Monday, March 06, 2017

OLDEST EXAMPLES OF ART IN EUROPE FOUND IN SOUTHWESTERN FRANCE (38,000 YEAR OLD)

In the summer of 2012, a group of archaeologists discovered what could be one of the oldest examples of art in Europe when they turned over a broken block of limestone on the floor of a rock shelter in southwestern France.

The slab comes from a partially collapsed rock shelter called Abri Blanchard. It reveals the image of an auroch and dozens of small dots, and was decorated by Aurignacians - the first Homo sapiens to arrive in Europe. The engraving is about 38,000 years old.

The 20 meter long shelter is near the small town of Sergeac, about 500 kilometers south-southwest of Paris, in a region famous for some of Europe's oldest examples of cave art. Several other carved slabs were discovered at Abri Blanchard a century ago.

New York University anthropologist Randall White, a co-author of the study who led recent excavations at the site, says the discovery sheds light on regional patterning of art and ornamentation at a time when humans were just starting to spread across the continent.
Many early artistic representations from this region have been interpreted as vulvas, but the artists at Abri Blanchard chose an array of artistic subjects, from horses and cats to geometric designs.

In addition to the auroch carving, the researchers found hundreds of stone tools and tool fragments, as well as animal bones, mostly from reindeer. They also found an ivory bead and a pierced fox tooth.

Aurignacian images of aurochs have been found at other sites, such as Chauvet Cave, about 350 kilometres east-southeast of Abri Blanchard. Aligned dots have also been seen before on Aurignacian objects such as mammoth-tooth plaques and ivory pendants, but researchers describe the combination of this design with an animal figure as "exceptional". The discovery fits into the patterns researchers usually see in the earliest European art: broad shared features, with some regional quirks.

White says: "This pattern fits well with social geography models that see art and personal ornamentation as markers of social identity at regional, group and individual levels."

Edited from LiveScience (30 January 2017)
http://tinyurl.com/hytbqnc
[1 image]

Sunday, December 11, 2016

AMAZING DISCOVERY OF PREHISTORIC ROCK ART IN AUSTRALIA

Sometimes a stroke of luck or an accidental event can lead to the most amazing discoveries. Giles Hamm of La Trobe University, Australia, had been surveying gorges in the Flinders Ranges in Southern Australia, in the company of local tribal elder, Clifford Coulthard. Clifford suddenly had to answer a call of nature and wandered out of sight, into a side gorge, which formed a type of rock shelter. It was there that he saw some amazing rock art.

On closer investigation they discovered evidence of well-crafted stone tools and the bones from a long extinct marsupial, with the name Diprotodon Optatum. When the artifacts were radio carbon dated they were astounded to discover that they dated from approximately 47,000 BCE, not long after it is believed that humans first arrived in Australia. In fact, this find pre-dates any similar find by approximately 10,000 years.

Hamm published his findings in the journey Nature and is intrigued by what he found: "The old idea is that people might have come from the East, from the Levant, out of Africa, and these modern humans may have come with a package of innovative technologies". He went on to say "But the development of these fine stone tools, the bone technology, we think that happened as a local innovation, due to a local culture evolution".

Not everyone, however, is convinced. The dating comes from analysis of burnt eggshells and the layer in which they were discovered. Huw Barton, bio archaeologist from the University of Leicester (UK) believes the fragments may have dropped lower and represents human occupation 10,000 years later, in line with other finds in the area. Further study is obviously needed.

Edited from The Guardian (2 November 2016)
http://tinyurl.com/h8lcfzw
[2 images]

HUGE BRONZE AGE GOLD TORC (COLLAR) FROM 3,000 YEARS UNEARTHED IN CAMBRIDGESHIRE

A gigantic gold torc, so big one expert thinks it may have been worn to protect a pregnant woman, has been found in a ploughed field in Cambridgeshire (England). It was made from 730 grams of almost pure gold more than 3,000 years ago.

The workmanship closely resembles one from nearby Grunty Fen, found in 1844 and now in the collection of the archaeology museum of Cambridge University. However, like many torcs that were apparently buried for ritual reasons, that one had been coiled up.
"There was a lot going on in Bronze Age East Anglia," said Neil Wilkin, the curator of Bronze Age Europe at the British Museum, "but it's been a while since we've had anything as hefty as this."


Torcs are usually described as collars, with the longer ones thought by some to have been worn as belts, but Wilkin said this torc was longer than even extra-large waist measurements of men's trousers. Wilkin said they were never found buried with the remains of the dead, and he wondered if it could have been loaned by the tribe to be worn as protection by a woman in late pregnancy. Alternatively, he thought it could have been a magnificent ornament to give extra value to an animal about to be sacrificed.

The site and the finder have remained anonymous, but the discovery was reported to Helen Fowler, the local finds liaison officer through the network of archaeologists recording such finds. She said she was 'gobsmacked' when it came out of the finder's briefcase. The last torc she had handled was bracelet sized, but this one was far too big to fit on her weighing scales.

Wilkin said the workmanship was astonishing: the torc was shaped from a square section bar of gold, and then twisted and burnished. "If you take callipers, and measure the gaps between the twists, they are absolutely spot on accurate." It is hoped Ely Museum will acquire the torc, with the reward shared between finder and landowner. The slightly shorter and lighter Corrard torc, found in Northern Ireland, was valued at up to £150,000 ( US$ 186,000) three years ago.

Edited from The Guardian (28 November 2016)
http://tinyurl.com/gmv8d94
[3 images

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

FIREFIGHTERS OF ROMAN TIMES

The vigiles (or cohortes vigilum) were formed during the reign of Augustus to act as ancient Rome's permanent firefighting service. Evolving from earlier slave teams, the vigiles were organized as an urban military unit and eventually recruits came from the Roman citizenry. The body, with a permanent camp of its own and equipment stations dotted around the city, patrolled the streets of Rome each night and also performed certain nocturnal policing duties to ensure public order.

The vigiles were created by Augustus in 6 CE to meet the high risk of fires in the capital presented by its high population density and widespread use of wooden housing and other buildings which had timber parts. It was not the first time such a force had been created for the avaricious Marcus Licinius Crassus, one of Rome's all-time richest men, had spotted the chance of making money by offering low prices for burning buildings and then having his team of slaves extinguish the fire so that it could be saved for redevelopment. If the property owner refused Crassus' offer, then the fire was left to rage on unabated.

Monday, December 05, 2016

ARTIFACTS FOUND ON SCHOOL GROUNDS IN UPSTATE NEW YORK THAT ARE OVER 3,000 YEARS OLD


During the rebuilding of its elementary school, officials from the Owego Apalachin Central School District brought in the Binghamton University Public Archaeology Facility (PAF) to help examine the school grounds. During the excavation, the BU team unearthed Native American artifacts that are over 3,000 years old. After the building was destroyed by flooding during Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, the BU PAF was hired by the district in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 as they rebuilt the school.

According to the act, if construction is to be done on public land, a section of the area must first be examined to determine if it meets one of the criteria for a historic site. These criteria include the site having significance to the formation of the United States or native populations, importance to cultural foundations of the nation and the preservation of the area in a way that benefits the public’s understanding of history. In its excavation, the archaeological group found over 500 prehistoric artifacts, including multiple projectile points from spears or darts. The dating of the artifacts placed them around 1,500 B.C. before the invention of the bow and arrow. In addition, researchers were able to determine that the artifacts were likely left by a nomadic group during a nut collection based on hickory and butternut shells preserved in the area.

The funds and permits for the excavation were provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which also provided assistance in the area following the tropical storm. The BU PAF was called in because of their prior relationship working with the school to put on different educational programs for elementary school students and their proximity to the site. According to Nina Versaggi, director of the PAF and an associate professor of anthropology, the facility moved through a three-phase process while in communication with both FEMA and district officials.

First, they determined if there was an archaeological site at the elementary school by examining the soil for artifacts. Next, the site was considered according to the guidelines put out in the National Historic Preservation Act to determine if it had historical significance to Native American tribes. After the excavation, FEMA communicated with Native American groups, from the Onondaga and Seneca Nations, so that their wishes for the preservation of the artifacts could be taken into account.

Among the requests from the Onondoga representative was to put on a program, with the PAF, for the children who attend Owego Apalachin Elementary School about the artifacts found beneath their school. Andrea Kozub, the project director and faunal analyst for the PAF, helped work on-site in the discovery of the artifacts. She felt that smaller archaeological sites had not been properly utilized in understanding prehistoric life. “In the past, the importance of smaller encampments the Owego Elementary School were overlooked or the sites were dismissed with little investigation, and yet we know that people were not living in big villages all the time,” Kozub wrote in an email. “They used the whole landscape in a variety of ways. So preserving the information about these sites before they are impacted by construction is essential to having a three dimensional understanding of how people lived.”

Versaggi hoped that the discovery of prehistoric artifacts locally could help remind people that even though they can feel very far from the prehistoric past, it is still an important part of human heritage.

OLDEST AXE EVER FOUND IN EUROPE UNCOVERED IN IRELAND'S EARLIEST RECORDED BURIAL


About 9,000 years ago, Mesolithic humans in Ireland buried someone important on the banks of the River Shannon in Hermitage, County Limerick. The burial, originally uncovered in 2001, is notable for several reasons. First, according to a press release, it is the earliest recorded burial in Ireland. Second, the remains were cremated, which was unusual since in most burials of this period bodies were covered intact. The site also had a large wooden post planted near it, marking the site, another unusual feature for burials in Europe.

But new analysis of a polish adze or axe head recovered from the grave is changing the story of Ireland’s early inhabitants even more. Laura Geggel at LiveScience reports that the axe, made of shale, appeared little used, meaning it was likely an object created to accompany the deceased. Researchers took a closer look at the axe and found that the axe was probably never used as a tool and that tip was intentionally blunted, perhaps as a funerary rite symbolizing the owner’s death. The research appears in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal.

“This type of insight into burial practices is incredibly rare for this part of the world,” Aimée Little, an archaeologist at the University of York and lead author of the study tells Geggel. “Nine thousand years ago, people in Ireland were making very high-quality artifacts specifically to be placed in graves.”

The polished axe is probably the oldest such axe ever found in Europe. According to the press release, it’s also something of an anachronism. “The adze is exceptional as we traditionally associate polished axes and adzes like this with the arrival of agriculture in Europe, around 3000 years later,” says Ben Elliott, an archeologist at York and co-author. “Although polished axes and adzes are known from pre-agricultural sites in Ireland and other parts of Europe, to find such a well-made, highly polished and securely dated example is unprecedented for this period of prehistory.”

Little tells Fiona Gartland at The Irish Times that the axe shows that people in Ireland at that time weren’t just hunter-gatherers eking out an existence. They had a well-developed culture that included taking care of the dead. “You have really, very complex behavior at play here, in terms of the making and treatment of the adze as part of the funerary rights,” says Little. “We make the argument it was probably commissioned for the burial and was probably used as part of the funerary rights, possibly to cut the wood for the pyre for the cremation, or to cut the tree used as the grave post marker.” The cremation too, which requires a fire between 645 and 1,200 degrees would have also required some know-how and experience, Little tells Gartland. In fact, she says whoever prepared the grave took painstaking effort to pick up every tiny fragment of bone to put in the burial.

While the axe may prove to be the oldest polished axe in Europe, it is by no means the oldest in the world. That distinction goes to a 49,000-year-old stone axe found in Australia in May.



Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/europes-oldest-polished-axe-found-ireland-180961043/#6UzHFbiXgvklyEbA.99
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ROME'S COLOSSEUM IS HAVING PROBLEMS STABILIZING THE CRACKS IN THE WALLS

A row over the future of Rome's metro is threatening to delay urgent work to stabilize the Colosseum, adding to fears for the ancient amphitheatre after Italy's recent earthquakes caused troubling cracks in its exterior walls. The 2,000-year-old, partly-ruined structure was allocated four million euros in 2014 to carry out reinforcements deemed necessary to offset the impact of tunneling for a new underground train line which will pass close by. But the money was never released and guardians of the city's architectural heritage now fear it never will be after new mayor Virginia Raggi announced she plans to dissolve the underground company, Roma Metropolitana.

"By liquidating Roma Metropolitana, the mayor has left us without anyone to deal with regarding the financing needed for the urgent strengthening of the Colosseum," a spokesman for the superintendent of the city's archaelogical treasures told AFP. The superintendent himself, Francesco Prosperetti, has warned that he will seek to block any further work on the still-unfinished metro extension if the funds are not released. "The Colosseum cannot wait any longer," Prosperetti told Italian media. "As a citizen I would not like to delay the metro but as the defender of this monument I may not have any choice."

Raggi has said work on the metro project will continue with new management progressively replacing Roma Metropolitana, an organization she has accused of overseeing the "shameful squandering of public funds." The new line is supposed to run from the city center to the eastern suburbs. Most of it opened last year but the final section, which will bring it into the Colosseum area and connect with the capital's two other metro lines, remains unfinished.

Started in 2007 with a budget of 2.2 billion euros ($2.4 billion), the work is now forecast to cost at least 3.7 billion and Raggi has put plans for a northern extension of the line on indefinite hold. Earthquakes in central Italy on August 24th, October 26th and October 30th were powerful enough in Rome to result in a number of new cracks appearing in the Colosseum's exterior walls. But Italy's top tourist attraction has remained open to the public. The landmark site has survived dozens of earthquakes over the centuries although it was a tremor that led to the collapse of its southern wall in 1703.

Prosperetti said work was most urgently required on interior walls in the top section of the structure, which is not open to the public.
The exterior of the Colosseum has recently been given a facelift thanks to a three-year clean-up financed by the upmarket fashion and footwear company Tod's.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

TOLEDO USA MUSEUM SELLING ANTIQUITIES DESPITE PROTESTS

According to the AP, despite protests from the governments of Cyprus and Egypt the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, U.S., decided to go ahead with the sales of nearly two dozen antiquities at Christie’s in New York. The auction that took place on Tuesday is said to have brought in $640,000 to the museum.

As to why they were selling the items, the museum stated that since the objects were not on display all the time and not considered prized artifacts, the selling of the pieces was not a big deal as Museum Director Brian Kennedy told the AP that the museum respects others’ viewpoints but sometimes sells items to maintain a high-quality collection. He stated that the money from the sale would go towards other acquisitions.

Expert archaeologists disagree with the museum, saying that these pieces should have stayed with the museum as modern laws make it difficult to acquire such objects. Furthermore, the government of Cyprus tried to get the museum to sway from selling the artifacts, saying that they are not trying to insist that they be returned to Cyprus, rather that they stay in a museum collection, protected and able to be viewed by the public.

The Toledo newspaper, The Blade reported that of the 23 pieces sold at auction at Christie’s in New York on Tuesday one piece was a Cypriot limestone head of a male votary from 6th century B.C. and is a prime example of the types of items the Cypriot government was fighting to keep at the museum. On Monday, less than 24-hours before the auction went forward, Ambassador Pantelides was still pleading with the museum to postpone the sale, but they did not. Officials from Egypt also tried to stop the sale and have the items that are of Egyptian origin returned to their country.

These items sold on Tuesday are only a part of the nearly 70 pieces that the Toledo Museum of Art is planning to sell at auction. The pieces all originate from the Mediterranean countries of Greece, Egypt and Italy.
- See more at: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2016/10/26/antiquities-for-sale-ohios-toledo-museum-of-art-sells-ancient-artifacts-cyprus-and-egypt-protest/#sthash.uE6kJK5X.dpuf

LOOTING PROBLEMS IN EGYPT -- "STAGGERING"

Looting plagues archeology in Egypt. Using satellite data, scientists at the University of Alabama found that stealing more than doubled between 2009 and 2010 and then doubled again after the revolution. The professors and archeologists at the university consider the crime "simply staggering". And what the researchers in Alabama discovered from thousands of kilometers in the sky, Soliman saw with her own eyes. "Tens of monuments were being looted," Soliman told me.

Some of the stolen items went to Europe and the US, but much of the Islamic art found its way to the neighboring Gulf region. A lion’s share winds up in private collections in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. But without hard facts at hand, Egypt cannot hope to retrieve the treasure trafficked under radar to their new private owners.

Without trained staff to look after them, no less damaging is the abandonment of many antiquity sites. “Without tourism,” officials tell Egyptologists like Soliman, “there is no money.” Privately, one official even told her, “May some of these artifacts disappear so we have less on our shoulders.”

Egypt is not helping itself. Try and secure an Islamic monument home, as scholars and researchers do sometimes for academic purposes, and you will find outrageously priced daily rentals reaching nearly 30,000 Egyptian pounds, says Soliman. It is the same faulty logic that has a failing Suez Canal increasing tariffs to make up for lost revenue. The result? Even more ships finding alternate routes and costing Egypt much-needed revenue. It is the same with antiquities tourism: how do you insist on setting such high prices when demand is at an all-time low and services are lacking at many of these sites?

Personal relationships, sleight of hand, a few pounds and a smile get Soliman access to many sites so she can document them. But under the draconian political circumstances, photographing dilapidated sites to bring attention to corruption and a slow-as-black-Egyptian-molasses bureaucracy could mean prison time. "I think 9,000 times before going to photograph…I have to be smart," she said. But she does risk arrest for her blog, Bassara Heritage, where she documents all that she sees with her trusted assistant, Mohamed Soliman, no relation, but a fellow history buff.

Egypt is in an unenviable economic hole. The country’s income from tourism, which reached over $12.5bn in 2010, had fallen to $5.9bn by 2013. The return of that missing revenue would do wonders for an economy that is losing allies in the all-important Gulf, with Saudia Arabia pulling back so much that Sisi, on Twitter earlier this week, said "enough dependence on our Arab brothers".

To get you have to give and Soliman says three things need to happen for the twin fields of Pharaonic antiquities and Islamic art to flourish:

1. Admit there is a problem

2. Wipe out corruption in "every corner and every breath"

3. A short term and long term plan for the overall management of the country’s antiquities

Soliman is right, but even more needs to change. Egypt is a country not only stagnating, but one that is taking decisive steps backwards under the auspices of a counter revolution. In such an environment, the old rule and the young are thrown by the way side because they represent change. Change and counter revolutions don’t mix. There are those within those two crucial ministries who want to protect these treasures, to document their existence and to stamp out corruption. But all of their purity of intent is blown to bits within ministries where standard operating procedure is highly averse to change.

When the dollar hits 17 Egyptian pounds, the economic disaster can be used to bring tourists with their strengthened dollars back. In a country experiencing a monumental fit of xenophobia triggered by the Sisi cult’s hyper nationalism, this is a near impossible task. If the enemy is the foreigner, how can he also be the savior? For hope to return where archeologists roam, there must be change. Much like the country housing it, the world of antiquities awaits a revolution to protect its very existence.

- Amr Khalifa is a freelance journalist and analyst recently published in Ahram Online, Mada Masr,The New Arab, Muftah and Daily News Egypt. You can follow him on Twitter@cairo67unedited.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

VIKING RAIDS WERE LOOKING FOR WIVES

Now, researchers suggest a new twist on an ancient explanation: Scandinavian practices that led powerful men to monopolize women also might have led to significant pools of unwed men. Many of these single men, looking for marriage, might have gone on raids to gain status, wealth and captives, and thus go on to secure brides and concubines of their own.

The idea that an excess of single young men led to Viking raiding is one of the oldest explanations for the Viking Age, put forward about 1,000 years ago by historian Dudo of St. Quentin in his tome "History of the Normans."

The new model links this older idea with the customs of polygyny, or having multiple wives, and concubinage, or the keeping of concubines, that ancient texts such as the "Sagas of Icelanders," medieval German chronicles, and reports by travelers such as the 10th-century Arab envoy Ahmad Ibn Fadlān suggested that Scandinavians once practiced, the researchers said.

Polygyny and concubinage would have limited the number of women eligible for single men to marry. Evolutionary biology suggests that such an imbalance would have then boosted competition for mates among unmarried men. Indeed, prior work has suggested that, on average, men die in warfare more often in polygynous societies than in monogamous ones, the researchers said.

This resulted in volatile societies in Scandinavia in which men were moved to engage in risky behavior, such as raiding expeditions to gain wealth and status to attract brides and to secure female slaves. One consequence of this was a surge in raiding that is linked with the start of the Viking Age, the researchers suggested.

NIMRUD STRUCTURES BULLDOZED BY RETREATING JIHADISTS

American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) late last week released a set of satellite images which show retreating Islamic State jihadists have all but destroyed the remains of two ancient Assyrian capitals near Mosul.

The famous, 2900-year-old mud-brick ziggurat of Nimrud appears to have been bulldozed in recent weeks, along with several outlying ancient structures.

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY IS PLANNING TO CLAIM OWNERSHIP OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS!

The Palestinian Authority is planning to claim ownership of the Dead Sea Scrolls and demand that UNESCO order Israel to surrender the artifacts, Israel Hayom learned over the weekend.


Discovered in the Qumran Caves in the eastern Judean Desert between 1947 and 1956, the scrolls -- a trove of 981 different texts dating back to the time of the Second Temple -- are believed to be the work of members of a Jewish sect known as the Essenes.


The majority of the scrolls are written in Hebrew, some are written in the Aramaic dialects common to the area at that time, and a handful of parchments are written in Greek.

EXCAVATION OF AKKADIAN SITE OF BASSETKI -- IN IRAQ -- NEAR ISIS BUT BRONZE AGE PROJECT WILL BE SET UP

Scientists headed by Professor Peter Pfälzner from the University of Tübingen and Dr. Hasan Qasim from the Directorate of Antiquities in Dohuk conducted the excavation work in Bassetki between August and October 2016. As a result, they were able to preempt the construction work on a highway on this land. The former significance of the settlement can be seen from the finds discovered during the excavation work. The city already had a wall running around the upper part of the town from approx. 2700 BC onwards in order to protect its residents from invaders.

Large stone structures were erected there in about 1800 BC. The researchers also found fragments of Assyrian cuneiform tablets dating from about 1300 BC, which suggested the existence of a temple dedicated to the Mesopotamian weather god Adad on this site. There was a lower town about one kilometer long outside the city center. Using geomagnetic resistance measurements, the archeologists discovered indications of an extensive road network, various residential districts, grand houses and a kind of palatial building dating from the Bronze Age. The residents buried their dead at a cemetery outside the city. The settlement was connected to the neighboring regions of Mesopotamia and Anatolia via an overland roadway dating from about 1800 BC.

Bassetki was only known to the general public in the past because of the "Bassetki statue," which was discovered there by chance in 1975. This is a fragment of a bronze figure of the Akkadian god-king Naram-Sin (about 2250 BC). The discovery was stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad during the Iraq War in 2003, but was later rediscovered by US soldiers. Up until now, researchers were unable to explain the location of the find. The archeologists have now been able to substantiate their assumption that an important outpost of Akkadian culture may have been located there.

Although the excavation site is only 45 kilometers from territory controlled by the Islamic State (IS), it was possible to conduct the archeological work without any disturbances. "The protection of our employees is always our top priority. Despite the geographical proximity to IS, there's a great deal of security and stability in the Kurdish autonomous areas in Iraq," said Professor Peter Pfälzner, Director of the Department of Near Eastern Archaeology at the IANES of the University of Tübingen. The research team consisting of 30 people lived in the city of Dohuk, which is only 60 kilometers north of Mosul, during the excavation work.

In another project being handled by the "ResourceCultures" collaborative research center (SFB 1070), Pfälzner's team has been completing an archeological inspection of territory in the complete area surrounding Bassetki as far as the Turkish and Syrian borders since 2013 -- and 300 previously unknown sites have been discovered. The excavations and the research work in the region are due to be continued during the summer of 2017. "The area around Bassetki is proving to be an unexpectedly rich cultural region, which was located at the crossroads of communication ways between the Mesopotamian, Syrian and Anatolian cultures during the Bronze Age. We're therefore planning to establish a long-term archeological research project in the region in conjunction with our Kurdish colleagues," says Pfälzner. The excavation work is being funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

POWERFUL WOMEN OVER THE CENTURIES -- 15 LISTED

A number of powerful women have shaped the course of history with their intelligence, strength, passion, and leadership qualities. They have challenged the status quo, made lasting reforms, and many have presided over their countries for decades, ushering in prosperity and cultural revolutions. While this list is certainly subjective, it tries to take into account the actual power and the impact of each person.

Notably, the United Kingdom has three entries in the top ten, an eye-catching fact, considering that a monarchy managed to achieve such a feminist feat, and yet the United States, which always considered itself as the most advanced democratic society ever, hasn’t been able to elect a female leader in all of its independent existence so far.

15. Zenobia (240-275) was a queen of the Palmyrene Empire in Syria who challenged the authority of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century. She conquered Egypt, Anatolia, Lebanon and Roman Judea until finally being defeated by the Roman emperor Aurelian.

14. Cleopatra (69-30 BC) was the last Pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt, known for her superior intelligence and improving its country’s standing and economy. She is also famous in popular culture for her love affairs with Roman leaders Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony.

13. Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi (1828-1858) was the queen of India’s Jhansi State, and one of the leaders of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as India’s First War of Independence against British rule. Referred to as “the Indian Joan of Arc”, Rani Lakshmibai became a symbol of resistance for leading her army in first direct confrontations with the occupiers.

12. Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was a French heroine and a saint to Roman Catholics. She claimed to have mystical visions and rallied French troops to defeat the English in the Battle of Orleans among others. She was eventually betrayed to the English and burned at the stake. Her unflinching faith and role in liberating the French from the English invasion has accorded Joan of Arc mythic status.

11. Borte Ujin (1161-1230) was the wife of Genghis Khan and empress of the Mongolian Empire, the largest land empire in history. She was one of Genghis Khan’s most trusted advisors and ruled the Mongol homeland in the long periods when he’d be away at war.

10. Indira Ghandi (1917 - 1984) was the first and only female Prime Minister of India, serving 4 terms between 1966-1984, when she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. She was a controversial but very powerful figure, winning a war with Pakistan, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. She was murdered by her bodyguards over her order to storm their holy temple during an insurgency four months prior.

9. Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 1979 and 1990, the first woman to hold this office. She was the longest-serving British PM of the 20th century, dubbed the “Iron Lady” by the Soviets for her hardheadedness. She won a popular victory over Argentina in the 1982 Falklands War, but her economic policies had mixed support, as she promoted a free market economy and confronted the power of the labor unions.

8. Theodora (500-548) was a highly influential Empress of the Byzantine Empire and a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Married to Emperor Justinian I, she was his most trusted advisor and used him to achieve her purposes. She controlled foreign affairs and legislation, violently put down riots, and, notably, fought for the rights of women, passing anti-trafficking laws and improving divorce proceedings.

7. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was the Queen of the United Kingdom, ruling over a vast British Empire that stretched across six continents for 63 years, the second longest reign in its country’s history (the longest belonging to the current Queen Elizabeth II). Her rule was so definitive that the period has come to be known as the “Victorian Era”. Under her rule, slavery was abolished throughout all British colonies and voting rights granted to most British men. She also made reforms in labor conditions and presided over significant cultural, political, and military changes in her Empire.

6. Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) was the Chinese Emperor’s mother and regent who essentially ruled China for 47 years from 1861 until 1908. She instituted technological and military reforms, overhauled the corrupt bureaucracy, and supported anti-Western attitudes, including the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901.

5. Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-1780) was a Hapsburg Empress who reigned for 40 years and controlled a large part of Europe, including Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, and parts of Italy. She had sixteen children, who also became key power players like the Queen of France, the Queen of Naples and Sicily as well as two Holy Roman Emperors. Empress Maria Theresa is known for her reforms in education like making it mandatory, establishing a Royal Academy of Science and Literature in Brussels, and supporting scientific research. She also raised taxes and made reforms in commerce, as well as strengthened the Austrian military (doubling it).

4. Hatshepsut (1508 BC - 1458 BC) was an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh, considered to be one of its country’s most successful rulers. She oversaw major building projects, military campaigns into Nubia, Syria and Levant and rebuilt broken trade networks.

3. Catherine the Great (1729-1796), also known as Catherine II, was undoubtedly one of history’s most famous women. Born in Poland, as a German princess, she attained rule of Russia through marriage and held on to it for 34 years (especially after she plotted to overthrow her husband and assumed complete power). She is responsible for continuing Peter the Great’s work in modernizing Russia, bringing it more in line with the West’s Enlightenment ideas. She also defeated the Ottoman Empire in two big wars and greatly expanded Russia’s Empire over three continents (including the colonization of Alaska). She made legislative reforms, put down the dangerous Pugachev Rebellion and was known for a risqué personal life. Her rule is regarded as the Golden Age of the Russian Empire.

2. Empress Wu Zetian (624-705) was the only female Emperor in Chinese history, living during the Tang Dynasty. Her rule is known for expanding the Chinese empire, economic prosperity, and education reform. She was also known as a patron of Buddhism. She did have her detractors who accused her of ruthlessness and cruelty, perhaps going as far as killing her daughter and son as part of a political intrigue.

1. Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was one of most powerful English monarchs ever. Never married and called the “Virgin Queen,” the intellectual Elizabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada and ruled successfully for so long that her reign from 1558 until 1603 is known as the “Elizabethan Era”. As a monarch, the last of the Tudor dynasty, she encouraged major cultural changes like the Renaissance and the transformation of England into a Protestant country.

















THE PEOPLING OF AUSTRALIA -- DATES RANGE FROM 45,000 TO 60,000 YEARS AGO

Scientists often look at the peopling of Australia as a sort of benchmark for when modern humans were spreading out of Africa and establishing populations across the globe. But the details of that story are still hotly debated. Estimates of when the first people arrived on the continent range from 45,000 to 60,000 years ago and researchers debate where these first Australians went next and how they lived. But an artifact-filled ancient rock shelter in the southern interior of Australia may help archaeologists clarify that story.

Radiocarbon dating suggests the cliff-side shelter, called Warratyi, may have first been inhabited some 49,000 years ago, according to a paper published recently in the journal Nature. And, as the paper's authors assert humans first arrived in northwest Australia some 50,000 years ago, that means humans may have hustled well over 1,000 miles over the course of just about a millennium.

This also would place humans in the continent's interior nearly 10,000 years earlier than other archaeological evidence has suggested, study lead author Giles Hamm of La Trobe University in Melbourne said in a Nature podcast. Previously researchers thought humans began spreading along the then-rainforested coasts of Australia upon arrival, populating the less lush interior no earlier than 40,000 years ago. But, as the Warratyi shelter is over 100 miles inland, that may not have been the case.

"It's potentially a landmark publication," Michael Petraglia, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany who was not part of the study, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "It's a very important new site and a very important new excavation," he says of the new study. "It's chock full of new information."

But Dr. Petraglia urges caution. "While I welcome this new excavation in an important area," he says, "It's only about three feet of sediment that represents more than 40,000 years of history." And because the site is "pretty low-resolution" and it's just one site, Petraglia says more sites will help put these new artifacts into context. Still, Petraglia says the complex tools found at the site suggest that these first Australians were highly innovative and culturally advanced when they first arrived.

Among the oldest artifacts at the site, the researchers found red ocher on some tools suggesting the earliest known use of a pigment used today in cultural body adornment. The team also found tools made of bone that they dated to be between 38,000 and 40,000 years old, and tools used just a few thousand years later that were made by attaching multiple pieces, like a sharp stone to a shaft, for example.

In many regions, large animals began going extinct when humans arrived on the scene. But scientists have yet to agree whether humans had a hand in megafaunal extinctions or if, as the other popular theory suggests, climate change killed them off. But the Warratyi shelter could suggest new ideas. Among the prehistoric tools, Dr. Hamm and his colleagues found a bone belonging to a Diprotodon optatum, a massive extinct herbivore thought to be the largest marsupial to have ever existed. It's unlikely this humongous animal clambered up the rocks itself, so the researchers think humans must have carried the bone up some 46,000 years ago.

It's unclear whether humans hunted the animal thought to weigh more than 6,000 pounds. But the researchers also found fragments of eggshells from the extinct, large flightless bird Genyornis newtoni among the oldest artifacts at the site. And they think some of those shells were burnt, suggesting the first Australians were already cooking up the birds' eggs.

"Many have argued that humans played no role in the extinction of Australia’s megafauna," Dr. Codding says. But based on the artifacts found associated with the animals' remains, "the authors of this paper suggest otherwise." "If this finding is supported by further investigations," he says, "this will be a game-changer for Australian prehistory."

AUSTRALIA--- 46,000 YEAR OLD BONE ORNAMENT FOUND

New Scientist reports that a piece of bone jewelry dated to more than 46,000 years ago has been discovered in a rock shelter in the Kimberley region of Western Australia by Sue O’Connor of Australian National University.

Microscopic analysis, conducted by her colleague Michelle Langley, revealed that the pointed kangaroo leg bone bears traces of red ocher on its ends and scrape marks made by stone tools. The ornament was probably worn through the nasal septum.

“I’ve met Indigenous Australians who remember their granddads wearing nose bones for special occasions,” said Langley. Depending upon the group, nose bones may have been worn by everyone, or may have been limited to elders. Langley explained that before the nose bone was found, it had been thought that the oldest bone tools and ornaments in Australia were only about 20,000 years old.

Some scholars had suggested that bone-tool technology had been lost on the journey from Africa some 60,000 years ago. “This shows that the first people in Australia were just as capable as those everywhere else of complex actions,” commented Ian Lilley of the University of Queensland. To read about early rock art in Australia, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."

--from Archaeology Magazine Nov-Dec '16

WHY DID GREENLAND'S VIKINGS DISAPPEAR?

In 1721, missionary Hans Egede sailed a ship called The Hope from Norway to Greenland, seeking Norse farmers whom Europeans hadn't heard from in 200 years in order to convert them to Protestantism. He explored iceberg-dotted fjords that gave way to gentle valleys, and silver lakes that shimmered below the massive ice cap. But when he asked the Inuit hunters he met about the Norse, they showed him crumbling stone church walls: the only remnants of 500 years of occupation. "What has been the fate of so many human beings, so long cut off from all intercourse with the more civilized world?" Egede wrote in an account of the journey. "Were they destroyed by an invasion of the natives … [or] perished by the inclemency of the climate, and the sterility of the soil?"

Archaeologists still wonder today. No chapter of Arctic history is more mysterious than the disappearance of these Norse settlements sometime in the 15th century. Theories for the colony's failure have included everything from sinister Basque pirates to the Black Plague. But historians have usually pinned most responsibility on the Norse themselves, arguing that they failed to adapt to a changing climate. The Norse settled Greenland from Iceland during a warm period around 1000 C.E. But even as a chilly era called the Little Ice Age set in, the story goes, they clung to raising livestock and church-building while squandering natural resources like soil and timber. Meanwhile, the seal-hunting, whale-eating Inuit survived in the very same environment.

Over the last decade, however, new excavations across the North Atlantic have forced archaeologists to revise some of these long-held views. An international research collective called the North Atlantic Biocultural Organization (NABO) has accumulated precise new data on ancient settlement patterns, diet, and landscape. The findings suggest that the Greenland Norse focused less on livestock and more on trade, especially in walrus ivory, and that for food they relied more on the sea than on their pastures. There's no doubt that climate stressed the colony, but the emerging narrative is not of an agricultural society short on food, but a hunting society short on labor and susceptible to catastrophes at sea and social unrest.

Historian Poul Holm of Trinity College in Dublin lauds the new picture, which reveals that the Greenland Norse were "not a civilization stuck in their ways." To NABO archaeologist George Hambrecht of the University of Maryland in College Park, "The new story is that they adapted but they failed anyway."

Ironically, just as this new picture is emerging, climate change once again threatens Norse settlements—or what's left of them. Organic artifacts like clothing and animal bones, preserved for centuries in the deep freeze of the permafrost, are decaying rapidly as rising temperatures thaw the soil. "It's horrifying. Just at the time we can do something with all this data, it is disappearing under our feet," Holm says.


THE BATTLE FOR IRAQ'S 2ND CITY MOSUL NEARING THE REMAINS OF ANCIENT NIMRUD THAT HAS BEEN RAVAGED BY JIHADIST BOMBS AND SLEDGEHAMMERS

Units of the 9th Armoured Division and the Hashed al-Ashaeri (tribal militia) are beginning to advance to liberate the villages of Abbas Rajab and Al-Nomaniyah that are near Nimrud.

Nimrud was one of the great centers of the ancient Middle East. Founded in the 13th Century BC, it became the capital of the Assyrian empire, whose rulers built vast palaces and monuments that have drawn archaeologists from around the world for more than 150 years.
Many of its monumental stone sculptures and reliefs were taken way for display in museums around the world but some of the more massive structures remained in place when the jihadists swept through in mid-2014.

In April last year, IS posted video on the internet of its fighters sledgehammering monuments before planting explosives around the site and blowing it up. It was part of a campaign of destruction by the jihadists against heritage sites under their control that also took in ancient Nineveh on the outskirts of Mosul, Hatra in the desert to the south and Palmyra in neighboring Syria,

IS says the ancient monuments are idols that violate the teachings of its extreme form of Sunni Islam. But that has not stopped the group from trafficking artifacts it purports to revile on the black market to fund its operations. It is unclear what still remains of Nimrud's ancient ruins as Iraqi forces move closer.

But it is just one of a number of treasured heritage sites that are threatened with further damage by the offensive that the government launched in October '16 to retake Mosul, the jihadists' last major stronghold in Iraq.

The area where ancient Hatra is located may see fighting between IS and pro-government militias who aim to retake the town of Tal Afar, which commands Mosul's western approaches. Ancient Nineveh is also in the path of advancing troops.

LARGE BRONZE AGE CITY DISCOVERED NEAR SMALL KURDISH VILLAGE IN KURDISTAN DATING TO AS EARLY AS 3000 BC

Scientists headed by Professor Peter Pfälzner from the University of Tübingen and Dr. Hasan Qasim from the Directorate of Antiquities in Dohuk conducted the excavation work in Bassetki between August and October 2016. As a result, they were able to preempt the construction work on a highway on this land.

The former significance of the settlement can be seen from the finds discovered during the excavation work. The city already had a wall running around the upper part of the town from approx. 2700 BC onward in order to protect its residents from invaders. Large stone structures were erected there in about 1800 BC. The researchers also found fragments of Assyrian cuneiform tablets dating from about 1300 BC, which suggested the existence of a temple dedicated to the Mesopotamian weather god Adad on this site. There was a lower town about one kilometer long outside the city center. Using geomagnetic resistance measurements, the archeologists discovered indications of an extensive road network, various residential districts, grand houses and a kind of palatial building dating from the Bronze Age. The residents buried their dead at a cemetery outside the city. The settlement was connected to the neighboring regions of Mesopotamia and Anatolia via an overland roadway dating from about 1800 BC.

Bassetki was only known to the general public in the past because of the "Bassetki statue," which was discovered there by chance in 1975. This is a fragment of a bronze figure of the Akkadian god-king Naram-Sin (about 2250 BC). The discovery was stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad during the Iraq War in 2003, but was later rediscovered by US soldiers. Up until now, researchers were unable to explain the location of the find. The archeologists have now been able to substantiate their assumption that an important outpost of Akkadian culture may have been located there.

Although the excavation site is only 45 kilometers from territory controlled by the Islamic State (IS), it was possible to conduct the archeological work without any disturbances. "The protection of our employees is always our top priority. Despite the geographical proximity to IS, there's a great deal of security and stability in the Kurdish autonomous areas in Iraq," said Professor Peter Pfälzner, Director of the Department of Near Eastern Archaeology at the IANES of the University of Tübingen. The research team consisting of 30 people lived in the city of Dohuk, which is only 60 kilometers north of Mosul, during the excavation work.

In another project being handled by the "ResourceCultures" collaborative research center (SFB 1070), Pfälzner's team has been completing an archeological inspection of territory in the complete area surrounding Bassetki as far as the Turkish and Syrian borders since 2013 -- and 300 previously unknown sites have been discovered. The excavations and the research work in the region are due to be continued during the summer of 2017. "The area around Bassetki is proving to be an unexpectedly rich cultural region, which was located at the crossroads of communication ways between the Mesopotamian, Syrian and Anatolian cultures during the Bronze Age. We're therefore planning to establish a long-term archeological research project in the region in conjunction with our Kurdish colleagues," says Pfälzner. The excavation work is being funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.





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HUGE ANCIENT EGYPTIAN HALL DISCOVERED KNOWN AS SOUTH ABYDOS

Archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, working with Egypt’s Ministry of State for Antiquities, have exposed the ruins of what was once a grand hall some 70 feet long and 13 feet wide. This work was partly funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society. The finely plastered, whitewashed walls were decorated with more than 120 incised drawings of boats, each slightly different from the next. Some were simple outlines of hulls curved like crescent moons. Others were more elaborate, showing a mast and sails and oarsmen. Most were crowded together, with many touching or overlapping.


At first, Wegner and his team had no idea what this building might have been used for. “We were quite mystified,” he says. “We were expecting it to be a tomb.” But the clues they’ve uncovered suggest it was constructed to bury a large wooden boat that had been used in a royal funeral, in line with a tradition that stretches back to the earliest days of dynastic Egypt.

As a graduate student, Wegner participated in an excavation at Abydos that found 14 wooden vessels—some as long as 75 feet— from about 3000 B.C. All lay in mud-brick structures arrayed outside the funerary complex of a 1st-dynasty king. Wegner sees evidence of a similar scheme at this site, known as south Abydos.

When his crew dug a test trench to find the floor of the building with the boat sketches, they found a gentle curve—the perfect shape to cradle a boat’s hull. They also found a few pieces of wood that were badly decayed and ravaged by insects. Wegner believes these are the remaining scraps of a boat that was looted in antiquity for its lumber. Since the boat had a royal connection, the lumber probably included expensive cedar planks imported from Lebanon—very much worth stealing, especially in a country where trees of any kind are scarce.

The boat would have been built at the height of the 12th dynasty, when Egypt sent military campaigns to both the Levant in the north and Nubia in the south. During this period of great wealth and power, the king must have had money to burn on any number of monumental projects—including more than one potential burial place. Each required an enormous investment of resources and reflected very different designs.

See National Geographic site for the full story.

HOMO SAPIENS WANDERED OUT OF AFRICA 50,000 YEARS AGO AND MIXED WITH NEANDERTHALS AND DENISOVANS

When humans first wandered out of Africa more than 50,000 years ago, they soon struggled with strange and hostile surroundings, armed with little more than stone tools. Now a study suggests they got help from an unlikely source: trysts with the neighbors.

Evidence gleaned from DNA shows our species, Homo sapiens, benefited from mixing it up with Neanderthals and another human relative, the Denisovans. Both Neanderthals and Denisovans were well ensconced in other parts of the world when modern humans arrived. By pairing off and having children with these not-quite-human creatures, modern humans quickly acquired DNA that helped them adapt to their new homes, according to a study in this week’s Current Biology.

Mixing with other species “wasn’t just some curious feature of human history,” says study co-author Joshua Akey of the University of Washington in Seattle. "(It) actually had consequences, and it helped our ancestors survive and reproduce.”

STONE CIRCLE OF 2,000 BCE IN DEVON -- NEWLY FOUND AND BIG!

Sittaford Stone Circle, located in Devon (England) was revealed by the actions of peat cutters in more recent centuries, and rediscovered in 2008 by a local amateur archaeologist after a moorland fire, appears undisturbed, that is highly unusual.

Dartmoor National Park Authority archaeologist Lee Bray says: "This lack of disturbance is one of the facts that makes the site special. That this hasn't happened at Sittaford - as far as we know - makes the site of national significance as it has the potential to shed light on stone circles which is unclouded by the activities of intervening periods."

The ring of 30 stones is over 30 meters in diameter, making it one of the largest stone circles in the national park. The monument lies on the edge of the blanket bog on the summit of a ridge about 300 meters southwest of Sittaford Tor at over 520 meters elevation. An earlier geophysical survey suggested features are not visible on the surface.

Four trenches were dug in five days - three revealing stones of the circle, the fourth investigating a curiously deep area of peat within the monument. One stone was associated with packing stones, indicating that it had been placed upright, but none of the trenches revealed a socket in which the stones could have stood.

Bray wonders whether the ring could have been temporary, or unfinished: "Various interpretations are possible and we're currently considering all the available evidence to try to identify the most likely conclusion." No artifacts were found, but samples of peat taken from beneath them which may allow an estimate of the time the stones have been in their current positions. Two dates obtained previously both suggested the stones were lying down by around 2,000 BCE.

Edited from Okehampton Times (4 November 2016)
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