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).

2560px-267641main_allsky_labeled_HI

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.

Copia_de_Enki

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.

af1f9e9dfcff1a81c41ace90e4dca260

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.

Archaeologists Find Sunken Egyptian City

In an article written by ABC News back in June of 2001, they make mention of an ancient Egyptian city that was discovered 6.5 km off of modern Egypt’s coastline which revealed fascinating relics of Heracleion, also known as Thonis. Lets review…

The city’s ruins are located in Abu Qir Bay, originally existing near Alexandria, 2.5 km off the coast and only 10 metres underwater. According to the classical tale of Heracleion, in the fading days of the pharaohs, the city of Heracleion was the gateway to Egypt. In the 4th century BC, this was an opulent and prosperous place adorned with statues and sphinxes. It was a city of religious significance and home to the temple of Amun. It was engulfed by the sea around 1,500 years ago.

Herakleion-Egypt-engulfed

Using magnetic wave technology, the divers found the basin of what used to be the city’s harbor and electronically surveyed and charted it, finding palaces and temples. Next to the harbor, they found 10 antique shipwrecks.

A coliseum, houses, temples and several other artifacts lay amazingly intact at the bottom of the sea, the archaeologists said. They said they found the statues on the site of what used to be the Great Temple of Herakleion.

underwater-city10

The cities had been known only through ancient writings, such as travelogues and comedies, until Goddio’s team announced its discovery about a year ago. They say they discovered the ruins in 1996. The writings recounted the city’s splendor and decadence, and also referred to a temple dedicated to Heracles — or, in Latin, Hercules — the legendary son of the supreme god Zeus, from whose name the city appears to have taken its name.

The writings put the founding of the city more than 2,300 years ago, before ancient Alexandria was founded in 331 B.C.

What could have caused this sacred city to plunge into the sea? Could this be another example of an antediluvian city wiped out by an ancient cataclysm?

Read Full Article Here

What lies beneath?

A tantalising clue to the location of a long-sought pharaonic tomb

20150808_bkp002

NOTHING has inspired generations of archaeologists like the discovery in 1922 of the treasure-packed tomb of Tutankhamun. What if another untouched Egyptian trove lies buried, not in a distant patch of desert, nor even nearby amid the overlapping tomb-shafts of Luxor’s Valley of the Kings, but instead just a millimetre’s distance from plain view?

This is the dramatic hypothesis of a just-published paper by Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist who co-discovered an undisturbed Egyptian tomb in 2000, and who is at the University of Arizona. His key evidence is disarmingly simple, and in fact free to see on the internet in the form of photographs published by Factum Arte, a Madrid- and Bologna-based specialist in art replication that recently created a spectacular, life-sized facsimile of Tutankhamun’s tomb, intended for tourists to visit without endangering the original.

What Mr Reeves found in these ultra-high-resolution images, which reveal the texture of walls beneath layers of paint in the original tomb, was a number of fissures and cracks that suggest the presence of two passages that were blocked and plastered to conceal their existence. (See image, with proposed new areas in yellow.) One of these would probably lead to a storeroom; its position and small size mirror that of an already-uncovered storeroom inside the multi-chambered tomb. The other, bigger possible doorway in the north wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber suggests something much more exciting.

There are several oddities about Tutankhamun’s tomb. It is small compared with others in the valley. The objects found in it, while magnificent, seemed hurriedly placed and were found to be largely second-hand; even the boy-king’s famous gilded funerary mask sports the strangely unmanly feature of pierced ears. The tomb’s main axis is angled to the right of the entrance shaft, an arrangement typical of Egyptian queens rather than kings.

Noting that the bigger of the two doorways he may have located aligns perfectly with both sides of the tomb’s entrance chamber, Mr Reeves thinks it could conceal a corridor continuing along the same axis, in the scale and shape of other nearby royal tombs. All this, as well as evidence that the tomb’s decoration and construction were executed at different stages, leads him to conclude that this corridor would lead to the burial chamber of a queen, or perhaps several princesses.

Among the tombs and royal mummies that archaeologists have identified from Tutankhamun’s dynasty, Ancient Egypt’s 18th, there remains one gaping absence. Nefertiti, the wife of Tutankhamun’s father Akhenaten, was not only a famed beauty, as the world knows from her famous bust in Berlin. Her titles indicate that she served as co-regent and possibly also as a pharaoh in her own right after Akhenaten’s death, meaning Nefertiti’s tomb and its contents would be every bit as magnificent as her stepson’s. Indeed, if Mr Reeves is right, what Tutankhamun got was her leftovers; even his face mask might originally have been intended for the queen.

Read Full Article Here

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.

Rosetta-stone-hieroglyphs
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…”

Ancient-Egyptian-Coptic-script
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.

Rosetta-detail-Greek-translation
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.

left-right-rosetta-stone

“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’).

cartouche-symbols

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
c07bf36cbda2825ef863b37571055a79ad98245e-1
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.

Read Full Story Here

Egyptian pyramids found by infra-red satellite images

The BBC Reports–Seventeen lost pyramids are among the buildings identified in a new satellite survey of Egypt.

Egyptian-Pyramids-Infrared.jpg

More than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements were also revealed by looking at infra-red images which show up underground buildings. Initial excavations have already confirmed some of the findings, including two suspected pyramids. The work has been pioneered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham by US Egyptologist Dr Sarah Parcak. She says she was amazed at how much she and her team has found.

“We were very intensely doing this research for over a year. I could see the data as it was emerging, but for me the “Aha!” moment was when I could step back and look at everything that we’d found and I couldn’t believe we could locate so many sites all over Egypt. “To excavate a pyramid is the dream of every archaeologist,” she said.

The team analysed images from satellites orbiting 700km above the earth, equipped with cameras so powerful they can pin-point objects less than 1m in diameter on the earth’s surface. Infra-red imaging was used to highlight different materials under the surface.

But after being told by Dr Parcak that she had seen two potential pyramids, they made test excavations, and they now believe it is one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt.

But Dr Parcak said the most exciting moment was visiting the excavations at Tanis.

“They’d excavated a 3,000-year-old house that the satellite imagery had shown and the outline of the structure matched the satellite imagery almost perfectly. That was real validation of the technology.”

The Egyptian authorities plan to use the technology to help – among other things – protect the country’s antiquities in the future.

During the recent revolution, looters accessed some well-known archaeological sites.

“We can tell from the imagery a tomb was looted from a particular period of time and we can alert Interpol to watch out for antiquities from that time that may be offered for sale.”

She also hopes the new technology will help engage young people in science and will be a major help for archaeologists around the world.

“It allows us to be more focused and selective in the work we do. Faced with a massive site, you don’t know where to start.

“It’s an important tool to focus where we’re excavating. It gives us a much bigger perspective on archaeological sites. We have to think bigger and that’s what the satellites allow us to do.”

“Indiana Jones is old school, we’ve moved on from Indy. Sorry, Harrison Ford.”

Read Full Story Here