Welcome to Sott.net
Tue, 30 May 2023
The World for People who Think

Secret History


Echoes of ancient curse tablets identified in the Book of Revelation

Descriptions and phrases used in the Revelation of John are similar in terminology to those appearing on curse tablets produced in antiquity and the associated sorcery rituals.
Curse tablet
© René Müller / LEIZA
Curse tablet cursing Priscilla from Groß-Gerau: The lead tablet, here the front side, consists of three fragments and is inscribed on both sides with a prayer for revenge in Latin. It probably dates from around 100 AD.
Curse tablets were popular and widely used in the ancient world. The corresponding incantations were often inscribed or carved on thin sheets of lead - with the intention that these would then cause harm to an opponent or rival. The use of curse tablets and the associated rituals spread as the Roman Empire expanded and have been found at sites all the way from Egypt to Britain. They were used by both the uneducated and those of higher status. A research project headed by Dr. Michael Hölscher of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) is investigating curse tablets and the role they play in the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. "There are aspects of curse tablet-related inscriptions and practices in Revelation. This may well have been an indirect expression of the need for segregation and the attempt at self-preservation of an often threatened early Christian community," explained Hölscher, a researcher at the JGU Faculty of Catholic Theology. The research project entitled "Disenchanted Rituals. Traces of the Curse Tablets and Their Function in the Revelation of John" is being sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG) over the period 2022 to 2025.

Curse rituals were part of everyday life in wide areas of the Roman Empire over a period of 1,000 years

Curse tablets began to be systematically compiled and investigated in the 19th century. However, previously unknown versions of these spells on little lead sheets are continually being uncovered and deciphered. Some 1,700 of these have to date been collated and provide insights into the culture and language of those ancient people who placed their reliance on them. The archaeological finds originate from an era dating from roughly 500 BCE to 500 CE. In other words, the rituals were being performed over about 1,000 years in a region stretching from the Mediterranean to the far north of Europe. Those curse tablets were targeted at opposing litigants in court cases, sporting adversaries in the hippodrome, or rivals in amorous affairs. The lead tablets with their inscribed curses were often deposited in specific places, such as graves or in the vicinity of sacred locations, the assumed abodes of spirits of the underworld, who would ensure the effectiveness of the curse. "The curse ritual as a whole was not simply restricted to the wording of the spell as such, but would have also involved the act of writing it down, the piercing of the tablets, or their burial in deliberately selected places," said Hölscher describing aspects of the tabella defixionis practice. The ancients considered it a form of witchcraft or black magic, which were prescribed under Roman law.


New Zealand fossils reveal largest penguin ever discovered, weighed a whopping 340 pounds

largest ancient penguin Kumimanu fordycei
© Simone Giovanardi/Bruce Museum
The largest penguin to ever waddle on Earth, Kumimanu fordycei, steps onto a beach surrounded by another newly discovered species, Petradyptes stonehousei, in this life reconstruction.
Scientists have unearthed the fossilized remains of the largest ever known penguin on Earth, a 340-pound (154 kilograms) behemoth that glided through the oceans around what is now New Zealand more than 50 million years ago.

The fossils of this newfound species, Kumimanu fordycei, were found alongside eight other specimens inside beach boulders in North Otago, on New Zealand's South Island. Five of the remaining specimens belonged to another newfound species, Petradyptes stonehousei, one belonged to another known giant penguin, Kumimanu biceae, and two were unidentified. The rocks dated to between 59.5 million and 55.5 million years ago.

In a study, published Feb. 8 in the Journal of Paleontology, researchers estimated the weight of the two newfound species based on the size and density of their bones compared with those of modern penguins. The team found that P. stonehousei weighed around 110 pounds (50 kilograms), which is slightly above the weight of living emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri). K. fordeycei would have weighed more than three times that, tipping the scales at a whopping 340 pounds. For comparison, the average 20-year-old man in the U.S. weighs 198 pounds (90 kg), according to Healthline. (Without a near-complete skeleton, the researchers weren't able to estimate the body length of the new species.)


2.9-million-year-old artifacts suggest ancient, big-toothed hominins were making stone tools

Oldowan toolkit found at Nyayanga hominims
© T.W. Plummer, J.S. Oliver, and E. M. Finestone, Homa Peninsula Paleoanthropology Project
Part of the Oldowan toolkit found at Nyayanga.
Two hippo butchery sites and the largest hominin tooth ever found may change the story of the 'Oldowan toolkit.'

Oldowan tools are some of the oldest known in the archaeological record; made of conveniently shaped rocks or crafted from knapped stones, these tools made it possible for hominin species to survive in a hostile world.

Now, a team of researchers have found Oldowan tools in southwestern Kenya that date between to 3 million and 2.58 million years old, broadening the known geographic distribution of this toolkit. They also found hundreds of animal bones as well as teeth of Paranthropus, an early hominin, indicating that the genus Homo may not have been the only sharp tool in the shed. One of the teeth — a molar — is the largest hominin tooth ever found. The findings are published today in Science.

"The Oldowan starts early in East Africa and then it spreads across Africa, and then ultimately leaves Africa and goes all the way to China. It's really the first persistent and widespread technology," said Thomas Plummer, a paleoanthropologist at Queens College and the study's lead author, in a phone call with Gizmodo.

Better Earth

3 year drought may have doomed ancient Hittite empire, tree study reveals

© Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesReuters
A general view of the ancient city of Hattusa, one of the first civilizations established in Anatolia hosting the cultural heritages of the Hattians and the Hittites. Examination of trees alive at the time shows three years of severe drought that may have caused crop failures and famine.
Researchers have offered new insight into the abrupt collapse of the ancient Hittite civilization, with an examination of trees alive at the time showing three consecutive years of severe drought that may have caused crop failures, famine and political-societal disintegration.

Around 1200 BC, human civilization experienced a harrowing setback with the near-simultaneous demise or diminishment of several important empires in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean region, an event called the Bronze Age collapse.

One of the mightiest to perish was the Hittite empire, centered in modern Turkey and spanning parts of Syria and Iraq.

Comment: It's rather alarming that the above professor can acknowledge how extreme shifts in climate lead to the downfall of an ancient civilization - and not just one, but a number of them, and across vast swathes of the planet - and yet he cannot see a parallel with what's going on today. Despite his claim, it appears he is not learning from history.

Generally, it seems the vast majority of ancient civilisations collapsed at times that were accompanied by extreme shifts in climate as well as an increase in natural disasters, and it's increasingly looking like our own civilisation will suffer a similar fate. However, as has been the case repeatedly throughout history, this is obviously not because of 'man-made global warming', but it does appear that human activity is a contributing factor: Also check out SOTT radio's:


Codebreakers have deciphered the lost letters of Mary, Queen of Scots

encrypted letter
An encrypted letter from a correspondence with Mary, Queen of Scots.
A trio of codebreakers has accidentally stumbled upon a lost series of secret letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots in the years before her execution in 1587.

The incredible, seven-year-long correspondence was encrypted so successfully, the documents were archived in an unmarked file and mistakenly placed in a part of France's national library involved with Italian affairs.

When researchers randomly stumbled upon the 57 letters, however, it was clear none of them had anything to do with Italy. They were written in French and appeared to contain a sophisticated cipher system based on mysterious symbols.


AI is deciphering a 2,000-year-old 'lost book' describing life after Alexander the Great

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, it carbonized a book on rulers who followed Alexander the Great. Now, machine learning is deciphering the "lost book."
Alexander the Great
© Image courtesy Wikimedia, from an ancient mosaic in Pompeii, Italy
A 2,000-year-old scroll on the rulers who followed Alexander the Great (pictured here in a mosaic) is being deciphered with machine learning.
A 2,000-year-old "lost book" discussing the dynasties that succeeded Alexander the Great may finally be deciphered nearly two millennia after the text was partially destroyed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 and, centuries later, handed off to Napoleon Bonaparte.

The reason for the breakthrough? Researchers are using machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, to discern the faint ink on the rolled-up papyrus scroll.

"It's probably a lost work," Richard Janko, the Gerald F. Else distinguished university professor of classical studies at the University of Michigan, said during a presentation at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies, held in New Orleans last month. The research is not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Only small parts of the heavily damaged text can be read right now. "It contains the names of a number of Macedonian dynasts and generals of Alexander," Janko said, noting that it also includes "several mentions of Alexander himself." After Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C., his empire fell apart. The text mentions the Macedonian generals Seleucus, who came to rule a large amount of territory in the Middle East, and Cassander, who ruled Greece after Alexander's death.

The lost book is from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, a city that was destroyed alongside Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted after the turn of the first millennium. The villa, named for its vast scrolls of papyri, contains numerous writings from the philosopher Philodemus (lived circa 110 B.C. to 30 B.C.). These papyri were carbonized when the volcano erupted. At some point, the text was found, and it was given to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804. He gave it to the Institut de France in Paris, where it now resides. In 1986, an attempt to unroll the papyrus resulted in further damage, Janko said.


1.2 million-year-old tool workshop in Ethiopia made by 'clever' group of unknown human relatives

An unknown group of hominins crafted more than 500 obsidian hand axes more than 1.2 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia.

ancient human relatives
© M. Mussi et al.
An illustration showing ancient human relatives making hand axes out of obsidian more than 1.2 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia.

More than 1.2 million years ago, an unknown group of human relatives may have created sharp hand axes from volcanic glass in a "stone-tool workshop" in what is now Ethiopia, a new study finds.

This discovery suggests that ancient human relatives may have regularly manufactured stone artifacts in a methodical way more than a half-million years earlier than the previous record, which dates to about 500,000 years ago in France and England.

Because it requires skill and knowledge, stone tool use among early hominins, the group that includes humans and the extinct species more closely related to humans than any other animal, can offer a window into the evolution of the human mind. A key advance in stone tool creation was the emergence of so-called workshops. At these sites, archaeologists can see evidence of hominins methodically and repeatedly crafting stone artifacts.

The newly analyzed trove of obsidian tools may be the oldest stone-tool workshop run by hominins on record. "This is very new in human evolution," study first author Margherita Mussi, an archaeologist at the Sapienza University of Rome and director of the Italo-Spanish archeological mission at Melka Kunture and Balchit, a World Heritage site in Ethiopia, told Live Science.
Awash River at Melka Kunture in Ethiopia
© M. Mussi et al.
The archaeological site at the Awash River at Melka Kunture in Ethiopia.


New AI tool 'fragmentarium' brings ancient Babylonian texts together

Enrique Jiménez uses AI to make texts that are thousands of years old readable. Now the Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Literatures is making his platform accessible to the public.
Enrique Jiménez
Enrique Jiménez
originally studied classical philology. Today he is an expert in Babylonian literature and uses AI to reconstruct Babylonian texts.
How should we live when we know we must die? This question is posed by the first work of world literature, the Gilgamesh epic. More than 4,000 years ago, Gilgamesh set out on a quest for immortality. Like all Babylonian literature, the saga has survived only in fragments. Nevertheless, scholars have managed to bring two-thirds of the text into readable condition since it was rediscovered in the 19th century.

The Babylonians wrote in cuneiform characters on clay tablets, which have survived in the form of countless fragments. Over centuries, scholars transferred the characters imprinted on the pieces of clay onto paper. Then they would painstakingly compare their transcripts and - in the best case - recognize which fragments belong together and fill in the gaps. The texts were written in the languages Sumerian and Akkadian, which have complicated writing systems. This was a Sisyphean task, one that the experts in the Electronic Babylonian Literature project can scarcely imagine today.

Digitization of all surviving cuneiform tablets

Enrique Jiménez, Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Literatures at LMU's Institute of Assyriology, and his team have been working on the digitization of all surviving cuneiform tablets since 2018. In that time, the project has processed as many as 22,000 text fragments.

"It's a tool that didn't exist before, a huge database of fragments. We believe it can play a vital role in reconstructing Babylonian literature, allowing us to make much faster progress." Aptly named the Fragmentarium, it is designed to piece together fragments of text using systematic, automated methods. The designers expect that the program will also be able to identify and transcribe photos of cuneiform scripts in the future. To date, thousands of additional cuneiform fragments have been photographed in collaboration with the British Museum in London and the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.

Blue Planet

Sumeria's marshy city of Lagash was built on mounds and interlaced with waterways

© Emily Hammer
Ancient Lagash
The traditional model of early Mesopotamian urban development holds that cities were compact settlements that expanded out from a central monumental religious complex. However, a recent remote-sensing survey of the ancient Sumerian city of Lagash in present-day southern Iraq has established that it was composed of several discrete sections, each bounded by walls or waterways. The survey was conducted by University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Emily Hammer in conjunction with Lagash Archaeological Project directors Holly Pittman and Augusta McMahon. It included drone photography of the entire 750-acre site.

The results revealed that some of the people of Lagash, which dates largely to the Early Dynastic period (2900-2350 B.C.), lived on a pair of elongated mounds, each surrounded by substantial walls. One of these mounds, in the east, measured 100 acres, and the other, in the west, covered 220 acres. People also lived on an unwalled mound in the north that spanned 140 acres and was crisscrossed by waterways. A much smaller fourth mound in the northeast was dominated by a large temple.

Comment: See also: Crannogs: Neolithic artificial islands in Scotland stump archeologists


Remapping superhighways travelled by first Australians

© Flinders University
New research has revealed that the process of 'peopling' the entire continent of Sahul — the combined mega continent that joined Australia with New Guinea when sea levels were much lower than today — took 10,000 years.

Sophisticated models combined recent improvements in demography and models of wayfinding based on geographic inference to show the scale of the challenges faced by the ancestors of Indigenous people making their mass migration across the supercontinent more than 60,000 years ago.

The ancestors of Aboriginal people likely first entered the continent 75,000-50,000 years ago from what is today the island of Timor, followed by later migrations through the western regions of New Guinea.

According to the new research, this pattern led to a rapid expansion both southward toward the Great Australian Bight, and northward from the Kimberley region to settle all parts of New Guinea and, later, the southwest and southeast of Australia.