Thursday, August 13, 2015

Baron de Rothschild’s Ship, lost over 100 years ago?


Items excavated from the shipwreck.
Credit: University of Haifa

 
The "Baron de Rothschild's Ship" was one of three ships used to carry raw materials from France to a glass factory established by the baron at Tantura. The ship vanished without a trace in the late nineteenth century. Has it now been found more than a century later? In a new study, researchers from the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa seek to show that a shipwreck discovered at Dor Beach in 1976 may be identified as the missing Baron's Ship. "We know that two of the baron's three ships were sold, but we have no information concerning the third ship. The ship we have found is structurally consistent with the specifications of the Baron's ships, carried a similar cargo, and sailed and sank during the right period," explained Dr. Deborah Cvikel and Micky Holtzman, who are investigating the shipwreck.

In 1893 the Baron de Rothschild founded a glass factory at Tantura beach in order to enable the local production of wine bottles for the winery at nearby Zichron Yaacov. The factory was actually established and managed by Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv. The Baron de Rothschild even purchased three small ships to transport raw materials from factories in France to the factory at Tantura and hired Jewish crews to man the ships. Contemporary records detail the purchase of the ships and specify their models. It was also noted that the ships were damaged and required repairs. Two of the ships were ultimately sold, while the fate of the third ship remains unknown.

Dr. Cvikel and Mr. Holtzman are now proposing the hypothesis that a two-masted shipwreck off the coast at Dor (Tantura) that was first excavated in 1999 may be the missing Baron's Ship. The shipwreck was excavated underwater in 1999-2000 in a study that focused mainly on the structure of the ship, and again in 2008 in a study that focused mainly on its contents, which included pots, earthenware, ceramic tiles, roof tiles, barrels, crates, and several sacks. The present study is based on the processing of findings from the 2008 excavation.

Following the initial underwater excavations, the researchers concluded that the shipwreck is a two-masted schooner and dated it very roughly to 1660-1960. The present processing of the findings has narrowed this timeframe considerably. A more precise dating of the vessel itself, and particularly of the date of its last voyage, was possible thanks to the findings on the pots, ceramic tiles, and roof tiles. In a meticulous review, the researchers found that most of these items were stamped with the name of the factory in which they were manufactured. They found a total of six different factory stamps, all relating to French factories active in the late nineteenth century. Once they found the lion motif of a company called Guichard Frères, the date on which the ship sank could be narrowed still further, since this company appears in the Marseille commercial yearbook in 1889-1897.

Accordingly, it is apparent that the ship was carrying French raw materials to Palestine for use in the new settlement at Zichron Yaacov (particularly roof tiles and ceramic tiles), and that its route passed close to Tantura in the late nineteenth century. A closer link with the Baron's ships is added by the fact that in one of the pots the researchers found the substance Barium sulfate (BaSO4), which is known as a material that enhances the transparency and shine of glass.

"This ship could certainly be one of dozens of similar ships that plied the coasts of Palestine during this period," the researchers acknowledge. "However, there seem to be more than a few items that connect it with Zichron Yaacov, with the glass factory at Tantura, and with the Baron's Ships. Perhaps we can now conclude that the third ship was not sold and condemned to obscurity like its sisters, but sank with its cargo still onboard."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Mystery in Jerusalem: a Rare Ancient Message, Encoded in Symbols and Inscriptions, was Discovered in a Ritual Bath Dating to the Second Temple Period





An extraordinary find that has fired archaeologists’ imagination was discovered about two months ago in the Arnona quarter during a routine archaeological inspection by the Israel Antiquities Authority of the construction of a nursery school being built at the initiative of the Jerusalem municipality.

In the excavation an impressive ritual bath (miqwe) dating to the time of the Second Temple (first century CE) was exposed inside an underground cave. An anteroom, flanked by benches, led to the bath. A winepress was excavated alongside the ritual bath.

The walls of the miqwe were treated with ancient plaster and were adorned with numerous wall paintings and inscriptions, written in mud, soot and incising. The inscriptions are Aramaic and written in cursive Hebrew script, which was customary at the end of the Second Temple period. Among the symbols that are drawn are a boat, palm trees and various plant species, and possibly even a menorah.

According to Royee Greenwald and Alexander Wiegmann, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “There is no doubt that this is a very significant discovery Such a concentration of inscriptions and symbols from the Second Temple period at one archaeological site, and in such a state of preservation, is rare and unique and most intriguing”. At this point in the research the inscriptions are a mystery. Some of the inscriptions might indicate names. The symbols depicted on the walls are common elements in the visual arts of the Second Temple period. In the meantime, the drawing that might possibly be construed as a menorah is exceptional because in those days they abstained from portraying this sacred object which was located in the Temple. According to the excavators, “On the one hand the symbols can be interpreted as secular, and on the other as symbols of religious significance and deep spirituality”.

Moshe (Kinley) Tur-Paz, head of the Education Administration at the Jerusalem Municipality said, “The large education system in Jerusalem is always in need of additional school buildings. The unique find was discovered in a compound where two nursery schools are slated to be built and the Israel Antiquities Authority is currently carrying out the conservation process there. The archaeological and historical site that was exposed is of tremendous value to our identity as a Jewish people which might shine more lighton the lives of our ancestors in the city of Jerusalem. We will maintain contact with the Israel Antiquities Authority and together we  will examine how we can give educational and symbolic expression to the discovery that was found".

A number of issues and questions now face the researchers: What is the relationship between the symbols and the inscriptions, and why, of all places, were they drawn in the ritual bath? Who is responsible for painting them? Was it one person or several people? Was it someone who jokingly wanted to scribble graffiti, or perhaps what we have here is a desire to convey a deeply spiritual and religious message, perhaps even a cry for help as a result of a traumatic event (the destruction of the Temple and the catastrophic war of 66-70 CE)?

The wall paintings are so sensitive that their exposure to the air causes damage to them. As soon as the inscriptions were discovered the Israel Antiquities Authority began implementing complex conservation measures. They underwent initial treatment at the site, were removed in their entirety from the ritual bath, and transferred to the conservation laboratories of the Israel Antiquities Authority for further treatment and stabilization. In the future the Israel Antiquities Authority will display the spectacular inscriptions to the general public.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Archaeologists uncover entrance gate and fortification of Biblical city of Philistine Gath (home of Goliath)


IMAGE: THIS IS A VIEW OF THE REMAINS OF THE IRON AGE CITY WALL OF PHILISTINE GATH. view more

CREDIT: PROF. AREN MAEIR, DIRECTOR, ACKERMAN FAMILY BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY EXPEDITION TO GATH


The Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, headed by Prof. Aren Maeir, has discovered the fortifications and entrance gate of the biblical city of Gath of the Philistines, home of Goliath and the largest city in the land during the 10th-9th century BCE, about the time of the "United Kingdom" of Israel and King Ahab of Israel. The excavations are being conducted in the Tel Zafit National Park, located in the Judean Foothills, about halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon in central Israel.

Prof. Maeir, of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, said that the city gate is among the largest ever found in Israel and is evidence of the status and influence of the city of Gath during this period. In addition to the monumental gate, an impressive fortification wall was discovered, as well as various building in its vicinity, such as a temple and an iron production facility. These features, and the city itself were destroyed by Hazael King of Aram Damascus, who besieged and destroyed the site at around 830 BCE.

The city gate of Philistine Gath is referred to in the Bible (in I Samuel 21) in the story of David's escape from King Saul to Achish, King of Gath.

Now in its 20th year, the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, is a long-term investigation aimed at studying the archaeology and history of one of the most important sites in Israel. Tell es-Safi/Gath is one of the largest tells (ancient ruin mounds) in Israel and was settled almost continuously from the 5th millennium BCE until modern times.

The archaeological dig is led by Prof. Maeir, along with groups from the University of Melbourne, University of Manitoba, Brigham Young University, Yeshiva University, University of Kansas, Grand Valley State University of Michigan, several Korean universities and additional institutions throughout the world.

Among the most significant findings to date at the site: Philistine Temples dating to the 11th through 9th century BCE, evidence of an earthquake in the 8th century BCE possibly connected to the earthquake mentioned in the Book of Amos I:1, the earliest decipherable Philistine inscription ever to be discovered, which contains two names similar to the name Goliath; a large assortment of objects of various types linked to Philistine culture; remains relating to the earliest siege system in the world, constructed by Hazael, King of Aram Damascus around 830 BCE, along with extensive evidence of the subsequent capture and destruction of the city by Hazael, as mentioned in Second Kings 12:18; evidence of the first Philistine settlement in Canaan (around 1200 BCE); different levels of the earlier Canaanite city of Gath; and remains of the Crusader castle "Blanche Garde" at which Richard the Lion-Hearted is known to have been.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Birmingham Qur'an manuscript dated among the oldest in the world


 
A Qur’an manuscript held by the University of Birmingham has been placed among the oldest in the world thanks to modern scientific methods.

Radiocarbon analysis has dated the parchment on which the text is written to the period between AD 568 and 645 with 95.4% accuracy. The test was carried out in a laboratory at the University of Oxford. The result places the leaves close to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, who is generally thought to have lived between AD 570 and 632.

Quran 7th century 1 Cadbury Research Library

Researchers conclude that the Qur’an manuscript is among the earliest written textual evidence of the Islamic holy book known to survive. This gives the Qur’an manuscript in Birmingham global significance to Muslim heritage and the study of Islam.

Susan Worrall, Director of Special Collections (Cadbury Research Library), at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘The radiocarbon dating has delivered an exciting result, which contributes significantly to our understanding of the earliest written copies of the Qur’an. We are thrilled that such an important historical document is here in Birmingham, the most culturally diverse city in the UK.’

The Qur’an manuscript is part of the University’s Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, held in the Cadbury Research Library. Funded by Quaker philanthropist Edward Cadbury, the collection was acquired to raise the status of Birmingham as an intellectual centre for religious studies and attract prominent theological scholars.

Consisting of two parchment leaves, the Qur’an manuscript contains parts of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20, written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi. For many years, the manuscript had been misbound with leaves of a similar Qur’an manuscript, which is datable to the late seventh century.

Susan Worrall said: ‘By separating the two leaves and analysing the parchment, we have brought to light an amazing find within the Mingana Collection.’

Dr Alba Fedeli, who studied the leaves as part of her PhD research, said: ‘The two leaves, which were radiocarbon dated to the early part of the seventh century, come from the same codex as a manuscript kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.’

MS1572A folio 1 verso and folio 2 recto
Explaining the context and significance of the discovery, Professor David Thomas, Professor of Christianity and Islam and Nadir Dinshaw Professor of Interreligious Relations at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘The radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Qur’an folios has yielded a startling result and reveals one of the most surprising secrets of the University’s collections. They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam.

‘According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Qur’an, the scripture of Islam, between the years AD 610 and 632, the year of his death. At this time, the divine message was not compiled into the book form in which it appears today. Instead, the revelations were preserved in “the memories of men”. Parts of it had also been written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels. Caliph Abu Bakr, the first leader of the Muslim community after Muhammad, ordered the collection of all Qur’anic material in the form of a book. The final, authoritative written form was completed and fixed under the direction of the third leader, Caliph Uthman, in about AD 650.

‘Muslims believe that the Qur’an they read today is the same text that was standardised under Uthman and regard it as the exact record of the revelations that were delivered to Muhammad.
‘The tests carried out on the parchment of the Birmingham folios yield the strong probability that the animal from which it was taken was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad or shortly afterwards. This means that the parts of the Qur’an that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad’s death. These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Qur’an read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed.’

Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, Lead Curator for Persian and Turkish Manuscripts at the British Library, said: ‘This is indeed an exciting discovery. We know now that these two folios, in a beautiful and surprisingly legible Hijazi hand, almost certainly date from the time of the first three Caliphs. According to the classic accounts, it was under the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, that the Qur’anic text was compiled and edited in the order of Suras familiar today, chiefly on the basis of the text as compiled by Zayd ibn Thabit under the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. Copies of the definitive edition were then distributed to the main cities under Muslim rule.

‘The Muslim community was not wealthy enough to stockpile animal skins for decades, and to produce a complete Mushaf, or copy, of the Holy Qur’an required a great many of them. The carbon dating evidence, then, indicates that Birmingham’s Cadbury Research Library is home to some precious survivors that – in view of the Suras included – would once have been at the centre of a Mushaf from that period. And it seems to leave open the possibility that the Uthmanic redaction took place earlier than had been thought – or even, conceivably, that these folios predate that process. In any case, this – along with the sheer beauty of the content and the surprisingly clear Hijazi script – is news to rejoice Muslim hearts.’

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Archaeology of the Viking Age


The Viking hit-and-run raids on monastic communities such as Lindisfarne and Iona were the most infamous result of burgeoning Scandinavian maritime prowess in the closing years of the Eighth Century.

These skirmishes led to more expansive military campaigns, settlement, and ultimately conquest of large swathes of the British Isles. But Dr Steve Ashby, of the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, wanted to explore the social justifications for this spike in aggressive activity.

Previous research has considered environmental, demographic, technological and political drivers, as well as the palpable lure of silver and slave and why these forms of wealth became important at this stage.

Dr Ashby said: "I wanted to try to discover what would make a young chieftain invest in the time and resources for such a risky venture. And what were the motives of his crew?"

In research published in Archaeological Dialogues, Dr Ashby argues that focusing on the spoils of raiding is to ignore half the picture as the rewards of such voyages consisted of much more than portable wealth.

Dr Ashby says: "The lure of the exotic, of the world beyond the horizon, was an important factor. Classic anthropology has shown that the mystique of the exotic is a powerful force, and something that leaders and people of influence often use to prop up their power base. It is not difficult to see how this would have worked in the Viking Age."

The acquisition not just of silver but of distinctive forms of Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, and Celtic metalwork were tangible reminders of successful sorties, symbols of status and power, as well as calls-to-arms for future raids. Many of the large quantity of Christian artefacts found in Scandinavian contexts (particularly Norwegian pagan burials) escaped melting and recycling, not because of some form of artistic appreciation, but because they were foundation stones for power, and touchstones in any argument for undertaking military activity.

Dr Ashby says there was also a clear motive for joining raiding parties rather than blindly following their leaders. Raiding activity provided not only an opportunity for violence and the accumulation of wealth, but an arena in which individuals could be noticed by their peers and superiors. It was an opportunity to build reputations for skill, reliability, cunning, or courage. Just as leaders of raiding parties stood to gain more than portable wealth, so too their followers could seek intangible social capital from participation.

"The lure of the raid was thus more than booty; it was about winning and preserving power through the enchantment of travel and the doing of deeds. This provides an important correction to models that focus on the need for portable wealth; the act of acquiring silver was as important as the silver itself," Dr Ashby adds.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

New evidence that farming began far earlier than previously thought -- some 23,000 years ago

Until now, researchers believed farming was "invented" some 12,000 years ago in the Cradle of Civilization -- Iraq, the Levant, parts of Turkey and Iran -- an area that was home to some of the earliest known human civilizations. A new discovery by an international collaboration of researchers from Tel Aviv University, Harvard University, Bar-Ilan University, and the University of Haifa offers the first evidence that trial plant cultivation began far earlier -- some 23,000 years ago.

The study focuses on the discovery of the first weed species at the site of a sedentary human camp on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was published in PLOS ONE and led by Prof. Ehud Weiss of Bar-Ilan University in collaboration with Prof. Marcelo Sternberg of the Department of Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants at TAU's Faculty of Life Sciences and Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University, among other colleagues.

"While full-scale agriculture did not develop until much later, our study shows that trial cultivation began far earlier than previously believed, and gives us reason to rethink our ancestors' capabilities," said Prof. Sternberg. "Those early ancestors were more clever and more skilled than we knew."

Evidence among the weeds

Although weeds are considered a threat or nuisance in farming, their presence at the site of the Ohalo II people's camp revealed the earliest signs of trial plant cultivation -- some 11 millennia earlier than conventional ideas about the onset of agriculture.

The plant material was found at the site of the Ohalo II people, who were fisher hunter-gatherers and established a sedentary human camp. The site was unusually well preserved, having been charred, covered by lake sediment, and sealed in low-oxygen conditions -- ideal for the preservation of plant material. The researchers examined the weed species for morphological signs of domestic-type cereals and harvesting tools, although their very presence is evidence itself of early farming.

"This uniquely preserved site is one of the best archaeological examples worldwide of the hunter-gatherers' way of life," said Prof. Sternberg. "It was possible to recover an extensive amount of information on the site and its inhabitants."

"Because weeds thrive in cultivated fields and disturbed soils, a significant presence of weeds in archaeobotanical assemblages retrieved from Neolithic sites and settlements of later age is widely considered an indicator of systematic cultivation," according to the study.

Early gatherers

The site bears the remains of six shelters and a particularly rich assemblage of plants. Upon retrieving and examining approximately 150,000 plant specimens, the researchers determined that early humans there had gathered over 140 species of plants. These included 13 known weeds mixed with edible cereals, such as wild emmer, wild barley, and wild oats.

The researchers found a grinding slab -- a stone tool with which cereal starch granules were extracted -- as well as a distribution of seeds around this tool, reflecting that the cereal grains were processed for consumption. The large number of cereals showing specific kinds of scars on their seeds indicate the likelihood of those cereals growing in fields, and the presence of sickle blades indicates that these humans deliberately planned the harvest of cereal.

The new study offers evidence that early humans clearly functioned with a basic knowledge of agriculture and, perhaps more importantly, exhibited foresight and extensive agricultural planning far earlier than previously believed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Genetic studies link indigenous peoples in the Amazon and Australasia



Native Americans living in the Amazon bear an unexpected genetic connection to indigenous people in Australasia, suggesting a previously unknown wave of migration to the Americas thousands of years ago, a new study has found.

"It's incredibly surprising," said David Reich, Harvard Medical School professor of genetics and senior author of the study. "There's a strong working model in archaeology and genetics, of which I have been a proponent, that most Native Americans today extend from a single pulse of expansion south of the ice sheets--and that's wrong. We missed something very important in the original data."

Previous research had shown that Native Americans from the Arctic to the southern tip of South America can trace their ancestry to a single "founding population" called the First Americans, who came across the Bering land bridge about 15,000 years ago. In 2012, Reich and colleagues enriched this history by showing that certain indigenous groups in northern Canada inherited DNA from at least two subsequent waves of migration.

The new study, published July 21 in Nature, indicates that there's more to the story.

Pontus Skoglund, first author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher in the Reich lab, was studying genetic data gathered as part of the 2012 study when he noticed a strange similarity between one or two Native American groups in Brazil and indigenous groups in Australia, New Guinea and the Andaman Islands.

"That was an unexpected and somewhat confusing result," said Reich, who is also an associate member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator. "We spent a really long time trying to make this result go away and it just got stronger."

Skoglund and colleagues from HMS, the Broad and several universities in Brazil analyzed publicly available genetic information from 21 Native American populations from Central and South America. They also collected and analyzed DNA from nine additional populations in Brazil to make sure the link they saw hadn't been an artifact of how the first set of genomes had been collected. The team then compared those genomes to the genomes of people from about 200 non-American populations.

The link persisted. The Tupí-speaking Suruí and Karitiana and the Ge-speaking Xavante of the Amazon had a genetic ancestor more closely related to indigenous Australasians than to any other present-day population. This ancestor doesn't appear to have left measurable traces in other Native American groups in South, Central or North America.

The genetic markers from this ancestor don't match any population known to have contributed ancestry to Native Americans, and the geographic pattern can't be explained by post-Columbian European, African or Polynesian mixture with Native Americans, the authors said. They believe the ancestry is much older--perhaps as old as the First Americans.

In the ensuing millennia, the ancestral group has disappeared.

"We've done a lot of sampling in East Asia and nobody looks like this," said Skoglund. "It's an unknown group that doesn't exist anymore."

The team named the mysterious ancestor Population Y, after the Tupí word for ancestor, "Ypykuéra."

Reich, Skoglund and colleagues propose that Population Y and First Americans came down from the ice sheets to become the two founding populations of the Americas.

"We don't know the order, the time separation or the geographical patterns," said Skoglund.

Researchers do know that the DNA of First Americans looked similar to that of Native Americans today. Population Y is more of a mystery.

"About 2 percent of the ancestry of Amazonians today comes from this Australasian lineage that's not present in the same way elsewhere in the Americas," said Reich.

However, that doesn't establish how much of their ancestry comes from Population Y. If Population Y were 100 percent Australasian, that would indeed mean they contributed 2 percent of the DNA of today's Amazonians. But if Population Y mixed with other groups such as the First Americans before they reached the Americas, the amount of DNA they contributed to today's Amazonians could be much higher--up to 85 percent.

To answer that question, researchers would need to sample DNA from the remains of a person who belonged to Population Y. Such DNA hasn't been obtained yet. One place to look might be in the skeletons of early Native Americans whose skulls some researchers say have Australasian features. The majority of these skeletons were found in Brazil.

Reich and Skoglund think that some of the most interesting open questions about Native American population history are about the relationships among groups after the initial migrations.

"We have a broad view of the deep origins of Native American ancestry, but within that diversity we know very little about the history of how those populations relate to each other," said Reich.