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Queen Khentakawess III’s tomb found in Egypt

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The tomb dates to the Fifth Dynasty of the Pharaohs – about 4,500 years ago

Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed the tomb of a previously unknown queen, Egyptian officials say.

The tomb was found in Abu-Sir, south-west of Cairo, and is thought to belong to the wife or mother of Pharaoh Neferefre who ruled 4,500 years ago.

Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty said that her name, Khentakawess, had been found inscribed on a wall in the necropolis.

Mr Damaty added that this would make her Khentakawess III.

The tomb was discovered in Pharaoh Neferefre’s funeral complex.

Source: BBCNews Read more

A Nativity Sham

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Jesus was not born in a stable, says theologian

Rev Ian Paul writes on his blog that birth of Christ story is based on a misreading of the New Testament

A 15th century nativity scene by Paolo Schiavo. Photograph: Philadelphia Museum of Art/Corbis

The birth of Christ may be the most famous Bible story of all, reprised annually in nativity scenes across the world each Christmas: Jesus was born in a stable, because there was no room at the inn. But evangelical scholar Rev Ian Paul has argued that the entire story may be based on a misreading of the New Testament, reviving an ancient theory that Jesus was not, in fact, born in a stable.

“I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas before the Christmas lights have even gone up,” Rev Paul, a theologian and former Dean of Studies at St John’s theological college, Nottingham, has written on his personal blog. “But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case.”

Paul argues that the Greek word, kataluma, usually translated as “Inn” was in fact used for a reception room in a private house – the same term is used to describe the “upper room” where Jesus and his disciples ate the last supper. An entirely different word, pandocheion, is used to describe an “Inn” or any other place where strangers are welcomed.

Even if there were an inn in Bethlehem, Paul argues, Joseph and Mary would not have been staying there. The only reason for them to travel to Bethlehem for the census was because he had family there and if he did, the customs of first-century Palestine required him to stay with relatives and not with strangers.

In that context, the kataluma where he stayed would not have been an Inn, but a guest room in the house of the family where Joseph and Mary were staying. That could very well have been full with other relatives who had arrived before them.

“The actual design of Palestinian homes (even to the present day) makes sense of the whole story,” Paul writes. “Most families would live in a single-room house, with a lower compartment for animals to be brought in at night, and either a room at the back for visitors, or space on the roof. The family living area would usually have hollows in the ground, filled with straw, in the living area, where the animals would feed.”

So Jesus would not have been born in a detached stable, but in the lower floor of a peasant house, where the animals were kept.

This interpretation is hardly new. The earliest scholar to put it forward was the Spaniard Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas, in 1584. He was denounced to the inquisition for his pains and reprimanded by them, though not actually burned, tortured or imprisoned as might have happened to heretics.

Since then the theory has repeatedly been raised by New Testament greek scholars aware that kataluma does not actually mean “Inn”. Paul himself first wrote about the misinterpretation of the word in 2013, and re-posted his theory this year “because I have been struck again how often the message of Christmas is summed up as ‘Jesus was born in a stable’, both within and beyond the church.”

For Paul, the significance of his reinterpretation of the story is that it undercuts the idea that what made Jesus remarkable was that he was born to humble, outcast parents. “In the Christmas story, Jesus is not sad and lonely, some distance away in the manger, needing our sympathy. He is in the midst of the family, and all the visiting relations, right in the thick of it and demanding our attention,” he writes.

“This should fundamentally change our approach to enacting and preaching on the nativity.”

Paul says that what is extraordinary about the birth of Jesus is that it shows God shifting from the divine to the human. If that happened in a crowded family home, the message is preserved. If it happened in an isolated stable, “that just shows that the descent was from a respected human to a disrespected human,” he argues.

Source: TheGuardian

Viking Treasure

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Viking treasure haul unearthed in Scotland

VikingTreasure

In total, more than 100 items were recovered, including armbands, a cross and brooches

A haul of Viking treasure has been unearthed from a field in south west Scotland by an amateur using a metal detector.

Derek McLennan, a retired businessman from Ayrshire, made the find in Dumfriesshire in September.

In total, more than 100 items were recovered, including armbands, a cross and brooches.

Experts have said the discovery is one of the most important Viking hoards ever found in Scotland.

The items are believed to be worth a six-figure sum.

Mr McLennan last year uncovered Scotland’s biggest haul of medieval silver coins.

Among the objects within the hoard is an early Christian cross thought to date from the 9th or 10th Century.

The solid silver cross has enamelled decorations which experts consider to be highly unusual.

The haul also includes possibly the largest silver Carolingian pot ever discovered, with its lid still in place.

The pot is likely to have been around 100 years old when the hoard was buried in the mid 9th or 10th Centuries.

Source: BBCNews Read and see more

Bronze Burden

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What should Uruguay do with its Nazi eagle?

The German government fears the eagle could end up in the hands of Nazi sympathisers

World War Two was never as close to land in South America as on 13 December 1939, when three Royal Navy cruisers challenged Germany’s Admiral Graf Spee off the coast of Uruguay.

A battle still goes on 75 years later.

This time, however, the matter in dispute is not the control of the South Atlantic but rather a controversial four-tonne bronze eagle that could fetch millions of dollars at auction.

The spread eagle with a swastika under its talons was recovered off the coast of Uruguay in 2006 by private investors.

It was part of the stern of the Graf Spee, which was once one of the most modern battleships in the world.

The cruiser was scuttled by its captain in Montevideo Bay soon after the Battle of the River Plate. The captain had feared that if captured, the British would steal information about its state-of-the-art technology.

The bronze eagle, which was one of the most remarkable symbols of the German Third Reich, now rests at a warehouse guarded by the Uruguayan navy.

Source: BBCNews Read and see more

Earliest Human Engravings

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Indonesian shell has ‘earliest human engraving’

The markings were more clear in the digital photos than they had been to the naked eye

Zig-zag patterns found on a fossilised shell in Indonesia may be the earliest engraving by a human ancestor, a study has claimed.

The engraving is at least 430,000 years old, meaning it was done by the long-extinct Homo erectus, said the study.

The oldest man-made markings previously found were about 130,000 years old.

If confirmed, experts say the findings published in the journal Nature may force a rethink of how human culture developed.

One of the report’s authors, Stephen Munro, told the BBC it could “rewrite human history”.

“This is the first time we have found evidence for Homo erectus behaving this way,”

Source: BBCNews Read and see more

The Stegosaurus

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Scientists seek to solve mystery of Stegosaurus plates

Sophie: The most complete Stegosaurus skeleton in the world

Researchers hope to learn how much it weighed, how it moved and what it used its iconic back plates for.

A UK team has scanned each of its 360 bones into a computer and has digitally reconstructed the dinosaur. The specimen, nicknamed “Sophie”, has been acquired by the Natural History Museum in London. Although Stegosauruses are one of the most well known dinosaurs, they are among those that scientists know the least about. There are only six partial skeletons of the creature, which lived around 150 million years ago. It could grow to the size of a minibus and the gigantic plates which ran along its back were its most distinctive feature.

Stegosaurus: the outstanding questions

  • How did it use its back plates and tail spikes?
  • How effective were its muscles?
  • How did such a small skull manage to chew enough food for such a large body?
  • How much did it weigh?
 

Surprisingly, it was 100 years ago that the dinosaur’s skeleton was properly assessed and scientifically described. Now, using medical imaging techniques and 3D modelling, researchers at the Natural History Museum hope to learn much more about this iconic creature.

Source: BBCNews Read more

Old Sarum

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Old Sarum archaeologists reveal plan of medieval city

The inner and outer baileys of the Old Sarum Iron Age fort were surveyed

A detailed plan of a medieval city has been produced by experts without any digging at the site.

The latest scanning techniques were used to uncover a network of buildings at the 11th Century Old Sarum near Salisbury in Wiltshire.

The results include a series of large structures, possibly defences, with open areas of ground behind possibly for mustering resources or people.

Old Sarum was the original site of Salisbury, which is two miles away.

Old Sarum lies two miles north of the modern-day city of Salisbury, Wiltshire

Source: BBCNews

Real Life Indiana Jones

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The real-life Indiana Jones on the hunt for lost ancient Mayan cities in Mexico

Slovenian archaeologist Ivan Šprajc is behind discovery of three significant ruins in the remote jungles of the Yucatán peninsula

Ivan Šprajc at one of the Mayan sites discovered in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

There are days when Ivan Šprajc gets fed up with his job. Hacking pathways through the Mexican jungle with machetes is exhausting. Keeping a constant eye out for deadly snakes can be nerve-racking. The risk of finding nothing to show for all the effort is real.

But then there is reward that comes when the contours of a plaza, palace, ball court or pyramid emerge from beneath the tree cover, or inscriptions that could help explain them are revealed by brushing off undergrowth.

“I’ve said to myself quite a few times that this is the last season, because it is so difficult. But it is such a reward when you find a new site,” says the Slovenian archaeologist, who has made a career of finding lost Mayan cities. “It’s tough work, but it’s dead romantic.”

This year Šprajc’s team found two – Tamchén and Lagunita – which followed last year’s discovery of a large site called Chactún.

The finding of the three sites is the first step in surveying an almost unexplored area spanning about 1,200 sq miles in the northern part of the Calakmul biosphere reserve, between the Río Bec and Chenes regions, in the southern Mexican state of Campeche.

“You can call it archaeological reconnaissance,” he says. “It is the very first step into an area that is completely unknown.”

Tamchén, Lagunita and Chactún have all been dated to the 8th century, within the post-classic period that runs for the three centuries immediately before the collapse of high Mayan civilisation around AD900.

The ruins at the three Mayan sites have been dated to the 8th century.

Šprajc believes the size and obvious importance of some of their buildings denote a revival of the power of smaller cities that were once subjugated to the authority of Calakmul, a great city that quickly faded after losing a war in 695 with Tikal, the other lowland Maya superpower of the classic period.

“When Calakmul falls, apparently these other cities thrive,” he says.

Beyond regional power relations, Šprajc believes the new cities could also help shed new light on the wider collapse that was to come, once they have been excavated.

A fairly solid consensus exists that prolonged drought, population pressure and an intensification of conflict were all contributing factors, but the sequence of these remains a mystery.

Already, he says, obviously modified monuments and unusual finds in the newly discovered cities suggest they might one day be the centre of new ideas about what happened to the Maya in those key centuries.

He named one of this year’s sites Tamchén, which means “deep well” in Yucatec Maya, because it is filled with deep bottle-shaped underground chambers, known as chultúns, used for storage and rain water collection. While elsewhere in the Maya world chultúns rarely go beyond six metres, in Tamchén they are as deep as 13.

Lagunita, the second site, has an impressive monster mouth facade on one of the buildings, representing an earth god related with fertility. The site had already been located in the 1970s by American archaeologist Eric Von Euw, but all that was left from that expedition were his drawings, which Šprajc immediately recognised when he rediscovered the city this year.

What stands out here, he says, is that such doorways were previously associated with the late-terminal classic period in Río Bec.

In Chactún, Šprajc’s team uncovered glyphs in stucco, rather than stone, that have never been found anywhere in the Mayan world before.

“If we are finding things that seem unique to us now, it means there are still a lot of things we don’t know about the Maya,” he says.

Source: TheGuardian Read and see more

What’s the appeal of a caliphate?

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In June the leader of Islamic State declared the creation of a caliphate stretching across parts of Syria and Iraq – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi named himself the caliph or leader. Edward Stourton examines the historical parallels and asks what is a caliphate, and what is its appeal?

When Islamic State (IS) declared itself a caliphate in June this year, and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claimed the title of caliph, it seemed confirmation of the group’s reputation for megalomania and atavistic fantasy. Al-Baghdadi insisted that pledging allegiance to this caliphate was a religious obligation on all Muslims – an appeal which was immediately greeted by a chorus of condemnation across the Middle East.

But is it dangerous to underestimate the appeal of IS? Al-Baghdadi’s brutal regime does not, of course, remotely conform to the classical Muslim understanding of what a caliphate should be, but it does evoke an aspiration with a powerful and increasingly urgent resonance in the wider Muslim world.

The last caliphate – that of the Ottomans – was officially abolished 90 years ago this spring. Yet in a 2006 Gallup survey of Muslims living in Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia and Pakistan, two-thirds of respondents said they supported the goal of “unifying all Islamic countries” into a new caliphate.

Why do so many Muslims subscribe to this apparently unrealisable dream? The answer lies in the caliphate’s history.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at his first public appearance in Mosul, Iraq in July

The Arabic khalifa means a representative or successor, and in the Koran it is linked to the idea of just government – Adam, and then David and Solomon, are each said to be God’s khalifa on earth. And when the Prophet Mohammed died in 632 the title was bestowed on his successor as the leader of the Muslim community, the first of the Rashidun, the four so-called “Rightly Guided Caliphs” who ruled for the first three decades of the new Islamic era.

These four were, according to Reza Pankhurst, author of The Inevitable Caliphate, all appointed with popular consent. He argues that their era established an ideal of a caliph as “the choice of the people… appointed in order to be responsible to them, apply Islamic law and ensure it’s executed”. He adds that the true caliph “is not above the law”.

Shia Muslims challenge this version of history – they believe that the first two caliphs effectively staged a coup to frustrate the leadership claims of the Prophet’s cousin Ali – and this dispute about the early caliphate is the source of Islam’s most enduring schism. But to today’s Sunni Muslims, many of them living under autocratic regimes, the ideal of a caliphate built on the principle of government by consent is likely to have a powerful appeal.

Another significant source of the caliphate’s appeal today is the memory it stirs of Muslim greatness. The era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs was followed by the imperial caliphates of the Umayyads and Abbasids.

“Seventy years after the Prophet’s death, this Muslim world stretched from Spain and Morocco right the way to Central Asia and to the southern bits of Pakistan, so a huge empire that was all… under the control of a single Muslim leader,” says historian Prof Hugh Kennedy. “And it’s this Muslim unity, the extent of Muslim sovereignty, that people above all look back to.”

Source: BBCNews Read more

Neanderthal Sex

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Ancient human bone helps date our first sex with Neanderthals

Oldest genome sequence of a modern human suggests Homo sapiens first bred with Neanderthals 50,000-60,000 years ago

Neanderthal DNA specialist Svante Pääbo examines the anatomically modern human femur, found near Ust’-Ishim in western Siberia. Photograph: Bence Viola/MPI EVA

An ancient leg bone found by chance on the bank of a Siberian river has helped scientists work out when early humans interbred with our extinct cousins, the Neanderthals.

A local ivory carver spotted the bone sticking out of sediments while fossil hunting in 2008 along the Irtysh river near the settlement of Ust’-Ishim in western Siberia. The bone was later identified as a human femur, but researchers have learned little else about the remains until now.

The importance of the find became clear when a team led by Svante Pääbo and Janet Kelso at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig ran a series of tests on the fragile material.

Radiocarbon dating of pieces of the leg bone put the remains at around 45,000 years old. The team went on to extract DNA from the bone, which allowed them to reconstruct the oldest modern human genome ever.

The genetic material showed that the thigh bone belonged to a man who carried about 2% Neanderthal DNA, a similar amount to people from Europe and Asia today. The presence of Neanderthal DNA meant that interbreeding between them and modern humans must have taken place at least 45,000 years ago.

But amid the DNA were more clues to when humans and Neanderthals reproduced. Strands of Neanderthal DNA found in modern humans can act like a biological clock, because they are fragmented more and more with each generation since interbreeding happened. The strands of Neanderthal DNA in the Siberian man were on average three times longer than those seen in people alive today. Working backwards, the scientists calculate that Neanderthals contributed to the man’s genetic ancestry somewhere between 7,000 and 13,000 years before he lived.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, suggest that humans and Neanderthals had reproductive sex around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, though other couplings might well have happened later. Until now, estimates for interbreeding have varied enormously, ranging from 37,000 to 86,000 years ago.

“What we think may be the case is that the ancestors of the Ust’-Ishim man met and interbred with Neanderthals during the initial early admixture event that is shared by all non-Africans at between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago, and perhaps somewhere in the middle East,” Kelso told the Guardian.

But a small number of fragments of Neanderthal DNA in the man’s genome were longer than expected given how many generations had passed. Those might be evidence of his ancestors breeding with Neanderthals closer to the time he was born.

“Everyone outside Africa has about same amount of Neanderthal DNA. It seems to be something early on where one really mixed with Neanderthals in a serious way,” said Pääbo. “Since that happened I wouldn’t be surprised if, now and again, one did it here and there later on too.”

Prior to the latest study, the oldest modern human genome came from the 24,000-year-old remains of a boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in easterbn Siberia.

Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said the ancient DNA from the Siberian man sheds fresh light on the story of early human migrations out of Africa. In the 1920s and 30s, researchers found 100,000-year-old skeletons of modern humans in caves in Israel. The remains may have belonged to a group of humans that left Africa and ultimately went on to colonise southern Asia, Australia and New Guinea. But an alternative explanation is that they were from a migration that failed to go much further. According to that view, the more successful dispersal of humans out of Africa happened much later, around 60,000 years ago.

The latest findings suggest that the ancestors of modern Australians, who carry a similar amount of Neanderthal DNA to Europeans and Asians, are unlikely to have picked up their own Neanderthal DNA before 60,000 years ago. “The ancestors of Australasians must have been part of a late, rather than early, dispersal through Neanderthal territory,” Stringer said.

“While it is still possible that modern humans did traverse southern Asia before 60,000 years ago, those groups could not have made a significant contribution to the surviving modern populations outside of Africa, which contain evidence of interbreeding with Neanderthals,” he added.

Source: TheGuardian

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