Saturday, March 1, 2014

A drought coincided with the beginning of the decline of the metropolis-building Indus Civilisation,

Scientists from the University of Cambridge have demonstrated that an abrupt weakening of the summer monsoon affected northwest India 4,100 years ago. The resulting drought coincided with the beginning of the decline of the metropolis-building Indus Civilisation, which spanned present-day Pakistan and India, suggesting that climate change could be why many of the major cities of the civilisation were abandoned.
The research involved the collection of snail shells preserved in the sediments of an ancient lake bed. By analysing the oxygen isotopes in the shells, the scientists were able to tell how much rain fell in the lake where the snails lived thousands of years ago.

Climate change

The results shed light on a mystery surrounding why the major cities of the Indus Civilisation (also known as the Harappan Civilisation, after Harappa, one of the five cities) were abandoned. Climate change had been suggested as a possible reason for this transformation before but, until now, there has been no direct evidence for climate change in the region where Indus settlements were located.
Moreover, the finding now links the decline of the Indus cities to a documented global scale climate event and its impact on the Old Kingdom in Egypt, the Early Bronze Age civilisations of Greece and Crete, and the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, whose decline has previously been linked to abrupt climate change.
We think that we now have a really strong indication that a major climate event occurred in the area where a large number of Indus settlements were situated,” said Professor David Hodell, from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences. “Taken together with other evidence from Meghalaya in northeast India, Oman and the Arabian Sea, our results provide strong evidence for a widespread weakening of the Indian summer monsoon across large parts of India 4,100 years ago.”
Hodell together with University of Cambridge archaeologist Dr Cameron Petrie and Gates scholar Dr Yama Dixit collected Melanoides tuberculata snail shells from the sediments of the ancient lake Kotla Dahar in Haryana, India. “As today, the major source of water into the lake throughout the Holocene is likely to have been the summer monsoon,” said Dixit. “But we have observed that there was an abrupt change, when the amount of evaporation from the lake exceeded the rainfall – indicative of a drought.”

Abandoned megacities

At this time large parts of modern Pakistan and much of western India was home to South Asia’s great Bronze Age urban society. As Petrie explained: “The major cities of the Indus civilisation flourished in the mid-late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC. Large proportions of the population lived in villages, but many people also lived in ‘megacities’ that were 80 hectares or more in size – roughly the size of 100 football pitches. They engaged in elaborate crafts, extensive local trade and long-ranging trade with regions as far away as the modern-day Middle East. But, by the mid 2nd millennium BC, all of the great urban centres had dramatically reduced in size or been abandoned.”
Many possible causes have been suggested, including the claim that major glacier-fed rivers changed their course, dramatically affecting the water supply and the reliant agriculture. It has also been suggested that an increasing population level caused problems, there was invasion and conflict, or that climate change caused a drought that large cities could not withstand long-term.
We know that there was a clear shift away from large populations living in megacities,” said Petrie. “But precisely what happened to the Indus Civilisation has remained a mystery. It is unlikely that there was a single cause, but a climate change event would have induced a whole host of knock-on effects.
“We have lacked well-dated local climate data, as well as dates for when perennial water flowed and stopped in a number of now abandoned river channels, and an understanding of the spatial and temporal relationships between settlements and their environmental contexts. A lot of the archaeological debate has really been well-argued speculation.”

Monsoon weakening

The new data, collected with funding from the Natural Environment Research Council, show a decreased summer monsoon rainfall at the same time that archaeological records and radiocarbon dates suggest the beginning of the Indus de-urbanisation. From 6,500 to 5,800 years ago, a deep fresh-water lake existed at Kotla Dahar. The deep lake transformed to a shallow lake after 5,800 years ago, indicating a weakening of the Indian summer monsoon. But an abrupt monsoon weakening occurred 4,100 years ago for 200 years and the lake became ephemeral after this time.
Until now, the suggestion that climate change might have had an impact on the Indus Civilisation was based on data showing a lessening of the monsoon in Oman and the Arabian Sea, which are both located at a considerable distance from Indus Civilisation settlements and at least partly affected by different weather systems.
Hodell and Dixit used isotope geochemical analysis of shells as a proxy for tracing the climate history of the region. Oxygen exists in two forms – the lighter 16O and a heavier 18O variant. When water evaporates from a closed lake (one that is fed by rainfall and rivers but has no outflow), molecules containing the lighter isotope evaporate at a faster rate than those containing the heavier isotopes; at times of drought, when the evaporation exceeds rainfall, there is a net increase in the ratio of 18O to 16O of the water. Organisms living in the lake record this ratio when they incorporate oxygen into the calcium carbonate (CaCO3) of their shells, and can therefore be used, in conjunction with radiocarbon dating, to reconstruct the climate of the region thousands of years ago.
Speculating on the effect lessening rainfall would have had on the Indus Civilisation, Petrie said: “Archaeological records suggest they were masters of many trades. They used elaborate techniques to produce a range of extremely impressive craft products using materials like steatite, carnelian and gold, and this material was widely distributed within South Asia, but also internationally. Each city had substantial fortification walls, civic amenities, craft workshops and possibly also palaces. Houses were arranged on wide main streets and narrow alleyways, and many had their own wells and drainage systems. Water was clearly an integral part of urban planning, and was also essential for supporting the agricultural base.
At around the time we see the evidence for climatic change, archaeologists have found evidence of previously maintained streets start to fill with rubbish, over time there is a reduced sophistication in the crafts they used, the script that had been used for several centuries disappears and there were changes in the location of settlements, suggesting some degree of demographic shift.”
We estimate that the climate event lasted about 200 years before recovering to the previous conditions, which we still see today, and we believe that the civilisation somehow had to cope with this prolonged period of drought,” said Hodell.

Multidisciplinary project

The new research is part of a wider joint project led by the University of Cambridge and Banaras Hindu University in India, which has been funded by the British Council UK-India Education and Research Initiative to investigate the archaeology, river systems and climate of north-west India using a combination of archaeology and geoscience. The multidisciplinary project hopes to provide new understanding of the relationships between humans and their environment, and also involves researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Oxford, the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and the Uttar Pradesh State Archaeology Department.
It is essential to understand the link between human settlement, water resources and landscape in antiquity, and this research is an important step in that direction,” explained Petrie. “We hope that this will hold lessons for us as we seek to find means of dealing with climate change in our own and future generations.”
Source: Past Horizonts

Friday, February 28, 2014

Have Russians Discovered Ancient 'Super-Megalithic' Architecture in Siberia?

Are these images posted to a Russian blog evidence for one of the greatest megalithic constructions ever discovered, or are they just a geological quirk of nature, like the Japanese site of Yonaguni seems to be? My votes on the latter, but I look forward to further investigation:
The super megaliths were found and photographed for the first time by Georgy Sidorov on a recent expedition to the Southern Siberian mountains. The following images are from Valery Uvarov's Russian website. There are no measurements given, but from the scale depicted by the human figures, these megaliths are much larger (as much as 2 to 3 times larger) than the largest known megaliths in the world. (Example: The Pregnant Woman Stone of Baalbek, Lebanon weighs in at approximately 1,260 ton). Some of these megaliths could easily weigh upwards of 3,000 to 4,000 tons.
What do you think?

Source: Daily Grail

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Incredible underground chamber with 130 ancient Greek statues awaiting investigation

An underground chamber containing 130 ancient Greek statues was discovered in Athens 25 years ago. But no one, apart from the finders, has cared enough to battle the bureaucracy that has prevented the hatch from being opened and the remarkable treasures from being recovered. So what has stopped the Ministry of Culture from retrieving such precious relics of the past? Apparently the obstacle is as simple as the fact that the mysterious underground chamber lies on private property and no one wants to get involved.
The chamber was discovered in Athens when two friends found an opening in the ground in an area that was being excavated to lay the foundations for a new building.  After throwing some burning paper in the opening they saw that there were stairs leading further under the surface. So they went down with the help of two lit candles. Here is the description of Constantinos Kyparissis, one of the two friends that made the discovery:
 … We threw the lit newspaper and the rays of light have shown the stairs. At the end of the stairs and at a depth of 3 meters or more there was a room and at the right of the room there was the statue of a Goddess of a height of about 1.80 meters, a magnificent statue. The left side of her face was unfinished. At her right side there was the statue of a lion and next to it Diogenes naked and next was Goddess Athena. Alongside the tunnel on both the left and right side there have been multiple full body statues. After 20 meters there is no oxygen but the tunnel keeps going….
In total, more than 130 undamaged statues were counted by Constantinos and his friend.
There is a speculation that the room that was found at the beginning of the 4-meter wide corridor was one of the workshops of the great Greek sculptor, painter and architect Phidias, because many of the sculptures were similar to those once found in the Parthenon.  Phidias was the creator of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the statue of Zeus at Olympia – as well as other monumental statues and gates at the Parthenon in Greece. Others have theorised that with such a large number of statues, it is possible that the corridor leads to a temple.  
You would expect that with such a great discovery the Ministry of Culture and the archaeological department would rush to go and research further. However, this was not the case.
Constantinos spoke to a lawyer who advised him and his friend not to talk to anyone about the finding but to write a letter to the Ministry of Culture and let them know about the discovery, and so they did. The first letter was sent on 1st March, 1988, and there have been multiple letters since then.  Unfortunately, it appears that the importance of the discovery was lost with every change of Minister and every change of Government.
On the 20th of August 2003, Constantinos sent another letter, and he sent new letters every time the Minister for Culture changed.  In 2004, he sent a letter directly to the Prime Minister. He repeated the process in 2006 and again in 2007.
After nearly 20 years, Constantinos received his first reply.  On 12th March, 2007, the Ministry replied thanking him for his interest and asking him to declare what he had found. They wrote that if it was verified, he would receive a reward and recognition.  On the same day, they sent him a second letter asking him to take them to the location to see. 
A team of 17 people, including archaeologists, government officials, and lawyers went to the site where the discovery was made.  The exact spot had since been covered with asphalt, but a simple process of drilling through the thin layer of asphalt would have revealed the marble entrance and no further excavation would be needed.
The following day, Government representatives sent a letter to Constantinos telling him that because the place is on private property and covered with asphalt, they are not permitted to drill and therefore they cannot verify if what Constantinos said was true or not.  (Of course, there are devices that can easily measure if there is empty space below ground level and this would not require any drilling). 
A few days later, Constantinos’ lawyer went to the site and found that the asphalt above the entrance was fresh – showing that someone had got into it and then resealed it.  Nothing was heard again from the Ministry of Culture or the archaeological department. So Constantinos’ lawyer contacted the Archaeological Council and gave them all the papers, letters, and details about the place and the situation. The Archaeological Council was surprised as they had never been informed about it. They appeared very enthusiastic about the information and promised to investigate and get back to him.  This never happened.
What could possibly explain the Government’s failure to intervene on a matter of such national importance? Did they ever investigate the chamber? If so, why did they do so secretly? Did they find something that they did not want to announce, or is it simply an extreme example of bureaucratic incompetence?  We do not know, but we intend to find out.  Stay tuned!
For those who speak Greek, here is a video from a Greek TV program in which Constantinos’ lawyer, and a number of others who have been involved, speak about the case.

Source: Ancient Origins

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gladiator School Discovery Reveals Hard Lives of Ancient Warriors.

Archaeologists have mapped an ancient gladiator school, where the famed warriors lived, trained, and fought.

Ancient Rome's gladiators lived and trained in fortress prisons, according to an international team of archaeologists who mapped a school for the famed fighters.
Discovered at the site of Carnuntum outside Vienna, Austria, the gladiatorial school, or ludus gladiatorius, is the first one discovered outside the city of Rome. Now hidden beneath a pasture, the gladiator school was entirely mapped with noninvasive earth-sensing technologies. (See "Gladiator Training Camp.")
The discovery, reported Tuesday evening by the journal Antiquity, makes clear what sort of lives these famous ancient warriors led during the second century A.D. in the Roman Empire.
"It was a prison; they were prisoners," says University of Vienna archaeologist Wolfgang Neubauer, who led the study team. "They lived in cells, in a fortress with only one gate out."
The discovery shows that even outside Rome gladiators were "big business," Neubauer says. At least 80 gladiators, likely more, lived in the large, two-story facility equipped with a practice arena in its central courtyard. The site also included heated floors for winter training, baths, infirmaries, plumbing, and a nearby graveyard.
Prisoners of Rome
The gladiators were clearly valued slaves, Neubauer says, kept apart and separate from the town of Carnuntum, which was founded on the Danube River by the Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 124 and later became a Roman stronghold.
"The find at Carnuntum gives us a vivid impression of what it was like to live and train as a gladiator on the chilly northern border of the Roman Empire," says gladiator expert Kathleen Coleman of Harvard, who was not part of the study team.
Although more than 100 gladiator schools were built throughout the Roman Empire, the only known remnants are in Rome, Carnuntum, and Pompeii (which had small, private gladiatorial grounds). Within the 118,400-square-foot (11,000-square-meter) walled compound at the Austrian site, gladiators trained year-round for combat at a nearby public amphitheater.
"They weren't killed very often, they were too valuable," Neubauer says. "Lots of other people were likely killed at the amphitheater, people not trained to fight. And there was lots of bloodshed. But the combat between gladiators was the point of them performing, not them killing each other."
This map of the gladiator school reveals that it was like a fortress or prison.
Tight Quarters
The gladiators slept in 32-square-foot (3-square-meter) cells, home to one or two people. Those cells were kept separate from a wing holding bigger rooms for their trainers, known as magistri, themselves retired survivors of gladiatorial combat who specialized in teaching one style of weaponry and fighting.
"The similarities show that gladiators were housed and trained in the provinces in the same way as in the metropolis [of Rome]," Coleman says. The one gate exiting the compound faced a road leading to the town's public amphitheater, reportedly the fourth largest in the empire.
The fortress prison also undermines the image of gladiators as traveling from town to town in a circus-like setting, as seen in the movie Gladiatorreleased in 2000. (Another film set in the ancient Roman era, Pompeii, is opening this week.)
"They weren't a team," Neubauer says. "Each one was on his own, training to fight, and learning who they would combat at a central post we can see the remains of in our survey."
Neubauer expects to continue aboveground mapping efforts at Carnuntum, which is proving to have been a surprisingly large town.
Analysis of bones from a gladiator graveyard in Ephesus, Turkey, suggests that gladiators ate a largely vegetarian diet, Neubauer notes. The team hopes to eventually perform a similar analysis on bones from the gladiator graveyard in Carnuntum, in a further attempt to explore the real lives of these ancient warriors.

Source: National Geographic

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Japanese archaeologists discover 3,000-year-old tomb with vivid murals in Egypt.

Japanese archaeologists have unearthed a near-pristine tomb of a high-ranking Egyptian official who served as a temple's chief brewer 3,000 years ago.
The site, on the west bank of the Nile near Luxor, dates from the 12th century B.C. and has beautifully preserved murals in vivid colors.
Jiro Kondo, who led the dig on behalf of Waseda University’s Institute of Egyptology in Tokyo, said, "In recent years, it has become extremely rare to discover a tomb with paintings on the walls and ceiling that remain in such a good condition."
The site is part of a necropolis that contains 1,000 or so grotto tombs that were first excavated nearly 200 years ago. Only a few dozen of the tombs have such well-preserved murals.
The university's Institute of Egyptology has been searching for tombs of ranking officials in the New Kingdom period (between the 16th century B.C. and the 11th century B.C.) since 2007.
The tomb's owner was identified as Khonsuemheb, who oversaw offerings of beer and foods to the temple of Mut. The tomb contains images of him as well as his wife and daughter.
The chamber is about 2 meters wide and 5 meters long. Its actual height has yet to be determined due to a buildup of sand.
Aside from paintings on the walls, the ceiling is emblazoned with images of Khonsuemheb's funerary procession and the couple at prayers.
The researchers said the paintings provide new insight into the way tombs at that time were constructed as well as details on the how funeral services were conducted.
They also found a pit inside the tomb that they believe leads to the burial chamber. They hope to uncover the sarcophagus and excavate the mummy during their next expedition.
The find came after the discovery of a separate tomb last December, which also had colorful paintings.
Source: The Asahi Shimbun

Monday, February 24, 2014

Shield-wearing skeleton, necklace and grave goods found in early Saxon inhumations.

The discovery of nine bodies in Cambridgeshire could reveal much about the little-known early Saxon period

An early Saxon man who fell on his shield has been found buried with a knife and spear alongside a jewellery-clad woman during a dig on a residential site in a Cambridgeshire village.

Grave goods, weaponry and everyday items from the 6th century surfaced during the excavation in Haddenham, where similar remains – including a double burial of a man and a woman – were first identified more than 20 years ago.

“A total of nine inhumations were discovered, ranging from the very young to fully grown adults,” says Jon House, of Pre-Construct Archaeology, thanking local residents for their “great interest” and “warm and welcoming” approach to the team during unfavourable weather conditions.

“The burials included an adult male, found lying upon a decorative shield and with a knife and a spear.

“A beaded necklace was found around the neck and upper torso of an adult female, who was also buried with a belt or girdle with copper and iron fittings.

“Projects such as these prove how even the smallest developments can yield a wealth of archaeological information and, in the case of this particular site, details not only of how people lived but also of their treatment towards the dead over 1,400 years ago.

“This is especially important during those periods, such as the early Saxon era, which have left little or no historical data.”

Source: Culture 24

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Is treasure hoard found in Germany linked to Nibelung legend?

An amateur treasure hunter equipped with a metal detector has discovered a hoard of gold and silver dating back to late Roman times in a German forest.  The finding has prompted speculation that it could be the legendary Nibelung treasure. The unnamed treasure seeker came across the buried treasure, estimated to be worth more than €1 million, while searching a wooded area in southern Rhineland-Palatinate with a metal detector.  The trove includes numerous leaf-shaped solid gold brooches, which are thought to have formed part of the decorations from a coat of a Roman ruler, as well as a solid silver bowl set with gold and stones set within it, and a set of gold and silver plated statuettes which formed part of a military commander’s portable chair. 
Experts say the treasure, some of which appears Eastern European in style, was buried around 1,500 years ago, about the time when Germanic Teutons were plundering and pillaging their way through the crumbling Roman Empire. “In terms of timing and geography, the find fits in with the epoch of the Nibelung legend,” said Axel von Berg, the state’s chief archaeologist. “But we cannot say whether it actually belongs to the Nibelung treasure,” he said, adding that whoever owned it had “lived well” and could have been a prince. The Nibelungs is the most famous Epic in Norse mythology and is said to be based on the Royal family of Burgundy. The story begins when a treasure of the Burgundians falls into the hands of Siegfried. After helping King Gunther woo Brunhild, Siegfried marries Kriemhild, Gunther's sister. Ultimately, a row between the Queens leads to the death of both Siegfried and Kriemhild, and the loss of the treasure. Whether the treasure is the famous “Rhinegold” or not, it seems to have been buried in haste by its owner or by robbers in around 406-407 AD, when the Roman Empire was falling apart in the area along the Rhine. Prosecutors have begun an inquiry into the hobbyist who discovered the treasure because they suspect he may have sold some of it, possibly to a buyer abroad. 

Source: Ancient Origins

(VIDEO) 10 Words in Mysterious Voynich Manuscript Decoded.

A researcher claims he's decoded 10 possible words in the famously unreadable Voynich manuscript, which has eluded interpretation for a century.
The book's 250 vellum pages are filled with writings in an unknown alphabet and elaborate drawings depicting a range of subjects from female nudes to medicinal herbs to Zodiac symbols. The medieval text was discovered by an antique book dealer in 1912, and it has been rather stingy in giving up its secrets ever since.
Now Stephen Bax, a professor of applied linguistics at the University of Bedfordshire in England, says he's deciphered 14 characters of the script and can read a handful of items in the Voynich text, such as the words for coriander, hellebore and juniper next to drawings of the plants. He says he's also picked out the word for Taurus written beside an illustration of the Pleiades, a star cluster in the constellation Taurus. [Voynich Manuscript: Images of the Unreadable Medieval Book]
"I hit on the idea of identifying proper names in the text, following historic approaches which successfully deciphered Egyptianhieroglyphs and other mystery scripts, and I then used those names to work out part of the script," Bax said in a statement.
"The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants," Bax added. "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."
The Voynich manuscipt now sits in a rare books library at Yale University. Carbon dating proved that it dates back to the 15th century, and researchers believe it was written in Central Europe. While some scholars have written it off as a Renaissance-era hoax full of nonsense text, others say the pattern of the letters and words suggest the book was written in a real language or at least an invented cipher. A recent statistical study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that "Voynichese" adheres to linguistic rules.
Bax notes that the manuscript is still a long way from being understood, and that he is coming forward with what he's found thus far in the hopes that other linguists will work with him to crack the code. For now, he thinks the book is "probably a treatise on nature, perhaps in a Near Eastern or Asian language."
Bax has explained his ideas in a manuscript and in a YouTube video on his website.

Source: Live Science

Monster Surf Exposes Rare Petroglyphs in Hawaii.

Epic winter swells just off of Oahu, Hawaii, have churned up monster waves more than 7 meters high, sent seawater surging around the foundations of beachfront homes, and gnawed away at sandy cliffs along the island’s North Shore.
They’ve also exposed rare petroglyphs that have not been seen in years.
The unusually strong seasonal surf has washed away layers of sand all along Pupukea Beach, just east of the big-surf mecca of Waimea, to reveal dozens of large glyphs carved into the bench of lava rock.
More than 70 carvings have been exposed, mostly depicting human-like figures and dogs, according to the Historic Hawaii Foundation, whose workers are documenting the images.
A public safety officer reported the find to the foundation in late January, but social media have been rife with reports by surfers, beachcombers, and rock-art enthusiasts who have been sharing pictures of the glyphs since shortly after the new year when the swell started.
By most accounts, the North Shore petroglyphs were last seen in 2010, when similar winter weather exposed some of them. Before that, they had not been observed since 2004.
The appearance of the markings seems to coincide with El NiƱo, the periodic climate anomaly that causes unusually warm waters in the equatorial Pacific, and huge surf off of Oahu.
A weaker version of this cycle occurred in 2004, while 2010′s was particularly strong, as this year’s is shaping up to be.
Because they’re seen so rarely, the petroglyphs do not seem to have been the subject of very thorough study; they were reportedly first documented by archaeologists in 1970, and new ones have been identified as recently as 1983.
But previous research into Hawaiian petroglyphs, known locally as kii pohaku, has suggested that such carvings were used to document travels around and among the islands, to commemorate important events, and to mark trails and boundaries.
At Pu’u Loa, a vast field of more than 23,000 petroglyphs on Hawaii’s Big Island, many of the motifs are notable for featuring holes in which Native Hawaiians deposited the umbilical cords of newborn babies.
Back on O’ahu, depictions of dogs are particularly prevalent.
In addition to those newly exposed on the North Shore, canines appear often at the Nu’uanu rock art site near Honolulu, where they have been said to depict a wicked, cannibalistic dog-like beast known as Kaupe.

Source: Western Diggs