The Roundup #77

While certain US Presidents carry on trying to take us back to the Stone Age in the derogatory sense, it’s good to know there are finds being unearthed around the world to reinforce the complexity of human civilization and our relationship to it. Here’s this week’s roundup. Enjoy!

From Archaeology.org:

Genetic testing on five individuals from Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island) suggest that the islanders had contact with native peoples from South America earlier than previously believed.

Sweden’s violent history is growing more intriguing with the discovery of gold coins minted during the reign of Roman Emperor Valentinian III on an island off the country’s south coast.

Textiles from another site in Sweden suggest that the Vikings’ burial practices were influenced by interactions with the Arab world.

If you’ve never heard of Luwian, go look it up. This translation, and its accompanying reference to the Sea Peoples, could be game-changing.

More DNA evidence points to a strange conclusion; that the Beothuk peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador were not related to any of the other First Nations in the area. The full article in The Globe and Mail can be found here.

From the Smithsonian:

Painting over history is nothing new, as this restored painting from the 17th century shows.

The canoe dredged up during the catastrophic hurricane season this year dates to between 1640 and 1680, according to recent tests.

From the CBC:

As the water levels of the Thompson River in BC continue to drop, pre-contact artifacts are being discovered all along its banks.

Critically rare Ojibway ponies are preparing for the auction block in Manitoba.

From the University of Victoria:

A legendary settlement on the coast of BC has likely been identified by archaeologists from the Hakai Institute and the University of Victoria.

From Archaeology UK:

Well preserved evidence from a broch in Scotland may shed light on an Iron Age destruction event.

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The Roundup #76

Discoveries, discoveries, and more discoveries! From the Antikythera wreck, no less!

Here’s this week’s roundup. Enjoy!

From Archaeology.org:

Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities has announced the discovery of pre-dynastic rock carvings that are approximately 15,000 years old.

An antebellum flour mill has been identified in Alexandria, Virginia.

Melting snow has revealed further artifacts from a cache of Bronze Age items in Switzerland.

The remains of an Old Kingdom obelisk have been found in Saqqara, Egypt.

Some unusual Bronze Age stone objects have been discovered in northern Wales.

From the Smithsonian:

The Lion of al-Lat, damaged when Daesh took Palmyra in 2015, has been restored and put on display at the National Museum of Damascus.

The oldest known flower, some 130 million years old, has been identified by paleobotanist Bernard Gomez.

From the Guardian:

The tomb of Saint Nicholas appears to have been identified in Turkey.

A bronze arm recently retrieved from the Antikythera shipwreck site suggests that further discoveries may be buried in the sand under the wreck itself.

Dead Links Aside: Oxyrhynchus

Oxyrhynchus is perhaps the most famous garbage dump in the world. About 160km south of Cairo, it’s a small town with a big impact. In 1896 two fellows of Queens College, Oxford – Bernard Grenfell (not of Grenfell Tower fame) and Arthur Hunt – began work at the site that is ongoing to this day.

Because of Egypt’s environment south of the Nile Delta, one of the materials that survives rather well is papyrus (plural: papyri) – pages made from mashing reeds together, basically – and because papyrus was often reused in the ancient world before it was thrown out, there’s a lot of it. Excavations from Oxyrhynchus have yielded 70% of all the known literary papyri in the world today, including fragments of Euclid, Menander, and Sappho.

And here’s the really amazing thing: those literary texts, the poems, textbooks, and histories, are only about 10% of the total finds so far discovered. Most of what has been found are records, receipts, census documents, tax assessments, bills, etc, a remarkable if on-the-surface-of-it dull hoard of information. From these mundane documents, we can know what people paid for bread and livestocks and therefore can extrapolate what they made in a year, how money was exchanged, and what flowed from Egypt into the coffers of the Empire. We can find out how disputes were settled and thus hypothesize on the nature of ancient legal precedent. We can meet the day-to-day people of Egypt during the Roman Empire and the early Christian period and understand more about what their lives were like. In short, poetry may be beautiful and rare, but receipts have endless value.

Eight volumes of papyri from Oxyrhynchus have been published so far, with at least another 40 to go. This site single-handedly allowed for the creation of the field of papyrology, because so many people are needed to work on it. The project was funded by the British Academy until 1999 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council until 2005. There are papyri from the site housed all over the world, but the largest collection is at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, home of the two young men who found glory in garbage.

Dead Links Update

Due to hilariously poor planning on my part, I’m amending my earlier post introducing the Dead Links project. Instead of being a bi-weekly series, I’m going to commit to publishing on the 1st of each month with the exception of January 1st for New Years Day and July 1st for Canada Day.

So you’ll get 10 new Dead Links each year and will know when to look for them! Enjoy!

Dead Links Four: The Body of Alexander the Great

I knew when I was starting the research for this post that it would ultimately be a review of The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great by Andrew (Periplus, 2004), primarily because Chugg presents such a tantalizing theory about what happened to the body of Alexander the Great after it vanished from history. In fact, my own research into Alexander stems from this piece of amateur historical sleuthing. I cannot fault the extent of Chugg’s research here, and have used his text to refer back to the original sources he uses to build his argument. However, wanting to believe his theory and being able to believe it are two entirely different things that I’d like to dig down into here.

To begin with, a somewhat brief chronology to get everyone on the same page:

  • Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BCE after a short illness, and his body was embalmed and prepared for its intended burial site at Pella, the capital of Macedonia
  • Alexander’s famous instruction to his generals that his empire would go “to the strongest” created a massive power vacuum in an empire stretching from Greece to India, and the leading generals – known as the diodochi – began consolidating power in different geographical regions (and thus usher in the Hellenistic World proper to the Mediterranean and Asia)
  • On the way to Pella, Alexander’s body was diverted to Memphis in Egypt. In all likelihood this was done by Ptolemy, one of the diodochi, and a childhood friend of Alexander’s, as a way to validate his own claim to power (the Ptolemies would rule Egypt for another 300 years until its most famous daughter, Cleopatra VII, committed suicide rather than be captured after the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE)
  • In 290 BCE or thereabouts (about 30 years after Alexander’s death) the body was moved from Memphis to Alexandria where, with the addition of a tomb complex that grew over time, Alexander’s body would remain until at least 215 CE and likely until 365 CE
  • In 365, a massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami destroyed much of Alexandria’s buildings, including the tomb of Alexander the Great.

After this, things get very hazy very quickly. Paganism was outlawed in the Roman Empire by Theodosius I in 391 and many pagan temples and other buildings were destroyed by the people of Alexandria and elsewhere as a result. The earthquake and tsunami decimated the city and reconstruction efforts were slow. By the time of the Arab Conquests in the 640s CE, there was less to rebuild and more to co-opt for new purposes as Islam settled in as the major religion of Egypt. By the time of Napoleon, interest was focused on the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, particularly after hieroglyphics were deciphered by Jean-Francois Champollion with the help of the Rosetta Stone. In short, after eight centuries, the body of Alexander the Great had disappeared from history never to be seen again.

The main sources we have for the life and death of Alexander the Great are varied and questionable (as I’m sure you’re starting to realize is a description of all ancient sources). Diodorus Siculus and Pompeius Trogus were two 1st century BCE writers and both were contemporary with Livy. Pompeius Trogus is quoted in Justin’s Epitome of Philippic History, Book XI and XII as well as in excerpts in Jerome, Augustine, and Vopiscus (one of the purported authors of the Historia Augusta). Quintus Curtius Rufus wrote a History of Alexander in the 1st century CE, his only known surviving work. From the 2nd century CE, there is Arrian’s Anabasis Alexandri and Plutarch’s biography of Alexander. Plutarch’s work survives in its earliest form as a 10th or possibly 11th century CE manuscript from Florence. Additionally, there is the famous Alexander Romance, a collection of several manuscripts falsely attributed to Alexander’s court historian Callisthenes (and so, aptly, this anonymous author is now called Pseudo-Callisthenes), that date to the 3rd century CE and survive in versions from the 4th to the 16th centuries in Medieval Greek, Latin, Armenian, Syriac, Hebrew, and various European vernaculars. There are also minor references in Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, XI), the Talmud 31b and 32a, and, last but not least, the Quran, surah 18, where an oblique reference to Dhu-l Qarnayn (meaning the “Two-Horned One” in Arabic) may refer to Alexander.

From these sources Chugg determines that Julius Caesar viewed the body of Alexander in its glass or crystal sarcophagus in Alexandria in the early 60s BCE and that Caracalla was the last Roman Emperor to see the body and the tomb together in or around 215 CE (1). Libanius of Antioch wrote an oration addressed to Theodosius dating between 388 and 392 CE where he discusses the body on display in Alexandria (Oration XLIX, 11-12), from which Chugg argues the body survived the earthquake*. We also know that, by the 5th century CE, the whereabouts of Alexander’s burial were unknown according to Theodoret (2).

Chugg refers to an anonymous manuscript for the evidence of Caracalla viewing the tomb as the last “definitive mention of the existence of the tomb and the body in recorded history” (3). However, this manuscript – the Epitome de Caesaribus – was falsely attributed to Aurelius Victor who was writing in the 4th century CE, and the date of the now-lost manuscript has therefore been conflated with an incorrect author. So, right around the time that the body of Alexander the Great goes missing so too does the logical rigour of Chugg’s supporting evidence. From here on, he makes associations between Alexander’s body and the mummy of Nectanebo II, the last Egyptian pharaoh prior to the Macedonian takeover as well as the various churches and mosques that purport to be the burial site of that Macedonian king which, although also tantalizing, do not hold up under scrutiny.

Chugg’s theory rests on two BIG assumptions: 1) that the body survived the likely collapse of the tomb during the earthquake and tsunami in Alexandria in 365 CE; and, 2) that there were enough people in the aftermath who were invested in preserving the body that they did so, and continued to do so, for the next SEVENTEEN CENTURIESThe Da Vinci Code before The Da Vinci Code, don’t you think? That’s like all the pieces of the Berlin Wall being preserved, restored, and maintained into the year 3689 CE.

Because, oh yes, Chugg’s theory as to the whereabouts of Alexander’s body? It’s what the Venetians spirited out of Egypt in 828 CE and installed in their largest Basilica as the relics of Saint Mark. Again, the idea that a group of people in 4th century CE Egypt would choose to protect something that the Christians were intent on destroying by disguising it as something the Christians would actively try and preserve, and then allowing it to be removed from a predominantly Muslim country by devout Medieval Christians and deposited in the Basilica of St Mark in Venice does stretch the imagination somewhat. It also doesn’t help to know that Mark’s body was said to have been cremated when he died in 68 CE in Cyrene, but perhaps I’m knit-picking at this point.

 

REFERENCES:

(1) Epitome de Caesaribus Sexti Aureli Victoris 21.4

*I have been unable to read an original version of this oration as of the date of this publication, so I cannot speak to its authenticity or any grains of salt that should be taken when considering Libanius in general.

(2) Theodoret Graecarum Affectionum Curatio, 8.61

(3) Chugg, p.135

The Roundup #75

An eclectic selection from this week. Wolves, pharaohs, and toilets. Enjoy!

From Archaeology.org:

Pieces of a colossal statue of Pharaoh Psammetich I have been discovered in Cairo, specifically two toes and the pedestal.

Amateur archaeologists have discovered a remarkable hoard in southwest England, including an intact bronze statue of a dog.

A petroglyph of a ship that’s nearly 10,000 years old has been discovered in Norway.

A rather beautiful Viking weaving sword has been discovered in Ireland.

Decapitated toads have been unearthed during excavations at a Canaanite burial in Jerusalem.

Early surveys suggest that a lost city in Iraq attributed to Alexander the Great may have been discovered this season.

The Smithsonian:

Wolves have been spotted outside of Rome for the first time in a century.

Excavations have begun on Paul Revere’s privy, because of course they have.

Possibly the oldest traces of life have been identified from samples taken in Labrador, Canada.

 

The Roundup #74

Temples, submarines, porpoises, oh my! An eclectic selection of archaeological news from this week. Enjoy!

From Archaeology.org:

The discovery of the oldest copper masks from the Andes ever unearthed challenges the understanding of the development of metallurgy in South America.

Archaeologists have returned to the Minoan palace at Zominthos and have already identified some new and interesting items.

It was one of the most destructive wars in human history, and the proof of which is in the ongoing discoveries of artefacts from World War II. This time, it’s part of a window and dog tags from Norfolk that were likely part of a B-17 American bomber squadron.

1,600 year old early Christian frescoes have been laser-cleaned at the catacombs in Domitilla, Rome.

The wreckage of a World War I submarine has been discovered in the North Sea off the coast of Belgium.

The Greek temple of Artemis at Euboea has been identified, approximately six miles from where it was originally thought to have been.

A myoji from the medieval period in Korea has been returned by the widow of a Japanese collector.

Work on the skeleton of a Neanderthal boy shows that the child’s skull was still growing at the time of his death, suggesting that development was more dynamic than originally thought. The Guardian reports on this as well here.

(Also) From the Guardian:

Archaeologists are enjoying scratching their heads over the recent discovery of a porpoise burial on one of the Channel Islands dating to the 14th century.

From the Toronto Star:

The City of Toronto is back to the drawing board, trying to determine the best course of action for preserving and displaying a drain from 1831 found while excavating near St. Lawrence Market.