellent conservation and the chances to study it within a general context of excavation," say the authors of the article; members of the Prehistoric Studies and Research Seminar (SERP).

The director of the excavation, Pilar García Argüelles notes that "the findings of the engraved scene are exceptional, and proves the importance of the site and the area regarding Palaeolithic art in the peninsular north-east area; where we can find nearby the only Palaeolithic cave engraving in Catalonia, the deer in the cave of Taverna (Margalef de Montsant), and about 40 kilometers away there is Molí del Salt (Vimbodí), with an interesting series of stone blocks with engraved animals and a representation of huts."

The first to identify the engraving was the co-director of the excavation, Jordi Nadal, who remembers that moment with excitement: "Since the first moment I was aware of the importance of this finding, of its uniqueness; these things do not happen very often, this is seeing a figure that has been forgotten and buried for 12,500 years."


Rome's birthday celebrations for Natale di Roma include historical re-enactments including a costumed parade and gladiator fights. Rome celebrates its 2,772nd birthday on 21 April which this year coincides with Easter Sunday festivities.

Known as Natale di Roma, the annual birthday celebration is based on the legendary founding of Rome by Romulus in 753 BC.

Events are centered in the Circus Maximus and include the trench-digging ritual, known as the tracciato del solco, which recalls the founding of ancient Roman towns when a trench was dug and offerings thrown into it to encourage the gods to watch over the inhabitants.

Other re-enactments include the agricultural Palilia ceremony. Dating back to before the founding of Rome, the ceremony was held in honor of the goddess Pales, protector of flocks and herds, and involved vestal virgins distributing straw and the ashes and blood of sacrificed animals before jumping over a bonfire three times.
The Circus Maximus also hosts historical re-enactments including gladiator fights, aimed at children.

The main event each year however is a costumed parade, featuring more than 2,000 gladiators, senators, vestal virgins and priestesses, which begins and ends at the Circus Maximus. The pageant is organized by the Gruppo Storico Romano, an historical dramatic society which, for more than 20 years, has brought history to life by re-enacting battles, historic events, and displays of ancient theater and dance in the city center.


Fashion house Gucci to sponsor restoration of Roman cliff from which traitors were flung to their deaths Even by the bloody standards of the ancient Romans, it was a particularly grisly way to die. The Tarpeian Rock is a precipitous cliff in the heart of Rome from where, during Roman times, traitors, perjurors and larcenous slaves were hurled to their deaths.

Now, in an unlikely marriage between the worlds of high fashion and ancient history, the cliff, which still exists, is to be restored with the help of the Florentine fashion brand Gucci.

Paths around the cliff will be cleared and a new lighting system installed in what is being described as a “restyling” of the area. Gucci has not divulged how much it will contribute, but the project will take a year and a half to complete. “According to history, up to the first century AD traitors were sentenced to death from the cliff to the underlying Roman Forum, symbolically expelled from the city.

“Today the cliff, made mainly of tufa, a porous rock, carved and dug over the centuries, is a unique natural space,” the fashion house said. The restoration is just the latest example of wealthy Italian fashion brands coming to the rescue of Rome’s crumbling cultural heritage.

The sweeping stone staircase, built between 1723 and 1726, has featured in many films, most notably Roman Holiday, the 1953 romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Work on the area, where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by senators on the Ides of March in 44BC, will be completed towards the end of 2022, according to Virginia Raggi, the mayor of Rome.

Bulgari will reportedly contribute around €800,000 to the site, which is home to a large population of feral cats and a cat sanctuary.


The underground vaults of Jerusalem’s Nea Church, a large complex erected by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, have remained closed to visitors since their excavation in the 1970s. One of Jerusalem’s great archaeological wonders, long closed to the public, may soon be open to visitors for the first time since it was excavated in the 1970s. The New Church of the Theotokos, commonly referred to as the Nea Church, was a large Byzantine church constructed in sixth-century Jerusalem that has sat in ruins for a thousand years.

Byzantine Emperor Justinian I ordered the construction of the church in A.D. 534 as part of a vast imperial construction campaign, which was considered an engineering triumph by contemporary and modern historians but has been ignored by the general public.

When it was first constructed, the Nea Church was a massive edifice, rivaling the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in Christendom, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried. Both churches appear on the Madaba Mosaic, a sixth-century map depicting Jerusalem, in Jordan’s Church of Saint George in Madaba. Emperor Justinian’s chronicler, Procopius of Caesarea, said the emperor built the church “with which no other can be compared,” and detailed how Justinian “gave orders that it be built on the highest of the hills, specifying what the length and breadth of the building should be.”

Now, almost half a century after Israeli archaeologists plumbed its depths, a group of activists is pushing for the church's restoration and opening to visitors.

Although the company describes the Nea Church as a “unique architectural monument in Jerusalem,” most of the enormous site has remained closed to visitors since Nahman Avigad's archaeological excavations ended in 1981. Avigad’s study of the site was part of a large number of excavations carried out by Israeli archaeologists in the Jewish Quarter after Israel captured Jerusalem's Old City in the 1967 war. Unlike other discoveries, such as a Roman-era neighborhood and marketplace and ancient fortifications, the Nea Church was never developed for tourists.

The church complex included a hostel for Christian pilgrims to the holy city, a monastery and a hospital. Like King Herod’s Temple Mount, atop which the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque stand today, Justinian had massive stone vaults constructed to provide the church a level foundation. These were plastered over and used as enormous underground cisterns. Archaeologists discovered a Greek inscription exalting the emperor inside the cisterns.

But Daniel Shukrun, secretary of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter, told Al-Monitor that the Nea Church vaults are presently unsafe for the general public. In late 2017, the company conducted a major clean-up operation inside the subterranean chambers to clear out years of accumulated bat droppings and refuse, but the area remains unsuitable for tourists, he said. He cautioned that while the company is interested in developing the church, and the wheels are now in motion, the Nea Church restoration project would cost an enormous, as yet indeterminate sum.