Category: Ancient Civilizations
Inaccessible or easily missed on the ground, ancient Maya ruins are increasingly spotted with the help of satellite imagery – but the process isn’t always fool-proof.
Some of the most magnificent Maya murals ever found – dating to 100BC – were discovered deep in the jungle of San Bartolo, Guatemala back in 2001.
It was obvious that San Bartolo had more to offer – but the jungle was thick. “It’s really dangerous walking through the jungle to find sites – it’s really humid, there are snakes,” explains Diane Davies, Honorary Research Associate at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, who worked in the same area in the mid 2000’s.
“Honestly, you can be literally seven or eight metres away from a pyramid and in the jungle you can’t see it because [the vegetation is] so thick,” says Davies. However, through the analysis of satellite imagery, previously hidden archaeological sites can be found.
Davies recalls the assistance of Nasa scientist Thomas Sever who was later able to identify all sorts of fascinating features – including a lost Maya pyramid – from satellite images. Because many Maya buildings were constructed with limestone, the chemical composition around ruins has been altered over time – this shows up in some imagery.
When scanning areas for archaeological remains, different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum can be used to reveal patterns on the ground, says Geoffrey Braswell, at the University of California San Diego.
Light detection and ranging (Lidar), which uses lasers, may also be deployed to measure the topography.
“If you are flying over a canopy most of those beams going down get reflected off leaves and other things and don’t reach the ground – but some of them do,” says Braswell. “That allows us to see unique features on the ground.”
But Lidar is expensive and, for many years, was an inaccessible technology only used by the military. Braswell would love to use it to scan entire regions of Central America to see what sites archaeologists may have missed, but so far that just hasn’t been feasible.
There are other issues too. Most Maya scholars agree that sites detected by remote sensing should definitely be confirmed by expeditions on the ground.
This is because a lot of apparent discoveries often turn out to be nothing of interest – a field rather than the outline or a building, or something manmade much more recently than an ancient ruin.
“In the northern part of the Maya area in Yucatan [remote sensing] gives about 70% false positives,” says Braswell.
However, most agree that the benefits such technologies have made to archaeology are stunning. Some fabulous sites have been uncovered that could otherwise have gone unnoticed – and in some cases years have potentially been shaved off the effort to explore dense forest regions.
Byzantine art and architecture, works of art and structures works produced in the city of Byzantium after Constantine made it the capital of the Roman Empire (A.D. 330) and the work done under Byzantine influence, as in Venice, Ravenna, Norman Sicily, as well as in Syria, Greece, Russia, and other Eastern countries.
For more than a thousand years, until the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, Byzantine art retained a remarkably conservative orientation; the major phases of its development emerge from a background marked by adherence to classical principles.
Artistic activity was temporarily disrupted by the Iconoclastic controversy (726–843), which resulted in the wholesale destruction of figurative works of art and the restriction of permissible content to ornamental forms or to symbols like the cross. The pillaging of Constantinople by the Frankish Crusaders in 1204 was perhaps a more serious blow; but it was followed by an impressive late flowering of Byzantine art under the Paleologus dynasty.
Byzantine achievements in mosaic decoration brought this art to an unprecedented level of monumentality and expressive power. Mosaics were applied to the domes, half-domes, and other available surfaces of Byzantine churches in an established hierarchical order. The center of the dome was reserved for the representation of the Pantocrator, or Jesus as the ruler of the universe, whereas other sacred personages occupied lower spaces in descending order of importance.
The entire church thus served as a tangible evocation of the celestial order; this conception was further enhanced by the stylized poses and gestures of the figures, their hieratic gaze, and the luminous shimmer of the gold backgrounds. Because of the destruction of many major monuments in Constantinople proper, large ensembles of mosaic decoration have survived chiefly outside the capital, in such places as Salonica, Nicaea, and Daphni in Greece and Ravenna in Italy.
An important aspect of Byzantine artistic activity was the painting of devotional panels, since the cult of icons played a leading part in both religious and secular life. Icon painting usually employed the encaustic technique. Little scope was afforded individuality; the effectiveness of the religious image as a vehicle of divine presence was held to depend on its fidelity to an established prototype. A large group of devotional images has been preserved in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai.
The development of Byzantine painting may also be seen in manuscript illumination. Among notable examples of Byzantine illumination are a lavishly illustrated 9th-century copy of the Homilies of Gregory Nazianzus and two works believed to date from a 10th-century revival of classicism, the Joshua Rotulus (or Roll) and the Paris Psalter.
Enamel, ivory, and metalwork objects of Byzantine workmanship were highly prized throughout the Middle Ages; many such works are found in the treasuries of Western churches. Most of these objects were reliquaries or devotional panels, although an important series of ivory caskets with pagan subjects has also been preserved. Byzantine silks, the manufacture of which was a state monopoly, were also eagerly sought and treasured as goods of utmost luxury.
The architecture of the Byzantine Empire was based on the great legacy of Roman formal and technical achievements. Constantinople had been purposely founded as the Christian counterpart and successor to the leadership of the old pagan city of Rome. The new capital was in close contact with the Hellenized East, and the contribution of Eastern culture, though sometimes overstressed, was an important element in the development of its architectural style. The 5th-century basilica of St. John of the Studion, the oldest surviving church in Constantinople, is an early example of Byzantine reliance upon traditional Roman models.
The most imposing achievement of Byzantine architecture is the Church of Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia. It was constructed in a short span of five years (532–37) during the reign of Justinian. Hagia Sophia is without a clear antecedent in the architecture of late antiquity, yet it must be accounted as culminating several centuries of experimentation toward the realization of a unified space of monumental dimensions.
Throughout the history of Byzantine religious architecture, the centrally planned structure continued in favor. Such structures, which may show considerable variation in plan, have in common the predominance of a central domed space, flanked and partly sustained by smaller domes and half-domes spanning peripheral spaces.
Although many of the important buildings of Constantinople have been destroyed, impressive examples are still extant throughout the provinces and on the outer fringes of the empire, notably in Bulgaria, Russia, Armenia, and Sicily. A great Byzantine architectural achievement is the octagonal church of San Vitale (consecrated 547) in Ravenna. The church of St. Mark’s in Venice was based on a Byzantine prototype, and Byzantine workmen were employed by Arab rulers in the Holy Land and in Ottonian Germany during the 11th cent.
Secular architecture in the Byzantine Empire has left fewer traces. Foremost among these are the ruins of the 5th-century walls of the city of Constantinople, consisting of an outer and an inner wall, each originally studded with 96 towers. Some of these can still be seen.
The internal walls of Etruscan tombs such as those at Cerveteri and Tarquinii still contain the remains of magnificent murals which give us a considerable insight into the Etruscan way of life. A commonly recurring theme is the banquet, which in the case of the Necropolis paintings, carried a double meaning. For the banquet was also an intrinsic part of the religious ceremony at funerals. After all the formal funeral ceremonies were complete, the relatives of the deceased were treated to a sumptuous banquet, at which the spirit of the departed was believed to attend.
In Etruscan daily life, the banquet was very much a status symbol, indicating to all and sundry that the hosts had “arrived” in the estimation of the Etruscan social elite. Certainly in the heyday of the Etruscan league, around the seventh century BCE a wide reaching trading network (the first EEC) had been well established with far flung parts of Europe.
Etruscan bronzes have been found as far afield as Hassle in Sweden. Ships loaded with amphorae and the bounties of Etruscan mining and agriculture were traded throughout the Mediterranean and possibly into the Atlantic Ocean as far as Madeira. As a result of all this, life for the rich Etruscans was extremely pleasant.
Lavish receptions were laid on, in which the guests; men and women of high social standing, reclined on couches waited on by numerous servants, and were entertained by musicians and dancers swaying to the hypnotic but strident rhythms of music played by Etruscan virtuosos.
The tables were covered with elaborately embroidered table cloths, on to which the various dinner courses were arranged. The dishes included generous selections of fish such as Tuna, and meats such as hare, deer and birds (Wild boar was a particular favourite). Grapes were originally native to the Arabian peninsula, but widely grown by the beginning of the first millennium BCE. The Etruscans probably introduced grapes and wine to Italy around the 9th Century BCE.
In the 7th century BCE, Etruscan clothing was very similar to that of the Greek archaic period. The men in the archaic age wore a kind of robe, which was knotted at the front. In later times this gave way to the “tunica” which was worn over the head, usually with a colourful cape slung over the shoulders. This cape, usually wide and heavily embroidered, became the national costume of Etruria – the “tebenna”, later to become the Roman toga.
Women wore a long tunic down to the feet, usually of light pleated material and was typically decorated on the edges. Over this was worn a heavier colorful mantle.
The most common types of footwear were high sandals, ankle boots and one characteristic type of shoe, with upward curving toes, possibly of Greek or Oriental origin.
The most common head wear was a woolen hat, but these came in many different forms such as caps, conical type hats, pointed hoods and wide brimmed hats, such as are still worn to this day by Tuscan farmers. Often the hat identified the person that wore them with a particular social class. From the end of the 5th century BCE, it became more common not to wear a hat. Also from the 5th century BCE men, who previously wore a beard, began to shave and to wear short hats.
The regalia of later Roman times, such as the purple robes worn by the emperors, were of Etruscan origin, as were a number of symbols often ascribed to Rome such as the Lictor and Fasces.
Women wore a great variety of hairstyles including long, shoulder length, knotted or interlaced behind the shoulders, in later times, the hair was worn shorter, and was knotted at the crown of the head or collected in gauze mantles or caps.
The magnificent robes of the patrician women were finished off with exquisite jewellery including ear-rings, necklaces, bracelets and fibulae. In its time, Etruscan Jewellery was unsurpassed by any other in Europe. The bronzes of Etruria were equally celebrated throughout Europe, North Africa and the middle East.
Etruscan city planning was on a rigid planning system as determined by the disciplina etrusca. Houses were laid out in streets with sewage lines located under the roads. Early Rome as founded by the Etruscans was laid out in a similar fashion. Following the invasion of Rome by the Celts during the days of the Early republic, the local population begrudgingly rebuilt the city, but the final result was a more hap-hazard street pattern with housing built above sewer lines in many cases, resulting in disease epidemics.
While the Romans are admired for their magnificent aquaducts, the Etruscans reticulated water by means of underground water pipes and pressure boxes- a technology which was not passed on to the Romans. A form of underfloor heating was used, which continued on with the Romans in later years.
The pillars used by the Etruscans to support Temples and other public works complied with defined ratios, and computer models show that in terms of Engineering, they were an improvement on the Greek Corinthian, Doric and Ionian orders.
Arches, unknown in Classical Greece, were originally used in Mesopotamia, and were introduced to Italy by the Etruscans. They were used to good effect by the Romans in later years.
The residences of the Etruscan ruling classes were typically characterised by a wide central courtyard entered from an “Atrium Tuscanicum” as the Romans called it. The word Atrium itself comes from the Etruscan word for entrance or harbour, as in the Etruscan port of Atrii which gave its name to the Adriatic sea.. Several other rooms led off from this central courtyard. The Etruscan villa was the precursor to the later Roman Villa.
The buildings were single storey and were built with blocks of stone as a foundation. The walls were constructed with frames of wood and clay plastering.
The typical shape of the roof was eaved, but terraced roofs were also built. The exterior and interior walls of the houses were frescoed with geometric patterns or with moulded terracotta. Painted scenes adorned the interiors. As in Roman times, it was common to have painted pictures in frame like sections giving an overall effect of pictures hanging on a wall.
Horus was an ancient a sky god whose eyes were said to be the sun and the moon. However, he soon became strongly associated with the sun (and the sun god Ra as Ra-Horakhty (“Ra, who is Horus of the two horizons”) while Thoth was associated with the moon.
An ancient myth describes a battle between Horus and Set in which Horus´ right eye was torn out and Set lost his testicles! Thoth magically restored Horus´ eye, at which point it was given the name “Wadjet” (“whole” or “healthy”). In this myth it is specifically stated that it is Horus´ left eye which has been torn out, so the myth relates to the waxing and waning of the moon during which the moon appears to have been torn out of the sky before being restored once every lunar month.
Eye of Horus amulet late 6th-4th centuries BC. From the Tell of the Apadana in SusaEye of Horus pendant from Egypt Archive website.
There are a number of depictions of the restoration of the eye in Greco-Roman temples. Thoth is assisted by fourteen gods including the gods of the Ennead of Hermopolis or thirty male deities (in Ismant el-Kharab, the Dakhla Oasis).
Each god represented one of the fifteen days leading up to the full moon, and to the waning moon. The restored eye became emblematic of the re-establishment of order from chaos, thus closely associating it with the idea of Ma´at. In one myth Horus made a gift of the eye to Osiris to help him rule the netherworld. Osiris ate the eye and was restored to life. As a result, it became a symbol of life and resurrection. Offerings are sometimes called “the Eye of Horus” because it was thought that the goods offered became divine when presented to a god.
The Eye of Horus was believed to have healing and protective power, and it was used as a protective amulet. It was also used as a notation of measurement, particularly for measuring the ingredients in medicines and pigments. The symbol was divided into six parts, representing the shattering of Horus´ eye into six pieces. Each piece was associated with one of the six senses and a specific fraction.
More complex fractions were created by adding the symbols together. It is interesting to note that if the pieces are added together the total is 63/64 not 1. Some suggest that the remaining 1/64 represents the magic used by Thoth to restore the eye, while others consider that the missing piece represented the fact that perfection was not possible. However, it is equally likely that they appreciated the simplicity of the system which allowed them to deal with common fractions quickly, after all they already had a symbol for the number “1” and they had other numerical notations available when they needed to use smaller fractions.
According to later traditions, the right eye represented the sun and so is called the “Eye of Ra” while the left represented the moon and was known as the “eye of Horus” (although it was also associated with Thoth). However, in many cases it is not clear whether it is the left or right eye which is referred to. Others myths suggest that it is Horus’ right eye which was torn out and that the myth refers to a solar eclipse in which the sun is momentarily blotted from the sky.
A history of the Hittites including their cities, kings, art and contributions to civilization.
A group of tribes, speaking Indo-European languages and collectively known as the Hittites, establish themselves as the dominant power in Anatolia. Their capital is at Bogazkoy, a dramatically fortified city on a steep slope among ravines; its walls and towers enclose no fewer than five great temples.
The priest-king who makes this place his capital in the 17th century BC is Hattusilis I. He has ambitions for his people. Moving south and east with his army, he reaches the Mediterranean and continues into northern Syria.
Eager to give his empire full credentials, Hattusilis brings back from Syria a team of scribes, expert in cuneiform. They adapt the cuneiform script to a new purpose, the recording of an Indo-European language, and they lay the foundation for an important state archive at Bogazkoy.
When the clay tablets of this archive are discovered, in the 20th century, they provide the basis for our knowledge of the Hittites.
The Magic of Iron
The Hittites are the first people to work iron, in Anatolia from about 1500 BC. In its simple form iron is less hard than bronze, and therefore of less use as a weapon, but it seems to have had an immediate appeal – perhaps as the latest achievement of technology (with the mysterious quality of being changeable, through heating and hammering), or from a certain intrinsic magic (it is the metal in meteorites, which fall from the sky).
Quite how much value is attached to iron can be judged from a famous letter of about 1250 BC, written by a Hittite king to accompany an iron dagger-blade which he is sending to a fellow monarch (see Letter from a Hittite king).
The Furthest Extent of the Hittite Empire
In about 1600 the Hittites reach and destroy Babylon, before retreating again to their Anatolian heartland. In the 14th century they march again to establish an empire which reaches into northern Syria, east of the Euphrates, and extends down the Mediterranean coast to confront the Egyptians. A hard-fought but inconclusive engagement at Kadesh in 1275 stablizes the frontier between the two power blocs.
It is followed some years later by a treaty and the marriage of the daughter of the Hittite king (Hattusilis III) to the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II.
In the 12th century the Hittite empire suddenly collapses – overwhelmed, it is thought, by the onrush of the Sea Peoples. These terrifying intruders are described in Egyptian chronicles as raging down the coast to threaten the frontiers of Egypt in about 1218 and again in 1182 BC.
Sumer (or Šumer) was one of the early civilizations of the Ancient Near East, located in the southern part of Mesopotamia (southeastern Iraq) from the time of the earliest records in the mid-fourth millennium B.C.E. until the rise of Babylonia in the late third millennium B.C.E. The term “Sumerian” applies to all speakers of the Sumerian language. Sumer together with Ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley Civilization is considered the first settled society in the world to have manifested all the features needed to qualify fully as a “civilization.”
The development of the City State as an organized social and political settlement enabled art and commerce, writing and architectures, including the building of Temples (ziggurats) to flourish. The history of Sumeria dates back to the beginning of writing and also of law, which the Sumerian are credited with inventing. and was essential for maintaining order within the City-States.
City-States for centuries used variations of Sumerian Law, which established set penalties for particular offenses. This represents recognition that societies can not function without respect for life and property and shared values. More and more people became aware of belonging to the same world as a result of Sumeria’s contribution to the human story. Treaties from Sumeria indicate a preference for trade and commerce.
The term “Sumerian” is an exonym first applied by the Akkadians. The Sumerians called themselves “the black-headed people” (sag-gi-ga) and their land “land of the civilized lords” (ki-en-gir). The Akkadian word Shumer may represent this name in dialect, but we actually do not know why the Akkadians called the southern land Shumeru. Biblical Shinar, Egyptian Sngr and Hittite Šanhar(a) could be western variants of Šumer.
The Sumerians were a non-Semitic people and were at one time believed to have been invaders, as a number of linguists believed they could detect a substrate language beneath Sumerian. However, the archaeological record shows clear uninterrupted cultural continuity from the time of the Early Ubaid period (5200-4500 B.C.E. C-14, 6090-5429 B.C.E. calBC) settlements in southern Mesopotamia. The Sumerian people who settled here farmed the lands in this region that were made fertile by silt deposited by the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.
The challenge for any population attempting to dwell in Iraq’s arid southern floodplain, where rainfall is currently less than 5 inches a year, was to manage the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to supply year-round water for farming and drinking. The Sumerian language has many terms for canals, dikes, and reservoirs. Sumerian speakers were farmers who moved down from the north after perfecting irrigation agriculture there.
The Ubaid pottery of southern Mesopotamia has been connected via Choga Mami Transitional ware to the pottery of the Samarra period culture (c. 5700-4900 B.C.E. C-14, 6640-5816 B.C.E. in the north, who were the first to practice a primitive form of irrigation agriculture along the middle Tigris River and its tributaries.
The connection is most clearly seen at Tell Awayli (Oueilli, Oueili) near Larsa, excavated by the French in the 1980s, where 8 levels yielded pre-Ubaid pottery resembling Samarran ware. Farming peoples spread down into southern Mesopotamia because they had developed a temple-centered social organization for mobilizing labor and technology for water control, enabling them to survive and prosper in a difficult environment.
Guatemala and Mexico release secret documents and artefacts for forthcoming film Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond.
The ancient Mayans had contact with alien visitors who left behind evidence of their existence, according to a new Mexican documentary.
Sundance winner Juan Carlos Rulfo’s Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond is currently in production for release next year to coincide with the end of the Mayan calendar, reports the Wrap.
Producer Raul Julia-Levy said the documentary-makers were working in cooperation with the Mexican government for what he said was “the good of mankind”. He said the order to collaborate had come directly from the country’s president, Álvaro Colom Caballeros.
“Mexico will release codices, artefacts and significant documents with evidence of Mayan and extraterrestrial contact, and all of their information will be corroborated by archaeologists,” he said. “The Mexican government is not making this statement on their own – everything we say, we’re going to back it up.”
Caballeros himself was conspicuous by his absence from the statement released by Julia-Levy. So far, the minister of tourism for the Mexican state of Campeche, Luis Augusto García Rosado, appears to be the highest-ranking government official to go on record confirming the discovery of extraterrestrial life, but he’s not holding back.
In a statement, Rosado spoke of contact “between the Mayans and extraterrestrials, supported by translations of certain codices, which the government has kept secure in underground vaults for some time”. In a telephone conversation with the Wrap, he also spoke of “landing pads in the jungle that are 3,000 years old”.
The documentary is believed to focus in part on previously unexplored sections of a Mayan site at Calakmul, Mexico, as well as a number of sites in Guatemala, where officials are also backing the documentary.
“Guatemala, like Mexico, home to the ancient-yet-advanced Mayan civilisation … has also kept certain provocative archeological discoveries classified, and now believes that it is time to bring forth this information in the new documentary,” Guatemala’s minister of tourism, Guillermo Novielli Quezada, said in a statement.
The Mayan calendar ends on 21 December 2012, a fact which conspiracy theorists have used to predict imminent apocalypse. However, according to Mayanist scholars there is no evidence that the Mayans themselves expected cataclysmic events to occur once the calendar had reached its denouement. More likely, it would simply mark the beginning of another 5,125-year-long cycle.
The coin-sized artifact appears to be linked to religious rituals 2,000 years ago.
A rare clay seal found under Jerusalem’s Old City appears to be linked to religious rituals practiced at the Jewish Temple 2,000 years ago, Israeli archaeologists said Sunday.
The coin-sized seal found near the Jewish holy site at the Western Wall bears two Aramaic words meaning “pure for God.”
Archaeologist Ronny Reich of Haifa University said it dates from between the 1st century B.C. to 70 A.D. — the year Roman forces put down a Jewish revolt and destroyed the second of the two biblical temples in Jerusalem.
The find marks the first discovery of a written seal from that period of Jerusalem’s history, and appeared to be a unique physical artifact from ritual practice in the Temple, said Reich, co-director of the excavation.
Very few artifacts linked to the Temples have been discovered so far. The site of the Temple itself — the enclosure known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — remains off-limits to archaeologists because of its religious and political sensitivity.
Archaeologists say the seal was likely used by Temple officials approving an object for ritual use — oil, perhaps, or an animal intended for sacrifice. Materials used by Temple priests had to meet stringent purity guidelines stipulated in detail in the Jewish legal text known as the Mishna, which also mention the use of seals as tokens by pilgrims.
The find, Reich said, is “the first time an indication was brought by archaeology about activities in the Temple Mount — the religious activities of buying and offering and giving to the Temple itself.”
The site where the seal was found is on the route of a main street that ran through ancient Jerusalem just outside the Temple compound.
Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, a biblical archaeologist not connected to the dig, said the seal was special because it “was found right next to the Temple and is similar to what we see described in the Mishna.”
“It’s nice when we can connect an activity recorded in ancient sources with archaeological finds,” he said.
The seal was found in an excavation run by archaeologists from the government’s Israel Antiquities Authority. The dig is under the auspices of a broader dig nearby known as the City of David, where archaeologists are investigating the oldest part of Jerusalem.
The City of David dig, located inside the nearby Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan and funded by a Jewish group affiliated with the settlement movement, is the Holy Land’s highest-profile and most politically controversial excavation.
The year 2000 came and went. If we flash back for a moment, we recall that in the period up to 2000, the chaos was expected to wrap our civilization computer and electrified. It was called Y2K: a flaw in the simple design of the software was supposed to cause the end of the civilized world. Power stations, telecommunications, bank accounts, billing processes were all supposed to be paralyzed or thrown into a state of chaos.
But it never happened. Instead, in late 1999 and early 2000 is best known for the amazing displays of fireworks in major cities worldwide, many of them on television and shared with viewers of all nations. The spectrum of the end of the world was a ghost.
A decade later, where are we? Wars are fought in Iraq and Afghanistan with the help of sophisticated computerized weapons. A sluggish global economy desperately trying to restart itself. The Internet is an indispensable part of life for the majority in the Western world and even for a considerable number of people in the developing world. And we are told on another end of the world was approaching.
If we are to believe the latest hype, 21 or 23 December 2012, when the world will really come to an end climate. This time, fear was triggered by an interpretation of the ancient Mayan calendar, favored by many books and documentaries. And it gave birth, perhaps surprisingly, yet another Hollywood disaster film.