Newly Discovered Dead Sea Cave May Hold Archaeological Treasure

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What are the Dead Sea Scrolls And Why Do They Matter?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are the world’s oldest known biblical manuscripts.   In 1947 scrolls and scroll fragments dating from 150 BC were discovered in a cave by local Bedouin teenagers. They were tending goats near the ancient settlement of Qumran.  One of the boys threw a rock into a hole in the cliff and heard the sound of pottery breaking. He and his friends gained access to the interior of the cave which housed many clay jars, containing leather and papyrus scrolls.

The collection was purchased by an antiquities dealer, who ended up selling them to various people and institutions.  Once it was realized the items were more than 2000 years old, word of the discovery began to travel fast. Bedouin treasure hunters and archaeologists unearthed tens of thousands of additional scroll fragments from 10 nearby caves.  Almost 900 scrolls have now been found.

They Matter Because They Contain Actual History

Many of the scrolls have since been translated and include fragments from every book of the Old Testament except for the book of Esther.  The consistency between the later versions of the Old Testament and these scrolls written a thousand years earlier is striking.  Some of the knowledge in the scrolls is validated by recently excavated archaeological sites and reinforces the belief that the Old Testament contains an actual history of events, and is not purely myth or metaphor.

For instance, the book of Isaiah talks about the Assyrian Palaces, not discovered until 1840.  Isaiah gives a number of historical facts relating to the Assyrians that remarkably confirm the accuracy of Isaiah.

Does that mean the rest of the Old Testament is also a history?  Could the stories of the creation of man, the garden of Eden, the great flood, the Nephilm and the Ark of the Covenant also be true?

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Who Wrote The Dead Sea Scrolls?

It is believed by most scholars that the scrolls were written by a group of Essene’s living in Qumran. However, new research suggests many of the Dead Sea Scrolls may have originated elsewhere and were written by multiple Jewish groups, some fleeing the circa-A.D. 70 Roman siege that destroyed the legendary Temple in Jerusalem. Could the scrolls could in fact be the lost treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

New Discoveries

Since the discovery of the initial ten caves, twenty more caves have been found, most unexcavated. In fact they are at risk of being looted and robbed by treasure hunters.  It is possible that the newly found caves contain more scrolls, coins, treasure, and artifacts that are historically significant.

Archaeologist Dr. Aaron Judkins is heading to Qumran in December 2016 to excavate a new cave as part of a team approved by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

He writes:

“The discovery of a new cave at Qumran holds promise of being a ancient repository that could contain treasures such as artifacts, coins, and scroll jars with scrolls. Only an excavation to discover what lies beneath the sands of time will enable us to solve this mystery. The Israeli authorities have granted us a permit to excavate at Qumran, the famous site of the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is an extraordinary opportunity for me to work with lead archaeologist Dr. Randall Price & archaeologist Bruce Hall…This world renowned site is historically famous, and is where the majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls (or DSS) were discovered in 1947 in Qumran. The dig has been given a narrow window from the end of December 2016 into the first weeks of January 2017.”

Judkins is known as the “Maverick Archaeologist”, a nickname he earned for his unconventional thinking and questing for historical truth. Most recently he worked on an expedition and documentary about Noah and the Ark. He has also spent time researching the elongated skulls of Peru and Bolivia, pursuing his passion of forbidden archaeology. He is currently raising funds to support his participation in the Dead Sea Cave project.  Judkins’ fundraising page contains numerous updates and videos about what has been found in the area, and what he hopes to accomplish.

It will be interesting to follow his journey and see what is buried beneath the sands of time. Click “learn more” below to watch his video about the Dead Sea Cave Project!

 

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Ancient Arabic Book of Astrology and Magic dating back to the 10th or 11th century.

Image of opened magic book with magic lights

Imagine a real book of magical recipes and spells just like we dreamt of as children reading fairy tales?

The Picatrix is that book.

Dating back to the 10th or 11the century, it is an ancient Arabian book of astrology and occult magic. The Picatrix is filled with spells and cryptic astrological descriptions for almost any wish and has been translated and used by many cultures over the centuries.

Originally written in arabic, it was called Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm, which translates to “The Goal or Aim of the Sage“.

It was then translated to Spanish and to latin in 1256 for the Castilian king Alfonso.

That’s when it took on the known title Picatrix. Researcher David Pingree calls it “the most thorough exposition of celestial magic in Arabic” and describes the Picatrix as “Arabic texts on Hermeticism, Sabianism, Ismailism, astrology, alchemy and magic produced in the Near East in the ninth and tenth centuries A.D.”

The four books, which contain different chapters, are as follows:

  • Book I – “Of the heavens and the effects they cause through images made under them”
  • Book II – “Of the figures of the heavens in general, and of the general motion of the sphere, and of their effects in this world”
  • Book III – “Of the properties of the planets and signs, and of their figures and forms made in their colors, and how one may speak with the spirits of the planets, and of many other magical workings”
  • Book IV – “Of the properties of spirits, and of those things that are necessary to observe in this most excellent art, and how they may be summoned with images and other things”

The chapters then are divided amongst magic and its properties, the works of the planets, sun, and moon, the order of natural things, stones appropriate for each planet, figures, colors, garments, and incenses of the planets, confections of the spirits of the planets, and of averting harmful workings, and magic of miraculous effect, and the foods, incense, unguents, and perfumes that ought to be used to work by the spirits of the seven planets, how the vigor of the spirit of the Moon is drawn into things here below, and how incenses of the stars ought to be made, and certain compounds needed in this science.

old skull on old book and copper cauldron

What are in these magical recipes?

Well, they are regarded as obscene. The gross concoctions for various outcomes like “generating enmity” are meant to alter states of consciousness, and can even lead to out-of-body experiences or even death. Here’s what some of the ingredients include: blood, bodily excretions, brain matter mixed with copious amounts of hashish, opium, and psychoactive plants.

But they aren’t all so gruesome.

The Picatrix also heavily focuses on astrology, and viewing the future with the intention of controlling or improving it. There are dozens of spells to bring about desires and outcomes, which involve taking certain steps that consider the positions of cosmology. For instance, the spell to place love between two people is:

“Fashion two images with the 1st face of Cancer rising, and Venus therein, and the Moon in the 1st face of Taurus in the eleventh house. And when you have made these images, join each to the other face to face and bury them in the house of the other . And they will care for each other and have an enduring love between them.” (The Picatrix Book I, Chapter 5)

Other examples of spells include finding lost treasure, increasing crops, health, wealth and friendship.

However, historians note that some may have been lost in translation.

One researcher, Martin Plessner says, “neither the Arabic psychology of study nor the Hebrew definition of the experiment is rendered in the Latin Picatrix. The Latin translator omits many theoretical passages throughout the work.”

Either way, this ancient document is fascinating. It marks and represents many themes that have evolved throughout human history. As mysterious as it all may be, this may give us some clues to astrological phenomena and “black” magic.
References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picatrix

5.000 year old Egyptian hieroglyphs found in Australia?

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According to research, these hieroglyphs were first sighted in the 1900’s and there are about 250 stone carvings that have been part of the local folklore of the area for over a century, so it’s not something that has been discovered recently. Media coverage of the discovery has been minimal, which is when you think about it a good thing, preserving this incredible ancient site that can rewrite history books, that is if the discovery was authentic and not a hoax.

These alleged hieroglyphs called Kariong Hieroglyphs due to the fact they are located in the Brisbane Water National Park, Kariong or Gosford Glyphs due to the nearby community of Gosford are located in the New South Wales in Australia.

According to local residents that have had the opportunity to see and study these hieroglyphs, they seem to be extremely ancient, written in the archaic style of the early dynasties, a style that has been studied very little and is untranslatable by most Egyptologists who have learned to read Middle Egyptian upward. According to the information provided to us, there is only a handful of people on Earth who can actually read and translate this early writing system, making them seem even more valuable to history. But there is another side to this story.

According to several archaeologists and researchers, the Gosford Glyphs at Kariong are modern day forgeries that have nothing to do with ancient Egypt. Several other researchers believe that modern archaeology and history simply wouldn’t accept these hieroglyphs as being authentic given the fact that they could change the way we look at history.

An archaeologist named Ray Johnson had supposedly translated the ancient texts for the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo and was successful in documenting and translating the two facing walls of Egyptian characters – which proved they are from the Third Dynasty.

The translation tells the story of a tragic saga of ancient Egyptian explorers that shipwrecked in a strange and hostile land, the death of their royal leader, “Lord Djes-eb”. A group of three framed clusters of glyphs record the name of “Ra-Jedef” as reigning King of the Upper and Lower Nile, son of “Khufu” who is the son of the King “Sneferu“.

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According to the researchers that support this theory these archaic styles contain early form of hieroglyphics which according to researchers that support the theory that these hieroglyphs are authentic, correlate with archaic Phoenician and Sumerian writing, and according to several other websites, researchers from universities that have looked at these symbols may have perceived them as forgeries not knowing their true value.

Professor Nageeb Kanawiati of the Department of Egyptology had the opportunity to examine the photographs taken by the NPWS in 1983. He states that while some of the work did have Egyptian symbols, the hieroglyphs made no sense at all, as they were merely a collection of Egyptian words and symbols done by amateurs.

Many people believe these hieroglyphs to be true, authentic Egyptian hieroglyphs. As always, there are two sides to everything. Some support the theory of the Egyptian hieroglyphs in Australia, while other do not. At the end, everything is decided based on what you actually believe in.*

 

Source: Article by Bimba    (04-2016)

The World’s Oldest Writing

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In early 2016, hundreds of media outlets around the world reported that a set of recently deciphered ancient clay tablets revealed that Babylonian astronomers were more sophisticated than previously believed. The wedge-shaped writing on the tablets, known as cuneiform, demonstrated that these ancient stargazers used geometric calculations to predict the motion of Jupiter. Scholars had assumed it wasn’t until almost A.D. 1400 that these techniques were first employed—by English and French mathematicians. But here was proof that nearly 2,000 years earlier, ancient people were every bit as advanced as Renaissance-era scholars. Judging by the story’s enthusiastic reception on social media, this discovery captured the public imagination. It implicitly challenged the perception that cuneiform tablets were used merely for basic accounting, such as tallying grain, rather than for complex astronomical calculations.

(Eric Lessing/Art Resource, NY) SCRIBE STATUE. FOUND: Lagash, Iraq. CULTURE: Sumerian. DATE: ca. 2400 B.C. LANGUAGE: Sumerian.

While most tablets were, in fact, used for mundane bookkeeping or scribal exercises, some of them bear inscriptions that offer unexpected insights into the minute details of and momentous events in the lives of ancient Mesopotamians.

First developed around 3200 B.C. by Sumerian scribes in the ancient city-state of Uruk, in present-day Iraq, as a means of recording transactions, cuneiform writing was created by using a reed stylus to make wedge-shaped indentations in clay tablets. Later scribes would chisel cuneiform into a variety of stone objects as well. Different combinations of these marks represented syllables, which could in turn be put together to form words. Cuneiform as a robust writing tradition endured 3,000 years. The script—not itself a language—was used by scribes of multiple cultures over that time to write a number of languages other than Sumerian, most notably Akkadian, a Semitic language that was the lingua franca of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires.

tablet-Cuneiform-babylon-jupiterAfter cuneiform was replaced by alphabetic writing sometime after the first century A.D., the hundreds of thousands of clay tablets and other inscribed objects went unread for nearly 2,000 years.

It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century, when archaeologists first began

(© The Trustees of the British Museum) CLAY TABLET. FOUND: Babylon, Iraq. CULTURE: Late Babylonian. DATE: ca. 350–50 B.C. LANGUAGE: Akkadian.

to excavate the tablets, that scholars could begin to attempt to understand these texts.

One important early key to deciphering the script proved to be the discovery of a kind of cuneiform Rosetta Stone, a circa 500 B.C. trilingual inscription at the site of Bisitun Pass in Iran.

Written in Persian, Akkadian, and an Iranian language known as Elamite, it recorded the feats of the Achaemenid king Darius the Great (r. 521–486 B.C.).

By deciphering repetitive words such as “Darius” and “king” in Persian, scholars were able to slowly piece together how cuneiform worked. Called Assyriologists, these specialists were eventually able to translate different languages written in cuneiform across many eras, though some early versions of the script remain undeciphered.

Today, the ability to read cuneiform is the key to understanding all manner of cultural activities in the ancient Near East—from determining what was known of the cosmos and its workings, to the august lives of Assyrian kings, to the secrets of making a Babylonian stew. Of the estimated half-million cuneiform objects that have been excavated, many have yet to be catalogued and translated. Here, a few fine and varied examples of some of the most interesting ones that have been.

Cuneiform-bisitun-wall-inscription
(Babek Tafresi/Gettyimages) CARVED INSCRIPTION. FOUND: Bisitun, Iran. CULTURE. Achaemenid. DATE: ca. 500 B.C. LANGUAGE. Persian, Akkadian, Elamite.

 

Continued – Part 2 – 9 Visit:  http://www.archaeology.org/issues/214-features/cuneiform/4367-cuneiform-recipes

 

By The Editors – Archaeology Magazine   (04-2016)

 

Cracking the Maya Code: Timeline of Decipherment

NOVA: Cracking the Maya Code: Premiering Tuesday, April 8 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS (check local listings), NOVA exposes the ancient Maya civilization of Central America and the brilliant leaps of insight that unlocked the door to understanding their intricate and mysterious hieroglyphic script. Pictured: Pages from the Dresden Codex, one of only four Maya books known to have survived the Conquest.  These pages track the planet Venus and helped a 19th century scholar figure out the Maya calendar and astronomy.Credit: Public DomainUsage: This image may be used only in direct promotion of NOVA.  No other rights are granted.  All rights are reserved.  Editorial use only.

When the Spanish conquered the Maya empire in the 16th century, they forced their new subjects to convert to Christianity and speak and write in Spanish. But long before the Maya used the Roman alphabet, they had created their own rich and elegant script featuring more than 800 hieroglyphs. Sadly, the glyphs’ meanings were lost in the decades following the Conquest. Ever since, scholars have struggled to decode these symbols, pronounce the words they form, and understand the stories they tell. In this time line, follow the centuries-long decipherment, which has only recently reached the point where scholars can read more than 90 percent of the glyphs.—Rima Chaddha

 

 

16th century Surviving texts
The quest to decipher Maya hieroglyphs began with the very Spanish invaders whose hegemonic rule did so much to wipe out the ancient Maya script. Among them was the conquistador Hernando Cortes, who led massacres in Mexico but who also, some scholars believe, had the famous Dresden Codex—one of just four Maya illustrated books surviving today—shipped back to Spain. Another was Diego de Landa, a friar bent on replacing indigenous with Christian beliefs. In what amounts to a crime against the cultural heritage of humanity, Landa orchestrated the burning in 1562 of hundreds if not thousands of Maya bark-paper books, which he deemed heretical. Yet four years later, Landa wrote a manuscript about the Maya world called “Relation of the Things of Yucatan”. Together, this manuscript and the Dresden Codex proved essential in the later decoding of the Maya’s calendar system and their advanced understanding of astronomy and mathematics.

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1832 – Counting
Actual decipherment began with an eccentric European genius named Constantine Rafinesque, who boasted of having dabbled in more than a dozen professions, from archeology to zoology. His insatiable thirst for knowledge had led Rafinesque to a reproduction of just five pages of the Dresden Codex, from which he was able to crack the Maya’s system of counting. In 1832, Rafinesque declared in his newsletter, the Atlantic Journal and Friend of Knowledge, that the dots and bars seen in Maya glyphs (like these at left, from the Dresden Codex) represented simple numbers—a dot equaled one and a bar five. Later findings proved him right and also revealed that the Maya even had a symbol for zero, which appeared on Mesoamerican carvings as early as 36 B.C. (Zero didn’t appear in Western Europe until the 12th century.)

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1880 – Math and astronomy
As with many early glyph-related discoveries, serendipity may have played a role in the next major step in decipherment. A librarian with a penchant for mathematics named Ernst Förstemann just happened to work at the Royal Library in Dresden, Germany, which owned the Dresden Codex and after which it was named. He also had access to Landa’s “Relation.” Using his unique skill set, Förstemann decoded the astronomy tables the Maya used to determine when, for example, to wage war (at left are codex pages depicting the planetary cycle of Venus). He also deciphered the Maya system for measuring time, now called the Calendar Round. In this system, dates cycle once every 52 years, much like dates cycle annually in our Gregorian calendar. Later Mayanists used Förstemann’s discoveries to convert Maya dates to Gregorian dates—for instance, the Maya believed the world was created on August 13, 3114 B.C.

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1881 – Photo documentation
Britain’s Alfred Maudslay was a respected diplomat, but he would be best remembered for his work as an amateur Mayanist. Fascinated by scholars’ writings on the Maya and by new advancements in photography, Maudslay set out to create as complete a record as possible of the civilization’s architecture and art. Using a large-format, glass-plate camera, he captured highly detailed images of Maya sites, including clear close-ups of the glyphs. He also prepared papier-mâché casts of several carvings from which accurate drawings were later made. Maudslay had effectively given Maya studies its first systematic corpus, or body, of inscriptions. This helped make further decipherments possible, in part by bringing glyphs to scholars who had limited access to the few surviving Maya texts.

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1930s Giant steps—and missteps
By the 1930s, British researcher Eric Thompson was the world’s foremost expert in glyph studies. His achievements included deciphering signs related to the calendar and astronomy as well as identifying new words from the Maya lexicon. Thompson also developed a numerical cataloguing technique, the “T”-numbering system, for each glyph. This enabled experts to easily discuss symbols that had yet to be fully understood or identified. Nevertheless, glyph studies nearly came to a halt during this time, in large part because Thompson had most scholars convinced that each of the symbols in glyphs stood for entire words or ideas. For instance, the glyph for “west” included a well-known symbol for the sun and an as-yet unidentified symbol depicting a nearly closed hand. Thompson suggested that the hand meant “completion.” And so “west,” where the sun sets, was symbolized by “completion of the sun.” It was a reasonable guess, but one that, along with Thompson’s more general take on the glyphs, would be proven wrong.

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1952 – The sounds of the glyphs
While glyph studies languished in the West, a Russian linguist in Moscow was making his own groundbreaking discoveries. In 1952, Yuri Knorosov postulated that the individual symbols in Maya glyphs stood for phonetic sounds, much like English letters do. Knorosov knew that Maya had too many glyphs to be a true alphabet but too few for each glyph to symbolize an entire word. (Maya’s 800-plus glyphs compare to the several thousand characters of Chinese, for example.) He determined that written Maya, like Egyptian hieroglyphics, contained a combination of these elements. Because “west,” in spoken Maya, is “chik’in,” and “k’in” is the word for sun, the hand represents the syllable “chi,” as Knorosov concluded. Fortunately, American scholars Michael and Sophie Coe began publishing Knorosov’s papers in the U.S. in the late 1950s. Otherwise, his important (though incomplete) findings might have been inaccessible to Western scholars until the end of the Cold War.

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1958 – Uncovering Maya history
Tatiana Proskouriakoff was an architect by trade, but faced with a scarce job market during the Great Depression, the Russian-born American took work drawing reconstructions of the ruins at Piedras Negras, a Classic Maya site on the border between Mexico and Guatemala. Later, while examining photographs of the Piedras Negras stelae, or commemorative stone slabs, Proskouriakoff noticed patterns in their dedication dates. The Maya would set up a series of stelae in front of a single temple, one every five years. The first stela in each series always showed a seated figure. Thompson had thought these were gods, but Proskouriakoff convincingly proved that they were kings and that the different markings on the stelae depicted their lives from birth until death. When a ruler died, the Maya at Piedras Negras would begin erecting stelae at another temple, detailing the life story of another ruler. For the first time, as Thompson and others came to agree, the glyphs were found to tell the stories of the Maya.

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1973 – Unveiling a dynasty
Concerned that Maya research was limited to a few experts with special access to key resources, Merle Greene Robertson, an American artist based at the Classic Maya site of Palenque, built a center where anyone could go to study the city’s art and inscriptions. In December 1973, 30 people came to the center at Robertson’s invitation, forming the first major scholarly conference held at a Maya site. Attendees included Robertson’s assistant Linda Schele, who had studied every Palenque inscription firsthand, and Peter Mathews, an undergraduate who had spent the previous year assigning Thompson’s “T”-numbers to the city’s inscriptions. The duo (left, at the site) began piecing together Palenque’s history using a carving from the site called the Tablet of the 96 Glyphs, which researchers vaguely understood to depict a line of royal accession. Within hours, and with a combination of luck and an intimate knowledge of the glyphs, Schele and Mathews accomplished something extraordinary: They unveiled most of Palenque’s dynastic history, including the life stories of six rulers.

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1981 – In their own words
Before all the glyphs could be read aloud in the original Maya, researchers needed to complete Yuri Knorosov’s phonetic decipherment. This began in 1981 when 15-year-old budding Mayanist David Stuart (left, with Linda Schele) discovered that individual Maya words could be written in multiple ways, using different symbols for the same sounds, as in “faze” and “phase.” Eric Thompson’s theory had been that the Maya wrote in rebus, in which symbols are used for whole words. A modern rebus of the phrase “I can see” might include pictures of an eye, a tin can, and the sea. While some glyphs can indeed be read this way, Stuart’s finding—that any symbol with the correct beginning sound can be used to identify that sound in a word glyph—is also true. As a result, a single glyph could be drawn in dozens of ways. With this revelation, scholars could now read many glyphs once considered indecipherable.

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Present – Reviving ancient Maya
Scholars and the modern Maya can now read the majority of glyphs, like these from Copan. They understand how the ancient language was spoken compared to modern Maya and have begun to grasp the lost civilization’s traditions by reading the stories carved on walls and painted on pottery. From these images, they now know, for example, that early Maya scribes held an exalted status, each living like royalty and vying to develop his own glyphic style. Though many traditional Maya scribes today write in the Roman script, there has been a push since the 1980s among Maya to relearn their forebears’ script and use it themselves. Maya are now teaching the written language to one another in workshops, while Maya schoolchildren are learning the glyphs along with the history of their ancestors.

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Read Full Article Here

Shigir Idol has ‘encrypted codes’ and could be 11,000 years old

The Idol is more than 6,000 years older than the UK’s Stonehenge.

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More than twice the age of the Egyptian pyramids, the wooden monument – found in a peat bog in the Urals in 1890 – is 1,500 years older than previously suspected, according to the world’s most advanced dating technology.

‘The first attempt to date the idol was made 107 years after its discovery, in 1997. The first radiocarbon analyses showed that idol was 9,500 calendar years old, which led to disputes in scientific society.

‘Researches were conducted in Mannheim, Germany, at one of the world’s most advanced laboratories using Accelerated Mass Spectrometry, on seven minuscule wooden samples. The results were astonishing, as samples from inside parts of the Idol showed its age as 11,000 calendar years, to the very beginning of the Holocene epoch. We also learned that the sculpture was made from a larch which was at least 157 years old.

‘Clear cuts on the tree trunk leave no doubts that the Idol was made from a freshly cut tree, by stone tools’.

inside full length dark black

A Key to Understanding Eurasian Art

The Idol is around the same age as anthropomorphic stone stelae found at the ancient site of Gobekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey.

This confirms that hunters and fishermen from Urals created works of art as developed and as monumental as ancient farmers of the Middle East.

The Idol was preserved ‘as if in a time capsule’ in the peat bog on the western fringes of Siberia.

Experts have surmised that its hieroglyphics contain encoded information on the ‘creation of the world’ from ancient man. It stands 2.8 metres in height but originally was 5.3 metres tall, as high as a two story house.

Read Full Article Here

 

BBC News: Breakthrough in world’s oldest undeciphered writing

This from an article written by the BBC on 25 October 2012. Let’s revisit this…

The world’s oldest undeciphered writing system, which has so far defied attempts to uncover its 5,000-year-old secrets, could be about to be decoded by Oxford University academics.

_63514348_protoelamite464Experts working on proto-Elamite hope they are on the point of ‘a breakthrough.

This international research project is already casting light on a lost bronze age middle eastern society where enslaved workers lived on rations close to the starvation level.

“I think we are finally on the point of making a breakthrough,” says Jacob Dahl, fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and director of the Ancient World Research Cluster.

Dr Dahl’s secret weapon is being able to see this writing more clearly than ever before.

In a room high up in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, above the Egyptian mummies and fragments of early civilisations, a big black dome is clicking away and flashing out light.

This device, part sci-fi, part-DIY, is providing the most detailed and high quality images ever taken of these elusive symbols cut into clay tablets. This is Indiana Jones with software.

This way of capturing images, developed by academics in Oxford and Southampton, is being used to help decode a writing system called proto-Elamite, used between around 3200BC and 2900BC in a region now in the south west of modern Iran.

And the Oxford team think that they could be on the brink of understanding this last great remaining cache of undeciphered texts from the ancient world.

Tablet computer

Dr Dahl, from the Oriental Studies Faculty, shipped his image-making device on the Eurostar to the Louvre Museum in Paris, which holds the most important collection of this writing.

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Jacob Dahl wants the public and other academics to help with an online decipherment of the texts

The clay tablets were put inside this machine, the Reflectance Transformation Imaging System, which uses a combination of 76 separate photographic lights and computer processing to capture every groove and notch on the surface of the clay tablets.

It allows a virtual image to be turned around, as though being held up to the light at every possible angle.

These images will be publicly available online, with the aim of using a kind of academic crowdsourcing.

He says it’s misleading to think that codebreaking is about some lonely genius suddenly understanding the meaning of a word. What works more often is patient teamwork and the sharing of theories. Putting the images online should accelerate this process.

Making it even harder to decode is the fact that it’s unlike any other ancient writing style. There are no bi-lingual texts and few helpful overlaps to provide a key to these otherwise arbitrary looking dashes and circles and symbols.

This is a writing system – and not a spoken language – so there’s no way of knowing how words sounded, which might have provided some phonetic clues.

Dr Dahl says that one of the really important historical significances of this proto-Elamite writing is that it was the first ever recorded case of one society adopting writing from another neighbouring group.

But infuriatingly for the codebreakers, when these proto-Elamites borrowed the concept of writing from the Mesopotamians, they made up an entirely different set of symbols.

Why they should make the intellectual leap to embrace writing and then at the same time re-invent it in a different local form remains a puzzle.

But it provides a fascinating snapshot of how ideas can both spread and change.

In terms of written history, this is the very remote past. But there is also something very direct and almost intimate about it too.

You can see fingernail marks in the clay. These neat little symbols and drawings are clearly the work of an intelligent mind.

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 A set of 76 lights are used in the capturing of images of surface marks in the ancient tablets

 

Dr Dahl remains passionate about what this work says about such societies, digging into the deepest roots of civilisation. This is about where so much begins. For instance, proto-Elamite was the first writing ever to use syllables.

If Macbeth talked about the “last syllable of recorded time”, the proto-Elamites were there for the first.

And with sufficient support, Dr Dahl says that within two years this last great lost writing could be fully understood.

 

Read Full Article Here

The Sumerians and the Supernova

Some 6,000 years ago, not far from Earth, a dim and unremarkable star suddenly exploded in the violent fireball that modern astronomers call a supernova.

On Earth it would have looked like a new star, brighter than the moon and visible even in the daytime for months.

supernova

Among the early peoples who saw it were the Sumerians – Persian Gulf farmers and fisherman poised at the brink of civilization. They recorded the event in their myths and gods.

Now the scholar who first identified their record says the legend linking the star to the origins of civilization has turned up in Egyptian hieroglyphs, written thousands of years later.

George Michanowsky, a New York linguist, author and historian, believes the legend was passed along in Sumerian symbols borrowed by the Egyptians.

If so, it would force a reinterpretation of such familiar hieroglyphs as the “ankh” – or symbol of life – and King Tut’s royal emblem.

Some other scholars of the ancient near East disagree with the theory. But Michanowsky, a self-described “lone wolf” who works without support form institutions or foundations, counters that his critics do not understand astronomy. Astronomers believe the supernova may have been the most cataclysmic sky event ever witnessed by men.

The Vela supernova remnant is a supernova remnant in the southern constellation Vela. Its source type II supernova exploded approximately 11,000-12,300 years ago (and was about 800 light years away).

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A radio telescope has detected remnants of the explosion. It is a fast spinning dense star called a “pulsar” in the constellation Vela of the southern hemisphere. By timing radio pulses coming from the object, astronomers estimate that it erupted between 8,000 and 4,000 BC. It was toward the end of that period that the Sumerians living on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf developed the world’s first astronomy, mathematics and writing.

The Sumerians had a legend which held that they were taught these arts by a god called Ea, linked to a special star in the constellation Vela.

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The reference has puzzled scholars because there are no bright stars today in that part of the sky.

But Michanowsky believes the reference was to the Vela supernova, a theory he propounds in a 1978 book, “the Once and Future Star”. The Vela star was two or three times closer to the earth than the famous supernova seen by Chinese astronomers in 1054.

Chinese_report_of_guest_star_identified_as_the_supernova_of_1054_(SN_1054)_in_the_Lidai_mingchen_zouyi_(历代名臣奏议)

The Sumerians would have seen it rise and set each day low over the watery southern horizon, and Michanowsky believes the sight so impressed them that it was anthropomorphisized into Ea and supporting legends and deities.

The symbolic record of the Vela star, he says, can be traced from its Sumerian origin to Egyptian hieroglyphs by “one unified train of imagery.”

For example, the Egyptian ankh, or looped cross, is usually thought to represent a sandle thong. But Michanowsky suggests its loop could represent the star, its cross bar the horizon of the Persian Gulf, and its descending bar the reflection of the star on the water.

And he says, the Egyptian goddess Seshat patronness of scribes, may derive from a Sumerian goddess called Nidaba who was patroness of mathematics, writing and astronomy.

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Seshat is pictured with a seven pointed headdress often interpreted as a flower. But Michanowsky thinks the headdress comes from a sevenfold Sumerian palm-tree symbol linked both to Ea and to the Vela star, and may represent the star itself rather than the flower.

He also believes the Vela star figures in one hieroglyphic symbol from Tut’s cartouche or royal emblem.

The symbol, a pillar, is among the last three in the cartouche. It usually is taken to refer a southern Egyptian city, and the three symbols together are translated “Ruler of Southern Egypt.” But the translation has troubled Egyptologists since it seems to slight the northern part of Tut’s kingdom.

The supernova explosion that formed the Vela Supernova Remnant most likely occurred 10,000–20,000 years ago. In 1976, NASA astronomers suggested that inhabitants of the southern hemisphere may have witnessed this explosion and recorded it symbolically. A year later, Michanowsky recalled some incomprehensible ancient markings in Bolivia that were left by Native Americans. The carvings showed four small circles flanked by two larger circles. The smaller circles resemble stellar groupings in the constellations Vela and Carina. One of the larger circles may represent the star Capella. Another circle is located near the position of the supernova remnant, George Michanowsky suggested this may represent the supernova explosion as witnessed by the indigenous residents.

A glimpse of lost language

In the early 1600s in northern Peru, a curious Spaniard jotted down some notes on the back of a letter. Four hundred years later, archaeologists dug up and studied the paper, revealing what appear to be the first traces of a lost language.

The back side of an early 17th-century letter shows translations for numbers from Spanish to a lost language. Photo by Jeffrey Quilter.

The back side of an early 17th-century letter shows translations for numbers from Spanish to a lost language. Photo by Jeffrey Quilter.

“It’s a little piece of paper with a big story to tell,” said Jeffrey Quilter, who has conducted investigations in Peru for more than three decades.

Quilter is deputy director for curatorial affairs at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, as well as director of the archaeological project at Magdalena de Cao Viejo in the El Brujo Archaeological Complex, where the paper was excavated two years ago.

The El Brujo Archaeological Complex, just north of Trujillo, La Libertad Province, Peru, is an ancient archaeological site that was occupied from preceramic times. Huaca Prieta is the earliest part of the complex. Later, the site was part of the Cupisnique culture and the Salinar culture.

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But the biggest constructions on the site belong to the Moche culture. In this area, there are also the remains of the later Lambayeque and Chimú. El Brujo was one of the most important religious sites of the Moche culture. One of the pyramidal structures found there has beautiful preserved high relief murals, still with original paint – making it one of the most important archaeological sites too.

The writing is a set of translations from Spanish names of numbers (uno, dos, and tres) and Arabic numerals (4–10, 21, 30, 100, and 200) into the unknown language. Some of the translated numbers have never been seen before, while others may have been borrowed from Quechua or a related local language. Quechua is still spoken today in Peru, but in the early 17th century many other languages were spoken in the region, such as Quingnam and Pescadora.

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Naked prisoners being led by warrior at El Brujo in El Brujo complex

Information about them today is limited. Even so, the archaeologists were able to deduce that speakers of the lost language used a decimal system like our own.

The Quingnam language

The Quingnam language is a pre-Columbian language of the area that is believed to have disappeared before the beginning of the Inca Empire. Quingnam was spoken by ethnic Chimú, who lived in the former territories of the Mochicas: an area north of the Chicama Chao River Valley. At the height of Chimú conquests, the language was spoken extensively from the Jequetepeque River in the north, to the Carabayllo (near present-day Lima) in the south.

Quilter said that this simple list offers “a glimpse of the peoples of ancient and early colonial Peru who spoke a language lost to us until this discovery.”

“The find is significant because it offers the first glimpse of a previously unknown language and number system,” said Quilter. “It also points to the great diversity of Peru’s cultural heritage in the early colonial period. The interactions between natives and Spanish were far more complex than previously thought.”

Moche period

Huaca El Brujo (or Cortada/Partida) and Huaca Cao Viejo (or Huaca Blanca) were built by the Moche sometime between AD 1 and 600. Huaca Cao Viejo is famous for its polychrome reliefs and mural paintings, and the discovery of the Señora de Cao, the first known governess in Peru. Both appeared in National Geographic magazine in July 2004 and June 2006. The site officially opened to the public in May 2006, and a museum exhibition was proposed for 2007.

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Polychome adobe bas-relief at El Brujo, a Moche culture site north of Trujillo, Peru

The name of the lost language is still a mystery. The American-Peruvian research team was able to determine it was not Mochica, spoken on the north coast into the colonial period but now extinct, and pointed to Quingnam and Pescadora as possible candidates. Neither Quingnam nor Pescadora, however, have been documented beyond their names. There is even a possibility that Quingnam and Pescadora are the same language but they were identified as separate tongues in early colonial Spanish writings, so a definitive connection has not yet been established.

The research is detailed in the Aug. 23 edition of American Anthropologist. To read the article, “Traces of a Lost Language and Number System Discovered on the North Coast of Peru.”

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The Decipherment of Hieroglyphs

A Forgotten Script

Hieroglyphs dominated the landscape of the Egyptian civilisation. These elaborate symbols were ideal for inscriptions on the walls of majestic temples and monuments, and indeed the Greek word hieroglyphica means ‘sacred carvings’, but they were too fussy for day-to-day scribbling, so other scripts were evolved in Egypt in parallel. These were the ‘hieratic’ and ‘demotic’ scripts, which can crudely be thought of as merely different fonts of the hieroglyphic alphabet.

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The Rosetta Stone (Wikimedia Commons)

Then, towards the end of the fourth century AD, within a generation, the Egyptian scripts vanished. The last datable examples of ancient Egyptian writing are found on the island of Philae, where a hieroglyphic temple inscription was carved in AD 394 and where a piece of demotic graffiti has been dated to 450 AD. The rise of Christianity was responsible for the extinction of Egyptian scripts, outlawing their use in order to eradicate any link with Egypt’s pagan past.

“The rise of Christianity was responsible for the extinction of Egyptian scripts…”

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Ancient Egyptian Coptic script

The ancient scripts were replaced with ‘Coptic’, a script consisting of 24 letters from the Greek alphabet supplemented by six demotic characters used for Egyptian sounds not expressed in Greek. The ancient Egyptian language continued to be spoken, and evolved into what became known as the Coptic language, but in due course both the Coptic language and script were displaced by the spread of Arabic in the 11th century. The final linguistic link to Egypt’s ancient kingdoms was then broken, and the knowledge needed to read the history of the pharaohs was lost.

“They assumed that hieroglyphs were nothing more than primitive picture writing…”

In later centuries, scholars who saw the hieroglyphs tried to interpret them, but they were hindered by a false hypothesis. They assumed that hieroglyphs were nothing more than primitive picture writing, and that their decipherment relied on a literal translation of the images they saw. In fact, the hieroglyphic script and its relatives are phonetic, which is to say that the characters largely represent distinct sounds, just like the letters in the English alphabet. It would take a remarkable discovery before this would be appreciated.

The Rosetta Stone

In the summer of 1798, the antiquities of ancient Egypt came under particular scrutiny when Napoleon Bonaparte despatched a team of historians, scientists and draughtsmen to follow in the wake of his invading army. In 1799, these French scholars encountered the single most famous slab of stone in the history of archaeology, found by a troop of French soldiers stationed at Fort Julien in the town of Rosetta in the Nile Delta.

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Detail of the stone showing Greek translation

The soldiers were demolishing an ancient wall to clear the way for an extension to the fort, but built into the wall was a stone bearing a remarkable set of inscriptions. The same piece of text had been inscribed on the stone three times, in Greek, demotic and hieroglyphics. The Rosetta Stone, as it became known, appeared to be the equivalent of a dictionary.

However, before the French could embark on any serious research, they were forced to hand the Rosetta Stone to the British, having signed a Treaty of Capitulation. In 1802, the priceless slab of rock – 118cm (about 46 ½ in) high, 77cm (about 30in) wide and 30cm (about 12in) deep, and weighing three quarters of a tonne – took up residence at the British Museum, where it has remained ever since.

The translation of the Greek soon revealed that the Rosetta Stone contained a decree from the general council of Egyptian priests issued in 196 BC. Assuming that the other two scripts contained the identical text, then it might appear that the Stone could be used to crack hieroglyphs.

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“The same piece of text had been inscribed on the stone three times…”

However, a significant hurdle remained. The Greek revealed what the hieroglyphs meant, but nobody had spoken the ancient Egyptian language for at least eight centuries, so it was impossible to establish the sound of the Egyptian words. Unless scholars knew how the Egyptian words were spoken, they could not deduce the phonetics of the hieroglyphs.

The Phenomenon Young

When the English polymath Thomas Young heard about the Rosetta Stone, he considered it an irresistible challenge. In 1814 he went on his annual holiday to Worthing and took with him a copy of the Rosetta Stone inscriptions. Young’s breakthrough came when he focussed on a set of hieroglyphs surrounded by a loop, called a cartouche. He suspected that these highlighted hieroglyphs represented something of significance, possibly the name of the Pharaoh Ptolemy, who was mentioned in the Greek text.

“The decipherment of the Egyptian script was underway.”

If this were the case, it would enable Young to latch on to the phonetics of the corresponding hieroglyphs, because a pharaoh’s name would be pronounced roughly the same regardless of the language.

Young matched up the letters of Ptolemy with the hieroglyphs, and he managed to correlate most of the hieroglyphs with their correct phonetic values. The decipherment of the Egyptian script was underway. He repeated his strategy on another cartouche, which he suspected contained the name of the Ptolemaic queen Berenika, and identified the sound of further hieroglyphs.

Thomas-Young-decipherment

Young was on the right track, but his work suddenly ground to a halt. It seems that he had been brainwashed by the established view that the script was picture writing, and he was not prepared to shatter that paradigm. He excused his own phonetic discoveries by noting that the Ptolemaic dynasty was not of Egyptian descent, and hypothesised that their foreign names would have to be spelt out phonetically because there would not be a symbol within the standard list of hieroglyphs.

Young called his achievements ‘the amusement of a few leisure hours.’ He lost interest in hieroglyphics, and brought his work to a conclusion by summarising it in an article for the 1819 supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Jean-François Champollion
Jean-François-Champollion

Jean-François Champollion’s obsession with hieroglyphs began around 1801 when, as a ten-year-old, he saw a collection of Egyptian antiquities, decorated with bizarre inscriptions. He was told that nobody could interpret this cryptic writing, whereupon the boy promised that he would one day solve the mystery.

Champollion applied Young’s technique to other cartouches, but the names, such as Alexander and Cleopatra, were still foreign, supporting the theory that phonetics was only invoked for words outside the traditional Egyptian lexicon. Then, in 1822, Champollion received some cartouches that were old enough to contain traditional Egyptian names, and yet they were still spelt out, clear evidence against the theory that spelling was only used for foreign names.

Champollion focussed on a cartouche containing just four hieroglyphs: the first two symbols were unknown, but the repeated pair at the end signified ‘s-s’. This meant that the cartouche represented (‘?-?-s-s’).

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At this point, Champollion brought to bear his vast linguistic knowledge. Although Coptic, the descendant of the ancient Egyptian language, had ceased to be a living language, it still existed in a fossilised form in the liturgy of the Christian Coptic Church. Champollion had learnt Coptic as a teenager, and was so fluent that he used it to record entries in his journal. However, he had not previously considered that Coptic might also be the language of hieroglyphs.

Champollion wondered if the first hieroglyph in the cartouche, the disc, might represent the sun, and then he assumed its sound value to be that of the Coptic word for sun, ‘ra’. This gave him the sequence (‘ra-?-s-s’). Only one pharaonic name seemed to fit. Allowing for the omission of vowels and the unknown letter, surely this was Rameses. The spell was broken. Hieroglyphs were phonetic and the underlying language was Egyptian. Champollion dashed into his brother’s office where he proclaimed ‘Je tiens l’affaire!’ (‘I’ve got it!’) and promptly collapsed. He was bedridden for the next five days.

Cracking the code
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A model of an Old Kingdom scribe

Although this was just one more cartouche, it clearly demonstrated the fundamental principles of hieroglyphics. It showed that the scribes sometimes exploited the rebus principle, which involves breaking long words into phonetic components, and then using pictures to represent these components. For example, the word belief can be broken down into two syllables, ‘bee-leaf’. Hence, instead of writing the word alphabetically, it could be represented by the image of a bee and a leaf. In the Rameses example, only the first syllable (‘ra’) is represented by a rebus image, a picture of the sun, while the remainder of the word is spelt more conventionally.

“The cartouche only makes sense if the scribes spoke Coptic…”

The significance of the sun in the Rameses cartouche is enormous, because it indicates the language of the scribes. They could not have spoken English, because this would mean that the cartouche would be pronounced ‘Sun-meses’. Similarly, they could not have spoken French, because then the cartouche would be pronounced ‘Soleil-meses’. The cartouche only makes sense if the scribes spoke Coptic, because it would then be pronounced ‘Ra-meses’.

Champollion went on to show that for most of their writing, the scribes relied on using a relatively conventional phonetic alphabet. Indeed, Champollion called phonetics the ‘soul’ of hieroglyphics.

Using his deep knowledge of Coptic, Champollion began a prolific decipherment of hieroglyphs. He identified phonetic values for the majority of hieroglyphs, and discovered that some of them represented combinations of two or even three consonants. This sometimes gave scribes the option of spelling a word using several simple hieroglyphs or with just one multi-consonantal hieroglyph.

“…now Champollion could reinterpret them correctly.”

In July 1828, Champollion embarked on his first expedition to Egypt. Thirty years earlier, Napoleon’s expedition had made wild guesses as to the meaning of the hieroglyphs that adorned the temples, but now Champollion could reinterpret them correctly. His visit came just in time. Three years later, having written up the notes, drawings and translations from his Egyptian expedition, he suffered a severe stroke. He died on 4th March 1832, aged 41, having achieved his childhood dream.

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