Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Hoard Comprising Hundreds of Gold Coins was Uncovered in the Excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is Conducting at the ‘Giv‘ati Car Park’ in the City of David, in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park (22/12/2008)

“This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem – certainly the largest and most important of its period”

One thousand three hundred year old Chanukah money in Jerusalem: a hoard of more than 250 gold coins was exposed yesterday (Sunday) in the excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the Giv ‘ati car park in the City of David, in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park. The excavations at the site are being carried out on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and are underwritten by the ‘Ir David Foundation.

Since the archaeological excavations began there about two years ago, they have not ceased in providing us with surprising discoveries that shed new light on different chapters of the city’s past. Currently a very large and impressive building is being uncovered that dates to about the seventh century CE (end of the Byzantine period-beginning of the Umayyad period). A large cache of 264 coins, all made of gold, was discovered among the ruins of the building.

According to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, directors of the excavation at the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Since no pottery vessel was discovered adjacent to the hoard, we can assume that it was concealed inside a hidden niche in one of the walls of the building. It seems that with its collapse, the coins piled up there among the building debris”.

Ben-Ami and Tchekhanovets believe, “This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem – certainly the largest and most important of its period. For comparison’s sake, it should be noted that the only hoard of gold coins from the Byzantine period that has been discovered to date in Jerusalem consisted of only five gold coins. All of the coins bear the likeness of the emperor Heraclius (610-641 CE). Different coins were minted during this emperor’s reign; however, all of the coins that were discovered in the City of David in Jerusalem belong to one well-known type in which the likeness of the emperor wearing military garb and holding a cross in his right hand is depicted on the obverse, while the sign of the cross is on the reverse. These coins were minted at the beginning of Heraclius’ reign (between the years 610-613 CE), one year before the Persians conquered Byzantine Jerusalem (614 CE).

From the moment that the first coin was exposed, it stood out against the background of its surroundings. It is easy to imagine the excitement took hold of the excavators when they continued to discover many more dozens of gold coins alongside it. These were resting on the ground, in one place where they fell, and were buried there more than 1,300 years ago, until once again man laid eyes on them – this time the amazed eyes of the archaeologists.

Although gold is not among the ordinary discoveries in archeological excavations, not long ago a surprisingly well preserved gold earring, inlaid with pearls and precious stones, was discovered at this site.

What is the building where this very valuable cache was hidden and who was its owner? What were the circumstances of its destruction which did not permit the coins’ owner to collect them? Should the building’s destruction be dated to the time of the hoard?

The excavation of the large building in which the hoard was discovered is still in its early stages and the archaeologists hope that they will soon collect further data that will enable them to answer these questions.

An 1,800 Year Old Marble Figurine in Jerusalem

An 1,800 Year Old Marble Figurine in the Image of a Bearded Man, probably that of a Roman Boxer, was Discovered In the archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at the Givati car park in the City of David, in the Walls around Jerusalem National Park.

The figurine was used as a suspended weight together with a balance scale. This is probably the only find of its kind from excavations in the country.

A figurine (bust) made of marble depicting a miniature image of a bearded man’s head was discovered in the excavations that the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the area of the Givati car park in the City of David, in the Walls around Jerusalem National Park.

According to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, directors of the excavation at the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The high level of finish on the figurine is extraordinary, while meticulously adhering to the tiniest of details. Its short curly beard, as well as the position of its head which is slightly inclined to the right, are indicative of an obviously Greek influence and show that it should be dated to the time of the emperor Hadrian or shortly thereafter (second-third centuries CE). This is one of the periods when the art of Roman sculpture reached its zenith. The pale yellow shade of the marble alludes to the eastern origin of the raw material from which the image was carved, probably from Asia Minor, although this matter still needs to be checked”.

The stylistic motifs that are manifested in the image, such as its short hair style, the prominent lobes and curves of the ears, as well as the almond-shaped eyes suggest that the object most likely portrays an athlete, probably a boxer. Boxing was one of the most popular fields of heavy athletics in Roman culture and more than once Roman authors mention the demand by the Roman public in general, and the elite in particular, for boxing matches. Besides the prestige and the substantial amounts of money the victors of boxing competitions won, they were also afforded the support of the emperor himself, as in the famous case of Melancomas who was Titus’ favorite boxer.

Dr. Ben-Ami and Tchekhanovets elucidate, “To the best of our knowledge, to date no similar artifact made of marble (or any other kind of stone) bearing the same image that was just found has been discovered in excavations elsewhere in the country; it seems that what we have here is a unique find. A few similar artifacts that were made of cast bronze were discovered at different sites in the country and they have been found in large numbers in different places throughout the Roman Empire where the overwhelming majority of them date to the third century CE (the Roman period). The bronze portrayal of a boxer that is currently on display in the Berlin State Museum (“The Boxer”) is a nearly perfect parallel of the image from the City of David”.

According to the researchers the two tiny holes that were drilled in its nape and which contained the remains of metal that was inserted in them indicate that this is a suspended weight that was used with hanging scales that are characteristic of the Roman period. Miniature bronze images of athletes, philosophers, satyrs etc were among the most popular of the suspended weights that were used in the regions that were under the control of the Roman Empire – from Pompeii to Sepphoris.

How did the Roman marble image get to the City of David?
We can assume that this marble weight belonged to a family of merchants who originally came from somewhere in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Being a precious object the weight was passed down from generation to generation in the family until sometime in the fourth-fifth century CE when an unidentified merchant was so unfortunate as to stay in the public building (a hostel??) which is currently being uncovered in the Givati car park in the City of David. A very severe tremor that struck the building resulted in its complete destruction. While exposing the building the marble image was discovered amongst its ruins which constitute silent testimony of the drama that occurred in this impressive structure prior to its collapse.

Not long ago one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever found in Jerusalem was discovered at this site. It consists of 264 gold coins and was found at about the same time as a gold earring, inlaid with expensive pearls and remarkably well preserved, was also uncovered at the site.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

King Solomon’s Mines

For many years, Levy has been interested in the role of metallurgy in civilization, and he has studied this topic in digs around the world. At the same time, biblical scholars and archaeologists have speculated about the origins of “King Solomon’s Mines,” made famous by a 19th century novel of the same name although never proven to exist during the time period mentioned in the Bible.

Using digital archaeology and high precision radio-carbon dating, Levy and his team of scientists have excavated the largest copper-production center in the Holy Land that dates to the 10th century B.C.—the time of the reigns of Solomon and King David. The discoveries were recently revealed in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Nature fatal to earliest civilization in Americas

Earthquakes, El Ninos fatal to earliest civilization in Americas

First came the earthquakes, then the torrential rains. But the relentless march of sand across once fertile fields and bays, a process set in motion by the quakes and flooding, is probably what did in America's earliest civilization.

So concludes a group of anthropologists in a new assessment of the demise of the coastal Peruvian people who built the earliest, largest structures in North or South America before disappearing in the space of a few generations more than 3,600 years ago.

"This maritime farming community had been successful for over 2,000 years, they had no incentive to change, and then all of a sudden, 'boom,'" said Mike Moseley, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Florida. "They just got the props knocked out from under them."

Moseley is one of five authors of a paper set to appear next week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The people of the Supe Valley along the central Peruvian coast did not use pottery or weave cloth in the settlements they founded as far back as 5,800 years ago. But they flourished in the arid desert plain adjacent to productive bays and estuaries. They fished with nets, irrigated fruit orchards, and grew cotton and a variety of vegetables, according to evidence in the region unearthed by Ruth Shady, a Peruvian archaeologist and co-author of the paper. As director of the Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project, Shady currently has seven sites in the region under excavation.

Most impressively, the Supe built extremely large, elaborate, stone pyramid temples -- thousands of years before the better-known pyramids crafted by the Maya.

"They're impressive, enormous monuments," Moseley said.

The largest so far excavated, the Pirámide Mayor at inland settlement Caral, measured more than 550 feet long, nearly 500 feet wide and rose in a series of steps nearly 100 feet high. Walled courts, rooms and corridors covered the flat summit.

The Supe seemed to thrive in the valley for about 2,000 years. But around 3,600 years ago, an enormous earthquake -- Moseley estimates its magnitude at 8 or higher -- or series of earthquakes struck Caral and a nearby coastal settlement, Aspero, the archaeologist found. With two major plates scraping together not far offshore, the region remains one of the most seismically active in the world.

The earthquake collapsed walls and floors atop the Pirámide Mayor and caused part of it to crumble into a landslide of rocks, mud and construction materials. Smaller temples at Aspero were also heavily damaged, and there was also significant flooding there, an event recorded in thin layers of silt unearthed by the archaeologists.

But the flooding and temples' physical destruction was just the dramatic opening scene in what proved to be a much more devastating series of events, Moseley said.

The earthquake destabilized the barren mountain ranges surrounding the valley, sending massive amounts of debris crashing into the foothills. Subsequent El Niños brought huge rains, washing the debris into the ocean. There, a strong current flowing parallel to the shore re-deposited the sand and silt in the form of a large ridge known today as the Medio Mundo. The ridge sealed off the formerly rich coastal bays, which rapidly filled with sand.

Strong ever-present onshore winds resulted in "massive sand sheets that blew inland on the constant, strong, onshore breeze and swamped the irrigation systems and agricultural fields," the paper says. Not only that, but the windblown sand had a blasting effect that would have made daily life all but impossible, Moseley said.

The bottom line: What had for centuries been a productive, if arid, region became all but uninhabitable in the span of just a handful of generations. The Supe society withered and eventually collapsed, replaced only gradually later on -- by societies that relied on the much more modern arts of pottery and weaving, Moseley said.

Friday, January 9, 2009

First Americans arrived as 2 separate migrations

First Americans arrived as 2 separate migrations, according to new genetic evidence

The first people to arrive in America traveled as at least two separate groups to arrive in their new home at about the same time, according to new genetic evidence published online on January 8th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

After the Last Glacial Maximum some 15,000 to 17,000 years ago, one group entered North America from Beringia following the ice-free Pacific coastline, while another traversed an open land corridor between two ice sheets to arrive directly into the region east of the Rocky Mountains. (Beringia is the landmass that connected northeast Siberia to Alaska during the last ice age.) Those first Americans later gave rise to almost all modern Native American groups of North, Central, and South America, with the important exceptions of the Na-Dene and the Eskimos-Aleuts of northern North America, the researchers said.

" Recent data based on archeological evidence and environmental records suggest that humans entered the Americas from Beringia as early as 15,000 years ago, and the dispersal occurred along the deglaciated Pacific coastline," said Antonio Torroni of Università di Pavia, Italy. "Our study now reveals a novel alternative scenario: Two almost concomitant paths of migration, both from Beringia about 15,000 to 17,000 years ago, led to the dispersal of Paleo-Indians—the first Americans."

Such a dual origin for Paleo-Indians has major implications for all disciplines involved in Native American studies, he said. For instance, it implies that there is no compelling reason to presume that a single language family was carried along with the first migrants.

When Columbus reached the Americas in 1492, Native American occupation stretched from the Bering Strait to Tierra del Fuego, Torroni explained. Those native populations encompassed extraordinary linguistic and cultural diversity, which has fueled extensive debate among experts over their interrelationships and origins.

Recently, molecular genetics, together with archaeology and linguistics, has begun to provide some insights. In the new study, Ugo Perego and Alessandro Achilli of Torroni's team analyzed mitochondrial DNA from two rare haplogroups, meaning mitochondrial types that share a common maternal ancestor. Mitochondria are cellular components with their own DNA that allow scientists to trace ancestry and migration because they are passed on directly from mother to child over generations.

Their results show that the haplogroup called D4h3 spread from Beringia into the Americas along the Pacific coastal route, rapidly reaching Tierra del Fuego. The other haplogroup, X2a, spread at about the same time through the ice-free corridor between the Laurentide and Cordilleran Ice Sheets and remained restricted to North America.

" A dual origin for the first Americans is a striking novelty from the genetic point of view and makes plausible a scenario positing that within a rather short period of time, there may have been several entries into the Americas from a dynamically changing Beringian source," the researchers concluded.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

James ossuary case going nowhere

Israeli authorities called it "the fraud of the century": fakes passed off as archaeological finds with biblical ties. The most notorious object was the James ossuary, a limestone box inscribed in Aramaic with the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Five men were charged, and the trial has been dragging on for three years.

But it may all be crashing to a halt. A few weeks ago, the judge -- who is hearing the case without a jury -- told the government lawyers he's not convinced the objects are forgeries and suggested they consider dropping the matter. If the authorities can't make their case, experts warn that the antiquities market -- and a proof-hungry religious public -- inevitably will be fed groundbreaking biblical "discoveries" as far-fetched as Solomon's crown and Abraham's sandals.
Prosecutors have been hamstrung. A craftsman based in Cairo's Khan al Khalili souk told police he made some objects for the collector, but he wasn't inclined to testify and they cannot compel him to come to Israel. So prosecutors instead called a long list of archaeologists and epigraphers, experts in the minutia of ancient Christian and Jewish artifacts. These men and women, accustomed to working on dusty digs or answering questions from somnambulant students, were no match for nimble, expensive attorneys, among the best in Israel, working for the defense.

One by one, they either contradicted themselves on various scientific technicalities or had their conclusions ripped apart by the defense's expert witnesses. One veteran Israeli archaeologist, Meyer Ben Dov, was so disheartened by what was happening that he told me "archaeology is on trial" -- and it did not appear to be winning.

The case isn't over, but after the judge's comments last month, the American publisher Shanks issued a news release calling the James ossuary "vindicated," a claim religious bloggers have since disseminated worldwide.

Readers of Shanks' Biblical Archaeology Review and others who insist on the authenticity of the objects willfully ignore the evidence involving the other, less famous objects in the trial. They view the case as a grudge match, in which secular scientists are pitted against religious believers, or Israel, or the Bible itself. This is patently ridiculous but not surprising. Biblical archaeology operates on an emotionally charged -- and in many ways lawless -- border where modern science meets ancient belief. The desire of the faithful for material proof drives scholarship as much as anything actually dug up from the sands of the Holy Land.

The scholars who authenticated the alleged forgeries haven't been accused of any legal wrongdoing, nor have the people who profited from book, movie and museum deals. Biblical archaeology is rife with such characters -- some with advanced degrees -- who are expert at generating hype. They push hot buttons in theology and Middle East politics guaranteed to get attention and, eventually, money.

The trial will resume in six months, so prosecutors have a chance to pull together better evidence. But the potential collapse of the James ossuary case confirms two things. First, the underfunded and understaffed Israeli Antiquities Authority -- charged with policing the antiquities trade and protecting dig sites -- is not up to the task of rooting out and exposing world-famous fakes. Second, the Israeli legal system can't be the last word on the authenticity of objects that have the potential to excite millions of faithful.

So while policing the private trade in objects is a matter for the Israeli authorities, sober and serious biblical scholars need to take steps to shield the public from their more ruthless colleagues. All future finds with remarkable biblical connections emerging from the private market ought to be inspected by a team of disinterested experts from around the world before anyone calls a news conference.

The only trouble is, in this field, disinterested individuals are the rarest finds of all.

New evidence surfaces of David's kingdom

For 3,000 years, the 12-foot high walls of an ancient city have been clearly visible on a hill towering above the Valley of Elah where the Bible says David slew Goliath.
But no one has ever linked the ruins to the city mentioned in the First Book of Samuel's famous account of the legendary duel and the victory of the Israelites - until now. On Tuesday, Hebrew University archaeology Professor Yosef Garfinkel will present compelling evidence to scholars at Harvard University that he has found the 10th century biblical city of Sha'arayim, Hebrew for "Two Gates." Garfinkel, who made his startling discovery at the beginning of this month, will also discuss his findings at the American Schools of Oriental Research conference hosted by Boston University on Thursday.

Garfinkel believes the city provides evidence that King David ruled a kingdom from his capital of Jerusalem. Some modern scholars have questioned the biblical account of David's kingdom and even whether he existed. Although it is not clear how the Sha'arayim relates to David, Garfinkel says finding a Judean city along the ancient highway to Jerusalem that appears to have been a fortress on the western border with the Philistines indicates a kingdom with a developed political and military organization that was powerful enough to include a major fortified city.

"There is no question that Yosef Garfinkel has found a unique and interesting site of a type we haven't had until now," said Aren Maeir, professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan who is excavating Goliath's hometown of Gath nearby. "But we have to wait for more findings and more analysis."

The revelation comes only weeks after Garfinkel's team discovered the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found at the same five-acre site - a 3,000-year-old pottery fragment bearing five lines of text in proto-Canaanite script, a precursor of Hebrew. It was found in a house next to a massive gate on the western side of Khirbet Qeiyafa hill, which Garfinkel believed was the city's only entrance - until finding a second gate last week.

Carbon-14 tests at Oxford University on four olive pits discovered near the inscription dated the relic to the late Iron Age, specifically to the early part of the 10th century B.C., or between 1000 and 975 B.C., the time King David, leader of the Kingdom of Israel, would have lived. David is believed to have united Judea and Israel, establishing a large kingdom that under his son, Solomon, stretched to present-day Egypt and Iraq, according to the Bible.

The five-line text has not yet been deciphered because the ink on 10 of the 50 letters has faded, making them invisible to the naked eye. The fragment will be examined next week at Megavision in Santa Barbara - a company that manufactures digital cameras - and Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, where sophisticated spectrum and ultra-violet fluorescence imaging may reveal the missing letters.

"The discovery of this early Hebrew text tells us for the first time that the people here could read and write at the time of King David, so historical knowledge could be transmitted in writing and not just by oral tradition as some have suggested," Garfinkel said.

Garfinkel knew from the biblical text that Sha'arayim was near the location of the famous duel between David and Goliath and wondered whether the ruins might be the city. Locating the second gate confirmed his belief that he had found the only site mentioned in the David and Goliath narrative that has yet to be discovered. Sha'arayim is not to be confused with the City of David, which is the name of a promontory located within Jerusalem.

Garfinkel, who has excavated numerous sites in Israel, says he discovered the second gate after noticing an apparent break in the massive stone wall as he walked along the 2,100-foot long structure that faced the road to Jerusalem. After two days of digging, his hunch paid off. A second entrance constructed from massive stones lay just a few feet beneath the topsoil.

"This is the only city from the Iron Age in this region ever found with two gates," said Garfinkel as he clambered over the huge structure. "It was probably a mistake. It made the city more vulnerable. It might explain why it appears to have been settled only twice, for very short periods."

Garfinkel says he is certain the newly-found massive stone gate was the main entrance to the city that existed at the beginning of the 10th century B.C. and then again for a few years at the time of Alexander the Great.

"It is enormous, it has symbolic value demonstrating authority and the power of the kingdom," Garfinkel said while describing the huge building blocks of more than 3 feet square and 10 feet long, each weighing more than 10 tons. "They are the largest ever found from the Iron Age. If King David ever came here from Jerusalem, he entered from this gate. It is likely we are walking in the footsteps of King David."

Some scientists say this Iron Age city with evidence of Hebrew civilization and an unexplored fortress at its center will transform current understanding of the ancient Israelites.

Little is known about the Davidic kingdom except for biblical text. In fact, there is little evidence that King David existed, except for one inscription discovered at Tel Dan in northern Israel in 1993 that refers to the "House of David." Some scholars have even suggested that David was little more than a local sheikh who commanded a small tribe in Jerusalem.

"We don't have to interpret the biblical story of David and Goliath literally," said Garfinkel. "There could have been many Davids and many Goliaths. I see this as a border area between the Israelites and the Philistines that was fought over through many generations, like Alsace-Loraine between France and Germany. ... The cities are all where the Bible says they are, and the dating of our finds shows they were settled at the time the Bible suggests."

To date, Garfinkel has excavated less than 5 percent of the site in two seasons of digging. Next year, the Foundation Stone, an educational organization based in Jerusalem that is supporting the project, hopes to encourage hundreds of volunteers to join the dig.

In the meantime, biblical scholars will undoubtedly be poring over the new findings and reigniting the debate over David's existence and whether he battled the giant Goliath as a youth.

"If he is right, this puts David and Solomon out there and shows they are not a figment of the imagination of some much later writer, as some have suggested," said Professor Maeir.

King Herod

Eight miles south of Jerusalem, where the last stunted olive trees and stony cornfields fade into the naked badlands of the Judaean desert, a hill rises abruptly, a steep cone sliced off at the top like a small volcano. This is Herodium, one of the grand architectural creations of Herod the Great, King of Judaea, who raised a low knoll into a towering memorial of snowy stonework and surrounded it with pleasure palaces, splashing pools, and terraced gardens. An astute and generous ruler, a brilliant general, and one of the most imaginative and energetic builders of the ancient world, Herod guided his kingdom to new prosperity and power. Yet today he is best known as the sly and murderous monarch of Matthew's Gospel, who slaughtered every male infant in Bethlehem in an unsuccessful attempt to kill the newborn Jesus, the prophesied King of the Jews. During the Middle Ages he became an image of the Antichrist: Illuminated manuscripts and Gothic gargoyles show him tearing his beard in mad fury and brandishing his sword at the luckless infants, with Satan whispering in his ear. Herod is almost certainly innocent of this crime, of which there is no report apart from Matthew's account. But children he certainly slew, including three of his own sons, along with his wife, his mother-in-law, and numerous other members of his court. Throughout his life, he blended creativity and cruelty, harmony and chaos, in ways that challenge the modern imagination.

Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer has spent the past half century searching for the real Herod, as he is portrayed not in words but in stone. He has excavated many of Herod's major building sites throughout the Holy Land, exploring the palaces where the king lived, the fortresses where he fought, the landscapes where he felt most at home. Of Herod's many imaginative building projects, Herodium was the only one that bore his name, and was perhaps the closest to his heart. It was here, at the end of his daring and bloodstained career, that he was laid to rest in a noble mausoleum.

The precise location of Herod's tomb remained a mystery for nearly two millennia, until April 2007, when Netzer and his colleagues at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem unearthed it on the upper slopes of Herodium. The discovery provided new insights into one of the most enigmatic minds of the ancient world—and fresh evidence of the hatred that Herod excited among his contemporaries. It also became a political incident, with Palestinians arguing that the artifacts at the site belonged to them, and Jewish settlers saying that the tomb's presence strengthened their claim to the West Bank. To Netzer, whose work at various Herodian sites has for decades been interrupted by war, invasion, and uprisings, the controversy was hardly surprising. In the Holy Land, archaeology can be as political as kingship.

Herod was born in 73 B.C. and grew up in Judaea, a kingdom in the heart of ancient Palestine that was torn by civil war and caught between powerful enemies. The Hasmonaean monarchy that had ruled Judaea for 70 years was split by a vicious fight for the throne between two princely brothers, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. The kingdom was in turn caught in a larger geopolitical struggle between the Roman legions to the north and west, and the Parthians, historic enemies of Rome, to the east. Herod's father, the chief adviser to Hyrcanus and a gifted general, threw in his lot with the Romans, who banished Aristobulus and made Hyrcanus king of Judaea.

From boyhood, Herod saw the benefits of entente with the Roman overlords—a stance that has long been judged a betrayal of the Jewish people—and it was the Romans who would eventually make Herod king. Throughout his career he strove to reconcile their demands with those of his Jewish subjects, who jealously guarded their political and religious independence. Maintaining this delicate balance was all the more difficult because of Herod's background; his mother was an ethnic Arab, and his father was an Edomite, and though Herod was raised as a Jew, he lacked the social status of the powerful old families in Jerusalem who were eligible to serve as high priest, as the Hasmonaean kings had traditionally done. Many of his subjects considered Herod an outsider—a "half Jew," as his early biographer, the Jewish soldier and aristocrat Flavius Josephus later wrote—and continued to fight for a Hasmonaean theocracy. In 43 B.C., Herod's father was poisoned by a Hasmonaean agent. Three years later, when the Parthians suddenly invaded Judaea, a rival Hasmonaean faction allied themselves with the invaders, deposed and mutilated Hyrcanus, and turned on Herod.

In this moment of crisis, Herod looked to the Romans for help. He fled Jerusalem with his family under cover of darkness, and after defeating the Parthians and their Jewish allies in a desperate battle at the site where he would later build Herodium, he traveled on to Rome, where the senate, remembering his unswerving loyalty, named him King of Judaea. He walked out of the senate building arm in arm with the two most powerful men in the Roman world: Mark Antony, the soldier and orator who ruled the Roman east, and Octavian, the young patrician who ruled the west, and who, nine years later, would defeat Antony and assume command of the entire empire, subsequently taking the title "Augustus." Then, in an act that symbolized the many accommodations he would have to make to keep his slippery grip on power, Herod led the procession up the Capitoline Hill to the Temple of Jove, Rome's most sacred shrine, and there the King of Judaea offered sacrifice to the gods of pagan Rome.

Now Herod had his kingdom, but he still had to conquer it, which took three years of hard fighting. Finally, in 37 B.C., he captured Jerusalem, and Judaea was his—at least politically. To bolster his social and religious authority, he divorced his first wife, Doris, and married Mariamne, a Hasmonaean princess. But the Hasmonaean threat remained. Two years later, at Passover, Mariamne's teenage brother, the high priest in the Second Temple, received a warm ovation from the crowds of worshippers; Herod, fearing that the young man might one day usurp his throne, had him drowned in a swimming pool in his palace in Jericho.

The Hasmonaeans were not his only concern. From 42 to 31 B.C., while Mark Antony ruled the Roman east, Herod remained his staunch friend and ally, despite the ambitions of An­tony's beautiful Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, who persuaded her love-struck husband to carve out choice portions of Herod's kingdom for her, and even tried to seduce Herod. (He declined her advances.) In 31 B.C., the political landscape was transformed by the Battle of Actium, during which Octavian crushed the combined armies of Antony and Cleopatra and became the first emperor of Rome. Herod, knowing that Octavian would take a dim view of his long-standing friendship with Antony, rushed to the island of Rhodes to meet the emperor and presented himself without his crown, but with all of his kingly dignity. Instead of downplaying his devotion to Antony, he underscored it and promised to serve his new master, Octavian, with the same loyalty in the future. Octavian was so impressed by Herod's frankness and poise that he confirmed him as King of Judaea, and later added other territories to his realm, saying that Herod's megalopsychia—his greatness of spirit—was too large to fit a small kingdom like Judaea.

In the two decades of economic prosperity and relative peace that followed, Herod made his court a hotbed of Hellenistic and Roman culture, gathering around him some of the leading scholars, poets, sculptors, painters, and architects of the east and west. He gave with kingly generosity, to his own subjects in times of famine and natural disaster, and far beyond the boundaries of his kingdom, in Greece and Asia Minor. (The citizens of Olympia were so grateful for his lavish donations that they elected him agonothete, or president, of the Olympic Games.) And he undertook building projects of remarkable scope, ambition, and creativity. Since the north coast of Judaea lacked a natural deepwater harbor, he built one from scratch at Caesarea, using an innovative building technique to make an enormous breakwater from massive blocks of hydraulic concrete. Herod's Northern Palace at Masada cascades breathtakingly down a cliff face on three narrow terraces, creating an airy and luminous residence that was also a virtually impregnable fortress. In rebuilding the Second Temple, Herod used gargantuan foundation stones, some over 40 feet long and weighing 600 tons. What remains of this stonework, the Western Wall, is Judaism's most sacred place. Upon it rests Islam's third holiest site, the Dome of the Rock.

The outward grandeur and prosperity of Herod's reign concealed the increasing turbulence of his private life. Like many Hellenistic rulers of his time, he had a large and fractious family—ten wives and more than a dozen children—whose frequent conspiracies brought out Herod's cruelty and paranoia. In 29 B.C., in a blaze of jealousy deftly stoked by his sister Salome, he executed his wife Mariamne, though he still loved her deeply, and lived for months afterward in blackest depression, calling her name as if to summon her back from the dead. In his later years he dispatched three of his sons for alleged conspiracies to overthrow him, and redrew his will six times. During his last illness he devised a scheme to plunge the entire kingdom into mourning when he died, ordering his army to imprison a crowd of leading Judaean citizens in the hippodrome in Jericho, and to massacre them when his death was announced. (Fortunately for these well-heeled Judaeans, his command was not carried out.)

DNA tracks ancient Alaskan's descendants

10,300 YEARS OLD: Tests of Southeast Natives challenge prior anthropological results.

An ancient mariner who lived and died 10,000 years ago on an island west of Ketchikan probably doesn't have any close relatives left in Alaska.

But some of them migrated south and their descendents can be found today in coastal Native American populations in California, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina.

That's some of what scientists learned this summer by examining the DNA of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indians in Southeast Alaska.

Working with elders at a cultural festival in Juneau, they interviewed more than 200 Native Alaskans who allowed them to swab tiny amounts of saliva from their cheeks to capture their mitochondrial DNA, the genetic material that's passed from mothers to children.

Preliminary examination of those cell particles indicates:

• None of the participants possessed DNA similar to that extracted from On Your Knees Cave man, the 10,300-year-old Alaskan whose remains were discovered 12 years ago in a shallow cavern on Prince of Wales Island.

• But some participants appear to be closely linked genetically to coastal Indian tribes in British Columbia and Washington state, in spite of anthropological studies that claim Tlingits were originally an Interior people, like the nearby Athabascans.

"We haven't seen connections inland yet ... looking at just the very first couple of samples," said Washington State University Assistant Professor Brian Kemp, the molecular anthropologist who led the research. "That doesn't mean we won't. But right now we only have these long-distant connections."


Apparently On Your Knees Cave man only has long-distant relatives too.


Bones of the ancient Alaskan were first discovered in 1996 by Alaska paleontologist Tim Heaton during an archaeological survey on the northern tip of Prince of Wales, the nation's third largest island.

They are among the oldest human remains ever found in North America -- a 13,000-year-old woman's partial skeleton was discovered 50 years ago in an island cave off the south coast of California -- and the oldest ever discovered in Alaska.

Heaton's team recovered a male pelvis, three ribs, a few vertebrae and a toothy, broken jaw, along with some ancient tools. With the help of archaeologist E. James Dixon, they eventually pieced together the caveman's story.

His teeth indicate he died in his prime, possibly in his early to mid-20s. The content of his bones revealed that his primary food came from the sea. The nearby stone tools, consisting of materials not found on the island, suggest a long-distance traveler, a mariner.

Then the geneticists went to work. Laboring two years as a graduate student, Kemp finally succeeded in extracting mitochondrial DNA from one of the caveman's teeth, the oldest DNA sample ever recovered in the Americas at the time.

It clearly placed On Your Knees Cave man in the "haplogroup-D" branch of the human family tree.


Population geneticists trace all humans alive today back to common ancestors who lived in Africa about 60,000 years ago. As they migrated north out of Africa, then east and west across Asia and Europe, the common DNA they carried with them would occasionally mutate.

Different populations that migrated to different destinations carried different sets of mutations, which scientists have categorized into haplogroups and sub-haplogroups. The first people to migrate to the Americas all belonged to one of five primary haplogroups: A, B, C, D or X.

Just knowing that On Your Knees Cave man was a D reduced the chances that he would have any close relatives still living among present-day Native Alaskans, Kemp said. Previous DNA sampling of Eskimos, Athabaskans and Southeast Indians had traced nearly all of them to haplogroup A, with a tiny scattering of Bs.

The only known haplogroup D people in Alaska were the Aleuts. But that made them only distant relatives to On Your Knees Cave man -- very distant, since scientists believe the D mutation appeared for the first time about 50,000 years ago in Asia.

On closer inspection, however, Kemp found that On Your Knees Cave man belonged more specifically to the genetic sub-group D4H3, which may have shown up as recently as 20,000 years ago. Still, it's an exclusive group. Less than 2 percent of all Native Americans share that signature.

Aleuts living today don't appear to be that closely related to the caveman, Kemp said. Of the 163 tested so far, none were D4H3.

"The Aleuts are more closely related to the On Your Knees Cave individual than anyone who is not a member of D," he said. "But that has nothing to do with what happened in the Americas. It happened way before."

According to Kemp's research, part of what happened in the Americas is this:

Some of the caveman's relatives decided to head south from Alaska. Members of his specific genetic lineage have been found among the Chumash people of Southern California, the Cayapa of Ecuador and the Yaghan of Tierra del Fuego.

The fact that most of them landed at seaside destinations lends a lot more credence to scientists who believe the Lower 48 states and South America were populated first by coastal mariners -- Ice Age migrants from Asia who skirted around land-blocking glaciers in Alaska as early as 20,000 years ago


Did some of those first Alaskans remain behind in the North? In terms of present-day Native Alaskans who might share the same specific genetic marker as On Your Knees Cave man, the jury is still out, Kemp said.

That's because genetic genealogy is still in its infancy. Very few Native Americans have been checked so far.

The DNA testing of 234 Southeast Alaska Indians that occurred in June -- one of the largest samples ever collected in the Americas -- nearly doubled all the previous data scientists had on Alaska Native populations, Kemp said.

It's possible the right person with the right match simply hasn't been tested yet, said Rosita Worl, president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, the nonprofit Southeast Alaska Native group that sponsored the research.

It's also possible that the Tlingits and Haidas -- migrating either from the south or the Interior -- arrived in Southeast Alaska after the cave man's people had already passed through.

Worl's research suggests that the Tlingits of today used to be two separate populations. Tlingit society has long been divided between two groups, called "moieties" -- the Eagles and the Ravens -- based on the mother's ancestry. It's possible that one group preceded the other.

"Our oral traditions always talk about the presence of an older population being here when they arrived," said Worl, a Juneau-based Tlingit who teaches cultural anthropology at the University of Alaska Southeast.

"The hypothesis is that the Eagles and the Ravens represent two different populations."

Kemp is anxious to continue his research on his Tlingit DNA samples, to see if the matrilineal branches based on DNA match the matrilineal branches based on culture.

"We collected as much information as we could about individual moieties," Kemp said. "So a cool test will be to see if it (matches) the population genetics. And that may clarify the separate origins."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Competition led to Neanderthal extinction

Study shows competition, not climate change, led to Neanderthal extinction

Press release from PLoS ONE

In a recently conducted study, a multidisciplinary French-American research team with expertise in archaeology, past climates, and ecology reported that Neanderthal extinction was principally a result of competition with Cro-Magnon populations, rather than the consequences of climate change.

The study, reported in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE on December 24, figures in the ongoing debate on the reasons behind the eventual disappearance of Neanderthal populations, which occupied Europe prior to the arrival of human populations like us around 40,000 years ago. Led by Dr William E. Banks, the authors, who belong to the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, l'Ecole Pratique d'Hautes Etudes, and the University of Kansas, reached their conclusion by reconstructing climatic conditions during this period and analyzing the distribution of archaeological sites associated with the last Neanderthals and the first modern human populations with an approach typically used to study the impact of climate change on biodiversity.

This method uses geographic locations of archaeological sites dated by radiocarbon, in conjunction with high-resolution simulations of past climates for specific periods, and employs an algorithm to analyze relationships between the two datasets to reconstruct potential areas occupied by each human population and to determine if and how climatic conditions played a role in shaping these areas. In other words, by integrating archaeological and paleoenvironmental datasets, this predictive method can reconstruct the regions that a past population could potentially have occupied. By repeating the modeling process hundreds of times and evaluating where the errors occur, this machine-learning algorithm is able to provide robust predictions of regions that could have been occupied by specific human cultures.

This modeling approach also allows the projection of the ecological footprint of one culture onto the environmental conditions of a later climatic phase―by comparing this projected prediction to the known archaeological sites dated to this later period, it is possible to determine if the ecological niche exploited by this human population remained the same, or if it contracted or expanded during that period of time.

Comparing these reconstructed areas for Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans during each of the climatic phases concerned, and by projecting each niche onto the subsequent climatic phases, Banks and colleagues determined that Neanderthals had the possibility to maintain their range across Europe during a period of less severe climatic conditions called Greenland Interstadial 8 (GI8).

However, the archaeological record shows that this did not occur, and Neanderthal disappearance occurs at a point when we see the geographic expansion of the ecological niche occupied by modern humans during GI8. The researchers' models predict the southern limit of the modern human territory to be near the Ebro River Valley in northern Spain during the preceding cold period called Heinrich Event 4 (H4), and that this southern boundary moved to the south during the more temperate phase GI8.

The researchers conclude that the Neanderthal populations that occupied what is now southern Spain were the last to survive because they were able to avoid direct competition with modern humans since the two populations exploited distinct territories during the cold climatic conditions of H4. They also point out that during this population event contact between Neanderthals and modern humans may have permitted cultural and genetic exchanges.