Sunday, July 08, 2007

Books for Summer Reading

Twice a year I like to pull together my reading and recommend archaeological-theme books to friends. I recently received a letter from one of our Archaeological Associates of Greenwich members who reads our Newsletter where these appear. She looks forward to my picks so it just dawned on me the list might be appropriate for my blog.
This summer its mostly historical novels:
The Chinese Nail Murders by Robert Van Gulik, last in the series about 13th century China. A Spectacle of Corruption by David Liss set in 18th century London. The Diamond by Julie Baumgold, a novel but based on the diaries of Napoleon’s biographer with intimate views of the Bourbons, Napoleon and his wives. Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende captures the madhouse of California’s Gold Rush days with a Chilean heroine. Purity of Blood by Arturo Perez-Reverte, the 2nd in the 17th century literary adventures of intriguing Captain Alatriste.

A delightful combination of Irish Folklore and modern archaeology can be found in Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart. And finally history and archaeology: Peter Tremaine’s Act of Mercy: A Mystery of Ancient Ireland, once again featuring an intelligent heroine, Sister Fidelman, advocate of the Irish law courts in AD 666. Good series!

Non fiction: 1491 by Charles Mann; be careful because he doesn’t get Cahokia Mounds right but the reminder of what went on in the New World before the Europeans arrived is riveting. The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory. by J. M. (Jim) Adovasio Olga Soffer & Jake Page. Excellent!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Archaeology shows the real life of GLADIATORS

Gladiators were bean-eating vegetarians who fought barefoot, participated in refereed matches and suffered floggings if they became inebriated or behaved inappropriately with women, new findings suggest.

"If you're operating a gladiator operation and you have someone like Mel Gibson fighting for you, you're not just going to kill him off," said Stephen Dyson, a professor of classics at the University of Buffalo, in reaction to the news.

Scientists at the University of Muenster in Germany announced earlier this month that they had also identified what could be one of the world' earliest training manuals - an instructional tablet for the treatment of gladiators.The nearly 6-foot-high, 3-foot-wide marble object "is a sensation," according to Elmar Schwertheim, an archaeologist who led the research teamthat recently deciphered the writing on the tablet. It was first excavated in 2003 in Alexandria Troas, Turkey.

Hadrian, the Roman emperor from 117 to 138 A.D., laid out the rules, which called for flogging if the athletes were "undisciplined," in ways such as "drinking too much or womanizing." The stone tablet also mentions that entry fees were collected for discus and javelin throwing events. Cities that embezzled such money and prize fees
were to be punished with sanctions.

Translated tombstone inscriptions, which indicated that some gladiators survived more than 100 fights. Injuries still detectable on the skeletons show bouts were organized, conducted barefoot and likely involved a referee. Dyson, who formerly served as the president of the Archaeological Institute of America, said many fights operated within circus-like groups that traveled from city to city. Out of 68 skeletons analyzed at the Turkish burial site, however, all men ranged in age from 20 to 30, except for one individual who died at 55.The tallest gladiators measured around 5 feet 5 inches tall.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Agriculture was taking root in South America almost as early as the first farmers were breaking ground in the Middle East, research indicates. Evidence that squash was being grown nearly 10,000 years ago, in what is now Peru, is reported in the journal Science. A team
led by anthropologist Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University also uncovered remains of peanuts from 7,600 years ago and cotton dated to 5,500 years ago in the floors and hearths of sites in the Nanchoc valley of northern Peru.

"We believe the development of agriculture by the Nanchoc people served as a catalyst for cultural and social changes that eventually led to intensified agriculture, institutionalised political power and new towns in the Andean highlands and along the coast 4,000 to 5,500
years ago," Mr Dillehay said. The earliest evidence of growing wheat, barley and legumes dates to about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago in the Middle East. "The plants we found in northern Peru did not typically grow in the wild in that area," Mr Dillehay said. "We believe they must have therefore been domesticated elsewhere first and then brought to this valley by traders or mobile horticulturists."

"The use of domesticated plants goes along with broader cultural changes we believe existed at that time in this area, such as people staying in one place, developing irrigation and other water management techniques, creating public ceremonials, building mounds and obtaining and saving exotic artifacts," Dillehay said.

"We always thought there was a gap of several thousand years before agriculture began in the New World," said archeologist Jack Rossen of Ithaca College in New York, one of the authors of the report. The new find "is bringing it into line with dates from the Old World." Researchers now know that domestication of crops occurred independently in at least 10 locations around the world, including Africa, southern India and New Guinea.


Combining the fields of genetics and archeology, scientists have found that cat domestication occurred near the beginning of human civilization, long before many previous archaeological estimates. Published in the journal Science, the research used DNA from modern
house cats to trace the origin of domestic cats back to a specific time and region that coincided with the settlement of humans in the Middle East region known as the Fertile Crescent.

In 2004, French researchers found the remains of a cat buried with a human who died roughly 9,500 years ago on the island of Cyprus, where there are no native wildcat species. This discovery placed the association between humans and cats much further back in history than previously thought.

"Mankind settled down into agricultural villages for the first time about 12,000 years ago, developing many domestic cereals and plants," said Stephen O'Brien, one of the study's authors. "That's about the time and exact same place that cats walked out of woods and did
something unusual: act friendly.... Cats provided two things to early farmers: companionship and the ability to dispatch rodents that were attacking grain stores, which was critical for early farmers to get through winters," O'Brien said. This cooperative relationship may explain why
domestic cats, unlike dogs and their ancestral relatives, wolves, have not evolved very far from wildcat species.