Monday 23 January 2012

The Great Hedge of.... India ?

I assure you, this isn't a gag. The British built it as a Customs barrier across India (then called the British Raj) to help enforce the infamous 'Salt tax' (You might remember Gandhi's famous Salt March ?). Construction was believed to have started in or around 1803 (though as Custom houses, instead of a hedge!)

Surprising that it was widely forgotten!
A colleague of mine online shared this (thanks Imperial !).

The hedge was made primarily of Indian plums , was 12 feet high, 14 feet thick and stretched for a good 2,500 miles! It was primarily used to prevent smugglers from smuggling salt from the coastal areas to interior India and beyond (in order to keep the Salt Tax alive). It actually worked for about a century or so, remaining as a barrier from Punjab to the Bay of Bengal.

Though I don't have enough time to post any more right now, I direct you to the Wikipedia page if you're intrigued.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Guest Post: A Brief History of Australia

Announcing my first guest poster on my blog, @Mariamauva , a colleague and fellow tweep (who also has her very own blog!) , who wrote this post about the history of Australia (yup, she's an Aussie-o-phile !) This is it :

Australia, officially known as the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere, which takes up the majority of the continent Oceania. It was originally inhabited by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, who were thought to have arrived from Asia to Australia during the Ice Age, at around 70,000 BC.

They hunted with wooden spears, and occasionally with stone and bone blades. Alongside to mammals, they hunted snakes, lizards, ducks, parrots, cockatoos and emus. They spoke more than a hundred languages and dialects, and their lifestyle and cultural traditions varied from region to region. Asian and Oceanic mariners were in contact with the indigenous Australians, centuries before the Europeans did.
The flag of the Aborigines

The first recorded European contact was in March 1606 by the Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon (1571-1638). Later that year, the Spanish explorer Luis Vaez de Torres sailed through the region between Australia and Papua New Guinea. Over the next two centuries, explorers and traders sailed across the coastline of the then known "New Holland".

In 1688, William Dampier became the first British explorer to land on the Northwestern coast. However, in 1770, another Englishman, Captain James Cook (1728-1779) further charted the East coast of Australia in a scientific voyage abroad the Endeavour and claimed it for the British Crown.

Britain then decided to use its new lands as a penal colony. The first fleet of 11 ships carried around 1,500 people (half of whom were convicted criminals). The fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour, Port Jackson on 26th January 1788, which is also called Australia Day , celebrated annually (so keep an eye out for it in the upcoming days!).

Penal transportation only came to an end in 1868. Free immigrants started settling in the early 1790s, which is mainly because of the gold rushes and the growth of the wool industry. It was also because of the scarcity of labour, vastness of land and recent wealth based on farming, mining and trade, that made Australia into a land of oppurtunity.

Yet things did not go smoothly at the beginning of the 19th century.

In March 1804, some Irish convicts led by Philip Cunningham took part in a rebellion at Castle Hill. On the 4th of March, they captured a convict station at Parramatte. The next day, they fought against the government soldiers but the rebellion quickly collapsed and the ringleaders (including Cunningham) were hanged.
The Australian Gold Rush !

In 1834, John Batman decided that Melbourne was a good site for making a settlement. The following year, he made a treaty with the Aborigines in which he gave them trade goods for land. The treaty was recognized by the british government, but was disregarded. Nevertheless, Melbourne was laid out in a grid pattern and constructed.

The Aborigines despised the arrival of the Europeans because they drove them off their land. One of the leaders of the indigenous resistance was Pemulwuy, who fought against the British from 1790 to 1802 when he was eventually shot dead.

The spread of European diseases such as Smallpox, influenza and measles devastated the indigenous populations as they had no resistance to the diseases. The intermittent 'warfare' between them continued for several more decades.

Australia was considered to have been officially created in 1901, as a Commonwealth. This was a federation of six states under a singe constitution, with the aim of making Australia a harmonious place, with democratic procedures and the value of the 'secret ballot'.

At the time, the non-indigenous population was 3.8 million and the Aborigines were estimated too have been around 93,000. Three-quarters of the population born in Australia were of English, Scottish or Irish descent. One of the first acts of Parliament was to pass the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, with a particular focus on people with European origins. This withered away after World War II and Australia (in the present day) is now the home of people from over 200 countries.

A recruitment poster for the ANZACs
Even though the male population of Australia was less than 3 million, over 400,000 volunteered to fight for Australia in the first World War. The ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) were sent to Gallipoli (in present-day Turkey, then Ottoman Empire) but were unsuccessful in dislodging the Turks.

It was a failure. They withdrew in 1915, suffering over 8,000 casualties (immortalizing the spirit of the ANZACs).

The period between the two world wars was generally regarded as unstable. Social and economic divisions were widened due to the Great Depression. In 1932, the percentage of unemployment was 29% but it eventually fell to 10% by the late 1930s.

During World War 2, Australia made a significant contribution to the Allied side. The ANZACs were deployed to South Africa. Furthermore, Australia herself was in danger when the Empire of Japan entered the war.

In February 1942, air raids were directed at Darwin (Northern Australia); but on September 1942, the Australian Army was deployed to New Guinea where they pushed back the Japanese forces. Generally, the generation that fought and survived in the war, came back with a sense of pride in Australia's capabilities.

The Island of Mer.
The boom period of Australia was after 1945, when hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants arrived in the post war era. The economy further developed in the 1950s with the introduction of hydroelectric power stations- (the Snowy Mountain Scheme).

The rate of home ownership rose dramatically from 40% in the 40s and to70% in the 59s! Expansion of government social security programs occurred and in 1956, Melbourne hosted Australia's first Olympic games (Sydney hosted the second one in 2000 !)

The Vietnam War in 1965, attributed to an atmosphere of political, economic and social change. Australia had sent troops to Vietnam in the 70s. In 1971, Neville Bonner became the first Aboriginal to become an MP (Member of Parliament), though the turning point of Australian History was in 1992, the Mabo Judgement.

It came upon as indigenous people claimed that the island of Mer belonged to them and not to the crown, the court finally overtuned the idea that Australia was "empty" when the Europeans arrived, and in 1998 the government was forced to ammend the 1993 Native Title Act. As a symbol of reconciliation between the different people of Australia, over 250,000 people walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 28th of May, 2000.

Today, Australia is a rich country (it stands 13th in economy charts!) with a population of 22 million, 500,000 of which are Aborigines.

Friday 20 January 2012

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

The title of this post is self-explanatory. And here's why John (reigned from 1199-1216) was so unpopular:

  • Under his reign, the English lost the land of Normandy to the French (Normandy had been under English control since the time of William the Conqueror). In fact, he was nicknamed "Lackland" because of this.
King John, why do you think there was only one King John?

  • He was excommunicated from the Church by the Pope in 1209 (this made him even more unpopular)

  • His fiscal policies: He made people pay very high taxes 

  • John was a very bad fighter (he was nicknamed "Softsword" too!), and in those times, a bad warrior made a bad king.

  • John murdered his own nephew for fear of him leading a rebellion against John.

  • The barons (who were Normans) revolted against him because of the above reasons, and after deciding that he was a bad king (especially after realizing how he spent tax money).

  • Perhaps the most significant of all his failures (and the most humourous), he lost the original Crown Jewels in a swamp, in Eastern England.
But, if there's something he did do usefully, he did make positive reforms in the English system of Law as well as signing the Magna Carta (even though he was forced to!), a precursor to the present-day British Constitution.

Friday 13 January 2012

Freshen Up With Archaeology Friday (Post IV)

As always, the realm of archaeology has been bustling this past week and here's the lowdown:

 Archaeologists Uncovering the Heart of Ancient Aelia Capitolina:

Recent excavations by a team of archaeologists just west of Jerusalem's famous Western Wall and Plaza are illuminating scholars while raising new questions about 2nd Century AD Jerusalem.

Under the directorship of Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, Alexander Onn, Shua Kisilevitz and Brigitte Ouahnouna of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the systematic excavations were conducted between 2005 and 2010 and revealed a major Roman-constructed thoroughfare that sliced through the heart of 2nd century Jerusalem, the period that followed the downfall of the First Jewish Revolt and saw the transformation of the city into a newly Romanized city, renamed Aelia Capitolina.

A detailed article about their discoveries has been published in an article entitled Layers of Ancient Jerusalem in the January/February 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. This article relates the results thus far of excavations that progressed as far down as the underlying 8th century B.C.E. quarry used by stone cutters to produce the well-known limestone building blocks used to construct much of ancient Jerusalem's monumental structures.

A model of a typical Israelite house during the First Temple period

Just above that quarry, the archaeologists also found part of what has been interpreted as a large "four-room" house laid out in a style typical of Israelite house structures of the First Temple period, featuring three long, parallel rooms and a larger room extending perpendicularly across the ends of the other three (see model example pictured right).

Within the structure was found several personal seals (small round or elliptical incised pieces of clay used, for example, to sign and seal ancient correspondence) bearing Hebrew names.

Within its dirt fill were hundreds of pottery shards and fragments of clay zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figurines, all dated to the latter part of the First Temple period, between the 8th and 6th centuries B.C.E. The archaeologists suggest the likelihood that the structure was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., along with the rest of the city, but lack of evidence of any fire normally associated with the Babylonian destruction raises other possibilities, such as an earthquake.

In any case, the team suggests that the structure represents a house that was inhabited by members of Judah’s social elite, as evidenced by the seals, and that other material found within the house indicate a possible cultural connection to Assyria.

If you are interested in the topic, you can read more here.

Mystery of Pompeii's Trashy Tombs Explained:

The tombs of Pompeii, the Roman city buried by a volcanic eruption in A.D. 79, had a litter problem. Animal bones, charcoal, broken pottery and architectural material, such as bricks, were found piled inside and outside the tombs where the city's dead were laid to rest 

To explain the presence of so much garbage alongside the dead, archaeologists have theorized that 15 years before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, an earthquake left Pompeii in disrepair.

However, this theory is unlikely, according to an archaeologist who says the citizens of Pompeii may have just been messy, at least by modern, Western standards.
"We tend to assume things like that are universal, but attitudes toward sanitation are very culturally defined, and it looks like in Pompeii attitudes were very different than ours," said Allison Emmerson, a graduate student studying Roman archaeology in the classics department of the University of Cincinnati.
Composite photo, showing why tombs were filthy(Photo from Porta Stabia
Archaeological evidence from the last 15 years indicates that the city likely did not fall into ruin after the earthquake in A.D. 62; rather than flee, citizens appear to have rebuilt, reconstructing public spaces and elite houses.

When the eruption buried the city, new tombs were still being built and the city appeared prosperous, according to Emmerson.

"It just didn’t make sense that trash would mean the tombs weren't being used," she said.   
In fact, the tombs weren't unique; excavators have found the same sort of household garbage in the city streets, along the walls of the city, even on the floors of homes.

When Emmerson excavated a room in a house that appears to have also served as a restaurant, she found a cistern for storing water between two garbage pits packed with broken pottery and food waste, such as animal bones, grape seeds and olive pits.

No evidence has been found for a system for handling garbage or for dedicated dumps.
"The closest thing that has been found is a giant heap of garbage outside the city walls," she said.
The residents of Pompeii also appear not to have shared our conventions on burial. As Romans, they were primarily concerned with being remembered after death, so they sought tombs in high-traffic areas. Since Roman law and custom forbid cemeteries inside the city, the tombs ringed the city walls, and clustered at its gates.

The walls of the tombs also served as the billboards of the day, bearing official graffiti announcing gladiator fights, and political advertisements for candidates for office in red paint. Other graffiti was of the "bathroom" variety, Emmerson said. These included more obscene versions of "I had a girl here," and messages back and forth scratched into the plaster of the tombs.

Emmerson is scheduled to present her work, which examines how Pompeii's tombs reflect the culture at the time, on Saturday (Jan. 7) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Philadelphia.

Ancient Capital of Cambodia Wilted When Water Ran Low:

Angkor, the ancient city in Cambodia that was the seat of the Khmer empire, flourished from the 9th to the 15th century. Today, tourists still appreciate the remnants of its architecture and sophisticated hydro-engineering systems, composed of canals, moats and large reservoirs known as barays. 

Researchers now studying sediments from one of the reservoirs report that prolonged droughts and overuse of the soil may have interfered with Angkor’s water management system and led to the empire’s decline.

“When Angkor collapsed, there was a drop in water levels,” said Mary Beth Day, an earth scientist at the University of Cambridge in England. “And much less sediment was delivered to the baray at the time.”
Angkor’s population may have been growing, and the soil may have been stressed from aggressive use, she said. 
“The sediment being delivered to the reservoir during Angkor times was more weathered than the sediment being delivered post-collapse,” she said. “The land was used fairly aggressively for agriculture, as opposed to when people left.” 
Ms. Day sampled six and a half feet of sediment core from Angkor that allowed her to study its physical properties, like the abundance of various elements and the ratio of sand to finer-grained materials.
She and her colleagues published their research in the current issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Yarrow is King Arthur’s final resting place – archaeologis:

The Yarrow Stone marks the grave of King Arthur, a literary archaeologist claimed this week!

The alleged grave of the semi-legendary King Arthur

Damian Bullen said there was a consensus among academics that the Liberalis Stone (another name for the Yarrow Stone) was the burial ground of two Christian princes who reigned in the fifth and sixth centuries AD – and one of those, he believes, was King Arthur.

Mr Bullen, 35, of Edinburgh, said: “When we strip away the mediaeval romancing of our legendary king, we are left with genuine nuggets of historicity. One of them is the stone at Yarrow which I am convinced is his grave marker.”

The famous monarch is reputed to have died with his nephew, Mordred (Medrawt), in a crooked glen, which Mr Bullen said matches the river bends in the Yarrow Valley near the Liberalis Stone.
Ploughing in the area 300 years ago revealed a large flat stone inscribed in Latin, saying it was a memorial to “the most famous princes Nudus and Dumnogenus. In this tomb lie the two sons of Liberalis”.
Mr Bullen went on: “At first glance it seems that Prince Nudus and Prince Dumnogenus were the sons of King Liberalis, but there is more to these names than meets the eye.
“Calling our two princes ‘sons of Liberalis’ would be a poetic way of saying that they were very noble princes (and) in the context of a burial chamber, the word Nudus (which implies loss of one’s material possessions) is surely used as a deterrent to would-be grave robbers.” 
He suggests Dumnogenus, instead of being a prince, means ‘born of the Dumno’, which he takes as referring to the Dumnonii tribe of ancient Britons in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset.

“This knowledge renders the inscription as,Here lie two famous and very noble princes of Dumnonia, buried without possessions’. Of all the princes of antiquity who have heralded from this region, there is one who stands head and shoulders above all the rest – King Arthur. That he died with a family member – Mordred – fits the inscription on the Yarrow Stone completely.”
He claimed the monks of Glastonbury, where some believe Arthur to be buried, made the story up to raise money.

Mr Bullen notes there are battlefield burials in the area and he suspects Arthur’s corpse was the well-preserved skeleton found on Whitehope Farm in the mid-19th century, but which was gradually lost to curio-seekers.

And from letters dating back to the period, the literary archaeologist also thinks King Arthur’s skull may be in the vaults of a local museum.
Asked to comment on Mr Bullen’s hypothesis, Selkirk historian Walter Elliot said: “Mr Bullen has certainly researched the Yarrow Stone and the various stories about Arthur very well. Whether the two can be joined together is a matter of question.
“Arthur, if he existed, was never a king, but the war leader of the Christian Welsh speakers against the pagan Anglo-Saxons, and the Yarrow Stone is on the linguistic division between the two languages. So far, so good. Arthur is claimed as a local hero from Orkney to the Continent and his graves are many. This is a tricky subject."

Slaves or not, Babylonians were like us, says book:


One of the tablets used in the book.
They got married, had children, made beer. Although they lived 3,500 years ago in Nippur, Babylonia, in many ways they seem like us. Whether they were also slaves is a hotly contested question which Jonathan Tenney, assistant professor of ancient Near Eastern studies, addresses in the newly released "Life at the Bottom of Babylonian Society: Servile Laborers at Nippur in the 14th and 13th Centuries, B.C." (Brill).

The book is based on Tenney's dissertation at the University of Chicago, for which he received the 2010 Dissertation of the Year Award by the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq.
Some previous scholars identified the 8,000-strong group of government workers as temple employees. "But the problem is the records included food for little babies, which didn't make much sense," says Tenney, who joined the Cornell faculty this past fall. "And sometimes the workers ran away, and when they were captured they were put in prison."

Tenney translated more than 500 in his hunt for the truth about these weavers, musicians, "water sprinklers" and others in service to the governors of Nippur. By using quantitative measurements to create , he was able to look at , family structure and the legal status of this population. He then compared the Babylonian group's demography with other better-studied groups, such as those in Roman Egypt, medieval Tuscany and on American slave plantations.

"Whether they're slaves is not what's valuable to me about this work," Tenney says. "The point is we don't have an historical demography of Babylonia at all. We don't even know how many people were living there at any given time." His book is the most detailed study yet done of any population group in Babylonia.

The picture Tenney draws of family life in this servile population is surprising in its mundanity. By far the majority of households were nuclear, husband-wife-children or a with children, usually a widow, instead of slaves living together or in groups. Tenney was able to track some families for as long as 32 years.

"As you start to work with slavery you realize how many misconceptions we have," he says. "Being a slave doesn't necessarily mean you can't have a family life and raise children and develop your own individual culture and identity. I think that slavery and freedom exist on a continuum of varying degrees."  He left it to his readers to decide where the Babylonians about whom he wrote fit on that continuum.

The tablets Tenney translated were excavated by scholars from the University of Pennsylvania in the 1890s in what is now Iraq; they are some of the earliest Babylonian texts ever found. Tenney will publish the raw data from his research in the forthcoming "Middle Babylonian Administrative and Legal Documents Concerning the Public Servile of Nippur."

Video of a Roman helmet's 'astounding' Restoration:

Roman helmet's 'astounding' restoration

The helmet, after its restoration (from the Telegraph)
A Roman helmet which was buried in a Leicestershire field for around 2,000 years has been displayed at the British Museum.

It was in hundreds of pieces when it was found in Market Harborough, in 2000, and has since been put back together.

Ken Wallace said when he discovered the helmet the metal fragments looked like "crushed cornflakes".

Mr Wallace added that he was amazed by its restoration by experts at the British Museum.

The helmet will go on show in the Harborough Museum on 28 January.

Claim of Maya ruins in Georgia sparks controversy:

A claim that the Mayans left stone ruins in the mountains of North Georgia has sparked a controversy. The claim was made by Richard Thornton, an architect, who says he has been studying the history of the native people of southeastern United States.
The now-controversial Mayan Ruins in Georgia

According to Thornton, in an article on, architects have long recognized that there are significant similarities between the architectural forms and town plans of Maya civilization in Mexico and ruins of southeastern United States.

Thornton writes that archeologists do not link the ruins in southeastern United States with Mayans of Mexico because of their "unfamiliarity with the descendants of the Southeastern mound-builders, tribes such as the Creeks, Alabamas, Natchez, Chitimachas and Choctaws."
Thornton claims there is a link between the ancient Mayans and the indigenous people of Georgia. He argues that the languages "of the Creek Indians contain many Mesoamerican words." Thornton's thesis is that when the Maya civilization declined in Central America, at least part of the population migrated to Georgia in southeastern U.S.A. He writes on
"Historians, architects and archaeologists have speculated for 170 years what happened to the Maya people. Within a few decades, the population of the region declined by about 15 million. Archaeologists could not find any region of Mexico or Central America that evidenced a significant immigration of Mayas during this period, except in Tamaulipas, which is a Mexican state that borders Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. However, Maya influence there, seemed to be limited to a few coastal trading centers. Where did the Maya refugees go? By the early 21st century, archaeologists had concluded that they didn’t go anywhere. They had died en masse."
Thornton claims that the conclusion by archaeologists that the Mayans "didn’t go anywhere, they died en masse," is wrong. He claims that a 1,100-year-old archeological site near Georgia's highest mountain Brasstown Bald, is the fabled Mayan city of Yupaha the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, searched for unsuccessfully in 1540. He writes:
"The name of Brasstown Bald Mountain is itself, strong evidence of a Maya presence. A Cherokee village near the mountain was named Itsa-ye, when Protestant missionaries arrived in the 1820s. The missionaries mistranslated 'Itsaye' to mean 'brass.' They added 'town' and soon the village was known as Brasstown. Itsa-ye, when translated into English, means 'Place of the Itza (Maya).'”
Thornton cited the work of an archeologist Mark Williams, of the University of Georgia. The archeologist reacted to the article and posted a comment on the article page on
"I am the archaeologist Mark Williams mentioned in this article. This is total and complete bunk. There is no evidence of Maya in Georgia. Move along now."
But Mayan history and archeology enthusiasts who had taken interest in Thornton's claim, apparently in connection with the Mayan 2012 apocalyptic prophecies, took exception to Williams ticking off Thornton.
In the comments section of the article, someone criticized Williams, saying: "Your response to this article is completely pompous and arrogant. Is the whole article 'bunk' or just the part that mentions you being 'a highly respected specialist in Southeastern archaeology'? If is incorrect in their findings and research, then please, by all means, enlighten the rest of us."
Another accused Williams of disrespecting "the Public at large." Yet another person wrote that he would "urge the state of Georgia to cut off funding for Williams' academic department at the University." 

Thornton says he is surprised at the reaction to Williams' comment. But he claims that he was able to connect Mayan civilization to Georgia mostly from evidence of oral history. Thornton argues there are place names in Georgia and North Carolina that sound Mayan and the stone ruins near Brasstown Bald have structures similar to those found in Central American Mayan sites. 

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Explain To Me : Ireland's 20th Century History

A country I find intriguing is Ireland. For some reason, it reminds distinctively of Bahrain (perhaps my readers could point out why ?) so I had thought it would be fair to post an essay about Ireland in the 20th Century.

Ireland's British problem (or Britain's Irish problem) has been a dominant theme of United Kingdom politics between 1914-1922 and since 1969 (refer to The Troubles). In September 1914, a political solution to British-Irish relations seemed to have been made.

A Home Rule Act, granting limited self government, was passed by the Westminster Parliament but was suspended for the duration of the First World War. However, by 1922, Ireland was partitioned between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State.
The Easter Rising,of which Eamon de Valera was a leader in.(Image not mine)

The latter was a state within the British Empire with internal self-government. These political developments occurred mainly because of the effects of a failed armed rebellion (known as the Easter Rising) against British rule made by extreme Nationalists in Dublin in 1916,

From the founding of the Irish Free State to the creation of the Republic of Ireland in 1949, some Irish politicians attempted gradually to weaken the links with the British Empire. The most notable (and perhaps controversial) was Eamon de Valera.

From 1932 to 1937, he severed many of these links. In 1937, he introduced a new constitution that created an independent republic "in all but name". In addition, he laid claim to Northern Ireland as part of a united Ireland. In 1949, Ireland became a fully independent sate outside the Commonwealth.

Northern Ireland did receive Home Rule. From 1921 to 1972, it was dominated by the Ulster Unionist party (Ulster being the traditional name for the region that comprised of Northern Ireland). This party was predominantly Protestant and discriminated heavily against Catholics, who were seen as Nationalists who wanted a united Ireland.

By 1968, Catholic civil rights (coinciding with the American Civil Rights era) had become a major issue in Northern Ireland politics. It sparked off a Protestant unionist reaction that led to major sectarian violence in 1969.
A textbook scene of The Troubles. Bombings were common occurrences.

The British government first sent troops to Northern Ireland in 1969 in an attempt to maintain law and order. In 1972, the British government suspended the Northern Ireland Parliament and ruled the area directly from London.

From 1969 to 1998, Northern Ireland was badly affected by political violence. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Loyalist paramilitary groups engaged in guerrilla warfare and sectarian murder. Successive British governments, both of the Labour and Conservative parties, have attempted to find a political solution.

Attempts to involve both Nationalists and Unionists in government failed. In 1985, a new attempt was made with the Anglo-Irish (Hillsborough) Agreement (actual document here), signed under the Thatcher era, which involved co-operation between the British and Irish governments.

By the 1990s, attempts to solve the conflict in Northern Ireland involved a fusion of previous attempts at a political solution: co-operation in government between political parties within Northern Ireland and co-operation between Britain and Ireland.

Whether a permanent political solution is to be found, will depend on an end to political violence and the disarming of armed paramilitary groups.

Friday 6 January 2012

Freshen Up With Archaeology Friday (Post III)

Lots have been going on in the past week so let's get down to it.

Orcadian temple predates Stonehenge by 500 Years:

Archaeologists have discovered a Stone age temple on the island of Orkney (to the north of Britain) that seems to predate the legendary Stonehenge!

A computer model of the site (from the BBC)
Archeologists have so far found undisturbed artefacts including wall decorations, pigments and paint pots, which are already increasing their understanding of the Neolithic people.

Experts believe the huge outer wall suggests the site was not domestic, while the layout of the buildings has reinforced the view it might have been a major religious site. Archaeologists think the temple was built 500 years before Stonehenge, regarded as the centre of Stone Age Britain.

However, only 10% of the site at Ness of Brodgar has been excavated and it could be years before the scale and age of the discovery is fully understood.
 It sits close to the existing Ring of Brodgar stone circles and the standing stones of Stenness, near to the town of Stromness.

The uncovered wall around the edges of the site was built with 10,000 tonnes of quarried rock and may have been up to 10 ft high.
Thermal technology also indicates the site could cover the same area as five football pitches, with some parts potentially older than Stonehenge, in south-west England, by as much as 800 years.

Charcoal samples from beneath the wall indicate it was built around 3200 BC. A 30mm high figurine with a head, body and two eyes, and called the "Brodgar Boy", was also unearthed in the rubble of one of the structures.

About 18 months ago, a remarkable rock coloured red, orange and yellow was unearthed. This is the first discovery in Britain of evidence that Neolithic peoples used paint to decorate their buildings.

Project manager Nick Card said the discoveries are unparalleled in British prehistory and that the complexity of finds is changing the "whole vision of what the landscape was 5000 years ago." He said it was of "a scale that almost relates to the classical period in the Mediterranean with walled enclosure and precincts".
Mr Card added: "It's a huge discovery; in terms of scale and complexity there really is nothing else quite like it.

Archaeologists Excavate Legendary City of Dan:

According to the Biblical account, ancient Israel established one of its great temples in the city of Dan. And here, late Neolithic people first settled as early as 4500 B.C.E., and Bronze Age inhabitants constructed the world’s oldest known gated archway.

Known today as Tell el-Qadi, more popularly as "Tel Dan", the site is located near Mount Hermon in Northern Israel adjacent to one of the sources of the Jordan River. The 'Tel', or mound, was defined very early on during the Middle Bronze period when massive defensive ramparts were constructed, encircling the city.
One of the iconic ramparts (now ruined) of Dan

Although the ramparts rise about 20 meters from the surrounding surface area, the interior of the site is actually as much as 10 meters lower than the tops of the ramparts. It was first identified based on historical records as the city of Laish, a town allied with the Phoenician Sidonians and later renamed "Dan" after the early Isrealite tribe of Dan, which conquered and settled it as documented in the Book of Judges.

Thanks to a bilingual Greek and Aramaic inscription found at the site in 1976, this city name has been confirmed. Translated, that inscription reads, “To the God who is in Dan, Zoilos made a vow.”

Ancient Egyptian texts and cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia document Dan’s significance during the second millennium B.C.E.  Later, during the Iron Age, Aramaeans, Israelites, and Assyrians fought over this city. Dan was a recognized cultic center even into the Greco-Roman period.

Although the site was first identified by Edward Robinson in 1838, the best known excavations of the site began in 1966 under the late Israeli archaeologist Avraham Biran, and it was under his direction that the most spectacular discoveries were made. His team of excavators uncovered a mud-brick city gate (pictured right) dated to around 1750 BCE (the Middle Bronze period), the time of the Biblical patriarchs.

It is popularly known as Abraham's gate because, according to the Biblical account, Abraham journeyed to Dan to rescue his nephew Lot. They also uncovered an Israelite temple, thought by Biblical scholars to be the temple built by Jeroboam, King of Israel after the United Monarchy split into Israel in the north and Judah to the south.

It was this temple where, according to the Bible, he housed the golden calf and challenged the temple in Jerusalem as a religious center of Israel. Additionally, an elaborate Israelite gate was discovered, consisting of an upper gate and a lower gate, each featuring inner and outer gates and plazas.

Arguably the most sensational find, however, was the discovery of parts of a basalt stone stele bearing an inscription containing a declaration by a king of Damascus (possibly Hazael, c. 840 BCE, or Ben-Hadad, c. 802 BCE). Translated, it proclaims his military victory and destruction of at least some parts of the Kingdom of Israel, and the killing of two kings of Israel.

Notably, it contains the phrase "House of David" ["......and I killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin]g of the House of David"], a phrase rarely, if at all, seen in any extra-biblical context. Today, many Levantine archaeologists and scholars agree that it refers to a royal dynasty of David and that the Tel Dan Stele therefore represents tangible evidence that there was indeed a "kingdom", or royal dynasty, of David.

For more pictures and information, they are available here

Greatest Mystery of Incans was their Strange Economy:

I'd like to keep this part short. This is an extract from this article (Greatest Mystery of the Incans), follow the link for more information if you'd like.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Inca Empire was the largest South America had ever known. Centered in Peru, it stretched across the Andes' mountain tops and down to the shoreline, incorporating lands from today's Colombia, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Peru - all connected by a vast highway system whose complexity rivaled any in the Old World. Rich in foodstuffs, textiles, gold, and coca, the Inca were masters of city building but nevertheless had no money.

In fact, they had no marketplaces at all.

The Inca Empire may be the only advanced civilization in history to have no class of traders, and no commerce of any kind within its boundaries. How did they do it?

Many aspects of Incan life remain mysterious, in part because our accounts of Incan life come from the Spanish invaders who effectively wiped them out. Famously, the conquistador Francisco Pizzaro led just a few men in an incredible defeat of the Incan army in Peru in 1532. But the real blow came roughly a decade before that, when European invaders unwittingly unleashed a smallpox epidemic that some epidemiologists believe may have killed as many as 90 percent of the Incan people.

Our knowledge of these events, and our understanding of Incan culture of that era, come from just a few observers - mostly Spanish missionaries, and one mestizo priest and Inca historian named Blas Valera, who was born in Peru two decades after the fall of the Inca Empire.

Scientists say Shroud of Turin was created by ultraviolet lasers!

Perhaps the jaw-dropper headline of the Archaeology world, certainly no one was prepared to hear this!
The shroud of Turin (positive and negative comparison)

The exact origins of the Turin Shroud remain a great mystery, but scientists are now disputing the long-held belief that the religious artifact is a medieval forgery.

Italian researchers at the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development say they believe the image was created by an ultraviolet "flash of light." However, if that theory is true, it remains a mystery as to exactly how that technology could have been implemented at the time of the Shroud's creation. While the technology is readily available in present day, it was far beyond the means of anyone around pre-20th Century.

The Turin Shroud is said to be the burial cloth of Jesus, but has long been believed to be a fake, created during medieval times. It is currently kept in a climate-controlled case in Turin cathedral. Scientists at the Italian agency have reportedly spent years attempting to recreate the Shroud's imagery.
'The results show a short and intense burst of UV directional radiation can colour a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin,' the scientists said.

"When one talks about a flash of light being able to color a piece of linen in the same way as the shroud, discussion inevitably touches on things such as miracles," said Professor Paolo Di Lazzaro, who led the study. "But as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes. We hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate."

Believers in the Shroud say it contains the image of a man with nail wounds to the wrist and feet. Still, skeptics of the Shroud's authenticity are unlikely to be swayed. There has been substantial evidence working against it, including a 1988 radiocarbon test conducted at the University of Oxford, which dated the cloth to a time between 1260 and 1390.

Infamous 'Yeti Finger' is a Fraud:

A finger long claimed to be from a yeti, once revered in a monastery in Nepal and taken in the 1950s by a Bigfoot researcher, has been identified after decades of mystery. Turns out, it's just a regular old human finger — albeit one with a very interesting history.
The Mysterious Finger (photo from the Daily Mail)

The yeti is said to be a muscular beast weighing between 200 and 400 pounds and covered with dark grayish or reddish-brown hair. As in the case of its North American counterpart, Bigfoot, most of the evidence of its existence comes from fuzzy sightings, oversize footprints in the snow, or the occasional strand of funny-looking hair.

But there has been one interesting piece of physical evidence of the yeti: a finger that was either bought or stolen from the Pangboche Buddhist monasteryin the 1950s, depending on which disputed story you believe. It has been in London, among the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons, for more than half a century.

The finger was taken from the monastery by Bigfoot researcher Peter Byrne and was smuggled out of the country, so the story goes, by beloved Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart, who hid it amid his wife's lingerie. The monstrous finger ended up in the possession of Dr. William Osman Hill, who had searched for the yeti in the 1950s on behalf of Texas millionaire Tom Slick; Hill later bequeathed the finger to the Royal College of Surgeons.

The finger has generated controversy among Bigfoot and yeti believers for decades and, until relatively recently, when researchers at the Edinburgh Zoo performed DNA analysis on the mysterious digit, it was impossible to know for certain what kind of animal it belonged to. [Mythical Beasts That Might Actually Exist]

If it is indeed a Yeti finger, then the mysterious beast is even more man-like than anyone imagined. According to the researchers' DNA analysis, the Yeti finger is human, perhaps from the corpse of a monk. But definitely human.
Rob Ogden of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland explained to BBC News: "We had to stitch it together. We had several fragments that we put into one big sequence, and then we matched that against the database and we found human DNA." The researchers said that the result “wasn’t too surprising, but obviously slightly disappointing.”

It is not the first yeti claim to be debunked by science. In 1960 Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to scale Mount Everest, searched for evidence of the beast and found a "scalp" that scientists later determined had been fashioned from the skin of a serow, a Himalayan animal similar to a goat.

Earlier this year a team of researchers in Russia claimed to have found "indisputable proof" of the yeti, though so far the evidence has fallen far short of the claims. If populations of yetis really exist, they, like Bigfoot, have somehow managed to avoid leaving any physical traces of their presence: bodies, bones, teeth, hair, or anything else.

NATO: Libyan Heritage Sites survive because of "No Strike" list:

Earlier this week (actually, two days ago), NATO released a report about its operations in Libya with regards to the UNESCO heritage sites, claiming that the sites were relatively unscathed from the Libyan Civil War,due to a strict 'No Strike' list adopted by the military alliance.

The report says:
During the conflict in Libya there were allegations that pro-Qadhafi troops and missiles were being hidden in the ancient city of Leptis Magna and that Qadhafi was using it as an archaeological shield.
With such explosive storage, the risk of damage was great, but the sites of Leptis Magna and Sabratha have survived the conflict unscathed. That is excellent news for the cultural heritage of Libya and the tourism industry that the nation hopes to resurrect.
Conflict is not the only threat to ancient artefacts. There is also the risk that a breakdown in law and order can give criminals the opportunity to steal items of great significance. In perhaps the worst case of looting during the conflict, nearly eight thousand ancient gold, silver and bronze coins, as well as a small number of artefacts, were stolen from a Benghazi bank vault.
In some areas documentation, archiving and cataloguing was never carried out, making it difficult to estimate the loss to Libya’s cultural heritage. But, by and large, Libya seems to have avoided the kind of cultural looting and vandalism that occurred after the invasion of Iraq.
In a first of its kind initiative, two men were instrumental in setting up a ‘No Strike List’ of heritage and cultural sites that should be preserved in the conduct of air operations. They were Karl Von Habsburg, President of the ‘Blue Shield Committee’ in Austria and Dr Joris Kila, teacher at the University of Amsterdam and Chairman of ‘The International Military Cultural Resources Work Group’.
They have now returned to make an assessment of the damage inflicted by the conflict on Libya’s heritage. “We both know the importance to be fast and in a place where there is a potential conflict or an actual conflict,” says Karl, “you have to be there really fast to make an assessment and to see what you can do to immediately help.”
The two have been granted special access to sites that several months earlier had been welded shut for protection, a practice both experts agree is critical to protect heritage in times of unrest. While it works for museums, protecting sites like Leptis Magna and Cyrene in wide-open spaces is a lot more difficult.
The work they are undertaking fills the gap in the protection of heritage sites until the Libyan Government is able to take over. “We hope that we will encourage them to take over part of our duties,” says Joris, “and do the work that has to be done.
Some of the sites they visited had been in close proximity to air strikes and escaped with only cosmetic damage. “It seem like our no strike list with cultural sites was very effective,” Joris notes, “because we didn’t find serious damage with bombardments by NATO on cultural sites.”
Libyan archaeologists and historians can now breathe a sigh of relief that their heritage is still safe and secure.

2,000-year-old relief bust found in Stratonikeia, Turkey:

A picture of the bust (Photo from AA)

A 2,000-year-old relief bust of a king was discovered during excavations in ancient Stratonikeia in Muğla's Yatağan district.
Dr. Bilal Söğüt, a professor of archeology at Pamukkale University and head of the excavations, told the Anatolia news agency that they found a street in the ancient city which began with a gate and was lined with columns. During their excavations, they also discovered the bust of a king dating back to the Hellenistic period. The bust, which is one-and-a-half meters tall and nearly two meters wide, features depictions of bull heads and the figure of a goddess, Söğüt said.

The depictions of bull heads on the bust represent wealth and power. It was in this region that we previously found a racing chariot. The discovery of 1,500-year-old mosaics here was another welcome breakthrough for us,” he said.

According to Söğüt, the city walls constitute an important part of the excavation work carried out in the ancient city. “The city walls were restored approximately 2,400 years ago by King Mausolus. We have begun excavating these 2,400-year-old walls of this ancient city. Upon the completion of the excavations, we will start work on restoring the area,” he said.

Söğüt said he thinks the walls surrounding the ancient city are nearly 3,600 meters long.

“We discovered that one 400-meter section of wall has been preserved to this day. After completing restoration, we will open the wall to visitors," Söğüt said.

A 100-person team of academics, field workers and students discovered 460 artifacts in the ancient city in the seven-month-long excavations that took place last year, according to Söğüt. The artifacts were delivered to the Muğla Museum. The pieces date back to the Roman and Byzantine periods, he said.

Civil War-era wreck off Egmont Key to become preserve:

A Civil War-era ship that participated in one of the nation's most famous naval battles before sinking in the mouth of Tampa Bay is set to become Florida's 12th underwater archaeological preserve.

The wreck of the USS Narcissus tugboat off Egmont Key just north of Anna Maria Island "provides not only a fascinating underwater preserve to explore, it also offers a unique and adventurous look into our nation's naval history," Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning said this week in announcing the nomination.
A part of the wreckage (Photo from Herald Tribune)

Built in East Albany, N.Y., in 1863, the Narcissus steamed south in January 1864 to support the Union Navy's blockade of Confederate shipping routes, according to a report complied by state researchers.
The ship was involved in operations from New Orleans to Pensacola, but its most famous engagement came during the Battle of Mobile Bay on Aug. 5, 1864.

The union fleet's victory at Mobile Bay captured a key Confederate port and lived on in popular culture thanks to the "Damn the torpedoes!" command attributed to Rear Adm. David G. Farragut as he urged his ships forward against an array of defenses.

The Narcissus was ordered to return north for sale after the war but sank in 1866 off Egmont during the journey, killing the entire crew. Once almost completely buried in sand, the shipwreck reemerged in recent years about 15 feet below the surface, according to the state report.

A 2006 archaeological expedition reported "all of the steam machinery, propeller, propeller shaft, pillow block, boiler pieces, and a portion of the wooden hull were exposed."

Lovers' Pipe Dreams Emerge from Jerusalem Excavation:

An interesting find from Jerusalem, once again !

The pipe, in all its glory !
An archaeological excavation in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem has uncovered a centuries-old clay pipe inscribed with the phrase "Love is the language for lovers."

Literally translated, the inscription reads "Heart is language for the lover." And, not surprisingly, it was most likely a gift to a lover, according to Shahar Puni, of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"Clay pipes of this kind were very common in the Ottoman period, were mostly used for smoking tobacco, and some were even used to smoke hashish," Puni said in a statement. Hashish comes from the cannabis plant, like marijuana.

During this period, from the 16th to the 19th century, Jerusalem was part of the vast Ottoman Empire, a Turkish state that reached into Asia, Africa and Europe.

"The Ottoman authorities tried to combat this practice [smoking] but failed when it became clear that smoking was firmly entrenched in all levels of society. Pipes were also used as a piece of jewelry that could be worn on a garment, and smoking itself was popular amongst both men and women," Puni said.

Jerusalemite women are shown smoking clay pipes similar to this one in 19th-century drawings. Smoking was often done in cafes and with groups of friends, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. 

And that's a wrap up for this Friday. See you next Friday !

Just hot off the presses and I thought it would be worthwhile to share.

Financial Crisis grips Bosnia Heritage sites:

To the average history-buff, it is of no doubt that Bosnia houses some of the wonders of the Balkan region (and has seen way more than its fair share of turmoil ). This from the BBC:

Reading rooms in Bosnia-Hercegovina's National Library have opened without heating as a funding crisis grips the divided country's heritage sites.

The institution in the capital Sarajevo is unable to meet its utility bills or pay its staff, deputy director Bedita Islamovic told the BBC News website.

Heating was switched off as the temperature hovered just above zero.
Other cultural institutions have closed completely as a result of disagreement over who should pay for their upkeep.

The Dayton peace agreement which ended the 1992-95 war split the country into two parts, linked by a weak central government.

The central government has no ministry of culture and no obligation to provide permanent funding for sites regarded as part of Bosnia-Hercegovina's national heritage.

Bosnian Serbs largely oppose giving the central government control over the sites, with their politicians arguing that each of the country's ethnic groups should care for its own heritage.

Bosnia's cultural breakdown

  • No central culture ministry
  • Bosniak-Croat Federation has a culture and sports ministry
  • Bosnian Serb Republic has an education and culture ministry
So deep are the continuing divisions that it has taken the sides 14 months to agree on the make-up of a new central government, after elections in October 2010.

This week, the Historical Museum closed and the National Gallery shut its doors early in the autumn.
The National Museum expects to close piece by piece in coming weeks as its power supply is cut off due to unpaid bills, director Adnan Busuladzic told the Associated Press news agency.

"By no will of our own, we have found ourselves in the middle of a political battle and have become a political problem," he said.

Among other things, the National Museum's collection includes the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated manuscript brought to Bosnia by a Jewish family expelled from Spain during the Inquisition and saved from Hitler's forces during World War II.

The culture minister of the country's Bosniak-Croat Federation, Salmir Kaplan, reportedly pledged his government would provide funding to cover the unpaid utility bills of the National Museum.
However, he admitted this was just a temporary solution, AP says.

The Bosnian Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) has a culture ministry of its own.

Why More Maps Should Be Upside Down

If you've utilised a map at any point in your life, whether it's Google Maps to find out which right turn you just missed on the hig...