Bonus Blog: A Great Civilization in the Western Hemisphere

Over the past four months, we have covered civilizations from four different continents that spread over the course of 10,000 years. Every society had it perks, and as a rule, we humans are drawn to the big and grand. As individuals, we become excited and intrigued over that which, to us, seems unfathomable. Hence, a majority of the population has a strong appreciation for the ancient Egyptians. The egyptians were one of the few ancient cultures who were able to preserve their dead. This kind of achievement even excited me, but I would like to give credit to another society. The majority of great civilizations that sprouted from the human race, such as the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, began in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. I know this is where we, as humans, evolved, but these societies, however great they were, had close ties with neighboring cultures and assistance from previous cultures. I think we can perhaps state that these cultures built off of one another. Perhaps the ancient Egyptians were one of the ‘first’ great civilizations to form, but what about the other side of the world, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. As our ancestors navigated the globe, they had to start anew. The first voyagers to the Americas left all that they knew behind and started afresh in a new world.

Just like the Egyptians, the Mayans built great city states, regulated commerce and trade, and had their own writing system. Both civilizations founded their empires under extreme conditions; the hot, arid desert and the thick, wet tropics. Yes, the Mayans did not create the precious gold artifacts equal to that of the ancient Egyptians, but they did not have that kind of resources readily avaliable. I also think the Mayans are unique because they are one of the few, if not the only civilization that we discussed, which did not have a central state heirarchy. In other words, they did not have one, central capital where the king resided. Instead, the Mayans were made out of many states, each with its own king. I respect this notion that the Mayans were able to trade and work together for hundreds of years, and not one Mayan king was powerful enough to conquer every Mayan city state. To go further, the Mayan are one of the few anceint civilizations still in existance. I am not well educated in their modern day acitivities, but I do hope that they have kept some of their cultural traditions, for this would demonstrate their strength and pride as one of the first cultures of the Western Hemisphere.

Mound Found in the Sea of Galilee

All semester we have learned about our ancestors many interestts in mound building. First, the early Egyptians built mounds to imitate the hill on which Ra emerged from the sea of chaos. Over the centuries, these round ‘mounds’ then turned into Egyptian pyramids, which still embody the birth of Ra. Second, our great American ancestors are widely known for their extensive moundbuilding. The great cities of Cahokia and Moundville contain hundreds of mounds and embankments. Again, our ancestors believed in the power and supremecy obtained through reaching for the sky. Again, in two separate cultures, our ancestors saw the heavens as a natural source of power and greatness. Lastly, the nomads of England built hundreds of burial mounds and earthworks throughout lower England.  Even the infamous Stonehenge, built of stone, is encompassed by various earthworks and alterations in the general geography of the landscape. Now, another type of mound from yet another ancient culture has been discovered at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee.

The structure was first discovered by sonar in 2003, but due to complications in identifying and mapping the site, the discovery was not published until now. This ‘complication’ comes from the fact that the ruins lay 9 meter under the surface of this ancient Israelie lake. Though to be a large Bronze Age statue, the mound stretches 70 meters in length and stands over 10 meters tall. According the article, this would make this site twice as large as Stonehenge. Unfortunately, due to the current location of the ruins, extensive excavation is not possible. With the little bit of research that has been conducted, scientists have placed the site between 2,000 and 12,000 years old; however, this lengthy time range does not help us pin-point  the individulas/ancient culture which created this site.  Some scientists believe that the site was originally created underwather, perhaps as a fish nursery. I think this would be hard to prove because the site lies 30 feet underwater. In ancient time, this would have been a great feat for any individual to swim this far below the surface of the lake. If perhaps a geologist or an archaeologist could figure out a rough estimate of the sea’s water level 2,000 years ago, then we may have a better understanding as to if the structure was built underwater or above the surface.

In addition, once funding can be found, scuba divers will try to conduct an underwater excavation. As a general rule, water preserves ancient ruins much better than air, for organic material is usually decomposed by worms and other oxygen breathing creatures. Hence, the findings from the excavation could be more complete than those conducted on a land-based structure. In the end, if this site can be probably researched, it would open another chapter in our history and add a parallel comparision to human activity during the Ancient Egyptians and the nomads of Stonehenge.

I received my information from this article at cnn: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/19/world/meast/israel-ancient-structure-mystery/index.html?hpt=hp_c3

 

 

‘Ireland’s Stonehenge’

“Stonehenge”  “Stonehenge”  “Stonehenge”

Just like the pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge has become a global, archaeological icon that represents power and endurance. By word of mouth or through visual images, the majority of individuals know Stonehenge as the famous prehistoric, rock momument that is located in the countryside of Southwest England. However, not many people are aware that Stonehenge is actuallly one part of hundreds of earthworks that dot the English landscape. From Stonehenge itself to Woodhenge, from earthworks and burrows to the Stonehenge Cursus, the English coutryside relates to us the workings of our ancient Neolithic ancestors.

Across St. George’s Channel, in the rolling hills of the Irish countryside, lies another prehistoric site much like that of Stonehenge and its vast earthworks. The Hill of Tara was the home of Ireland’s pre-Christian kings. There are no stone buildings or monuments left, but the landscape is covered with great earthworkds, which even I had trouble navigating. Like the Mississippian mounds, one large iron age Hill Fort may have housed a create wooden fortress on its peak. This hill is known as ‘Raith na Riogh’ in Gaelic and ‘The Fort of the Kings’ in English. In addition, just like the Mississippian mounds and the burial mounds around Stonehenge, The Hill of Tara also includes numerous burrows where the ancient Irish laid their dead. One of the more well known ‘passage tombs’ is the megalithic ‘Mound of the Hostages’, and this particular mound dates back to 2,500 BC. The ancient kings of Ireland liked to take important individuals from all over Europe and beyond ‘hostage’; therefore, the tomb receives this name from the ancient custom. Today, like many of the passage tombs found throughout the County Meath, the inside passage of the Mound of the Hostages is covered in green mold. Of course this is caused by thousands of years of direct exposure to the air since the mounds were either never sealed or later opened. For this reason, I was not allowed admittance to many of these burial mounds; however, I learned that one of the stones within the ‘Mound of the Hostages’, the orthostats, contains neolithic rock art.

This is a picture of the Mound of the Hostages

I visited Ireland about two years ago, and I do not think I truely appreciated my experience at The Hill of Tara until last week when Professor Watrall spoke to the class about our neolithic ancestors and the burial tombs created by the Mississippians and the ones found around Stonehenge. I think it is fascinating that two cultures, which had never encountered one another took part in similar customs. Yes, the technique varied, for the Irish surrounded their mounds with carved slabs of ornate rock, and the Mississippians did not exercise the use of rock to this degree. At the same time, we must look at the resources at hand. The ancient Irish had tons of rock at their disposal where the Mississippians may not have been as lucky. Nevertheless, I have a new appreciation for Tara, Newgrange, Dowth, and all of the other ancient monuments that dot the Irish landscape.

This is a picture of the main earthwork (The Fort of the Kings) of the Hill of Tara

Look familiar to other earthworks found around Stonehenge?

For more information regarding the Hill of Tara check out http://www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/tara/

 

Lions, and Tigers, and Mummies! Oh, My!

Known as the masters of mummification, Ancient Egyptians have managed to secure their mark on the modern world.  Through the assitance of an arid climate, the process of embalming became a natural phenomenon throughout the Nile River Valley.  Overtime, mummification became so popular that the promise of an eternal life was bequeathed not just to royalty but also to the wealthy and middle class. However, one needs to remember that the intention of mummification was that relating to religion. If this be the case, why did not other ancient civilizations also practice the art of embalming their dead?

Perhaps the Ancient Egyptians were the only civilization to believe in an eternal life. Perhaps others civilizations attempted their own acts of mummification, but their climate could not preserve the dead as well as the sands and heat of the Egyptian desert.  In the end, the Ancient Egytians are recognized as the masters of mummification; however, the Ancient Incas, believe it or not, also participated in the art of mummification. It is said that an ancient tribe from northern Chile, known as the Chinchoros, began embalming their dead around 5000 B.C. The Chinchoros would disassemble their dead in order to treat them for preservation. Afterwards, the corpse was reassembled and supports were added along the arms and legs. Thus, the deceased would appear whole again. Instead of covering their dead in fabric, like the Egyptians, the Chinchoros coated their deceased in clay. However, the dead were still embellished in elaborate moldings and buried with offerings, such as food and clothing.

Mummification in South America continued on into the time of the Incan Empire. Many believe that the dry climate and high salt content of the Andes helped in the preservation of so many mummies. Just like Egyptian mummies, the dry air would prevent bacteria growth and evidently decay. Unlike the Egyptians, who only embalmed their elite (or those who had enough coin), historians believe that the Incas mummified everyone. I wonder if the Incas, like the Egyptians, were trying to obtain eternal life through mummification? I would guess that their reason behind perserving their dead are also religiously linked. In the end, it was religion that eliminated the process of mummification throughout the South America. In the end, the spread of Christianity to Egypt and South America stopped the thousand year old process. Honestly, I think it is exceedingly fascinating that human beings were able to construct a process to preserve their dead for thousands of years. Not to mention that this process was conducted with far less resources and natural knowledge of the environment. It is also interesting that two cultures that never crossed paths were able to find two different way of embalming their dead. In the end, mummies have been found on almost every continent. Sometimes the dead were initially embalmed, and sometimes, it was an act of nature; nevertheless, through mummies we are able to catch a glimpse into the past.

I recieved my information from Nova; therefore, for further information go to http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/peru/mummies/mworld2.html

What! Archaeology….a Science?

Woah! Archaeology is a science? I may need to dig a little deeper into the background of Archaeology before I will fully admit that Archaeology is indeed a science. As an engineering student, I consider Chemistry, Physics, Thermodynamics, and other mutual topics to be science.  I supppose archaeology could be considered a “light” science, where Physics and Dynmaics are considered “hard” sciences.  In addition, the process taken to complete an archaological dig follows similar guidlines to those required for a research essay, including collecting data, providing a hypothesis, and analyzing the datat through testing. By the end of the semester, perhaps Professor Watrall will have found a way to thoroughly convince me of my error.  Nevertheless, I have been trying to take this class for over a year now; for I am a major culture and history nerd.  Earlier this week, I read an online article relating to King Richard III of England instead of my Material Science textbook.

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to posses the resources to travel abroad. While in Ireland, my family and I visited a World Heritage Site known as Newgrange.  To my amazement, I learned that Newgrange is older than the famed Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza (roughly 3,200 B.C).; unfortunately, this great monument has yet to recieve the popularity and praise of the other two historical structures.

The front end of Newgrange

The front face of Newgrange. The entry way can be seen between the two vertical slabs of dark rock.

Newgrange, a mound of rock and dirt, represents one of dozens of passage tombs scattered along the River Boyne.  The three largest, Knowth, Dowth, and Newgrange, are the only ones open to the public. The Stone Age farming community of Eastern Ireland may not have possessed the engineering and architecture skills of the ancient Egyptians; however, they did now a great deal about mathematics and the astrological workings of our solar system. Like the Mayans and other ancient civilizations, the Irish recognized something unique about the summer and winter solstices. The roof-box, an opening above the main enterance to the tombs, is situated so that the morning rays of a winter solstice are abel to penetrate the narrow passage.  To continue, the passage inside Newgrange was constructed on an uphill slant.  This angle is so perfect that only the sun of a winter solstice can make its way to the floor of the inner chamber. This eerie effect only lasts for approximately 15 minutes, but it is the logistic of this concept that makes this site so fascinating. Without the use of a compass, protractor, or any other engineering/mathematical device, these Irishmen were able to construct something truely amazing. With this knowledge, I am looking forward to learning the captivating discoveries of Archaeology. Who knows, Professor Watrall may yet still convince me of Anthropology’s scientific significance!