Bonus Blog – Stonehenge

In my opinion, we covered a lot of interesting things in class. But the discovery that stands out the most to me is Stonehenge. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of the few sites that I had heard about before and was really interested in, but it was definitely my favorite to learn about throughout the duration of the course.

One thing that I enjoyed about Stonehenge is that it is surrounded by mystery. There are many different opinions on who built it. Was it Merlin? The Devil? Romans? There are many different theories about the creator of such an impressive site. But it has never been proven so we still don’t know the answer, and perhaps we never will.

Not only is it a mystery of who built the site, but why was the site built? There are theories that it was a place for pilgrimage, a temple for a Roman God, and a significant astronomical grounds, to name a few. But even this is still unclear.

Another aspect of Stonehenge that I enjoyed learning about was how it was split up into three different phases during the building process. There were even sub-phases in some of them. This goes to show that the builders put a lot of time and thought into the site and planned accordingly.

What I didn’t know about Stonehenge before this class is that it isn’t just the standing rock fixtures that pop into everyone’s mind, but it in fact encompasses more. It includes graves and mounds and much more land than you may think at first.

An important lesson that we can take away from Stonehenge is how, sometimes, even archaeologists can’t uncover the mysteries of our past because there isn’t enough evidence. It shows that there are still discoveries left to be made and that, even after all this time, sometimes you may never know.

It’s interesting to think about how Stonehenge is such a well-known structure, and yet, in all actuality, much remains to be known about the reason for its existence. Perhaps this is why it is such a draw, because of the mystery and unknown elements of the site. Perhaps people wouldn’t be as interested if they found out what it was actually made for.

I’ve learned so much about archaeology since taking this class, and it’s been cool to see that archaeologists are still uncovering many sites to this day, and re-visiting old sites.

Robbing Syria of Its History

For my archaeological discovery project, I examined the ancient city of Palmyra, which was in present day Syria. While I was researching, I came across several articles and web pages that commented on the large role that Syria has played in archaeology, and how there is still much to be uncovered and examined in the country.
For my blog post, I decided I would do some more research regarding Syria and see what I could find. I stumbled upon an article written only a few weeks ago from the New York Times entitled “Grave Robbers and War Steal Syria’s History.”
The article focuses mainly on Ebla, a popular archaeological site in Syria of an ancient ruin that was first settled over 5,000 years ago. Discoveries from Ebla have been of great importance and insight into the early Syrian civilization. Ebla is, generally speaking, a mound that rises off the Idlib plain. Over time it became an enclosed city where people worshipped many gods and traded with many other cities in Mesopotamia. It first fell in 2200 B.C., was revived after several hundred years and then finished for good shortly after.
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Syria today is in a time of war, and has been since 2011. Due to Ebla’s mound-like shape, it offers a nice vantage point for people to spot military planes and other military units. Therefore, Ebla is currently being occupied and disrupted. However, individuals such as Ali Shibleh—described as a fighter opposed to President Bashar al-Assad in the article— have stationed themselves on top of the mound to report the presence of jets that have been dropping bombs on cities and towns in the area.
What these people are trying to do is protect the archaeological site. The problem with the war is that with the country in such chaos, the site has been in a sort of “up-for-grabs” state. Thieves are at large trying to find artifacts that they can make a profit with on the black market. Human bones are being taken from the site and destroyed due to their already fragile state.
Ebla is a tempting spot for these thieves because of the large gravesite that is present there, which often means a place for jewelry and other objects associated with offerings or possessions.
However, this is not what Ebla was originally known for. It has acquired most of its fame from the excavation of Paolo Matthiae, who discovered the city-state’s archive, holding over 16,000 tablets on stone. Insights from these stones included information on the administration, trade, theology, and life of Ebla.
Much of the site was left undisturbed so that it could be properly excavated at a future time. In light of the war however, many un-scientific excavations have been taking place and artifacts and even dirt have been stolen from the site. The article says that many efforts have been made to stop the Syrian military from occupying ancient fortresses and historic places, but it is difficult to enforce. Unfortunately, this means that potential information is being lost and we may not have the chance to uncover more about Syrian history in this particular location.
This article made me realize how unfortunate it is that, since total excavations can take such a long time, it is very possible that they will be interrupted by current destructive events.

Here is a link to the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/world/middleeast/syrian-war-devastates-ancient-sites.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The Jesus Tomb Controversy

With Easter right around the corner, I decided to do my blog post on the relationship between archaeological findings and Jesus’ tomb. As a Christian the topic intrigues me, however controversial it may be. I can vaguely remember hearing in the past about how someone had claimed to have found Jesus’ burial tomb, but today I decided to investigate for myself.

I came across an article discussing the controversy of a finding made by a team led by Simcha Jacobvici. The team was working in Jerusalem, examining a burial tomb that dated back to the time of Jesus. They did not physically go into the site, instead they used a small camera attached to a robotic arm. This way they could move the camera about the tomb without disrupting the environment.

They found two key elements during their excavation. One was an engraving on an ossuary (a container to hold bones of the dead), and the other was an inscription on another nearby ossuary. The first engraving, shown below, is of what Jacobvici interprets to be a fish spewing a person out of its mouth. Jacobvici explains that this is a depiction of Jonah and the whale – which some believe symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus.

fish

The inscription that they found on the other ossuary was written in Greek. It said “Jehovah (God), rise up, rise up” which again could refer to Jesus’ resurrection. What else is interesting about these two elements is that the site in which they are found is a mere 200 feet away from the so-called “Jesus Family Tomb.” This site is where some scholars believe that Jesus’ family was buried. Could there be a relationship?

Perhaps not. Many scholars are skeptical about Jacobvici’s findings and their meaning. They argue that the “fish” is not even a fish at all. It could be interpreted many other ways. One scholar suggests that instead it is a vase, seeing as it appears to have handles, an element that fish do not possess.

This is where archaeology becomes difficult. Jacobvici’s team certainly found something, but what significance does it really have? How can we be sure that there is a link between the findings and Jesus? Is it true that, as religious studies professor Mark Goodacre says in the article, Jacobvici is simply seeing things that aren’t there? Perhaps he is influenced by his hope for there to be a connection.

I myself am skeptical of the findings. It seems to be a stretch to assume that the picture really is of Jonah and the whale and that the inscription refers to the resurrection. I think we must be very hesitant when we are researching topics that we have personal desires towards.

If you want to check out the links for yourself, clink on the links below.

http://abcn.ws/109e2Ol

http://fxn.ws/xCJrYh

Were the pyramidiots onto something?

In class recently we had a discussion about the “pyramidiots.” These people were characterized by their wacky theories about the origin, nature, and purpose of the pyramids. We talked about John Taylor, Charles Piazzi Smyth, Ignatius Donnelly, and Plato. Each pyramidiot had their own restrictions with the traditional explanation for the pyramids, which we touched on briefly in class.
I did some research on this subject and came across a page addressing these alternative explanations as pyramidology. Pyramidology is defined as pseudoscientific speculation regarding pyramids. Scientists regard the ideas as pseudoscience because they are not rooted in any particular scientific method. There are four different types of pyramidology: metrological, numerological, “pyramid power” and pseudoarchaeological.
Metrological pyramidology contains theories regarding the construction of the pyramids. Numerological contains theories that find worth and meaning in the measurements of the Great Pyramid. Pyramid power deals with the idea that the pyramid is a supernatural geometric shape. Lastly, pseudoarchaeological theories deal with who actually built the pyramids and for what purpose.
Although these theorists were undoubtedly laughed at for their far-fetched ideas, I find it interesting how they questioned what many assume to be true. I also appreciated that we talked about it in class. In many of my classes I’m simply told what is true, what is not, and to learn that for the test. I like when ideas can be up for interpretation.
The whole idea of the pyramidiots reminded me of the Intro to Philosophy course that I am currently taking. The whole class is basically going over concepts and picking them apart. We try to look at a concept or issue from multiple angles and extract how we feel about the whole situation.
The reason I bring this up is because some philosophers present points that, upon reading them, I immediately dismiss. But then when we talk about them in class, I begin to question why exactly I believe what I believe. Do I have proof? Where did I learn this information?
Perhaps we should approach archaeological findings this way as well. I am not saying that the pyramidiots are correct, or that they are based on any solid facts, but I do think that it is important that we consider alternative hypotheses and then make our own judgements based on the arguments. I believe that there are indisputable facts about the pyramids for sure, but that overall we should keep an open mind when talking about theories in archaeology. I thought that this idea also tied into what we discussed in class today about the moundbuilders because it is unclear of their exact origin, all we can really be sure of is the facts.

Pompeii “Wall Posts”

I initially took this archaeology course to fulfill a social science requirement. My major is Creative Advertising, so how could Archaeology possibly parallel to that? I didn’t expect it to, but today I came across an article entitled “Pompeii ‘Wall Posts’ Reveal Ancient Social Networks.” The social network portion caught my eye, and I proceeded to investigate. Here is a link to check out the article by Stephanie Pappas : http://bit.ly/11mJo7S

The article goes on to talk about an analysis of “wall posts”, or graffiti that was found on various physical walls in Pompeii. It is said that a large portion of the writings were for political campaigns. Essentially, they were advertisements in raw form. Archaeologists studied the various placements of these campaigns to see where the majority of the ads were. Contrary to what I expected, most of the ads were written on the walls of rich houses, as opposed to more heavily trafficked areas. Archaeologists claim that these more prestigious houses were probably not easy to get to, therefore, advertisers would have had to receive permission from the homeowners. This mimics the idea of social networking today; needing to have someone “accept” your friend request for you to be able to write on their “wall.”

I particularly enjoyed this article, mostly because it was such a direct connection between advertising and archaeology. When I used to think of archaeology, I would think about people using little shovels to dig up pots and dinosaur bones (something Professor Watrall was quick to refute). Now, I realize that archaeology encompasses much more than that. They study artifacts on all scales, from a piece of a broken pot, to ancient ruins of cities and civilizations. They use these artifacts to find out more about human society. The archaeologists from the article used the physical evidence of the graffiti to infer more about the way in which the society advertised. It is so cool to me that even such early traces of advertising can be discovered through archaeology.

This article made me think about today’s advertising and how vastly different it is. For instance, a medium of increasing popularity is the internet. Ads from the internet certainly can’t be preserved in the same way that the walls of a city could be. It makes me wonder, will archaeologists of the future somehow investigate computers/social media as ways to find out more about our society? One can certainly argue that a lot of our society today is involved in non-tangible things, such as the content of our computers and phones. I wonder what the future of archaeology will look like based on the added influence of technology in our society today.