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Freshen Up With Archaeology Friday (Post II)

A lot of things have been going on since last week and this all should be a good summary of it :

Did Malaria cause the Fall of Rome?

There has never been any real proof of Malaria having been present at all in the Roman Empire. While there are several mentions of a disease sounding very similar to malaria in historical documents from Roman times, there has never been any hard evidence of its presence.

But last year, for the first time, a British scientist proved conclusively that the most dangerous type of malaria was a killer in imperial Rome. The scientist relied on the latest DNA techniques that are revolutionizing the understanding of the role of disease in ancient times.

The malarial DNA from a Roman site, dating from around AD 450, is the oldest definite evidence of malaria in history. The finding of malaria was a remarkable and complicated piece of detective work, which spanned the last ten years.

At its height, the Roman Empire stretched from Scotland in the northern hemisphere to the deserts of Africa in the south. The empire lasted for over 500 years, although its eastern part, the Byzantine Empire, lasted for several more centuries. When the empire collapsed, hordes of barbarian armies, including the infamous Vandal pirates, invaded Italy throughout the fifth century AD. Rome was transformed from a bustling city of millions to a provincial town of a few thousand, surrounded by swamps.

The anarchy of the Dark Ages had begun.

Although there has been no shortage of theories, it has never been clear why Rome became so vulnerable to foreign invaders at this time. Political instability, the collapse of food supplies to Rome, and even the infamous lead in the water supplies have all been implicated. Historians have generally agreed that Rome's downfall was due to a combination of many factors.

More information can be found in this BBC-History article Malaria and the Fall of Rome

The Great Pyramid's Secret Doors to be opened in 2012:

The Great Pyramid of Egypt, secrets to be revealed
Might sound a bit prophetical with it being opened in 2012 but worry not, chances of doomsday are slim-to-none!

Back to the story here:

New revelations on the enduring mystery were already expected this year, following a robot exploration of the 4,500-year-old pharaonic mausoleum.

But unrest in Egypt froze the project at its most promising stage, after it produced the first ever images behind one of the Great Pyramid's mysterious doors.

Now the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), once led by the controversial yet charismatic Zahi Hawass, is slowly returning to granting permits for excavations and archaeological research.

"As with other missions, we have had to resubmit our application to be allowed to continue. We are currently waiting for the various committees to formalize the approval," project mission manager Shaun Whitehead, of the exploration company Scoutek UK, told Discovery News. 

"Once we're allowed to continue, I have no doubt that we can complete our work in 2012," he added.

Built for the pharaoh Cheops, also known as Khufu, the Great Pyramid is the last remaining wonder of the ancient world.

The monument is the largest of a family of three pyramids on the Giza plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo, and has long been rumored to have hidden passageways leading to secret chambers. Archaeologists have long puzzled over the purpose of four narrow shafts deep inside the pyramid since they were first discovered in 1872.

Two shafts, extend from the upper, or "Kings Chamber" exit into open air. But the lower two, one on the south side and one on the north side in the so-called "Queen's Chamber" disappear within the structures, deepening the pyramid mystery. 

To those interested, the full story is here - Will The Great Pyramid's secrets be finally revealed?

5000 Year Old Burial Sites Discovered in Sohar, Oman:

The 600km sq burial site
 At least 5,000 year old burial sites have been discovered by archaeologists during the two-year-long Sohar Heritage Project, according to a press release from the Ministry of Heritage and Culture on Sunday (the 11th).

The ministry-run project, which has carried out major survey within Sohar town and surrounding areas, is mainly funded by the industrial sector in the this port town.

"An area of 600sqkm has been covered and many new sites have been found that will shed light on Oman and its glorious past," informs to Biubwa Ali Al Sabri, Director of Excavation and Archaeological Sites at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture.
She added that many of the sites found in Sohar are burial sites belonging to the Wadi Souq period (1900- 1100 BC). "Also older sites that are as old as 5000 years have been found and a distinctive pattern can be seen within the area that stretches from Liwa to Gyal as Shabol," pointed out the Omani archaeology expert.

"Many Islamic sites have also been found that have the potential to shed light of how Sohar has come to develop. Also other surveys have been conducted over the years in the area but not in this scale," Al Sabri added.
"This will also be something that can be used in other projects within and outside the Ministry of Heritage and Culture as a base for future development of Omani heritage," said Swedish Project manager Gunnar Ohrnell.
More information and background here - 5,000 year old burial sites found in Oman

Dead Sea Was Almost Dried Up 120,000 years ago:


The Dead Sea, clearly labelled
The Dead Sea nearly disappeared about 120,000 years ago, say researchers who drilled more than 1,500 feet below one of the deepest parts of the politically contentious body of water.

The discovery looms large at a time when the Dead Sea is shrinking rapidly, Middle Eastern nations are battling over water rights, and experts hotly debate whether the salt lake could ever dry up completely in the years to come.

New data from drilled deposits are also helping piece together geological history that slices through Biblical times. Further research may offer opportunities to verify whether earthquakes destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah or if Joseph stockpiled grains in Egypt to weather a real famine.

"We see a lot of these different stories in the Bible about fat years and lean years," said Steven Goldstein, a geochemist at Columbia University in New York. "And we can see in the record that there were these intervals where it looks like it was a land of milk and honey, and there were intervals where there was no water, no rain and I'm sure, famine. Climate validates that there were these rhythms."
The new research started, not as an attempt to investigate Biblical events, but to understand the history of the Dead Sea, which has been drying up at dramatic rates in recent decades.
As a result of both evaporation and intensive human demands for water from inflowing rivers, the surface of the lake dropped 23 meters (75 feet) from 1930 to 2000, said Emi Ito, a geochemist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

And the lake's rate of shrinking seems to be accelerating. From 2000 to 2008, levels dropped 8 m (26 feet), with another 1.5 m (5 feet) lost in 2010 alone.

Even as the lake's salty shores recede, though, scientists have long debated whether it could ever totally dry up. Because the water is so salty and because salt and water molecules attract each other, many modeling studies have suggested that some amount of water will always remain there.

To see if history could help settle that debate and others, an international team of researchers drilled down about 460 m (more than 1,500 feet) into sediments of the Dead Sea in Israeli territory at a spot that was just slightly shallower than the lake's deepest point, which lay on the other side of the border in Jordan. The cores they pulled up stretched back 200,000 years.At a level corresponding with 120,000 years ago, during a warm period between ice ages, the researchers found a layer of small round pebbles sitting on top of 45 meters (nearly 150 feet) of thick salt deposits. Those pebbles, they announced this week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, look just like the rocks that normally appear on the lake's beaches -- suggesting that one of the deepest parts of the lake was once dry.

More Information here - A Dry Dead Sea Before Biblical Times

Enigmatic standing stele of Al-Rajajil 

Perhaps the equivalent of Stonehenge, this unusual structure is believed to be the oldest human monument in the whole Arabian Peninsula

In the Jawf province of Saudi Arabia, outside of Sakkaka lies this three metre high fingers of stone.

Etched with ancient Thamudic graffiti, these monuments to a long extinct culture have maintained their lonely vigil for six millennia. Many have fallen over and others lean at bizarre random angles.

Al-Rajajil (“the men”), the sandstone stele weighing up to five tons each, is popularly called Saudi Arabia’s Stonehenge. They are possibly the oldest human monuments on the peninsula.

Some time in the Chalcolithic, or Copper Age, people living in the area where Al-Jouf is today laboriously erected 54 groups of rudely trimmed stone pillars. Each group contains two to 19 pillars.

At ground level there is no immediately obvious placement of the groups. However, aerial images suggest a rough alignment to sunrise and sunset. There is no positive answer to the question why they are there. An archaeological dig over 30 years ago at the base of one set of pillars failed to turn up any bones or votive offerings, suggesting that religious motives were not the reason.

 Political or astronomical reasons are a possibility, though not proven. It is possible that is a landmark for a trade route.

Al-Jouf was a significant stopover point on the trade route from Yemen to Mesopotamia. One trade route, the oldest land route in recorded history, ran from Yemen and parallel to the Red Sea coast through Madinah, Al-‘Ula and Madaen Salih.  It turned northeast to Al-Jouf and then north toward Damascus and Turkey.

The Arabian Peninsula and Saudi Arabia in particular has hugely rich archaeological wealth. Much can be definitively written into history, but the standing stele of Al-Rajajil remains an enigma.

London was built with the Blood of British Slaves ?

Long has it been believed that the Romans founded London (then Londinium) in AD 50 as a centre of trade and business in its empire...or so we thought.
The skulls that were uncovered, belonged to the Iceni tribe

Recent evidence suggests the capital has a more chilling history, built as a military base by slaves who were then slaughtered. Hundreds of skulls discovered along the course of the "lost" river Walbrook suggest London may have been built by forced labour.

Dominic Perring, director of the Centre for Applied Archaeology at University College London, says the skulls could be those of Queen Boudica's rebel Iceni tribesmen who were brought to London to build a new military base.

In an essay published in this month's British Archaeology magazine, Mr Perring argues that some of the skulls had been de-fleshed, which suggests the slaves may have been executed after building work was finished.
 Mike Pitts, the editor of British Archaeology, said:
"At a time when we're all wondering and worrying about the future of the City of London it's interesting to reflect on its foundation, which seems to have been very bloody indeed.
"The team has been looking at the evidence accumulated from decades of new excavation, and they offer a more convincing, and chilling, alternative to what has long been believed."

Mr Perring added:
"The timbers were prepared using 'native' British woodworking techniques, unlike the Roman carpentry used everywhere else. Might this have been the work of forced labour? Several hundred late Iron Age or early Roman skulls, from a population that must have numbered in thousands, have been found in and around the Walbrook and were predominantly of young males. London's civic centre was ignored in the rebuilding, and no new temples or basilicas were erected. This suggests London lacked independent legal status and remained under direct military control.
"It was singled out for attention in the period after the revolt because of its military importance, as both the site of an earlier fort and the principal port that supplied the army. This was the commanding centre from which Roman power in Britain was exercised."
And that sums up this week's post. Come back next week!

Update: A worthy mention for any Romanophiles out there, The University of Arizona published a paper (its actually someone's thesis) on Private Armies and Personal Power in the Late Roman Empire (written by Ryan H. Wilkonson

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Why was King John the most unpopular monarch in English History ?

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