ArtiFacts: Recent News in the Field of Archaeology

Yet Another Ancient Observatory

In Brazil, archaeologists have discovered a circle of granite blocks, 127 in all, that reach as much as 9 feet in height. The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and it’s reported that on this day the shadow is absent from one of the rocks since it aligns perfectly with the sun. This alone is indicative of the astronomical function of the site.

Such circles of stone are not uncommon in antiquity.

The Nabta Playa, discovered in Egypt in 1974 by SMU professor of anthropology Fred Wendorf, was constructed between 7,000 and 6,500 years ago about 100 km west of Abu Simbel in southern Egypt.

The Solar Circle in Goseck, Germany was discovered in 2002 and dates to about 7,000 years ago. This enclosure was probably representative of hundreds of other circular henges in Europe at around 4600 BCE. Goseck’s henge measures 220 feet in diameter and was originally comprised of a narrow ditch that surrounded a wooden enclosure and had three gates, the two southern most marking the beginnings of the summer and winter solstices.

If you’ve read my blog in the past, you might remember that I commented on the Peruvian observatory in a previous ArtiFacts . This one is located in the Andes at the top of a 33-foot pyramid and dates to about 4,200 years ago -also marking the summer and winter solstices.

Egyptology

Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered the sarcophagi of Neb Ra Khatow, as painted on one of his two sarcophagi. They date to the 26th dynasty (c. 2,500 years ago), one nestled in the other. The outer sarcophagus was painted with hieroglyphs that refer to Osiris and Ra in red, blue and green. The inner sarcophagus "was in good condition," according to Zahi Hawass, and of human form. The mummy inside was encircled with a wreath of plant material. These sarcophagi were found about 1 km from the pyramids of Giza, suggesting that there may still be much to discover even in this heavily examined location.

Meanwhile, about 700 km away in Luxor, archaeologists "fully unveiled the first tomb discovered in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in over 80 years, and cracked open the last of eight sarcophagi inside to reveal embalming materials and jewelry."

"This is even better than finding a mummy it’s a treasure," said chief curator Nadia Lokma, beaming at the sarcophagus packed with fragile fabrics and other materials that would crumble into dust if touched.

"It will tell us about the religious plants and herbs used by ancient Egyptians, what they wore, how they wove it, how they embalmed the dead," she said.

Again, if you’ve read my blog in the past, you may remember that I’ve commented on KV63, the 63rd tomb found in the Valley of the Kings, both here and here. That first link includes a YouTube video of the dig. It was hoped that this sarcophagus would contain the mummy of Tutankhamun’s mother, but instead it contained strips of cloth and dehydrated flowers, woven together.

"I prayed to find a mummy, but when I saw this, I said it’s better—it’s really beautiful," Nadia Lokma, the chief curator of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, told reporters gathered for the opening. "It’s very rare—there’s nothing like it in any museum. We’ve seen things like it in drawings, but we’ve never seen this before in real life. It’s magnificent," Lokma said.

Rather than a tomb for royalty, it would seem that KV63 is an embalming and mummification cache used for the funerary process. In the video, archaeologist Ted Brock describes the use of natrum, a salty desiccant used to mummify a corpse, which was found in the tomb.

Pseudoarchaeology

It’s expected that if a few religious apologists get together an "expedition" to look for Noah’s Ark that they would be reported on by a religious apologist news organization. Particularly if these "explorers" claim to have actually found it!

What bothers me, however, is that the mainstream media has actually allowed themselves to be duped yet again. Apparently, the Bosnian Pyramid con by Samir Osmanagic hasn’t sunk in with them that they were actually conned.

ABC News online has printed their Good Morning America story that "[a] team of Texas archaeologists believe they may have located the remains of Noah’s Ark in Iran’s Elburz mountain range." Again, I commented on this previously, but there are other examples of mainstream media hyping this pseudo-archaeological claim. Such bogus claims, given legitimacy by the media, do little to reassure the lay-public that science is careful or reliable. Is it any wonder that the public might have a hard time accepting a scientific consensus that global warming is a significant problem or that stem cell research is a worthy and much needed endeavor?

The ABC News article closes with:

The biggest hurdle in identifying Noah’s Ark comes down to "gopher wood." The Bible says the Ark was made of gopher wood but no one knows what it is.

This is so obvious: Noah was in a hurray to build his boat. When his sons asked what they could do to help he said, "gopher more wood."

Battle of the Starbucks

I’m hooked. As a pre-adolescent, I was very much a fan of Battlestar Galactica, the television series that fell on the heals of George Lucas’ Star Wars and took advantage of the tremendous potential for the space opera genre of science fiction.

Humans battled robots called Cylons as they escaped the destruction of their world and began their search for the “13th colony,” Earth. As dramas go, Battlestar Galactica offered very little for the intellectual and made no attempt to do anything beyond entertain those hungry for space opera and action in the post-Star Wars world of science fiction. For an eleven year-old, the show was perfect and needed no improvement and I watched it with great enthusiasm each week.

Lorne Greene, as Commander Adama, was the intended star of the show, but from my perspective it was Dirk Benedict, who embodied the role of Starbuck: the cigar-smoking, wise-creaking rogue that had a way with the ladies. Exactly the kind of hero every preteen boy aspires to become!

Cancelled, only to be briefly resurrected as Galactica 1980, the show finally ended with the Colonial Fleet finding Earth.

As is the trend of late, Battlestar Galactica has found itself once again resurrected, this time as a remake on the SciFi Channel. Some remakes make it and some don’t: Smallville has shown itself to be a successful resurrection of the Superman theme; Spiderman has enjoyed good acclaim at the hands of Tobey Maguire; Enterprise had a mixed following among Trek fans, but was ultimately considered a flop; and even Star Wars had mixed reviews of its various sequels and has a TV series in the works –the success of which is to be announced.

The newest incarnation of Battlestar Galactica is definitely an improvement over the old. Our favorite characters are back: the honorable leadership of Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos); his responsible and rational son, Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber); and the carefree, hotshot Lt. Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace (Katee Sackhoff). What’s new to Battlestar Galactica is the way the Cylons are depicted. Some are the metal robots with the back-and-forth red eyes, but the newest Cylon models are human-like and virtually indistinguishable from the humans they are attempting to destroy.

Improved in the new SciFi Channel release of the show is Starbuck! Dirk Benedict would (and has elsewhere) disagree with that assessment, however, and from his point of view, Starbuck was “castrated.” But I would assert that my one-time hero’s opinion is a minority one. Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck has a depth of character and charisma that far exceeds Benedict’s version. Moreover, Sackhoff ‘s Starbuck is very believable and we see not just the wise-cracking, cigar-smoking (she does both!) side, but also the vulnerabilities we might expect from a woman in her position: a top-gun pilot whose best friend is a handsome and dashing male (Apollo). She finds challenges in living up to her top-gun reputation and occasionally even with her rogue reputation, but some of the best challenges for her character come with romance and intimacy as she experiences the conflicts that some opposite-sex best friends encounter and deals with the grief of being separated from someone she falls in love with. The sexual tension that remains between Starbuck and Apollo adds a compelling twist to the show that obviously didn’t exist between Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch in the earlier series (though, maybe it should have!).
Overall, the new Battlestar Galactica applies far more realism to the story than the 1980’s version. We are made to think about what it means to be at war; what an enemy truly is; how these roles can change; and it makes us examine religious worldview and how it can affect how we perceive others. The producers and writers do an excellent job of painting a picture of war that is wrought with emotion, passion, doubt, heroism, and patriotism. They present war as that human institution that isn’t defined in absolute terms of black and white as some would like to have us believe, but as being comprised of many, many shades of grey. Having served in war myself, I can agree with their depiction. We want black and white, but grey areas keep getting in the way. The people you thought you knew can surprise you and change suddenly before your very eyes, sometimes to extreme degrees. Some of these exceed all expectations in their competencies and capabilities; others fall flat on their faces or lose touch with reality. And Battlestar Galactica, a science fiction television series, captures this effect extremely well. If Battlestar Galactica 1980 was the perfect show for children of the 80’s, Battlestar Galactica 2006 is the perfect show for these kids, all grown up.

Benedict’s reaction in a recent article to the gender change of the Starbuck character struck me as the whining of a washed-out actor, resentful that he didn’t get a cameo in the show. His former co-star, Richard Hatch, found his place among the “re-imagined” series and has begun fleshing out a very interesting character as Tom Zarek, a shady but power-hungry terrorist-turned-politician. Perhaps I’m wrong. I probably am. Maybe Benedict is genuinely put off by what he sees as the downfall of a character that he worked hard to create. Maybe he sees the new Starbuck as a loss rather than a gain for the story that the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica offers. Maybe he really perceives the cartoonish effects and simple but canned plots of the 1980’s version as somehow superior to the thought provoking storylines of the new millennium’s version. It’s my opinion, however, that Benedict is suffering from a bruised ego when his macho, chauvinistic Starbuck was transformed from the hero every teen boy wanted to be to the hero every teen boy wants to kiss!

If Benedict’s account of the development of the original Starbuck is true, then he certainly worked hard and overcame the objections of “the suits” to establish a character that we all came to love. But Benedict’s inability to see the artistic and intellectual merit of the new (and improved!) Battlestar Galactica speaks either to his stubbornness or his intellectual handicaps –or both. Benedict’s vernacular was certainly angry if not belligerent toward the stellar efforts Sackhoff has put into the character. His derision of her character, which included calling her “Stardoe” and his attempts at machismo came off as contrived and insincere. It was as if Mr. Benedict believed he actually was Starbuck, somehow court-martialed by Commander Adama and run out of the Colonial Fleet.

References:

Lost in Castration, by Dirk Benedict.

Pseudoarchaeology: Raiders of the ‘lost ark’

Drawing by Paul Gustave Dore, famous French 19th Century illustrator, shows Noah's Ark, resting atop Mt. Ararat in Turkey as the flood waters subside. (AP Photo)

Ed Brayton turned me on to this pseudoarchaeological report in Christian Worldview Network. It would seem that the “expedition” was “[l]ed by explorer, adventurer, and featured Worldview Weekend speaker Dr. Bob Cornuke,” an apparently fake doctor of Lousiana Baptist University –a diploma mill as noted by Brayton’s follow-up article, Another Faked Creationist Credential?

This so-called expedition is described by the Christian Worldview Network as:

[A] fourteen man crew [that] consisted of a Who’s Who of business, law, and ministry leaders including Barry Rand (former CEO of Avis), the multiple best-selling author and Christian apologist Josh McDowell, Frank Turek (co-author with Norm Giesler of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist), Boone Powell (former CEO of Baylor Medical Systems), and Arch Bonnema (president of Joshua Financial).

Ed Brayton asked first and I echo the question: where are the archaeologists and geologists? Even from their photos, I can see that we’re looking at natural formations. Cornuke is quoted by the article as saying:

We have no way of confirming for sure that this object is Noah’s Ark, but it is probably the most interesting and baffling object ever found by ark searchers…it sure gets my heart to pumping just thinking of what it could be.”

I know the article claims he’s a “veteran of nearly 30 expeditions,” but if he finds a basaltic dike “baffling,” he really needs to get out more. Interesting, yes. Baffling, hardly.

Still, it’s not altogether difficult to understand why people see “design” in nature. ID proponents have been going on and on about this for years. But what “baffles” people like Cornuke about natural structures like basaltic dikes are the angles and form of such geology. A similar reaction is noted in mystery-mongers and significance junkies that claim the beach rock of the so-called Bimini Road are evidence of pavements in antiquity or the undersea geologic formations near Yonaguni evidence for Lemuria. Both features are naturally occurring because of cleavage, jointing, and so on, but people not educated in such processes are easily “baffled” by their appearance. Add to the “mystery” of their form the fact that they’re underwater and the sites become largely inaccessible for skeptics (increasing the mystery); and “proof” that the civilization was of a time long before the stone-age since the land was last above sea level before the last ice-age (increasing the significance).

A similar is being played out in Bosnia in relation to the so-called pyramid “discovered” by Osmanagic. Undo significance has been placed upon the “stone balls” that are found on the landscape local to the “Bosnian Pyramid.” Osmanagic and others claim these are “manmade” and “their existence proves an ancient civilisation existed in today’s Bosnia.” These are spherulites created through natural volcanic processes and are well documented. In a nutshell, the process involves the cooling and subsequent crystallization of rhyolitic minerals in erupted volcanic flows. Likewise, the alleged “pavement” stones of the site are jointed bedrock very similar in formation to the so-called Bimini Road. These and other features of the site are well-discussed and cited with references at The Hall of Ma’at. I highly recommend reading posts there by Paul H.

Back to the “Noah’s Ark” story: there’s another interesting fallacy that these guys fall into. They note the presence of shells:

Upon being cut open, one of these “rocks” also divulged a marine fissile that could have only originated undersea.
Scouring the mountains all around the object, team participant Steve Crampton found thousands of fossilized sea shells blanketing the landscape. Cornuke brought back a one-inch thick rock slab choked with fossilized clams
.

It’s as if they believe that the presence of shells demonstrates that the sea once covered the mountain. In fact, I’m certain this is exactly what they’re implying; never mind the geologic processes that are demonstrated to have occurred (and continue to occur) which uplift and fold strata from sea level to mountainous heights. Indeed, these shells are, as Ed Brayton rightly comments, evidence against their contention that there was a global flood since the shells would be on the mountain instead of in it. Mountain strata the world over show evidence of ancient seashores, beaches and ocean bottoms all lifted high in the air by well understood tectonic processes.

The Worldview Network article on pseudoarchaeology concludes with:

Elvis may have long since left the building, but it looks as if the Ark may have just appeared at the door.

There’s another analogy to Elvis that these pseudoscientists are missing. People continue to claim that Elvis is still alive and sightings of Elvis pop up in popular media from time to time. So is it with this alleged ark. People claim to find it from time to time, but there’s never any real evidence to back their claims. Spurious examples of rocks and shells are used by apologists that seem desperate to justify their superstitions about an ancient cult that believed the world was flooded.

But unlike Elvis, there’s no evidence that the ark ever existed in the first place and a preponderance of evidence which suggests the early Canaanite authors of the Noachian myth took their story from much Earlier Sumerian fictions like Gilgamesh. I wonder if it would have made any difference to the early Canaans if the Gilgamesh epic included a warning that “this story and the cuneiform script are copyrighted and can not be duplicated in whole or part.”

EDIT (7/6/06):

Afarensis posts here about the National Geographic article that ran online for 7/5/06, Noah’s Ark Discovered in Iran? At least they put the appropriate question mark at the end, but continued media attention from institutions like the Associated Press and National Geographic is just the sort of thing that pseudoarchaeologists seek. This satisfies their appeals to authority in a most perverse manner, giving them the ability to say: “look what the AP or NG said about us.” Marie Jon, a Christian-conservative writer who writes for Capitolhillcoffeehouse.com, The Daley Times Post, and RenewAmerica.us, wrote on the topic this week in an article titled Noah’s Ark and a Rainbow. The NG article tries to take a neutral stand and offers both credulous and skeptical points of view. As expected, Jon takes a completely credulous perspective.

From National Geographic (after offering up Cornuke and BASE’s press-release version):

Not everyone is convinced by the BASE team’s claims.

Kevin Pickering, a geologist at University College London who specializes in sedimentary rocks, doesn’t think that the ark-like rocks are petrified wood.

“The photos appear to show iron-stained sedimentary rocks, probably thin beds of silicified sandstones and shales, which were most likely laid down in a marine environment a long time ago,” he said.

From Marie Jon’s editorial:

If the discovery turns out to be the real thing, there will no longer be any excuses to disbelieve God’s Word. We will have the scientific proof needed to quiet the skeptics.

The ACLU, who sues schools over a display of Jesus’ picture, will be beside themselves if the Noah’s Ark story is found to be accurate.

Photo Credits: Drawing by Paul Gustave Dore, famous French 19th Century illustrator, shows Noah’s Ark, resting atop Mt. Ararat in Turkey as the flood waters subside. (AP Photo); Geologic shale or basalt formation comes from http://www.arkfever.com and the B.A.S.E. Institute -in spite of their warning, it’s used in accordance with Fair Use

Dr. Bill Lucas: A "Cracked Up" Pseudoscientist

Silkworm at Defending Science is in the trenches with CORR (Christians for Origins and Religious Research), and he hammers their lead speaker, Dr. Bill Lucas. According to Dr. Lucas’ resume, he holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from William and Mary and is a “professor” of physics at Catholic University in Washington D.C.

This is one of the more interesting points that Silkworm decimates CORR, a student organization on the Wichita State campus in Kansas. Silkworm writes of his confrontation with Lucas at a CORR meeting at Wichita State in which he and another attendee demand the good doctor come clean with his credentials. Apparently, Catholic University doesn’t acknowledge his “professorship” and that’s not all. The good doctor claims to have presented one or more papers at an AAAS function, which is flatly denied by AAAS Executive Director David Nash.

Also challenged are Lucas’ claims to have 40-60 peer-reviewed papers (apparently it’s about 4-6) and the overall bunk that was presented at the June 15th meeting. I’ll quote Silkworm:

Lucas claims that the Earth radiates energy and so loses mass and gravity, while at the same time expanding. So, Lucas claims that the Earth loses energy and so loses mass. This is a prediction his “Divine Force” makes and he made several statements to back it up. One of them that was people in Biblical times lived so long because the intense gravity of the Earth kept more oxygen close to the surface, and said that the gravity now when a maximum life expectancy is 100 years is 1/9th that of in Biblical times when ages of 900 years are reported in the Bible. He also used this very bad geology: [image of mid-oceanic ridges].

Good work, Silkworm! Keep it up!

ScienceBlogs School Supply Fundraiser

The bloggers over at ScienceBlogs, the Seed Magazine blog portal, are participating in a fundraiser to generate money for science education. The reason is simple and Janet at Adventures in Ethics and Science puts it best:

A lot of us fell in love with science because of early experiences in school teachers who made science intriguing, exciting, maybe a little bit dangerous. But tightening budgets are making it harder and harder for public school teachers to provide the books, equipment, and field trips to make science come alive for kids.


Click on the link below to fund proposals like: “Anthropology and Education – First grade;” “Sixth Grade Fossil Dig!;” and “Books to Gain Students’ Interests.”

Click here to donate as little as $10… your donation will make a big difference and there’s contest with prizes! Click here to see the contest details or pick an alternate blogger at ScienceBlogs. My choice is Afarensis, since he’s their resident anthropologist!

A Bronze Age Harbor at Sidon

The Journal of Archaeological Science has an article in press, "Geoarchaeology of Sidon’s ancient harbours, Phoenicia (Marriner, Morhange, & Doumet-Serhal 2006, in press)"  in which the authors use geoarchaeological data to clarify the developmental stages of Sidon’s bronze age harbor. The complete the study by comparing and contrasting the data with that of the nearby harbor of Tyre. The harbors of Sidon and Tyre are both in natural anchorages that provide shelter from storms for large vessels and allow for beaching of smaller craft. Human modification of Sidon can be traced back to the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1700 BCE) and the residents modified shoreline sandstones to create artificial quays (a kind of wharf where cargo can be loaded & unloaded), using the blocks to create seawalls from scratch or perhaps by modifying existing, natural features.
 
These features of modification were also found present on the island of Zire, which shows that it was an important component of the Sidon harbor system. Cargo was likely ferried to and from the island by small vessels to be loaded on or unloaded from larger ones.
 
As with most harbors created or modified by humans, siltation was a problem at Sidon, and intense dredging occurred during the Roman and Byzantine periods. Siltation occurs when sediments are trapped by modified or natural features like peninsulas, jetties and sea walls and is accentuated by harbor debris like sunken vessels and refuse or garbage. From the article:
 

Siltation, notably under deltaic and urban contexts, was a well-recognised problem in antiquity with four sedimentary sources of note: (1) local watercourses; (2) regional longdrift currents; (3) erosion of adobe constructions and urban runoff; and (4) use of the basin as a base-level waste dump. Sidon’s gravels fraction from the Roman period comprises a whole suite of discarded objects, trapped at the bottom of the basin, including ceramics, wood, seeds, leather artefacts etc. Indeed, an inscription from Roman Ephesus, demanding citizens not to throw waste into the port, attests that ancient societies must have been acutely aware of this problem.

It is postulated that extensive dredging during the Roman and Byzantine period explains (1) the observed stratigraphic hiatus and (2) dating inversions. Previously, these problems, in the absence of robust chronological frameworks, were most often ignored or left unexplained.

Marriner et al describe the rapid progradation, the outward building of a sedimentary deposition from the coast, beginning around the 6th century CE which contributed to "the deformation and dislocation of Sidon’s harbour."

Sidon shows that the magnitude of crustal mobility is inferior to Tyre, 50 cm since antiquity, yet the same coarse sand facies is persistently observed. These data chronologically contradict, at least locally, the Early Byzantine Tectonic Paroxysm (EBTP) hypothesis dated to the fourth to sixth centuries AD. In effect, the opening of Tyre and Sidon appears to be later, after the sixth century AD. [E]arthquake and tsunami events on the Levantine coast [show] that the fourth to eleventh centuries were characterised by repeated seismic shocks, possibly provoking partial harbour damage. According to data from various sources [one of the sources cited is Russell (1985)] it is interesting to note that during the EBTP a cluster of five earthquakes ��8 are documented on the Levantine coast against a mere two during the period AD 600 to AD 1100.

 
In comparing/contrasting Sidon with Tyre, Marriner et al note that the sedimentation from adjacent rivers (Litani near Tyre and Awali near Sidon) are primarily differentiated by the size of the two water sheds. Litani is much larger than Awali and delivers larger sediment sizes (coarse sand & gravel) than Awali’s medium sands & silts. They also noted that Sidon is more isolated from marine dynamics of the Mediterranean Sea by land features, whereas Tyre is more open and affected. Both city-ports began as natural habors exploited by early seafarers and progradation has changed the coastal morphology such that many of the ancient harbors are beneath modern constructions in the cities.
 
References
 

Marriner, Nick; Morhange, C.; Doumet-Serhal, C. (2006, in press). Geoarchaeology of Sidon’s ancient harbours, Phoenicia. Journal of Archaeological Science. Available online 21 April 2006.

Russell, K.W. (1985). The earthquake chronology of Palestine and Northwest Arabia from the 2nd through the mid-8th century A.D, Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 260, pp. 37�C59.

Another Reason to Drink Coffee!

Science NOW Daily News ran an article titled, Another Cup of Joe, Bartender, which caught my eye. Researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland, California may have discovered that coffee can protect the liver against cirrhosis. They surveyed 125,000 patients for their coffee, tea, and alcohol habits and discovered:
 
By 2001, 199 had come down with cirrhosis of the liver due to drinking, and 131 had cirrhosis due to other causes. When the researchers compared those who had consumed similar amounts of alcohol, they found that for each cup of coffee consumed per day, individuals were 22% less likely to be hit with alcohol-induced cirrhosis. The heaviest coffee drinkers were 80% less likely to suffer cirrhosis. In addition, boozers who drank the most coffee had significantly lower amounts of liver enzymes in their blood, suggesting something in coffee protects from liver damage.

 
They don’t exactly know what the ingredient is in coffee that protects the liver, but they noted that no amount of tea protected the liver -suggesting that it isn’t caffeine. Also, coffee only protected the liver against cirrhosis if the cirrhosis was due to alcohol consumption. Apparently it has no effect on hepatitis as a cause.
 
Coffee is probably man’s greatest achievement. Not the wheel, or fire, or bronze, or iron…