Saturday, March 24, 2007

China's terracotta army

The warriors and horses of China's terracotta army contain different pollen compositions, scientists have discovered, a finding which could help locate the long-sought kilns where the clay figures were made.

For over 2,200 years, a secret terracotta army of about 8,000 soldiers, 300 horses and 200 chariots has protected the hidden tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang. Unearthed in 1974, the life-size statues are said to represent the pinnacle of achievement in ancient pottery, and archaeologists have been trying to solve the mystery of how and where they were produced.

'One way to study such problems is to figure out the origin of the soil that was used to make the terracotta,' explained Hu Yaqin of the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing. Because soils from different regions are likely to contain distinct signatures of vegetation, Hu and her colleagues analysed pollen compositions in clay fragments and soil samples from the pit.

They crushed the terracotta fragments, digested the ground clay with acids, and spun the mix to separate the components. The resulting organic residue was mounted in glycerol and observed under a high-resolution microscope. The team recovered and identified 32 types of pollens. The pollen spectrum of terracotta horses, mostly from trees, is similar to that of the soil samples from the pit. By contrast, the pollens detected in terracotta warriors are mainly herbaceous.

The researchers suggest that the horses were made locally near the pits of the emperor's mausoleum, whereas the soldiers were produced elsewhere. 'The horses have relatively fragile legs, which are prone to damage during transportation, and are also larger and heavier than the soldiers,' says Hu. 'So it makes sense to produce the horses locally to minimise transport.'

This is the first time that pollens have been recovered from ancient pottery in this way. 'We may have opened a new door for uncovering the secret of the terracotta army,' said Zhang Zhong-li, of the Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses of the Qin Shihuang Mausoleum in Xi'an, also an author of the study. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of several ancient kilns in the region, but it is difficult to determine whether they were used to make the terracotta. 'We might be able to get some clues by analysing pollen compositions of the soil in the kilns,' said Zhang. The results are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

'This is a very interesting and innovative study,' said Arlene Rosen of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. However, the conclusion should be confirmed by a larger sample size, which is always tricky in archaeology, and by detailed chemical analysis of clay and soil sediments through X-ray fluorescence or infrared spectrography, she suggested.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Were Early Israelites Literate?

fter 1948, the "Israeli School" of Palestinian archaeology, epitomized by Yigael Yadin, (the Israeli general, political leader and renowned archaeologist), gained influence. But Dr. Bunimovitz writes in How Mute Stones Speak (Biblical Archeology Review March/April 1995) that even though the Israeli School followers viewed their work from a modern, secular perspective, "... despite its new scientific arsenal, biblical archaeology during the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s was still parochial, highly pragmatic and bound to traditional interpretative frameworks. Slowly, however, as previous interpretative concepts were discarded, exciting new cultural/historical insights gradually came into view, even through old research strategies."

In the 1970s, a "new archaeology" became predominant. Israel's victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 opened Judea and Samaria to a unified archaeological survey, with some, but not much, exploration in the field. Environmental factors like plant and animal remains, economic factors and sociological currents created a multi-disciplinary approach with a cultural and ecological orientation. Architecture and pottery (and the Bible itself) lost influence as the new disciplines became popular. The emphasis became more cultural and less historical, which led to pragmatic conclusions instead of the traditional ones. The new archaeology emphasized mundane social history instead of traditional political history, which involved only the deeds of great men and public events. This led to the growing consensus on the emergence of Israel from varied groups of pastoral nomads, sedentary farmers and possibly even urban families, mainly of local Canaanite origin. Nevertheless, this "sensible" conclusion didn't diminish the importance of the Israelite's impact in Dr. Bunimivitz's opinion.

In concluding his article, Bunimovitz approved the contention that the "professionalization and secularization of biblical archaeology during the last two decades has gone too far in severing the archaeology of Palestine from literary sources." He agreed with Dr. William Dever's (Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University) claims that the present generation of Palestinian archaeologists had failed to achieve a proper balance. "An explanation of 'what happened in history' cannot be reduced ... [to] such factors as environment, technology or subsistence, and ignore the role of symbol, ideology and even religion, in the shaping of society and in culture change. Dever argues that 'an explanation of what really took place in ancient Israel in the Iron Age must look not only at the material remains of that culture, but also at those ideals, spiritual and secular...that motivated those who were the bearers of that culture.'"

With a better understanding of the differing trends in archaeological research, the biblical-historical versus the secular-ecological, let's return to Dr. Tawil's lecture. He contended that ancient inscriptions found on walls or stone tablets, in languages pre-dating the language of the earliest existing Biblical texts, provided linguistic proof for the truth of the Bible. His conclusion is based on his encyclopedic knowledge of some of mankind's most archaic languages. Though Dr. Tawil admitted that the Bible is not a history book, he feels that it is an historical narrative, that is an estimation of historical events.

Dr. Tawil took us through an explanation of Genesis 11:1-9 to prove his point. "And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and lime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men had built. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off building the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

The professor pointed out that this fragment should be read as a polemic against paganism: the impossibility to reach up to the sky to find God, resulting in the dispersion of mankind from Mesopotamia with the loss of the single culture and language that had been in place. He proved this by explaining the derivation of the words from the original languages in which the story was written and later re-written. According to Dr. Tawil, the one language = Indo-Aryan; Shinar = Sumer, an ancient city in Mesopotamia; the tower whose top reached into heaven = a pyramidal Ziggurat (pagan temple to Marduk); Babel = the city of Babylon; and so on.

Ancient Wine Making In Neolithic Greece

Researchers have found what they believe is the world earliest evidence of mashed grapes, dating back to 6500 years ago in Greece.

The 2,460 charred grape seeds and 300 empty grape skins were used to make wine, and might be the remains of the second oldest known grape wine in the world, the first being the residue-covered Iranian wine jug dating back to the sixth millennium BC.

Lead author Tania Valamoti, a lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at Greece's Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and her team excavated four homes at a Neolithic site called Dikili Tash.

After discovering the grape remains in one residence, they conducted charring experiments on fresh grapes, raisins and wine pressings to see what would best match the ancient seeds and skins.

They found the archaeological remains "morphologically resembled wine pressings and could not have originated from charred grapes or raisins".

Analysis of the grape remains further revealed they either were harvested from wild plants or originated from a very early cultivar.

"For the Neolithic or the Bronze Age, we have no evidence for markets and a market economy. Production was on a household or communal basis," Discovery quoted Valamoti as saying.

Valamoti and her team also found two-handled clay cups and jars, which they said suggested a use for decanting and consuming liquids.

Charred figs were also found near the grape remnants.

Since the juice from wild grapes often has a bitter taste, figs could have used as a flavour. The world's oldest wine, a 9,000-year old rice wine from China, also contained honey and fruits, she said.

"Figs could have been added to the grape juice prior to fermentation and the sugars contained in them would have entered the juice. Or, they could have been added to the fermented product after completion of the fermentation process. Honey could be dealt with in the same way," Valamoti added.

Valamoti and her colleagues are now looking forward to conduct studies on the Dikili Tash pottery to determine whether tartaric acid, a component of grapes and wine, was present in the cups.

The study is published in the journal Antiquities.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pig study forces rethink of Pacific colonisation

A survey of wild and domestic pigs has caused archaeologists to reconsider both the origins of the first Pacific colonists and the migration routes humans travelled to reach the remote Pacific.

Scientists from Durham University and the University of Oxford, studying DNA and tooth shape in modern and ancient pigs, have revealed that, in direct contradiction to longstanding ideas, ancient human colonists may have originated in Vietnam and travelled between numerous islands before first reaching New Guinea, and later landing on Hawaii and French Polynesia.

Using mitochondrial DNA obtained from modern and ancient pigs across East Asia and the Pacific, the researchers demonstrated that a single genetic heritage is shared by modern Vietnamese wild boar, modern feral pigs on the islands of Sumatra, Java, and New Guinea, ancient Lapita pigs in Near Oceania, and modern and ancient domestic pigs on several Pacific Islands.

The study results, published today in the prestigious academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, contradict established models of human migration which assert that the ancestors of Pacific islanders originated in Taiwan or Island Southeast Asia, and travelled along routes that pass through the Philippines as they dispersed into the remote Pacific.

The research was funded by funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Leverhulme Trust, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Fyssen Foundation.

Research project director, Dr Keith Dobney, a Wellcome Trust senior research fellow with the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, said: "Many archaeologists have assumed that the combined package of domestic animals and cultural artefacts associated with the first Pacific colonizers originated in the same place and was then transported with people as a single unit.

"Our study shows that this assumption may be too simplistic, and that different elements of the package, including pigs, probably took different routes through Island South East Asia, before being transported into the Pacific.’

Archaeological evidence suggests that early farmers moved from mainland East Asia through Island Southeast Asia and on into Oceania, bringing their domestic plants, animals and specific pottery styles with them. Other sources of evidence, including human genetic and linguistic data, appear to support the traditional model that Pacific colonists first began their journey in Taiwan.

Greger Larson, lead author of the paper, performed the genetic work while at the University of Oxford. He is now due to join Durham University in August as a Research Councils UK Research Fellow.

He said: "Pigs are good swimmers, but not good enough to reach Hawaii. Given the distances between islands, pigs must have been transported and are thus excellent proxies of human movement. In this case, they have helped us open a new window into the history of human colonization of the Pacific.

"We are confident that this research will inspire geneticists and archaeologists to consider both alternative colonization routes, and more complex, and perhaps more accurate, theories about the nature of human colonization and the animals they carried with them."

The specimens used in these analyses came from the jaw bones or teeth of museum and archaeological specimens and the hair from more recent specimens.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Archaeologist recounts discovery of oldest biblical text

Serendipity plays a role in many of the world’s greatest discoveries, and this was no less the case for biblical archaeologist Gabriel “Gaby” Barkay during a dig he led in Jerusalem 30 years ago. Barkay never would have guessed that a pesky child with a hammer would reveal the resting place of the oldest piece of biblical text ever discovered.

During a lecture at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Barkay took a crowd of 200 on a journey that began with slides of St. Andrews Church of Scotland, within view of Old Jerusalem. It was on the grounds of that church, erected in 1927 on a rocky knoll on the Valley of Hinnom (Ketef Hinnom), where Barkay oversaw an archaeological dig in the mid- to late-1970s.

“I was looking for less-looked-at subjects: places of extra-rural, para-urban land uses,” Barkay said, describing the reasons why he chose that location as he was developing his doctoral dissertation. “I asked myself, ‘If I were a patriarch, where would I put a defensible place? Where would I put a cemetery or a stone quarry?’”

Barkay decided the answers lay outside the city walls of Old Jerusalem, out of range of ancient weapons, but close enough for easy access. This led him to the hill where St. Andrew’s Church sits. Pointing to an aerial view of the location, he described some features of the terrain.

“There was an ancient road cut out of the rocky escarpment upon which the apse of the church clings,” Barkay said. “This ancient road led to Bethlehem and was in use until the 1800s [A.D.]. This hill is very important because it is just outside the range of city weapons. If I was besieging the city, I would encamp on this hill.”

With the dig underway, Barkay’s team first uncovered artifacts from the 19th century A.D. -- British trinkets, Turkish railroad spikes, coins, military insignias and remains of rifles, many of which were museum-quality pieces.

They also uncovered the threshold of an early Christian church some 1,500 years old. Under the place identified as the church’s narthex, or lobby, the team discovered an intact crypt. Barkay described finding various remnants of the church, including its footings. He said the church likely was destroyed in the seventh century A.D. by a Persian king.

As Barkay’s team continued deeper into the dig, their discoveries went backwards in time, era by era: From the late Roman period, tiny fragments of human bones were found, incinerated inside cooking pots. The team had unearthed a crematorium of the 10th Regiment of the Roman Army. Roman-era hobnails from Roman boots, earrings, coins, rings and glass perfume containers were found intact.

From the Herodian period, Barkay joked about finding clay cooking vessels with tiny holes in them and thinking someone on his team had carelessly punctured the rare treasures. But subsequent research revealed that the cooking pots had been deliberately punctured by first-century Jews in order to “cancel” the cooking pots after they had been used for sacred purposes in the temple.

Further on, discoveries from the First Temple Period, the time of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah. Fertility figurines told the sad story of how residents of Jerusalem had worshiped false gods, giving substance to the warnings of Isaiah and his contemporaries recorded in the Bible.

Soon burial caves came to view. Barkay’s excavation was revealing artifacts from the fifth century B.C. These repositories revealed clues about how ancient Hebrews buried their dead.

Then Barkay described for his audience how, in 1979, a group of 12-year-olds from an archaeology club in Tel Aviv had come to the dig. Barkay thought the children were “pesky.” One in particular, a boy named Nathan, was always “tugging on my shirt and asking silly questions,” Barkay said.

Barkay assigned Nathan to a far-off, unimportant task: clearing out an ancient repository cave to prepare it for being photographed. Nathan took to the task with a hammer and “expressed his frustration by hammering the floor of the repository.” Barkay recalled being quite perturbed when young Nathan, who had not been on task very long, tugged on this shirt to tell the archaeologist that the hammer had broken through the floor of the cave and there was something below.

Upon inspection, Barkay realized that what he had thought was the floor of the chamber was, in fact, the ceiling of another ancient chamber underneath. Nathan had opened up a chamber where Barkay would make his most renowned discovery.

Below was a repository containing a large quantity of intact vessels dating from the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries B.C., Barkay said. Many had survived Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Glazed pottery, gold jewelry, silver, semi-precious stones and beads all gave evidence of a thriving population. Silver coins minted in Greece showed that the Hebrews were part of a network of international trade.

That was when the “very important” discovery came to light. During his lecture Feb. 5 at Southwestern’s main campus in Fort Worth, Texas, Barkay projected a photograph of a tiny, dirty cylinder he described as “the size of a cigarette butt.” It was an amulet designed to be worn on an arm or forehead in literal obedience to Deuteronomy 6:8, an ancient precursor to what are today known as phylacteries.

“Inside [the amulet] we found a tiny, silver scroll, which took us three years to unroll,” Barkay said. “The scroll yielded 19 lines of minuscule writing ... in ancient Hebrew script.”

Stratigraphy enabled Barkay to date the silver scrolls to the seventh century B.C., to the time of King Josiah. He said the scrolls refute scholars who claim the books of the Pentateuch were written later.

The writing included three repetitions of ancient Hebrew letters which are transliterated YHWH. “This is the private, unpronounceable name of God, which is often pronounced in the West as ‘Jehovah,’” Barkay said.

Experts in ancient Semitic languages showed that the tiny scrolls contained the earliest written example of the Aaronian benediction recorded in Numbers 6:24-26: “The LORD bless you, and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.”

“This text predates the earliest Dead Sea Scrolls by four centuries,” Barkay said in reference to the importance of the silver scrolls. “They are the oldest biblical verses identified in the world.”

Born in Hungary, Barkay moved to Jerusalem early in life, where he later earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He then earned his doctoral degree in archaeology at Tel Aviv University. Barkay currently is professor of archaeology at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. Throughout his career, he has been involved with excavations at Lachish, Jerusalem, Megiddo, Tel Zayit and Susa in modern-day Iran. He has directed excavations at Ramat Rachel, Ketef Hinnom and other sites. Barkay has published numerous articles in the Israel Exploration Journal, Biblical Archaeology Review and other scholarly periodicals. He is a recipient of the prestigious Jerusalem Prize in Archaeology.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Ship participated in Napoleon's attack on the Holy Land

Which navy commissioned the boat that sunk off the coast of Acre 200 years ago, which battles was it involved in and how did it end up at the bottom of the sea? The recent findings of marine archaeologists at the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies of the University of Haifa may provide the answers to these questions.

The ship, which sunk off the coast of Acre during a battle between Napoleon, the British navy and possibly the defenders of Acre, 200 years ago, is under excavation and its finds are beginning to shed light on Napoleon's attempt to conquer the Holy Land.

Recent marine excavations found cannon balls, canisters of gun powder and other items that will help give evidence as to the ship's journey and answer the questions facing marine archaeologists. It is not clear if the boat was involved in battles in 1799 or 1840, if it was a French or British boat or even if the boat sunk or was sunk. "This is the only shipwreck excavated from the period of the French blockade of Acre and it can teach us a lot about the naval battles of that period," explained Dr. Ya'acov Kahanov from the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies and the Department Of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa.

This large ship, 30 meters long and 9 meters wide, was discovered off the Acre coast in 1966, but systematic excavations have only just begun under the auspices of the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies of the University of Haifa in cooperation with the Nautical Archaeology Society of Great Britain and with the help of the Nautical College for Naval Officers in Acre. The fact that cannon balls, gun powder canisters, wineskins and metal buckles were found, attest to the fact that this ship was part of a naval fleet. The question of which battle it was involved in has yet to be answered, but the archaeologists do have some theories.

It seems that the story of this boat begins over 200 years ago. Researchers found a map in a British archive, drawn in 1799 by a British soldier, of the British formation off the coast of Acre, facing a blockade of Napoleon's ships. The map includes a symbol of a sunken ship, at exactly the spot where this ship was found. This map is the source of the theory that this ship was involved in the battles of 1799. In addition, one of the cannon balls was found wedged into the keel of the boat, exactly at the bottom. The location and the unique angle at which the cannon ball is positioned, has led researchers to believe that it was this cannon ball that sank the ship.

"One of the theories is that this is a "barricade ship" - a ship that the British purposely sunk at the entrance of the port in order to block smaller French ships from entering it. The leather buckles, gun power canisters and the rest of the finds need to be analyzed to verify how the ship ended up at the bottom of the sea. Once we understand these questions, we will be able to understand more about battle tactics of that period, "said Dr. Kahanov.


Scathing review of the film from prominent archaeologist Joe Zias:

Here's one part - (read the rest here -

"The film makers try to fool the public into believing that as ten ossuaries were discovered in the tomb and only nine were published by Kloner that the tenth ossuary was the controversial James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus ossuary which was declared to be a forgery by a panel of experts. The attempt to deceive the public can be clearly seen here in terms of an ‘agenda’.

Two members of the BAR Crowd who appear prominently in the film had earlier declared that the ossuary had originally come from a robbed tomb which they had cleared a few years ago in Silwan and not purchased by the collector decades earlier as he claimed. They clearly had attempted to draw media attention to their robbed tomb in Silwan and when the media attention flagged they now suddenly claim that they were mistaken and the ossuary no longer comes from Silwan but from the Talpiot ‘Jesus Family tomb excavated in 1980 by the Israel Antiquities Authority!

Well, last week ago a small problem suddenly arose when Oded Golan the owner of the ossuary in question, who is on trial for forging objects, produced a photograph of the ossuary with a time stamp 1976, four years before the Talpiot tomb was accidentally discovered!

Moreover, they maintained that the missing ossuary, their James son of Joseph brother of Jesus ossuary was of the same identical dimensions as the ‘missing’ ossuary from Jesus Family tomb at Talpiot. Sounds convincing until an enterprising skeptic here in Jerusalem checked the dimensions of the two ‘identical’ ossuaries and found that the Talpiot plain white “missing’ ossuary is approximately 20% longer than the James brother of Jesus ossuary ! So much for ‘identical’."

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Archaeologists: 'Lost Tomb of Jesus' a publicity stunt

Leading archaeologists in Israel and the United States denounced the purported discovery of the tomb of Jesus as a publicity stunt.

Scorn for the Discovery Channel's claim to have found the burial place of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and -- most explosively -- their possible son came not just from Christian scholars but also from Jewish and secular experts who said their judgments were unaffected by any desire to uphold Christian orthodoxy.

"I'm not a Christian. I'm not a believer. I don't have a dog in this fight,'' said William Dever, who has been excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years and is widely considered the dean of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars. "I just think it's a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated," he said Tuesday...

Dever, a retired professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona, said that some of the inscriptions on the Talpiyot ossuaries are unclear, but that all of the names are common.

"I've know about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story, because these are rather common Jewish names from that period,'' he said. "It's a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don't know enough to separate fact from fiction.''

Similar assessments came Tuesday from two Israeli scholars, Amos Kloner, who originally excavated the tomb, and Joe Zias, former curator of archaeology at the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Kloner told the Jerusalem Post that the documentary is "nonsense.'' Zias described it in an e-mail to The Washington Post as a "hyped up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest.''

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers "have set it up as if it's a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this,'' she said.

Magness noted that at the time of Jesus, wealthy families buried their dead in tombs cut by hand from solid rock, putting the bones in niches in the walls and then, later, transferring them to ossuaries.

She said Jesus came from a poor family that, like most Jews of the time, probably buried their dead in ordinary graves. "If Jesus' family had been wealthy enough to afford a rock-cut tomb, it would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem,'' she said.

Magness also said the names on the Talpiyot ossuaries indicate that the tomb belonged to a family from Judea, the area around Jerusalem, where people were known by their first name and father's name. As Galileans, Jesus and his family members would have used their first name and home town, she said.

"This whole case (for the tomb of Jesus) is flawed from beginning to end,'' she said.

Full article:

More details on Flinn article:

Great article on historical Jesus: