24 August 2008

Dinosaurs built the pyramids

Again, a much delayed post but I have been fighting off an incredibly nasty sore throat the past 4 days. Be taking your vitamin-C kids!

Khaled Diab has a recent article in
The Guardian discussing everyone's favorite subject: pyramids. He is very succinct about laying out some of the more well-known theories regarding who built the pyramids, how, and why. This includes the long held and completely false story that the Hebrews/Jews built the pyramids. Anoth
er theory, that I had actually never heard of, involves the use of domesticated dinosaurs to do all the heavy lifting. Seriously.

I must say though Diab throws out some statements that raised my eyebrow; "no non-biblical evidence exists that identifies [the Israelites] conclusively" being the major of them. I guess depending on how you define "conclusively" he may be correct. However, most readers might take this sentence to mean that there is absolutely no mention of the Israelites or things pertaining to the biblical stories outside of the Bible. This simply isn't true, though I admit the evidence is small. An inscription on The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (Neo-Assyrian king 858-824 BCE) mentions King Jehu, king of Israel. The destruction of the city of Lachish is recorded in both biblical and Neo-Assyrian sources. And the most controversial, an inscribed stone bearing the words "house of David" were found (albeit in secondary context) at the site of Tel Dan in northern Israel.

Immediately after this quote, Diab cites a particularly famous "minimalist" when it comes to the debates about 9th and 10th century Israel. It is at this point the article turns from one based on pyramid-schemes to a critical look at Judaism, monotheism and how Egypt is the center of western civilization. Definite bait-and-switch but still worth a (critical) read.

17 August 2008

Green Sahara

To show you B, my dinosaur-loving husband, that there is still hope for your conversion, Dr. Sereno from the U of Chicago originally set out to dig up dino bones in the Sahara desert but found human burials instead. The New York Times reports that Sereno and his team uncovered a graveyard containing 200 individuals from two distinct cultures-Kiffians and Tenerians-who occupied this now barren landscape when it was lush, green and wet. That was some 10,000-8,000 years ago! I know that's not old to Dr. Sereno, who was quoted as saying "it's still weird for me to be digging up my own species," but for us prehistorians that is "dawn of time"-type stuff. Way cool!

[20.9.2008] Update from National Geographic on this story.

But don't give up your dino/archaeo job just yet since, well, somebody's gotta pay the bills around here:

Finally! Part 2:

13 August 2008

Technology, DNA and Jesus

Wow I'm sure that headline got your attention. Sorry about the delay on these news stories, but I was busy all last week/weekend with my brother's wedding. Congrats bro and new wife! Welcome to married life.

For all the techies in my life who didn't think that what I do is relevant:
researchers in the UK are looking at the ways in which ancient peoples developed technologies and shared that information
within their communities and beyond. In this case, "technology" means things like pottery making, tool production, and agriculture. Believe it or not, these innovations were high-tech millennia ago! By understanding that ways in which humans share knowledge, researchers believe they can develop new and more effective methods of "data mobility" with computers and computer networks.

Obviously the basic assumption here is that there is an innate and basic "human" way of sharing info and developing technologies. The article doesn't go into these details unfortunately, but it does give me some pause. It might not seem like it on the surfa
ce, but a clay tablet and a computer are the same in many respects: they store information that can be retrieved and understood later by other people (provided they know how to read "the code").

Mind your gag reflex: two mummified fetuses from the tomb of King Tut could give DNA clues about Tut's mom, reports National Geographic News. Why is this important? Controversy has surrounded who Tut was the son of: Akhenaten's wife Kiya or his other, more powerful/famous wife Nefertiti. At any rate, I think DNA studies are totally cool in terms of tracing ancient lineages and blood relationships, though the results of these studies are often not conclusive. NGS is also doing its own DNA study that you, the average blog reader, can be a part of!

Fetus update [17/8/2008]: One could actually be Tut's baby, not his mom's. For more, go here.

Update [1/9/2008]: The fetuses are both Tut's and they are twins!

And for all you crackpot theorists out there, this last one is just for laughs:
Jesus played cricket.

03 August 2008

More on jokes, seriously

Revisiting the topic of ancient humor, I'll draw your attention to a story from ABC News about the oldest recorded joke. Not surprisingly it comes from Sumer (southern Iraq) and goes something like this. Stop me if you've heard this one:
"Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."
Alas, the article does not in
clude a transcript of the joke in its original Sumerian language. I'm curious to know what the word for "fart" was ("releasing of wind?"). This joke was included as part of the 10 oldest jokes compiled for a British television station, so not the most academic of forums. Fingers crossed that a scholarly, and fun, book is published on the subject.

Last, there is a new video released on the journal Nature's website for the Antikythera mechanism (pictured left before conservation). Unfortunately I can't embed the video here but follow this link and you'll go right to it. For the several engineers in my life, this is particularly fascinating about an ancient Roman device that sponge divers found off the coast of Antikythera, a Greek island. The mechanism supposedly is the "first mechanical computer" able to calculate celestial movements and positions, but the newest findings are that it also displays the Olympic calendar.
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