28 November 2007

Grandma, you will be missed

Doris Elaine Reidt Cole passed away on November 15, 2007 after a brief illness. She will be sorely missed by husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and many other relatives and friends. Doris was born on October 23, 1923 to Stephen and Ona Reidt and spent her childhood in Newport, Washington. She graduated from high school while living with her sister, Rose, in Libby, Montana. After high school, Doris trained and began work as a secretary in Spokane, Washington. It was in Spokane that she met Harry Cole, who became her love and life-mate for over 64 years; they were married January 30, 1943. Doris embraced the life of a military wife as Harry pursued a 26-year career as an Air Force pilot. Together, they raised four beautiful daughters, Karen, Cheryl, Carol Linda, and Kathy. When Harry retired in 1968, Doris resumed her earlier vocation as a secretary and quickly advanced to the position of Executive Secretary to the Commander of the Dental Unit at Fort Lewis Army Post in Tacoma, Washington, After her retirement, Doris, with Harry, continued to live in Lakewood, Washington, where she enjoyed her garden, her kitchen and many visits from family and friends. Doris is survived by her husband, Harry Cole, one sister Evelyn Derrick, three daughters, Karen Hawks (Guy,ESr.), Carol Linda Painter (Charles) and Kathy Threadgill (Ron), 9 grandchildren, Terry Bittner, Lisa Hawks Hager, Guy Hawks, Jr., Christopher Painter, Catherine Painter Foster, Colin Painter, Jennifer Smolensky Hobson, David Smolensky, Sarah Norman, and 11 great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, December 1, 2007 at Mountain View Funeral Home Garden Chapel, 4100 Steilacoom Blvd. SW, Lakewood, WA.

I will always treasure our letters about gardening and tea parties, listening to the ballgame on the kitchen radio, and finally getting you to tell me your recipe for bleu cheese dressing. I love you.

25 November 2007

Half expected this one

Already Italian archaeologists have come forward to discredit the claims made earlier this week that the grotto found below the Palatine Hill in Rome is the sacred cave linked to the mythical foundation of the city. As reported in The Australian, Adriano La Regina, former superintendent of archaeology, says that instead this cave is a nymphaeum or artificial grotto used for dinners and receptions in the earlier palace of Nero that he built on the Palatine, and subsequently burned down in the infamous fire of 64 AD.

Other fun archaeology news:

Bruce Masse, environmental archaeologist (?) at Los Alamos National Laboratory, thinks that a comet hitting the Earth is the root of all the flood myths we find historically worldwide. A 3-mile-wide comet smashed into the waters off the coast of Madagscar sending 600-foot-high tsunamis to pound the world's coastlines and "injecting plumes of superheated water vapor and aerosol particulates into the atmosphere." Ouch. He sites the Epic of Gilgamesh in that the hero king saw a pillar of black smoke on the horizon. Ok, maybe this works, but his biblical evidence is, well, non-existent. And while Masse mentions several other myths from ancient China and India, I don't know how many people are going to buy this theory apart from Jared Diamond-types. Interestingly, Masse gives an actual date for all this happening: May 10, 2807 B.C.

This was a good, short article from the Deseret Morning News (of all places) about the caution in which most professional archaeologists take in interpreting their material in a way to "prove the Bible." This is mostly an article about Aren Maeir, chairman of the department of Archaeology and Land of Israel Studies at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, who recently spoke with students at Brigham Young University.

What I liked most (and this is for my non-archaeology friends) is that Maeir cautions the public to be more critical of those who announce major "breakthroughs" that "prove" something in the Bible. Those who do so are often not professional archaeologists and their findings are often proved false or misinterpreted later. Examples include (quotes are from Maeir):

• Mt. Ararat as the site where Noah's Ark was found. "This one happens every five or 10 years," yet nothing has been found to verify the claim.

• The Shroud of Turin. "We know clearly now it was made in the Middle Ages. It has been scientifically tested and dated clearly to the 14th Century."

• The tomb of Jesus' family. Among the most recent "discoveries," the tomb has been the subject of several documentary films and books, but Maeir said what isn't discussed is the commonality of the names found in the tomb. "There's nothing exceptional about having a Jesus and a Miriam and a Jacob" in the same tomb, he said.

• The ossuary of Jesus' brother, James. "It turns out the box was found only with the 'James' part on it. Someone else added the words, 'brother of Jesus."'

22 November 2007

New mosaics from the Galilee

An excavation sponsored by researchers at Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology have uncovered remains of an ancient synagogue in the Arbel National Park in the Galilee region of Israel. Inside, elaborate mosaics depicting scenes of woodworkers building a structure have been preserved. There is some debate, but the synagogue either dates to the 2nd or 3rd centuries (Roman period), or the 5th or 6th centuries C.E. (Byzantine period). What always blows my mind is that the stones of the mosaic average 4mm in size! Truly an art form that I have to utmost respect for.

As many of you may or may not know, I love to mosaic and once I have actual workshop space (i.e. garage or basement) I will finally be able to do all those big projects I have been dying to work on.

Happy Thanksgiving!

20 November 2007

Back from ASOR and behind on the news

Sorry for the lapse in posting, but I was attending the ASOR conference this weekend in San Diego and have been dealing with family issues. In the meantime, some interesting archaeological news has been streaming over the wires:

Soon to be featured in the January 2008 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, evidence for geoarchaeological tsunami deposits on the northeastern shore of Crete could possibly prove that the island was not only covered with ash from a volcanic eruption on the nearby Minoan island of Santorini during the second millennium BC, but the inhabitants also succumbed to waves that were over 9 meters high! Somehow the story of Atlantis comes to mind here...

In other 'water' related news, ancient Zeugma--behind the Birecik Dam in southeast Turkey--will be getting a large roof in order to protect the villas and mosaics that have been found there since the mid-1990s. Much of the finds from Zeugma have been deposited in the Gaziantep Archaeological Museum, but for those that remain (and were not covered by the dam reservoir waters in 2000) the roofing will provided protection from the elements. This is somewhat good news, though I suppose it is a way for the government to calm most who were (and still are) concerned about this controversial project. Certainly you will see the same when it comes time to flood Hasankeyf, sadly, very soon. If you want to see the mosaics from Zeugma, NOVA has wonderful images and even a 'fly through' of one of the villas.

More Iraq looting news: Tell Asmar has apparently been looted by armed gunmen who tied up the site guards and helped themselves with (of course) no response by the local police or government. This goes to show that simply having guards patrolling archaeological sites in Iraq is not going to deter looters.

One line in the article really caught my eye: "The quality of items the gunmen took away might not be archaeologically significant..." Everything is archaeologically significant, from the multi-roomed palaces filled with gold down to the wheat seeds and stone grinders used by the average Sumerian Joe. But it is not just the objects that matter, but the context from which they came. Thus looting is doubly damaging, and lest we forget who fuels the looters' fire? American, European, and Japanese buyers of ancient artifacts working for national museums or to simply show them off in their den at cocktail parties.

Ok, 2 more and I will keep it brief.

The Lawrence
Berkeley National Lab is using a new technique (Hard X-Ray Micro Tomography) in order to generate completely readable images of cuneiform tablets sealed inside clay envelopes. This will allow researchers to read the inner tablet without breaking the outer envelope. Sweet.

Finally, archaeologists excavating below the palace of Emperor Augustus on the Palatine Hill in Rome have discovered a deep cavern decorated with colored mosaics, seashells, and the image of a white eagle (a symbol of the Roman Empire). They believe this is the famed cave of Lupercal where Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome, were suckled by a she-wolf before being discovered and raised by a shepherd. Naturally they have no way of proving this is the cave (and thus proving the legend true), but archaeologists seem to always be looking for the origin of things so why not the founding of Rome.

11 November 2007

Cool crochet

Not archaeological, I know, but cool none-the-less.

I give you, the first crochet project I have done in over 10 years. A baby blanket for Anaita! Mabruk!

And thanks Liz, for the kick in the ass. It really was a fun and relaxing project. Onto the next one!

09 November 2007

Archaeology job hazards: zombies

This article is completely brilliant! Zombies are "not the Spawn of Hell, although, they certainly look the part" as noted by the author Tom Flanigan. They are in fact humans who have been infected by the Solanum virus, which essentially eats away the frontal lobe of someone's brain and mutates it so that the brain is dormant but may function without oxygen. 23 hours later, the fully formed zombie is then unleashed on a brain-feeding rampage in order to spread the virus.

So what on Earth does this have to do with archaeology? Well as any zombie enthusiast knows, the way to kill a zombie is to cut off the head (and hence the virus-infected brain). Ancient burials of decapitated individuals have been found all over the Near East, most notably by Sir Flinders Petrie at his famous excavations at Naqada in 1895 and the more recent excavations at the non-elite cemetery of Hierakonpolis, Egypt dating to 3500 BCE. Cut marks on the vertebrae (spinal) bones indicate that these people were indeed, completely decapitated before burial and include both men and women, ranging from 16 to 65 years old. Standard position of these cuts indicates that they were not sustained during "normal warfare."

Amazingly, the brains of some of these cut individuals (pictured here) that were preserved inside their skulls (apparently the head was deposited with the bodies?) were able to be recovered and can be tested for the Solanum virus. The results will be interesting, especially if it shows there is a long history to the zombie epidemic. This could change everything! State formation in Egypt by Narmer (his famous "palette" pictured below with decapitated prisoners) due to zombie eradication?? Sounds a lot sexier than resource procurement strategies, population pressures or environmental degradation.

Yet how are zombies a job hazard? No one knows how long the virus can remain dormant. So be careful digging up those mummies! You might turn your entire excavation team into a pack of brain-eating zombies. In that drastic case, be sure to read up on the "Solanum Outbreak Contingency Plan" and keep your Marshalltown sharp!

04 November 2007

Ship DNA and whimpy UNESCO

Wow how many acronyms can I get into one post title?

Reuters reports that scientists from Lund University in Sweden have been able to extract and analyze DNA from the inside of amphorae that sank, along with a Greek trading ship, off the coast of the island of Chios 2,400 years ago. The report showed that the amphorae were carrying olive oil, oregano, and wine.

This surprised the scientists since Chios was apparently known in the Greek world for their prized wine only, but the ship could just as well been traveling to the island to bring imports, as opposed from the island as exports, which is what seems to be assumed here. But no matter, I just loved the story because it shows that there is so much hidden potential in archaeological objects that seem, more or less, commonplace or in the case of these amphorae, empty.

On a sadder and less hopeful note, an Iraqi police barracks and training center is currently being built right next to the famed and historic Great Mosque of Samarra, which features its iconic spiral minaret. For those not in the know, Samarra was the capital of the Abbasid Dynasty during the 9th century AD (C.E. for you academics). UNESCO just this summer declared the mosque and surrounding "Archaeological City" an endangered world heritage site.

The article is not clear about who exactly is building the barracks, but since it is Iraq it is safe to assume it is the US government once again destroying archaeological sites (see Babylon). What this article showed for me was that UNESCO, on an international government scale, doesn't seem to hold much power. Both the US and Iraq are members of UNESCO and yet, Babylon gets built over and Samarra will likely be destroyed by enemy fighting or a suicide bomber. But many would argue, who can stand against the US government anyway? It is like a spoiled little child-it is going to get what it wants no matter the consequences and no matter what/who gets hurt.

03 November 2007

Never gets old

Slow archaeology news week, and busy personal life week, so here is something to tide you over:

Maybe it is because I work in Diyarbakir, but seriously, this video never gets old for me.
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