Prehistoric Caves May Contain Oldest Paintings of Volcanic Eruptions (Hyperallergic)

by Claire Voon on January 25, 2016 original article here.

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L: General view of the Megaloceros panel showing the spray signs (photo credit D. Genty); R: Detail of the Megaloceros panel (photos V. Feruglio-D. Baffier) (all images © 2016 Nomade et al, used under CC BY 4.0)

Since its discovery in 1994, the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave in southern France has been a rich site for researchers to study prehistoric art, featuring early paintings of both animals and humans on its walls. Now the ancient site — which in 2014 received UNESCO World Heritage Site status — may also present the oldest depiction of a volcanic eruption discovered yet, according to a study recently published by a team of French scientists in the journal PLoS One.

“Our work provides the first evidence of an intense volcanic activity between 40 and 30 ka in the Bas-Vivarais region,” researchers write in the study, “and it is very likely that humans living in the Ardèche river area witnessed one or several eruptions.”

Likely finger-painted with red and white pigments, the paintings resemble little fountains — “spray-shape signs,” as the team describes them. They appear on the walls of various galleries in the cave; one appears to emerge from the head of a Megaloceros, which was later drawn in charcoal and partially covers the abstract pattern. The researchers, comparing the age of the symbols with dates of local volcanic activity, believe the cave dwellers were responding to an eruption that occurred approximately 36,000 years ago. The closest volcano would have stood in the Bas-Vivarais region, a little over 20 miles northwest of the cave.

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Çatalhöyük mural painting in Turkey, considered the oldest depiction of a volcanic eruption, dated from the 8th/7th millennium BCE

“There’s no way anybody could prove that it is a volcano that they depicted, but for us it’s the hypothesis which is the most probable,” Sebastien Nomade, who led the study, told Nature.

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Petroglyphs depicting the Porak volcano eruption in the Syunik region of Armenia

If the scientists’ claims are true, the paintings would predate the nearly 9,000-year-old Çatalhöyük mural in Turkey, previously identified in the early 1960s by archaeologist James Mellaart as the earliest representation of such an eruption. Another known depiction is found in southern Armenia, where a group of six petrogylphs dating to the 5th millennium BCE show eruptions of the Porak volcano. The Chauvet image would also predate Pliny the Younger’s famous description of the 79 CE Vesuvias eruption.

“I think they make a pretty good case that it’s potentially a depiction of the kind of volcano that one sees on the landscape,” as Michael Petraglia, a University of Oxford archaeologist (unaffiliated with the study) told Nature. “Maybe there’s more of this out there than we have realized.”

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See These Amazing Images of Easter Island Statues With Bodies–Who Knew? (artnet news)

by Sarah Cascone, Friday, May 1, 2015 original article here.

A fully excavated Easter Island head.  Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

A fully excavated Easter Island head. Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Easter Island’s monumental stone heads are well-known, but there’s more to the story: all along, the sculptures have secretly had torsos, buried beneath the earth.

Excavations on the Easter Island head.  Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Excavations on the Easter Island head. Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Archaeologists have documented 887 of the massive statues, known as moai, but there may up as many as 1,000 of them on the island (see Rather Weighty Easter Island Sculpture Travels 200 Miles To Be Star of Manchester Museum Exhibition). Most were carved from volcanic rock between 1100 and 1680.

While the island is a popular tourist destination, the statue’s sheer size certainly discourages the type of theft experienced at other historic archaeological sites (see US Tourists Steal Pompeii Artifact and Egypt’s “Indiana Jones” Zahi Hawass Questioned Over Pyramid Theft).

More Easter Island excavations.  Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

More Easter Island excavations. Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

The Easter Island bodies were news to us, but apparently this is not a recent discovery. Photographs of the statues undergoing excavation began circulating in May of 2012, and Live Science asserts that archaeologists have actually known about the bodies since archaeological research on the island, located 2,000 miles west of Chile, began over a century ago, in 1914.

An excavated statue on Easter Island.  Photo: Greg Downing.

An excavated statue on Easter Island. Photo: Greg Downing.

“There are about 150 statues buried up to the shoulders on the slope of a volcano, and these are the most famous, most beautiful and most photographed of all the Easter Island statues,” Easter Island Statue Project director Jo Anne Van Tilburg told Live Science. “This suggested to people who had not seen photos of (other unearthed statues) that they are heads only.”

It was photographs of Tilburg’s 2010 excavations of two of the statues’ buried bodies that sparked online interest in the missing halves of these ancient sculptures. The images attracted so much interest when people started emailing them in 2012 that the Easter Island Statue Project’s website crashed under a rush of three million hits.

More Easter Island excavations.  Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

More Easter Island excavations. Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Tilburg’s work, which began in 2000, marked the first time the moai were excavated by a scientific team that thoroughly documented the process. “It’s always important to get beneath the surface of things,” she told Fox News.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Greek Artist Demolishes His Own Work to Avoid Bizarre Government Fine (artnet news)

By Christie Chu, Tuesday, August 25, 2015 original article here.

Photo: via Greekreporter.com

Photo: via Greekreporter.com

A statue of a mermaid by Greek artist Dionysis Karipidis, which was created in 1997 on the Portokali beach in Chalkidiki, Greece, has been destroyed by the hands of its own maker.

The artist took to his statue with a sledgehammer when he was asked by the area’s tourist authorities to pay a fine for “destroying the natural landscape,” according to the Greek Reporter.

Chalkidiki is known for its three peninsulas that stick out into the Aegean sea like Poseidon’s trident. Famous as a tourist spot, the Greek peninsula is also known as the birthplace of Greek philosopher Aristotle.

The mermaid, which is carved from the natural limestone on the beach, has been a tourist attraction for almost a decade. The issue arose a little over a year ago when the artist, who has largely remained anonymous, received a letter from the local municipality leveling a 533 euro fine for the work. In March 2014, Karipidis responded with his own letter stating that if he was forced to pay the fine, he would destroy his work.

Photo: via  Moco-Choco.com

Photo: via Moco-Choco.com

According to the town’s mayor Yiannis Tzitzios, the fine was imposed by the tourist authorities even though the municipality did not want the sculpture to be destroyed. Why did the authorities wait almost two decades to level the fine? Perhaps it has something to do with the country’s economic crisis.

“The fine has not been attested by the municipality, but since the offense took place in our area, we were forced to collect it. Once we received Karipidis’ letter we sought every legal way to delete the fine or pay it with municipality expenses,” said the mayor. “However, we found this to be illegal. Therefore, the city council chairman proposed that we pay the fine ourselves, as individuals, and not with the municipality’s money. Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding, we did not have enough time to sort out the issue.”

Ancient Cities Discovered in Mexican Jungle (artnet news)

Sarah Cascone, Tuesday, August 26, 2014 original article here.

The facade at Lagunita, a recently discovered ancient Mayan city. Photo: ZRC SAZU.

The facade at Lagunita, a recently discovered ancient Mayan city. Photo: ZRC SAZU.

Two ancient Mayan cities featuring ball courts, pyramid, plazas, and, in one case, a spectacular entrance shaped like the open jaws of a monster, have been discovered in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. An expedition lead by Ivan Sprajc of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts uncovered both cities in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, which was one of 29 culturally significant areas to receive United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site designation in June (“UNESCO Names Ancient Incan Road a World Heritage Site“).

“Aerial photographs helped us in locating the sites,” Sprajc told Discovery News. “In the jungle you can be as little as 600 feet from a large site and not even suspect it might be there; small mounds are all over the place, but they give you no idea about where an urban center might be.”

One of the cities, called Lagunita, had probably already been found by modern archaeologists including the American Eric Von Euw back in the 1970s. Because he failed to record its exact location, archaeologists had been unable to return to the site in the decades since. A comparison between the city’s monuments and drawings of the lost Von Euw discovery revealed similar reliefs and hieroglyphics.

The other site has been named Tamchen, which means “deep well” in Mayan, after its many underground cisterns, or chultuns used to capture rainwater.

The cities are not the only major discovery of Mayan archaeological sites that have been made recently. As previously reported by artnet News (“Mexican Construction Crew Discovers Ancient Mayan Ball Court“), workers digging the foundations for a basketball court in Meirda, Mexico, unearthed a layer of pink stone in March that was quickly identified as a ball court for the ancient Mayan ballgame.

Lasers Reveal Underground ‘Super Henge’ (Popular Science)

Rafi Letzter p

Stonehenge

Copyright BBC News

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A new, detailed map of the Stonehenge area, including the newly-discovered “super-henge” © LBI ArchPro, Wolfgang Neubauer

Near the prehistoric Stonehenge monument, archeologists have found the buried traces of a “super henge” more than 4,900 feet in circumference. That’s about as big around as the Astrodome and Cowboys Stadium combined — and 14 times larger than the iconic stone circle. Scientists used various instruments to scan to a depth of up to 3 meters including a magnetometer, a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and a 3D laser scanner.

The super henge is comprised of dozens of newly discovered features, including an array of up to more than 50 ten-foot pillars, some of which may still be deep underground. The surveyors also uncovered 17 ritual monuments, including “massive prehistoric pits” that may have been dug along astronomic lines, and a “long barrow” — a huge wooden building believed to have been used as a mortuary for excarnation (stripping flesh from bones).

Archeologists believe the Stonehenge complex was built and modified over a period of 11,000 years. Questions about the function of its various structures remain but new information is being uncovered as we read this which will change the history of Stonehenge as we have come to know it.

Because most of the clues about the ancient construction lie deep underground, the archeologists developed new techniques for finding the traces of pits and pillars. They beamed radar and lasers into the ground, and wheeled scanners over a vast area to study subtle changes in the Earth’s magnetic field.

Not everything discovered at the site is millennia old. The surveyors were able to pinpoint practice trenches dug during the First World War to prepare troops for battle, as well as traces of a military airbase — one of the U.K.’s first — built at the site a few years later.

 Ground penetration A tractor pushes an antenna array designed to study buried remains of monuments. © LBI ArchPro, Wolfgang Neubauer

Ground penetration – A tractor pushes an antenna array designed to study buried remains of monuments. © LBI ArchPro, Wolfgang Neubauer

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3D Reconstruction A 3D rendering of a “long barrow” burial site based on traces of the wooden posts detected during the survey.© LBI ArchPro, Joachim Brandtner

‘Evil Eye’ Box and Other Ancient Treasures Found in Nile River Cemetery (Yahoo)

By Owen Jarus

In the Sudan cemetery, researchers found a faience box decorated with large eyes that may have been meant to protect against the “evil eye.”

Ancient tombs (shown here after being excavated) discovered in modern-day Dangeil date back 2,000 years, to a time when the kingdom Kush flourished on the shores of the Nile River in Sudan.

A 2,000-year-old cemetery with several underground tombs has been discovered near the Nile River in Sudan.

Archaeologists excavated several of the underground tombs, finding artifacts such as a silver ring, engraved with an image of a god, and a faience box, decorated with large eyes, which a researcher believes protected against the evil eye.

Villagers discovered the cemetery accidently in 2002 while digging a ditch near the modern-day village of Dangeil, and archaeological excavations have been ongoing since then. The finds were reported recently in a new book.

The cemetery dates back to a time when a kingdom called Kush flourished in Sudan. Based in the ancient city of Meroe (just south of Dangeil) Kush controlled a vast territory; its northern border stretched to Roman-controlled Egypt. At times, it was ruled by a queen. [See Photos of the Ancient Sudan Cemetery & Tombs]

Although the Kushites built hundreds of pyramids, this particular cemetery contains no structures on the surface; the tombs are underground.

“As of now, we don’t know exactly the size of the cemetery,” Mahmoud Suliman Bashir, an archaeologist with Sudan’s National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM), said in an interview with Live Science.

NCAM has been working with the British Museum to excavate the cemetery, and the two organizations recently published an online book, called “Excavations in the Meroitic Cemetery of Dangeil, Sudan” (Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project, 2014), describing their findings.

“The funerary tradition of the Kushites demonstrates a widespread belief in life after death. This is why goods and foods usually accompanied the corpse,” Bashir and Julie Anderson, an assistant keeper at the British Museum, wrote in their book. “These items were needed to sustain and provide for the individual in the afterlife.”

Treasures for the afterlife

The team has discovered a wide range of goods meant to aid the deceased in the afterlife, including several large jars that originally contained beer made of sorghum.

In one tomb, they found a silver ring with an image of a horned deity. The ring was conserved and cleaned at the British Museum, and its scholars believe the ring depicts the god Amun, who, in the kingdom of Kush, was often shown with a head that looks like a ram. A temple to Amun dating to the same time period as the cemetery is located in Dangeil.

Ancient officials used rings like this to create seal impressions in pottery, Bashir said, adding that examples made of silver are rare.

The tombs in the cemetery yielded other treasures, including a faience box, decorated with what the ancient Kushites and Egyptians called “udjat” eyes — “a well-known tradition in Egypt,” Bashir said, noting that the Kushites also made use of them. “It had a kind of ritual role to [protect] from the evil eye,” Bashir said.

In the cemetery archaeologists also found an interesting “party tray,” which consists of seven bowls attached together; six of the bowls surround another bowl in the middle. “It’s very unique, and we don’t have any kind of similar object found anywhere else,” Bashir said. “It can be used for food. You can put seven different items in one place.”

An archer’s burial

One tomb yielded arrowheads and the remains of a man wearing a stone ring (also called an archer’s loose) on his thumb. “Thumb rings are well-known objects associated with archery, being used to draw back the bowstring,” Bashir and Anderson wrote in their book.

In Kush, archery played an important role in society, with its kings and queens depicted wearing stone rings on their thumbs, Bashir and Anderson wrote. The Kushite god Apedemak, the lion-headed “god of war,” was also depicted as an archer, Bashir said.

Dangeil is located south of the fifth cataract of the Nile River. Excavations at the cemetery are being carried out by the Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project, a collaboration between NCAM and the British Museum.

Two Imposing Maya Cities Uncovered in Southern Mexico (Hyperallergic)

by Laura C. Mallonee on August 28, 2014 original article here.

The facade of the monster doorway in Lagunita (all images courtesy of Ivan Sprajc)

The facade of the monster doorway in Lagunita (all images courtesy of Ivan Sprajc)

The remote Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Southern Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula was once home to a powerful Maya kingdom. It ruled the region for 12 centuries until about 800 CE, after which its inhabitants mysteriously disappeared. Visit the UNESCO-protected jungle today to find more than 100 stelae and nearly 7,000 structures hidden beneath the lush trees. So many ruins remain, in fact, that archaeologists are still discovering them.

A researcher stands beside a stela on site in Lagunita

A researcher stands beside a stela on site in Lagunita

Last week, the research center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts announced that an archaeological expedition led by Ivan Sprajc has uncovered the remains of two Maya cities, Lagunita and Tamchen.  Slowly, the blueprint of a vast civilization is materializing. In 2013, Sprajc’s team found the only other city, Chactún, in the nearly 1,900-square-mile area.

The existence of Lagunita was already known, though. In the 1970s, an American archaeologist named Eric Von Euw documented the city in a number of sketches, but the site was lost for four decades after he failed to record its exact location.

“We found the site with the aid of aerial photographs,” Sprajc explained in a press release, “but were able to identify it with Lagunita only after we saw the facade and the monuments and compared them with Von Euw’s drawings…”

At Lagunita, Sprajc and his team found palatial ruins surrounding four main plazas. Other surviving structures include a ball court, a 65-foot-high temple pyramid, three altars, a number of reliefs, and 10 stelae — one engraved on November 29, 711 CE by a Maya lord who ruled 80 years but whose name is now too faded to read. The site’s most extraordinary find was a zoomorphic doorway resembling a monster’s open jaws — a cosmological symbol of life’s origins.

Octavio Esparza, the project epigrapher, said that the large number of monuments in Lagunita means that it “must have been the seat of a relatively powerful polity, though the nature of its relationship with the larger Chactún, lying some 10 km to the north, remains unclear.”

Six miles northeast of Lagunita lies Tamchen, Sprajc’s other great discovery. Its name, which translates to “deep well” in the Yucatec Maya language, honors more than 30 surviving chultuns — deep underground chambers for collecting rainwater. Settled between 300 BCE and 250 CE, the city was inhabited at the same time as Lagunita. It has the same plazas and buildings, as well as the hilltop ruins of three temples arranged around a courtyard.

Both sites pose challenges to future Maya research, as many irregularities crop up in Lagunita and Tamchen. For one, pyramid temples and monuments with inscriptions are rare in the Rio Bec region, but they’re plentiful in these cities. Secondly, though abandoned around 1000 CE, a few of the stelae were modified sometime after. Several Postclassic structures (built between the 10th and early 16th century) were also found, as well as many other peculiar elements.

The press release states that these oddities reflect “continuities and ruptures in cultural traditions,” though their meanings remain mysterious. Archaeologists hope that the largely untouched region to the north might possess similar characteristics that would help decode them.

A stela from lagunita

A stela from lagunita

A chultun in Tamchen

A chultun in Tamchen

A large structure hidden in the trees in Lagunita

A large structure hidden in the trees in Lagunita