Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Apollo of Gaza: One fisherman's amazing catch

A statue thought to be an ancient bronze of Apollo, Greek God of poetry and love, has dropped off the radar after being found in the sea off Gaza last summer and surfacing briefly on eBay. It is 2,500 years old and priceless.
Jawdat Abu Ghurab used to be a builder but in 2007 Israel restricted the delivery of building materials to the Gaza strip, so he became a fisherman like his father.
He only has a small boat so never goes out far, and catches only small fish. One day last August, though, the 29-year-old from Deir al-Balah ended up with a very different haul.
His uncle was also fishing that day, but gave up early. Ghurab kept going.
"I stayed alone in the sea with a small boat and paddle, I waited for hours and did not imagine what fate had in store for me in the depths of the sea," he says.
"Sometimes waves move the bottom of the sea, small fish go to that spot in search of food, I saw the fish congregate in an area not far from the coast, only 100m out, so I rowed out there and, immersed in the sea, I saw the body of a person, half-buried under the sand."
At first Ghurab was scared. He stared into the water but did not recognise the man's face. When he dived in and touched the body it felt like stone.
"I tried to move it, to make sure that it was a statue, but it was too heavy," he says. "The colour was golden so it was easy to think it was gold."
Ghurab marked the spot and went back to the beach to fetch his relatives. They returned and dived down together - it was at a depth of about four metres, Ghurab estimates.
"We were able to slide it under the water for a metre or two metres and then go up again to take a breath and try again," he says.
After four hours they succeeded in getting the object out of the water. It was the statue of a naked man. They loaded it on to a cart and took it to Ghurab's house.
"My wife covered her face when she saw him lying naked in the house. She begged me to cover it," he says, laughing.
Ghurab's uncle, Atef, proposed cutting the statue into small pieces and selling it.
"After I saw the yellow colour at the head of the statue I thought it was made of gold, but one of my sons
suggested cutting off the finger and taking it to the market to check.We remembered that one of our relatives worked in the neighbourhood selling gold. We called him and he examined the statue and told us that it was made of bronze."
But he also said the bronze statue could be even more precious than if it had been made of gold.
Ghurab considered trying to smuggle the statue into Egypt to sell it, but the smugglers' tunnels - dug to circumvent restrictions put in place by Israel and Egypt after the Islamist movement Hamas came to power in Gaza - have been out of action since they were closed by the Egyptian army last summer.
Neighbours started asking questions, so Ghurab asked a relative - a commander in Hamas's military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades - to help him hide it.
"The people who took the statue said they would send me a handsome reward after they sell it, but we have not got anything yet," he says.
For a while it was for sale on eBay, with an asking price of $500,000. Then the listing disappeared.
Ahmed Elburch, an official at the Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Gaza, says he last saw the statue in October. He was concerned about its condition, he says, as the colour appeared to be changing, and one of the eyes had been cut out.
He says a request from the Louvre to borrow the 500kg, 1.75m statue is currently being studied.
Hamas police refused my request to see it.
People living in the north of the Gaza Strip say it is still being held by militants, who have refused to hand it over to the Hamas government.
But no-one can be sure.
Listen to Shahdi Alkashif's report on the missing statue on The Fifth Floor, on the BBC World Service, or download the podcast.

'Vitruvian Man' May Have Had A Hernia, Surgeon Says

Leonardo da Vinci made it his mission to sketch the male body with ideal human proportions in the late 1400s. But it turns out, his "Vitruvian Man" may not be so perfect after all.
Dr. Hutan Ashrafian, a surgeon at the Imperial College London in the U.K., noticed something rather odd when he got up close and personal with the iconic drawing.
Story continues below.
"Vitruvian Man," a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci circa 1490.
"I noticed that Leonardo da Vinci's image of a man had a feature that may have been pathological. Notably a lump in the left groin region," Ashrafian told The Huffington Post in an email. "For an adult male that Leonardo was depicting, a lump in the groin of this nature is most likely diagnosed as a hernia."
Ouch. An inguinal hernia occurs when soft tissue from the abdomen or intestine pushes through a weak spot in the lower abdominal muscles. It appears as a bulge on one or both sides of the groin or scrotum. These hernias occur in more than a quarter of men and 2 percent of women.
Ashrafian said in the email that Da Vinci may have modeled the "Vitruvian Man" after a cadaver who died from complications from a hernia.
"The image therefore represents Leonardo's true genius of objectively depicting exactly what he observed rather than interpreting art through stylisms," Ashrafian told HuffPost in the email. "The only way to verify the hernia is to see if there were any other images of the same individual or if the actual body was somehow preserved. Both of these are realistically unlikely."
What do other experts think of this diagnosis?
"If it isn’t a hernia, then I really have no idea what it would be," Dr. Michael Rosen, director of the Comprehensive Hernia Center at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, told Slate.
This isn't the first time Ashrafian has doled out post-mortem diagnoses to iconic historical figures. For instance, in 2012, he suggested that King Tut may have died from epilepsy.


A lost city reveals the grandeur of medieval African civilization

Some of the world's greatest cities during the Middle Ages were on the eastern coast of Africa. Their ornate stone domes and soaring walls, made with ocean corals and painted a brilliant white, were wonders to the traders that visited them from Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. They were the superpowers of the Swahili Coast, and they've long been misunderstood by archaeologists. It's only recently that researchers outside Africa are beginning to appreciate their importance.
Throughout the Middle Ages, great civilizations ringed the Indian Ocean. From Egypt, people could travel the Red Sea to reach the ocean, then sail south to Africa, or continue east to the Arab world and India. Then, of course, one could travel over land on the famous Silk Road from India through central Asia and into China. In reality, few people ever made that journey. But many trade goods did, passed from hand to hand in cosmopolitan cities whose cultural diversity would have made places like New York and Sao Paolo look like monocultures. Among those great medieval cities were places like Songo Mnara, a gorgeous and bustling Swahili city built on an island off the coast of Tanzania in the fourteenth century.
At a time when European cities were getting wiped out by plagues and famines, Songo Mnara was thriving.
This month, Samir Patel has a fascinating article in Archaeology about the city. He writes:
From the tenth to fifteenth centuries, the riches of Africa's interior, such as ivory, gold, resins, food, timber, and even slaves, were in high demand around the world. Because of the monsoon trade winds, which could reliably bring traders from around the Indian Ocean to and from the East African coast, many of these goods passed through Swahili towns and into a hemisphere-spanning trade network—through the Red and Mediterranean Seas to Europe, across the ocean to India and Persia, and to China via sea and land. Some of the Swahili stone towns—a collective description of some settlements with stone ruins across miles of coast—grew spectacularly wealthy on this trade. They were independently ruled sultanates that shared intracoastal trade, culture, language (Kiswahili), religion (Islam), and receptiveness to the influence of the outside world. Like the independent city-states of the same period in Italian history, some were major powers, and their fortunes rose and fell with shifting trade relationships and political maneuvering.
Today, Songo Mnara is a ruin that had been almost forgotten by people living outside the local area. It was built by the people of Kilwa Kisiwanti, an ancient city on a nearby island, and they did it the way today's best city planners might. Though no one is sure why, they wanted to erect this city quickly. So they drew up a city plan and organized the homes, palace, and town's mosques around graceful open areas, with generously-sized courtyards that the locals used to greet traveling merchants.
Swahili towns didn't have marketplaces like comparable cities in Europe, the Middle East and China. Instead, archaeologists are learning, trade was conducted in the courtyards, which were halfway between public and private space. Similar kinds of public/private areas were common in ancient Rome as well. Perhaps merchants would stay with a family and other city dwellers would visit to trade with them. Or perhaps they would travel from courtyard to courtyard, offering their wares.
The people who lived in Songo Mnara were part of a Sultanate, or city-state, connected to their parent city of Kilwa. They spoke Kiswahili (related to today's Swahili), and were part of an enormous cultural network that spanned the coast from Somalia to Tanzania. Like the Arab peoples they traded with, the people of the Swahili Coast were Muslims and some of their most breathtaking architecture can be seen in the towers that crown their mosques.
Below, you can see the octagonal pool that once was a gorgeous water feature in the Sultan's palace on Kilwa.
According to one of the archaeologists who is now excavating Songo Mnara, University of York archaeologist Stephanie Wynne-Jones, it's very possible that Islamic practices in medieval Songo Mnara were different from the ones popular in the same region today.
Writes Patel:
According to ethnographic research, Swahili society is traditionally matrilocal (meaning that a man, after marriage, moves in with his wife's family), which doesn't seem to jibe with the more socially conservative form of Islam practiced on the Swahili Coast today. It is thought that the later Omani occupation of the region imposed a stricter version of Islam with regard to women, overwriting what could have been a brand of Swahili Islam with greater gender equality.
One of the key pieces of evidence for this earlier form of Islam can be found on Songo Mnara, where University of Bristol archaeologist Mark Horton believes he's uncovered a mosque that was purpose-built for women. Horton is an expert on mosque architecture and believes that such a mosque would be unique in the Islamic world and would have reflected the importance of women in Swahili society of the middle ages. It's possible that women prayed alongside the men in the many other mosques of the town, and eventually were segregated into their own mosque as their roles changed over time. We don't know for sure, and Horton says that it's always possible that the building was for some other purpose — perhaps a Koranic school — they still haven't figured out yet.
Below, the ruin of the possible women's mosque. Below that, we can see an excavation area where houses once were.
For Horton and Wynne-Jones, excavating Songo Mnara is a rare privilege — it's a mostly-undisturbed site, largely ignored by scientists and locals alike. Partly, it's been preserved so well because archaeologists from an earlier era didn't believe it was a legitimate African ruin — they believed the architecture was too sophisticated, and therefore had to have been crafted by Arab traders who wanted an outpost. That idea has long been disproven, and now the archaeological community accepts that the vibrant Swahili culture was purely African in origin, and that the cultural influences from the Middle East cut both ways. The Swahili Coast and its luxurious arts and goods were an enormous influence on their neighbors ringing the Indian Ocean.
But the power of the Swahili Coast fell as European powers rose. Patel explains:
At the end of the fifteenth century, the Portuguese arrived and Indian Ocean trade changed. Many stone towns were abandoned around this time, often hastily. Through the ensuing 500 years of colonial occupation—Portuguese, Omani, British—the Swahili culture that coalesced in the medieval period has persisted. Today, more than a million people in East Africa still identify as Swahili (fromSawahil, an Arabic word meaning "people of the coast").
Below is a drawing of Kilwa from a European map drawn in the sixteenth century, roughly a century after the city's heyday as a trade power. Admiration for the city's beauty had spread far and wide.
And, as the survival of Swahili culture in Africa attests, the memory of the great trade empire lives on in the peoples of the region. Now, as archaeologists learn more about this history, it's becoming more obvious than ever how crucial African civilizations were to the development of the medieval world.
Read more in Archaeology

Friday, February 21, 2014

Men Who Vandalized Egyptian Pyramid To Prove Theory Face Charges.

Two self-styled amateur archeologists from Germany, who filmed themselves scraping off pieces of Egypt's Great Pyramid in hopes of proving that the ancient wonder was built by people from the legendary city of Atlantis, are now facing possible criminal charges in their home country.
During a trip to Egypt in April 2013, Dominque Goerlitz and Stephan Erdmann, along with a German filmmaker, were granted access to parts of the Great Pyramid at Giza that are normally off-limits to the public. They smuggled their samples back to Germany with plans to produce a documentary.
Benjamin Radford, Live Science, says:
"The group reportedly took several items from the pyramids, including ... samples of a cartouche (identifying inscription) of the pharaoh Khufu, also known as Cheops. Goerlitz and Erdmann, who are not archaeologists but have instead been described as "hobbyists," allegedly smuggled the artifacts out of the country in violation of strict antiquities laws, according to news reports." 
The Art Newspaper says that in November "a self-posted trailer on YouTube for a documentary detailing and revealing their exploits, drew almost universal condemnation and angered Egyptian authorities. After the controversy broke, the German embassy in Cairo released a statement emphasising that neither Goerlitz nor Erdmann were associated with the embassy or the German Archaeological Institute."
In addition to the three Germans, six Egyptians are being held in connection with the case, including several guards and inspectors from the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry who allowed the men into the pyramid, Live Science says.
The Art Newspaper writes:
"Most scholars date this mark to the pyramid's construction in around 2500BC, while alternative theorists, including the two German researchers, have long claimed the cartouche to be a fake, painted by its discoverer, Colonel Howard Vyse in 1837 to help him secure further funding for his explorations. To prove their claims, Goerlitz and Erdmann allegedly smuggled the pigment samples from Egypt to Dresden University for further study; by proving the modernity of the pigment, they hoped to raise the possibility that the Great Pyramid was constructed by a civilization much older than the ancient Egyptians."
In December, Goerlitz and Erdmann apologize for the vandalism in a letter addressed to Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities, "offering to pay compensation for the damage and stressing that they did not mean harm to the pyramid. Egypt's head of antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, has so far rejected their apology."
As Radford points out:
"The conspiracy theories that Goerlitz and Erdmann endorse did not appear in a vacuum; instead, they have been widely promoted by best-selling authors such as Erich von [Daniken], who wroteChariots of the Gods? first published in 1968. Such authors claim the true builders of the pyramids were not ancient Egyptians but instead others, like extraterrestrials or residents of the legendary Atlantis."

Source: The Two Way

Thursday, February 20, 2014

(VIDEO) 600 year old mystery manuscript decoded by University of Bedfordshire professor.

AN award-winning professor from the University has followed in the footsteps of Indiana Jones by cracking the code of a 600 year old manuscript, deemed as ‘the most mysterious’ document in the world.
Stephen Bax, Professor of Applied Linguistics, has just become the first professional linguist to crack the code of the Voynich manuscript using an analytical approach.
The world-renowned manuscript is full of illustrations of exotic plants, stars, and mysterious human figures, as well as many pages written in an unknown text.
Up until now the 15th century cryptic work has baffled scholars, cryptographers and codebreakers who have failed to read a single letter of the script or any word of the text.
Over time it has attained an infamous reputation, even featuring in the latest hit computer game Assassin’s Creed, as well as in the Indiana Jones novels, when Indiana decoded the Voynich and used it to find the ‘Philosopher's Stone’.
However in reality no one has come close to revealing the Voynich’s true messages.
Many grand theories have been proposed. Some suggest it was the work of Leonardo da Vinci as a boy, or secret Cathars, or the lost tribe of Israel, or most recently Aztecs … some have even proclaimed it was done by aliens!
Professor Bax however has begun to unlock the mystery meanings of the Voynich manuscript using his wide knowledge of mediaeval manuscripts and his familiarity with Semitic languages such as Arabic. Using careful linguistic analysis he is working on the script letter by letter.
“I hit on the idea of identifying proper names in the text, following historic approaches which successfully deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs and other mystery scripts, and I then used those names to work out part of the script,” explained Professor Bax, who is to give his inaugural lecture as a professor at the University later this month.
“The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants. I was able to identify some of these, with their names, by looking at mediaeval herbal manuscripts in Arabic and other languages, and I then made a start on a decoding, with some exciting results.”
Among the words he has identified is the term for Taurus, alongside a picture of seven stars which seem to be the Pleiades, and also the word KANTAIRON alongside a picture of the plant Centaury, a known mediaeval herb, as well as a number of other plants.
Although Professor Bax’s decoding is still only partial, it has generated a lot of excitement in the world of codebreaking and linguistics because it could prove a crucial breakthrough for an eventual full decipherment.
“My aim in reporting on my findings at this stage is to encourage other linguists to work with me to decode the whole script using the same approach, though it still won’t be easy. That way we can finally understand what the mysterious authors were trying to tell us,” he added.
“But already my research shows conclusively that the manuscript is not a hoax, as some have claimed, and is probably a treatise on nature, perhaps in a Near Eastern or Asian language.” 
Find out more about his work at the University's Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment (CRELLA) and also on his personal website

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2,300-year-old village discovered near ‘Burma Road’

 The remnants of a rural settlement that was occupied for approximately two centuries during the Second Temple Period have been uncovered.

The find was made during an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeological salvage excavation, before the start of work on a natural gas pipeline to Jerusalem as part of a national project directed by Israel Natural Gas Lines (INGL).
In June 2013, Israel Natural Gas Lines began construction of the 35km-long project, which runs from the coastal plain to the outskirts of Jerusalem. In light of the finds, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the INGL have agreed that engineering plans for the gas line are to be revised, bypassing the site and preserving it as an accessible archaeological site beside the Burma Road.
The excavations, which covered about 750 square meters, revealed a small rural settlement with a few stone houses and a network of narrow alleys. Each building, which probably housed a single nuclear family, consisted of several rooms and an open courtyard.
According to Irina Zilberbod, excavation director on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, “The rooms generally served as residential and storage rooms, while domestic tasks were carried out in the courtyards”.
The site, whose name has not survived, is nestled at the top of a spur 280 meters above sea level, with commanding views of the surrounding countryside. These large tracts of land were used  as they are today  to cultivate orchards and vineyards, which were the economic mainstay of the region’s early settlers.
  The excavations have shown that the site reached the height of its development in the Hellenistic period (during the third century BCE), when Judea was ruled by the Seleucid monarchy following Alexander the Great, and that it was abandoned at the end of the Hasmonean dynasty.
 It is not known why the site was abandoned, but it is probably related to economic problems and not to a violent incident.
As Jerusalem Regional Archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch explains, “The phenomenon of villages and farms being abandoned at the end of the Hasmonean dynasty or the beginning of Herod the Great’s succeeding rule is one that we are familiar with from many rural sites in Judea, and it may be related to Herod’s massive building projects in Jerusalem, particularly the construction of the Temple Mount, and the mass migration of villagers to the capital to work on these projects.”
The excavations yielded numerous and varied finds from all occupation periods, including basalt and limestone grinding and milling tools for domestic use, pottery cooking pots, jars for storing liquids (oil and wine,) pottery oil lamps for domestic use, and over sixty coins, including coins from the reigns of the Seleucid King Antiochus III and the Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus.
Source: HeritageDaily

Monday, February 17, 2014

Aztec dog burials puzzle archaeologists.

During salvage excavations in Azcapotzalco (Northwest Mexico City), archaeologists from the National Institute of anthropology and history (INAH) discovered the remains of 12 dogs. The dogs were placed there around 500 years ago, but unusually, without any apparent association to human burial – acting as a guide for the soul to the underworld, or as an offering dedicated to a temple or building.

Late Postclassic

The approximate date of their burial was ascertained from ceramic material recovered, known as Azteca III and manufactured during the late Postclassic period between the years 1350 to 1520 A.D., which was the height of Aztec rule in the area, said archaeologist Rocío Morales Sanchez.
Burials of dogs have been found in archaeological contexts, but in this case, it is not associated with any construction or a human burial. Without a doubt this is a special find, by the number of individuals and we have not found a link with a building or a deceased person.”
He explained that they would be digging deeper to find out if any evidence exists underneath this deposit to aid interpretation. The dog skeletons will be analysed in the laboratory to ascertain the cause of death, whether they suffered from any disease or malformation.

The skeletons which are in good condition do not conform to any burial pattern. Their body shape seems to suggest a common type of dog, as special breeds such as the techichi are recognised by their short legs, while the xoloitzcuintli are identified by their loss of premolars in adulthood. The group of dogs are of medium size, of various ages and have most of their teeth, except for one which has severe dental wear.

Periphery of Azcapotzalco

The remains discovered represent the earthworks of what was the periphery of Azcapotzalco on its southern side and linked to the old quarter of the Concepción Huitznahuac. A few years ago another rescue excavation was conducted in the eastern part of the same land and at that time the archaeologists recovered and protected the remains of a household, where they also found human burials and traces of ancient canals. These finds are connected with the new discoveries of a large amount of domestic waste materials, mainly ceramics, bone needles and obsidian stone tools.

Human femur percussion instrument

INAH archaeologist Antonio Zamora said that they had also found an omichicahuaztli (percussion instrument) carved out of a human femur, as well as another musical instrument made of a dog humerus. In one clay layer they discovered the remains of an infant of about three years old from the Prehispanic era along with food waste consisting of the bones of dog and Turkey. Given the closeness of this area to the shoreline of Lake Texcoco, the archaeologists concluded that the waste was put there in order to raise the ground level to prevent flooding.

Source: PH

Gas masks, skulls and bullets: Haunting underwater World War II artefacts from ship graveyard in Chuuk Lagoon captured by British photographer.

For 70 years, they have sheltered at the bottom of a clear blue lagoon... which happens to mask the largest ship graveyard in the world. 
Now, a photographer has captured the World War Two artefacts that lie beneath the surface of Chuuk Lagoon in the Central Pacific. 
The preserved items include gas masks, human skulls and metal bullets - as well as personal photographs belonging to wartime victims.
The lagoon was Japan's main base during the war, but in 1944, U.S. forces launched a fatal attack - sinking more than 60 Japanese warships and 250 planes. 
The body of water, formally known as Truk Lagoon, is now considered to be one of the top wreck diving destinations in the world.
Photographer Super Jolly, from Wraysbury, Berkshire, described the shoot as 'one of the scariest' dives she has ever done.
'The atmosphere was really spooky,' she said. 'Seeing the piles of bones and medicine bottles on the operating table filled me with fear and provided me with some hard hitting images of the war and the importance of this memorial to all those who perished.'
The 32-year-old added: 'I wasn't expecting the ships and artefacts to be so well preserved after being underwater for almost 70 years.'
Preserved: A photographer has captured the World War Two artefacts - including a gas mask, above - that lie beneath the surface of Chuuk Lagoon in the Central Pacific
Haunting: The items include human skulls, unexploded bombs and metal bullets - as well as personal photographs belonging to wartime victims, such as the one above
In the deep: The lagoon, now formally known as Truk Lagoon, masks the largest ship graveyard in the world. Above, a set of engine controls is pictured on the seabed  
Creepy: The body of water was Japan's main base during World War Two, but in 1944, U.S. forces launched an attack. Above, an operating table lies beneath the water
Artillery: The attack on February 17 resulted in the sinking of more than 60 Japanese warships and 250 planes. Above, a collection of metal bullets rests on the seabed
Masking a secret: The clear blue lagoon is pictured as it looks today. Seventy years after the attack, the Japanese still pay their respects at the watery graves each year
Location: Chuuk lagoon is a body of water in the central Pacific. About 1800km north-east of New Guinea, it is part of Chuuk State in the Federated States of Micronesia
Spooky: Chuuk Lagoon is now considered to be one of the top wreck diving destinations in the world. Above, several Saki bottles are pictured on the ocean floor
Wreckage: Photographer Super Jolly, from Wraysbury, Berkshire, described the incredible shoot as 'one of the scariest' dives she has ever done. Above, a telegraph
Eerie: 'The atmosphere was really spooky,' she said. 'Seeing piles of bones and medicine bottles on the operating table filled me with fear.' Above, a set of engine tubes
Operations: Ms Jolly, 32, said the deep-sea dive provided her with some 'hard hitting images' of the war - including this haunting photo of the ship's machine room
Artefacts: The 32-year-old added: 'I wasn't expecting the artefacts to be so well preserved.' Above, a medicine box (left) and a steering column (right) lie on the sea floor
 Risks: Ms Jolly said breathing in compressed air at depth can lead to 'narcotic effects' - impairing divers' judgement and sensory perception. Above, a sunken truck
Remains: She added: 'Another nitrogen related danger is decompression sickness, caused by the bodies tissues absorb nitrogen under pressure.' Above, another truck
Deadly: If the pressure underwater is rapidly reduced then bubbles can form - leading to painful joints, tissue damage, paralysis and even death. Above, a stock of bullets
Urinals: 'When exploring wrecks, there is always the danger of getting lost inside a wreck or getting tangled on something,' said Ms Jolly. Above, the officers' washroom
Put out: A lantern is pictured at the bottom of the lagoon, which is the world's largest ship graveyard. It joins an array of other artefacts from the World War Two attack
Yet to perish: Wartime items, including a Japanese newspaper (left) and dozens of undetonated bombs (right) are captured on the sea floor during the photography shoot
Deceased: Chuuk Lagoon is part of the larger Caroline Islands group, comprising eleven major islands. Above, human bones - including part of a skull - lie on the seabed
Worn: These damaged shoes are among hundreds of artefacts to have been discovered in ship wrecks following the U.S. deadly airstrike on February 17, 1944
Left behind: Small blue fish surround a a pair of spanners that are resting atop a container - believed to be a tool box - beneath the surface of the tropical lagoon
Source: DailyMail

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The secret story of the Venus of Willendorf.

Microscopic investigations on the world famous statuette from the Gravettian period (30,000 to 22,000 years ago) carried out at the Natural History Museum in Vienna revealed three incredible insights, and when taken together tell a secret story of this Palaeolithic figurine and her creators.

  • The limestone from which the 11cm high Venus had been carved, comes almost certainly from the region around the Moravian city of Brno 136km to the northeast of Willendorf.
  • The source of the flint blades discovered with the figure was North Moravia, a further 150km to the north.
  • The Venus had once been completely painted with red ochre, and given the ritualistic associations of this material meant that the figure was more than likely a cultic object.

The limestone of Stránská Skala in Brno

After an extensive programme of comparison of a large dataset of various limestone types, the proverbial needle was located in the haystack. The limestone rock from which the Venus of Willendorf could have been made​​, came from an unexpected location. The limestone is often called 0olite, and is composed of millimetre-sized calcoliths (skeletons of tiny sea creatures). Only on the Stránská Skala, a limestone massif in the city area of Brno (Brünn), can an identical rock type be found. This places the origin of the stone for the Venus at this precise location.

Nordic flint from the moraines region of Moravia

Analysis of the flint tools from the Ice Age camp of Willendorf, along with a detailed lithic provenancing examination showed that up to one third of the blades that are typical of the Gravettian culture were made from what is known as northern flint. This raw material was never available on the Danube, but must have been brought from the northern moraines region to Willendorf. The long narrow blades from this high-quality flint are exceptional, however, it is what is not present that opens up a window onto its origins and the movement of the people themselves. The Willendorf site contains no suitable cores to makes these blades, which can only suggest that they were already complete when they arrived at the Danube and the cores were left at the site of extraction and production far to the north.
These findings appear to represent evidence of long range seasonal migrations of the Ice Age Gravettian people moving from summer and winter camps between 30,000 - 27,000 years ago. The group would have spent the warmer seasons in the cool highlands, while in winter they would settle in the area of the Danube valley. This route would take them through the area where they could gather the material to carve the limestone figurine, and  collect the flint nodules in the moraine deposits of the Nordic Ice sheets from the northern flint glacial region of Moravia where they would make the tools, before carrying them all the way to the Danube during the harsher winder months.

Red painted figure
There is a great deal of evidence showing the entire surface was once painted with red ochre and analysis shows that the entire figure was originally painted red. The Venus of Willendorf was recorded to have been covered with a thick layer of red ochre when she was found in 1908, however, it seems that overzealous cleaning removed most of this covering. The small female figure was most likely cultic or religious in function, carried by the band of Gravettian and it is acknowledged that red ochre is often represented as a sacred colour and used in burial rites.  Many figurines were hidden in dwellings with some buried in small pits. It seems plausible that the nomadic Stone Age hunters carried these small and therefore portable  ‘idols’ with them as they moved from camp to camp.

Source: PH