Archive for the ‘archeology’ Category

Archaeologists have discovered what may be the original structure built at the pyramid of Kukulkan at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, experts said Wednesday.

Last year, archaeologists using electrical imagining techniques found that the pyramid, which is also known as El Castillo, was built atop a subterranean river, or a cenote.

Archaeologists have long known that a smaller pyramid is encapsulated underneath the visible temple.

Researchers said Wednesday that they had detected an even smaller structure inside the other two structures. Using what is called tri-dimensional electric resistivity tomography, or “ERT-3D,” they found a 10-metre tall structure within the 20-metre tall ‘intermediate’ pyramid that was covered over by the last construction stage, perhaps around 900 A.D.

Archaeologist Denisse Lorenia Argote said “if we can research this structure in the future it could be important, because it could tell us about the first-period inhabitants” of the site.

Argote, of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, said the first structure may be in the “pure Maya” style from between 500 and 800 A.D.

University of California, San Diego anthropology professor Geoffrey Braswell, who was not involved in the latest project but who has conducted research at Chichen Itza, said the discovery may be new, or may be a structure detected in the 1940s.

Braswell said that while digging into the intermediate-layer pyramid in the 1940s, one archaeologist found a third platform buried within it.

“The tunnel was unstable, so we know very little about this platform,” Braswell wrote. “It appears to be much smaller than the outer two pyramids, and is not perfectly aligned within them.”

The computer image distributed by the researchers also showed un underlying structure not quite aligned with the subsequent layers.

Braswell compared the Kukulkan pyramid to a Russian nesting doll, with each layer encapsulating another. But at the bottom, there may be more than one platform encapsulated.

“To make matters more complicated, ” Braswell wrote, “the third Russian doll moving in may actually be one of a set of several small dolls rattling around inside the same shell. We just do not know. ”

Rene Chavez, a researcher at the National Autonomous University’s Institute of Geophysics, said the early structure appeared to have a staircase and perhaps an altar at the top that may have just been filled in and preserved. The structure has been mapped, but it is not clear whether it will be excavated.

“Given that no one has excavated this structure … it is difficult to say with certitude if it is one of the oldest buildings at the site,” Braswell said. “But this is quite possible.”

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/world/original+pyramid+found+nestled+inside+larger+ones+mayan+ruins/12399722/story.html

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The spells are written in a mysterious language, but a few names of demons could be deciphered.

By Bryan Nelson

Archaeologists excavating a site associated with the ancient Roman city of Viminacium in modern day Serbia have stumbled upon something very unusual: tiny sheets of gold and silver, rolled up like scrolls and placed inside diminutive lead amulets, with mysterious writing etched on them. Scholars now believe the etchings are ancient magic spells, reports The Guardian.

The amulets were discovered inside the graves of skeletons that were buried 2,000 years ago. The scrolls, made of incredibly thin precious metals, likely would have taken expert craftsmanship to be so elegantly etched upon.

“The alphabet is Greek, that much we know. The language is Aramaic – it’s a Middle Eastern mystery to us,” said Miomir Korać, chief archaeologist at the site.

So far the only thing that can be deciphered from the writing is the names of a few demons that are connected to the territory of modern-day Syria, adding to the interest of the find. Archaeologists guess that the inscriptions must be magic spells… but for what purpose?

Since the amulets are similar to those found at sites in other countries, which have been known to contain “binding magic” and which were also buried in graves, researchers assume these gold and silver scrolls have a similar purpose.

“They were often love charms, ordering someone to fall in love, but there were also dark, malignant curses, to the tune of ‘May your body turn dead, as cold and heavy as this lead,’” explained archaeologist Ilija Danković.

If a similar spell was inscribed on these scrolls, it certainly adds some ominous intrigue to the cause of death of these ancient humans!

Actually, magic charms were especially common in the graves of individuals who had suffered a violent death, because of a belief that “souls of such people took longer to find rest and had a better chance of finding demons and deities and pass the wishes to them so they could do their magic,” added Danković.

The fact that these skeletons received their charms on precious sheets of gold and silver might indicate that they had an elevated social status.

As for the prospects of ever fully deciphering the scrolls, researchers are doubtful; the language they were written in has been lost.

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/tiny-golden-scrolls-found-2000-year-old-skeleton-contain-ancient-magic-spells

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by Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News, Johannesburg

Scientists have discovered a new human-like species in a burial chamber deep in a cave system in South Africa. The discovery of 15 partial skeletons is the largest single discovery of its type in Africa.

The researchers claim that the discovery will change ideas about our human ancestors.

The studies which have been published in the journal Elife also indicate that these individuals were capable of ritualistic behaviour.

The species, which has been named naledi, has been classified in the grouping, or genus, Homo, to which modern humans belong.

The researchers who made the find have not been able to find out how long ago these creatures lived – but the scientist who led the team, Prof Lee Berger, told BBC News that he believed they could be among the first of our kind (genus Homo) and could have lived in Africa up to three million years ago.

Like all those working in the field, he is at pains to avoid the term “missing link”. Prof Berger says naledi could be thought of as a “bridge” between more primitive bipedal primates and humans.

“We’d gone in with the idea of recovering one fossil. That turned into multiple fossils. That turned into the discovery of multiple skeletons and multiple individuals.

“And so by the end of that remarkable 21-day experience, we had discovered the largest assemblage of fossil human relatives ever discovered in the history of the continent of Africa. That was an extraordinary experience.”

Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum said naledi was “a very important discovery”.

“What we are seeing is more and more species of creatures that suggests that nature was experimenting with how to evolve humans, thus giving rise to several different types of human-like creatures originating in parallel in different parts of Africa. Only one line eventually survived to give rise to us,” he told BBC News.

I went to see the bones which are kept in a secure room at Witwatersrand University. The door to the room looks like one that would seal a bank vault. As Prof Berger turned the large lever on the door, he told me that our knowledge of very early humans is based on partial skeletons and the occasional skull.

he haul of 15 partial skeletons includes both males and females of varying ages – from infants to elderly. The discovery is unprecedented in Africa and will shed more light on how the first humans evolved.

“We are going to know everything about this species,” Prof Berger told me as we walked over to the remains of H. naledi.

“We are going to know when its children were weaned, when they were born, how they developed, the speed at which they developed, the difference between males and females at every developmental stage from infancy, to childhood to teens to how they aged and how they died.”

I was astonished to see how well preserved the bones were. The skull, teeth and feet looked as if they belonged to a human child – even though the skeleton was that of an elderly female.
Its hand looked human-like too, up to its fingers which curl around a bit like those of an ape.

Homo naledi is unlike any primitive human found in Africa. It has a tiny brain – about the size of a gorilla’s and a primitive pelvis and shoulders. But it is put into the same genus as humans because of the more progressive shape of its skull, relatively small teeth, characteristic long legs and modern-looking feet.

“I saw something I thought I would never see in my career,” Prof Berger told me.

“It was a moment that 25 years as a paleoanthropologist had not prepared me for.”

One of the most intriguing questions raised by the find is how the remains got there.

I visited the site of the find, the Rising Star cave, an hour’s drive from the university in an area known as the Cradle of Humankind. The cave leads to a narrow underground tunnel through which some of Prof Berger’s team crawled in an expedition funded by the National Geographic Society.

Small women were chosen because the tunnel was so narrow. They crawled through darkness lit only by their head torches on a precarious 20 minute-long journey to find a chamber containing hundreds of bones.

Among them was Marina Elliott. She showed me the narrow entrance to the cave and then described how she felt when she first saw the chamber.

“The first time I went to the excavation site I likened it to the feeling that Howard Carter must have had when he opened Tutankhamen’s tomb – that you are in a very confined space and then it opens up and all of a sudden all you can see are all these wonderful things – it was incredible,” she said.

Ms Elliott and her colleagues believe that they have found a burial chamber. The Homo naledi people appear to have carried individuals deep into the cave system and deposited them in the chamber – possibly over generations.

If that is correct, it suggests naledi was capable of ritual behaviour and possibly symbolic thought – something that until now had only been associated with much later humans within the last 200,000 years.

Prof Berger said: “We are going to have to contemplate some very deep things about what it is to be human. Have we been wrong all along about this kind of behaviour that we thought was unique to modern humans?

“Did we inherit that behaviour from deep time and is it something that (the earliest humans) have always been able to do?”

Prof Berger believes that the discovery of a creature that has such a mix of modern and primitive features should make scientists rethink the definition of what it is to be human – so much so that he himself is reluctant to describe naledi as human.

Other researchers working in the field, such as Prof Stringer, believe that naledi should be described as a primitive human. But he agrees that current theories need to be re-evaluated and that we have only just scratched the surface of the rich and complex story of human evolution.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34192447


In a mass grave dating to the 1500s on the Venetian island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, this skull of a woman was found with a brick shoved in its mouth. Researchers think gravediggers came upon the skeleton and feared she was a vampire.

by Heather Whipps

The remains of a medieval “vampire” have been discovered among the corpses of 16th century plague victims in Venice, according to an Italian archaeologist who led the dig.

The body of the woman was found in a mass grave on the Venetian island of Lazzaretto Nuovo. Suspecting that she might be a vampire, a common folk belief at the time, gravediggers shoved a rock into her skull to prevent her from chewing through her shroud and infecting others with the plague, said anthropologist Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence.

In the absence of medical science, vampires were just one of many possible contemporary explanations for the spread of the Venetian plague in 1576, which ran rampant through the city and ultimately killed up to 50,000 people, some officials estimate.

Italy’s famous canal city wasn’t really overrun with medieval Draculas, however.

With hundreds of Venetians dying every day, gravediggers likely just misinterpreted the corpses they saw at varying levels of decomposition while reopening fresh mass graves, said Borrini.

The “stages which reduce the corpse to a skeleton were poorly known because they happen in the grave,” Borrini told LiveScience. “Graves were usually reopened after years, when the body had completely turned into a skeleton.”

Death exposed

Vampire superstition was already part of European culture by the time the bubonic plague reappeared on the continent in sporadic outbreaks throughout the late 1500s. The classic folkloric image of the undead, bloodsucking vampire likely originated in Eastern Europe and spread westwards, historians say, blending and morphing with local beliefs as it went.

Ignorance about the natural stages of decomposition probably fed the original vampire myths, Borrini said, noting that historical documentation of vampires harped on the oddly life-like appearance of recently buried bodies.

“There are some recurring aspects in vampire exhumation reports (usually written in the 17th and 18th century by church-goers and well-educated men, and sometimes even by scientists): uncorrupted corpse, pliable limbs, smooth and tensed skin, renewed beard and nails,” Borrini said. At the time “death was linked to a cold and stiff corpse, or to a blanched skeleton (dry bones),” he said, so evidence of anything to the contrary was considered worrisome when the rare body was exhumed for examination.

In the middle of the plague in Venice, however, victims were being dumped into mass graves such as the one on Lazzaretto Nuovo very regularly, exposing bodies at every gruesome stage of decay.

Frightened gravediggers

A phenomenon that occurs early on in the process of decomposition – abdominal bloating – is what likely concerned the Venetian gravediggers, Borrini said. When humans die, the body releases a myriad of bacterial gases that cause a corpse to bloat with fluid, usually just a few days after death in the absence of any kind of preservation or protection from coffins.

“During this phase, the decay of the gastrointestinal tract contents and lining create a dark fluid called ‘purge fluid’; it can flow freely from the nose and mouth…and it could easily be confused with the blood sucked by the vampire,” said Borrini.

If the “vampire” woman was emitting blood from her mouth, the fluid likely moistened her burial shroud causing it to sink into her jaw cavity and be dissolved by the fluids, Borrini said, making it appear as though she was trying to bite through her shroud. When discovered in that state, a stone was jammed into her mouth as a kind of exorcism to prevent her from potentially spreading the disease further, the researchers think.

Medieval skeletons have been found in a similar state in other parts of Europe, Borrini said.

Bad times = superstition

It is difficult to decipher whether the brick-in-mouth tactic discovered in Venice was truly based on a deep fear of vampires or was merely extra precaution in troubled times, Borrini acknowledged.

“From a forensic point of view, we can accept the reports about the ‘vampire corpses’ as real descriptions, but we can also realize why those legends spread especially during plagues,” Borrini said. The mere fact that tombs and mass graves were reopened so frequently during pandemics to bury new victims of a disease, exposing partially decomposed bodies, only increased “dread and superstition among people who were already suffering pestilence and massive death,” he said.

Borrini presented his findings to a recent meeting of the American Association of Forensic Sciences, along with forensic orthodontist Emilio Nuzzolese.

http://www.livescience.com/3374-medieval-vampire-skull.html


Graffiti discovered in the ancient city of Aphrodisias shows gladiator fights between a retiarius (a gladiator armed with a trident and net) and a secutor (gladiator equipped with a sword and shield).

by Owen Jarus

Hundreds of graffiti messages engraved into stone in the ancient city of Aphrodisias, in modern-day Turkey, have been discovered and deciphered, revealing what life was like there over 1,500 years ago, researchers say.

The graffiti touches on many aspects of the city’s life, including gladiator combat, chariot racing, religious fighting and sex. The markings date to a time when the Roman and Byzantine empires ruled over the city.

“Hundreds of graffiti, scratched or chiseled on stone, have been preserved in Aphrodisias — more than in most other cities of the Roman East(an area which includes Greece and part of the Middle East),” said Angelos Chaniotis, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton New Jersey, in a lecture he gave recently at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.

“Graffiti are the products of instantaneous situations, often creatures of the night, scratched by people amused, excited, agitated, perhaps drunk. This is why they are so hard to interpret,” Chaniotis said. “But this is why they are so valuable. They are records of voices and feelings on stone.”

The graffiti includes sexual imagery, with one plaque showing numerous penises. “A plaque built into the city wall has representations of phalluses of various sizes and positions and employed in a variety of ways,” Chaniotis said.

Trident man vs. sword man

The graffiti also includes many depictions of gladiators. Although the city was part of the Roman Empire, the people of Aphrodisias mainly spoke Greek. The graffiti is evidence that people living in Greek-speaking cities embraced gladiator fighting, Chaniotis said.

“Pictorial graffiti connected with gladiatorial combat are very numerous,” he said. “And this abundance of images leaves little doubt about the great popularity of the most brutal contribution of the Romans to the culture of the Greek east.”

Some of the most interesting gladiator graffitiwasfound on a plaque in the city’sstadiumwhere gladiator fights took place. The plaque depicts battles between two combatants: a retiarius (a type of gladiator armed with a trident and net) and a secutor (a type of gladiator equipped with a sword and shield).

One scene on the plaque shows the retiarius emerging victorious, holding a trident over his head, the weapon pointed toward the wounded secutor. On the same plaque, another scene shows the secutor chasing a fleeing retiarius. Still another image shows the two types of gladiators locked in combat, a referee overseeing the fight.

“Probably a spectator has sketched scenes he had seen in the arena,” Chaniotis said. The images offer “an insight (on) the perspective of the contemporary spectator. The man who went to the arena in order to experience the thrill and joy of watching — from a safe distance — other people die.”

Chariot-racing rivalry

Chariot racing is another popular subject in the graffiti. The city had three chariot-racing clubs competing against each other, records show.

The south market, which included a public park with a pool and porticoes, was a popular place for chariot-racing fans to hang outthe graffiti shows. It may be “where the clubhouses of the factions of the hippodrome were located — the reds, the greens, the blues,” said Chaniotis, referring to the namesof the different racing clubs.

The graffiti includes boastful messages after a club won and lamentations when a club was having a bad time. “Victory for the red,” reads one graffiti; “bad years for the greens,” says another; “the fortune of the blues prevails,” reads a third.

Three religions

Religion was also depicted in the city’s graffiti. “Christians, Jews and a strong group of philosophically educated followers of the polytheistic religions competed in Aphrodisias for the support of those who were asking the same questions: Is there a god? How can we attain a better afterlife?” said Chaniotis.

Graffiti was one way in which these groups competed. Archaeologists have found the remains of statues representing governors (or other elite persons) who supported polytheistic beliefs. Christians had registered their disapproval of such religions by carving abbreviationson the statues thatmean”Mary gives birth to Jesus,” refuting the idea that many gods existed.

Those who followed polytheistic beliefs carved graffiti of their own.

“To the Christian symbol of the cross, the followers of the old religion responded by engraving their own symbol, the double axe,” said Chaniotis, noting that this object was a symbol of Carian Zeus (a god), and is seen on the city’s coins.

Aphrodisias also boasted a sizable Jewish population. Many Jewish traders set up shop in an abandoned temple complex known as the Sebasteion.

Among the graffiti found there is a depiction of a Hanukkah menorah, a nine-candle lamp that would be lit during the Jewish festival. “This may be one of the earliest representations of a Hanukkah menorah that we know from ancient times,” said Chaniotis.

End of an era

Most of the graffiti Chaniotis recorded dates between roughly A.D. 350 and A.D. 500, appearing to decline around the time Justinian became emperor of the Byzantine Empire, in A.D. 527.

In the decades that followed, Justinian restricted or banned polytheistic and Jewish practices. Aphrodisias, which had been named after the goddess Aphrodite, was renamed Stauropolis. Polytheistic and Jewish imagery, including some of the graffiti, was destroyed.

But while the city was abandoned in the seventh century, the graffiti left by the people remains today. “Through the graffiti, the petrified voices and feelings of the Aphrodisians still reach us, and they still matter,” Chaniotis said.

The lecture by Chaniotis was the keynote address given at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of Canada.

http://www.livescience.com/51203-ancient-graffiti-gladiator-combat-discovered.html

Danish archaeologists doing a survey ahead of the construction of the Femern Belt link scheme, an immersed tunnel that will connect the German island of Fehmarn with the Danish island of Lolland, have found a 5,500-year old-ceramic vessel bearing the fingerprint of the artisan who made it.

The vessel is known with the name “funnel beaker,” a kind of ceramics which features a flat bottom with a funnel shaped neck. Such earthenware is characteristic of the Funnel Beaker Culture (4000 – 2800 B.C.), which represents the first farmers in Scandinavia and the north European plain.

It was found in pieces in a former fjord east of Rødby Havn, on the south coast of Lolland, Denmark.

“It is one of three beakers at the site, which originally was deposited whole probably containing some food or liquid presumably as part of some long forgotten ritual,” Line Marie Olesen, archaeologist at the Museum Lolland-Falster, told Discovery News.

At the same site Olesen and colleagues last year found a 5,500-year-old flint axe with the handle still attached. The axe was deliberately jammed into what used to be the seabed during the Stone Age.

As the beaker was brought to the Danish National Museum for conservation, experts noticed a fingerprint on the interior surface.

“It must have been left there while manufacturing the pot,” Olesen said.

According to Olesen, a lot of time and symbolism was put into the manufacture and decoration of the funnel beakers and associated pots.

“From the contexts in which they appear it is obvious that they played an important part in everyday life, be it ritual or profane,” she added.

“The fragile fingerprint, left unintentionally, is an anonymous, yet very personal signature, which somehow brings us a bit closer to the prehistoric people and their actions,” Olesen said.

Last year the same archaeological survey unearthed 5,000-year-old footprints left by people who attempted to save parts of their fishing system before it was flooded and covered in sand.

“An unknown persons gallery is gradually developing before our eyes, of the people who lived by Lolland’s southern coast at the time when agriculture was introduced some 6,000 years ago,” Anne-Lotte Sjørup Mathiesen of the Museum Lolland-Falster, said in a statement.

http://www.livescience.com/51363-ancient-fingerprint-found-on-ceramic-vessel.html?li_source=pm&li_medium=most-popular&li_campaign=related_test

castle


The dungeon believed to have held Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for the blood-thirsty character, was recently discovered in Turkey

Archeologists in Turkey have reportedly discovered the dungeon where the real-life basis for Count Dracula was held.

The cell where history’s Dracula, the Romanian prince Vlad III (nicknamed Vlad the Impaler for his gruesome tendency to impale his foes), was recently discovered during a restoration project, the Turkey-based Hurriyet Daily News reports.

Restoration works in the Tokat Castle have discovered a secret tunnel leading to the Pervane Bath and a military shelter. Two dungeons have also been discovered in the castle, where Wallachian Prince Vlad III the Impaler, who was also known as Dracula, is said to have been held captive in the early 15th century.

The ongoing restoration works, which have continued for 10 weeks, have also restored and reinforced its bastions, which were used as defense in the Seljuk and Ottoman era.

“We try to shed light on history with the structure layers we unearth,” said archaeologist İbrahim Çetin, who works on the excavations. He said that the team has found food cubes and an open terrace, as well as the military shelter and dungeons that were “built like a prison.”

Çetin noted the presence of many tunnels surrounding the site. “The castle is completely surrounded by secret tunnels. It is very mysterious,” he said.

Çetin said that Dracula had been kept captive in one of these uncovered dungeons. “It is hard to estimate in which room Dracula was kept, but he was around here,” he said.

The Turkish archaeologist did not elaborate. Vlad III lived between 1431 and 1476. Most historians say he was kept in captivity in Romania. The exact length of his period of captivity is open to debate, though indications are that it was from 1462 to 1474.

http://time.com/3453948/archaeologists-believe-they-found-draculas-dungeon/#3453948/archaeologists-believe-they-found-draculas-dungeon/