Friday, September 28, 2012

Buddhist statue, discovered by Nazi expedition, is made of meteorite

It sounds like an artifact from an Indiana Jones film; a 1,000 year-old ancient Buddhist statue which was first recovered by a Nazi expedition in 1938 has been analysed by scientists and has been found to be carved from a meteorite. The findings, published in Meteoritics and Planetary Science, reveal the priceless statue to be a rare ataxite class of meteorite.

The statue, known as the Iron Man, weighs 10kg and is believed to represent a stylistic hybrid between the Buddhist and pre-Buddhist Bon culture that portrays the god Vaisravana, the Buddhist King of the North, also known as Jambhala in Tibet.

The statue was discovered in 1938 by an expedition of German scientists led by renowned zoologist Ernst Schäfer. The expedition was supported by Nazi SS Chief Heinrich Himmler and the entire expeditionary team were believed to have been SS members.

Schäfer would later claim that he accepted SS support to advance his scientific research into the wildlife and anthropology of Tibet. However, historians believe Himmler's support may have been based on his belief that the origins of the Aryan race could be found in Tibet.

It is unknown how the statue was discovered, but it is believed that the large swastika carved into the centre of the figure may have encouraged the team to take it back to Germany. Once it arrived in Munich it became part of a private collection and only became available for study following an auction in 2007.

The first team to study the origins of the statue was led by Dr Elmar Buchner from Stuttgart University. The team was able to classify it as an ataxite, a rare class of iron meteorite with high contents of nickel.

"The statue was chiseled from a fragment of the Chinga meteorite which crashed into the border areas between Mongolia and Siberia about 15,000 years ago," said Dr Buchner. "While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before."

Meteorites inspired worship from many ancient cultures ranging from the Inuit's of Greenland to the aborigines of Australia. Even today one of the most famous worship sites in the world, Mecca in Saudi Arabia, is based upon the Black Stone, believed to be a stony meteorite. Dr Buchner's team believe the Iron Man originated from the Bon culture of the 11th Century.

"The Iron Man statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a meteorite, which means we have nothing to compare it to when assessing value," concluded Dr Buchner. "Its origins alone may value it at $20,000; however, if our estimation of its age is correct and it is nearly a thousand years old it could be invaluable."

4,200-year-old fortification, unique in continental Europe

The archaeological excavations carried out this year at the site of La Bastida (Totana, Murcia) have shed light on an imposing fortification system, unique for its time. The discovery, together with all other discoveries made in recent years, reaffirm that the city was the most advanced settlement in Europe in political and military terms during the Bronze Age (ca. 4,200 years ago -2,200 BCE-), and is comparable only to the Minoan civilisation of Crete.

The discovery was presented today by Pedro Alberto Cruz Sánchez, Secretary of Culture of the Region of Murcia and Vicente Lull, professor of Prehistory of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and director of the excavation. The event also included the presence of Iván Martínez Flores, executive administrator of the research and head of the UAB Area for Strategic Projects.

The fortification consisted of a wall measuring two to three metres thick, built with large stones and lime mortar and supported by thick pyramid-based towers located at short distances of some four metres. The original height of the defensive wall was approximately 6 or 7 metres. Until now six towers have been discovered along a length of 70 metres, although the full perimeter of the fortification measured up to 300 metres. The entrance to the enclosure was a passageway constructed with strong walls and large doors at the end, held shut with thick wooden beams.

One of the most relevant architectural elements discovered is the ogival arched postern gate, or secondary door, located near the main entrance. The arch is in very good conditions and is the first one to be found in Prehistoric Europe. Precedents can be found in the second city of Troy (Turkey) and in the urban world of the Middle East (Palestine, Israel and Jordan), influenced by the civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. This indicates that people from the East participated in the construction of the fortification. These people would have reached La Bastida after the crisis which devastated their region 4,300 years ago. It was not until some 400 to 800 years later that civilisations like the Hittites and Mycenaeans, or city-states such as Ugarit, incorporated these innovative methods into their military architecture.

A Construction Designed for Combat

The fortification of La Bastida is an impressive construction due to its monumentality, the expertise demonstrated in architecture and engineering, its antiquity and because it helps us today to learn about such a distant past which is also easily recognisable in the present. It also represents an innovation in the art of attacking and defending fortifications, especially on the military front. The construction was designed solely for military purposes, by people experienced in fighting methods unknown in those times to the West.

The towers and exterior walls denote advanced knowledge of architecture and engineering, with slopes of over 40 per cent. The lime mortar used offered exceptional solidity to the construction, strongly holding the stones and making the wall impermeable, as well as eliminating any elements attackers could hold on to.

The postern gate, as a hidden and covered entrance, demanded great planning of the defensive structure as a whole and of the correct engineering technique to fit it perfectly into the wall.

Continental Europe's First Bronze Age City

The latest excavations and the result of Carbon 14 dating indicate that La Bastida was probably the most powerful city of Europe during the Bronze Age and a fortified site since it was first built, in circa 2,200 BCE, with a defence system never before seen in Europe.

The fortification was not the only discovery made. From 2008 to 2011, excavations unearthed large residences measuring over 70 square metres distributed throughout the city's four hectares. These large houses and public buildings were alternated with other smaller constructions, all separated by entries, passageways and squares. A large pool held by a 20-metre dyke with a capacity for almost 400,000 litres of water also clearly denotes that the city's population was of a complexity and that it used advanced techniques incomparable to other cities of its time.

The discoveries made at La Bastida reveal a military, political and social rupture: the establishment of a violent and classist ruling society, which lasted seven centuries and conditioned the development of other communities living in the Iberian Peninsula. Overall, archaeologists are redefining what is known of the origin of economic and political inequalities in Europe, as well as military institution and the role played by violence in the formation of identities.

Ancient synagogue discovered in Turkey

The second synagogue from the Lycian civilization has been discovered in Finike. AA photo
Archaeological teams digging in the ancient city of Limyra in the Mediterranean province of Antalya have announced the discovery of a second synagogue from the Lycian civilization...

Dr. Martin Seyer of the Austrian Archaeology Institute: “We first found a bath and a menorah. After some [further] investigation, we found out that it was a synagogue,” he said.

The synagogue in Limyra, which is located in Turunçova in Antalya’s Finike district, is the second to be found in the historical Lycian region after one discovered in 2009 in the ancient city of Myra in Antalya’s Demre district. Limyra was the former capital of the Lycian Federation...

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Stone Age Images of Ostriches, Colored Beads at Ein Zippori

A String of Colored Beads in a Bowl, Images of Ostriches Carved on a Stone Plaque and Animal Figurines – All from the Stone Age, were Exposed at Ein Zippori in the North

Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

A treasure of impressive prehistoric finds was exposed during the course of archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted this past year, on behalf of the National Roads Company, prior to the widening of Highway 79. The excavations encompass a large area covering a distance of c. 800 m, on both sides of the road.

Prehistoric settlement remains that range in date from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (c. 10,000 years ago) to the Early Bronze Age (c. 5,000 years ago) are at the Ein Zippori site, which extends south of Ein Zippori spring.

According to Dr. Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The excavation revealed remains of an extensive settlement from the end of the Neolithic period and beginning of the Chalcolithic period in the country belonging to the “Wadi Rabah” culture. This culture is named after the site where it was first discovered (in the region of Rosh Ha-Ayin), and is common in Israel from the end of the sixth millennium and beginning of the fifth millennium BCE”. According to the excavators, “The presence of remains from the Wadi Rabah culture in most of our excavation areas and in surveys that were performed elsewhere at the site shows that ʽEin Zippori is an enormous site that stretched across c. 200 dunams. It turns out that this antiquities site is one of the largest, if not the largest, in the country where there are remains of this culture. The architecture is rectangular and the floors were made of crushed chalk or very small stones. The foundations were made of stone and the walls above them were built of mud bricks”.

A multitude of artifacts has been uncovered in the excavation, including pottery, flint tools, basalt vessels and artistic objects of great importance. Milevski and Getzov said, “Pottery bearing features characteristic of the Wadi Rabah culture such as painted and incised decorations and red and black painted vessels were exposed. Outstanding among the flint tools that were discovered are the sickle blades that were used to harvest grain, indicating the existence of an agricultural economy. We also found flint axes that were designed for working wood. The barter that transpired at the time is attested to by thin sharp blades made of obsidian, a volcanic stone that is not indigenous to the region and the closest source is in Turkey. These items constituted part of the network of trade that stretched over thousands of kilometers in such an ancient period”.

Among the special finds that were uncovered in the excavation is a group of small stone bowls that were made with amazing delicacy. One of them was discovered containing more than 200 black, white and red stone beads. Other important artifacts are clay figurines of animals (sheep, pig and cattle) that illustrate the importance of animal breeding in those cultures. The most importance finds are stone seals or amulets bearing geometric motifs and stone plaques and bone objects decorated with incising. Among the stone plaques is one that bears a simple but very elegant carving depicting two running ostriches. These objects represent the world of religious beliefs and serve as a link that connects Ein Zippori with the cultures of these periods in Syria and Mesopotamia. According to Milevski and Getzov, “The arrival of these objects at the ʽEin Zippori site shows that a social stratum had already developed at that time that included a group of social elite which used luxury items that were imported from far away countries”.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Papyrus fragment: "Jesus said to them, my wife."

Four words on a previously unknown papyrus fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, Harvard Professor Karen King told the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies today.

King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the existence of the ancient text at the Congress's meeting, held every four years and hosted this year by the Vatican's Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome. The four words that appear on the fragment translate to, "Jesus said to them, my wife." The words, written in Coptic, a language of ancient Egyptian Christians, are on a papyrus fragment of about one and a half inches by three inches.

"Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim," King said. "This new gospel doesn't prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage. From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry, but it was over a century after Jesus's death before they began appealing to Jesus's marital status to support their positions."

Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York, believes the fragment to be authentic based on examination of the papyrus and the handwriting, and Ariel Shisha-Halevy, a Coptic expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, considers it likely to be authentic on the basis of language and grammar, King said. Final judgment on the fragment, King said, depends on further examination by colleagues and further testing, especially of the chemical composition of the ink.

One side of the fragment contains eight incomplete lines of handwriting, while the other side is badly damaged and the ink so faded that only three words and a few individual letters are still visible, even with infrared photography and computer photo enhancement. Despite its tiny size and poor condition, King said, the fragment provides tantalizing glimpses into issues about family, discipleship, and marriage that concerned ancient Christians.

King and colleague AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University, believe that the fragment is part of a newly discovered gospel. Their analysis of the fragment is scheduled for publication in the January 2013 issue of Harvard Theological Review, a peer-reviewed journal.

King has posted a draft of the paper, an extensive question-and-answer on the fragment and its meaning, and images of it, on a page on the Divinity School website.

The brownish-yellow, tattered fragment belongs to an anonymous private collector who contacted King to help translate and analyze it. The collector provided King with a letter from the early 1980s indicating that Professor Gerhard Fecht from the faculty of Egyptology at the Free University in Berlin believed it to be evidence for a possible marriage of Jesus.

King said that when the owner first contacted her about the papyrus, in 2010, "I didn't believe it was authentic and told him I wasn't interested." But the owner was persistent, so in December 2011, King invited him to bring it to her at Harvard. After examining it, in March 2012 King carried the fragment to New York and, together with Luijendijk, took it to Bagnall to be authenticated. When Bagnall's examination of the handwriting, ways that the ink had penetrated and interacted with the papyrus, and other factors, confirmed its likely authenticity, work on the analysis and interpretation of the fragment began in earnest, King said.

Little is known about the discovery of the fragment, but it is believed to have come from Egypt because it is written in Coptic, the form of the Egyptian language used by Christians there during the Roman imperial period. Luijendijk suggested that "a fragment this damaged probably came from an ancient garbage heap like all of the earliest scraps of the New Testament." Since there is writing on both sides of the fragment, it clearly belongs to an ancient book, or codex, not a scroll, she said.

The gospel of which the fragment is but a small part, which King and Luijendijk have named the Gospel of Jesus's Wife for reference purposes, was probably originally written in Greek, the two professors said, and only later translated into Coptic for use among congregations of Coptic-speaking Christians. King dated the time it was written to the second half of the second century because it shows close connections to other newly discovered gospels written at that time, especially the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip.

Like those gospels, it was probably ascribed to one or more of Jesus's closest followers, but the actual author would have remained unknown even if more of it had survived. As it stands, the remaining piece is too small to tell us anything more about who may have composed, read, or circulated the new gospel, King said.

The main topic of the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples is one that deeply concerned early Christians, who were asked to put loyalty to Jesus before their natal families, as the New Testament gospels show. Christians were talking about themselves as a family, with God the father, his son Jesus, and members as brothers and sisters. Twice in the tiny fragment, Jesus speaks of his mother and once of his wife—one of whom is identified as "Mary." The disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy, and Jesus states that "she can be my disciple." Although less clear, it may be that by portraying Jesus as married, the Gospel of Jesus's Wife conveys a positive theological message about marriage and sexuality, perhaps similar to the Gospel of Philip's view that pure marriage can be an image of divine unity and creativity.

From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether they should marry or be celibate. But, King notes, it was not until around 200 that there is the earliest extant claim that Jesus did not marry, recorded by Clement of Alexandria. He wrote of Christians who claimed that marriage is fornication instituted by the devil, and says people should emulate Jesus in not marrying, King said. A decade or two later, she said, Tertullian of Carthage in North Africa declared that Jesus was "entirely unmarried," and Christians should aim for a similar condition. Yet Tertullian did not condemn sexual relations altogether, allowing for one marriage, although he denounced not only divorce, but even remarriage for widows and widowers as overindulgence. Nearly a century earlier, the New Testament letter of 1 Timothy had warned that people who forbid marriage are following the "doctrines of demons," although it didn't claim Jesus was married to support that point.

In the end, the view that dominated would claim celibacy as the highest form of Christian sexual virtue, while conceding marriage for the sake of reproduction alone. The Gospel of Jesus's Wife, if it was originally written in the late second century, suggests that the whole question of Jesus's marital status only came up over a century after Jesus died as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage, King said. King noted that contemporary debates over celibate clergy, the roles of women, sexuality, and marriage demonstrate that the issues are far from resolved.

"The discovery of this new gospel," King said, "offers an occasion to rethink what we thought we knew by asking what role claims about Jesus's marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family. Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married. The Gospel of Jesus's Wife now shows that some Christians thought otherwise."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Massive Roman mosaic found in southern Turkey

IMAGE: A University of Nebraska-Lincoln archeological team has uncovered a massive Roman mosaic in southern Turkey -- a meticulously crafted, 1,600-square-foot work of decorative handiwork built during the region’s imperial zenith.
Credit: Michael Hoff, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln archeological team has uncovered a massive Roman mosaic in southern Turkey -- a meticulously crafted, 1,600-square-foot work of decorative handiwork built during the region's imperial zenith.

It's believed to be the largest mosaic of its type in the region and demonstrates the surprising reach and cultural influence of the Roman Empire in the area during the third and fourth centuries A.D., said Michael Hoff, Hixson-Lied professor of art history at UNL and the director of the excavation.

"Its size signals, in no small part, that the outward signs of the empire were very strong in this far-flung area," Hoff said. "We were surprised to have found a mosaic of such size and of such caliber in this region – it's an area that had usually been off the radar screens of most ancient historians and archeologists, and suddenly this mosaic comes into view and causes us to change our focus about what we think (the region) was like in antiquity."

Since 2005, Hoff's team has been excavating the remains of the ancient city of Antiochia ad Cragum on the southern Turkish coast. Antiochus of Commagene, a client-king of Rome, founded the city in the middle of the first century.

"This region is not well understood in terms of history and archeology," Hoff said. "It's not a place in which archaeologists have spent a lot of time, so everything we find adds more evidence to our understanding of this area of the Roman Empire.

"We're beginning to understand now that it was more Romanized, more in line than the rest of the Roman world than was suspected before. (The nature of the mosaic) hammers home how Roman this city truly is."

Antiochia ad Cragum had many of the trappings expected of a Roman provincial city – temples, baths, markets and colonnaded streets, said Hoff. The city thrived during the empire from an economy focused on agricultural products, especially wine and lumber.

Excavation has focused on a third-century imperial temple, and also a colonnaded street lined with shops. In July, the team began to explore the mosaic, which was part of a Roman bath. The decoration consists of large squares, each filled with different colored geometric designs and ornamentation.

"This would have been a very formal associated pavement attached to the bath," Hoff said. "This is a gorgeous mosaic, and its size is unprecedented" – so large, in fact, that work crews have uncovered only an estimated 40 percent of its total area.

Hoff said it appears the mosaic served as a forecourt for the adjacent large bath, and that at least on one side, evidence shows there was a roof covering the geometric squares that would have been supported by piers. Those piers' remains are preserved, he said.

Meanwhile, the middle of the mosaic was outfitted with a marble-lined, 25-foot-long pool, which would have been uncovered and open to the sun. The other half of the mosaic, adjacent to the bath, has yet to be revealed but is expected to contain the same type of decoration, Hoff said. Crews expect to unearth the entire work next summer.

Team members first noticed the mosaic in 2001 when a large archaeological survey project that included Hoff noticed plowing by a local farmer had brought up pieces of a mosaic in a field next to a still-standing bath structure. The find was brought to the attention of the archeological museum in Alanya, who two years later made aminor investigation that revealed a small portion of the mosaic.

Last year, the museum invited Hoff to clear the mosaic and to preserve it for tourists and scholars. Hoff's 60-person team also included Birol Can, assistant professor of archaeology at Atatürk University in Ezrurum, Turkey, a sister university to the University of Nebraska; students from UNL; other students from Turkey and the United States; and workers from a nearby village. About 35 students participated in the project as part of a summer field school Hoff runs.

Hoff said the significance of this summer's discovery has him eager to return to the site and see what the rest of the excavation uncovers.

"As an archaeologist, I am always excited to make new discoveries. The fact that this discovery is so large and also not completely uncovered makes it doubly exciting," he said. "I am already looking forward to next year, though I just returned from Turkey."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Demotic Dictionary refines knowledge of influential language of ancient Middle East

A dictionary of thousands of words chronicling the everyday lives of people in ancient Egypt — including what taxes they paid, what they expected in a marriage and how much work they had to do for the government — has been completed by scholars at the University of Chicago.

The ancient language is Demotic Egyptian, a name given by the Greeks to denote it was the tongue of the demos, or common people. It was written as a flowing script and was used in Egypt from about 500 B.C. to 500 A.D., when the land was occupied and usually dominated by foreigners, including Persians, Greeks and Romans.

The language lives on today in words such as adobe, which came from the Egyptian word for brick. The word moved through Demotic, on to Arabic and eventually to Spain during the time of Islamic domination there, explained Janet Johnson, editor of the Chicago Demotic Dictionary.

Ebony, the dark wood that was traded down the Nile from Nubia (present-day Sudan), also comes from Demotic roots. The name Susan is indirectly related to the Demotic word for water lily.

“Demotic was used for business and legal documents, private letters and administrative inscriptions, and literary texts, such as narratives and pieces of wisdom literature,” said Johnson, the Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor at the Oriental Institute.

“It was also used for religious and magical texts as well as scientific texts dealing with topics such as astronomy, mathematics and medicine. It is an indispensible tool for reconstructing the social, political and cultural life of ancient Egypt during a fascinating period of its history,” she continued.

“The University of Chicago is pretty much Demotic central,” said James Allen, PhD’81, the Wilbour Professor of Egyptology and chair of the Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies at Brown University. “Besides the Demotic dictionary, the University also has some of the world’s top experts on Demotic on its faculty.

“This dictionary will be very useful, as there are more unpublished documents in Demotic than any other phase of ancient Egyptian,” he said.

The Demotic language was one of the three texts on the Rosetta stone, which was also written in Egyptian hieroglyphs and Greek. In addition to being used on stone carvings, the script was left behind on papyrus and broken bits of pottery.

“Before Demotic, Egyptians developed a script form of hieroglyphs called hieratic; Demotic evolved from that. Because it was cursive, it was much easier and faster to use than were the elaborate pictures of the hieroglyphs,” said Johnson.

The script was particularly useful as a means of conducting everyday business, such as paying taxes. “People would write the information down on potsherds and put them in the basement, much as we keep track today of our income tax records by keeping copies of our past returns,” Johnson added.

Johnson, PhD’72, has worked with Demotic since she was a graduate student at the Oriental Institute. The advent of computer technology facilitated the assembly of the Demotic Dictionary, which unlike its older sister, the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, could be organized electronically rather than on index cards.

The 21-volume Chicago Assyrian Dictionary was completed in 2011 after 90 years of work.
Jason Smith

The Assyrian Dictionary was completed last year after 90 years of work, while the Demotic Dictionary, which does not include as much information as the Assyrian Dictionary, was completed in less than half the time. Scholars at the Oriental Institute are also working on a dictionary of Hittite, a language once spoken in Anatolia (present-day Turkey).

"The last four decades have seen a real explosion of Demotic studies, with more scholars focusing on this material, and great leaps in our understanding of this late version of the Egyptian language," said Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute. "The Chicago Demotic Dictionary is reaching completion at the perfect time to have an enormous impact on our understanding of Egyptian civilization in the final few centuries, when it still flourished as a vibrant and unique culture.

"The Chicago Demotic Dictionary provides the key to understanding the vast body of Demotic contracts, letters, tax records and other documents; this allows us to hear the voices of the people who made up the vast majority of Egyptian society during the period when they were under first Greek and then Roman rule."

The work began in 1975 as a supplement and update to Wolja Erichsen’s Demotisches Glossar, published in 1954. The dictionary is based on texts in Demotic that were published by scholars from 1955 to 1979, and lists new words not included in Erichsen’s work as well as new uses of words included there. The words are listed in the dictionary with references to how they were used in documents.

The use of computers helped speed the process of preparing the dictionary because it allowed scholars to reproduce the cursive script of Demotic electronically and add information in Roman fonts. By providing photographs, or facsimiles of the script, the dictionary provides an exact representation of the way people wrote the language.

The final entry for “S” has been completed, and 24 other letters are online. Eventually there will be a published dictionary primarily for university libraries.

Much of Johnson’s own work deals with scholarship on women who lived during a period of transition in Egyptian society. Although the rulers in the classical worlds of Rome and Greece frequently minimized the role of women in their cultures, the Egyptians had an idea much closer to equality of the sexes.

On a wall in the Oriental Institute Museum, for instance, is a papyrus scroll on display bearing the text of an annuity written in Demotic. Annuities were written by a husband to a wife to acknowledge money she had brought into marriage and also guaranteeing to provide a set amount of food plus money for clothing for her use each year during their marriage.

The documents in Demotic show that people during the period continued the respect for women that had been typical of earlier times in Egyptian history. Women could own property, for instance, and also had the right to divorce their husbands.

Another Demotic scholar at the Oriental Institute is Brian Muhs, who has worked on tax records written in demotic, both official government tax records, and tax receipts issued to taxpayers.

Authorities conducted censuses, which were used to collect taxes with different rates for men and women; compulsory labor requirements for men only, such as digging ditches; and professional taxes for people practicing a profession. There were sales taxes and taxes collected as grain from harvests.

“The government often leased the collection of taxes to the highest bidder, who was required to pay the amount of the bid to the government regardless of how much tax they collected,” said Muhs, associate professor at the Oriental Institute.

“To protect the taxpayers from overzealous tax collectors, the tax collectors were required to issue tax receipts to taxpayers upon payment of their taxes,” he explained. “Multiple tax receipts for the same individuals frequently survive, because individuals usually kept their tax receipts together for multiple years.”

The preserved literature tells stories of human drama, with consequences in the afterlife of rewards for the righteous and punishment for the sinful.

The literature also has proverbs rich with folk wisdom, carried in instructions that are left on papyrus. They provide insights in the way people were expected to behave.“Do not sit down before a dignitary,” the instructions caution, for instance.

Other examples of common sense include: “Pride and arrogance are the ruin of their owner”; “Do not sit or stand still in an undertaking which is urgent”; and “Money is the snare the god has placed on earth for the impious man so that he should worry daily.”

Prof. Friedhelm Hoffmann of the Institute for Egyptology at the University of Munich said: “The Demotic texts play a crucial role in providing the necessary insights into the time when the classical world of Greece and Rome had close contacts to the Egyptian culture.

“The stories Herodotus (fifth-century B.C.) tells about Egyptian kings of the second-millennium B.C., for example, have to be understood not in the light of how the second millennium really was, but in the light of what the Egyptians of the fifth-century B.C. thought and narrated about these ancient times,” he explained.

“I myself have been using the Chicago Demotic Dictionary since the first letters were published, not only for looking up words and but also finding their meaning,” Hoffmann said.

The publication of the dictionary has doubled the number of words known in Demotic, and subsequent translations and publications will produce even more, Hoffmann said.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Roman military camp found dating back to the conquest of Gaul

In the vicinity of Hermeskeil, a small town some 30 kilometers southeast of the city of Trier in the Hunsrueck region in the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, archaeologists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have confirmed the location of the oldest Roman military fortification known in Germany to date. These findings shed new light on the Roman conquest of Gaul. The camp was presumably built during Julius Caesars’ Gallic War in the late 50s B.C. Nearby lies a late Celtic settlement with monumental fortifications known as the “Hunnenring” or "Circle of the Huns," which functioned as one of the major centers of the local Celtic tribe called Treveri. Their territory is situated in the mountainous regions between the Rhine and Maas rivers. "The remnants of this military camp are the first pieces of archaeological evidence of this important episode of world history," comments Dr. Sabine Hornung of the Institute of Pre- and Protohistory at JGU. "It is quite possible that Treveran resistance to the Roman conquerors was crushed in a campaign that was launched from this military fortress."

The existence of this site with a size of about 260,000 square meters had been known since the 19th century, but its interpretation was controversially discussed. "Some remains of the wall are still preserved in the forest, but it hadn't been possible to prove that this was indeed a Roman military camp as archaeologists and local historians had long suspected," Hornung explains. The breakthrough came through systematic investigations closely linked to archaeological research conducted in the vicinity of the Celtic settlement "Hunnenring" near Otzenhausen in the St. Wendel district. The Celtic fortification is located just 5 kilometers from the military camp at Hermeskeil and can be seen directly from the site of the Roman stronghold. As a result of agricultural development, large sections of the former military camp can no longer be recognized and are in danger of being lost forever.

Sabine Hornung and her team began their work in Hermeskeil in March 2010, supported by the Rheinische Landesmuseum Trier. Initial research enabled them to determine size and shape of the military camp that was fortified by means of an earth wall and a ditch. They determined that the fortress consisted of an almost rectangular earthwork enclosure with rounded corners, which, by its size of about 182,000 square meters, provided space for several thousands of soldiers, including both legionaries and mounted auxiliaries. An extension of additional 76,000 square meters encompassed a spring, which thereby secured water supply for the troops.

These findings made it possible to undertake targeted excavations in which one of the gates of the camp was discovered in summer 2011. This consisted of a gateway paved with stones crossing the fortifications consisting of wall and ditch. In the gaps between these paving stones, Hornung's team of archaeologists found numerous shoe nails originating from the sandals of Roman soldiers that had loosened as they marched along. The size and shape of the nails were among the first indications that the military camp at Hermeskeil dated back to the time of the late Roman Republic or the Gallic War. This theory was subsequently confirmed by shards of earthenware vessels discovered during excavations and further verified using scientific dating methods.

The special historical significance of the Hermeskeil military camp lies in its relationship to the neighboring Treveran settlement "Hunnenring". Based on the findings of their recent excavations, Hornung and her team were able to confirm that this settlement was abandoned by its inhabitants around the middle of the 1st century B.C. Before the identification of the camp near Hermeskeil, however, it was only possible to speculate that this abandonment had had something to do with the Gallic War. In his "De Bello Gallico," Julius Caesar reported that the tribe of the Treveri was split into anti-Roman and pro-Roman factions. The anti-Roman faction, led by the aristocrat Indutiomarus and his relatives, fomented unrest that resulted in Roman reprisals in 54/53 B.C. and 51 B.C., over the course of which the Treveran resistance to the invaders was broken. The discoveries near Hermeskeil have potentially provided the first direct archaeological evidence for this dramatic episode in world history.


Monday, September 10, 2012

New ruins from a 1,500-year-old Jewish town

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Israeli archaeologists digging on the route of a planned highway have found new ruins from a 1,500-year-old Jewish town..

The remains of two Jewish ritual baths and two public buildings were uncovered.. Both of the public buildings feature raised platforms along the walls facing Jerusalem, archaeologists say — a trademark feature of Jewish houses of prayer...

The existence of the town was known to scholars from archaeological surveys, but the findings show it was more substantial than had been previously thought...

The remains also indicate that the area was home to a cluster of Jewish settlements at the time — the final years of Byzantine control and the first decades after the Islamic conquest in the 630s CE.

Stone Age Figurines Exposed in Archaeological Excavations at Tel Moza near Jerusalem

photographic credit: Yael Yolovitch, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The two figurines – c. 9,500 year old – in the image of a ram and a wild bovine, point to the existence of a cultic belief in the region in the New Stone Age.

Two figurines from the New Stone Age (Pre-Pottery Neolithic B) were discovered in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is currently conducting at the Tel Moza archaeological site, prior to work being carried out on the new Highway 1 from Sha'ar HaGai to Jerusalem by the National Roads Company.

According to Anna Eirikh and Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily, directors of the excavation at the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The figurines, which are 9,000-9,500 years old, were found near a large round building whose foundations were built of fieldstones and upper parts of the walls were apparently made of mud brick. The first figurine, in the shape of a ram with twisted horns, was fashioned from limestone and is c. 15 cm in size. The sculpting is extraordinary and precisely depicts details of the animal’s image; the head and the horns protrude in front of the body and their proportions are extremely accurate. The body was made smooth and the legs of the figurine were incised in order to distinguish them from the rest of the body. The second figurine, which was fashioned on hard smoothed dolomite, is an abstract design; yet it too seems to depict a large animal with prominent horns that separate the elongated body from the head. The horns emerge from the middle of the head sideward and resemble those of a wild bovine or buffalo”.

According to Dr. Khalaily, “The Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period (the eighth millennium BCE) is considered one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of mankind; many changes took place in it that shaped human society for thousands of years to come. During this period, the transition began from nomadism, based on hunting and gathering, to sedentary life, based on farming and grazing. It was at this time that mankind began to inhabit permanent settlements and started building settlements that extended across a large area. In several sites that were exposed in our region remains were discovered indicating preliminary architectural planning of those same settlements and complex engineering capabilities including the construction of two story houses. The process of animal and plant domestication was accelerated in this period. The archaeological evidence from Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, particularly the artistic objects such as the figurines that were discovered at Tel Moza, teaches us about the religious life, the worship and the beliefs of Neolithic society. Other evidence on the subject has also been derived from the study of tombs and funerary customs of the same prehistoric society.

Dr. Khalaily adds, “It is known that hunting was the major activity in this period. Presumably, the figurines served as good-luck statues for ensuring the success of the hunt and might have been the focus of a traditional ceremony the hunters performed before going out into the field to pursue their prey”. Another theory presented by archaeologist Anna Eirikh, his research partner, links the figurines from Moza to the process of animal domestication – such as the wild bovine and different species of wild goat.

The figurines that were discovered in the current excavations at Tel Moza join other unique finds that were previously exposed at this site. We can conclude from these artifacts that the site at Tel Moza was most likely the largest of its kind in the mountainous region around Jerusalem.

A Public Water Reservoir Dating to the First Temple Period has been Exposed for the First Time next to the Western Wall

A large rock-hewn water reservoir dating to the First Temple period was discovered in the archaeological excavations that are being conducted in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden at the foot of Robinson’s Arch. The excavations at the site are being carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, underwritten by the ʽIr David Foundation and in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority.

The impressive reservoir will be presented today (Thursday) together with other finds from this past year at the 13th annual conference on the “City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem” to be held in Jerusalem.

The excavation, during the course of which the reservoir was discovered, is part of an archaeological project whereby the entire drainage channel of Jerusalem dating to the Second Temple period is being exposed. The channel runs north along the City of David spur, from the Siloam Pool to a point beneath Robinson’s Arch. The route of the channel was fixed in the center of the main valley that extends from north to south the length of the ancient city, parallel to the Temple Mount. In his description of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period, Josephus refers to the valley by its Greek name “Tyropoeon”, which scholars believe means “Valley of the Cheese-makers”. Another interpretation identifies the valley with the “Valley of the Decision”, mentioned in the Book of Joel.

It became apparent while excavating the channel that during the construction of this enormous engineering enterprise its builders had to remove earlier structures that were situated along the route of the channel and “pass through” existing rock-hewn installations that were located along it. An extraordinary installation that was exposed in recent weeks is a large water reservoir treated with several layers of plaster, which probably dates to the First Temple period.

The reservoir has an approximate capacity of 250 cubic meters and is therefore one of the largest water reservoirs from the First Temple period to be discovered so far in Jerusalem, and this was presumably a reservoir that was used by the general public.

According to Eli Shukron, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “While excavating beneath the floor of the drainage channel a small breach in the bedrock was revealed that led us to the large water reservoir. To the best of our knowledge this is the first time that a water reservoir of this kind has been exposed in an archaeological excavation. The exposure of the current reservoir, as well as smaller cisterns that were revealed along the Tyropoeon Valley, unequivocally indicates that Jerusalem’s water consumption in the First Temple period was not solely based on the output of the Gihon Spring water works, but also on more available water resources such as the one we have just discovered.

According to Dr. Tvika Tsuk, chief archaeologist of the Nature and Parks Authority and an expert on ancient water systems, “The large water reservoir that was exposed, with two other cisterns nearby, is similar in its general shape and in the kind of plaster to the light yellow plaster that characterized the First Temple period and resembles the ancient water system that was previously exposed at Bet Shemesh. In addition, we can see the hand prints of the plasters left behind when they were adding the finishing touches to the plaster walls, just like in the water reservoirs of Tel Be’er Sheva, Tel Arad and Tel Bet Shemesh, which also date to the First Temple period”. Dr. Tsuk says, “Presumably the large water reservoir, which is situated near the Temple Mount, was used for the everyday activities of the Temple Mount itself and also by the pilgrims who went up to the Temple and required water for bathing and drinking”.

The exposure of the impressive water reservoir that lies below Robinson’s Arch joins a series of finds that were uncovered during recent excavations in this region of the city, indicating the existence of a densely built-up quarter that extended across the area west of the Temple Mount and predating the expansion of the Temple Mount. It seems that with the expansion of the Temple Mount compound to the west and the construction of the public buildings and the streets around the Temple Mount at the end of the Second Temple period, the buildings from the First Temple period and early Second Temple period were dismantled in this region and all that remains of them is a series of rock-cut installations, among them the hewn water reservoir.

According to Dr. Yuval Baruch, archaeologist in charge of the Jerusalem Region of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Upon completion of the excavations along the route of the drainage channel, the IAA will examine possibilities of incorporating the impressive water reservoir in the planned visitors’ path”.

Jerusalem of the 10th century B.C.?

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...The Ophel is the narrow promontory that straddles the southern edge of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and Old City, and is thought to contain monumental remains extending from at least the time of the early Israelite and Judahite kings through the Byzantine and early Islamic periods. 

Led by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the renewed excavations are focusing on the same area where recent excavations have uncovered not only finds dated to the Second Temple, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods, but also what Mazar and others suggest may be the remains of structures attributed to builders during the period of King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. These remains included a section of a massive wall of large, well-dressed stones 70 meters long and 6 meters high. Also uncovered with the wall was a structure interpreted as an inner gatehouse, a royal structure adjacent to the gatehouse, and a section of a corner tower 8 meters long and 6 meters high, built of carved stones, all overlooking the Kidron Valley below. Associated with the complex, but as yet unexcavated by Mazar, were indications of a large tower that covered an area of about 24 by 18 meters. This was the large tower first discovered by British explorer Charles Warren in 1867, and now interpreted by Mazar as possibly a watchtower that guarded entrance to the city.


A portion of the excavated gate complex. Photo credit: Shmuel Browns


Remains of the royal structure. Photo credit: Shmuel Browns


...Though the Ophel excavations have already shown promise for shedding new light on the Jerusalem of the 10th century and later centuries, the efforts do not go without scholarly controversy. Some prominent Israeli archaeologists, like Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, have disputed Mazar's interpretation of the finds...

Excavations in Jaffa confirm presence of Egyptian settlement on the ancient city site

The Old Testament Studies and Biblical Archaeology division of the Faculty of Protestant Theology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) this year again conducted excavations on the ancient hill of Jaffa in Israel. The recent excavations have not only shed new light on the destruction of elements of the fortification, but also unearthed evidence pointing towards the presence of an Egyptian population on the site.

Historically, Jaffa, now part of the city of Tel Aviv, is the oldest port documented in world history. Ever since the 2nd millennium B.C., Jaffa has been home to intense trading activity. The remains of a gateway belonging to an Egyptian fortification dating to the dynasty of Ramses II (1279-1213 B.C.) had already been discovered during excavations led by the former municipal archaeologist Y. Kaplan in the 1950s. However, the findings from Kaplan's digs have never been extensively published. The Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project, whose partners include the universities in Mainz and Los Angeles as well as the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the Old Jaffa Development Company, not only aims to publish the findings of these older excavations, but also conduct new digs at sites around the city.

The goal of this year's excavations was to clarify the history of settlement during the 2nd millennium B.C. by investigating the phases of the fort's destruction and the nature of the Egyptian presence. The German site director Dr. Martin Peilstöcker of JGU explains that it has now become clear that the gate itself was destroyed and rebuilt at least four times. Moreover, it also appears that there is more than just the mud brick architecture and household pottery that reflect Egyptian tradition. In fact, a rare scarab amulet has been found that bears the cartouche of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390-1353 B.C.), thus also attesting to the presence of an Egyptian community in the city. Some of the discoveries made during the excavations are to be put on display in a special exhibition at the Bible Experience Museum Frankfurt in 2013.