The Roundup #73

It’s been a strange week. London was bombed (again), but mercifully no one was killed. And the Cassini spacecraft was destroyed in Saturn’s atmosphere after 20 years in space to avoid contaminating the planet’s potentially habitable moons. So there’s an eclectic list coming up for you to enjoy. Here it is!

From Archaeology.org:

At the burial site of a Celtic prince, archaeologist are examining some of the many rich objects he was buried with.

A cypress dug-out canoe has been discovered after Hurricane Irma pulled it from the bottom of the Indian River in Florida.

I feel like this isn’t a new theory; however, for the record, archaeologist Iain Stewart of the University of Plymouth believes ancient structures in the Aegean were built above fault lines as a way to connect to the Underworld.

From the Daily Sabah:

What is considered a Roman-era baby bottle has been discovered in Turkey.

From the Smithsonian:

At Fort Leavenworth in Kansas (the army base, not the prison), a new exhibit is being mounted to offer the public all the various gifts presented to the Command and General Staff College over the years.

From the Guardian:

More on the viking burial that turned out to be a woman.

 

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The Roundup #72

It’s been a week of finding things, including some rather joy-inducing Canadian things. Here’s this week’s roundup. Enjoy!

From the CBC:

Two of the nine prototypes of the Avro Arrow, Canada’s first and only supersonic interceptor, have been discovered at the bottom of Lake Ontario. Kraken Sonar is looking to retrieve all nine models to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the first test flight for a program abruptly scrapped by Ottawa in 1959.

Two ships – a wooden freighter and a steel-hulled steamer that sank 20 years apart – have been discovered in Lake Huron.

From Archaeology.org:

Another well-preserved shipwreck, this one in Stockholm, Sweden, may be the Scepter, archaeologists say.

23,000 year old artifacts from an inland site have been discovered in Brazil.

Fragments of small votive objects have been discovered in Lebanon, leading archaeologists to believe that the Phoenicians may have manufactured disposable figurines of divinities.

Neapolis, possibly the largest centre for the production of the infamous Roman fish sauce called garum has been discovered at an underwater site off the coast of Tunisia.

From the Smithsonian:

The earliest known Latin commentaries on the Bible, lost until 2012, have been translated into English and are now available online.

Palimpsests containing not only a variety of manuscript texts but also a variety of languages, some obscure and defunct, have been discovered during research at St. Catherine’s monastery near Mount Sinai.

Dead Links Update

Now that I’ve finally managed to get the third Dead Links article up on the site (again, all the apologies for the delay), it’s time to announce the next round of four! In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing about:

  1. The Make-up Guide written by Pharaoh Cleopatra (yes, that one)
  2. The Colossus of Rhodes
  3. The Works of the Roman Emperor Claudius
  4. The treasure looted from the Temple at Jerusalem in the early 70s CE

And don’t forget, my next piece on the Body of Alexander the Great will be up in two weeks’ time. Enjoy!

Dead Links Three: The Sibylline Books

Without a plan, bi-monthly posting schedules go out the window, as you can see. A month of feverish job applications has left me with a gap in my website content, which I am now going to fill. Thank you for your patience.

The Sibylline Books were collections of oracular texts written in Greek hexameter, the oldest of which date to the time of Solon and Cyrus. There were several sibyls – Roman (as opposed to Greek) oracles – throughout the Mediterranean world, at Gergis in Turkey, at Erythrae in Asia Minor, and at Cumae. Indeed, these may have all been a single travelling sibyl, or the location may simply denote where the oracular texts themselves were based at any given time.

It is known that the texts from the Cumaean Sibyl made their way to Rome during the reign of Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud). In a story relayed originally by Varro (1), the Sibyl offered to sell Tarquin nine books of prophecies, but at a price so steep, he refused. She then burned three of the nine books in front of him, offering him the remaining six. When he refused the price again, she set three more alight, and offered him the last three at the original price. Sheepishly, he accepted. For the oracular texts of the Sibyls predicted the future, and foreknowledge was worth dying for, as the god Prometheus well knew (2).

The books, taken to Rome by the king, were housed in the vault of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus where they appear to have remained until around 405 BCE when Stilicho, a Roman general of Vandal origin who attained enormous power under the reign of Honorius, ordered them destroyed.

It is from Livy that we have most of the anecdotes surrounding deeds done at the behest of prophecies in the Sibylline Books, from what to do when one’s royal army is struck by lightning (10.31), to how to deal with pestilence (5.13) and when to schedule games (7.27). One of the most famous stories – likely apocryphal (but when did that ever stop anyone?) – is demonstrative of the panic in Rome during the Hannibalic War; when facing imminent invasion and siege by the Punic general after the Battle of Cannae in 216 BCE and, after consultation with the Sibylline Books, two Gauls and two Greeks – a man and a woman each – were selected and buried alive in the Forum (57.6)*.

The Books themselves have vanished, if not destroyed by Stilicho then by some other of the myriad calamities that befell the Empire of Rome throughout the middle of the first millenium CE. It is known that Athenagoras of Athens, in a letter arguing the truth of the Christian faith to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, quoted from the Books verbatim (3), and it is likely that the books were still extant at this time. The fragments collected and translated by Milton Terry in 1899 have been transmitted down to us via the works of other ancient authors. At no point does Terry have access to a verifiable original manuscript copy of the Books themselves.

So we have a collection of books in Greek hexameter that predict the future and were housed in one of the safest and yet most public locations in the Roman World. To a large extent, these books and the prophecies therein dictated Roman public policy, everything from infrastructure to foreign affairs. It was not unusual in the Ancient World for knowledge to be offered through riddles, and there is something to be said for the ongoing obfuscation of information through language. Greek hexameter means that, unless you were a literate Greek, the only people who could read the books were literate, educated Romans (and yes, I do define ‘literate’ and ‘educated’ as two separate but not mutually exclusive states of being). Just as Catholic priests act as the conduit between God and their congregations, so too were the Books separated from the people who consulted them through an oracle, priest, or translator. More importantly, as incendiary as the story of burying people alive in the Roman Forum may be, it is contained in discourse distinctly more historical than mythological.

The irony that prophecy is concealed in language suggests a commentary on the inherent and necessary complexity of knowledge itself. Does this augment the power of language? Of understanding? Does this weaponize it, language wielded as a socio-political tool? Is it a stick to beat you with? Or a window into new ways of seeing the world?

In a world of immediate information and reality TV Presidents, the so-called “liberal elite” – the ‘intelligensia’ of the 21st century – intellectuals trained in and supportive of a more left-wing social agenda – are perverted as unnecessarily obtuse. This is a classic case, so far as I can see it at any rate, of shooting the messenger. As a fictional president once said; “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them”. Often it is the dogged devotion to knowledge, to learning, that offers those “ah-ha” moments that can change the course of history. For example, you would need to understand Greek, poetic metre, metaphor, and imagery to understand the prophecy itself; interpretive style, politics, and diplomacy to understand how it’s presented to you; and strategy, tactics, and intuition in order to do anything with it. Knowledge is complicated. The Sibylline Books are evocative of this knowledge precisely because the idea of the Books is predicated on the background knowledge and education necessary to be able to interpret them. And I find that intoxicating.

 

(1) The story was alluded to in some of the lost books of Varro, quoted by Lactantius in his Institutiones Divinae I:6 and by Origen. The Sibylline Books are also referred to by Tacitus, Annales VI.12, and by Josephus.

(2) Prometheus was punished for teaching humans the secret of fire by Zeus who had an eagle peck out his liver each day, only to have the liver grow back again overnight for the torturous process to begin again and continue for eternity.

*The large preceding sections of Book 22 of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita is a master class in tragic lament; the Romans really did believe that all was lost after Cannae, and with good reason. One of the largest armies ever sent into the field was not only conquered by annihilated. Some suggest the death toll was up to 70,000 (but more likely less).

(3) Terry, Milton S. The Sibylline Oracles. New York, 1899 – http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/sib/sib15.htm accessed 3rd September 2017 at 10:24 AM EST.

The Roundup #71

Taking a break from an appalling number of job applications to get back to the world of archaeology. Check out my Twitter feed @gladiatorgirl for a bunch of really fascinating finds that haven’t made it to the other resources I use to compile my weekly roundup! Additionally, and belated as it is, there’s a new Dead Links piece coming soon. Yeah, yeah, cheque in the mail… Watch for it all the same.

And, without further ado, here’s this week’s roundup. Enjoy!

From Archaeology.org:

The tomb of a 16th century playwright has been discovered in east Jianxi, China.

Mycenaean chamber tombs – one intact, one looted probably in the 1970s – have been identified in Greece. Also known as tholos tombs, you can read more about them here.

During an ongoing underwater survey of the ancient coastline of Salamis, archaeologists have discovered what appears to be a public building near the ancient port.

Hilarity ensues with ongoing discussion about lead poisoning in Roman towns, this time at Ostia.

And archaeological evidence from California suggests that ancient peoples may offer solutions to how to manage the perennial wildfires in the state.

From the CBC:

Astronomers have discovered the remains of the star that went nova in 1437 CE and was recorded by Korean astronomers of the time. Unlike the film Prometheus, these people did some maths.

From Global News:

A triceratops skeleton was discovered, much to everyone’s surprise, during construction of a new police station in Denver, Colorado.

The Roundup #70

Nothing like a migraine, incessant job applications, and a fight between an (alleged) wife-beater and a (pretty well confirmed) megalomaniac to distract one from the schedules of the weekend.

So here I am a day late (but hopefully not a dollar short), with this week’s roundup. Enjoy!

From the Independent:

Fans of trigonometry and the Pythagorean Theorum will be delighted to learn that they are nearly a thousand years older than previously believed.

From Archaeology.org:

New research suggests that the walls of Engaruka in Tanzania may have functioned as part of a water system, rather than a way to combat soil erosion.

At least three different clay recipes were used to create the famous terracotta army of Qin Shi-huang Di in Xian, China.

Repair work is underway on the Solar Ship of Pharaoh Khufu, after one of the ship’s beams was damaged during excavation.

From the Smithsonian:

Metallic ink has been identified on scrolls found in Italy following the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE.

From the Guardian:

“This is why we can’t have nice things”; an aborted photo-op with a rare sarcophagus has left the artefact broken nearly in half.

The Roundup #69

New discoveries of old things are the theme running throughout this week’s roundup. By happy accident, because I didn’t post as usual on Saturday, I am now able to include the announcement that the USS Indianapolis has been discovered in the Pacific Ocean. Famous for delivering the atomic bombs that decimated Japan in 1945, it’s also famous for the extremely high loss of life suffered when she was torpedoed (316 of over 1,100 men survived). And I first learned about it from Quint’s drunken speech in the film Jaws.

So, apart from that roundabout way of learning history, here’s this week’s roundup. Enjoy!

From Archaeology.org:

A Roman villa has been discovered near Realmonte in Sicily and is currently being excavated.

Excavations of the wreck of the Mentor, Lord Elgin’s ship bound from Athens to England, are ongoing.

A Hellenistic temple has been discovered near Umm Qais in Jordan.

The remains of Yugeno-miya, what was supposed to be a new capital city in Japan, have been identified.

The discovery of ritual baths in Vilnius emphasize the cultural richness of the Great Synagogue of Vilna, built in the 17th century, burned by the Nazis, and razed by the Russians in the 20th century.

Parts of Greenwich Palace, where King Henry VII and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth were born, have been identified in London, England.

Along with a myriad of other papers, a small watercolour of a dead bird has been discovered at the site where the Scott Expedition met its end in 1912. If anyone needed a more appropriate example of pathetic fallacy, this is a pretty good one.

Also from Antarctica and the Scott Expedition, fruitcake! Apparently it’s edible. However, that assumes that one considers fruitcake to be edible at all.

An early Islamic house has been discovered in Jordan after a cache of tesserae were unearthed, suggesting the house was being renovated at the time of an earthquake in the 8th century CE.

From The Guardian:

Analyzing the silver content of Roman coins has allowed archaeologists and historians to more clearly understand the economic impact of the Hannibalic War in the 3rd century BCE. Archaeology.org reports on the same here.

The discovery of subglacial volcanos in Antarctica may mean that the site is the densest collection of volcanos on the planet.

From the CBC:

The diary of the wife of a Hudson’s Bay Company captain has been donated to the University of British Columbia. The firsthand account of a woman on a fur trading expedition is considered remarkable for its uniqueness.

From the New York Times:

An early daguerrotype of the 6th President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, taken in 1843 may be the oldest surviving original photograph of an American President.