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Collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts found in Afghanistan fox cave

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© AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana
Academic director of the National Library of Israel professor Haggai Ben-Shammai displays a document from a collection of discarded religious Jewish writings.
Israel's National Library has acquired 1,000-year-old Jewish documents discovered in Afghanistan. The collection of 29 pages includes writings by Saadia Gaon, and has been compared in significance to the 19th-century discovery of the Cairo Genizah.

The rare documents were discovered by villagers near the Iran-Uzbekistan border in a cave believed to be the home of a family of foxes. The manuscripts include religious writings, as well as letters and civil contracts written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Persian, and in a variety of alphabets.

The cache, sometimes known as the Afghan Genizah, has "rocked the world of scholars" who study ancient manuscripts, as well as the dealers who buy and sell them, Haaretz reported.

The key manuscript acquired by the library is a page from Saadia Gaon's commentary on the Bible. The document is a 10th-century commentary on Isaiah 34, written in Judeo-Arabic.

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© AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana
Academic director of the National Library of Israel professor Haggai Ben-Shammai displays a document from a collection of discarded religious Jewish writings.

Magnify

Ancient city reveals a Goddess sculpture

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© DHA photo
A marble sculpture head of Artemis from the fourth century uncovered in Aydın’s Alabanda.
A marble sculpture head of Artemis from the fourth century BC has been uncovered in the ancient city of Alabanda as the archeological excavations there come to a close. In some of the excavations made at the site, the doors of the ancient city were uncovered, the head of the excavation team, Aydın Adnan Menderes University Archeology department academic Suat Ateşlier said. The walls from the Byzantine era were also found, he added.

These walls and the road were uncovered near the Temple of Apollo, said Ateşlier. "We have also found a very valuable sculpture head in the same area. The quality of the sculpture is very good, and it is in very good condition. This is a goddess sculpture." He added that experts believed it was of the goddess Artemis, the sister of Apollo.

Ateşlier said they had started in July and this season many newly excavated artifacts has been uncovered at the site. The team closed the excavations on Dec. 20.

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Ancient carving shows stylishly plump African princess

© Krzysztof Grzymski
Dating back around 2,000 years and discovered in a palace in the ancient city of Meroe in Sudan, this relief appears to show a princess who is, fashionably, overweight.
A 2,000-year-old relief carved with an image of what appears to be a, stylishly overweight, princess has been discovered in an "extremely fragile" palace in the ancient city of Meroë, in Sudan, archaeologists say.

At the time the relief was made, Meroë was the center of a kingdom named Kush, its borders stretching as far north as the southern edge of Egypt. It wasn't unusual for queens (sometimes referred to as "Candaces") to rule, facing down the armies of an expanding Rome.

The sandstone relief shows a woman smiling, her hair carefully dressed and an earring on her left ear. She appears to have a second chin and a bit of fat on her neck, something considered stylish, at the time, among royal women from Kush.

Team leader Krzysztof Grzymski presented the relief, among other finds from the palace at Meroë, at an Egyptology symposium held recently at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Blackbox

Dried squash holds headless French king's blood?

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© Corbis
Louis XVI (1754-1793), King of France and Navarre from 1774 to 1791.
Two centuries after the French people beheaded Louis XVI and dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, scientists believe they have authenticated the remains of one such rag kept as a revolutionary souvenir. Researchers have been trying for years to verify a claim imprinted on an ornately decorated calabash that it contains a sample of the blood of the French king guillotined in Paris on January 21, 1793.

The dried, hollowed squash is adorned with portraits of revolutionary heroes and the text: "On January 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation". He is then believed to have placed the fabric in the gourd, and had it embellished.

The sinister souvenir has been in the private hands of an Italian family for more than a century, said the team of experts from Spain and France which published its findings in the journal Forensic Science International.

Two years ago, analysis of DNA taken from blood traces found inside the ornate vegetable revealed a likely match for someone of Louis' description, including his blue eyes.

But not having the DNA of any kingly relation, researchers could not prove beyond doubt that the blood belonged to Louis.

Until now.

Pyramid

2,750-year-old temple discovered in Israel

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© Skyview/Israeli Antiquities Authority
An overhead view of the excavation site
Israeli archeologists have discovered the remains of an ancient temple that is nearly 3,000 years old and was once home to a ritual cult.

"The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple," excavation directors Anna Eirikh, Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz said in a statement released by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The temple remains were discovered at the Tel Motza site, located to the west of Jerusalem. The Israeli Antiquities Authority has been conducting excavation efforts at the site and says that along with the temple remains itself, the findings include a "cache of sacred vessels" estimated to be 2,750 years old.

"Among other finds, the site has yielded pottery figurines of men, one of them bearded, whose significance is still unknown," the statement from Khalaily and Kisilevitz reads.

NBC's Cosmic Log notes that the discovery was made during preparations for a new section of Israel's Highway 1. Because of the number of historical sites and artifacts in and near Jerusalem, the Israeli government typically conducts similar archeological excavation efforts before beginning construction on major infrastructure projects.

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2000 BC tomb in Oman discovered

© Oman News Agency
Omani archaeologists digging to reveal a settlement dating back to 2000 BC.
While building a new border check post in the northern coastal Aswad province of Oman, the squad of Royal Oman Police (ROP) discovered ancient artifacts, settlements and tombs dating back to 2000 BC.

Once the ROP team reported the discovery of the ancient graves in Aswad's Shinas town, the crew of Sultan Qaboos University graduates and trained Omani archeologists began exploring the location, Gulf News reported on Monday.

According to the Ministry of Heritage and Culture official, the remains from ancient settlements, which include a brass necklace, body, daggers, needles, arrow heads, knives, local and imported beads, belonged to 1900 BC-1100 BC era.

"The team has unearthed a settlement and an archeological cemetery that dates back to 2000 BC, which is also called the Wadi Souq period," a ministry official said.

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'Peking Man' was a fashion plate

© Russell L. Ciochon, Univ. of Iowa
Homo erectus fossil from Zhoukoudian caves.
"Peking Man," a human ancestor who lived in China between roughly 200,000 and 750,000 years ago, was a wood-working, fire-using, spear-hafting hominid who, mysteriously, liked to drill holes into objects for unknown reasons.

And, yes, these hominids, a form of Homo erectus, appear to have been quite meticulous about their clothing, using stone tools to soften and depress animal hides.

The new discoveries paint a picture of a human ancestor who was more sophisticated than previously believed.

Peking Man was first discovered in 1923 in a cave near the village of Zhoukoudian, close to Beijing (at that time called Peking). During 1941, at the height of World War II, fossils of Peking Man went missing, depriving scientists of valuable information.

Recently, researchers have embarked on a re-excavation of the cave site searching for artifacts and answers as to how the Peking Man lived. Just as importantly, they engaged in new lab work that includes using powerful microscopes to look at artifacts made by Peking Man to determine how they were used, a process archaeologists called "use-wear" analysis.

On Dec. 15, four of these scientists gathered at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum to give an update on their most recent findings. Three of the scientists, Xing Gao, Yue Zhang and Shuangquan Zhang are with the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology. The fourth, Chen Shen, is a curator at the Toronto museum and a special member of the academy.

Among their archaeological findings is a 300,000-year-old "activity floor" (as the scientists call it) containing what may be a hearth and fireplace, akin to a prehistoric living room. Analysis is ongoing and Yue Zhang noted that 3D scanners are being used to map it. If the results hold up, it may prove once and for all that Peking Man was able to control fire, an important skill given the chilly weather at times in northern China.

Bizarro Earth

Remains of 6th century high-caste man in armour found at 'Pompeii of Japan'

The remains of a high-caste man wearing armour who was buried by hot ash -- possibly as he tried to calm the wrath of an erupting volcano -- have been found in an area known as the "Pompeii of Japan". Archaeologists say they have unearthed the well-preserved body of a sixth-century man who had apparently turned to face a flow of molten rock as it gushed through his settlement.
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© AFP
This handout picture taken by Gunma Archaeological Research Foundation on November 30, 2012 and received on December 18, 2012 shows a well-preserved body of a sixth-century man in a suit of armor (yellow), found at the Kanai Higashiura dig in Shibukawa city in Gunma prefecture, 110km north of Tokyo.
"Under normal circumstances, you would flee if pyroclastic flows are rushing toward you and bringing waves of heat. But this person died facing it," said Shinichiro Ohki, of Gunma Archaeological Research Foundation.

"Maybe, if he were someone of a high position, he might have been praying, or doing something in the direction of the volcano and attempting to appease its anger," Ohki told AFP on Monday.

The remains, along with a part of an infant's skull, were found in the Kanai Higashiura dig in Gunma prefecture, roughly 110 kilometres (70 miles) northwest of Tokyo, at the site of the volcanic Mount Haruna.

Wine n Glass

Alcohol: Social lubricant for 10,000 years

© Teomancimit | Wikimedia Commons
About 10,000 years ago, ancient Neolithic hunter-gatherers may have gathered at sites such as Gobekli Tepe for cultic feasts and primitive beers.
As people ring in the New Year with dancing and a bit of bubbly, they can consider themselves part of an ancient human tradition.

Several new archaeological finds suggest that alcohol has been a social glue in parties, from work festivals to cultic feasts, since the dawn of civilization.

In the December issue of the journal Antiquity, archaeologists describe evidence of nearly 11,000-year-old beer brewing troughs at a cultic feasting site in Turkey called Göbekli Tepe. And archaeologists in Cyprus have unearthed the 3,500-year-old ruins of what may have been a primitive beer brewery and feasting hall at a site called Kissonerga-Skalia. The excavation, described in the November issue of the journal Levant, revealed several kilns that may have been used to dry malt before fermentation.

The findings suggest that alcohol has been a social lubricant for ages, said Lindy Crewe, an archaeologist at the University of Manchester, who co-authored the Levant paper.

MIB

Monroe and Communism: FBI releases classified files on the Hollywood star

© Agence France-Presse
Picture dated 11 October 1956, showing actress Marilyn Monroe (L) and her husband, writer Arthur Miller, at the Comedy Theatre in London as they are waiting first night of Miller's new play, A view from the Bridge
The FBI has released classified document confirming Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe was under surveillance for allegedly having "drifted into the Communist orbit" from the mid 1950s through to months before her death.

The classified files on the actress and her husband Arthur Miller have been rediscovered after going missing. The documents reveal some of the names of Monroe's alleged Communist friends, and that the FBI kept close track of the movie star, The Daily News reports.

Information that the Some Like It Hot star had ties to the Communist Party emerged in the 1950s, after Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller in 1956.

That year the FBI recorded an anonymous phone call to the New York Daily News that sparked interest in Monroe's affairs. The caller implied that Arthur Miller whom she had just married was a Communist and that Monroe had 'drifted into the communist orbit'. The caller also reported "that the actress's company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, was 'filled with communists' and that money from the company was being used to finance communist activities," The Daily Mail says.

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