Archive for September, 2009

This is the skull of LB1. It is only the size of a grapefruit. Image: Peter Brown

This is the skull of LB1. It is only the size of a grapefruit. Image: Peter Brown

Here we go again.. there is still a lot of controversy surrounding these remains. It is a very exciting debate!

Catchup with the debate:

Orang Pendek, the real Hobbit

Update: Orang Pendek, the real Hobbit

Hobbit species may not have been human

After five years of arguments over the so-called hobbits, the University of New England paleoanthropologist who formally described the tiny new hominin species from the Indonesian island of Flores is facing another wave of controversy.

This time, Peter Brown could raise the ire of some of the scientists who supported him in an academic debate that degenerated into an international scandal.

Brown, who initially placed the species in the human genus Homo and named it Homo floresiensis, is considering stripping the hobbits of their human status. (more…)


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“Surge domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua” ~ “Rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face”

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Press release from the official archaeological dig website: http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk

About the hoard

The Staffordshire Hoard is an unparalleled treasure find dating from Anglo-Saxon times. Both the quality and quantity of this unique treasure are remarkable. The story of how it came to be left in the Staffordshire soil is likely to be more remarkable still.

The Hoard was first discovered in July 2009. The find is likely to spark decades of debate among archaeologists, historians and enthusiasts.

Leslie Webster, Former Keeper, Department of Prehistory and Europe, British Museum, has already said:

“This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England… as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries. Absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells”

The Hoard

The Hoard comprises in excess 1,500 individual items. Most are gold, although some are silver. Many are decorated with precious stones. The quality of the craftsmanship displayed on many items is supreme, indicating possible royal ownership.

Stylistically most items appear to date from the seventh century, although there is already debate among experts about when the Hoard first entered the ground.

This was a period of great turmoil. England did not yet exist. A number of kingdoms with tribal loyalties vied with each other in a state of semi-perpetual warfare, with the balance of power constantly ebbing and flowing.

England was also split along religious lines. Christianity, introduced during the Roman occupation then driven to near extinction, was once again the principal religion across most of England

The exact spot where the Hoard lay hidden for a millennium and a half cannot yet be revealed. However we can say that it lay at the heart of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia. There is approximately 5 kg of gold and 1.3 kg of silver (Sutton Hoo had 1.66kg of gold).

The hoard was reported to Duncan Slarke, Finds Liaison Officer with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. With the assistance of the finder, the find-spot has been excavated by archaeologists from Staffordshire County Council, lead by Ian Wykes and Steven Dean, and a team from Birmingham Archaeology, project managed by Bob Burrows and funded by English Heritage. The hoard has been examined at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery by Dr Kevin Leahy, National Finds Adviser with the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

The Coroner for South Staffordshire, Andrew Haigh, is today (24th September 2009) holding an inquest on the find to decide whether it is treasure under the Treasure Act 1996. If it is declared treasure, the find becomes the property of the Crown, and museums will have the opportunity to acquire it after it has been valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee. The Committee’s remit is to value all treasure finds at their full market value and the finder and landowner will divide the reward between them. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, and Staffordshire County Council wish to preserve the find for the West Midlands.

Sword hilt fittings

Hilt Fitting Photo: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Hilt Fitting Photo: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The Hoard is remarkable for the extraordinary quantity of pommel caps and hilt plates. There have been 84 pommel caps and 71 sword hilt collars so far identified. These highly decorated items would have adorned a sword or seax – a short sword/knife. Most are of gold and many are beautifully inlaid with garnets. Such elaborate and expensive decoration would have marked out the weapon as the property of the highest echelons of nobility. The discovery of a single sword fitting is a notable event: to find so many together is absolutely unprecedented.


Parts from several highly decorated helmets are likely to be among the finds, although piecing these together is likely to take

An Anglo-Saxon helmet cheek piece Photo: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

An Anglo-Saxon helmet cheek piece Photo: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

considerable time and effort. Among the most conspicuous is what appears to be a magnificently decorated cheek-piece decorated with a frieze of running, interlaced, animals. Interestingly, this piece has a relatively low gold content. This may be the result of being specially alloyed to make it more functional and able to withstand blows.

A beautiful figure of an animal is also possibly the crest of a helmet. Large numbers of fragments of “C” sectioned silver edging and reeded strips could also be helmet fittings. Similar fragments, made from base metal, formed part of the Sutton Hoo helmet, found in a rich grave in Suffolk, in 1939.

Biblical inscription

A strip of gold bearing a Biblical inscription in Latin is one of the most significant and controversial finds. Michelle Brown, Professor of Medieval Manuscript Studies, has suggested the style of lettering dates from the seventh or early eighth centuries. The relatively crude lettering may have been the work of someone more used to writing on wax tablets.

The suitably warlike inscription, mis-spelt in places, is probably from the Book of Numbers Ch. 10 v 35 and reads:
Surge domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua ~ “Rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face”

Gold strip with a Biblical inscription Photo: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The folded cross

Gold folded cross Photo: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Gold folded cross Photo: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The only items that are clearly non-martial are two, or possibly three, crosses. The largest may have been an altar or processional cross. Other than the loss of the settings used to decorate it (some of which are present but detached) it is intact. However it has been folded, possibly to make it fit into a small space prior to burial. This lack of apparent respect shown to this Christian symbol may point to the Hoard being buried by pagans, but Christians were also quite capable of despoiling each other’s shrines.

Scabbard boss with inlaid garnets on gold Photo: h Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Millefiori stud with black and white checkered pattern

Millefiori stud with black and white checkered pattern

View other photos from the collection (643): http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/artefacts/

Birmingham University Archaeology Field Unit video : http://vimeo.com/6737518

Video of Dr. Leahy discussing the treasure: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newsvideo/?bcpid=4464161001&bctid=41847355001

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I wrote this paper for an English class on the String Theory. We had to read physicists Brian Greene’s book The Elegant Universe, and believe me this was challenging when I hadn’t signed up for a physics class. But I actually enjoyed it, and understood most of it (to an extent).

Here is a website that can explain the String Theory a little better than I can http://superstringtheory.com/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/program.html PBS’s NOVA did a 3 hour miniseries on the String Theory. I haven’t been able to watch it as of yet, once I have the time to do so I will post my thoughts.

Brian Greene on Colbert Report November 28, 2005

Brian Greene on Colbert Report May 27, 2008

Although I am not really interested in learning every piece of information regarding the science behind strings, I am interested in their implications to humanity. Read my paper below, do some research on the theory (I recommend Brian Greene’s book), and then ponder my question at the end of my essay.

As dramatic as it sounds, Greene’s book really did change my life and how I look at the world.


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This is an aerial view of the excavation areas in the southwestern part of Tel Dor. Photo: Sky Balloons Inc

A rare discovery: An engraved gemstone carrying a portrait of Alexander the Great

A rare and surprising archaeological discovery at Tel Dor: A gemstone engraved with the portrait of Alexander the Great was uncovered during the 2009 season of excavations

Haifa, Israel – September 15, 2009 – A rare and surprising archaeological discovery at Tel Dor: A gemstone engraved with the portrait of Alexander the Great was uncovered during excavations by an archaeological team directed by Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of the University of Haifa and Dr. Ilan Sharon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Despite its miniature dimensions – the stone is less than a centimeter high and its width is less than half a centimeter – the engraver was able to depict the bust of Alexander on the gem without omitting any of the ruler’s characteristics” notes Dr. Gilboa, Chair of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. “The emperor is portrayed as young and forceful, with a strong chin, straight nose and long curly hair held in place by a diadem.”

Photo: Noa Raban-Gerstel, University of Haifa

Photo: No'a Raban-Gerstel, University of Haifa

The Tel Dor researchers have noted that it is surprising that a work of art such as this would be found in Israel, on the periphery of the Hellenistic world. “It is generally assumed that the master artists – such as the one who engraved the image of Alexander on this particular gemstone – were mainly employed by the leading Hellenistic courts in the capital cities, such as those in Alexandria in Egypt and Seleucia in Syria. This new discovery is evidence that local elites in secondary centers, such as Tel Dor, appreciated superior objects of art and could afford ownership of such items” the researchers stated.

The significance of the discovery at Dor is in the gemstone being uncovered in an orderly excavation, in a proper context of the Hellenistic period. The origins of most Alexander portraits, scattered across numerous museums around the world, are unknown. Some belonged to collections that existed even prior to the advent of scientific archaeology, others were acquired on the black market, and it is likely that some are even forgeries.

This tiny gem was unearthed by a volunteer during excavation of a public structure from the Hellenistic period in the south of Tel Dor, excavated by a team from the University of Washington at Seattle headed by Prof. Sarah Stroup. Dr. Jessica Nitschke, professor of classical archaeology at Georgetown University in Washington DC, identified the engraved motif as a bust of Alexander the Great. This has been confirmed by Prof. Andrew Stewart of the University of California at Berkeley, an expert on images of Alexander and author of a book on this topic.

Alexander was probably the first Greek to commission artists to depict his image – as part of a personality cult that was transformed into a propaganda tool. Rulers and dictators have implemented this form of propaganda ever since. The artists cleverly combined realistic elements of the ruler’s image along with the classical ideal of beauty as determined by Hellenistic art, royal attributes (the diadem in this case), and divine elements originating in Hellenistic and Eastern art. These attributes legitimized Alexander’s kingship in the eyes of his subjects in all the domains he conquered. These portraits were distributed throughout the empire, were featured on statues and mosaics in public places and were engraved on small items such as coins and seals. The image of Alexander remained a popular motif in the generations that followed his death – both as an independent theme and as a subject of emulation. The conqueror’s youthful image became a symbol of masculinity, heroism and divine kingship. Later Hellenist rulers adopted these characteristics and commissioned self-portraits in the image of Alexander.

Dor was a major port city on the Mediterranean shore from the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 B.C.E) until the establishment of Caesarea during the Roman period. Alexander the Great passed through Dor in 332 B.C.E., following the occupation of Tyre and on his way to Egypt. It seems that the city submitted to Alexander without resistance. Dor then remained a center of Hellenization in the land of Israel until it was conquered by Alexander Janneus, Hasmonean king of Judah (c. 100 B.C.E.).

The team of archaeologists has been excavating at Tel Dor for close to thirty years and recently completed the 2009 excavation season. A number of academic institutions in Israel and abroad participate in the excavations, directed by Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of the University of Haifa and Dr. Ilan Sharon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The project is supported by these two institutions along with the Israel Exploration Society, the Berman foundation for Biblical Archaeology, the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, the Wendy Goldhirsh Foundation, USA, and individual donors. The gemstone will be on public display at the Dor museum in Kibbutz Nahsholim. (from here)

Figurines of Aphrodite from the era of the Roman Empire discovered in Hippos

An ancient treasure comprising three figurines of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, which was buried underground for over 1,500 years, was uncovered duriong excavations carried out by researchers of the University of Haifa

A 1,500-year-old treasure: Three figurines of Aphrodite, goddess of love, hidden during the era of the Roman Empire’s transition to Christianity, discovered in Hippos (Sussita) *During the tenth season of excavations, under the directorship of Prof. Arthur Segal and Dr. Michael Eisenberg of the University of Haifa, a public building was also exposed, the first of its kind in Israel.*

An ancient treasure comprising three figurines of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, which was buried underground for over 1,500 years, was uncovered during the tenth season of excavations that are carried out by researchers of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, headed by Prof. Arthur Segal and Dr. Michael Eisenberg. “It is possible that during the fourth century A.D., when Christianity was gradually becoming the governing religion in the Roman Empire, there were still a number of inhabitants in Sussita who remained loyal to the goddess of love and therefore wished to hide and preserve these items,” suggests Prof. Segal.

The hidden figurines were discovered when the researchers exposed a shop in the southeastern corner of the forum district of Sussita, which is the central area of the Roman city that was built in the second century B.C., existed through the Roman and Byzantine periods and destroyed in the great earthquake of 749 A.D. According to the researchers, it was clear that the followers had wished to hide the figurines, as they were found complete. The clay pieces are 23 cm tall and represent the common model of the goddess of love known to the experts as Venus pudica, “the modest Venus.” This name was given to the form due to its upright stature and the figure’s covering her private parts with the palm of her hand – perhaps another reason for concealing them from the new religion that presided over the empire.

Photo: University of Haifa

Photo: University of Haifa

The tenth excavation season at Sussita, which is located on the mountaintop at an altitude of 350 m. above Lake Kinneret and in the area of the Sussita National Park, yielded many spectacular findings. Besides the University of Haifa researchers, also participating in the excavations were teams from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw and from Concordia University of Minnesota, USA. The project was carried out with significant support from the Israel Nature and Natural Parks Protection Authority.

Another fascinating finding was an odeion – a small, roofed theater-like structure, the first of its kind to be exposed in Israel. According to the researchers, structures such as these were quite common in the Roman era and were intended for poetry-reading performances and musical recitals for an elect audience. While the average theater of those times had some 4,000 seats, the odeion had no more than 600 sitting places. The exposure of this structure holds within it an intriguing story. In the 1960s, when it served as a military post, this area of the city was still entirely covered with refuse three meters high as a protective military measure. When the archaeologists began digging down in 2008, all that could be seen above ground were three hewn stones. The researchers then proposed a theory that these stones hid beneath them an odeion structure, of the type that had not been found before in Israel. To their surprise, this theory proved correct. The excavation is still in its early stages, but the researchers have already been able to expose the entire perimeter of the odeion, which forms a rectangular area, at one end of which is a semi-circle. According to the researchers, the construction is of high quality and it seems that it can be dated back to the first century B.C. or A.D.

Also found in the excavations was a basilica, a roofed structure that would have been used as a substitute location for public gatherings in rainy weather. This is the second basilica to be exposed in Israel, the first being the Roman basilica of Samaria. The conservation and restoration team working alongside the archaeologists have succeeded in restoring one of the basilica’s columns. “Just the look of the restored columns is enough to get an impression of the beauty and tremendousness of Roman architecture during that period,” Prof. Segal exclaimed.

The American delegation exposed a living quarter, most likely dating back to the fourth century A.D., which gives a rare glimpse into the day-to-day lives of the inhabitants of Sussita during the last three centuries of the city’s existence. All of the houses that were exposed surround a stone-paved courtyard. The researchers assume that this style of planning is evidence of everyday household activity taking place in the courtyard, including the cooking.

“At the close of the tenth season of excavations, we have revealed an abundance of public structures in the city, most likely associated with the reign of Herod in the first century B.C. Until now we have assumed that the wave of construction that took place during Herod’s reign was primarily in Jewish cities, but the findings at Sussita are evidence of the king’s influence on pagan cities under his rule too,” the researchers concluded. (From here)

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This is absolutely ridiculous. At first I couldn’t believe that this was a real story, but I checked it out. Is America really so afraid of science?

Watch film trailer here:

A British film about Charles Darwin has failed to find a US distributor because his theory of evolution is too controversial for American audiences, according to its producer.

By Anita Singh, Showbusiness Editor

Creation, starring Paul Bettany, details Darwin’s “struggle between faith and reason” as he wrote On The Origin of Species. It depicts him as a man who loses faith in God following the death of his beloved 10-year-old daughter, Annie.

The film was chosen to open the Toronto Film Festival and has its British premiere on Sunday. It has been sold in almost every territory around the world, from Australia to Scandinavia.

However, US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution. (more…)

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A team of archaeologists and paleobiologists has discovered flax fibers in these microscopic soil samples. The flax, which would have been collected from the wild and not farmed, is believed to be more than 34,000 years old, making these fibers the oldest known to have been used by humans. Science/AAAS

Flax fibers could have been used for warmth and mobility; for rope, baskets, or shoes

by Amy Lavoie Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University
A team of archaeologists and paleobiologists has discovered flax fibers that are more than 34,000 years old, making them the oldest fibers known to have been used by humans. The fibers, discovered during systematic excavations in a cave in the Republic of Georgia, are described in today’s edition of Science.

The flax, which would have been collected from the wild and not farmed, could have been used to make linen and thread, the researchers say. The cloth and thread would then have been used to fashion garments for warmth, sew leather pieces, make cloths, or tie together packs that might have aided the mobility of our ancient ancestors from one camp to another.

The excavation was jointly led by Ofer Bar-Yosef, George Grant MacCurdy and Janet G.B. MacCurdy Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, with Tengiz Meshveliani from the Georgian State Museum and Anna Belfer-Cohen from Hebrew University. The microscopic research of the soil samples in which numerous flax fibers were discovered was done by Eliso Kvavadze of the Institute of Paleobiology, part of the National Museum of Georgia.

“This was a critical invention for early humans. They might have used this fiber to create parts of clothing, ropes, or baskets — for items that were mainly used for domestic activities,” says Bar-Yosef. “We know that this is wild flax that grew in the vicinity of the cave and was exploited intensively or extensively by modern humans.” (more…)

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The Ancient Marks exhibit at the Susquehanna Art Museum was at times quite breathtaking. It was not so much the tattoos themselves, but the photographic abilities of Chris Rainier. He really is quite amazing. The small pictures uploaded to the internet do not to his art justice.

(News release from the Susquehanna Art Museum http://www.sqart.org/) Photographs by National Geographic Photographer Chris Rainier accompanied by complementary artifacts and sculptures from the Everhart Museum

The cultural and religious significance of tattoos and other body marking is explored via the camera lens in Ancient Marks: the Sacred Origins of Tattoos and Body Marking. This collection of photographs by National Geographic photographer Chris Rainier is coming in June to the Susquehanna Art Museum in Harrisburg.

Rainier, National Geographic photographer, spent seven years traveling across six continents and much of the Pacific Ocean interpreting what it means to mark the body in ritual and initiation. The twenty-eight black-and white photographs examine the traditions of tattooing, piercing and scarification in a provocative exploration of humanity’s enduring effort to tell stories, forge identities and create links to the divine through body art. Rainier plans to lecture at the Susquehanna Art Museum while his exhibit is on display. (more…)

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