Why 536 was ‘the worst year to be alive’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SCIENCE MAGAZINE)

 

An 72-meter ice core drilled in the Colle Gnifetti Glacier in the Swiss Alps entombs more than 2000 years of fallout from volcanoes,  storms, and human pollution.

NICOLE SPAULDING/CCI FROM C. P. LOVELUCK ET AL., ANTIQUITY 10.15184, 4, 2018

Why 536 was ‘the worst year to be alive’

Ask medieval historian Michael McCormick what year was the worst to be alive, and he’s got an answer: “536.” Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe. Not 1918, when the flu killed 50 million to 100 million people, mostly young adults. But 536. In Europe, “It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year,” says McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past.

A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” wrote Byzantine historian Procopius. Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. The Irish chronicles record “a failure of bread from the years 536–539.” Then, in 541, bubonic plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse, McCormick says.

Historians have long known that the middle of the sixth century was a dark hour in what used to be called the Dark Ages, but the source of the mysterious clouds has long been a puzzle. Now, an ultraprecise analysis of ice from a Swiss glacier by a team led by McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono has fingered a culprit. At a workshop at Harvard this week, the team reported that a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere early in 536. Two other massive eruptions followed, in 540 and 547. The repeated blows, followed by plague, plunged Europe into economic stagnation that lasted until 640, when another signal in the ice—a spike in airborne lead—marks a resurgence of silver mining, as the team reports in Antiquity this week.

To Kyle Harper, provost and a medieval and Roman historian at The University of Oklahoma in Norman, the detailed log of natural disasters and human pollution frozen into the ice “give us a new kind of record for understanding the concatenation of human and natural causes that led to the fall of the Roman Empire—and the earliest stirrings of this new medieval economy.”

Slivers from a Swiss ice core held chemical clues to natural and human made events.

NICOLE SPAULDING/CCI FROM C. P. LOVELUCK ET AL., ANTIQUITY 10.15184, 4, 2018

Ever since tree ring studies in the 1990s suggested the summers around the year 540 were unusually cold, researchers have hunted for the cause. Three years ago polar ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica yielded a clue. When a volcano erupts, it spews sulfur, bismuth, and other substances high into the atmosphere, where they form an aerosol veil that reflects the sun’s light back into space, cooling the planet. By matching the ice record of these chemical traces with tree ring records of climate, a team led by Michael Sigl, now of the University of Bern, found that nearly every unusually cold summer over the past 2500 years was preceded by a volcanic eruption. A massive eruption—perhaps in North America, the team suggested—stood out in late 535 or early 536; another followed in 540. Sigl’s team concluded that the double blow explained the prolonged dark and cold.

Mayewski and his interdisciplinary team decided to look for the same eruptions in an ice core drilled in 2013 in the Colle Gnifetti Glacier in the Swiss Alps. The 72-meter-long core entombs more than 2000 years of fallout from volcanoes, Saharan dust storms, and human activities smack in the center of Europe. The team deciphered this record using a new ultra–high-resolution method, in which a laser carves 120-micron slivers of ice, representing just a few days or weeks of snowfall, along the length of the core. Each of the samples—some 50,000 from each meter of the core—is analyzed for about a dozen elements. The approach enabled the team to pinpoint storms, volcanic eruptions, and lead pollution down to the month or even less, going back 2000 years, says UM volcanologist Andrei Kurbatov.

Darkest hours and then a dawn

A high-resolution ice core record combined with historical texts chronicles the impact of natural disasters on European society.

530530550640650660540540550560570580590600610620630640650660536Icelandic volcano erupts, dimming the sun for 18months, records say. Summer temperatures drop by1.5°C to 2.5°C.536–545 Coldest decade on record in 2000 years. Crops fail in Ireland, Scandinavia, Mesopotamia, and China.540–541 Second volcanic eruption. Summer temperatures drop again by 1.4°C–2.7°C in Europe.541–543 The “Justinian” bubonic plague spreads through the Mediterranean, killing 35%–55% of the population and speeding the collapse of the eastern Roman Empire.640 After declining in the mid-500s, a surge in atmospheric lead signals an increase in silver mining because of economic recovery.660A second lead peak reflects silver mining, probably at Melle, France, tied to a switch from gold to silver for coins and the beginnings of the medieval economy.
(GRAPHIC) A. CUADRA/SCIENCE; (DATA) C. P. LOVELUCK ET AL.ANTIQUITY 2018; M. SIGL ET AL., NATURE 2015; M. MCCORMICK

In ice from the spring of 536, UM graduate student Laura Hartman found two microscopic particles of volcanic glass. By bombarding the shards with x-rays to determine their chemical fingerprint, she and Kurbatov found that they closely matched glass particles found earlier in lakes and peat bogs in Europe and in a Greenland ice core. Those particles in turn resembled volcanic rocks from Iceland. The chemical similarities convince geoscientist David Lowe of The University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, who says the particles in the Swiss ice core likely came from the same Icelandic volcano. But Sigl says more evidence is needed to convince him that the eruption was in Iceland rather than North America.

Either way, the winds and weather systems in 536 must have been just right to guide the eruption plume southeast across Europe and, later, into Asia, casting a chilly pall as the volcanic fog “rolled through,” Kurbatov says. The next step is to try to find more particles from this volcano in lakes in Europe and Iceland, in order to confirm its location in Iceland and tease out why it was so devastating.

A century later, after several more eruptions, the ice record signals better news: the lead spike in 640. Silver was smelted from lead ore, so the lead is a sign that the precious metal was in demand in an economy rebounding from the blow a century before, says archaeologist Christopher Loveluck of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. A second lead peak, in 660, marks a major infusion of silver into the emergent medieval economy. It suggests gold had become scarce as trade increased, forcing a shift to silver as the monetary standard, Loveluck and his colleagues write in Antiquity. “It shows the rise of the merchant class for the first time,” he says.

Still later, the ice is a window into another dark period. Lead vanished from the air during the Black Death from 1349 to 1353, revealing an economy that had again ground to a halt. “We’ve entered a new era with this ability to integrate ultra–high-resolution environmental records with similarly high resolution historical records,” Loveluck says. “It’s a real game changer.”

Earliest known stone carving of Hebrew word Hebrew word For Jerusalem Found  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

  • The inscription as it was found in the excavation near the Jerusalem International Convention Center, winter 2018. (Danit Levy, Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Danit Levi, director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, beside the inscription as found in the field near the Jerusalem International Convention Center, winter 2018. (Yoli Shwartz, IAA)
  • The unique inscription from Jerusalem, as displayed at the Israel Museum alongside other artifacts from the Second Temple period, October 2018. (Laura Lachman, Courtesy of the Israel Museum)
‘EVERY CHILD WHO KNOWS A FEW LETTERS OF HEBREW CAN READ IT’
‘Jerusalem’ found Earliest known stone carving of Hebrew word For Jerusalem Found  

Unearthed in what was an artisan’s village 2.5 km from ancient Temple, inscribed column from 100 BCE features Aramaic, Hebrew, two of the languages used by Jerusalemites of the era

Main image by Danit Levi, Israel Antiquities Authority

The earliest stone inscription bearing the full spelling of the modern Hebrew word for Jerusalem was unveiled on Tuesday at the Israel Museum, in the capital.

While any inscription dating from the Second Temple period is of note, the 2,000-year-old three-line inscription on a waist-high column — reading “Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem” — is exceptional, as it is the first known stone carving of the word “Yerushalayim,” which is how the Israeli capital’s name is pronounced in Hebrew today.

The stone column was discovered earlier this year at a salvage excavation of a massive Hasmonean Period Jewish artisans’ village near the Jerusalem International Convention Center, at what is now the entrance to the modern city, by an Israel Antiquities Authority team headed by archaeologist Danit Levi.

“A worker came to me in the office towards the end of the day and excitedly told me to grab my camera and writing materials because he’d found something written,’” Levi told The Times of Israel, ahead of the column’s unveiling Tuesday.

‘My heart started to pound and I was sure everyone could hear it. My hands were trembling so badly I couldn’t properly take a picture’ — archaeologist Danit Levi

At first, the excited worker could not clearly explain what he had found, and Levi thought it was graffiti.

“I was picturing red spray paint in my mind and couldn’t understand how that happened because the latest dating could only be 2,000 years ago or earlier,” said Levi.

Danit Levi, director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority near the Jerusalem International Convention Center, at the Israel Museum on October 9, 2018, for the unveiling of an unusual stone inscription. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

But when she saw the professionally chiseled Hebrew lettering inscribed into the stone column, she realized it was something unusual. Brushing off the dirt, she began to read what was written.

“My heart started to pound and I was sure everyone could hear it. My hands were trembling so badly I couldn’t properly take a picture,” said Levi, who dates the column and its inscription to 100 BCE.

The 80 cm. high column has a diameter of 47.5 cm, said Levi, and would have originally been used in a Jewish craftsman’s building. It presumably belonged to or was built with money from Hananiah son of Dodalos.

While inscribed in a Jewish village — Levi said there is evidence of ritual baths as well as other finds bearing Hebrew lettering at the site — the column was eventually reused in a plastered wall, found in a ceramic construction workshop in use by the Tenth Roman Legion, that would eventually destroy Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Hananiah may have been one of the several potters of the village located a mere 2.5 kilometers (about 1.5 miles) outside of ancient Jerusalem, who created vessels used by Jerusalemites and pilgrims for everyday cooking and Temple offerings. Industrial areas such as this one, said Levi, are always found outside of urban areas to avoid the city’s pollution.

Strategically located near clay, water, and fuel for their kilns, the village was also on a main artery leading to the Temple — which is used until today, noted the IAA’s Jerusalem Regional Archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch at the unveiling.

Jerusalem during the Second Temple, said Baruch, was one of the largest cities in the east, with a population of at least 50,000 residents, which swelled by as many as hundreds of thousands, during the three annual pilgrimage festivals. The excavated artisans’ site is approximately 200 dunams, “larger than a small village,” which would have been necessary to cater to the needs of the pilgrims ascending Temple Mount.

The inscription as it was found in the excavation near the Jerusalem International Convention Center, winter 2018. (Danit Levy, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The stone inscription is now on display at the Israel Museum in a room of the archaeology wing that is dedicated to Second Temple period artifacts discovered in Jerusalem, including a new piece which the inscription, “Ben HaCohen HaGadol,” or son of the High Priest. On a platform upon which the Jerusalem column stands are stone vessels and pottery, perhaps even created by Hananiah himself.

The inscription, labeled as Aramaic at the Israel Museum, gives some insight into Hananiah. Written in Hebrew letters, he is called “Hananiah bar Dodalos,” the Aramaic word “bar” used to denote “son of.” The name of his father, “Dodalos,” said the archaeologists, is a nickname for artists of the time, based on Greek mythology’s Daedalus.

New director of the Israel Museum Prof. Ido Bruno said he was pleased to continue a fruitful collaboration between his institution and the IAA. He noted that the short inscription, found only a seven-minute walk away, is evidence of a long history of ceramic craft and industry.

Bruno added that, as a Jerusalemite himself, he was excited to see the word “Yerushalayim.”

“Every child who knows a few letters of Hebrew can read it,” said Bruno, “and understand that 2000 years ago, Jerusalem was written and spelled like today.”

Is the inscription in Hebrew or Aramaic?

The unique inscription from Jerusalem, as displayed at the Israel Museum, October 2018. (Laura Lachman, Courtesy of the Israel Museum)

According to the Israel Museum’s new display text accompanying the inscription, it is written in Aramaic. According to scholars at the Academy of the Hebrew Language, however, the crown jewel of the inscription, the word “Yerushalayim,” clearly indicates the use of Hebrew, not Aramaic.

In Aramaic, the word would have been spelled “Yerushalem,” said Dr. Alexey (Eliyahu) Yuditsky, who works as a researcher for the academy’s Historical Dictionary Project.

“The spelling with the letter ‘yud’ points to the Hebrew pronunciation,” said Yuditsky from his Givat Ram office.

The more difficult question, said Yuditsky, is what is Aramaic and what is Hebrew during this era? They are sister languages and many Jerusalemites would have spoken both fluently, and even used them interchangeably.

Opening a book by epigraphist Ada Yardeni on Bar Kochba’s Cave of Letters, a trove of administrative documents dating to circa 131-136 CE, Yuditsky randomly pointed out a Hebrew contract in which Jews signed names both using the Hebrew “ben” for “son of” and the Aramaic “bar,” illustrating its undifferentiated nature during this era.

The use of “bar” in the new Jerusalem inscription, Yuditsky said, does not at all necessarily mean it was written in Aramaic.

Artifacts taken from a Roman Legion ceramic building materials workshop from an excavation near the Jerusalem International Convention Center, now displayed at the Israel Museum, October 2018. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

The spelling of the name Hananiah son of Dodalos could have been “international,” said Yuditsky, and he would have spelled it this way, whether in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin.

While, according to archaeologists, this inscription is the first of its kind uncovered in stone, the fact of finding a full spelling of Jerusalem is not such a rare occurrence for the time period, Yuditsky said.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which may have been written as early as 400 BCE, but are definitely at least contemporary or earlier than the stone inscription, offer dozens of physical examples of the full spelling of “Yerushalayim.” Written in the same Hebrew font, a random example Yuditsky found in the IAA’s digital scan of the War Scroll jumped off the page in clear, modern-appearing script.

“You can find it [the spelling] in the Dead Sea Scrolls without end,” said Yuditsky.

Dr. Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem Regional Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, at the unveiling of an unusual stone inscription now on display at the Israel Museum, October 9, 2018. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ Times of Israel)

But for this writer, it is something quite different to look at a computer screen at the digitalized Dead Sea Scrolls and to see a waist-high column inscribed with the name of the State of Israel’s capital.

Jerusalem archaeologist Baruch, well aware of the many travels and trials the Hebrew language passed through, traversing continents and historical time periods, in seeing this new inscription, he said he was moved that “some aspect of the Jews’ language was preserved the same way, from ancient times until today.”

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Israel: Is History Being Destroyed At The Western Wall?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Is evidence of Temple’s destruction being destroyed by a bid for Jewish unity?

Archaeologist Prof. Dan Bahat files a High Court petition to stop Western Wall construction. What is the archaeology that is currently covered, and what is in the provisional plan?

  • A Spanish-speaking teen tour rests on the Robinson's Arch prayer platform, April 2018. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)
    A Spanish-speaking teen tour rests on the Robinson’s Arch prayer platform, April 2018. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)
  • The egalitarian prayer platform at the Western Wall's Robinson's Arch archaeological area. (Eilat Mazar)
    The egalitarian prayer platform at the Western Wall’s Robinson’s Arch archaeological area. (Eilat Mazar)
  • The view from the Western Wall section of the Robinson's Arch prayer platform to the larger, impermanent area that was established in 2013. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)
    The view from the Western Wall section of the Robinson’s Arch prayer platform to the larger, impermanent area that was established in 2013. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)
  • View of fallen Second Temple building blocks from the Robinson's Arch pluralistic prayer platform next to the Western Wall. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)
    View of fallen Second Temple building blocks from the Robinson’s Arch pluralistic prayer platform next to the Western Wall. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)
  • A 19th century image of Robinson's Arch. (public domain)
    A 19th century image of Robinson’s Arch. (public domain)

June 7, 1967. It is the third day of the Six Day War and after 19 years of exile by the Jordanians, the Old City of Jerusalem has been captured by Israeli forces. Dan Bahat, a soldier stationed in the country’s now reunified capital, asks for two hours of leave from his commanding officer. A secular Jew, Bahat makes his way to the Temple Mount.

“I came to the Western Wall the moment I heard it was liberated,” he told The Times of Israel. He recalled that he reached the wall exactly when former prime minister David Ben-Gurion arrived for the first time.

Called the “Wailing Wall” since the 13th century, it is here at this remnant of the two Jewish Temples’ retaining wall that Jews have historically mourned their destruction: the First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, and the Second Temple, first modestly built some 70 years later, was fully renovated and massively enlarged by Herod circa 20 BCE, then destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

Following the 1967 war, the houses surrounding that portion of the Western Wall were razed, making way for what is now the stone-paved plaza used for prayer and state ceremonies. On the south side of the plaza, the Mughrabi Bridge, the only entrance available for non-Muslims to ascend to today’s Aqsa compound, separates the prayer pavilion from the section of the Western Wall that was set aside for archaeological research and a national park.

A soldier in the Paratroopers Brigade’s reserve reconnaissance company cleans his rifle as his injured comrade reads the newspaper near the Western Wall on June 7, 1967. (Micha Bar-Am/Defense Ministry’s IDF Archive)

Standing in the park, what immediately captures the imagination is the massive stone rubble, lying exactly where it landed when Roman soldiers pried the huge ashlar stones from the Temple Mount high above. Here, more than in any other place in the park, one can resoundingly conceptualize the horror of the fall of the Second Temple and the destruction wrought there.

However, since a High Court case in 2000, the archaeological park is also officially used as a space for egalitarian prayer. And now, after decades of contentious struggle and negotiations between all major Jewish denominations in Israel and abroad, under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, a large permanent prayer platform is in the final planning stages for construction.

“The Western Wall is sacrosanct,” said Bahat, now retired from a career as a prominent archaeologist. “But out of a national monument, it has become a synagogue.”

It is the unrivaled historical value of this site and the antiquities in it that led former Six Day War soldier Bahat to petition the High Court of Justice in March for a stay of construction in the Western Wall’s Robinson’s Arch area. A hearing is set for December.

From 1963-1990, Bahat was employed by the predecessor to the IAA, eventually becoming the district archeologist of Jerusalem. From the mid-1980s on, he served as the long-time lead archaeologist on the Western Wall Tunnel excavations.

Preparations for the creation of a plaza next to the Western Wall, June 17, 1967. (From the collection of Dan Hadani, National Library of Israel).

Represented by the prestigious Yigal Arnon law firm, Bahat’s March petition is against the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and its head, the Prime Minister’s Office, Culture Minister Miri Regev, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who all have played a role in the planned platform.

The platform’s implementation is a remnant from the much-negotiated, now-frozen 2016 government decision that earmarks the site as a permanent location for egalitarian prayer, would have granted the non-Orthodox movements and feminist prayer group Women of the Wall a seat at the table in its planning, and somewhat equal public status with a new joint entrance to the renovated prayer pavilions.

Archaeologist Prof. Dan Bahat (courtesy)

“Unfortunately,” said Bahat, the Robinson’s Arch site “has become easy prey for those who decided to make a non-Orthodox prayer plaza.”

Bahat told The Times of Israel that because he is no longer employed by the IAA and doesn’t need the agency for an excavation license, he is able to speak out against what he sees as a destructive, desecration of the hard-won Western Wall archaeology — and the IAA’s role in it. According to a deal reached with the PMO over the planned expansion of the permanent platform, the IAA is deeply involved in the construction project. In February, it began preliminary checks in the area intended as a new, much widened entrance to the planned platform.

The Israel Antiquities Authority, said Bahat, is the body “in charge of guarding all the archaeological sites.”

“This is not protection, it is a desecration of the site,” said Bahat. “The IAA should be on my side not to touch the place. But they are the ones who are undertaking the work of destruction,” he said.

The Davidson Archaeological Park, said Bahat, is “the pearl in the crown” of ancient Jerusalem archaeology. “There is nowhere else where you can so clearly see the results of the 70 CE Roman conquest. What you see today is really how everything ended.”

Jewish tradition states the Second Temple was destroyed because of “sinat chinam” — baseless hatred and infighting among the Jewish people. Today, as the Israeli government pushes forward with a construction plan designed to bridge gaps with Diaspora Jewry, archaeologists fear that the evidence that preserves a previous time of destructive Jewish factionalism is set to be erased from history.

Ahead of Tisha B’Av, the Jewish day of mourning over the destruction of the two Temples, The Times of Israel spoke with archaeologists about what exactly is currently being “destroyed” at the Robinson’s Arch prayer area, and, after getting a glimpse of still unfinalized plans for the new expanded permanent platform, what other evidence of Judaism’s historical past may be “desecrated” — or even potentially better preserved.

What archaeology is there exactly in this crown jewel?

In 1968, head of the Hebrew University Prof. Benjamin Mazar began his large-scale excavation alongside hundreds of workers and volunteers. According to Mazar, remains from as early as the Iron Age and as late as the Arab period have been uncovered at the site.

These were heady times for Israeli archaeology. Yigael Yadin called Mazar’s excavations there “the greatest archaeological enterprise Jerusalem has witnessed.” Numerous questions of Jewish identity and heritage that had been left unsolved began to receive answers.

Herbert W. Armstrong and Prof. Benjamin Mazar present the Jerusalem excavations to the Japanese Ambassador. (courtesy)

One riddle, left over from the campaign of American Bible scholar Edward Robinson was the meaning behind an arch he discovered in 1838 while charting Holy Land sites for his landmark book, “Biblical Researches in Palestine.” Then, the arch jutted out of the wall about a meter above street level and was most used as a bench. Robinson saw it as a clear identifier of the spot of the ancient Jewish Temples.

Robinson writes in “Biblical Researches in Palestine,” “The existence of these remains of the ancient bridge, seems to remove all doubt as to the identity of this part of the enclosure of the mosk with that of the ancient temple. How they can have remained for so many ages unseen or unnoticed by any writer or traveller, is a problem, which I would not undertake fully to solve. One cause has probably been the general oblivion, or want of knowledge, that any such bridge ever existed.”

For years, Robinson and other scholars felt the arch, which springs out from the Western Wall, was used to support a bridge. As he writes in a 1980 Biblical Archaeology Review article, Mazar, however, determined it was indeed part of a support system — but for a monumental stairway.

Reconstruction of ancient Jerusalem’s Keshet Robinson, as found in the Tower of David Museum. (CC-BY-SA Водник at ru.wikipedia)

The staircase led to one of the main entrances to the Temple Mount, originating from the well-preserved Herodian road that visitors can still walk on today, and was supported by the 17-meter-high Robinson’s Arch. At the southern end of the Temple Mount built on a man-made plateau was a massive, impressive structure called the Royal Stoa.

Jewish pilgrims of all sorts — possibly even Jesus — would have walked these steps supported by Robinson’s Arch to ascend to the Temple.

Among the other early discoveries there, Mazar found a Hebrew inscription in the Western Wall just under Robinson’s Arch reading, “You shall see and your heart shall rejoice. Their bones shall flourish like grass,” which appears to be a paraphrase of Isaiah 66:14: “When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass.”

Mazar, writes granddaughter Dr. Eilat Mazar, today a leading Israeli archaeologist, believed the inscription to have been written by the few Jews who, in Emperor Julian’s day in 363 CE, were briefly allowed back into the city to rebuild the Temple. Others, she writes, tie the inscription to mass burials about a meter and a half below it, which took place in 900 CE.

A 19th century image of Robinson’s Arch. (public domain)

Standing in the Davidson Archaeological Park near the Western Wall today, visitors are struck by the Herodian road, the shops that sold sacrifices to pilgrims on their way to the Temple Mount, and a 1st century CE cornerstone fallen from the wall above inscribed with, “the trumpeting place.” The stone arguably indicates where priests may have sounded the entrance of the Sabbath and holidays during the days of the Second Temple.

What is currently covered up?

Archaeologist Prof. Ronny Reich uncovered the section of the park that is adjacent to the current egalitarian prayer platform in excavations there from 1994 -1996. Reich told The Times of Israel that while the road and other finds are significant, the in-situ rubble of the destroyed massive wall is of unparalleled importance.

“This is the only place where you can touch, experience, become excited by the very impressive stone collapse from the destruction of the Second Temple,” said Reich. He said it has incomparable educational, emotional and historical value that is unmatched by any other in the country.

A family celebrates a bar mitzva at the small egalitarian prayer platform at the Robinson’s Arch, July 2018. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)

When Reich excavated this area of the site, the entire roadway next to the wall was covered by these massive ashlar stones. A portion of these stones, the heaviest of which weighed some 14 tons, were lifted out by a crane, so archaeologists could study the debris from beneath. But a decision was made to merely dig around the section that remains today, and leave a visceral reminder of the wide-spread razing of ancient Jerusalem.

Today, the small 12-meter-wide egalitarian prayer platform in the north corner of the Robinson’s Arch area that is adjacent to the Western Wall covers over a portion of these ancient stones, which are now inaccessible to the public. Visitors on this platform can also see, in a corner adjacent to the wall and the Mughrabi Bridge, a pier that was excavated by Mazar and shows many other deeper courses of the Western Wall. Now it is used as a de facto garbage can.

The second, much larger “temporary” platform erected in 2014 by then-Jerusalem Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett covers much more territory, and therefore more antiquity.

According to Reich, who excavated this area, much of what is covered comes from the Byzantine (Christian Roman) and early Muslim periods, although there is also still some evidence of Second Temple shops similar, but less preserved than what is on display directly under Robinson’s Arch.

A 1st century inscription found in Robinson’s Arch reads, ‘The trumpeting place.’ (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)

In his 1980 aricle, Mazar writes that between the series of arches that supported the staircase were shops of the Lower Market. “We found the remains of these shops as well as some of their contents: stone vessels, weights, pottery and coins,” noting one of Emperor Agrippa I, who ruled from 41–44 CE. “We may assume that the shops served those coming to the Temple, pilgrims in particular.

Is the evidence of destruction being destroyed?

Both Reich and Bahat said that none of the antiquities covered by the prayer platforms have been caused irreparable damage — so far.

At the same time, Bahat called the Ezrat Yisrael platform built by Bennet “ugly,” and that “the dirt underneath is unbelievable.” The construction of the platform is “inserting an artificial element into an archaeological site.”

“It’s as if, suddenly in the middle of Beit Shean, they’ll build a big platform to celebrate [the Moroccan Jewish holiday of] mimuna,” he said, or, at Tel Megiddo “to put up a platform to celebrate Allenby’s victory. Can you imagine such a thing?”

Attorney Amnon Lorch (courtesy)

According to Bahat’s attorney, Amnon Lorch, the former Chairman of the East Jerusalem Development Company, 250,000 visit the archaeological park annually. “Instead of seeing the awesome site that was there until a few years ago, today they see the porch with the umbrellas that looks like an entrance to a swimming pool in the Bahamas. It is a complete desecration of the site.”

For Lorch, the matter is both professional and personal. He worked there as a volunteer in the massive excavations. All the site’s unique archaeological glory will be covered, he said, “because maybe someone will pray there? The fact of the matter is that a few thousand yearly pay there, whereas hundreds of thousands pay tickets into the park. There must be a balance of public interests.”

Lorch’s case targets the IAA, which he claimed was formed as an independent authority to defend the antiquities of the People of Israel. “That’s their job, their mission, their legal obligation,” he said. Instead, “they have bent their head before the politicians at the whim of the prime minister who, after the government froze the decision to build the porch there, gave an order to build it.”

In his case, Lorch references past IAA heads’ statements fending off previously planned construction. Likewise, he claims that the current platforms do not have the required Jerusalem municipality building permits, nor the approval of the recently headline-making ministerial committee on Holy Places, which has yet to sign off on the project.

But more than anything, in speaking with The Times of Israel, Lorch sounded personally betrayed by the government, which is overlooking its heritage and the preservation of it.

“If the Polish would have done a thing like this to Auschwitz, the [Israeli] government and the Jewish people would have gone crazy,” he said. “But here we’re taking the destruction of the Second Temple,” he stopped the sentence there, apparently astounded.

The IAA as ‘protectors’ of Israel’s ancient past

The IAA of yesteryear also used such strong language in fending off the archaeological site from encroaching construction. Today, it takes a much more pragmatic approach.

Attorney Firas Badhe, legal advisor for IAA, spoke with The Times of Israel this week about the Bahat case and evaluated its chances of success as slim. It is not the first time Bahat has petitioned on similar grounds, he said.

A Spanish-speaking teen tour rests on the Robinson’s Arch prayer platform, April 2018. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)

There is no finalized construction plan, said Badhe, and there won’t be one until the IAA is satisfied it can preserve and protect the antiquities there. The IAA is further making sure that the archaeology is as accessible as possible to the public — both what is uncovered now, and what may be revealed in the future.

“If something is found in the [building] process, then the planning must accommodate the new finds,” said Badhe.

A glimpse at an architectural simulation of the provisional plans indicate that the new platform will be much higher than the current one, allowing for much more access to the massive stone rubble from the Temple Mount. Likewise, the platform will basically maintain its size on the portion closest to the Western Wall, and gradually fan out over the now temporary prayer section. There, the plans indicate that it will be slightly more narrow, potentially allowing for visual access to the pilgrimage shops’ remains.

The temporary, larger prayer platform at the Robinson’s Arch, July 2018. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)

Badhe confirmed that the current provisional plan shows more accessibility, but repeatedly emphasized that there will be no final approval until all professional checks, including consultations with archaeologists and engineers are completed.

“We promise more accessibility and promise that the antiquities will not be harmed… We are standing guard,” he said.

Badhe said that many archaeologists are divided over the platform’s construction due to a misunderstanding of the planned work.

“It is a very sensitive place, we are very carefully working towards a solution that will promise preservation and accessibility — and not according to how the petitioners conceive of what will be harmed,” he said.

This construction is where the new, much wider entrance is planned for the renovations and permanent prayer platform at the Robinson’s Arch, July 2018. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)

Archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who has vocally stated her opposition to the construction, when learning that the construction will be much higher than the current platform, cautiously said that it appears the planners are taking the archaeologists’ concerns into account. “The important thing is to expose [the rubble]. Even if they take one more meter and raise the whole section — it is very significant,” she said.

Reich was even more enthusiastic. “If it will be higher, we will get an underground space where visitors can see it [the rubble] exactly as it was. See and touch, without having to crouch down,” he said.

As for the covered pilgrimage shops and some ritual baths which may be inaccessible in the new plan, he said, “It’s all a question of proportion. If there are already shops on one side, will whether there’s another shop or two on the other side change the picture?” he asked.

What’s needed in addressing the the evidence of Second Temple Roman destruction of the capital of the Jewish people, according to Reich, is an agreement that allows parties to overcome their ongoing, factionalizing conflicts and live together in peace.

Wryly using a Latin phrase, Reich said, “Really, it’s a matter of modus vivendi.”

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Jamestown Unearthed: Cellar under church catches experts by surprise

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WYDAILY NEWSPAPER (WILLIAMSBURG/YORKTOWN VIRGINIA))

 

Home  Local News  Jamestown Unearthed: Cellar under church catches experts by surprise

Jamestown Unearthed: Cellar under church catches experts by surprise

The archaeologists have seen remnants of cellars in the fort before, but they did not expect to find one under the church

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Archaeologists uncovered a dagger hilt in the cellar in the Jamestown church. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Mary Anna Hartley, Jamestown Rediscovery)
Archaeologists uncovered a dagger hilt in the cellar in the Jamestown church. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Mary Anna Hartley, Jamestown Rediscovery)

As archaeologists at Jamestown Rediscovery continue to dig into the Historic Jamestowne church that has stood at the site of the James Fort since 1906, they’ve uncovered something they weren’t expecting.

An abandoned cellar lies underneath the holiest place in the church, and it may contain details about life within the first permanent English colony — but archaeologists will have to dig to the bottom of the cellar before they can get to the bottom of the mystery.

Two previous brick churches have stood where the Memorial Church now stands in Historic Jamestowne. Historical records show the second was built by colonists in the 1640s and was in use for more than a century. The first brick church was built in 1617, meaning the cellar and the structure above it must have been built prior to the church’s construction.

“This [cellar] we assume has to be pretty darn early, because it’s already been abandoned and back-filled prior to 1617,” Jamestown Rediscovery Senior Staff Archaeologist Danny Schmidt said. “It’s safe to say we have another James Fort-period building likely dating to 1608 that doesn’t last beyond 1617, and it was a surprise for us.”

Capt. John Smith wrote that the fort’s walls were expanded to encompass more territory in 1608. Smith never mentioned the cellar, but because it was built outside of the fort’s original walls, the team is assuming it was likely built during the expansion effort.

Now that they have an idea when the basement was in use, they can begin to determine what it was used for.

Digging through history

Jamestown Rediscovery’s archaeologists have been excavating the chancel, or sacred altar, of the church since spring 2017, and came across the cellar last fall. Most of the subsoil in Jamestown is orange clay, but as they dug they came across a patch that didn’t match the dirt around it — and was filled with relics from a bygone era.

“We would see a hard line or edge where it wasn’t subsoil but disturbed fill, very typical of cellars,” Schmidt said.

Questions immediately arose as to the cellar’s purpose.

Some cellars in the James Fort were used for metallurgy or blacksmithing. Another was used as a kitchen, and all were likely used for storage, Schmidt said.

Related coverage: The team finished exploring another cellar outside the fort’s original walls in 2016.

One way to determine the cellar’s use is to study the artifacts found within it.

Preservation Virginia has recovered many items from the cellar that document colonial life, including scrap copper, a dagger hilt, oyster shells, gun parts, egg shells, glass beads, pipe fragments and small copper coin known as a Harington Farthing.

The Harington Farthing archaeologists discovered in the cellar under the Memorial Church. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Mary Anna Hartley, Jamestown Rediscovery)
The Harington Farthing archaeologists discovered in the cellar under the Memorial Church. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Mary Anna Hartley, Jamestown Rediscovery)

When basements were no longer needed, they are often filled in with the colony’s trash — a treasure trove of artifacts, but containing remnants from all over the colony.

“The trash layers we’re seeing just teaches us when that cellar was abandoned and filled in,” Schmidt said. “It’s not teaching us the function of the space while it was in use.”

One of the difficulties the archaeologists are facing is sorting through centuries of artifacts from all over the fort that have been scrambled into one layer of sediment.

Archaeologist Bob Chartrand digs into the cellar. “When we’re seeing stratigraphy like this that’s not from a single depository action, that’s definitely from multiple periods of deposition," he said. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Danny Schmidt, Preservation Virginia)
Archaeologist Bob Chartrand digs into the cellar. “When we’re seeing stratigraphy like this that’s not from a single depository action, that’s definitely from multiple periods of deposition,” he said. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Danny Schmidt, Preservation Virginia)

“The cellar was disturbed during the construction of the church,” in 1906, Curator of Collections Merry Outlaw said. “Then, during the construction of the church, features belonging to the earlier structure were disturbed, and also subsequent burials cut into the cellar.”

Colonists had a habit of burying their dead under the church floor, further obscuring the cellar’s remnants.

Preservation Virginia’s current team is also not the first group to dig through the church site.

The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities excavated the church in the early 1900s and then put the dirt back. The APVA were the forerunners to the Preservation Virginia, which oversees Jamestown Rediscovery, and the APVA also left notes regarding their activities on site.

“One of the questions answered for us once we figured out we had a cellar was why [the APVA] were finding so many artifacts in the graves they were excavating,” Staff Archaeologist and Site Suervisor Mary Anna Hartley said. “What they were describing was like what we find in trash layers.”

The artifacts that Jamestown Rediscovery team are now digging up have gone on quite a journey since they were left in the cellar by the fort’s colonists.

“All these thing were getting churned up,” Outlaw said.

Making sense of their findings

The team will continue to dig through the summer, and Schmidt said that more clues might be buried at the bottom of the cellar. Any objects left on the basement floor before it was filled in by the colonists would likely be at the very bottom, potentially allowing the archaeologists to tell what exactly the cellar was used for.

“Sometimes we luck out,” Schmidt said. “We don’t know until we dig the cellar if we’ll learn more how this space was used.”

“It’s hard to say at this point.”

A team of archaeologists from Preservation Virginia has been at work since 1994 uncovering the buried secrets of Jamestown.

When the Jamestown Rediscovery Archaeological Project started, the hope was to find the site of the original 1607 James Fort, which had been written off for more than 200 years as lost to shoreline erosion.

Since then, the team has discovered the fort and more than a million artifacts in the ground.

“Jamestown Unearthed” is a regular feature in WYDaily exploring the latest discoveries in and around James Fort. Click here to read past articles.

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Lost World Of Shipwrecks Have Been Found In The Black Sea Off Of Bulgarian Coast

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIME’S, SCIENCE SECTION)

An image of the well-preserved medieval ship found at the bottom of the Black Sea, one of more than 40 wrecks discovered. Photogrammetry, a process using thousands of photographs and readings, produced a rendering that appears three-dimensional.Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

The medieval ship lay more than a half-mile down at the bottom of the Black Sea, its masts, timbers and planking undisturbed in the darkness for seven or eight centuries. Lack of oxygen in the icy depths had ruled out the usual riot of creatures that feast on sunken wood.

This fall, a team of explorers lowered a robot on a long tether, lit up the wreck with bright lights and took thousands of high-resolution photos. A computer then merged the images into a detailed portrait.

Archaeologists date the discovery to the 13th or 14th century, opening a new window on forerunners of the 15th- and 16th-century sailing vessels that discovered the New World, including those of Columbus. This medieval ship probably served the Venetian empire, which had Black Sea outposts.

Never before had this type of ship been found in such complete form. The breakthrough was the quarterdeck, from which the captain would have directed a crew of perhaps 20 sailors.

“That’s never been seen archaeologically,” said Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz, an expedition member at the Center for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton, in Britain. “We couldn’t believe our eyes.”

A photogrammetric image of a ship from the Ottoman era that most likely went down between the 17th and 19th centuries. The discoverers nicknamed it the Flower of the Black Sea because of its ornate carvings, including two large posts topped with petals. Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

Remarkably, the find is but one of more than 40 shipwrecks that the international team recently discovered and photographed off the Bulgarian coast in one of archaeology’s greatest coups.

In age, the vessels span a millennium, from the Byzantine to the Ottoman empires, from the ninth to the 19th centuries. Generally, the ships are in such good repair that the images reveal intact coils of rope, rudders and elaborately carved decorations.

“They’re astonishingly preserved,” said Jon Adams, the leader of the Black Sea project and founding director of the maritime archaeology center at the University of Southampton.

Kroum Batchvarov, a team member at the University of Connecticut who grew up in Bulgaria and has conducted other studies in its waters, said the recent discoveries “far surpassed my wildest expectations.”

Independent experts said the annals of deepwater archaeology hold few, if any, comparable sweeps of discovery in which shipwrecks have proved to be so plentiful, diverse and well-preserved.

A photogrammetric image of the stern of the Ottoman-era ship showing coils of rope and a tiller with elaborate carvings. A lack of oxygen at the icy depths of the Black Sea left the wrecks relatively undisturbed.Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

“It’s a great story,” said Shelley Wachsmann of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University. “We can expect some real contributions to our understanding of ancient trade routes.”

Goods traded on the Black Sea included grains, furs, horses, oils, cloth, wine and people. The Tatars turned Christians into slaves who were shipped to places like Cairo. For Europeans, the sea provided access to a northern branch of the Silk Road and imports of silk, satin, musk, perfumes, spices and jewels.

Marco Polo reportedly visited the Black Sea, and Italian merchant colonies dotted its shores. The profits were so enormous that, in the 13th and 14th centuries, Venice and Genoa fought a series of wars for control of the trade routes, including those of the Black Sea.

Brendan P. Foley, an archaeologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Mass., said the good condition of the shipwrecks implied that many objects inside their hulls might also be intact.

“You might find books, parchment, written documents,” he said in an interview. “Who knows how much of this stuff was being transported? But now we have the possibility of finding out. It’s amazing.”

Experts said the success in Bulgarian waters might inspire other nations that control portions of the Black Sea to join the archaeological hunt. They are Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Dr. Foley, who has explored a number of Black Sea wrecks, said the sea’s overall expanse undoubtedly held tens of thousands of lost ships. “Everything that sinks out there is going to be preserved,” he added. “They’re not going away.”

For ages, the Black Sea was a busy waterway that served the Balkans, the Eurasian steppes, the Caucasus, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Greece. It long beckoned to archaeologists because they knew its deep waters lacked oxygen, a rarity for large bodies of water.

The great rivers of Eastern Europe — the Don, the Danube, the Dnieper — pour so much fresh water into the sea that a permanent layer forms over denser, salty water from the Mediterranean. As a result, oxygen from the atmosphere that mixes readily with fresh water never penetrates the inky depths.

In 1976, Willard Bascom, a pioneer of oceanography, in his book “Deep Water, Ancient Ships,” called the Black Sea unique among the world’s seas and a top candidate for exploration and discovery.

A photogrammetric image of a Byzantine wreck, dating perhaps to the ninth century. Superimposed is an image of one of the expedition’s tethered robots that photographed the lost ships.CreditExpedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

“One is tempted,” he wrote, “to begin searching there in spite of the huge expanse of bottom that would have to be inspected.”

In 2002, Robert D. Ballard, a discoverer of the sunken Titanic, led a Black Sea expedition that found a 2,400-year-old wreck laden with the clay storage jars of antiquity. One held remnants of a large fish that had been dried and cut into steaks, a popular food in ancient Greece.

The new team said it received exploratory permits from the Bulgarian ministries of culture and foreign affairs and limited its Black Sea hunts to parts of that nation’s exclusive economic zone, which covers thousands of square miles and runs up to roughly a mile deep.

Although the team’s official name is the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project, or Black Sea MAP, it also hauls up sediments to hunt for clues to how the sea’s rising waters engulfed former land surfaces and human settlements.

Team members listed on its website include the Bulgarian National Institute of Archaeology, the Bulgarian Center for Underwater Archaeology, Sodertorn University in Sweden, and the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in Greece.

An illustration of what the research team believes the medieval ship found in the Black Sea looked like during its heyday. Credit Jon Adams/University of Southampton/Black Sea MAP

The project’s financial backer is the Expedition and Education Foundation, a charity registered in Britain whose benefactors want to remain anonymous, team members said. Dr. Adams of the University of Southampton, the team’s scientific leader, described it as catalyzing an academic-industry partnership on the largest project “of its type ever undertaken.”

Nothing is known publicly about the cost, presumably vast, of the Black Sea explorations, which are to run for three years. The endeavor began last year with a large Greek ship doing a preliminary survey. This year, the main vessel was the Stril Explorer, a British-flagged ship bearing a helicopter landing pad that usually services the undersea pipes and structures of the offshore oil industry.

Instead, archaeologists on the ship lowered its sophisticated robots to hunt for ancient shipwrecks and lost history.

In an interview, Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz of the University of Southampton said he was watching the monitors late one night in September when the undersea robot lit up a large wreck in a high state of preservation.

“I was speechless,” he recalled. “When I saw the ropes, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I still can’t.”

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Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz said the vessel hailed from the Ottoman Empire, whose capital was Constantinople (today Istanbul), and most likely went down sometime between the 17th and 19th centuries. He said the team nicknamed it “Flower of the Black Sea” because its deck bears ornate carvings, including two large posts with tops that form petals.

In an interview, Dr. Batchvarov of the University of Connecticut said most of the discoveries date to the Ottoman era. So it was that, late one night, during his shift, he assumed that a new wreck coming into view would be more of the same.

“Then I saw a quarter rudder,” he recalled, referring to a kind of large steering oar on a ship’s side. It implied the wreck was much older. Then another appeared. Quickly, he had the expedition’s leader, Dr. Adams, awakened.

“He came immediately,” Dr. Batchvarov recalled. “We looked at each other like two little boys in a candy shop.”

Dr. Batchvarov said the wreck — the medieval one found more than a half-mile down — was part of a class known by several names, including cocha and “round ship.” The latter name arose from how its ample girth let it carry more cargo and passengers than a warship.

Dr. Adams said the remarkable color images of the lost ships derived from a process known as photogrammetry. It combines photography with the careful measurement of distances between objects, letting a computer turn flat images into renderings that seem three-dimensional.

He said tethered robots shot the photographic images with video and still cameras. The distance information, he added, came from advanced sonars, which emit high-pitched sounds that echo through seawater. Their measurements, he said, can range down to less than a millimeter.

A news release from the University of Southampton refers to the images as “digital models.” Their creation, it said, “takes days even with the fastest computers.”

Filmmakers are profiling the Black Sea hunt in a documentary, according to the team’s website.

Another part of the project seeks to share the thrill of discovery with schools and educators. Students are to study on the Black Sea, the website says, or join university scientists in analyzing field samples “to uncover the mysteries of the past.”

The team has said little publicly on whether it plans to excavate the ships — a topic on which nations, academics and treasure hunters have long clashed. Bulgaria is a signatory to the 2001 United Nations convention that outlaws commercial trade in underwater cultural heritage and sets out guidelines on such things as artifact recovery and public display.

Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz said the team had so far discovered and photographed 44 shipwrecks, and that more beckoned.

Which was the most important? Dr. Adams said that for him, a student of early European shipbuilding, the centerpiece was the medieval round ship. He said it evoked Marco Polo and city states like Venice. The ship, he added, incorporated a number of innovations that let it do more than its predecessors had and paved the way for bigger things to come.

“It’s not too much,” he said, “to say that medieval Europe became modern with the help of ships like these.”

Rare Case of ‘Coffin Birth’ Seen in Medieval Grave

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SMITHSONIAN.COM)

 

 Keeping you current

Rare Case of ‘Coffin Birth’ Seen in Medieval Grave

The pregnant woman’s remains may also suggest that she underwent cranial surgery due to a life-threatening complication

image: https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/Y5XiLmzn3a7DJYnlDvURTXfMEzE=/800×600/filters:no_upscale()/https://public-media.smithsonianmag.com/filer/9e/2a/9e2ad085-f6ec-4a56-a045-3703abf06653/coffinbirth.png

coffin birth

(Pasini et al./World Neurosurgery/Elsevier)
SMITHSONIAN.COM

At some point in the 7th or 8th century, a pregnant woman died and was buried in the medieval Italian town of Imola. There is, sadly, nothing unusual about that. But when the woman’s grave was discovered in 2010, two very strange details emerged. First, a cluster of tiny bones lay between the woman’s legs—the remains of her fetus, which appeared to have been born after her death. Archaeologists also observed a small hole in the mother’s skull, amplifying the mystery of her demise.

Now, as Brandon Specktor reports for Live Scienceresearchers have published a paper in World Neurosurgery that seeks to unpack what happened to the woman before and after she died.

The unfortunate mother’s remains were found face-up in a stone grave, suggesting that she had been deliberately buried. Analysis by scientists at the University of Ferrara and University of Bologna revealed that the woman was between 25 and 35 when she died. Her fetus, whose gender could not be determined, appeared to have reached the 38th week of gestation, making it just two weeks shy of full term.

According to Gizmodo’s George Dvorskythe baby’s legs were still inside its mother, but the head and upper body appeared to have been born after she died. The authors of the study suggest that the burial offers a rare example of “post-mortem fetal extrusion,” or “coffin birth,” which occurs when gases build up inside of the body of a deceased pregnant woman and force the fetus out of the birth canal. This gruesome phenomenon has only infrequently been observed in the archaeological record.

Scientists were just as intrigued by the mysterious hole in the woman’s skull. Measuring 4.6 mm in diameter, the hole was neat and clean, which suggests that it was not inflicted in a violent attack. It is more likely, according to the study authors, that the hole was drilled into the woman’s skull as part of a crude surgical procedure known as trepanation. The surgery was performed as early as the Neolithic era and was thought to relieve a variety of ailments, from high fever, to convulsions, to intracranial pressure. The woman’s skull also bore signs of a small, linear incision, which may show where her scalp was peeled back in preparation for the trepanation.

Why would medieval doctors perform such a dramatic procedure on a heavily pregnant woman? Researchers cannot be certain, but they theorize that the mother might have been suffering from preeclampsia or eclampsia, pregnancy-related complications that are characterized by high blood pressure, impaired liver function and—in the case of eclampsia—seizures. As the authors of the study note, common manifestations of these conditions also include symptoms like fevers, intra-cranial pressure and cerebral hemorrhages, which, prior to the 20th century, were treated with trepanation.

Scientists were able to observe signs of healing on the woman’s skull, leading them to believe that she died about a week after the procedure. It remains unclear if her death was caused by a hypertensive pregnancy condition, the surgery or some other complication, but the research team is nevertheless excited by the discovery. Evidence of trepanation has been found in many ancient archaeological remains, but signs of the surgery are rarely seen in skulls that date to the European Middle Ages. The postmortem “coffin birth” makes the woman’s grave a doubly unusual discovery—one that might very well shed light on how medieval doctors tried to help at-risk pregnant women.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer is based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media’s Women in the World.

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Scientists Just Found a Hidden Chamber in the Great Pyramid of Giza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM, SCIENCE AND ARCHAEOLOGY)

 

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By Brian Rohan / AP

6:12 AM EDT

(CAIRO) — Scientists have found a hidden chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, the first such discovery in the structure since the 19th century and one likely to spark a new surge of interest in the pharaohs.

In an article published in the journal Nature on Thursday, an international team said the 30-meter (yard) void deep within the pyramid is situated above the structure’s Grand Gallery, and has a similar cross-section. The purpose of the chamber is unclear, and it’s not yet known whether it was built with a function in mind.

The scientists made the discovery using cosmic-ray imaging, recording the behavior of subatomic particles called muons that penetrate the rock similar to X-rays, only much deeper. Their paper was peer-reviewed before appearing in Nature, an international, interdisciplinary journal of science.

The pyramid is also known as Khufu’s Pyramid for its builder, a 4th Dynasty pharaoh who reigned from 2509 to 2483 B.C. Visitors to the pyramid, on the outskirts of Cairo, can walk, hunched over, up a long tunnel to reach the Grand Gallery. The newly discovered chamber does not appear to be connected to any known internal passages.

Scientists involved in the scanning called the find a “breakthrough” that highlighted the usefulness of modern particle physics in archaeology.

“This is a premier,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, a co-founder of the ScanPyramids project and president of the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute. “It could be composed of one or several structures… maybe it could be another Grand Gallery. It could be a chamber, it could be a lot of things.”

“It was hidden, I think, since the construction of the pyramid,” he added.

The pyramids at Giza, the last surviving wonder of the ancient world, have captivated visitors since they were built as royal burial chambers 2,500 years ago. Experts are still divided over how they were constructed, so even relatively minor discoveries generate great interest.

Late last year, for example, thermal scanning identified a major anomaly in the Great Pyramid — three adjacent stones at its base which registered higher temperatures than others, stoking imaginations worldwide.

Speculation that King Tutankhamun’s tomb contains additional also antechambers stoked interest in recent years, before scans by ground-penetrating radar and other tools came up empty, raising doubts about the claim.

The muon scan is accomplished by planting special plates inside and around the pyramid to collect data on the particles, which rain down from the earth’s atmosphere. They pass through empty spaces but can be absorbed or deflected by harder surfaces, allowing scientists to study their trajectories and discern what is stone and what is not. Several plates were used to triangulate the void discovered in the Great Pyramid.

Tayoubi said the team plans to work with others to come up with hypotheses about the area.

“The good news is that the void is there, and it’s very big,” he said.

The Canaanites weren’t annihilated, they just ‘moved’ to Lebanon?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

The Canaanites weren’t annihilated, they just ‘moved’ to Lebanon

A UK-based study of ancient genomes finds Canaanites form over 90% of modern Lebanese ancestry, a trait they share with ancient Israelites

 July 28, 2017, 4:30 am 33

Burial of individual analyzed in the Canaanite study, from about 1600 BC. (Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal/Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute)

Burial of individual analyzed in the Canaanite study, from about 1600 BC. (Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal/Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute)

A new study suggests the biblical account of the annihilation of the ancient Canaanite people at the hands of the invading Israelites was a bit premature, claiming their descendants are still living just up the road, across the Lebanese border.

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New genetic research from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has found that far from being destroyed, the Canaanites morphed into the inhabitants of modern Lebanon.

Scientists in the United Kingdom-based genetic research center sequenced the genomes of five 4,000-year-old Canaanite individuals and compared them to other ancient and present-day populations, including a sample of 99 modern Lebanese.

The results, published July 27 in the American Journal of Human Genetics, show that 93 percent of the ancestry of modern Lebanese ancestry comes from the Canaanites.

Had they been destroyed by the Israelites, who were commanded by God to annihilate them, it would have been a form of patricide. According to the study, the Canaanites were the common ancestor for several ancient peoples who inhabited the Levant during the Bronze Age, such as the Ammonites, Moabites, and Israelites.

“Each achieved their own cultural identities but all shared a common genetic and ethnic root with Canaanites,” according to the authors of the new study.

“For the first time we have genetic evidence for substantial continuity in the region, from the Bronze Age Canaanite population through to the present day. These results agree with the continuity seen by archaeologists,” said Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal, co-author and director of the Sidon excavation site in Lebanon.

An early 12th century BCE Canaanite alphabet inscription found at Lachish in 2014. (courtesy of Yossi Garfinkel, Hebrew University)

An early 12th century BCE Canaanite alphabet inscription found at Lachish in 2014. (courtesy of Yossi Garfinkel, Hebrew University)

The Canaanites, like the Israelites a Semitic-speaking people, were at the center of Bronze Age civilization and “inhabited an area bounded by Anatolia to the north, Mesopotamia to the east, and Egypt to the south, with access to Cyprus and the Aegean through the Mediterranean,” according to the study.

Mystery surrounds the fate of the Canaanites, who later came to be known as the Phoenicians, as they appear in scant historical records. Although they introduced several innovations into society, including the first alphabet, other than in the Hebrew Bible — where their annihilation is clearly detailed — there are a few mentions in ancient Egyptian and Greek texts.

As reported in Science, Greek legend has it that the Canaanites originally came from the East.

According to the study, the Canaanite-related ancestry “derived from mixture between local Neolithic populations and eastern migrants genetically related to Chalcolithic Iranians.” The scientists estimate, “using linkage-disequilibrium decay patterns,” that the genetic mixture took place between 6,600–3,550 years ago, “coinciding with recorded massive population movements in Mesopotamia.”

Further, the Eurasian ancestry in the modern Lebanese genetic samples was not present in Bronze Age Canaanites or earlier Levantines. “We estimate that this Eurasian ancestry arrived in the Levant around 3,750–2,170 years ago during a period of successive conquests by distant populations,” write the scientists.

Did a Canaanite genocide occur?

In Deuteronomy 20:16, the ancient Israelites are commanded by God to completely wipe out the several Canaanite peoples after the death of the Hebrew leader Joshua.

“But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded.”

A series of Egyptian-style anthropoid coffins that served both Egyptians and Canaanites (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

A series of Egyptian-style anthropoid coffins that served both Egyptians and Canaanites (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

However, according to the report, archaeological evidence does not support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages. For example, coastal cities such as Sidon and Tyre “show continuity of occupation until the present day.”

The analysis of the DNA from five Canaanite skeletons found in Sidon who lived 4,000 years ago, and comparison with modern day Lebanese, paint a picture much different than the annihilation recorded in the Bible.

“It was a pleasant surprise to be able to extract and analyze DNA from 4,000-year-old human remains found in a hot environment, which is not known for preserving DNA well,” said Dr. Marc Haber, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Haber said the team overcame the climate’s challenge by taking samples from the petrous bone in the skull, which is a very tough bone with a high density of ancient DNA.

“Genetic studies using ancient DNA can expand our understanding of history, and answer questions about the likely origins and descendants of enigmatic populations like the Canaanites, who left few written records themselves,” said Dr. Chris Tyler-Smith, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

“The overlap between the Bronze Age and present-day Levantines suggests a degree of genetic continuity in the region,” according to the study.

New Fossils Indicate People Have Been Around Way Longer Than We Thought

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

New Fossils Indicate People Have Been Around Way Longer Than We Thought

3:28 PM ET

(NEW YORK) — How long has our species been around? New fossils from Morocco push the evidence back by about 100,000 years.

The bones, about 300,000 years old, were unearthed thousands of miles from the previous record-holder, found in fossil-rich eastern Africa. The new discovery reveals people from an early stage of our species’ evolution, with a mix of modern and more primitive traits.

“They are not just like us,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin, one of the scientists reporting the find. But they had “basically the face you could meet on the train in New York.”

Coupled with other evidence, the Moroccan fossils suggest that Homo sapiens may have reached its modern-day form in more than one place within Africa, said Hublin, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the College of France in Paris.

Previously, the oldest known fossils clearly from Homo sapiens were from Ethiopia, at about 195,000 years old.

It’s not clear just when or where Homo sapiens came on the scene in Africa. Hublin said he thinks an earlier stage of development preceded the one revealed by his team’s discovery.

We evolved from predecessors who had differently shaped skulls and often heavier builds, but were otherwise much more like us than, say, the ape-men that came before them. Our species lived at the same time as some related ones, like Neanderthals, but only we survive.

Hublin and others described the new findings in two papers released Wednesday by the journal Nature. The discovery could help illuminate how our species evolved, Chris Stringer and Julia Galway-Witham of the Natural History Museum in London wrote in a Nature commentary.

The Moroccan specimens were found between 2007 and 2011 and include a skull, a jaw and teeth, along with stone tools. Combined with other bones that were found there decades ago but not correctly dated, the fossil collection represents at least five people, including young adults, an adolescent and a child of around 8 years old. Analysis shows their brain shape was more elongated than what people have today.

“In the last 300,000 years, the main story is the change of the brain,” Hublin said.

When these ancient people lived, the site in Morocco was a cave that might have served as a hunting camp, where people butchered and ate gazelles and other prey. They used fire and their tools were made of flint from about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away.

So where did the fully modern human body develop? The researchers say evidence suggests primitive forms of Homo sapiens had already widely spread throughout Africa by around 300,000 years ago. The different populations may have exchanged beneficial genetic mutations and behaviors, gradually nudging each other toward a more modern form of the species, Hublin said. In this way, he said in an interview, modern Homo sapiens may have arisen in more than one place.

So if there’s a Garden of Eden, he said, it’s the continent as a whole.

Some experts who didn’t participate in the research called that idea possible, although not yet demonstrated. But John Shea, an anthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, said it’s more useful to think of the different local populations as a single one, connected the same way a big city is connected by subway stops.

“These are parts of a network,” through which ideas and genes flowed, he said.

Shea said it made sense to find such old traces of early Homo sapiens in northwestern Africa. He agreed that it doesn’t mean our species first appeared there.

“When it comes to evidence for human origins in northwest Africa versus eastern Africa versus southern Africa, it’s a tie,” he wrote in an email.

Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History said the Morocco fossils “appear to reflect the very early transition to Homo sapiens, very possibly denoting the outset of the lineage to which all people belong.”

The site is about 34 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of the coastal city of Safi, northwest of Marrakech. Its age was determined chiefly by analyzing bits of flint found there, and the authors concluded they were around 315,000 years old. Hublin said that since a different method suggested a younger age for the site, he considers the bones to be about 300,000 years old.

Richard Roberts of the University of Woollongong in Australia, an expert in determining ages of ancient sites, supported that conclusion.

“I’d say the authors have presented pretty convincing evidence for the presence of early modern humans at this site by 300,000 years ago and perhaps a little earlier,” Roberts wrote in an email.

Lost World Of Shipwrecks Have Been Found In The Black Sea Off Of Bulgarian Coast

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIME’S, SCIENCE SECTION)

An image of the well-preserved medieval ship found at the bottom of the Black Sea, one of more than 40 wrecks discovered. Photogrammetry, a process using thousands of photographs and readings, produced a rendering that appears three-dimensional.Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

The medieval ship lay more than a half-mile down at the bottom of the Black Sea, its masts, timbers and planking undisturbed in the darkness for seven or eight centuries. Lack of oxygen in the icy depths had ruled out the usual riot of creatures that feast on sunken wood.

This fall, a team of explorers lowered a robot on a long tether, lit up the wreck with bright lights and took thousands of high-resolution photos. A computer then merged the images into a detailed portrait.

Archaeologists date the discovery to the 13th or 14th century, opening a new window on forerunners of the 15th- and 16th-century sailing vessels that discovered the New World, including those of Columbus. This medieval ship probably served the Venetian empire, which had Black Sea outposts.

Never before had this type of ship been found in such complete form. The breakthrough was the quarterdeck, from which the captain would have directed a crew of perhaps 20 sailors.

“That’s never been seen archaeologically,” said Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz, an expedition member at the Center for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton, in Britain. “We couldn’t believe our eyes.”

A photogrammetric image of a ship from the Ottoman era that most likely went down between the 17th and 19th centuries. The discoverers nicknamed it the Flower of the Black Sea because of its ornate carvings, including two large posts topped with petals. Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

Remarkably, the find is but one of more than 40 shipwrecks that the international team recently discovered and photographed off the Bulgarian coast in one of archaeology’s greatest coups.

In age, the vessels span a millennium, from the Byzantine to the Ottoman empires, from the ninth to the 19th centuries. Generally, the ships are in such good repair that the images reveal intact coils of rope, rudders and elaborately carved decorations.

“They’re astonishingly preserved,” said Jon Adams, the leader of the Black Sea project and founding director of the maritime archaeology center at the University of Southampton.

Kroum Batchvarov, a team member at the University of Connecticut who grew up in Bulgaria and has conducted other studies in its waters, said the recent discoveries “far surpassed my wildest expectations.”

Independent experts said the annals of deepwater archaeology hold few, if any, comparable sweeps of discovery in which shipwrecks have proved to be so plentiful, diverse and well-preserved.

A photogrammetric image of the stern of the Ottoman-era ship showing coils of rope and a tiller with elaborate carvings. A lack of oxygen at the icy depths of the Black Sea left the wrecks relatively undisturbed.Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

“It’s a great story,” said Shelley Wachsmann of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University. “We can expect some real contributions to our understanding of ancient trade routes.”

Goods traded on the Black Sea included grains, furs, horses, oils, cloth, wine and people. The Tatars turned Christians into slaves who were shipped to places like Cairo. For Europeans, the sea provided access to a northern branch of the Silk Road and imports of silk, satin, musk, perfumes, spices and jewels.

Marco Polo reportedly visited the Black Sea, and Italian merchant colonies dotted its shores. The profits were so enormous that, in the 13th and 14th centuries, Venice and Genoa fought a series of wars for control of the trade routes, including those of the Black Sea.

Brendan P. Foley, an archaeologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Mass., said the good condition of the shipwrecks implied that many objects inside their hulls might also be intact.

“You might find books, parchment, written documents,” he said in an interview. “Who knows how much of this stuff was being transported? But now we have the possibility of finding out. It’s amazing.”

ROMANIA

RUSSIA

Bulgaria’s

Exclusive

Economic

Zone

BLACK SEA

BULGARIA

GEORGIA

GREECE

TURKEY

Athens

Experts said the success in Bulgarian waters might inspire other nations that control portions of the Black Sea to join the archaeological hunt. They are Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Dr. Foley, who has explored a number of Black Sea wrecks, said the sea’s overall expanse undoubtedly held tens of thousands of lost ships. “Everything that sinks out there is going to be preserved,” he added. “They’re not going away.”

For ages, the Black Sea was a busy waterway that served the Balkans, the Eurasian steppes, the Caucasus, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Greece. It long beckoned to archaeologists because they knew its deep waters lacked oxygen, a rarity for large bodies of water.

The great rivers of Eastern Europe — the Don, the Danube, the Dnieper — pour so much fresh water into the sea that a permanent layer forms over denser, salty water from the Mediterranean. As a result, oxygen from the atmosphere that mixes readily with fresh water never penetrates the inky depths.

In 1976, Willard Bascom, a pioneer of oceanography, in his book “Deep Water, Ancient Ships,” called the Black Sea unique among the world’s seas and a top candidate for exploration and discovery.

A photogrammetric image of a Byzantine wreck, dating perhaps to the ninth century. Superimposed is an image of one of the expedition’s tethered robots that photographed the lost ships.CreditExpedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

“One is tempted,” he wrote, “to begin searching there in spite of the huge expanse of bottom that would have to be inspected.”

In 2002, Robert D. Ballard, a discoverer of the sunken Titanic, led a Black Sea expedition that found a 2,400-year-old wreck laden with the clay storage jars of antiquity. One held remnants of a large fish that had been dried and cut into steaks, a popular food in ancient Greece.

The new team said it received exploratory permits from the Bulgarian ministries of culture and foreign affairs and limited its Black Sea hunts to parts of that nation’s exclusive economic zone, which covers thousands of square miles and runs up to roughly a mile deep.

Although the team’s official name is the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project, or Black Sea MAP, it also hauls up sediments to hunt for clues to how the sea’s rising waters engulfed former land surfaces and human settlements.

Team members listed on its website include the Bulgarian National Institute of Archaeology, the Bulgarian Center for Underwater Archaeology, Sodertorn University in Sweden, and the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in Greece.

An illustration of what the research team believes the medieval ship found in the Black Sea looked like during its heyday. Credit Jon Adams/University of Southampton/Black Sea MAP

The project’s financial backer is the Expedition and Education Foundation, a charity registered in Britain whose benefactors want to remain anonymous, team members said. Dr. Adams of the University of Southampton, the team’s scientific leader, described it as catalyzing an academic-industry partnership on the largest project “of its type ever undertaken.”

Nothing is known publicly about the cost, presumably vast, of the Black Sea explorations, which are to run for three years. The endeavor began last year with a large Greek ship doing a preliminary survey. This year, the main vessel was the Stril Explorer, a British-flagged ship bearing a helicopter landing pad that usually services the undersea pipes and structures of the offshore oil industry.

Instead, archaeologists on the ship lowered its sophisticated robots to hunt for ancient shipwrecks and lost history.

In an interview, Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz of the University of Southampton said he was watching the monitors late one night in September when the undersea robot lit up a large wreck in a high state of preservation.

“I was speechless,” he recalled. “When I saw the ropes, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I still can’t.”

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Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz said the vessel hailed from the Ottoman Empire, whose capital was Constantinople (today Istanbul), and most likely went down sometime between the 17th and 19th centuries. He said the team nicknamed it “Flower of the Black Sea” because its deck bears ornate carvings, including two large posts with tops that form petals.

In an interview, Dr. Batchvarov of the University of Connecticut said most of the discoveries date to the Ottoman era. So it was that, late one night, during his shift, he assumed that a new wreck coming into view would be more of the same.

“Then I saw a quarter rudder,” he recalled, referring to a kind of large steering oar on a ship’s side. It implied the wreck was much older. Then another appeared. Quickly, he had the expedition’s leader, Dr. Adams, awakened.

“He came immediately,” Dr. Batchvarov recalled. “We looked at each other like two little boys in a candy shop.”

Dr. Batchvarov said the wreck — the medieval one found more than a half-mile down — was part of a class known by several names, including cocha and “round ship.” The latter name arose from how its ample girth let it carry more cargo and passengers than a warship.

Dr. Adams said the remarkable color images of the lost ships derived from a process known as photogrammetry. It combines photography with the careful measurement of distances between objects, letting a computer turn flat images into renderings that seem three-dimensional.

He said tethered robots shot the photographic images with video and still cameras. The distance information, he added, came from advanced sonars, which emit high-pitched sounds that echo through seawater. Their measurements, he said, can range down to less than a millimeter.

A news release from the University of Southampton refers to the images as “digital models.” Their creation, it said, “takes days even with the fastest computers.”

Filmmakers are profiling the Black Sea hunt in a documentary, according to the team’s website.

Another part of the project seeks to share the thrill of discovery with schools and educators. Students are to study on the Black Sea, the website says, or join university scientists in analyzing field samples “to uncover the mysteries of the past.”

The team has said little publicly on whether it plans to excavate the ships — a topic on which nations, academics and treasure hunters have long clashed. Bulgaria is a signatory to the 2001 United Nations convention that outlaws commercial trade in underwater cultural heritage and sets out guidelines on such things as artifact recovery and public display.

Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz said the team had so far discovered and photographed 44 shipwrecks, and that more beckoned.

Which was the most important? Dr. Adams said that for him, a student of early European shipbuilding, the centerpiece was the medieval round ship. He said it evoked Marco Polo and city states like Venice. The ship, he added, incorporated a number of innovations that let it do more than its predecessors had and paved the way for bigger things to come.

“It’s not too much,” he said, “to say that medieval Europe became modern with the help of ships like these.”

QASIR Z KHAN

Visual Artist | Qasir Z Khan Miniaturist | Dubai, UAE

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