Wednesday, July 18, 2018

ANCIENT NOVELS RECOMMENDED BY CLASSICIST

Natalie Haynes, writer, broadcaster and classicist:
For ancient Greece, I’d recommend Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad. And if you haven’t already read The Odyssey, treat yourself to Emily Wilson’s terrific new translation. The introduction alone will probably get you through your first-year exams. Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey is a gorgeous memoir about his late father (who decided, aged 81, to join the undergraduate course Mendelsohn taught on Homer at New York’s Bard College). It is learned, funny and will make your heart hurt. And Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey is a brilliant Borgesian exploration of the epic poem, if you can’t get enough of the flawed Greek hero.

As for Rome, how about Lindsey Davis’s Roman mysteries? The Silver Pigs introduced me to Marcus Didius Falco (her first-century gumshoe) when I was younger. Twenty or so books later, and they are still the place I go and hide when I’m feeling gloomy.

You could also try Robert Harris’s Cicero novels: the first two especially are great.

If you fancy something from after the end of the Roman Empire, try Stella Duffy’s luscious Theodora. And if you’d like some nonfiction about the fall of Rome, Catherine Nixey’s The Darkening Age is great.

PALMYRA BEING RESTORED AFTER ISIL DAMAGED THE ANCIENT SYRIAN CITY

yrian archaeologists have begun work restoring artifacts damaged by Isil during the time the jihadist group controlled the ancient city of Palmyra. A group of eight experts is attempting to reconstruct statues and sculptures recovered from the Unesco heritage site, with the help of specialists from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

The Syrian government lost Palmyra, one of the Middle East's most spectacular archaeological sites, when it was overrun by Isil militants who took sledgehammers and explosives to the 2nd century BC Temple of Baalshamin and the famous limestone lions guarding Al-lāt. The army recaptured it in March 2016 with the help of allied Russian forces, but lost it again briefly a few months later before reclaiming it finally in March 2017.

Unesco sent assessors to Palmyra, where they discovered the city's museum had suffered considerable damage: statues and sarcophagi too large to be removed for safekeeping had been smashed and defaced, busts had been beheaded and were lying on the ground in ruin. Russia archaeologists have since made 3D models of the destroyed temple complexes for Syrian scientists to work from. The restoration is currently being carried out in museum laboratories in Damascus.

"The work is very complicated, the terrorists have broken the sculptures into many pieces,” said Maher al-Jubari, the director of the laboratory of national museums in Syria. “We collected everything in one box and marked the parts. Now my task is to glue them together with a special solution.”

Violence has destroyed not only the country's heritage, but its infrastructure, including electricity and water systems, schools and hospitals, and other institutions needed for daily civilian life.

NEW SITE DISCOVERED IN EGYPT AFTER CHASING A GANG THAT WAS ILLEGALLY EXCAVATING THE SITE

The Egyptian security authorities discovered an ancient Greco-Roman site in the province of Minya, after chasing a gang specialized in antiquities excavation, based on information received by the Archaeological Police in Minya, saying that a group of strange men had been frequently visiting the area of ​​"Eastern Sheba", Abu Qurqas.

Investigation showed that the arrested men formed a gang specialized in archaeological excavations, and discovered a full ancient city dating back to the second century AD and the Constantinian era, as well as an ancient church. The gang members agreed to smuggle and sell the artifacts in batches. The first batch, which was supposed to be smuggled for sale, included a large pottery with 484 ancient coins dating back to the Greco-Roman era.

According to a statement by the Interior Ministry based on the thieves’ confessions, the first suspect was planning to transport the smuggled objects in his car, however, the area was raided, and the gang has been caught with the car, the excavation equipment, the pottery, and the 484 antiquities.

The statement said that “the Ministry of the Interior is working according to a strategy aimed at preserving the country's wealth and national heritage, by tightening the security control over the archaeological areas, and combating and controlling artifacts traders, and members carrying secret excavations violating the antiquities preservation law.”

At a five-meter-deep pit, the authorities also found some pottery fragments from the excavation work, as well as the tools used. They also discovered an ancient Greek-Roman city with many rock-carved tombs extending to about 2 km, 600 meters wide, with columns and a Greek Roman church with a niche, a pillar and a cross.

NEW DISCOVERIES OF ROCK ART IN TANZANIA

Science in Poland reports that archaeologist Maciej Grzelczyk of Jagiellonian University has found hundreds of ancient rock paintings spread out over more than 50 locations in Tanzania’s Swaga Swaga Game Reserve.

Grzelczyk said the paintings, made with red or white pigments, resemble those at Kondoa, a nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of them are so faded they can only be seen with special camera filters. “Red paintings are particularly varied: In addition to the images of animals, there are also meteors or comets,” Grzelczyk said.

Some of the images may be baobab trees. “Perhaps we are dealing with images related to mythology—according to the local beliefs, baobabs played an important role in the creation of mankind,” he explained. He added that the white paintings are thought to have been made more recently, yet were never placed over the earlier red images, perhaps as a sign of respect.

The white paintings often feature giraffes and elephants, and may have played a role in fertility rituals, since the animals are often shown pregnant or during delivery. To read about early hominin footprints found in Tanzania, go to “Proof in the Prints.”

ANCIENT TOOLS AND BONES DISCOVERED IN CHINA SUGGEST EARLY HUMANS LEFT AFRICA AND ARRIVED IN ASIA EARLIER

The artifacts show that our earliest human ancestors colonised East Asia over two million years ago. They were found by a Chinese team that was led by Professor Zhaoyu Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and included Professor Robin Dennell of Exeter University. The tools were discovered at a locality called Shangchen in the southern Chinese Loess Plateau. The oldest are ca. 2.12 million years old, and are c. 270,000 years older than the 1.85 million year old skeletal remains and stone tools from Dmanisi, Georgia, which were previously the earliest evidence of humanity outside Africa.

The artifacts include a notch, scrapers, cobble, hammer stones and pointed pieces. All show signs of use—the stone had been intentionally flaked. Most were made of quartzite and quartz that probably came from the foothills of the Qinling Mountains 5 to 10 km to the south of the site, and the streams flowing from them. Fragments of animal bones 2.12 million years old were also found.

The Chinese Loess Plateau covers about 270,000 square kilometres, and during the past 2.6m years between 100 and 300m of wind-blown dust—known as loess—has been deposited in the area.

Discovery of ancient tools in China suggests humans left Africa earlier than previously thought. The 80 stone artifacts were found predominantly in 11 different layers of fossil soils which developed in a warm and wet climate. A further 16 items were found in six layers of loess that developed under colder and drier conditions. These 17 different layers of loess and fossil soils were formed during a period spanning almost a million years. This shows that early types of humans occupied the Chinese Loess Plateau under different climatic conditions between 1.2 and 2.12 million years ago.

The layers containing these stone tools were dated by linking the magnetic properties of the layers to known and dated changes in the earth's magnetic field.


Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-07-discovery-ancient-tools-china-humans.html#jCp

Sunday, July 08, 2018

EXTRAORDINARY MAP OF THE WORLD ESTABLISHED IN 1507 -GAVE AMERICA ITS NAME

St-Dié-des-Vosges is a small, leafy town in the Meurthe valley in north-east France. It lies 68km south-west of Strasbourg in France, 93km north-west of Basel in Switzerland and 74km north-west of Freiburg in Germany. Today, due to modern maps and precise methods of measuring longitude and latitude, we can pinpoint exactly where it is on the planet. However, a few hundred years ago, when much of the world was mysterious and unknown, a group of European humanists came together here to produce an extraordinary map of the world – one that differed radically from what came before, and whose effects are still with us today.

This town is responsible for giving the entire continent of America its name

The map, printed in 1507, measured about 1.4m by 2.4m, a size that matched its grand ambition to portray the world in its entirety. And indeed, it did depict more of the world than ever before. For centuries, Europeans had believed that the world was made up of three landmasses: Asia, Africa and Europe, with Jerusalem at its cente. That’s why Italian explorer and coloniser for Spain, Christopher Columbus, had gone to his deathbed just a year earlier believing that where he had landed in the Americas was just another part of Asia. However, this new map depicted a fourth part of the world for the first time. To the left of Europe, it showed a long, thin version of South America, with a small-sized North America above it. The new continent was surrounded by water, and, on the part that is known today as Brazil, the map-makers placed a name: America.

CHACO CANYON SOILS WERE NOT TOO SALTY TO GROW CROPS SUCH AS MAIZE BEANS AND SQUASH FOR MORE THAN 1200 PEOPLE WHO LIVED THERE

Researchers have long debated whether the people who lived here between 800 and 1300 AD were self-sufficient or relied partially or entirely on imported food to survive. These ancestral Puebloans built elaborate adobe structures, some of them four stories tall and recessed among cliff faces under the hot New Mexico sun. UC's soil analysis suggests that the most significant challenge for growing crops was irrigation. That's where ancestral Puebloans demonstrated particularly adroit farming skills and perceptive land management, said Jon-Paul McCool, a UC graduate and lead author of the study.

"The major limitation is water. You couldn't rely on rain for field agriculture," McCool said. "You'd have to gather and control water, which we know people in the region did." McCool earned PhD and master's degrees in geography and museum studies at UC and now teaches at Valparaiso University.

The study was published in June in the journal PLOS ONE.

Dunning said the study was able to determine that the soils could support agriculture in Chaco Canyon and that irrigation canals found at the site were built at least as early as the eighth century. "The evidence is compelling that they produced most of the food that they consumed in Chaco Canyon and devised sophisticated irrigation strategies to do it," Dunning said.

Today, Chaco Canyon sees about 9 inches of rain per year, four times less than the breadbasket of the American Midwest. To make the most of this precious resource, ancestral Puebloans built elaborate canals to divert rainfall to their farm fields. UC researchers re-examined soil samples taken from sites in and around Chaco Canyon. While some of these sites indeed did have saline levels too high to support agriculture, that was the exception, researchers found. Instead, researchers found that the desert soils were not much different from soils in other parts of the Southwest where agriculture was practiced. "The evidence is persuasive that they grew their own food," Dunning said.

UC's team consisted of geologists, archaeologists and biologists. They spent weeks each summer studying different aspects of Chaco Canyon. Many of the study sites are accessible only by foot so researchers would hike in at dawn before the afternoon heat became too oppressive. A collapsible tent shelter provided some relief from the sun.

UC's research is adding to what scientists already know about ancestral Puebloans in New Mexico. These former occupants of Chaco Canyon left behind evidence of having traded goods with people from distant places. Archaeologists have found seashells from California and macaw feathers and cacao from Mexico.

The people of Chaco Canyon left behind petroglyphs carved into the rock -- drawings of animals, people and symbols. These included the famed "Sun Dagger," a notch in a slot canyon that casts a dagger-shaped beam of light onto a shaded rock face upon which is a carved petroglyph spiral that marks the sun dagger's path across the wall over the four seasons. They also were known for their turquoise carvings, including a famous frog figure among the collection of the National Park Service.

Scientists still aren't sure why the population of Chaco Canyon declined over the centuries. Chaco Canyon continued to be occupied intermittently after 1300.



NEOLITHIC ROADWAY, POSSIBLY A RITUAL SITE, DISCOVERED IN ENGLAND


When archaeologists arrived on the scene of an unassuming field in Suffolk, England, they didn’t expect to find much in the way of significant archaeological relics. They had been hired by the energy company ScottishPower to make sure that the area was clear of artifacts before beginning a planned construction project. But “[the field] didn’t really point to much being there,” Claire Halley of Wardell Armstrong, the company that oversaw the dig, tells Rory Smith of CNN. “It didn’t register as a site of great potential.”

As they dug into the field, archaeologists hit upon what appeared to be a wooden walkway, which they initially believed was built during the medieval period. But radiocarbon dating of the wood revealed that the construction was, in fact, a Neolithic trackway that dates to approximately 2300 B.C.

Around 100 feet of the timber walkway and a host of other intriguing artifacts were unearthed during the excavation, according to Maev Kennedy of the Guardian. Archaeologists found wooden posts that seemed to mark the route of the trackway, which seemed to lead up to a platform, Kennedy writes. Along the trackway were white pebbles not commonly seen in the area, indicating that they were transported there deliberately. The team also discovered the hulking skull of an aurochs, an extinct wild ox, which had been cut in a way that suggests it sat atop a pole or was used as a headdress. The skull was already 2,000 years old when the trackway was built, so it likely held profound significance to the people who brought it to the area.

These artifacts offer compelling evidence to suggest that the trackway was a ritual site. Neolithic peoples “weren’t living here,” Vinny Monahan, one of the archaeologists involved in the excavation, tells Kennedy. “[T]hey made this place deliberately and they were coming here because it was important to them.”

Natural water springs, which were unearthed by the dig, have kept the trackway in remarkably good condition. According to a ScottishPower statement, the wood is in such good condition that archaeologists can identify two different sets of markings; one set, archaeologists believe, was made by an apprentice, while the other was made by a more experienced craftsman who took over the job. The presence of the springs may also explain why the site was chosen “as a special place” more than 4,000 years ago, the statement notes.

The site was used for hundreds of years by several ancient cultures. A Neolithic enclosure found in the area was built 500 years before the trackway. Archaeologists also found a Bronze Age enclosure, an Iron Age ditch, Roman ditches and the remains of Saxon buildings. According to Kennedy, the site was filled in the 11th century, which buried the springs and the artifacts that surrounded them.

“Undoubtedly this is a site of international archaeological significance,” Richard Newman, associate director at Wardell Armstrong, said in the statement. “It is exceptionally rare to find preserved organic materials from the Neolithic period, and we will learn a great deal from this discovery.”

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/neolithic-trackway-possibly-ritual-site-discovered-england-

Sunday, July 01, 2018

WARMING IS DESTROYING ARCTIC ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES

For millennia, the cold has conserved ivory artifacts, driftwood houses and human remains in often near-perfect conditions. But with faster and more severe climate change in the poles than the rest of the world, the situation has become desperate, with far more sites that will soon be lost than scientists have the time or resources to document. "An increasing number of ancient sites and structures around the world are now at risk of being lost," said the study published Thursday in the research journal Antiquity.
"Once destroyed, these resources are gone forever, with irrevocable loss of human heritage and scientific data."

There are at least 180,000 sites in an area that covers more than 12 million square kilometers (4.6 million square miles) in Canada, Russia, Alaska and Greenland.

Researchers pointed to an Inuit village on the Mackenzie River delta that was the site of first European contact, as an example of lost heritage. In 1826, a member of explorer John Franklin's famed Arctic expedition reported 17 winter houses and a communal structure there. Today, there is nothing left. "It is often assumed that the remoteness and the climate associated with these sites provide protection enough... however, climate change means that this may no longer be the case," the study concluded, noting that Arctic temperatures have risen twice as fast as in temperate regions. Paradoxically, their remoteness also make it hard for scientists to reach these sites.

Last month, an organized a panel of 30 archaeologists and indigenous leaders to brainstorm an emergency response to the "crisis."

Other effects of global warming cited in the study include storms, the growth of vegetation covering the landscape, tundra fires, resource development, and the arrival of tourists navigating increasingly ice-free Arctic waters and illegally picking over coastal archaeological sites for souvenirs. For most archaeological sites, experts are recommending excavation and high resolution documentation—which includes the collection of artifacts, mapping out their exact locations and compiling the data for later study.






ew