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Thu, 04 Jun 2020
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Aguada Fenix: Major discovery of oldest and largest ceremonial structure in Mexico

Aguada Fénix
© Takeshi Inomata
A 3D image of the monumental platform at Aguada Fénix (in dark brown). The structure, built some 3,000 years ago, was detected by an airborne laser tool known as LiDAR.
An enormous 3,000-year-old earthen platform topped with a series of structures, including a 13-foot-high pyramid, has been identified as the oldest and largest monumental construction discovered in the Maya region, according to a paper published today in the journal Nature. It's the latest discovery to support the emerging view that some of the earliest structures built in the Maya region were significantly larger than those built more than a millennium later during the Classic Maya period (250-900 A.D.), when the empire was at its peak.

The discovery took place in Mexico's Tabasco State at the site of Aguada Fénix, about 850 miles east of Mexico City. It is in a region known as the Maya lowlands, from which the Maya civilization began to emerge.

In 2017, researchers conducted a LiDAR survey that detected the platform and at least nine causeways leading up to it. The groundbreaking laser technology typically is used from aircraft to "see" structures beneath dense tree canopy below, but in this case it revealed a stunning discovery sitting unnoticed in plain sight in Tabasco's semi-forested ranch lands for centuries, if not millennia.

Comment: There are a number of fascinating insights that can be drawn from the findings above, and the similarities with other cultures around the world abound, but the "cache of precious jade axes" is particularly interesting because in Mary Settegast's book Plato Prehistorian she investigates and speculates about the possible origin and proliferation of green stone axes found throughout Eurasia beginning in the late 9th millennium BC:
As the other weapon used by Zeus against Typhon was his thunderbolt, one notes with equal interest the appearance of a
single polished greenstone axe at Mureybet III. Similar polished stone celts were known elsewhere in Syria and Palestine during this period (fig. 46); they were hereafter to enjoy a long and illustrious career in Old World archaeology. Ancient explana-
tions show these implements to be universally designated as "thunderstones" and associated with the sky god (Zeus in
Greece). Among later Greeks, Neolithic celts were given the name of astropelekia, denoting thunderbolts, and greatly
valued as charms. Their deeper religious significance is demonstrated by the engraving of Mithraic subjects on a serpentine
celt from the Argolid (fig. 48), and by the claim that Pythagoras was purified by the thunderstone of Zeus in the Idaean Cave
of Crete. Five thousand years earlier, the first polished green-stone axes known to Greek archaeology were laid in a shrine
at the sixth millennium settlement of Nea Nikomedeia, today judged ceremonial objects by their excavator.

That polished stone celts already held special significance in the late ninth and early eighth millennia is suggested by the
miniaturization of these forms in Near Eastern sites of this period. Often pierced for suspension in the following epoch
(fig. 47), these "axe amulets" 209 were the first of a long series of apparently sacred elements. (Many millennia later a Minoan
grave at Phaistos yielded a small stone celt with a hole in the top, "doubtless worn as an amulet.") If the ninth millennium
valuation of stone celts already derived from an association with the thunderbolts of the sky god, their extraordinary spread both large and miniature forms after 7500 B.C. (detailed in Part III) suggests a continuation of his worship. As in the myth, the sovereignty of Zeus-Baal-Teshub seems to have been intact, after the late ninth and early eighth millennium hostilities in
whose midst polished greenstone axes first appeared.
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Sheeple

Evidence for oldest prehistoric textiles in Scotland discovered in Orkney

Brodgar
© Dr Scott Pike
Ness of Brodgar is a large Neolithic site in Orkney
Evidence of woven Neolithic textile has been confirmed at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute research excavation at the Ness of Brodgar.

Only one other such example has been found in Scotland. The archaeologists at the site don't physically have a piece of 5,000-year-old fabric, but the impression it leaves when pressed against the wet clay of a pot.

Organic material from prehistory does not survive often unless in very specific oxygen-free conditions in the archaeological record, so the study of Neolithic textiles has to rely on secondary evidence.

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Attention

How Barack Obama destroyed Libya

libya
© REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
Libya's long-running civil war has taken a new turn in recent weeks after the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord launched an offensive against would-be strongman Khalifa Haftar, pushing him and his Libyan National Army out of Tripoli and a number of near-by strongholds. But anyone who thinks that peace is at hand after nine years of anarchy and collapse should think again. Odds are all but certain that all it will do is introduce new chaos into a country that has already seen more than its fair share.

But before we speculate about the future, let's pause for a moment to consider the past and how the craziness began. When historians conduct their post-mortem analyses, chance are good that they'll zero in on one date in particular - Apr. 13, 2011. That's the day Barack Obama welcomed Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, emir of Qatar, to the White House. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had just spent weeks lining up support for the effort to topple Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi in the wake of the Arab Spring. But in mid-March, she decided that the coalition was too western, too Euro-centric, for delicate post-colonial sensibilities, and so she set out to woo energy-rich Qatar as well. When Al-Thani at last agreed to come on board, his reward was an audience with His Coolness himself, the U.S. president.

But Obama should have paused before leaping into the unknown. Although Qatar enjoys a benign reputation thanks to its extensive economic and cultural ties with the west, its political profile has long been strangely bifurcated - liberal in some respects, increasingly Islamist in others. By the late 1990s, it was making a name for itself as a center for the ultra-austere branch of Islam known as Salafism. By 2003, reports were growing that local charities were funneling money to Al-Qaeda. But Washington paid little attention. How could such reports be true if Qatar was helping to depose the Gaddafi, long a thorn in the side of American imperialism? If he was working in behalf of U.S. hegemony, which is to say the ultimate good, didn't that mean that he had to be good as well?

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Info

'Lady in the well' sheds light on ancient human population movements

Migration Routes
© Courtesy of Max Planck-Harvard Research center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean/Handout via REUTERS
West Asia, which includes Anatolia (present-day Turkey), the Northern Levant and the Southern Caucasus is seen in a partial map obtained by Reuters June 1, 2020. An international team of researchers showed populations from Anatolia and the Caucasus started genetically mixing around 6,500 BC and that small migration events from Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago brought further genetic mixture to the region. The orange marker shows the route from Central Asia. DNA from a lone ancient woman revealed proof of long distance migration during the late Bronze age about 4,000 years ago from Central Asia to the Mediterranean Coast.
Washington - The bones of a woman of Central Asian descent found at the bottom of a deep well after a violent death in an ancient city in Turkey are helping scientists understand population movements during a crucial juncture in human history.

Researchers have dubbed her the "lady in the well" and her bones were among 110 skeletal remains of people who lived in a region of blossoming civilization running from Turkey through Iran between 7,500 and 3,000 years ago.

The study provided the most comprehensive look to date of genetics revealing the movement and interactions of human populations in this area after the advent of agriculture and into the rise of city-states, two landmarks in human history.

The remains of the "lady in the well," found in the ruins of the ancient city of Alalakh in southern Turkey, illustrated how people and ideas circulated through the region.

Dominoes

Rethinking Easter Island's historic collapse

easter island

The actual size of the statues is not as well known
Easter Island's colossal statues loom large — both literally and figuratively — in the popular imagination. The massive heads and torsos dot the landscape like stone sentinels, standing guard over the isle's treeless, grassy expanse.

The statues have inspired widespread speculation, awe, and wonder for centuries. But the island, called Rapa Nui by its Indigenous people, has also captured the world's imagination for an entirely different reason.

Rapa Nui is often seen as a cautionary example of societal collapse. In this story, made popular by geographer Jared Diamond's bestselling book Collapse, the Indigenous people of the island, the Rapanui, so destroyed their environment that, by around 1600, their society fell into a downward spiral of warfare, cannibalism, and population decline. These catastrophes, the collapse narrative explains, resulted in the destruction of the social and political structures that were in place during precolonial times, though the people of Rapa Nui survive and persist on the island to the present day.

Comment: Around the time that the Easter Island civilization is theorised to have begun its decline much of the planet was undergoing significant shifts: During the Little Ice Age Empires collapsed while the Netherlands flourished

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Dig

Rare Roman board game found in high status cremation pit in Norway

game
© University of Bergen
The four-sided elongated dice.
Rare elongated dice and board game pieces from the Roman Iron Age have been discovered in western Norway.

Last month, Norwegian archaeologists chose to excavate the remains of a small Early Iron Age grave cairn in western Norway. Dotted with monuments and grave mounds, the scenic location overlooking Alversund played an important role in Norwegian history.

The site at Ytre Fosse turned out to be a cremation patch. Amidst the fragments of pottery and burnt glass, archaeologists found a surprise: rare Roman Iron Age dice and board game pieces.

"This is wonderfully exciting. Such discoveries have not been made so many times before in Norway or Scandinavia. The special thing here is that we have found almost the whole set including the dice," said Morten Ramstad from Bergen University Museum to NRK.

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Marijuana

Cannabis and Frankincenses found at 2,700 year old Judahite shrine of Biblical Arad

Arad
© Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority, The Israel Museum, by Laura Lachman.
Front view of the shrine at Arad, rebuilt in the Israel Museum. The top down view of the altars: on where you can see the black residue of cannabis and frankincense
Analysis of the material on two Iron Age altars discovered at the entrance to the "holy of holies" of a shrine at Tel Arad in the Beer-sheba Valley, Israel, were found to contain Cannabis and Frankincense, according to new article in the journal, Tel Aviv.

Past excavations revealed two superimposed fortresses, dated to the 9th to early 6th centuries BCE, which guarded the southern border of biblical Judah. Highly important Iron Age finds were unearthed, including a well-preserved shrine that was dated to ca. 750-715 BCE.

Two limestone altars (the smaller altar is 40 cm high and about 20 × 20 cm at the top; the larger is about 50 cm high and 30 × 30 cm at the top) were found lying at the entrance to the "holy of holies" of the shrine.

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Microscope 2

Insight into first cities & origin of agriculture revealed through genetic analysis

Arslantepe
© Roberto Ceccaci
A wall painting from the Arslantepe archaeological site in Eastern Anatolia (present-day Turkey) around 3,400 BC. Image courtesy of Max Planck-Harvard Research Center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean and Missione Archeologica Italiana nell'Anatolia Orientale, Sapienza University of Rome.
New genetic research from around one of the ancient world's most important trading hubs offers fresh insights into the movement and interactions of inhabitants of different areas of Western Asia between two major events in human history: the origins of agriculture and the rise of some of the world's first cities.

The evidence reveals that a high level of mobility led to the spread of ideas and material culture as well as intermingling of peoples in the period before the rise of cities, not the other way around, as previously thought. The findings add to our understanding of exactly how the shift to urbanism took place.

The researchers, made up of an international team of scientists including Harvard Professor Christina Warinner, looked at DNA data from 110 skeletal remains in West Asia from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, 3,000 to 7,500 years ago. The remains came from archaeological sites in the Anatolia (present-day Turkey); the Northern Levant, which includes countries on the Mediterranean coast such as Israel and Jordan; and countries in the Southern Caucasus, which include present-day Armenia and Azerbaijan.

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Dig

Hunt for remains of 16th century Irish rebel lord in Spain unearths several skeletons

nobleman
© REUTERS/Juan Medina
A view shows human remains found in an archeological dig, during the search for Irish nobleman Hugh O'Donnell in Valladolid, Spain May 29, 2020.
Spanish archaeologists may have uncovered the final resting place of an Irish nobleman whose bloody 16th-century rebellion almost toppled Ireland's English rulers.

With some Spanish support, Red Hugh O'Donnell waged war against the English for nine years before his rebels suffered a defeat at the 1602 Battle of Kinsale.

He escaped to Spain, hoping to secure King Philip III's backing for a renewed assault. But Philip was uninterested and O'Donnell died shortly before his 30th birthday near Valladolid, the site of the Spanish court at the time.

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MindMatters: Exploring Flatland: A Romance of Hyperdimensional Space

flatland
Before Orwell's masterpiece novel, 1984, about a dystopian society and what politically motivated and propaganda-induced groupthink looked and sounded like, another Englishman by the name of Edwin Abbott Abbott wrote a semi-satirical, allegorical sci-fi novella called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, in 1884. In his story, Abbott ingeniously uses flat geometric shapes to represent different strata of society in his contemporary experience of Victorian England. Taking aim at his era's biases, prejudices and social mores, Abbott satirizes the thought processes and modes of oppression towards those who would begin to consider other, higher, levels of reality, and allegorizes the reception of divine inspiration using a mathematical conceit that may have more reality to it than perhaps even Abbott supposed.

On this week's MindMatters we discuss Flatland in all its cosmological glory. Like a dimensionally flattened, but fleshed-out, Plato's cave, we delve into the book's significance as a profound allegory, its many intricately bound insights, and what Edwin Abbott was entertainingly imploring us to think about and consider. In a world where ever greater numbers of people actually believe that the world is flat, we'll be thinking on a story which suggests that higher dimensions are not only possible - but probable - if only one can open one's mind enough to 'see' it.


Running Time: 01:01:04

Download: MP3 — 55.9 MB