The Roundup #90

We’re in the final stretch to my 100th #roundup! Let’s hear it for my attention span, and a rather manic insistence that I stick to a plan.

Lots of interesting news this week, some of which has to do with prehistoric sites, as well as my other love – the Ancient Mediterranean. In addition, while I’m nursing my first cold/flu of the year, I have a box of tissues that has the Standing Stones of Callanish on it. Enjoy!


Hand axes from a 500,000 year old site have been recovered in Israel.

The best preserved wooden game board from north of the Mediterranean ever found has been discovered in Slovakia.

A 2,500 year old stone fort in Ireland has been damaged by recent extreme weather.

Several Hellenistic tombs – including one with a false door – have been unearthed near Alexandria in Egypt.

Mouth harps have been discovered in the Altai Republic in Siberia, one of which even still carries a tune.

Also in Siberia, a kurgan that looks to be undisturbed may house the remains of a Scythian prince.

A broch (a kind of roundhouse, not a piece of jewellery) has been discovered near Inverness in Scotland.

Evidence pointing to the rediscovery of the monastery where the Book of the Deer was written has been identified in Scotland.

From the Smithsonian:

A feature on the Hoxne Hoard.

From the Guardian:

Real life continues to prove the film Prometheus wrong. In this latest example, possibly the oldest depiction of a supernova has been identified in Kashmir, showing our sun, the nova, and the constellations Taurus and Orion.


The Roundup #86

Admittedly, the weirdest thing that happened this week was that the Roman city council voted to overturn Ovid’s banishment some 2,000 years after it was first enacted by the Roman Princeps Augustus. I’m sure the council has slightly more pressing matters of local government to attend to, but why not add a showcase piece to the agenda?

So, without further ado, here’s this week’s (properly numbered) roundup. Enjoy!

From the Guardian:

Underwater archaeology at Lechaion, the main harbour of Corinth in Greece, is yielding new understanding of Roman engineering techniques. reports on it here.

From National Geographic:

A map from 1587 by cartographer Urbano Monte has been reassembled and digitized.

From the CBC:

A newly opened pair of tombs near Luxor are designed to bolster Egypt’s ailing tourism industry. The Associated Press also reports on it here.


12,000 year old fish hooks have been found associated with a burial in Indonesia.

A large cache of bronze items have been discovered in Shaanxi Province in China.

Archaeological work being done in Albania as a result of infrastructure developments in the country is revealing a dense collage of history.

A bronze age burial has been discovered near Loch Ness in Scotland.

Evidence of New Zealand’s violent past has been exposed following the identification of 12 burials of British soldiers who died during the Northern Wars in the 19th century.

Ongoing research into pre-contact Maori is being done by analyzing obsidian tools.

An interesting assemblage of items have been discovered at a burial site in the Aswan area of Egypt.

Rock art has been discovered on Kisar, a tiny island near Indonesia.

From the Smithsonian:

Medieval palimpsests are revealing new information about knowledge exchange between East and West.

Possibly the oldest preserved eye in the world, some 500 million years old, is being studied by archaeologists from the University of Cologne.

The Roundup #82

Feet (well, shoes) and wine headline this week’s roundup; two things I’m rather interested in because a) I like wine, and b) I walk like a mutant (and not the yellow spandex kind).


From the CBC:

The previous holder of the oldest confirmed evidence of wine, the Zagros Mountains, has been unseated by Gadachrili Gora in Georgia, where pots from neolithic times have tested positive for the acid found only in grapes in the region. reports on it here.

From the Smithsonian:

A “Pictish” rock carving discovered in Perth, Scotland shows a man with a large nose (I put Pictish in quotations because it’s a somewhat derogatory descriptive used by the Romans rather than any name these people in Scotland called themselves).

A realistic portrait of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson painted in 1799 (during his lifetime) is on display at Philip Mould & Company and for sale at an undisclosed price.


In a somewhat less than surprising research report, studies on the skeletons of Dutch farmers who wore the iconic wooden shoes were found to have bone malformations as a result.

A loom dating to the 5th or 6th century AD/CE has been discovered during recent excavations in Iraq.

During excavations of Norse longhouses in northern England, volunteers have discovered a Bronze Age settlement dating to 1300 BC/BCE.

Initial surveys of a hill in Turkey suggest that another Bronze Age site is waiting beneath layers upon layers of human habitation.

Sound engineers have looked at rumours about acoustics in Greek theatres, studying whether or not a whisper really could be heard from the last row of seats.

A mummy has been discovered in the Fayum in Egypt, complete with wrappings and votive objects from the Greco-Roman period.

Fire has irreparably damaged a unique pre-Inca site in Peru after a cane field blazed out of control.

A 1,000 year old ceramic box said to contain the ashes of the Buddha has been discovered at a monastery in China.


Dead Links Five: The Makeup Manual of Pharaoh Cleopatra VII

As it so often happens, when I start researching these #deadlinks articles, I inevitably end up writing something other than I had intended to. So too in this case.

Pharaoh Cleopatra the VII – the “infamous” Cleopatra, if you will – ruled Egypt right at the end of its time as a Hellenistic kingdom. She was there when Julius Caesar came to Alexandria, and there again when Marc Antony made his appearance as the East’s conquering hero after killing the tyrannicides, Brutus and Cassius, at Philippi. And she was there when Antony, defeated and broken, took his own life in advance of the arrival of Octavian, the newly minted First Man of Rome.

Cleopatra is famous for entrapping famous men, seducing them with her beauty while her intentions were really self-serving. She is famous for being power-hungry, overly sexual, voracious, unwomanly, and (perhaps worst of all to the Romans) foreign.

Oh how truth turns on a spin of history!

What we know about Cleopatra is confined almost exclusively to these four sources:

  1. A passing reference to her in Caesar’s dispatches on the Civil War (Commentarii de Bello Civili 3.103 and 3.107)
  2. Her role in the morality play that Antony exemplified according to Plutarch (Parallel Lives, Antony)
  3. Her role in the lives of Julius Caesar and Augustus according to Suetonius (he’s a quick read – enjoy!)
  4. References in Cassius Dio (Book 42.3.1 and 4, 9.1, 34.2-3, 35.4, 36.3, 37.2, 42.4, 44.1-3; Book 49.31.4, 32.4, 34.1, 40.3, 41.1-3; and Book 51, various) (1)
  5. Various references in Appian (you can look these up yourselves)

It is absolutely vital to look at these sources carefully and to understand WHY they were written rather than what they were written about. Cleopatra isn’t the focus here; Caesar or Antony are. And as such, she is relegated to a foil for them both, a way for ancient writers to showcase the tragedy of these great men of history. And from these accounts, we must extrapolate what we can to create an idea of a woman who changed the history of the world.

According to Plutarch, she was multi-lingual: “…she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased, so that in her interviews with Barbarians she very seldom had need of an interpreter, but made her replies to most of them herself and unassisted, whether they were Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes or Parthians. Nay, it is said that she knew the speech of many other peoples also, although the kings of Egypt before her had not even made an effort to learn the native language, and some actually gave up their Macedonian dialect.” (2)

When you take another look at the comments in Suetonius and Plutarch, there are numerous subtle references to Cleopatra’s ability to politic, her skill in conversation – suggesting both a wide range of interests and a formidable intellect – and her ability to put others at ease and enjoy her company. These may seem like the passive elements of a traditionally feminine mystique, but they belie a remarkably educated and intellectually formidable woman. Cleopatra spoke, arguably, nine languages. Fluently. More importantly, she is said to have written a variety of scholarly texts on medicine, charms, and cosmetics. None of which are extant.

And here’s the bit that I wasn’t expecting, but am so glad I found. The main reference to Cleopatra’s academic writings is found in a history of the world written by the Arab scholar Al-Mas’udi.

The mighty pivot on which the history and knowledge of the European and Eurasian continents turn is the translation of ancient texts by Arabian scholars in the Late Antique and Medieval periods. As the western Roman Empire was falling, societies of the East were rising and it was these societies that saved the knowledge of the Ancient World for students of history today.  Al-Mas’udi was a geographer and scholar in the 10th century CE who compiled a history of the world that has been translated into French and partially into English (3).

So, the joyous nature of this particular research exploration led me to the fact that the truth about Cleopatra cannot be articulated by extant literature from the West, but that it is instead reinforced by literature from the East. She has truly become a woman of two worlds, an international phenome who changed history.



(1) Cassius Dio Book 42 references found here – accessed 31 Oct 2017, 19:29pm ES; Cassius Dio Book 49 references found here – accessed 31 Oct 2017, 19:29pm EST; Cassius Dio Book 51 references found here – accessed 31 Oct 2017, 19:29pm EST

(2) Plutarch, Life of Antony 27.3.4 accessed here 31 Oct 2017, 19:58pm EST

(3) Translations into French by Charles Pellat, and into English by Aloys Sprenger.


The Roundup #79

Of course the major news of this past week was the release of previously classified documents regarding the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. People are going to be sifting through that material for years to come, but I did enjoy the Guardian live-blogging the release.

But lots of other things have been announced this week as well. So here’s your roundup for this go around. Enjoy!

From the Smithsonian:

A nearly complete fossilized skeleton of an ichthyosaur has been discovered in Gujarat.

A 450 year old text of samurai sayings has recently been published in English as The Hundred Rules of War.

The remains of unusual structures in the Arabian desert have been identified by amateurs using Google Earth.

Cuneiform tablets have been unearthed in a destroyed building in Kurdistan.

From Haaretz:

Biologists have identified a succession of bacteria that destroy ancient parchments by first turning them purple before they begin to more obviously decompose.


Excavations are ongoing at Thouria in Greece where a theatre orchestra section with potentially moveable sections has been discovered.

A Coptic tombstone has been unearthed near the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor.

An unusual figurine with what appears to be a feathered headdress has been discovered near the Ob River in western Siberia.

The mythological founding of Singapore may not be so mythological after all, as the island’s largest archaeological dig near Empress Place has revealed.

A shipwreck has been discovered in eastern China, likely from the Yuan Dynasty nearly 700 years ago.

And a Bronze Age battlefield has been identified in Germany.

From the CBC:

The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, Royal Navy ships that Franklin took on his fateful Arctic expedition, are to be formally handed over to Canada and the Inuit people by the British government.


The Roundup #76

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

Here’s this week’s roundup. Enjoy!


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.


The Roundup #68

The US President is threatening nuclear war with North Korea and military action in Venezuela. On the upside, Ghana launched its first satellite this week, the Perseid meteor shower hits its peak this weekend, and various sports seasons are upon us. So if the world doesn’t end in the next few weeks, we can enjoy innovation, beauty, and athletes.

In the meantime, here’s this week’s roundup. Enjoy!


In light of an upcoming solar eclipse in the Northern Hemisphere this Monday, petroglyphs in New Mexico have been discovered that depict another eclipse from 1097.

A colossal statue from the Iron Age has been discovered in Turkey.

DNA work on Medieval manuscripts is yielding new information about the animals used for the manuscript pages and even if those pages were frequently kissed by humans.

A review of a Third Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh has researchers wondering if, rather than just being tall, Sa-Nakht suffered from gigantism.

From Aleteia:

A 1,200 year old wine press has been discovered in the Negev desert of Israel that was once used by a Roman army unit. However, the math doesn’t seem to add up here so read with caution.

From the CBC:

A replica of the RMS Titanic is being built as a tourist destination in Daying, China.