30 July 2008

Ancient beehives from Israel

Kind of old news, but "fresh" from the newest issue of Near Eastern Archaeology, an ancient apiary was excavated in 2005 and 2007 at the site of Tel Rehov in northern Israel. This is the only apiary to be discovered in the archaeology of the Old World (at least that has been identified and published) and dates to around the 10th or 9th centuries BCE.
The beehives are composed of unbaked cylindrical clay vessels roughly 80 cm in length and 40 cm in diameter stacked three rows high. In some cases, the lids for the hives were preserved in place on one end of the hive that included a handle. The hive was sealed on the other side by packed clay with a small hole in the middle to allow the bees to come and go. A total of 25 hives were uncovered, but the excavators estimate there could have been over 180 hives in total, each with a 56-liter capacity!

Not only is this story awesome because well, it deals with bees and honey, but it also attests to the fact that bee keeping was a major operation in the ancient world and that it was done within and close to densely-populated settlements. For Rehov, the apiary was smack-dab in the middle of the town! The excavators chalk this up to a "robust central authority" that was able to force the local population to tolerate a huge number of bees inside their community. However as Alice Petty of Stanford University pointed out in a talk she gave recently, there are apiaries being kept in the heart of
San Francisco today unbeknown to many neighbors!

So it is possible, and probably even welcomed by the community at large, especially if they get a slice of the pie, err
hive when it comes to revenue. My only two questions are: how many bees could occupy 180 hives and just how loud would the buzzing have been??

29 July 2008

Saving Pompeii

Italy is taking steps to counteract the growing degradation of their most popular tourist attraction, Pompeii, according to the New York Times. This involves hiring an individual with the legal know-how and organization skills to cut through the red tape and get work done at the site (i.e. rebuilding damaged walls, restoration work on mosaics, etc.). However, as the Times article reveals, Pompeii is severely understaffed as it is and outside contractors have to be called in to perform the work. The article doesn't say, but I wonder if these contractors have any experience working at ancient sites?

The scariest idea that the Italian government is playing with is the privatization of the site, meaning that corporate sp
onsors and private investors would oversee and finance the restoration, upkeep, and general running of Pompeii. This is a bad idea for so many reasons, some of which I am sure you have thought of already. Corporate greed would turn the World Heritage Site into a Disneyland of sorts with the bottom line being making as much money as possible, as opposed to being focused on the preservation of this unique site. The thought of the sign out front, "Welcome to Pompeii..sponsored by Illy Espresso!" really gives me the chills. But then again, apart from the Italian government making Pompeii and the issues currently plaguing the site a priority, I can't think of another financial solution.

In other news, scientists are know using DNA from the remains of amphora in Greek trading ships to pinpoint the exact contents of those popular ceramic vessels. Most archaeologists have had to make educated guesses about what was carried in particular pottery vessels based on their shape and manufacture, i.e. you're not going to transport wine in an open bowl where it can splash out but inside a closed container, preferably something you can cork or put a lid on. The article in the Times Online referencing this story doesn't say a whole lot, perhaps because it doesn't want to trump the Journal of Archaeological Science article coming out soon about this topic. However, it seems that these particular types of amphora (pictured here) always thought to carry wine, might not have after all but instead had evidence for olive and oregano. Yet another reminder that spices were also highly prized in the ancient world, in some cases more so than gold, metals or even wine!

15 July 2008

Old bones for new cures

As The Guardian reports, archaeologists and medical researchers are teaming up to help fight some of our modern day illness--like tuberculosis, syphilis, and arthritis--that have an ancient past. In this case, a team of multi-national researchers are examining bones from the Neolithic site of Jericho in Israel, some 8,000 years old. Many of these bones exhibit lesions that may be the result of TB. The trick is to examine the DNA of individuals who did not suffer from TB to figure out how they managed to be resistant.

So why Jericho? Tuberculosis needs an urban, or at least close-knit community to survive with people living in close proximity on a permanent basis, basically coughing on each other. Jericho is one of the earliest permanent and large-scale settlements in the Near East (the article calls it a "city" but we can debate about that--see picture) thus making it a perfect breeding ground for the development and proliferation of diseases.

I seriously wonder sometimes why on Earth we as humans gave up our hunter-gatherer lifestyle for a chance at overcrowding, labor-intensive agriculture, and serious diseases. I mean really, that we made a bad choice is obvious.

12 July 2008

State-side and lazy

I know, I have been home for a week now but too lazy to post. Sorry about that. Many of you expressed your delight at being kept up-to-date with all my happenings while away in Turkey last month. I'm just glad this blog was actually useful for something! At any rate, thanks for your feedback and remember, you can leave comments through the blog itself too by clicking on "Remarks" at the end of each post and filling in the form. Now on to the interesting archaeology news that popped up during my absence, in brief:

-Pigeon poop is wearing away the Sphinx

-A 5th Dynasty pyramid deeply buried is being uncovered in Egypt (
see video), sadly after Hawass and the Egyptian government relocate a local village on top of it

Dead Sea Scrolls are in San Fran

-The world's
oldest wheat was found at Chatalhoyuk, Turkey (8,500 years old)

-Frankincense calms the brain and gets you high, for religious reasons of course

-Ancient Greek games at Nemea revived (see video)

-Medieval monks poisoned by Biblical texts. Well, by the mercury used to make the red ink used in Biblical texts. Bummer.

04 July 2008

Seni seviyorum Istanbul

The house was packed up and "cleaned," things were settled with the museum, and Bismil saw our backs as we departed on Wednesday afternoon to sighs of joy. I spent a leisurely afternoon napping and eating my last sac tava at the Dying Goats (until next year Bayram!) before hopping a plane Thursday morning for Istanbul. What a relief to be here!

Well, relief and anxiety. In a way, I am just killing time here while I think about my flight tomorrow and how I will be seeing B soon. In the meantime though I have been keeping busy with Bradley. Last night we met at our usual nargile place on Galata Bridge only to find that it was a Muslim holiday and they weren't serving beer! Well you just can't smoke without a nice cold beer, so we watched the sun set over the city and hiked back up toward our hotels in Beyo─člu and hit up a beer garden of sorts in the "Flower Passage" off of Istiklal Caddesi. Afterward we crawled into the fish bazaar and hit up the favorite restaurant of Marie and myself and split a bottle of white wine, baklava and meze.

Today Bradley overslept and left me hanging for an hour at a local bookstore until I went to his hotel and fished him out! Then we spent the day shopping in various bazaars: the spice one, the old book one, and of course the "grand" one. Tourist-city, but we got all the gifts for loved ones (and ourselves) that we needed, enjoyed a Turkish coffee and pistachio ice cream by the water before heading back to our hotels for a shower and some rest.

Tonight we will be hitting up the nargile place again, hoping for beer. Then tomorrow I leave for Amsterdam, thus beginning my long journey home!
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