Monday, December 31, 2012
...In 525 AD, the Negus, or king, of Aksum dispatched a fleet across the Red Sea. Soldiers and fighting elephants were ferried across the water to the East on un-tarred, raft-like ships to spread the gospel. In the ensuing decades, his army captured large parts of Arabia.
The first spearhead was targeted at the capital Zafar. Like a fortress in the sky, the town was perched on an extinct volcano, at an altitude of 2,800 meters (9,184 feet) above sea level. Its walls, riddled with towers and alarm bells, were four-and-a-half kilometers long. About 25,000 people lived in Zafar.
According to Yule, between the 3rd and the 5th century the confederation managed to complete a "meteoric rise" and become a superpower. Its merchants traded in sandalwood from Ceylon and valerian from Persia. The state controlled the port of Aden, where the ships of spice traders from India docked. Frankincense, which was made in Arabia, was also traded. It was a place of luxury. Yule found wine amphorae, the remains of precious fish condiments and palaces decorated with sphinxes and lions.
A Peaceful Multi-Cultural Community
The social structure in Zafar also appeared to be unique. The city had a large Jewish community, as evidenced by a seal with a Torah niche. Hebrew inscriptions were discovered. Zafar's residents also included Christians, who built a church there in 354 AD. Arabs who worshipped old idols lived in the alleys.
But this peaceful, multicultural community soon came to an end, as tensions began to mount in the 5th century, and Arabia was transformed into a front.
The Byzantine Empire, bristling with weapons, operated in the west, and its vassals kept making inroads toward the desert. They were accompanied by Christian missionaries, who brought the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to the shepherds on the edge of the Rub' al Khali, the sand desert that makes up much of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula.
These Sacred Heart imperialists confronted the Persian realm of the Sassanids, with its archers and armies of bearded soldiers clad in heavy metal armor. The Jews, who lived by the tens of thousands in the oases, were to some extent aligned with this power.
It was a confrontation between east and west, and everyone was forced to choose a side.
This also applied to Zafar. To stop the advance of Christianity, individual Arab kings initially converted to Judaism. The entire ruling class of the realm eventually followed suit. From then on, people were given names like Yehuda and Yussuf.
Then they took up arms. In approximately 520 AD, they attacked the Christian colony of Najran, where there were churches and monasteries. Countless Christians were slaughtered. The shocking news traveled all the way to Europe...
Religious practices and rituals in the early days of the Kingdom of Judah has recently been discovered
Rare evidence of the religious practices and rituals in the early days of the Kingdom of Judah including a ritual building (a temple) and a cache of sacred vessels some 2,750 years old have been uncovered at Tel Motza, to the west of Jerusalem.
General view of the excavation site. Photograph: Skyview, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The finds, dated to the early monarchic period and including pottery figurines of men and horses, provide rare testimony of a ritual cult in the Jerusalem region at the beginning of the period of the monarchy.
Figurines of a person. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
They were uncovered during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority, prior to work by the National Roads Company on the new Highway 1 section.
Figurine of a horse. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
According to Anna Eirikh, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz, directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple. The uniqueness of the structure is even more remarkable because of the vicinity of the site's proximity to the capital city of Jerusalem, which acted as the Kingdom's main sacred center at the time." According to the archaeologists, "Among other finds, the site has yielded pottery figurines of men, one of them bearded, whose significance is still unknown."
Tel Motza and the surrounding region are renowned for their prime archaeological importance. Many finds have previously been uncovered at the site, from a variety of different periods. From the 1990's to the beginning of the present millennium, the site was excavated in preparation for the new route taken by Highway 1. At the time, the site's archaeologists proposed once more identifying the site with the Biblical settlement "Mozah" mentioned in the Book of Joshua – a town in the tribal lands of Benjamin bordering on Judaea (Joshua 18: 26). The proposal was based, among other things, on the discovery at the site of a public building, a large structure with storehouses, and a considerable number of silos. At the time, archaeologists identified the site as a storehouse, run by high-ranking officials, for Jerusalem's grain supplies.
The current excavations have revealed evidence that provides another aspect to our understanding of the site. According to archaeologists Eirikh, Dr. Khalaily and, Kisilevitz, "The current excavation has revealed part of a large structure, from the early days of the monarchic period (Iron Age IIA). The walls of the structure are massive, and it includes a wide, east-facing entrance, conforming to the tradition of temple construction in the ancient Near East: the rays of the sun rising in the east would have illuminated the object placed inside the temple first, symbolizing the divine presence within. A square structure which was probably an altar was exposed in the temple courtyard, and the cache of sacred vessels was found near the structure. The assemblage includes ritual pottery vessels, with fragments of chalices (bowls on a high base which were used in sacred rituals), decorated ritual pedestals, and a number of pottery figurines of two kinds: the first, small heads in human form (anthropomorphic) with a flat headdress and curling hair; the second, figurines of animals (zoomorphic) – mainly of harnessed animals. The archeologists stress that "The find of the sacred structure together with the accompanying cache of sacred vessels, and especially the significant coastal influence evident in the anthropomorphic figurines, still require extensive research."
Ritual elements in the Kingdom of Judah are recorded in archaeological research, especially from the numerous finds of pottery figurines and other sacred objects found at many sites in Israel, and these are usually attributed to domestic rituals. However, the remains of ritual platforms and temples used for ritual ceremonies have only been found at a few sites of this period. According to the site's directors, "The finds recently discovered at Tel Motza provide rare archaeological evidence for the existence of temples and ritual enclosures in the Kingdom of Judah in general, and in the Jerusalem region in particular, prior to the religious reforms throughout the kingdom at the end of the monarchic period (at the time of Hezekiah and Isaiah), which abolished all ritual sites, concentrating ritual practices solely at the Temple in Jerusalem."
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
On the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Israel Antiquities Authority and Google has launched the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library website, www.deadseascrolls.org.il. The public is invited to experience, view, examine, and explore this collection of over 5000 images of Dead Sea Scrolls, in a quality never seen before.
The library was assembled over the course of two years, in collaboration with Google, using advanced technology first developed by NASA. It includes some 1000 new images of scroll fragments; 3500 scans of negatives from the 1950s; a database documenting about 900 manuscripts, two-thousand years old, comprising thousands of scroll fragments; and interactive content pages. It enables scholars and millions of users worldwide to reveal and decipher details hence invisible to the naked eye. The site displays infra-red and color images at a resolution of 1215 dpi, at a 1:1 scale, equivalent in quality to the original scrolls. Google has provided hosting services and use of Google Maps, image technology and YouTube. The project was made possible by an exceptionally generous grant from the Leon Levy Foundation, and further contribution by the Arcadia Fund, as well as the support of the Yad Hanadiv Foundation.
One of the earliest known texts is a copy of the Book of Deuteronomy, which includes the Ten Commandments; part of chapter 1 of the Book of Genesis, dated to the first century BCE, which describes the creation of the world; a number of copies of Psalms scrolls; tiny texts of tefillin from the Second Temple period; letters and documents hidden by refugees fleeing the Roman army during the Bar Kochba Revolt; and hundreds of additional 2000-year-old texts, shedding light on biblical studies, the history of Judaism and the origins of Christianity.
Shuka Dorfman, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: "Only five conservators worldwide are authorized to handle the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now, everyone can "touch" the scrolls on-screen around the globe, and view them in spectacular quality, equivalent to the original! On the occasion of the 65th anniversary of their discovery, the IAA, in collaboration with Google, presents the scrolls online, using the most advanced imaging technology. Thus, this most important national treasure is available to the general public, preserving it for future generations."
Yossi Matias, Head of Google’s R&D Center in Israel, said: “We’re working to bring important cultural and historical materials online and help preserve them for future generations. The pieces of culture and history being made accessible today - the manuscripts of the 10 commandments, the story of the creation of the world, and more - are known to almost every schoolchild around the world. This partnership is another step towards preserving cultural material around the world, and enabling users to enjoy it.”
About the Scrolls: In 1947, while searching for a stray goat in the Judean Desert, a Bedouin shepherd came upon a cave, in which he found a clay jar containing 2000-year-old scrolls. Ultimately, Bedouin treasure hunters and archaeologists found the remains of hundreds of additional ancient scrolls in nearby caves. These ancient pieces of parchment and papyrus, including the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible, were preserved for two-thousand years by the hot, dry desert climate and the darkness of the caves where they were hidden. The scrolls unveil the diverse religious beliefs which prevailed in ancient Judaism during the turbulent Second Temple period, whence Jesus lived and preached. The scrolls are considered the most important archaeological discovery of the twentieth century.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Research carried out at the University of Sheffield has revealed intriguing parallels between modern day and Bronze-Age Syria as the Mesopotamian region underwent urban decline, government collapse, and drought.
Dr Ellery Frahm from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology made the discoveries by studying stone tools of obsidian, razor-sharp volcanic glass, crafted in the region about 4,200 years ago.
Dr Frahm used artefacts unearthed from the archaeological site of Tell Mozan, known as Urkesh in antiquity, to trace what happened to trade and social networks when Bronze-Age Syrian cities were abandoned in the wake of a regional government collapse and increasing drought due to climate shifts.
“Unfortunately,” explained Dr Frahm, “the situation four thousand years ago has striking similarities to today. Much like the fall of the Akkadian Empire, a governmental collapse is a real possibility in Syria after nearly two years of fighting. Some archaeologists and historians contend that the Akkadian Empire was brought down by militarism and that violence ended its central economic role in the region.
“Additionally, farming in north-eastern Syria today relies principally on rainfall rather than irrigation, just as in the Bronze Age, and climate change has already stressed farming there. But it isn't just climate change that is the problem. Farming, rather than herding, has been encouraged at unsustainable levels by the state through land-use policies, and as occurred during urbanisation four millennia ago, populations have dramatically increased in the area.”
The diverse origins of the obsidian tools, which date from the rise of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia to several centuries after its fall, revealed how social networks and trading routes evolved during this period.
Dr Frahm explained the motivation behind the research: “This time of transition in Mesopotamia has received great attention for the concurrence of aridification, de-urbanisation, and the decline of the Akkadian Empire about 4,200 years ago. However, our current understanding of this ‘crisis’ has been almost exclusively shaped by ceramic styles, estimated sizes of archaeological sites, and evidence of changing farming practices. Trade and the associated social networks have been largely neglected in prior studies about this time, and we decided obsidian was an ideal way to investigate them.”
Obsidian, naturally occurring volcanic glass, is smooth, hard, and far sharper than a surgical scalpel when fractured, making it a highly desired raw material for crafting stone tools for most of human history. In fact, obsidian tools continued to be used throughout the ancient Middle East for millennia beyond the introduction of metals, and obsidian blades are still used today as scalpels in specialised medical procedures.
“Our discovery that obsidian in Urkesh came from six different volcanoes before the crisis, whereas they normally came from just two or three at surrounding sites, implies that Urkesh was an unusually cosmopolitan city with diverse visitors, or visitors with diverse itineraries. During the crisis, however, obsidian only came from two nearby sources, suggesting that certain trade or social networks collapsed. It was two or three centuries before diverse obsidian appeared again at this city, and even then, it came from different quarries, signalling the impact the crisis had on trade and mobility throughout the wider region.
“One compelling interpretation of our findings is that the regional government of the Akkadian Empire shaped Urkesh’s local economy. This city might have specialised its economy in response to demand from the Akkadians for certain commodities, such as metals from the nearby mountains. With climate shifts and the end of the empire, Urkesh’s inhabitants might have had to refocus their economy on local production and consumption, covering their own needs rather than engaging in specialised long-distance trade.
“By drawing these parallels to the current situation in Syria, we are not making light of it,” explains Dr Frahm. “Quite the opposite. The situation in Syria is heartbreaking, horrifying even when I see the images from Syria via social media. As an archaeologist, there is nothing that I can do to help the situation right now. But those of us who study people and the past are in a unique position to consider what could happen after the immediate crisis ends. What happens to cities when a state falls? How do the residents sustain themselves if that infrastructure collapses? Will they move to another area? Droughts are known to increase wars. As climate change increases, could fighting start again over scarce water resources? This is the type of contribution that archaeology can make towards improving the future.”
Dr Frahm’s team used a variety of scientific techniques to analyse the obsidian artefacts, including an electron microscope outfitted for chemical analyses, a handheld chemical analyser that can be used at archaeological sites, and a series of sophisticated magnetic analyses at one of the world’s best facilities for studying rock magnetism, the Institute for Rock Magnetism at the University of Minnesota.
The paper, entitled Environment and Collapse: Eastern Anatolian Obsidians at Urkesh (Tell Mozan, Syria) and the Third-Millennium Mesopotamian Urban Crisis, has been published online by the Journal of Archaeological Science and is available here: Journal of Archaeological Science
Illinois State Archaeological Survey director Thomas Emerson and his colleagues discovered that pipestone pipes buried roughly 2,100 years ago in a mound site in southeast Ohio came from stone gathered in northern Illinois. | Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
In a new study, the first to actually test the stone pipes and pipestone from quarries across the upper Midwest, researchers conclude that those who buried the pipes in Tremper Mound got most of their pipestone – and perhaps even the finished, carved pipes – from Illinois.
The researchers spent nearly a decade on the new research. They first collected the mineralogical signatures of stone found in traditional pipestone quarries in Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio. Then they compared the material found in those quarries to the mineralogical makeup of the artifacts left behind by the people of Tremper Mound.
Less than 20 percent of the 111 Tremper Mound pipes they tested were made from local Ohio stone. About 65 percent were carved from flint clay found only in northern Illinois and 18 percent were made of a stone called catlinite – from Minnesota.
The researchers are still puzzling over how most of these materials made it to Ohio from Illinois, and are baffled by another new discovery. Pipes from a site only about 40 miles north of Tremper Mound, an elaborate cluster of immense mounds known as Mound City, were carved almost entirely from local stone. Mound City was inhabited at about the same time or shortly after Tremper Mound, and the pipes found there are stylistically very similar to the Tremper pipes. (See a slideshow of some pipes.)
The researchers describe their findings in a paper in American Antiquity.
These results should remind archaeologists that things are not as simple as they sometimes appear, said Thomas Emerson, the principal investigator on the study and the director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) at the University of Illinois.
“This is how mythology becomes encased in science,” he said.
The study also confirms that the people who produced these pipestone artifacts, known today as members of the Hopewell tradition, were more diverse and varied in their cultural practices than scientists once appreciated, Emerson said.
The Hopewell people, who lived in the region from about 100 B.C. to roughly A.D. 400, have long been the subject of speculation, as the artifacts they left behind and the manner in which these goods were disposed of are not easily understood. Those living in southeastern Ohio, especially, seemed to be “conspicuous consumers and connoisseurs of the exotic,” Emerson said.
The Hopewell people from that area collected “massive assemblages of obsidian from Wyoming, mica from the Appalachians, and caches of elaborately carved pipes,” Emerson said. They also collected shells from the Gulf Coast, along with the skulls of exotic animals (an alligator, for instance).
“Strange animals, strange minerals, strange things were really a focus,” he said.
Most of the carved stone pipes from that era have been found in Ohio, where very large caches often containing more than 100 pipes were ritually broken, burned and buried, Emerson said. The same style of pipes are found in Illinois, but many fewer have been uncovered in Illinois to date, he said, and they are dispersed, not heaped together in giant hordes as in Ohio. (Watch a video about the Hopewell pipes.
There is evidence of stone carving at the Illinois sources where the stone was gathered, but none at Tremper Mound, suggesting that the Illinois stone was carved into pipes before it was transported to Ohio.
The team used a variety of techniques to analyze the material in the quarries and the artifacts. One method, called X-ray diffraction (XRD), produces a distinct signal that reflects the proportion of minerals in different types of stone. The stone must be pulverized, however, to subject it to XRD. To analyze the intact pipes, the researchers used a non-destructive portable technology, called PIMA, which illuminates a specimen with short-wavelength infrared radiation and records the refracted (unabsorbed) wavelengths, allowing investigators to identify the minerals present. They verified the accuracy of the PIMA by comparing its results to those obtained with XRD on quarry specimens and broken pipes.
The new findings should challenge archaeologists to look more carefully at the evidence left behind by the Hopewell people, Emerson said.
“This study really says to the archaeological community, you need to go back to the drawing board,” he said. “You’ve been telling stories for decades that are based on essentially misinformation.”
The farm was discovered on Hantke Street, during construction work for a light rail line in the area.
The findings indicate two distinct stages of use, one from the Hellenistic period, between 400 B.C.E. and 200 B.C.E., and one from the Roman period, between the middle of the second century B.C.E. and the middle of the first century B.C.E., which corresponds to the time of Hasmonean rule.
There are indications that with more excavation, the farm could turn out to be part of a town, said Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Daniel Ein Mor, who is leading the Hantke Street dig.
"We discovered rock foundations in the buildings, pointing to a huge investment," he said. "The quality of the construction is excellent, so I wouldn't be surprised if future findings reveal it is even something bigger, maybe a settlement."
So far archaeologists have uncovered a wine press, outdoor stoves, canals and a large amount of earthenware, including a small perfume bottle, in the area. They also found a small lead weight with a carved letter, possibly the Hebrew letter "yod," which in this case was written upside down.
Ein Mor said he thinks the inhabitants cultivated the land near the Ein Karem Stream, where ancient terraced fields have been discovered...
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
The first unequivocal evidence that humans in prehistoric Northern Europe made cheese more than 7,000 years ago is described in research by an international team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, UK, published today in Nature.
By analysing fatty acids extracted from unglazed pottery pierced with small holes excavated from archaeological sites in Poland, the researchers showed that dairy products were processed in these ceramic vessels. Furthermore, the typology of the sieves, close in shape to modern cheese-strainers, provides compelling evidence that these specialised vessels have been used for cheese-making.
Before this study, milk residues had been detected in early sites in Northwestern Anatolia (8,000 years ago) and in Libya (nearly 7,000 years ago). Nevertheless, it had been impossible to detect if the milk was processed to cheese products.
Researchers from the Organic Geochemistry Unit at the University of Bristol, together with colleagues at Princeton (USA), Łódź, Gdánsk and Poznań (Poland) studied unglazed pottery from the region of Kuyavia (Poland) dating from around 7,000 years ago. These had been typologically interpreted as cheese-strainers by archaeologists for more than 30 years due to the peculiar presence of small sized holes on the surface of the sherds. In fact, these archaeological sherds looked like modern cheese-strainers.
Using lipid biomarker and stable isotope analysis, researchers examined preserved fatty acids trapped in the fabric of the pottery and showed that the sieves had indeed been used for processing dairy products. Milk residues were also detected in non-perforated bowls, which may have been used with the sieves.
Contrastingly, the analyses of non-perforated pottery (cooking pots or bottles) demonstrated that they were not used for processing milk. The presence of ruminant carcass fats in cooking pots showed that they were likely used to cook meat, while the presence of beeswax in bottles suggests the sealing of the pottery to store water.
Thus, the analyses of such a range of ceramics from the same area showed for the first time that different types of pottery were used in a specific manner, with sieves (and maybe bowls) being used for cheese-making, cooking pots for cooking meat and waterproofed bottles for storing water.
The processing of milk and particularly the production of cheese were critical in early agricultural societies as it allowed the preservation of milk in a non-perishable and transportable form and, of primary importance, it made milk a more digestible commodity for early prehistoric farmers.
Mélanie Salque, a PhD student from the University of Bristol and one of the authors of the paper said: "Before this study, it was not clear that cattle were used for their milk in Northern Europe around 7,000 years ago. However, the presence of the sieves in the ceramic assemblage of the sites was thought to be a proof that milk and even cheese was produced at these sites. Of course, these sieves could have been used for straining all sorts of things, such as curds from whey, meat from stock or honeycombs from honey. We decided to test the cheese-making hypothesis by analysing the lipids trapped into the ceramic fabric of the sieves.
"The presence of milk residues in sieves (which look like modern cheese-strainers) constitutes the earliest direct evidence for cheese-making. So far, early evidence for cheese-making were mostly iconographic, that is to say murals showing milk processing, which dates to several millennia later than the cheese strainers."
Peter Bogucki one of the co-authors of this new study and proponent of the cheese strainer hypothesis nearly 30 years ago notes that: "As well as showing that humans were making cheese 7,000 years ago, these results provide evidence of the consumption of low-lactose content milk products in Prehistory. Making cheese allowed them to reduce the lactose content of milk, and we know that at that time, most of the humans were not tolerant to lactose. Making cheese is a particularly efficient way to exploit the nutritional benefits of milk, without becoming ill because of the lactose."
Friday, December 7, 2012
Findings include what could be the largest haul yet of pottery fragments from the time of Jerusalem's First Temple.
Archaeologists, students and volunteers have unearthed archaeological remains that will shed additional light on the occupation of ancient Jerusalem's royal precinct of the time of the Israelite and Judahite kings, going back to the 10th century BCE.
Under the direction of Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, painstaking excavation by a team of archaeologists, including a group from the Herbert W. Armstrong College in the U.S., has revealed extensive architectural elements, including floor layers and walls, that suggest at least one very large structure of yet-to-be-determined function. This, after weeks of excavating through layers containing artifacts, architectural elements and other features representing later periods of occupation, including those of the Byzantine and Second Temple (Herodian) periods.
"Now", says Mazar, "all over the place we have Iron Age (1300 - 600 BCE ) floor layers, we have alot of Iron Age pottery, 10th century BCE pottery......I think it's the richest assemblage we have ever had from the 10th century until now in Jerusalem."
Like the other structures within the vicinity, a building of possible monumental proportions may be emerging. As she stood above looking down at the excavation area spread out below her, she speaks to a small group of observers standing next to her, sharing her vantage point. "We have these large walls that show that this was a very large structure -- it's huge..."
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Despite their modern-day diversity of language, lifestyle, and religion, Europe's widespread Romani population shares a common, if complex, past. It all began in northwestern India about 1,500 years ago, according to a study reported on December 6th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, that offers the first genome-wide perspective on Romani origins and demographic history.
The Romani represent the largest minority group in Europe, consisting of approximately 11 million people. That means the size of the Romani population rivals that of several European countries, including Greece, Portugal, and Belgium.
"We were interested in exploring the population history of European Romani because they constitute an important fraction of the European population, but their marginalized situation in many countries also seems to have affected their visibility in scientific studies," said David Comas of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain.
The Romani people lack written historical records on their origins and dispersal. To fill in the gaps in the new study, Comas and Manfred Kayser from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, together with their international European colleagues, gathered genome-wide data from 13 Romani groups collected across Europe to confirm an Indian origin for European Romani, consistent with earlier linguistic studies.
The genome-wide evidence specified the geographic origin toward the north or northwestern parts of India and provided a date of origin of about 1,500 years ago. While the Middle East and Caucasus regions are known to have had an important influence on Romani language, the researchers saw limited evidence for shared genetic ancestry between the European Romani and those who live in those regions of the world today. Once in Europe, Romani people began settling in various locations, likely spreading across Europe via the Balkan region about 900 years ago.
"From a genome-wide perspective, Romani people share a common and unique history that consists of two elements: the roots in northwestern India and the admixture with non-Romani Europeans accumulating with different magnitudes during the out-of-India migration across Europe," Kayser said. "Our study clearly illustrates that understanding the Romani's genetic legacy is necessary to complete the genetic characterization of Europeans as a whole, with implications for various fields, from human evolution to the health sciences."