Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mummified by accident in copper masks almost 1,000 years ago: but who were they?

Academics restart work to unlock secrets of mystery medieval civilization with links to Persia on edge of the Siberian Arctic.

The 34 shallow graves excavated by archeologists at Zeleniy Yar throw up many more questions than answers. But one thing seems clear: this remote spot, 29 km shy of the Arctic Circle, was a trading crossroads of some importance around one millennium ago. 
The medieval necropolis include 11 bodies with shattered or missing skulls, and smashed skeletons. Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper, while also elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Among the graves is just one female, a child, her face masked by copper plates. There are no adult women.  
Nearby were found three copper masked infant mummies - all males. They were bound in four or five copper hoops, several centimeters wide.
Similarly, a red-haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating. In his resting place, was an iron hatchet, furs, and a head buckle made of bronze depicting a bear.
The feet of the deceased are all pointing towards the Gorny Poluy River, a fact which is seen as having religious significance. The burial rituals are unknown to experts.

Artifacts included bronze bowls originating in Persia, some 3,700 miles to the south-west, dating from the tenth or eleventh centuries. One of the burials dates to 1282, according to a study of tree rings, while others are believed to be older. 
The researchers found by one of the adult mummies an iron combat knife, silver medallion and a bronze bird figurine. These are understood to date from the seventh to the ninth centuries. 
Unlike other burial sites in Siberia, for example in the permafrost of the Altai Mountains, or those of the Egyptian pharaohs, the purpose did not seem to be to mummify the remains, hence the claim that their preservation until modern times was an accident.
The soil in this spot is sandy and not permanently frozen.A combination of the use of copper, which prevented oxidation, and a sinking of the temperature in the 14th century, is behind the good condition of the remains today. 

Natalia Fyodorova, of the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: 'Nowhere in the world are there so many mummified remains found outside the permafrost or the marshes. 
'It is a unique archaeological site. We are pioneers in everything from taking away the object of sandy soil (which has not been done previously) and ending with the possibility of further research.'
In 2002, archeologists were forced to halt work at the site due to objections by locals on the Yamal peninsula, a land of reindeer and energy riches known to locals as 'the end of the earth'.
The experts were disturbing the souls of their ancestors, they feared. However, work is underway again, including a genetic study of the remains headed by Alexander Pilipenko, research fellow of Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 

Fyodorova suggests that the smashing of the skulls may have been done soon after death 'to render protection from mysterious spells believed to emanate from the deceased'.
With work underway again, archeologists hope for clearer answers. 

Source: The Siberian Times

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Qanat Firaun, the most spectacular underground aqueduct of the ancient world

The Qanat Firaun, otherwise known as the Gadara Aqueduct, is an ancient aqueduct that was built to supply water to the Roman-Hellenistic Decapolis, which now lie in present-day Syria and Jordan.  Although the Arabic name ‘Qanat Firaun’ means ‘Canal of the Pharaohs’, the massive canal was not Egyptian but Imperial Roman, and stands as a testament to their incredible engineering abilities. The 170-kilometre pipeline is not only the world’s longest underground aqueduct of the antiquity, it is also the most complex, and represents a colossal work of hydroengineering. 

The Decapolis was a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire, which were grouped together because of their language, culture, location, and political status, with each possessing a certain degree of autonomy and self-rule. Its capital, Gadara, was home to more than 50,000 people and became distinguished for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, its own 'university' with scholars, attracting writers, artists, philosophers and poets. But something was missing in this wealthy city – an abundance of water.

The Gadara Aqueduct changed all that. “In the capital alone there were thousands of fountains, drinking troughs and thermal baths. Rich senators refreshed themselves in private pools and decorated their gardens with cooling grottos. The result was a record daily consumption of over 500 litres of water per capita,” said Matthias Schulz, author of a report about the aqueduct in Spiegel Online. 

The underground canal system was rediscovered by Mathias Döring, a hydromechanics professor in Darmstadt, Germany, in 2004. Excavations revealed that the pipelines were constructed with an average height of 2.5 metres and a width of 1.5 metres. The aqueduct extended for 64 kilometres on the surface, before disappearing underground into three separate tunnels, with lengths of 1, 11, and 94 kilometres. The longest previously known underground water channel of the ancient world, in Bologna, is 19 kilometres long, so the discovery of the Gadara Aqueduct, and the sheer scale of the construction, was met with both shock and awe. 
Plan of the upper and lower tunnel system under the acropolis of Gadara.
The massive construction effort began in around 90 AD and continued relentlessly for the following 120 years. It started above ground in Syria, where they made rapid progress. However, as they entered Jordan, the workers and engineers were met with enormous obstacles, the first of which was a 200-metre chasm. They attempted to build around it but the rough terrain made it impossible to continue over the surface, so they carved an underground channel through a rocky mountain, which continued for 11 kilometres.
Beyond this, they were faced with an endless succession of hills and steep slopes and, if they were to continue underground, they needed to find a way to provide adequate ventilation inside the tunnels. To overcome this problem, they built sloping shafts into the rock every 20 to 200 metres. These provided fresh air and enabled hundreds of men to work simultaneously in different sections of the tunnel. More than 300 access tunnels leading down to the main canal have been found so far.
An outline of the Gadara Aqueduct’s construction. Photo Credit: Der Spiegal
The construction of the aqueduct demonstrates remarkable precision. The gradient of the tunnel was found to be 0.3 per thousand, meaning that it dropped only 30 centimetres per kilometre – an amazingly shallow angle of decent. Along the main road of Gadara, archaeologists found basal pressure piles which suggested a siphon structure in order to supply the western outskirts of the city with fresh water, supposedly from sources 100 kilometres away. By the time work ceased on the aqueduct, workers had excavated over 600,000 cubic metres of limestone, comparable to more than a full quarter of the Great Pyramid’s total volume.

However, despite this remarkable feat of engineering, the Garadar Aqueduct was never fully completed and was put into service only in sections. The original plan called for the water to fill a high stone reservoir that would feed the city's fountains and the planned temple to the nymphs. But that never happened. The surveyors ended up making a number of miscalculations and the water - after over 170 kilometers - arrived in Gadara slightly too low for the grand plans. As Mr Schulz explains, “nothing created by the hand of man is ever perfect”.

Source: AO

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Treasure Trove of Historic Maps

The New York Public Library scanned a huge number of maps. The maps are released under aCreative Commons license, so they're in the public domain for you to study, modify, and modify, or whatever other cartographic desire your little heart holds.

A chart of the West Indies from Cape Cod to River Oronoque.

Aerial survey, Manhattan Island, New York City


I love the colour-highlights marking edges, and the explicit reminder that the United States was not colonized exclusively by English-speaking settlers. Full map.

Glen Haven Water Cure & Summer Resort

The full title is, "No.1 Hotel., No.2 Bath Houses., No.3 Cottages to Rent., No.4 Boat Houses & Dance Hall., No.5 Billiard Room. Glen Haven Water Cure & Summer Resort, Situated at the Head of Skaneatles Lake, Glen Haven, Cortland Co. N.Y." This mouthful of a sketch is from the county atlas of Cayuga, New York. My favourite part may actually be the subtitle in the filing system, "From recent and actual surveys and records under the superintendence of F. W. Beers." 1875 is totally recent! Full map.

Castle Rock or Point of Rocks, Bennington Vt.

Another map from the same F.W. Beers collection has a far more reasonable full title, merely spilling out as "Castle Rock or Point of Rocks, Bennington Vt.; View on the Susquehanna.; Descent into the Valley of Wyoming Pa.; View from GlenMary Lawn on the Owego." This one is from the county atlas of Chemung, New York. Full map.

Plan of Sea Gate, New York Harbor Coney Island.

Filed under Brooklyn. Green covers on primary sources always make me feel like the document is the real-deal. Full map.

A plan of the city of Philadelphia and environs

Filed under Philadelphia, of course. From surveys by John Hills "in the summers of 1801, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7" because listing that as 1801-1807 makes it look too short. Full map.

Terra Nova

Another extremely long full title, "Terra nova, ac maris tractus circa Novam Franciam, Angliam, Belgium, Venezuelam Novam, Andalusiam, Guianan, et Brasiliam / L. Renard : Terra neuf, en de custen van Nieu Vranckryck, Nieu Engeland, Nieu Nederland, Nieu Andalusia, Guiana en Venezuela." Full map.

Map of North America

And finally, a map of North America, as "drawn and engraved" by D'Anville "under the Patronage of Duke of New Orleans" and published for J. Harrison, London, January 1791. Full map.
This is but the tiniest sampling of the newly-released collection, so go! Shoo! Browse the mapsand bring me back your treasures.
Maps from The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library, a collection of awesome people for setting these high-resolution scans into the wild.

Source: io9