Monday, June 21, 2010

Radar maps Hyksos' capital

Remember the Hyksos? The foreign invaders who ruled Egypt for about 100 years? No one is sure who they were--a branch of Phoenician? Semites--Canaanites? Their ascendancy in Egypt took place 3500 years ago: 1664 to 1569 BC. In context, that's just before the dynasty that gave us Thutmose and Hatshepsut.

An Austrian team of archaeologists led by Irene Mueller used radar to map out the boundaries of the Hyksos principal city, Avaris. There are tons of stories on all the news networks, all saying exactly the same thing. I'm linking to this one on Heritage Key because it links best to a map--the only picture accompanying all those news stories. But Heritage Key's version of the map lets you zoom in.

So, the 2.6 sq. km. they've mapped out with magnetometric and resistivity surveys contain streets, temples, cemeteries, houses, and a possible port area (has the Nile changed course in that area in 3500 years? Probably, huh?). The Heritage Key article says that the most amazing find so far has been frescoes in a Minoan style, showing bull-leaping--similar to the artistic themes of Knossos on Crete.

It's not clear to me whether those frescoes are from the Hyksos palace, or from later, 18th-Dynasty Egyptian palaces that were built on the site--the current locale of Tel el-Dabaa. Or Tell  el Daba'.  A 2008 version of the ubiquitous map--with labels and more detail--is here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ten Most Amazing Historical Objects...

...According to the Web Urbanist--and this link goes direct to the posted list, with all the pictures.

Number One is the Antikythera Mechanism, which I've blogged about before. But some of the objects are news to me--like Number Two, the Baigong Pipes, which may have been literally used for number two. (But probably not.) The picture and following link are from China Expat.

The Baigong Pipes of China sit on top of a mountain and go through caves. Not everyone agrees that these are pipes or the remnants of pipes, but they certainly are intriguing. Wikipedia describes them and compares them to some naturally occurring pipe features in Navajo country and Louisiana.

The list also includes the Phaistos Disk, the Shroud of Turin, the Baghdad Battery--which I just saw on TV. Here's a nice site explaining the battery, which could generate 1-2 volts of electricity...but for what purpose?

What else is on the list?

Roman Dodecahedra (left) which could be anything from dice to a calibration device. About a hundred of them have been found throughout Europe. The Stone Spheres of Costa Rica, the Coso Artefact, The Maine Penny,  the Voynich Mss--I was going to look up links for these, but go to the Web Urbanist list and read their descriptions.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

World's Oldest Leather Shoe

Let's set the stage: In a dark, cold cave in Armenia, underneath layers of sheep dung that have settled like cement over the finds, archaeologists have discovered the following curiosities:

  • Three human heads preserved in ceramic jars

  • wine-making equipment, complete with grapes

  • a laced up leather shoe stuffed with straw (or excelsior if you prefer)

Which item is grabbing the headlines?

After all, bottled heads are a dime a dozen. Unless one proves to belong to Joaquin, the California bandit who's preserved head went missing during the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, who cares?

But the shoe is 5,600 years old, which makes it older by three centuries than the previous world's-oldest-leather-shoe (found on an ice mummy), so that's the news.

For the record, the world's oldest shoes (leather or not) is claimed by North Armerica: a 6900-year-old sandal made with woven fibers and leather. And since this new find was found at the beginning of the current excavation, meaning that 98% of the cave is still to be dug into and searched, who knows what further boundaries may be broken?

Here are links to news stories about this:

  • New York Times (though you have to wade through clever asides about Sarah Jessica Parker's shoe size (geez, leave the wisecracks to bloggers, for crying out loud!) (one of whom (Geekologie) came up with Air Methuselahs)

  • the interactive, peer-reviewed science journal PlosOne, who broke the story

Monday, June 07, 2010

Gladiator Graves in York

Saw this on CNN and wondered, "How do they know the dead are gladiators?"

Several clues, notably ONE body with a bite mark from what could have been a lion, tiger, or bear. Other bodies had hammer blows to the head, or were even decapitated. Some sites say all the bodies were decapitated but it's not clear.

Eighty bodies so far, all seeming to be athletic, fit males, taller than average, many with strong right arms. They date to around 1600 to 1900 years ago--the time of Rome's control of Britain. Although the NPR story narrowed it down to the between the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Some of the graves had pottery or meat joints (from horses, sheep, and chicken) in them.

None of which proves that the graves are those of gladiators, but that's a reasonable guess. And something else worth mentioning--no cemetery of gladiators has ever been found before.

Scientists have been studying them for seven years, but keeping it secret. Sneaky scientists! (OK, actually, I applaud them.) And the lead archaeologist...I do not named Dr. Hunter-Mann. Now that is karmic.

The York Archaeological Trust will launch a website about the cemetery June 14--the same day that a documentary on the find will be released in Britain. Hope it'll be shown here soon too.