40,000 Years of Human Endeavor Destroyed in Two Days

Teresa and Kip have said it better than I can. But I wanted to point to some more information about the tragic looting of Iraq’s National Museum, the world’s best collection, by far, of Mesopotamian artifacts. First of all, an enormous cultural loss for humanity could have been avoided, rather easily. It’s not like looting and collateral damage were new ideas; the art history and archaeological communities have discussed, written, and published their fears for quite a while. Even I posted about it.

Since 1922 Iraqi law mandated that Iraq has an equal share in any archaeological finds within Iraq. Most of those finds were in the National Museum. In fact, the majority of all archaeological finds made in the country since its foundation in 1920 were stored there. These include Iraq’s share of the royal burials of Ur, as well as thousands of unrecorded, un-imaged cuneiform tablets, with who knows what texts, laws, and records.

There’s a long history of archaeological piracy in Iraq, including sales on e-bay. In part this is encouraged by the embargo; people are selling anything they can for cash. So there’s already a system in place for fencing stolen archaeological treasures, those that survive after being looted.

And here’s what Rumsfeld has to say:

“The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, ‘My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?’ ”

Rumsfeld’s attitude is barbaric, of course, as is his thinly veiled ethnocentrism. No, I’m not arguing that “stuff” is more important than human lives (though frankly, I know some scholars who would willingly sacrifice their own lives for a particular artifact’s life). But this tragedy could have been avoided, and it should have been. Rumsfield, Bush and their barbaric coeterie just didn’t care.

Catching Up: SF, Celtic Archaeology, and Space

Catching Up: SF, Celtic Archaeology, and Space

I know, I’ve been exceedingly delinquent regarding posting, but between teaching and dissertating, and tech editing, I’ve had no time for blogging.

So I’m going to post a bunch of very quick links, with almost no commentary. First of all, I’ve added a couple of links over there on the left. There’s Cronaca, from one David, who has all the markings of a medievalist. Then there’s the new SF and Fantasy category. It contains links to the Nielsen Hayden duo, Patrick’s Electrolite, and Teresa’s Making Light. They’re writers and editors, but I’ve been reading their blog since ConJose, so I thought I should link. Especially since entries like this on the dubiousness of saints imply a certain medieval tinge to Teresa’s writing. Then there’s Will Shetterly‘s blog Small Candle, Much Wind. Also there is a link to Diane Duane’s Out of Ambit blog. Now then; things I wanted to post about, but didn’t.

A new sort of Gaulish tomb was discovered at Gondole, near Clermond-Ferrand in central France, prior to the construction of a new highway. Inside the tomb were bodies of seven adult males, an adolescent, and eight horses, carefully arranged in a rectangle. The bodies, which appeared undamaged, were arranged with their heads to the south, looking eastward. The left arm of each adult was placed on the body before it. There were no grave goods. There are a number of interesting things about the burial, not the least of which is the ritual placement of the bodies. The horses are interesting too, given other instances of equine burials in this Gaulish territory.

Speaking of French archaeologists, Philippe Charlier, a French paleopathologist with degrees in archaeology and medicine, has studied Gaulish warriors from Burgundian graves. Apparently, one in ten Celts carried treponema, a bacteria related to syphilis. Several of the skeletons had hip deformities caused by riding, and many suffered from arthritis.

Over in Ireland, National Geographic reports on a decline in Gaelic speakers in the Gaeltacht. Perhaps recent efforts to translate the Quaran into Irish will help slow the decline of Irish speakers. And again, Irish Neolithic monument builders have proven to be clever computational astronomers. This isn’t exactly new, but it is interesting.

On South Uist, one of Scotland’s Western Isles, one of the outer Hebrides, Europe’s oldest known mummies have ben discovered, preserved in the Cladh Hallan quarry. They may date as far back as 3,500 years.

Over in Wales, Pembrokeshire native, archaeologist Dr Mark Merrony has followed in the footsteps of a nineteenth century antiquarian Richard Fenton, and found the remains of a large rectangular Roman building near Wolfscastle, Pembrokeshire.

And finally, there are these strange, but beautiful images from the Hubble of a dramatically erupting star.

Amebury Archer

Thanks to this story from MetaFilter, I’m elated to see new data about the so-called “Amebury Archer.” Last May Wessex Archaeology discovered the richest Bronze age grave ever discovered in Britain. The grave was discovered during a standard preliminary excavation of a future housing development, about three miles south-east of Stonehenge. Based on the physical attributes of the skelton and the goods buried with him, the 35-45 year old man was an archer, and possibly, part of the Stonehenge construction team. Shortly after the first grave was discovered, excavators discovered a smaller companion grave. The artifacts— well over a hundred of them, including three copper knives, two small gold hair tresses, gold earrings, two sandstone wristguards to protect his wrists from the bow string, 16 flint arrowheads and five pots, are amazing, as is the systemic nature of the burial. The grave dates back to roughly 2300 B. C.

One of the more interesting aspects of the burial is that analysis of the archer’s tooth enamel’s oxegen content and other data indicates that he was originally from Switzerland. This fact adds support to the common scholarly belief that Britain was settled from the Continent.

Today we’ve the first results of more detailed analysis, and the archer is definitely from the vicinity of the Swiss Alps. In addition, we now know that the second skeleton found at the site, that of a younger man, aged 20 to 25, is related to the Archer. It is likely they were father and son. Analysis of his teeth shows the younger man grew up in southern England but may have spent his late teens in the Midlands or north-east Scotland.

This find has enormous potential for learning about Bronze age life; we’ve barely tapped the surface of the data. It will certainly change interpretations about the relationship of Bronze age people to Stonehenge.

New Hubble Images of “Dumbbell Nebula”

Via Space.com, comes this story about the new Hubble images of the Dumbbell Nebula. The Dumbbell nebula, in our own Milky Way Galaxy, is a planetary nebula, named thusly because early telescope quality made even nebulae like this one ( the first ever discovered by Charles Messier in 1764) look like the fuzzy blobs of our own solar system’s planets. The gas and dust of this nebula are what’s lefft of a dying star, after it’s cast off the outer matter. The nebula, which looks a bit like a dumbell in ordinary non-Hubble images, is officially known as Messier 27 (M27). You might want to take a look at the rendered video’s here as well, available in high and low bandwidth versions.

You might also want to think back to this image of a star being born in galaxy M16.

Londinium Plaque Discovered

The Italian marble plaque likely was created between 50 and 150 AD and would have been placed prominently either on a building or in a shrine. It was found in the Southwark (near the former location of the Tabard Inn of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) area of London at the junction of three key Roman roads. It bears a dedication inscription to the Roman emperors and the god Mars from London-based merchant Tiberinius Celerianus, a name with Northern Gaulish antecedents. There’s an image of the plaque here, in this CNN article.

In Search of Ancient Ireland

This three-part PBS series, filmed in Ireland, airs on three Wednesday nights, the 12, 19 and 26th of June. There’s a companion book, VHS tapes, and a web site. I’ve only seen the first episode, “Heroes,” to be followed in turn by “Saints” and “Warlords.” It’s been fun to see familiar faces of various Celticists, historians and archaeologists, all of whom were very much involved in making the films, and the site’s nicely done. I’m not sure I agree with all the conclusions, but it’s well worth watching.

Vellum beats Silicon

Back in 1986, as a celebration of the 900th anniversary of the Domesday book, the census ordered by William the Bastard (that’s William the Conqueror to Sasenachs), Britain spent millions to compile text, images and, maps, audio and video recordings, as a snap shot of Britain, and stored them on laser discs as part of the Domesday Book project.

They created discs that are almost unreadable today, not because of laser rot, but because of obsolete equipment. The irony of this, as the article points out, is that the medieval manuscript is quite readable today, if you know the language and the script. There’s even an expensive archive-quality facsimile, not to mention the Bayeux tapestry.

At my old job I used to hoard working but old hardware—I knew where to get access to an old IBM Display writer, old 5 1/2 inch floppy disc drives, I had an SE under my desk to help faculty with old 3 1/2 inch Mac 800 and 400K disks, and my spouse and I have carefully archived docs and installers for a variety of old programs with proprietary data formats, not to mention things like Syquest and DAT drives.

There’s a sick irony in that cuneiform and manuscripts are more durable than digital media. But digital decay and technical obsolescence are real problems, problems we’ve known about for years.

A Circle of Stones

According to AP, by way of Yahoo, Professor Judith S. Young, Department of Astronomy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has built a sun circle, a celestial computer along the lines of Stonehenge, or Avebury. I’ve taken pains to point out elsewhere that Stonehenge, like Avebury, or the passage tomb at Brugh Na Boine (that’s Newgrange, Ireland to you), wasn’t built by the Celts (its earliest stage predates their arrival in Britain by over a thousand years) but Stonehenge and other megalithic monuments are too deeply entrenched with things druidic and Celtic in the popular imagination to ever be disassociated.

Stonehenge looms large in our imaginations—even though Averbury—the largest such circle in Europe, is physically much larger, and Woodhenge, one of several circles at Stanton Drew, is older. Folklore names Stonehenge the “Giants Dance,” and credits Merlin as the chief architect, but those myths are comparatively recent. The circle has had a surprisingly small role in British myth, given its age and magnitude. The passage tomb at Brugh Na Boine, constructed to mark the solstice, plays a much larger role in Irish myth, and is featured in several of the tales that preface the Táin.

Galations: The Biblical Celts

Yes, that’s right, Galatia in Turkey. Those people in Paul’s New Testament Epistle to the Galations were Celts, from Gaul. These Continental Celts eventually arrived in Macedonia in 279 B.E., where they gathered under a tribal leader named Brennus. They intended to raid the rich temple of Delphi. Like their insular brethren, these Gauls were independent of thought, and the host split into two groups, one, under Brennus, marching south on Delphi: the other group, under Leonorius and Luterius, turned eastward and pillaged Thrace. They were joined by the small remnants of the army of Brennus, who was repulsed by the Greeks, and killed himself in despair. In 278 B.C.E., 20,000 Gauls, under Leonorius, Luterius, and fifteen other chieftains, crossed over to Asia Minor, in two divisions. The two groups joined, and hired out as mercenaries to Nicomedes I, King of Bithynia, to defeat his younger brother. Nicomedes rewarded them with land in the heart of Asia Minor, now known as Galatia. You’ll notice their territory includes the section of Turkey formerly known as Phrygia.

The Galations frequently worked as mercenaries in subsequent years, and were hired by Pompey in 64 B.C.E. Rome pretty much absorbed them politically after that; the Galatians’ last king, Amyntas, fought at Actium, 31 B.C.E., on the side of Mark Antony but at the last he supported Augustus. After the death of Amyntas, Augustus proclaimed the land of the exported Gauls the Roman province of Galatia. About 75 years later St. Paul wrote his Epistle the Galatians. If you want the gory details, you can read the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Gordian Project is a series of excavations at Gordian, in the Phyria region of Galatia. Gordian is the city associated with King Midas. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology is one of the participants in thse excavations. Recently, an article in Archaeology magazine suggested that Celtic descendent of the Gaulish settlers, were, in good Celtic traditions, engaging in human sacrifice. I’m not all that persuaded by the article, it’s a little too full of unsupported assertions, but as yet I’ve not seen anything in the academic press.

Celtic Tribal Maps

I’ve noticed several sites with maps of Celtic tribes’ locations, like this one of the Celtic tribes of Britain, or this, tribes of Britain and the Continent, or even the tribes of Wales. There are also some specialized maps, like this one, of the Celtic Tribes and Caesar’s Campaigns in Gaul (58-50 BC) . If you look at the area the Celts covered, from Ireland all the way to Egypt, it’s less surprising that Galatia is Celtic.