Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Tomb of King Herod discovered at Herodium

The long search for Herod the Great's tomb has ended with the exposure of the remains of his grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum on Mount Herodium's northeastern slope, Prof. Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology announced today.

Herod was the Roman-appointed king of Judea from 37 to 4 BCE, who was renowned for his many monumental building projects, including the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the palace at Masada, as well as the complex at Herodium, 15 kilometers south of Jerusalem. .

Herodium is the most outstanding among King Herod's building projects. This is the only site that carries his name and the site where he chose to be buried and to memorialize himself -- all of this with the integration of a huge, unique palace at the fringe of the desert, said Prof. Netzer. Therefore, he said, the exposure of his tomb becomes the climax of this site's research.

The approach to the burial site - which has been described by the archaeologists involved as one of the most striking finds in Israel in recent years - was via a monumental flight of stairs (6.5 meters wide) leading to the hillside that were especially constructed for the funeral procession.

The excavations on the slope of the mountain, at whose top is the famed structure comprised of a palace, a fortress and a monument, commenced in August 2006. The expedition, on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was conducted by Prof. Netzer, together with Yaakov Kalman and Roi Porath and with the participation of local Bedouins.

The location and unique nature of the findings, as well as the historical record, leave no doubt that this was Herod's burial site, said Prof. Netzer.

The mausoleum itself was almost totally dismantled in ancient times. In its place remained only part of its well built podium, or base, built of large white ashlars (dressed stone) in a manner and size not previously revealed at Herodium.

Among the many high quality architectural elements, mostly well decorated, which were spread among the ruins, is a group of decorated urns (made in the form of special jars that were used to store body ashes). Similar ones are to be found on the top of burial monuments in the Nabatean world. The urns had a triangular cover and were decorated on the sides.

Spread among the ruins are pieces of a large, unique sarcophagus (close to 2.5 meters long), made of a Jerusalemite reddish limestone, which was decorated by rosettes. The sarcophagus had a triangular cover, which was decorated on its sides. This is assumed with certainty to be the sarcophagus of Herod. Only very few similar sarcophagi are known in the country and can be found only in elaborate tombs such as the famous one at the King's Tomb on Selah a-Din Street in East Jerusalem. Although no inscriptions have been found yet at Herodium, neither on the sarcophagus nor in the building remains, these still might be found during the continuation of the dig.

Worthy of note is the fact that the sarcophagus was broken into hundreds of pieces, no doubt deliberately. This activity, including the destruction of the monument, apparently took place in the years 66-72 C.E. during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, while Jewish rebels took hold of the site, according to Josephus and the archaeological evidence. The rebels were known for their hatred of Herod and all that he stood for, as a "puppet ruler" for the Romans.

The search for Herod's tomb, which actively began 30 years ago, focused until the middle of 2006 at Lower Herodium, in an area which was, no doubt, especially built for the funeral and burial of the king - the "Tomb Estate." In order to reveal there the remains from Herod's days, the expedition was "forced" to first expose a large complex of Byzantine structures (including a church), an effort that demanded many years of digging.

The Tomb Estate included two monumental buildings and a large ritual bath (mikveh) as well as the large route (350 meters long and 30 meters wide) which was prepared for the funeral. When no sign of the burial place itself was found within the Tomb Estate, the expedition started to search for it on the slope of the hill, although there seems to be no doubt that the initial intention of the king was to be buried in the estate and that only in a later stage of his life - apparently when he grew old - did he change his mind and asked to be buried within the artificial cone which gave the hill of Herodium its current volcano-shape.

The main historical source of the Second Temple's days, the historian Josephus Flavius, has described the site of Herodium in detail, as well as the funeral in the year 4 BCE, but not the tomb proper. He wrote as follows:

"The king's funeral next occupied his attention. Archelaus, omitting nothing that could contribute to its magnificence, brought forth all the royal ornaments to accompany the procession in honor of the deceased. The bier was of solid gold, studded with precious stones, and had a covering of purple, embroidered with various colors; on this lay the body enveloped in purple robe, a diadem encircling the head and surmounted by a crown of gold, the scepter beside his right hand.

Around the bier were Herod's sons and a large group of his relations; these were followed by the guards, the Thracian contingent, Germans and Gauls, all equipped as for war. The reminder of the troops marched in front, armed and in orderly array, led by their commanders and subordinate officers; behind these came five hundred of Herod's servants and freedmen, carrying spices. The body was thus conveyed for a distance of two hundred furlongs to Herodium, where, in accordance with the directions of the deceased, it was interred. So ended Herod's reign." Jewish Wars, 1,23,9

Prof. Netzer started his archaeological activity at Herodium in 1972, at first on a small scale. The scope of his work widened with the decision to turn Herodium (the mount together with Lower Herodium) into a national park, which was due to occupy 125 acres. (Until that stage only the mount was proclaimed as a national park and was operated by the Nature and Parks Authority.)

The enlargement of the park started in 1980; unfortunately the activity at the site stopped as a result of the first Intifada, but not before the complex of tunnels from the days of Bar-Kokhba, within the mount, were opened to the public. The archaeological excavations at the site, which also stopped in 1987, were renewed 10 years later and continued until 2000, and after a second break, were renewed at the end of 2005.

Prof. Netzer gained his first "intimate" acknowledgement of Herodian architecture while joining Prof. Yigael Yadin (in 1963-66), in his expedition at Masada. Netzer's Ph.D. dissertation in archaeology, guided by Prof. Yadin, brought him to initiate excavations both at Lower Herodium and at Jericho – at the complex of Hasmonean and Herodian Winter Palaces. (The site at Jericho, following Netzer's excavations, includes three palaces of Herod and a hitherto unknown large complex of Hasmonean winter palaces). Additional Herodian structures in other parts of the country were also uncovered by him. He has written various books and articles on the topic of Herodian architecture.

Yaakov Kalman, archaeologist and farmer, participated in many excavations throughout the country and took an active part in Netzer's excavations at Masada, Jericho and Herodium. Roi Porath took an active part in the survey of the Judean Desert caves and has many significant finds in his record.

The current excavations benefited from donations of private individuals, and the assistance of the Israel Exploration Society and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Climate changes cause of the Neanderthal extinction

Spanish scientists point at climate changes as the cause of the Neanderthal extinction in the Iberian Peninsula

- Recent studies carried out in Gorham's cave, on Gibraltar, proved to be definitive for this work.

- Results show that the Neanderthal extinction could have been greatly determined by environmental and climate changes and not by competitiveness with modern humans.

- The research work was recently published in Quaternary Science Reviews journal.

C@MPUS DIGITAL Climate – and not modern humans – was the cause of the Neanderthal extinction in the Iberian Peninsula. Such is the conclusion of the University of Granada research group RNM 179 - Mineralogy and Geochemistry of sedimentary and metamorphic environments, headed by professor Miguel Ortega Huertas and whose members Francisco José Jiménez Espejo, Francisca Martínez Ruiz and David Gallego Torres work jointly at the department of Mineralogy and Petrology of the University of Granada (Universidad de Granada) and the Andalusian Regional Institute of Earth Sciences (CSIC-UGR).

Together with other scientists from the Gibraltar Museum, Stanford University and the Japan Marine Science & Technology Center (JAMSTEC), the Spanish scientists published in the scientific journal Quaternary Science Reviews an innovative work representing a considerable step forward in the knowledge of human ancestral history.
The results of this multidisciplinary research are an important contribution to the understanding of the Neanderthal extinction and the colonisation of the European continent by Homo Sapiens.
During the last Ice Age, the Iberian Peninsula was a refuge for Neanderthals, who had survived in local pockets during previous Ice Ages, bouncing back to Europe when weather conditions improved.

Climate reconstructions

The study is based upon climate reconstructions elaborated from marine records and using the experience of Spanish and international research groups on Western Mediterranean paleoceanography. The conclusions point out that Neanderthal populations did suffer fluctuations related to climate changes before the first Homo Sapiens arrived in the Iberian Peninsula. Cold, arid and highly variable climate was the least favourable weather for Neanderthals and 24,000 years ago they had to face the worst weather conditions in the last 250,000 years.
The most important about these data is that they differ from the current scientific paradigm which makes Homo Sapiens responsible for the Neanderthal extinction. This work is a contribution to a new scientific current – leaded by Dr. Clive Finlayson, from the Gibraltar Museum – according to which Neanderthal isolation and, possibly, extinction were due to environmental factors.
These studies on climate variability are part of the work of the group RNM 179, funded by the excellence project RNM 0432 of the Andalusian Regional Government’s Department for Innovation, Science and Business and by the MARCAL project of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, both linked to the Andalusian Environment Centre (CEAMA - Centro Andaluz de Medio Ambiente).

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Jamestown Revisted

It's only midmorning on a cold April day, and already the parking lot at Historic Jamestowne is so crowded that newcomers must park their cars on the grass. As the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English colony in America approaches, "America's birthplace" has become a hot destination. Even more visitors will wind up at nearby Jamestown Settlement, where they can see replicas of the three ships that brought the first colonists over in 1607, a Powhatan Indian village, and a somewhat dated re-creation of James Fort. Some will never know that they haven't seen the actual Jamestown but a museum instead; the settlement is an attraction built by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, an agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

A mile away, however, William M. Kelso, head archaeologist of the Jamestown Rediscovery project, has spent the last 13 years excavating the real thing: James Fort, the triangular, palisaded structure the 1607 colonists threw up in 19 days to protect themselves from Indian attack. It had long been assumed that the river, over four centuries, had swallowed up most of the original Jamestown colony. With careful scholarship and spadework, Mr. Kelso has proved them wrong.

What Mr. Kelso and his team have found is rewriting the history that began with the 104 men and boys who landed on this swampy bit of land on May 14, 1607. Historians have dismissed the colonists as inept, lazy, feckless, or unprepared. But they hung on by the skin of their teeth, until the European consumer craze for tobacco threw them an economic lifeline. The new archaeological finds have begun to reveal how they weathered those first hard years and decades.

But the artifacts, the graves of settlers, and even the discarded oyster shells that have emerged have done more than begin to recast the narrative. Specialists in 17th-century material culture and environmental scientists who study the Chesapeake Bay have been reaping the benefits of Mr. Kelso's work. Their analyses, in turn, have provided new fodder for historians of the wider Atlantic world.

In a sense, despite what they have accomplished so far, Mr. Kelso and his team resemble the 1607 colonists in that they are a small private enterprise, uncertain if they can sustain themselves long enough to finish what they have started.The James Fort site is part of 22 acres on Jamestown Island held by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, a nonprofit group that acquired it from private landowners in the 1890s.

To date, only 40 percent of the site of the original fort has been excavated, and there is considerable anxiety about where the money will come from to finish the job. And the rest of the island, including areas into which the original colony expanded as it grew, belongs to the National Park Service and has no active digs at the moment. Who knows what lies there?

"There's a great confusion over what is Jamestown," says Beverly (Bly) Straube, curator of the Jamestown Rediscovery project. "Legislators think they've been to Jamestown when they've been to the place with the three ships. We've been struggling with that. We fall through the cracks, because we're not federal, we're not state."

Digging In

An energetic, white-haired man with a white slash of mustache, Mr. Kelso wears a khaki hat that makes him look like he is on safari. The story of how he and his team found the long-lost fort has been retold many times in the news media buildup to the quadricentennial. Mr. Kelso's own account, Jamestown: The Buried Truth (University of Virginia Press, 2006), has become a best seller for the publisher, with more than 30,000 copies sold to date.

The Virginia preservation association didn't fully know what it had acquired when it took over the property. Over the years, the group had explored the remains of a 17th-century church and put in a sea wall to hold back the river. In the 1950s, the Park Service dug a series of test holes and trenches. But all of that work was, from a modern investigator's perspective, frustratingly unsystematic.

By 1994, Mr. Kelso and his team had a better idea of what to look for, thanks to recent work on other sites throughout the Chesapeake region. "Time has really helped us," Ms. Straube says. "Since the first excavations were done out here, we've done a lot of archaeology up and down the James River on a lot of 17th-century sites, with the post-in-ground construction and fortified settlements, so we knew what a fortification would look like."

Mr. Kelso also dug into the contemporary accounts of John Smith, William Strachey, and other colonists. Then he dug into the ground. He began with the assumption that the extant church lay within the fort, and that if he started between the church and the river, he would intersect the wall line of the fort itself.

"I didn't hit the wall, but it was pretty close," he says. "We started finding artifacts that were old enough, military things, so it was pretty clear we were close."

Since then, as many as a million artifacts have been unearthed and some 2,500 features identified, including wells (which tend to be rich repositories of artifacts), cellars, and grave sites. The outlines of the fort and buildings inside it have been identified and, in places, reconstructed post by post to test out the building techniques of the time.

The original well and the colonists' first church have yet to be discovered. And although every cut and find the archaeologists make is recorded with what Mr. Kelso describes as "one of the most sophisticated digital-recording systems being used in archaeology today," it takes valuable staff hours to process it all, hours that could be spent with trowel in hand.

It will take years to dig up all that remains to be found. As the settlement expanded and made the transition from a company venture to a royal colony, people and buildings took up more and more of the island. "I'm particularly interested in the evolution of government and in the various buildings where it met," Mr. Kelso says. "It moved around. There were other forts through the 17th century that have not been pinpointed," along with settlements outside the original fort's walls and on Park Service land.

"There are a lot of research questions that have not been answered," Mr. Kelso says. Then there's the backlog of data already collected but not yet put in a form that is easy to use.

"We've been working at doing technical reports," he says. "Now we need to write the monographs."

Material World

A small complex of buildings houses the research center, a two-minute walk from the excavation site. This is the domain of Ms. Straube and a small curatorial staff, where artifacts of every description await preservation and interpretation, including weapons, gussets, and other armor components, and German Bartmann ("bearded man") jugs, named for the face that adorns them.

There are mounds of copper and glass beads, used for trade with the Indians. The center also possesses heaps of faunal remains, including sturgeon bones, oyster shells, and the bones of turtles, which the staff calls "box lunches," because the settlers would cook and eat the reptiles in the shell.

Researchers across disciplines have found in this material record a treasure trove of information about 17th-century trade and manufacture, artisanal practices, military and domestic life, and relations with the Indians. This year Ms. Straube has had visits from at least 15 English and American scholars who specialize in arms and armor, ceramics, glassware, and tobacco pipes. And she has corresponded with at least as many on "very eclectic topics" such as sturgeon and tobacco seeds. "I even provided Portuguese archaeologists information on ear pickers!" — the 17th-century equivalent of Q-tips.

Two things make Jamestown a rich resource from the perspective of material culture: its precise dates and its dense accumulation of artifacts. "The great beauty of Jamestown is that it's so chronologically focused," explains Geoff Egan, a finds specialist at the Museum of London. "Particularly the starting date is extraordinarily useful to us. And the concentration of activity." In a city like London, with its many and diffuse activities and longer timeline, he says, "we simply wouldn't get the same amount of material" in one place.

Mr. Egan, a specialist in glassware and other nonceramic artifacts, paid his first visit to Jamestown in 1994 and immediately identified a connection between the work there and his own: "I found a whole series of bits of glass from broken windows, and that was exactly what I had on my desk in London." For glassmaking, "you need a sort of starter batch," he explains. He concluded that the Jamestown fragments constituted such a batch. That kind of evidence demonstrates that the colonists "went as well equipped as they could be" for a number of different activities and crafts.

"It is a huge range of material," he says. "The sheer scope of it is mind-boggling, and completely on a different scale than what we're used to."

Those materials have expanded horizons in the burgeoning field of Atlantic studies and pushed historians to reconsider what they know about the colony's place in the larger Atlantic world.

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, a professor of history at New York University, is the author of The Jamestown Project (Harvard University Press, 2007), one of the most wide-ranging and widely reviewed scholarly entries in the bumper crop of Jamestown books published in time for the anniversary. "One of the things that has been very interesting," she says of the excavations, "is the kinds of goods from all over the world that have turned up, even in the very earliest context, at Jamestown."

She mentions, for instance, a Chinese ceramic cup. "I consider myself an Atlantic historian, and the idea that Jamestown was part of an Atlantic, possibly even global, network of trade is really important," she says.

Although in her book she describes Jamestown as "the creation story from hell," she believes that it was where the English finally, after much painful trial and error, finally figured out how to make a colony work. "Jamestown changed the whole model," she says.

The archaeological evidence supports that notion in a way that written accounts of the colony do not. Ms. Kupperman sums it up this way: "We have this image of Jamestown as a kind of place where nobody could do anything right and people even had trouble going through the basic routines of life. This all comes out of the written record. What Kelso and his team are finding is lots of evidence of purposeful activity."

Historians, she believes, have also gotten better at incorporating such data into their scholarship. "I don't want to cast aspersions on previous generations," she says, "but I think there's much more of a feeling of partnership, partly because archaeologists are making sure that historians know about their finds. But it's also that projects such as this bring together archaeologists and historians in ways that we previously didn't interact."

Shell Game

Such interactions are not limited to history and archaeology. An environmental study of bald cypress trees from the region, published in 1998 in Science, concluded that the colonists arrived during the middle of a severe drought.

"The tree-ring study has just been transformative," Ms. Kupperman says. "Until they did it, we had no idea there had been such dramatic environmental conditions."

As it turns out, Mr. Kelso's team has been able to repay the favor by giving scientists what amount to ecological time capsules. Juliana M. Harding, a senior marine scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary, has been conducting an analysis of a cache of oyster shells found in a Jamestown well that dates to 1611.

"Being handed a couple thousand shells from 400 years ago that are in good shape," she says, "is like being handed a large pot of gold."

Modern oyster populations have been hit hard by disease and habitat degradation and fishing pressure — "all sorts of nasty things," Ms. Harding says. "But as far as having something to compare to — we wave our arms and talk about restoration, but we don't really know what a pristine oyster population in the Chesapeake would have looked like." So when the Jamestown Rediscovery team offered 400-year-old oysters, "it was a no-brainer."

Ms. Harding observes that, just as tree-growth rings mark changes in the environment over the tree's lifetime, oysters and other bivalves "carry a record of their entire lives in their shells." She calls them "environmental chronometers" that record patterns of water salinity, temperature, and nutrients. By analyzing those patterns, scientists can get a clearer picture of the 17th-century Chesapeake environment.

"In this part of the world, there are a lot of people interested in archaeology," she says, "and they have access to shells. Through the connections and the networking we've been able to do with Bill and his folks, it's opened up a lot of possibilities."

Survive and Learn

The archaeological and environmental record hardly makes Jamestown look like the land of easy living, but it does show that the settlers put some real effort into their venture. And it gives scholars a much keener sense of the challenges — a major drought, for instance — that shaped the colony's early history.

James P. Whittenburg, chairman of the history department at the College of William and Mary, says that "the standard line on early Jamestown, the company period from 1607 to 1624, is that it was a total disaster, that they barely hung on. I'm not saying that's wrong. I'm just saying that Bill doesn't see that in the ground."

Mr. Whittenburg is one of several authors of a forthcoming article, "Adaptation and Innovation: Archaeological and Architectural Perspectives on the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake," that will appear in The William and Mary Quarterly this summer. "By the middle of the century, they're starting to develop an entirely different sort of architecture that comes to be called the Virginia house," he says. "It shows a remarkable degree of ability to adapt to the New World environment. I think that's the message of the archaeology that's been done in the Chesapeake — the colonists' ability and willingness to adapt."

Scholars, he continues, "tend to see this process as a straight line forward and upward, but what really happened was there were a lot of false starts and falling back and a continual reinvigoration of Chesapeake society. They're constantly refreshing the tool kit."

Without the raw data, however, such creative collaborations won't get very far. The future of the Jamestown Rediscovery project, like that of the colony that found a tenuous foothold here four centuries ago, depends on more than hard labor. It also needs cash to keep digging.

The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities relies on grants and private donations. It gets no federal funds, though it splits the Historic Jamestowne entrance fee with the National Park Service. Members of the association's staff like to refer to Jamestown as the jewel in Virginia's crown. The bulk of the commonwealth's money, however, goes next door to Jamestown Settlement.

The excavation of James Fort continues, for now. As Mr. Whittenburg sums up the situation, "everything rides on money. Bill and Bly are terribly concerned about what will happen after 2007, and I share that concern."

He and members of the William and Mary administration have met with Mr. Kelso and Elizabeth S. Kostelny, executive director of the preservation group, to discuss "a more formal alliance" between the college and the work at Jamestown.

If the money's not plentiful in this year of all years, it is not likely to increase once the dignitaries and anniversary visitors go home and all the quadricentennial hoopla dies down. "Quite frankly, everybody's been under the pressure to get to 2007, to find what nobody thought could be found," observes Ms. Kostelny. "How do we fund the research of the future? It will have a different complexion than it does now."