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Secret History


UK: Ancient Caithness site 'occupied for 1,000 years'

Nybster settlement
© AOC Archaeology
Nybster is one of Scotland's most important mainland broch settlements
The site of one of Scotland's most important mainland broch settlements may have been home to early people for up to 1,000 years, evidence suggests.

Archaeologists and volunteers have uncovered what could be the remains of walls dating back to 700 to 500 BC at Nybster in Caithness.

Andy Heald, of AOC Archaeology, said further investigations would need to be made to confirm the structure's age.


Italy: Ancient Ship Uncovered Near Rome Coast

Builders have unearthed the remains of a 2,000 year-old wooden ship dating from the Roman Empire, near the Italian capital Rome's ancient port of Ostia. The ship's discovery, made during work at the site of a new road, was hailed as an important one by archaeologists.

"It shows that the coastline during during ancient Roman times was some 3-4 kilometres farther inland than it is now," said Ostia archaeology official Anna Maria Moretti .

The wooden ship was about 11 metres long, making it one of the largest ancient vessels excavated near Ostia Antica, a port city founded some 2,500 years ago and Rome's first colony.


Controversy at the Smithsonian

On Monday, the Smithsonian Institution hosted a discussion surrounding whether or not to go forward with the proposed spring 2012 exhibition Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds. The Chinese artifacts included in the exhibition were found among the remains of an ancient trade-vessel off the coast of the Indonesian island of Belitung in 1998.

At issue here is the fact that the artifacts were removed from the shipwreck by a commercial excavation company, a practice that many archaeologists deem unethical. On April 5, a group of archaeologists and anthropologists from the National Academy of Sciences, including former Smithsonian Secretary Robert McCormick Adams, signed a letter to current Smithsonian head G. Wayne Clough condemning the exhibition on the grounds that it would "severely damage the stature and reputation" of the institution. Other groups, both within and without the Smithsonian Institution, have also expressed concerns.

The Arab merchant ship, which sank in the Java sea twelve centuries ago, contains the largest group of Tang dynasty artifacts ever found at a single site, including cooking utensils, measuring weights, spice jars, bronze mirrors, silver and gold vessels, and glazed ceramic wares. The discovery offers new and surprising insights into maritime trade patterns between the Abbasid Empire in the Middle East and Tang dynasty China.

The shipwreck was salvaged by a commercial venture called Seabed Explorations, run by German engineer Tilman Walterfang, who moved to Indonesia in the early 1990s in the hopes of profiting from the excavation of local underwater heritage.


Jordan police recover Christian relics said smuggled into Israel

© The Associated Press
Jordan's archaeology chief Ziad al-Saad speaks during a press conference in Amman on April 3, 2011.
Jordan's archaeology chief says the manuscripts, which could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, were smuggled into Israel by a Bedouin.

Jordan's archaeology chief, Ziad al-Saad, said on Tuesday that security police have recovered seven ancient manuscripts from local smugglers.

The writings are part of 70 manuscripts that Jordanian archaeologists discovered five years ago in a cave in the north. Later, they were stolen and most were believed to have been smuggled into Israel.

Arrow Down

US: Scudder Falls site predates William Penn, dig reveals

© Ed Hille
Field archaeologist Amadeus Zajac screens dirt from the dig looking for artifacts belonging to American Indians.
Beneath the roaring traffic of I-95 near the Delaware River in Bucks County, archaeologists are slowly unearthing the remains of another era - arrowheads, chunks of pottery, and perhaps even the remnants of a fire pit used by American Indians up to 1,000 years ago.

And they're just getting started.

During the next few months, workers will continue to strip away layer after layer of rich brown soil on a small piece of what used to be farmland in Lower Makefield, and they could find artifacts dating to 8000 to 10,000 B.C.

"It takes a lot of patience," said John W. Lawrence, senior archaeologist at the excavation site along River Road, where a new bridge is scheduled to be built in the coming years to replace the Scudder Falls Bridge between Bucks County and New Jersey.

The $322 million Scudder Falls project is the largest ever undertaken by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. Such archaeological digs are required by federal law when a construction project may threaten historic and archaeological artifacts.


Giant statue of Amenhotep III unearthed in Egypt

© Agence France-Presse
Parts of a statue are seen during the excavation of an area close to the Temple of Amenhotep III in western Luxor. Archaeologists have discovered a giant statue of Egypt's famous pharaoh Amenhotep III at his mortuary temple in the southern city of Luxor, according to the antiquities authority
Archaeologists have discovered a giant statue of Egypt's famous pharaoh Amenhotep III at his mortuary temple in the southern city of Luxor, the antiquities authority said on Tuesday.

The 13-metre-tall (43-foot) statue was found buried in seven pieces at the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III at Kom al-Hitan.

It was one of two statues placed at the northern entrance of the temple, and was probably destroyed during an earthquake in 27 BC, the antiquities authority statement said.

"The archaeological team is now working to clean, restore and collect the seven pieces and find the head of the statue," the statement said.

It also said it was hoped the statue's twin would be unearthed soon.

Amenhotep III, who ruled Egypt between 1390 and 1352 BC, is the father of Akhenaten, the "heretic pharaoh" considered a precursor of monotheism because he tried to impose the exclusive worship of Aten.


500-year-old book, a history of the world, surfaces at small town US museum

© AP/ Brian Skoloff
In this photo taken April 23, 2011, a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle published in 1493 is displayed at Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City. The Utah book dealer came across the 500-year-old German language edition while appraising items brought in by locals at a fundraiser for the town museum in Sandy, about 15 miles south of Salt Lake City. It's considered to be one of the earliest and most lavishly illustrated books produced after the invention of the printing press.

Book dealer Ken Sanders has seen a lot of nothing in his decades appraising "rare" finds pulled from attics and basements, storage sheds and closets.

Sanders, who occasionally appraises items for PBS's Antiques Roadshow, often employs "the fine art of letting people down gently."

But on a recent Saturday while volunteering at a fundraiser for the small town museum in Sandy, Utah, just south of Salt Lake, Sanders got the surprise of a lifetime.

"Late in the afternoon, a man sat down and started unwrapping a book from a big plastic sack, informing me he had a really, really old book and he thought it might be worth some money," he said. "I kinda start, oh boy, I've heard this before."

Then he produced a tattered, partial copy of the 500-year-old Nuremberg Chronicle.


The Meaning of Words: New Evidence of Ancient Maya History


Figure 1. Lithograph of Stela at Copan, Published in 1844 by Frederick Catherwood in Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan.
The ancient Maya culture flourished in Mesoamerica. At the height of their splendor there's an overwhelming rise in architectural construction, the type of buildings that pay homage to their rulers and their ancestors. Archaeologists call this phenomenon the Classic Maya Period, a time between 200 and 900 A.D. Within these centuries, archaeologists have found evidence that city-states expressed their power by creating unique architectural centers that in many ways were meant to replicate their cosmology. Perhaps the most important social act for a new king was to establish their relationship with the founder of the lineage and they did so by sponsoring magnificent works of art.

Our fascination with the Maya is credited to John Lloyd Stephens, a New York Lawyer who travelled to the Yucatan and Central America in the 1840s, and Frederick Catherwood, an Englishman whose mission was to visually document the journey, a talent that has inspired many of us in becoming archaeologists.

Along with multi-leveled stepped pyramids, ball courts, plazas and freestanding monuments called Stelae, the Maya also literally told the stories of their parents, ancestors, founders, foes, captured enemies and military alliances. Maya writing is a unique feature of this culture that along with the perfection of their calendar has intrigued and mystified the world. Their texts are expressions of a ruling class, however, the question remains, are we reading history, political propaganda or both?


Early Somali Life Depicted In Cave Paintings

© Abdullah Geelah/Wikipedia
Some of the paintings in the Laas Geel caves
Known today for its bloody conflicts and instability, Somalia's little known history can be found in the colorful cave paintings of animals and humans discovered in 2002 by a French archaeology team.

Laas Gaal, Somalia (also known as Laas Geel), just outside of Haregeisa, the capital of Somalia's self-declared Somaliland state, contains 10 caves that show vivid depictions of a pastoralist history which dates back to some 5,000 years or more, reports AFP.

A French archaeology team was sent in 2002 to survey Somalia in search of rock shelters and caves that might contain stratified archaeological infills that could document the period when production economy appeared in this part of the Horn of Africa, according to Wikipedia.

During the survey, the Laas Geel cave paintings were discovered. The paintings were in excellent condition, depicting ancient humans who lived in the area raising their hands and worshipping humpless cows with large lyre-shaped horns.

Although the paintings were known to the local Somali people for centuries, it was not advertised to the international community until a team of experts returned to the area in November 2003 to study the paintings and their prehistoric context in detail.

Even with the history of Somalia wars, natural weathering, animals and other factors, the paintings have been well preserved and have retained their clear outlines and vibrant colors.


Brain illness could have affected Stalin's actions, secret diaries reveal

© Getty Images
One diary excerpt tells how Stalin was advised that the best way to win Churchill round was to get him drunk
Accounts by his inner circle give new insight into dictator's life.

It's one of the great questions of history, and indeed philosophy: what does it take to create a Hitler or a Stalin? What circumstances does it require to produce such evil? Newly released diaries from one of Joseph Stalin's personal doctors suggest that, in Stalin's case, illness could have helped to contribute to the paranoia and ruthlessness of his rule over the Soviet Union.

Alexander Myasnikov was one of the doctors called to Stalin's deathbed when the dictator fell ill in 1953, and, in diaries that have been kept secret up to now, he claims that Stalin suffered from a brain illness that could have impaired his decision-making.

"The major atherosclerosis in the brain, which we found at the autopsy, should raise the question of how much this illness - which had clearly been developing over a number of years - affected Stalin's health, his character and his actions," Dr Myasnikov wrote in his diaries, excerpts of which were published for the first time in the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets yesterday. "Stalin may have lost his sense of good and bad, healthy and dangerous, permissible and impermissible, friend and enemy. Character traits can become exaggerated, so that a suspicious person becomes paranoid," the doctor wrote.

Comment: Could Stalin's "brain illness" be in fact a frontal characteropathy, as described by Andrew M, Lobaczewski in Political Ponerology (A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes)?
Comparative considerations also led the author to conclude that Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, also known as Stalin, should be included in the list of this particular ponerogenic characteropathy, which developed against the backdrop of perinatal damage to his brain's prefrontal fields. Literature and news about him abounds in indications: brutal, charismatic, snake-charming; issuing of irrevocable decisions; inhuman ruthlessness, pathological revengefulness directed at anyone who got in his way; and egotistical belief in his own genius on the part of a person whose mind was, in fact, only average.