Saturday, September 05, 2009

ISRAEL -- 3700 year old fortification uncovered!

Israeli archaeologists say they have uncovered the oldest example of massive fortifications ever found in Jerusalem. The Israel Antiquities Authority says the 3,700-year-old wall was built by the ancient Canaanites as a protected passage from a hilltop fortress to a spring.

Excavation director Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa says this is the first time such significant construction has been discovered from before the time of the monumental building projects of King Herod 2,000 years ago. The 26-foot-high wall is part of the fortification that archaeologists believe protected the city's Canaanite residents from marauders. Reich said a 79-foot section of the wall has been uncovered, and more likely remains hidden.

The Canaanite walls the archaeologists discovered are about two meters apart, rise to a height of some eight meters in some places and are made of gigantic stones, three to four meters thick. About 24 meters have been exposed, but excavators say this is only one-third of their original length. The walls have been dated by pottery to the Middle Bronze Age, better known in Israel as the 'Period of the
Patriarchs.' At that time, Jerusalem was a kind of city-state - a fortress surrounded by farming plots. The massive nature of the fortifications has convinced archaeologists that the city was apparently larger and stronger than they had previously believed.

"To move such large stones, you need know-how and you need power," Reich says, "because a group of people doing the building needs a society to support them economically and a ruler to tell one group to work and the other group to support them."

Sources: Haaretz, BBC News (2 September), Associated Press (3
September 2009)

Friday, September 04, 2009


'Very, very primitive': Debbie Argue compared bone fragments from the hobbits to other hominids. They were just one metre tall with very long arms, no chins, wrist bones like gorillas and extremely long feet.

In 2003, archaeologists excavating in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores made a discovery that forced scientists to completely rethink conventional theories of human evolution.

They reported the discovery of a new species of human, one that lived as recently as 12,000 years ago, at the same time as modern humans.

But others disagreed, arguing the one-meter high skeleton was a modern human that suffered from a deformity known as microcephaly.

The debate has raged ever since. But Debbie Argue, a PhD student from the ANU's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, believes she has settled the question by comparing bone fragments from the hobbits to other hominids.

"We discovered that Homo floresiensis ranged off the family tree almost at the beginning of the evolution of our genus, Homo."So that would have been over two million years ago, and as such a very, very primitive being."

"Previous to this we thought that what came out of Africa had modern body proportions and an expanded brain case, but this is a much more primitive being.

"So here we were sharing the planet where we thought we'd been the only people that survived after the end of the Neanderthals."


A letter scratched into a clay tablet reveals a desperate plea for reinforcements that came just too late. Alone, petrified and facing almost certain death, the ancient Assyrian leader Mannu-ki-Libbali scrawled a call for help to his commander, but his cry for extra troops came too late.

Soon after it was sent, the ancient city of Tushan was overrun by Babylonian
invaders, its temples and palaces pillaged, then torn down or set aflame.

The letter, scratched into a clay tablet in 630 BC, may never have reached its intended recipient. But more than 2,500 years later it has been unearthed almost intact by archaeologists, offering an unprecedented glimpse into the downfall of the one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world.

In the 30-line letter, the author despairs that he lacks the necessary equipment and manpower to stave off the enemy, suggesting that the issue of military resources may be as old as warfare itself.

At its height, in 668-627BC, the Assyrian Empire spanned from Egypt to Iran, and encompassed most of modern Turkey. Tushan, a bustling trade centre and the regional capital, would have been one the empire's richest cities.

But in its latter years, the empire, mired in corruption and too large to sustain, ultimately fell to an aggressive enemy campaign. The invasion of Tushan is believed to have marked a tipping point in its dissolution.

John MacGinnis, an archaeologist from the University of Cambridge who led the excavation, said: "The letter is written during the process of downfall.The chances of finding something like this are unbelievably small."

It is apparent that all of the above have already fled the city and that he has been left with a near-impossible task. "Nobody mentioned in this letter, not one of them is there!" he writes. "How can I command?"

Expecting the imminent arrival of the Babylonians, armed with arrows,spears, boulders and battle rams, the letter ends with the despairing declaration: "Death will come out of it! No one will escape. I am done!"

Irving Finkel, a British Museum specialist in Assyrian history, said that the tablet captured an epic event. "It has almost a Hollywood quality, this sense of the enemy are coming. I can hear their hooves," he said.

After the invasion, the Assyrian territory was carved up between the Babylonians, and their allies the Medes and the Cimmerians. Half a century later it would be absorbed into the Persian Empire, under Cyrus the Great.

The letter is written on a clay tablet in ancient Assyrian, using a script called cuneiform based purely on lines and triangles. It was written by jabbing a quill with a triangular-shaped nib into wet clay. Different letters were formed by superimposing identical triangles in different combinations.