Friday, April 11, 2014

Scientists say papyrus referring to wife of Jesus is no fake

In September, 2012, a faded fragment of papyrus, which has controversially come to be known as 'The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife', made international headlines when it was unveilled by Harvard Divinity School historian Karen L. King.  The announcement, unsurprisingly, was met with both anger and elation, as well as a great deal of skepticism as it contained a phrase never seen before in any other scripture: "Jesus said to them, my wife….", and "she will be able to be my disciple", a phrase that stirred debate over whether women should be allowed to be priests.  An editorial in the Vatican’s newspaper declared that the papyrus was a fake, as did a number of other scholars. However, the fragment has now been thoroughly tested by scientists who conclude, in a report published in the Harvard Theological Review, that the ink (actually pigment) and papyrus have ancient origins, and the fragment is not, therefore, a modern forgery.

The papyrus fragment has now been tested by scientists at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), who carried out carbon-dating as well as micro-Raman spectroscopy to determine the chemical composition of the ink. The results revealed that: the papyrus can be dated to approximately 700 to 800 AD, it is consistent with other papyri from the fourth to the eight centuries, the carbon black ink (actually a type of pigment) was typical of that used on other papyri of the time, and the text did not show any variations or inconsistencies which would suggest doctoring. 

The text is written in Sahidic, a language of ancient Egypt, and the study authors have suggested that it may be a transcription of an earlier Coptic text that was based on a Greek copy made centuries earlier, as many early Christian gospels are. Therefore, a date of 700 to 800 AD does not mean that this was the first time the text appeared.

However, scientific analysis is not always enough to convince some. The Harvard Theological review, is also publishing a counter piece by Egyptologist at Brown University, Leo Depuydt, whose paper predates the scientific analysis. According to a report on the story in the New York Times, Dr Depuydt said that testing the fragment was irrelevant and he saw “no need to inspect it”. He said he decided that it is a fake based on a newspaper photograph of the papyrus in which he saw “grammatical errors”, as well as similarity to writing in the Gospel of Thomas. In a rebuttal, King finds Depuydt’s textual analysis unpersuasive.

Dr King has been quick to point out that the test results do not prove that Jesus had a wife or disciples who were women, only that the fragment is ancient rather than forged. She does hope, however, that the discussion, commentary, and focus can now move on from ‘is it fake?’ to ‘what does all this mean?

Source: AO

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Surprise finding as ancient Egyptian sarcophagus is found in Israel

Archaeologists made a rare and unexpected discovery during a natural gas pipeline salvage excavation in Jezereel Valley, Israel, when they came across a 3,300-year-old Egyptian sarcophagus complete with human remains and numerous grave goods. It is the first time in around fifty years that an anthropoidal (person-shaped) coffin has been found in present-day Israel.
The Bronze Age clay coffin contained an anthropoidal lid with a naturalistic impression of a man’s face, with stylized hair in an Egyptian style, ears and, like sarcophagi of Egyptian pharaohs, hands crossed over the chest in the manner of the deceased. The clay coffin was surrounded by pottery, storage vessels, and animal bones. Inside the sarcophagus was an adult skeleton, pottery, a bronze dagger, a bronze bowl, hammered pieces of bronze and, most significantly, a rare Egyptian scarab seal of Pharaoh Seti I encased in gold and affixed to a ring. The seal features the winged Uraeus (cobra), protector of the pharaoh’s name and person. 
The gold scarab seal. Photo credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Pharaoh Seti I ruled Egypt from around 1290 to 1279 BC and is considered by many Egyptologists to be one of the most powerful kings of the 19th Dynasty. In the first year of his reign, Seti I put down a revolt in the Bet Shean Valley, which is located not far from where the coffin was found. After conquering the region, the pharaoh established Egyptian rule in Canaan and instated Canaanite vassals to rule the territory on the pharaoh’s behalf.  Canaan roughly corresponds to the Levant, i.e. modern-day Lebanon, Israel, Palestinian territories, the western part of Jordan and south-western Syria. 

Archaeologists are not entirely clear who the coffin belonged to, but IAA excavation director Dr. Ron Be’eri suggests that the remains may belong to a wealthy Canaanite rather than Egyptian. Egyptians traditionally buried their dead in Egyptian soil, and the grave goods were distinctly Canaanite. The graves of two men and two women, who may have been members of his family, were found buried nearby in a similar style.  The deceased may have been an official of Canaanite origin who was engaged in the service of the Egyptian government, or a wealthy local who imitated Egyptian customs. However, Be’eri added that Canaanites “were not accustomed to burying themselves in coffins of this sort. The Canaanite style of burial is different.” 
The Egyptian coffin from Jezreel Valley. Photo credit: Dan Kirzner, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The IAA is currently considering sampling the DNA from inside the coffin to see if the deceased was originally a Canaanite, or an Egyptian buried in Canaan. 

Source: AO

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ancient manuscript returns home to Greek monastery on Mount Athos

The Getty Museum is returning a 12th century illuminated New Testament to the Monastery of Dionysiou on Greece's Mount Athos after it came to light that it had been illegally removed from the monastery more than 50 years ago.

The treasured manuscript is currently being displayed at the Getty Center in Brentwood as part of the exhibition "Heaven and Earth: Byzantine Illumination at the Cultural Crossroad" and will be returned at its conclusion in June. The exhibition features ancient texts and works of art belonging to the Byzantine Empire (330 – 1453 AD), which was greatly admired for its courtly splendour and rich visual arts. Inspired by the legacy of Greco–Roman antiquity, Byzantine manuscript painters in Greece and Asia Minor are noted for their prominent use of gold, a striking sense of naturalism, and a distinctive spiritual character.

Officials at Getty said that the museum acquired the manuscript in 1983 as part of a "large, well-documented" collection and were unaware of its illegal status. However, during research into the manuscript conducted alongside the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, a 1960 monastery record was discovered, which indicated that the book had been illegally removed.

"Based on new information that came to light through this process, the museum decided that the right course of action was to return the manuscript to the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou from which it disappeared over 50 years ago," said Timothy Potts, director of Getty Museum. 

The Dionysiou Monastery,

Founded in the fourteenth century by St. Dionysios of Koreseos, the Dionysiou Monastery is one of the twenty monasteries located on the peninsula of Mount Athos in north-eastern Greece.  Mount Athos, also known as “Holy Mountains” is a World Heritage Site and an autonomous polity in the Hellenic Republic. According to legend, Mount Athos was formed when Athos, the name of one of the Gigantes that challenged the Greek gods during the Gigantomachia, threw a massive rock against Poseidon which feel in the Aegean Sea. It is believed that monks have inhabited the island since the 3rd century AD.

Upon its return, the 12th century New Testament will join the well-organised monastery library, which includes 804 codices, more than 5,000 old printed books, and an illuminated Gospel from the 13th century. 

Source: AO

Monday, April 7, 2014

Do the ancient stone walls of Saksaywaman in Peru contain hidden communication?

Lying on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco in Peru, lies the remarkable walled complex of Saksaywaman (Sacsayhuaman), believed to have been built by the Inca. The site is famous for its remarkable large dry stone walls with boulders carefully cut to fit together tightly without mortar, displaying a precision of fitting that is unmatched in the Americas. This, combined with the variety of interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward has puzzled scientists for decades. But there is another puzzle hidden in the stones of Saksaywaman – the angles of the stones, according to researcher Dr Derek Cunningham, correspond to astronomical alignments.

Dr Cunningham, author of ‘400,000 Years of Stone Age Science’, has put forward a theory that ancient civilizations developed writing from a very archaic geometrical form that is based on the study of the motion of the moon and the sun. According to his hypothesis, astronomical values considered central to the prediction of eclipses, are converted into angular values. In total, there are approximately 9 standard values which Dr Cunningham has identified in a large number of ancient drawings, with a small number of secondary values that are occasionally seen in regional art. Some examples, include the Stonehenge lozenge, the Kharga Oasis Spider, and religious statues from Cyprus.

Now he has discovered the same values are present in the construction of the Saksaywaman stone wall.

The most important of these astronomical values is the sidereal month, which is drawn in early astronomical texts as an angular value at either 13.66 or 27.32 degrees to represent the half and full month values. After the sidereal month value is known it is then a simple matter for astronomers to calculate that the earth is moving approximately 1 degree per day around the sun, and through more careful observations to deduce there is an eclipse season every 6.511 draconic months, this being a time period a time period equivalent to 6 synodic months. Other parameters important for predicting eclipses are the 5.1 degree angle of inclination of the moon’s orbit, and the 9.3/18.6 year lunar nutation cycle. Finally a value of 11 degrees is found on many early Stone Age artefacts, which corresponds to the 11 day difference between the lunar and solar year. 
Arrangement of stones in a wall at Saksaywaman. Astronomical values can be found in the form of an angular array, offset to either above or below the horizontal, or the right or left of the vertical. Photo credit: Derek Cunningham

The astronomical values are also represented in the layout of the walls when viewed from above. 
Astronomical values can be observed in the overhead layout of Saksaywaman. Photo credit: Derek Cunningham 

Despite the theory being developed only recently, to date many sites now show a striking ability to align to the exact same angular values. This includes the causeways located in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza, as well as the lines making up the body of the Atacama Giant. As Dr Cunningham notes, it is impossible to yet verify that the theory is correct, because many images of important artefacts are distorted during uploading to the internet, and satellite images cannot replace direct ground studies, but so far the results are incredibly consistent, and can even be seen in artifacts dating back tens of thousands of years.

“The potential of the idea to explain some things about so many sites from the pyramids of Egypt to the Atacama Giant in Chile is obviously very controversial, and it should be,” said Dr Cunningham in an article on Popular Archaeology. “But if correct, it could rewrite some aspects of our understanding of not only the Stone Age but also world history. If, on the other hand, scholars prove this specific astronomical theory wrong, then we can move on, knowing that it has been sufficiently tested. What is most intriguing is that a complete new window may have been opened into the past." 

Source: AO

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Accidental Discovery of 8,000-Year-Old Settlements and Necropolis in Greece

An impressive discovery of ancient lacustrine settlements and a huge necropolis, dating back as early as 8,000 years ago, has been brought to light by an archaeological excavation in the area between the villages of St. Panteleimon, Anargyros Amyntaiou, and Vegora Philotas in Greece. 

Although excavations took place in the region more than a century ago, in 1898, by the Russian Institute of Constantinople, nothing was ever reported or announced and excavations stopped for more than 100 years.  In 2001, excavations resumed in the area due to lignite mining operations by the Greek Electricity company, leading to the accidental discovery of the ruins by a group of workers.  Since then, an incredible 54 ancient settlements have been discovered with 24 discovered in the last two years alone.  The details of the findings have just been reported by an archaeological representative of the Government. 

The discoveries include the remains of numerous rectangular buildings, measuring 4x6 metres and oriented southeast to southwest, arranged in ‘neighbourhoods’ of 4 to 6 buildings in each.  The floors of the buildings were constructed with successive layers of clay resting on wooden beams. Some of the larger buildings consisted of two levels with a balcony on the second floor, demonstrating remarkably advanced architecture for the period between 6,000 BC and 3,000 BC.  Inside the buildings, archaeologists have found the remains of fireplaces, which would probably have been used for both heating and cooking. In order to avoid flooding they had created fortifications to protect the settlements. Each house was raised on layers of clay to avoid water gathering beneath.

Many tools, pottery, various jewellery and clay figurines were found including anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations. One of the most impressive artifacts was a chair with legs (as opposed to a seat with a solid base), which until now had only been found in Greece dating back to the 6th century BC. The findings also shed light on the dietary habits of the ancient people, as scientists have found the remains of wheat, lentils, and pomegranate, as well as blackberry and elderberry seeds.

Archaeologists discovered jewellery, pottery and many other artifacts. Photo source. The civilisation that occupied this area has since been named the ‘Civilisation of the Four Lakes’, as most of the settlements were found in the vicinity of a set of lakes in the region. The civilisation is believed to have settled in the area beginning around 6,000 BC and extending until 3,000 BC. It appears that a great fire destroyed the settlements, with many remains becoming submerged in the depths of the lakes.

The necropolis that was found consists of cist graves in an entirely circular and radial arrangement with each tomb accompanied by a large number of offerings like ceramic and bronze vases, jewellery, clothing, weapons and tools. More than 148 tombs have been found to date. The discovery of the remains of some women wearing elaborate clothing and valuable jewellery indicates the existence of a hierarchical social system. The discovery reflects an incredibly advanced civilisation existing in northern Greece 8,000 years ago.

Source: AO