Friday, June 29, 2007

Bosnian Pyramid Loses Funds!


Not a pyramid at all but rather a "natural formation," says the Bosnian Culture Minister, Gavrilo Grahovac. So they're pulling the plug on self-proclaimed, "amateur archaeologist," Semir Osmanagic, who, for a little over a year now, has claimed that the geologic formations as Visoko, Bosnia are pyramids built by people in antiquity.

If true, the "pyramids" would be the largest in the world. However, not a shred of viable evidence has been produced to support the claim, which seems to be just so much fantasy generated by myster-mongers and significance-junkies. Read some of the details and a link to the story below the guide.


I found the article in the "World" section of the Croatian online news site, Javno, the exact url is here.

And the Javno article was refreshingly critical of the Osmanagic claims. And, by "critical," I mean they gave a reasoned account of the situation compared with the mass-media attention of about a year ago.

The Culture Ministry found the "research" conducted by Osmanagic's team to be questionable and the collaborators of Osmanagic to lack the credibility needed to allow for continued funding of their "project." Also criticized by the Bosnian government, according to Javno, is the methods by which Osmanagic et al presented their findings, particularly the fact that they routinely kept their data from experts in relative fields.

The Bosnian Culture Ministry consulted experts including those in the fields of geology, mining, archaeology, and cultural preservation and arrived at the conclusion that Osmanagic's foundation was not acting in the best interest of Bosnian cultural preservation and that the foundation is in violation of archaeological regulations. The Ministry even concluded that the nature of Osmanagic's registration with the Bosnia-Herzegovina Justice Ministry may be suspect and should be "looked into."

According to Osmanagic, his reckless destruction of the site (which does have legitimate cultural resources of the Roman period as well as perhaps others) is justified due to the "positive image" he's created of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the world.

Personally, I'd have to disagree, since the image being created was potentially one of ridicule among serious academia. But this recent position of the Culture Ministry is one to be respected and it's good to see truth and reason win out against pseudoscience and woo. I don't know if the Ministry's protection can extend to lands that are on private property or controlled by local governments, but it is certainly having the effect of keeping Osmanagic's band of woo-woo's from destroying cultural resources on much of the hill. According to Osmanigic's woo-woo site, they are resuming "excavations" as of 28 June 2007 on local government controlled lands.

One can hardly blame local governments from trying to continue cashing in on Osmanagic's nonsense since it is drawing tourism to the region. And, to be honest, the current situation isn't much different than that of a typical cultural context in the United States, where private land owners are free to allow looters and idiots to ravage archaeological sites, plundering valuable pottery and lithic artifacts while completely ignoring the more culturally valuable contexts of these artifacts. I think, however, that many local governments are influenced by whether or not they receive federal funding, which may impact how they are required to preserve cultural and historical resources.

Meanwhile, Osmanagic and his foundation of woo are the continued laughing stock of the archaeological community -or, perhaps they would be if it weren't for the fact that they are endangering genuine cultural resources with their pseudoscientific endeavor.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Dilmun and Punt: Two Mythical Origins for Two Early Civilizations (Part I)


Archaeology is about examining the material remains of the human past, often in hopes of learning something of the origins of civilizations in antiquity: where did they come from? why did they leave there? what motivated them to seek a new home? -these are but a few questions that archaeologists and cultural historians work with when looking at the earliest civilizations.

In this series, I'm going to examine two of the earliest civilizations of the Near East, both of which have fascinated me for some time. Specifically, I'll look at the Sumerian and Egyptian cultures and their legends of mystical places of origin: Dilmun and Punt. In this first post, I'll discuss the myths, legends and stories surrounding the two and I invite others to comment.

Part I: Mythical References
Part II: Archaeological and Geological Considerations
Part III: Discussion and Bibliography

Introduction

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) evidence has demonstrated the human propensity to migrate beginning at around 30,000 to 45,000 years ago, coinciding with the artifactual evidence of cultural change. In regions like the Indus Valley, Central Europe and Mesoamerica migrations and population density were influenced by climate and catastrophe and demographic reorganization in response to these pressures resulted in various instances of successes in the form of the rise of complex civilization or failures in the form of societal collapse.

It follows, then, that populations of the Near East experienced cycles of diffusion and migration as they evolved into sedentary and complex societies. It may even follow that this diffusion and migration may have had some common points of origin following the peak of the Würm glaciation around 18,000-16,000 BCE as climate changed from dry to wet conditions and sea levels began to rise as the glaciers melted, potentially displacing coastal and riverine populations. Since these migrations would have occurred prior to the advent of writing, evidence would need to be looked for by tracing artifacts to points of origin or following motif patterns that can be traced from culture to culture. But both of these could also have explanations involving trade and diffusion between adjacent cultures. Another line of evidence that could be followed might be strontium isotope analysis of human remains, which can reveal geographic regions that an individual spent time in over his life. The number of bones and teeth available to analyze become exponentially decreased the further back in time one looks, however, due to preservation problems and lower population densities, and this type of analysis only looks at the origin and travels of the individual in his lifetime not migrational trends spanning generations.

Still another line of evidence that could be examined, albeit one that is more subjective and includes more induction than deduction, is the examination of early written texts since there is some indication that the earliest accounts of myths and stories have origins in oral traditions. Among the earliest literate societies is that of the Egyptian and the Sumerian. Both have legends, myths and stories that speak of distant lands that may have been the origin of their people; lands that are considered holy and sacred; and lands that are the subject of trade and considered in high regard. Those lands are Dilmun and Punt of Sumerian and Egyptian legends respectively.

Mythical References

The earliest mythical references to Dilmun are Sumerian and found in cuneiform texts known today by the titles: Enki and Ninhursag, Enki and the World Order, Enki and Nanna-Suen, Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living, and the Myth of Ziusudra.

In the myth of Enki and Ninhursag Dilmun is referred to as:

“the pure clean and bright land of the living, the garden of the Great Gods and Earthly paradise, located eastward in Eden, was the place where Ninhursag-Ki, the Earth Mother, Most Exalted Lady and Supreme Queen, could be found.”

The same story also refers to Dilmun as being, “blessed by Enki with everlasting agricultural and trade superiority, for through its waterways and quays, fruits and grains were sold and exchanged by the people of Dilmun and beyond” and as a “holy” place. In this myth, Enki created all the canals that irrigated the crops of the people as the “Sweet Waters god.”

In Enki and the World Order, Dilmun is mentioned alongside Magan and Meluhha as trading partners with boats from Dilmun being filled with wood, suggesting that Dilmun was a place of plentiful trees. The word “kur” is used before Dilmun, which has various meanings in Sumerian and Akkadian including land, country, hill and mountain. Dilmun is regularly mentioned in Sumerian mythology alongside Magan and Meluhha, which are referred to as south of Sumer.

In one of the tablets that reveals the Myth of Ziusudra, Dilmun is referred to as “the mountain of crossing, the mountain of Dilmun, the place where the sun rises.” And Kramer (1944) attributes the “land of the living” in Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living as being Dilmun, since it is also referred to in the poem as, “land of the cedars” and “as a land whose ‘creature’ is the sun-god Utu, which Kramer feels he has demonstrated to be references to Dilmun.

Punt is similarly referred to in Egyptian texts as “the Land of God” and as a place “to the East” where expeditions could be sent for specialty goods including gold, copper, myrrh, exotic animals, and staves or rods for spears since there were few good sources for these along the Nile. It was also called the “land of beginning” and the “country of first existence,” and Breasted (1906a, p. 117) notes that the ancient Egyptians may have viewed this as their ancestral homeland. Punt is mentioned in the Tale of a Shipwrecked Sailor, which describes a sailor marooned on a mystical island where he meets a serpent that identifies himself as “the Prince of Punt.” This prince helps the sailor on his way, returning the sailor and his new found riches to Egypt in a two-month boat journey.

Both Punt and Dilmun are referred to in their respective myths as holy places and being to the east. Both are places of trade and are revered as being ancestral homelands. Both are given mystical and Utopian status and spoken of in myth with respect. And both are considered to be the “land of the god(s).” Punt, unfortunately isn’t written of nearly to the degree that Dilmun is, but its allure is, perhaps, equally mysterious and appealing to those of both antiquity and modernity.

In the next part, which I'll post in a day or so, I'll discuss archaeological remains associated with Dilmun and Punt in Mesopotamian and Egyptian contexts. I'll also briefly describe the geologic considerations associated with each.

In the final part, I'll conclude with a discussion and a bibliography of the sources I used.

Part I: Mythical References
Part II: Archaeological and Geological Considerations
Part III: Discussion and Bibliography

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Arctic Spring Came Early

With Global Warming becoming less and less debated by even the staunchest denialists, continuing confirmation of the affects keep appearing in the media. Case in point is the recent news that the ice of northeast Greenland shows signs of melting about 2 weeks earlier than in the 1990s. [Arctic spring's 'rapid advance']

This news isn't coming from climatologists or pundits of global warming that the denialists call "alarmists," but rather biologists who have published their findings in the journal Current Biology.

Observation of 21 species - six plants, 12 arthropods and three birds - revealed that the organisms had brought forward their flowering, emergence or egg-laying in line with the earlier ice melt.

"We were particularly surprised to see the trends were so strong when considering that the entire summer is very short in the High Arctic - just three or four months from snowmelt to freeze-up," said co-author Toke Hoye, from the University of Aarhus.
The changes in the region are viewed by the researchers as both positive and negative, however. But the net result may be negative if a competitive release is achieved through the introduction of species from warmer latitudes.
"At first, this could be regarded as a positive result because it is extending the summer season, which is probably a factor in terms of organisms getting through their development.

"Over the long term, it is most likely to be the case that species from southern latitudes will be able to establish themselves (in the region) and increase competition for food."

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Last Foragers of Tanzania - A Farewell to the Hadza?

Chris O'Brien at Northstate Science has a gut-wrenching post on the plight of the Hadza of northern Tanzania. Their very existence is threatened by wealth, ignorance, and a complete lack of compassion by the government that should be responsible stewards of the cultural diversity of its citizens.

Instead, the Tanzanian government is coming to an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to lease the land they live on as a private hunting ground for the UAE Royal family. This would make the Hadza trespassers on their own land, the land they've subsisted on successfully for thousands of years.

Chris provides references an MSNBC story that begins with "[o]ne of the last remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers on the planet is on the verge of vanishing into the modern world." The story goes on to quote Tanzanian officials who refer to the Hadza as "backward" and implied that they would benefit from being forced to "modernize." But the story is fair to the Hazabe in that it gives them their props:

While they have through 50,000 years survived the coming of agriculture, metal, guns, diseases, missionaries, poachers, anthropologists, students, gawking journalists, corrugated steel houses and encroaching pastoral tribes who often impersonate them for tourist money, the resilient Hadzabe, who still make fire with sticks, fear that the safari deal will be their undoing.
And:
The Hadzabe are believed to be the second-oldest people on Earth, and they still hunt and gather as a way of life, if occasionally before audiences of khaki-covered tourists, who flock to northern Tanzania by the thousands.
It's a shame that such a noble and successful culture is looked down upon by the "modern" world that views them as quaint or as a curiosity at best, as "backward" and as an in-the-way annoyance at worst. The fact that their success has outdone that of any modern culture is all but ignored.

I can't recommend Chris' post enough, Hadza Tribal Lands Being Confiscated By Arab Royal Family. He isn't just regurgitating the news like I am here, Chris is sharing his personal experiences having lived and worked among the Hazabe during the 1990s. Chris puts a personal touch on their plight, bringing individuals within the tribe to life as real people, not just a news story about a few people far, far away. Reading his post puts the Hazda closer to home and, while they may be on the other side of the globe, the neighbor of my neighbor must be mine as well.

What can we do?
Write. Pass the word.
Send emails to the UAE embassy as well as the Tanzanian embassy. Post on our blogs. If you don't have a blog, send links to the story and Chris' post to friends. And click on the link below to Digg the story by clicking underneath the yellow ranking to vote Chris' story up. If it gets digged enough, it'll rise to the top of the page and get noticed. Diggs snowball, they're slow at first, but the votes increase exponentially, so don't think your vote doesn't count if the votes are still low.

Digg Chris' Post here
Northstate Science
Afarensis I
Afarensis II
Anthropolgoy.net
/Anthropology.net II
The MSNBC.com story
Remote Central
Schmoo on the Run
Indigenous Peoples of Africa

Visit these links, read the posts, drop comments. Get the word out. I'll try to update this list with new links as I come across them. Please leave them in the comments below if you're so inclined!

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Chris O'Brien at Antiquity!

My online access to Antiquity has a 6 month lag and my library doesn't have the summer edition yet, but I have it on good authority that our friend and fellow blogger, Chris O'Brien of Northstate Science has been quoted by Martin Carver, editor of this premier journal of archaeology.

Martin Rundkvist at Aardvarchaeology, who reads Antiquity at the beach (*my* wife would sooner permit Maxim or Playboy, so kudos to Mrs. R.!) has posted a quote or two from Carver that mentions Chris' blog, Northstate Science, and his posts on creationism:

Here is Christopher O'Brien, a Forest Archaeologist in northern California, bravely setting out our stall : Just like other disciplines, he says, "archaeology is being used and abused by creationists of all stripes. It's time to start pointing out the falsehoods.
I'll leave the remainder to Martins Carver and Rundkvist -I just wanted to give a taste so that you would follow the links to these to great blogs, the kind I aspire to have HoJ rise to. And pick up a copy of Antiquity at your local library when it becomes available.

Here's my post at Aardvarchaeology:
It's always good for the blogosphere to have a journal cite a blog post, but it's GREAT that it was Chris' post at Northstate cited by Antiquity! I don't know about other bloggers, but I always have that nagging fear that what I'm doing amounts to just so much graffiti. So when I get an occasional word of praise or link from another blog, its motivational.

I couldn't begin to know what the feeling is like to have Antiquity quote me!

Well, done Chris!

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Iceman Bled to Death on Glacier - Killed by Arrow

At least that's the title I should have used on March 20, 2007 when I scooped the BBC, the LA Times, National Geographic and other major and minor media outlets.

My original post on the topic was at Anthropology.net, titled New Research on Ötzi, the Iceman, Cometh. From that post I discussed the study conducted on Ötzi's remains:

a projectile point that lacerated the left subclavian artery, and that the attempted removal of the arrow at the time of death may have caused Ötzi to bleed to death.
I also discussed a related study that used forensic analysis to determine where Ötzi had been in the last days of his life. Using the data from these two studies, I also reconstructed a speculative bit of fiction on the events that might have transpired in Ötzi's last days.

Go there. Read it. And when you're looking at the other sites around the net, or in print or video media and they bring up "the Iceman," tell everyone who broke the story first!

P.S. I'm kidding, by the way... I'm not so shallow that I need that sort of validation. I was actually shocked to find that I wrote on something before the rest of the media.

Anyway, here are some other mentions around in online media:

Washington Post
Los Angeles Times
People's Daily (China)
Times of India
National Geographic
BBC

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

ArtiFACTS: Recent News in Archaeology and Anthropology

Here's what's new in archaeology for the previous week (below the fold):

2,100 year old melon
... with flesh still on the rind! In Japan, archaeologists recovered the melon from a layer of "wet ground" that impeded microorganisms that would have otherwise consumed the remains. This is probably the oldest known piece of melon. And to think I thought the cantaloupe remains I discovered in my refrigerator's bottom drawer were ancient.

Archaeologists in Malta are taken advantage of
Archaeologists were asked to survey Ramla Bay in Malta, assuming it was to assess the cultural resources in the region. They were told to evaluate existing archaeological remains that could be "enhanced for the future," and submitted a report that included a heritage trail known as the Roman Road. Unbeknown to the archaeologists, their report was attached to a development project and the developers are contradicting the archaeologists assessment that there exists a "Roman Road" in the development area and that there is a negative impact on the archaeological remains. According to the archaeologists:

Had we known that the report was going to be used as part of a Project Description Statement of a development permit, we would have carried out a more in-depth report on the impact the development would have on the archaeological remains and requested a copy of the development plans.


George Washington's House had Slave Passage
Not a passage to the "Underground Railroad," which didn't begin until around 40-50 years later, but a passage that allowed slaves to come and go between the main house and slave quarters without being seen by Washington's guests. The passage was found along with other archaeological remains at the site in Philadelphia, just down the street from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The importance of the find is that it provides physical evidence of the nation's slave history, which simply cannot -and should not- be ignored. It is still up in the air whether or not the National Park Service will include these artifacts and features in the new memorial that's being developed.

Iron Age Mickey Mouseketeers?
Excavations at Uppåkra in southern Sweden have uncovered over 20,000 Iron Age artifacts dating from around 900 CE, including a bronze brooch probably used as a clasp for a Viking woman's clothing and probably intended to represent a Lion King. Lund University archaeologist Jerry Rosengren said,
The find is from around 900 AD. It was probably a lion's head that originally came from France. It was however more than likely designed by somebody who had never actually seen a lion.
But as you can see from the image, the bronze clasp bears a striking resemblance to a certain cartoon mouse! And did I scoop a certain Swedish archaeologist who happens to have one of the best archaeology blogs? [Grin]

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Emergence of the Israelites in Canaan: Part II

In Part I of this two part series, I discussed a few of the hypotheses that exist to explain the emergence of the Israelites in the Canaan highlands (there are others, but I mentioned three of the more prevalent ones); I also discussed, briefly, the Hyksos, which comes up from time to time in looking at the Israelite question as it relates to Egypt.

Another frequent topic when ancient Egypt is discussed regarding the Israelites is the Merneptah Stela. Read below the fold to continue the second part...

PART II

At around 1207 BCE, a stela was inscribed by Merneptah at Thebes, which mentions Israel.

The Princes are Prostate, saying ‘Peace!’ Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows. Lying broken is Tehenu; Hatti is pacified; plundered is Canaan of every evil. Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is gezer; Yanoam is made as that which does not exist. Israel is laid waste, his seed is not; Hurru is become a widow because of Egypt!
The stela, inscribed in Egyptian hieroglyphs, represents the first known historical mention of Israel as an entity. The sign for ysrir, or Israel, has a determinative that includes a throwing stick and a seated man and woman over three strokes, which signify foreign people. The determinatives for the other entities mentioned include the throwing stick and the sign for city/state/land, giving Israel in this stela its own, separate determinative and indicating that Israel was not a state, city or land, but, rather, a socio-ethic group living in Canaan at around 1207 BCE.

But at what point did this group, assuming it is the same group of people, dominate the highlands of Canaan and become known as the Israelites of the nation of Israel?

Looking back at the Biblical account of the Israelite conquest, Joshua’s campaign began with the city of Jericho, whose walls were felled after the Israelite army blew trumpets and shouted them down with the assistance of the Ark of the Covenant, carried into battle as a weapon employed against the Canaanites who were occupying the land promised to the Israelites by God. Once Jericho was conquered, the Israelites then moved on to other targets: Ai, Gibeon, Lachish, Hebron, Debir, Hazor, and others.

Even if the supernatural components are selected out of the story, it’s easy to see how scholars would be tempted to accept the Biblical stories of conquest as metaphorical and embellished accounts of actual events. But the archaeological evidence doesn’t appear to support the Biblical account. Most of the cities mentioned in the Biblical account were already abandoned settlements by the time Joshua’s campaign was supposed to have occurred. Jericho, Ai, Gibeon and others were apparently unoccupied by the Late Bronze Age. They each showed signs of occupation in the Middle Bronze Age as well as the Iron Age I (2200-1550 BCE and 1150-900 BCE, respectively), but were each unoccupied during the Late Bronze Age (1550-1150 BCE) when Joshua was supposed to have mounted his campaign. Economic collapse of urban settlements had already taken place in the Canaanite Highlands just as it had in other parts of the Mediterranean world.

There is also a lack of discontinuity in the archaeological record at the sites mentioned in the Biblical account. In other periods and other places, clear discontinuities are present when one culture invades and occupies another which include drastic changes in pottery styles, architecture, and destruction levels. The one discontinuity that is consistently noted, however, is the clear lack of pig bones in early Israelite settlements of the Iron Age I. Pig bones are recovered in the Highlands in previous periods as well as those sites East of the Jordan river and of the Philistines along the Mediterranean coast contemporaneous to Early Israelite settlements. This is indicative of a clear socio-ethnic identity for Israelites in the Iron I, but the question remains, where did they come from.

Finkelstein and Silberman (2001) describe the settlement patterns in the highlands of Canaan as being cyclic. The first wave of settlement occurred in the Early Bronze Age and consisted of about 100 sites which were abandoned in a settlement crisis more than a thousand years later during the end of the EBA. The crisis only lasted about 200 years or so and the new settlements at the beginning of the Middle Bronze age were double in number of the previous wave. A new settlement crisis occurred in the 16th century in the Late Bronze Age, leaving only a couple dozen settlements until the Iron Age I, when around 250 settlements emerged first with small rural communities that later developed into more complex cities with market centers and small, peripheral villages. The complexity in the highlands at this time coincided with the development of agricultural practices which made better use of the land, cultivating olives and grapes.

In the few settlements that remained during the crisis cycles, cattle bone numbers drop and the numbers of ovicaprids like sheep and goats increases, suggesting a switch to a more pastoralist lifestyle. Indeed, the early Israelite settlements resemble nomadic encampments of the 19th century where Bedouins created an oval encampment of tents with an open, central courtyard that contained their livestock. The Iron Age I phase at Izbet Sartah presents a plan of buildings in an oval formation with the same open, central courtyard. The number of rooms in the settlement is similar to the number of tents that were present in 19th century Bedouin encampments and similar oval settlements have been found in Iron I sites in the central highlands as well as the Negev and these oval settlements predate the pillar houses of later, more well-to-do Israelites. Even the earliest Israelite settlements were situated in near the desert fringe, affording opportunities to conduct both pastoralist as well as agriculturalist subsistence strategies, consistent with the finds of silos, sickle blades and grinding stones within the large oval courtyards.

It seems clear that the Israelites conquered their Canaanite ancestors not through miraculous, sun-stopping military campaigns and wide-scale genocide, but by overcoming the limitations that their Bronze Age ancestors had as Canaanite agriculturalists. In reestablishing settlements in a region abandoned for more flexible subsistence strategies of pastoralism, the Israelites created a new dawn of civilization in the highlands of Canaan. They created an ethnic identity by establishing a taboo on pork, which may have simply resulted from a taboo on raising pigs since they compete with humans for food. This simple taboo is the oldest archaeologically attested cultural practice in the region and may have led to the establishment of cultural boundaries which still affect the region today.

References

Finkelstein, I. (1996). Ethnicity and Origin of the Iron Age I Settlers in the Highlands of Canaan: Can the Real Israel Stand Up? Biblical Archaeologist, 59(4), 198-212.

Finkelstein, I., & Silberman, N. A. (2001). The Bible Unearthed, Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Free.

Hasel, M. G. (1998). Israel in the Merneptah Stela. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 296, 45-61.

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