Sunday, November 20, 2016


A number of powerful women have shaped the course of history with their intelligence, strength, passion, and leadership qualities. They have challenged the status quo, made lasting reforms, and many have presided over their countries for decades, ushering in prosperity and cultural revolutions. While this list is certainly subjective, it tries to take into account the actual power and the impact of each person.

Notably, the United Kingdom has three entries in the top ten, an eye-catching fact, considering that a monarchy managed to achieve such a feminist feat, and yet the United States, which always considered itself as the most advanced democratic society ever, hasn’t been able to elect a female leader in all of its independent existence so far.

15. Zenobia (240-275) was a queen of the Palmyrene Empire in Syria who challenged the authority of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century. She conquered Egypt, Anatolia, Lebanon and Roman Judea until finally being defeated by the Roman emperor Aurelian.

14. Cleopatra (69-30 BC) was the last Pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt, known for her superior intelligence and improving its country’s standing and economy. She is also famous in popular culture for her love affairs with Roman leaders Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony.

13. Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi (1828-1858) was the queen of India’s Jhansi State, and one of the leaders of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as India’s First War of Independence against British rule. Referred to as “the Indian Joan of Arc”, Rani Lakshmibai became a symbol of resistance for leading her army in first direct confrontations with the occupiers.

12. Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was a French heroine and a saint to Roman Catholics. She claimed to have mystical visions and rallied French troops to defeat the English in the Battle of Orleans among others. She was eventually betrayed to the English and burned at the stake. Her unflinching faith and role in liberating the French from the English invasion has accorded Joan of Arc mythic status.

11. Borte Ujin (1161-1230) was the wife of Genghis Khan and empress of the Mongolian Empire, the largest land empire in history. She was one of Genghis Khan’s most trusted advisors and ruled the Mongol homeland in the long periods when he’d be away at war.

10. Indira Ghandi (1917 - 1984) was the first and only female Prime Minister of India, serving 4 terms between 1966-1984, when she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. She was a controversial but very powerful figure, winning a war with Pakistan, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. She was murdered by her bodyguards over her order to storm their holy temple during an insurgency four months prior.

9. Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 1979 and 1990, the first woman to hold this office. She was the longest-serving British PM of the 20th century, dubbed the “Iron Lady” by the Soviets for her hardheadedness. She won a popular victory over Argentina in the 1982 Falklands War, but her economic policies had mixed support, as she promoted a free market economy and confronted the power of the labor unions.

8. Theodora (500-548) was a highly influential Empress of the Byzantine Empire and a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Married to Emperor Justinian I, she was his most trusted advisor and used him to achieve her purposes. She controlled foreign affairs and legislation, violently put down riots, and, notably, fought for the rights of women, passing anti-trafficking laws and improving divorce proceedings.

7. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was the Queen of the United Kingdom, ruling over a vast British Empire that stretched across six continents for 63 years, the second longest reign in its country’s history (the longest belonging to the current Queen Elizabeth II). Her rule was so definitive that the period has come to be known as the “Victorian Era”. Under her rule, slavery was abolished throughout all British colonies and voting rights granted to most British men. She also made reforms in labor conditions and presided over significant cultural, political, and military changes in her Empire.

6. Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) was the Chinese Emperor’s mother and regent who essentially ruled China for 47 years from 1861 until 1908. She instituted technological and military reforms, overhauled the corrupt bureaucracy, and supported anti-Western attitudes, including the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901.

5. Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-1780) was a Hapsburg Empress who reigned for 40 years and controlled a large part of Europe, including Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, and parts of Italy. She had sixteen children, who also became key power players like the Queen of France, the Queen of Naples and Sicily as well as two Holy Roman Emperors. Empress Maria Theresa is known for her reforms in education like making it mandatory, establishing a Royal Academy of Science and Literature in Brussels, and supporting scientific research. She also raised taxes and made reforms in commerce, as well as strengthened the Austrian military (doubling it).

4. Hatshepsut (1508 BC - 1458 BC) was an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh, considered to be one of its country’s most successful rulers. She oversaw major building projects, military campaigns into Nubia, Syria and Levant and rebuilt broken trade networks.

3. Catherine the Great (1729-1796), also known as Catherine II, was undoubtedly one of history’s most famous women. Born in Poland, as a German princess, she attained rule of Russia through marriage and held on to it for 34 years (especially after she plotted to overthrow her husband and assumed complete power). She is responsible for continuing Peter the Great’s work in modernizing Russia, bringing it more in line with the West’s Enlightenment ideas. She also defeated the Ottoman Empire in two big wars and greatly expanded Russia’s Empire over three continents (including the colonization of Alaska). She made legislative reforms, put down the dangerous Pugachev Rebellion and was known for a risqué personal life. Her rule is regarded as the Golden Age of the Russian Empire.

2. Empress Wu Zetian (624-705) was the only female Emperor in Chinese history, living during the Tang Dynasty. Her rule is known for expanding the Chinese empire, economic prosperity, and education reform. She was also known as a patron of Buddhism. She did have her detractors who accused her of ruthlessness and cruelty, perhaps going as far as killing her daughter and son as part of a political intrigue.

1. Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was one of most powerful English monarchs ever. Never married and called the “Virgin Queen,” the intellectual Elizabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada and ruled successfully for so long that her reign from 1558 until 1603 is known as the “Elizabethan Era”. As a monarch, the last of the Tudor dynasty, she encouraged major cultural changes like the Renaissance and the transformation of England into a Protestant country.


Scientists often look at the peopling of Australia as a sort of benchmark for when modern humans were spreading out of Africa and establishing populations across the globe. But the details of that story are still hotly debated. Estimates of when the first people arrived on the continent range from 45,000 to 60,000 years ago and researchers debate where these first Australians went next and how they lived. But an artifact-filled ancient rock shelter in the southern interior of Australia may help archaeologists clarify that story.

Radiocarbon dating suggests the cliff-side shelter, called Warratyi, may have first been inhabited some 49,000 years ago, according to a paper published recently in the journal Nature. And, as the paper's authors assert humans first arrived in northwest Australia some 50,000 years ago, that means humans may have hustled well over 1,000 miles over the course of just about a millennium.

This also would place humans in the continent's interior nearly 10,000 years earlier than other archaeological evidence has suggested, study lead author Giles Hamm of La Trobe University in Melbourne said in a Nature podcast. Previously researchers thought humans began spreading along the then-rainforested coasts of Australia upon arrival, populating the less lush interior no earlier than 40,000 years ago. But, as the Warratyi shelter is over 100 miles inland, that may not have been the case.

"It's potentially a landmark publication," Michael Petraglia, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany who was not part of the study, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "It's a very important new site and a very important new excavation," he says of the new study. "It's chock full of new information."

But Dr. Petraglia urges caution. "While I welcome this new excavation in an important area," he says, "It's only about three feet of sediment that represents more than 40,000 years of history." And because the site is "pretty low-resolution" and it's just one site, Petraglia says more sites will help put these new artifacts into context. Still, Petraglia says the complex tools found at the site suggest that these first Australians were highly innovative and culturally advanced when they first arrived.

Among the oldest artifacts at the site, the researchers found red ocher on some tools suggesting the earliest known use of a pigment used today in cultural body adornment. The team also found tools made of bone that they dated to be between 38,000 and 40,000 years old, and tools used just a few thousand years later that were made by attaching multiple pieces, like a sharp stone to a shaft, for example.

In many regions, large animals began going extinct when humans arrived on the scene. But scientists have yet to agree whether humans had a hand in megafaunal extinctions or if, as the other popular theory suggests, climate change killed them off. But the Warratyi shelter could suggest new ideas. Among the prehistoric tools, Dr. Hamm and his colleagues found a bone belonging to a Diprotodon optatum, a massive extinct herbivore thought to be the largest marsupial to have ever existed. It's unlikely this humongous animal clambered up the rocks itself, so the researchers think humans must have carried the bone up some 46,000 years ago.

It's unclear whether humans hunted the animal thought to weigh more than 6,000 pounds. But the researchers also found fragments of eggshells from the extinct, large flightless bird Genyornis newtoni among the oldest artifacts at the site. And they think some of those shells were burnt, suggesting the first Australians were already cooking up the birds' eggs.

"Many have argued that humans played no role in the extinction of Australia’s megafauna," Dr. Codding says. But based on the artifacts found associated with the animals' remains, "the authors of this paper suggest otherwise." "If this finding is supported by further investigations," he says, "this will be a game-changer for Australian prehistory."


New Scientist reports that a piece of bone jewelry dated to more than 46,000 years ago has been discovered in a rock shelter in the Kimberley region of Western Australia by Sue O’Connor of Australian National University.

Microscopic analysis, conducted by her colleague Michelle Langley, revealed that the pointed kangaroo leg bone bears traces of red ocher on its ends and scrape marks made by stone tools. The ornament was probably worn through the nasal septum.

“I’ve met Indigenous Australians who remember their granddads wearing nose bones for special occasions,” said Langley. Depending upon the group, nose bones may have been worn by everyone, or may have been limited to elders. Langley explained that before the nose bone was found, it had been thought that the oldest bone tools and ornaments in Australia were only about 20,000 years old.

Some scholars had suggested that bone-tool technology had been lost on the journey from Africa some 60,000 years ago. “This shows that the first people in Australia were just as capable as those everywhere else of complex actions,” commented Ian Lilley of the University of Queensland. To read about early rock art in Australia, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."

--from Archaeology Magazine Nov-Dec '16


In 1721, missionary Hans Egede sailed a ship called The Hope from Norway to Greenland, seeking Norse farmers whom Europeans hadn't heard from in 200 years in order to convert them to Protestantism. He explored iceberg-dotted fjords that gave way to gentle valleys, and silver lakes that shimmered below the massive ice cap. But when he asked the Inuit hunters he met about the Norse, they showed him crumbling stone church walls: the only remnants of 500 years of occupation. "What has been the fate of so many human beings, so long cut off from all intercourse with the more civilized world?" Egede wrote in an account of the journey. "Were they destroyed by an invasion of the natives … [or] perished by the inclemency of the climate, and the sterility of the soil?"

Archaeologists still wonder today. No chapter of Arctic history is more mysterious than the disappearance of these Norse settlements sometime in the 15th century. Theories for the colony's failure have included everything from sinister Basque pirates to the Black Plague. But historians have usually pinned most responsibility on the Norse themselves, arguing that they failed to adapt to a changing climate. The Norse settled Greenland from Iceland during a warm period around 1000 C.E. But even as a chilly era called the Little Ice Age set in, the story goes, they clung to raising livestock and church-building while squandering natural resources like soil and timber. Meanwhile, the seal-hunting, whale-eating Inuit survived in the very same environment.

Over the last decade, however, new excavations across the North Atlantic have forced archaeologists to revise some of these long-held views. An international research collective called the North Atlantic Biocultural Organization (NABO) has accumulated precise new data on ancient settlement patterns, diet, and landscape. The findings suggest that the Greenland Norse focused less on livestock and more on trade, especially in walrus ivory, and that for food they relied more on the sea than on their pastures. There's no doubt that climate stressed the colony, but the emerging narrative is not of an agricultural society short on food, but a hunting society short on labor and susceptible to catastrophes at sea and social unrest.

Historian Poul Holm of Trinity College in Dublin lauds the new picture, which reveals that the Greenland Norse were "not a civilization stuck in their ways." To NABO archaeologist George Hambrecht of the University of Maryland in College Park, "The new story is that they adapted but they failed anyway."

Ironically, just as this new picture is emerging, climate change once again threatens Norse settlements—or what's left of them. Organic artifacts like clothing and animal bones, preserved for centuries in the deep freeze of the permafrost, are decaying rapidly as rising temperatures thaw the soil. "It's horrifying. Just at the time we can do something with all this data, it is disappearing under our feet," Holm says.


Units of the 9th Armoured Division and the Hashed al-Ashaeri (tribal militia) are beginning to advance to liberate the villages of Abbas Rajab and Al-Nomaniyah that are near Nimrud.

Nimrud was one of the great centers of the ancient Middle East. Founded in the 13th Century BC, it became the capital of the Assyrian empire, whose rulers built vast palaces and monuments that have drawn archaeologists from around the world for more than 150 years.
Many of its monumental stone sculptures and reliefs were taken way for display in museums around the world but some of the more massive structures remained in place when the jihadists swept through in mid-2014.

In April last year, IS posted video on the internet of its fighters sledgehammering monuments before planting explosives around the site and blowing it up. It was part of a campaign of destruction by the jihadists against heritage sites under their control that also took in ancient Nineveh on the outskirts of Mosul, Hatra in the desert to the south and Palmyra in neighboring Syria,

IS says the ancient monuments are idols that violate the teachings of its extreme form of Sunni Islam. But that has not stopped the group from trafficking artifacts it purports to revile on the black market to fund its operations. It is unclear what still remains of Nimrud's ancient ruins as Iraqi forces move closer.

But it is just one of a number of treasured heritage sites that are threatened with further damage by the offensive that the government launched in October '16 to retake Mosul, the jihadists' last major stronghold in Iraq.

The area where ancient Hatra is located may see fighting between IS and pro-government militias who aim to retake the town of Tal Afar, which commands Mosul's western approaches. Ancient Nineveh is also in the path of advancing troops.


Scientists headed by Professor Peter Pfälzner from the University of Tübingen and Dr. Hasan Qasim from the Directorate of Antiquities in Dohuk conducted the excavation work in Bassetki between August and October 2016. As a result, they were able to preempt the construction work on a highway on this land.

The former significance of the settlement can be seen from the finds discovered during the excavation work. The city already had a wall running around the upper part of the town from approx. 2700 BC onward in order to protect its residents from invaders. Large stone structures were erected there in about 1800 BC. The researchers also found fragments of Assyrian cuneiform tablets dating from about 1300 BC, which suggested the existence of a temple dedicated to the Mesopotamian weather god Adad on this site. There was a lower town about one kilometer long outside the city center. Using geomagnetic resistance measurements, the archeologists discovered indications of an extensive road network, various residential districts, grand houses and a kind of palatial building dating from the Bronze Age. The residents buried their dead at a cemetery outside the city. The settlement was connected to the neighboring regions of Mesopotamia and Anatolia via an overland roadway dating from about 1800 BC.

Bassetki was only known to the general public in the past because of the "Bassetki statue," which was discovered there by chance in 1975. This is a fragment of a bronze figure of the Akkadian god-king Naram-Sin (about 2250 BC). The discovery was stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad during the Iraq War in 2003, but was later rediscovered by US soldiers. Up until now, researchers were unable to explain the location of the find. The archeologists have now been able to substantiate their assumption that an important outpost of Akkadian culture may have been located there.

Although the excavation site is only 45 kilometers from territory controlled by the Islamic State (IS), it was possible to conduct the archeological work without any disturbances. "The protection of our employees is always our top priority. Despite the geographical proximity to IS, there's a great deal of security and stability in the Kurdish autonomous areas in Iraq," said Professor Peter Pfälzner, Director of the Department of Near Eastern Archaeology at the IANES of the University of Tübingen. The research team consisting of 30 people lived in the city of Dohuk, which is only 60 kilometers north of Mosul, during the excavation work.

In another project being handled by the "ResourceCultures" collaborative research center (SFB 1070), Pfälzner's team has been completing an archeological inspection of territory in the complete area surrounding Bassetki as far as the Turkish and Syrian borders since 2013 -- and 300 previously unknown sites have been discovered. The excavations and the research work in the region are due to be continued during the summer of 2017. "The area around Bassetki is proving to be an unexpectedly rich cultural region, which was located at the crossroads of communication ways between the Mesopotamian, Syrian and Anatolian cultures during the Bronze Age. We're therefore planning to establish a long-term archeological research project in the region in conjunction with our Kurdish colleagues," says Pfälzner. The excavation work is being funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

Story Source:


Archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, working with Egypt’s Ministry of State for Antiquities, have exposed the ruins of what was once a grand hall some 70 feet long and 13 feet wide. This work was partly funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society. The finely plastered, whitewashed walls were decorated with more than 120 incised drawings of boats, each slightly different from the next. Some were simple outlines of hulls curved like crescent moons. Others were more elaborate, showing a mast and sails and oarsmen. Most were crowded together, with many touching or overlapping.

At first, Wegner and his team had no idea what this building might have been used for. “We were quite mystified,” he says. “We were expecting it to be a tomb.” But the clues they’ve uncovered suggest it was constructed to bury a large wooden boat that had been used in a royal funeral, in line with a tradition that stretches back to the earliest days of dynastic Egypt.

As a graduate student, Wegner participated in an excavation at Abydos that found 14 wooden vessels—some as long as 75 feet— from about 3000 B.C. All lay in mud-brick structures arrayed outside the funerary complex of a 1st-dynasty king. Wegner sees evidence of a similar scheme at this site, known as south Abydos.

When his crew dug a test trench to find the floor of the building with the boat sketches, they found a gentle curve—the perfect shape to cradle a boat’s hull. They also found a few pieces of wood that were badly decayed and ravaged by insects. Wegner believes these are the remaining scraps of a boat that was looted in antiquity for its lumber. Since the boat had a royal connection, the lumber probably included expensive cedar planks imported from Lebanon—very much worth stealing, especially in a country where trees of any kind are scarce.

The boat would have been built at the height of the 12th dynasty, when Egypt sent military campaigns to both the Levant in the north and Nubia in the south. During this period of great wealth and power, the king must have had money to burn on any number of monumental projects—including more than one potential burial place. Each required an enormous investment of resources and reflected very different designs.

See National Geographic site for the full story.


When humans first wandered out of Africa more than 50,000 years ago, they soon struggled with strange and hostile surroundings, armed with little more than stone tools. Now a study suggests they got help from an unlikely source: trysts with the neighbors.

Evidence gleaned from DNA shows our species, Homo sapiens, benefited from mixing it up with Neanderthals and another human relative, the Denisovans. Both Neanderthals and Denisovans were well ensconced in other parts of the world when modern humans arrived. By pairing off and having children with these not-quite-human creatures, modern humans quickly acquired DNA that helped them adapt to their new homes, according to a study in this week’s Current Biology.

Mixing with other species “wasn’t just some curious feature of human history,” says study co-author Joshua Akey of the University of Washington in Seattle. "(It) actually had consequences, and it helped our ancestors survive and reproduce.”


Sittaford Stone Circle, located in Devon (England) was revealed by the actions of peat cutters in more recent centuries, and rediscovered in 2008 by a local amateur archaeologist after a moorland fire, appears undisturbed, that is highly unusual.

Dartmoor National Park Authority archaeologist Lee Bray says: "This lack of disturbance is one of the facts that makes the site special. That this hasn't happened at Sittaford - as far as we know - makes the site of national significance as it has the potential to shed light on stone circles which is unclouded by the activities of intervening periods."

The ring of 30 stones is over 30 meters in diameter, making it one of the largest stone circles in the national park. The monument lies on the edge of the blanket bog on the summit of a ridge about 300 meters southwest of Sittaford Tor at over 520 meters elevation. An earlier geophysical survey suggested features are not visible on the surface.

Four trenches were dug in five days - three revealing stones of the circle, the fourth investigating a curiously deep area of peat within the monument. One stone was associated with packing stones, indicating that it had been placed upright, but none of the trenches revealed a socket in which the stones could have stood.

Bray wonders whether the ring could have been temporary, or unfinished: "Various interpretations are possible and we're currently considering all the available evidence to try to identify the most likely conclusion." No artifacts were found, but samples of peat taken from beneath them which may allow an estimate of the time the stones have been in their current positions. Two dates obtained previously both suggested the stones were lying down by around 2,000 BCE.

Edited from Okehampton Times (4 November 2016)
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