Egypt in America?

If you were a dead president, what kind of monument would you want made for you? A few presidents have their faces carved into Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota of all places. Kennedy has the ever-burning torch at Arlington. Roosevelt and Lincoln have memorial buildings. Our founding father George Washington however, has an obelisk, among many others. Why of all these options was an obelisk chosen to memorialize our greatest president?

WAMO_Aerial

The name obelisk actually is a Greek term, which has stuck with the structure since our boy Herodotus dubbed it so when he started writing about ancient Egypt. It is believed that obelisks in egyptian times were a representation of a ray of sun descending from Ra, the egyptian sun-god. It is in essence an elevated pyramid, the pyramid structure being the just the top stone.

Obelisks were common throughout ancient Egypt usually in pairs at the entrance of a complex or structure. The romans really liked them and apparently littered them throughout Rome because of how nice they look, not for any significant purpose as in Egypt.

What I found interesting after researching a bit is that the obelisks in Egypt and Rome and elsewhere in the world were all less than 200 feet high. The Washington monument is 555 feet tall, and a little over 55 feet square at the base. It is massive in comparison with those found in antiquity, and as we learned in today’s lecture, it also happens to be taller than Khufu’s pyramid.

This brings up many questions for me, first of all why an Obelisk? My sources (wikipedia, national park service) say that it is to mimic the timelessness of the great ancient civilizations. Those of you who are conspiracy inclined may also draw a connection between George being a freemason and the use of the pyramid as their symbol. It is also the highest point in Washington D.C. to this today which is also intentional as no man in american history has been as influential.

Tying this all back to Egypt brings up a few more points. One being that egyptian obelisks, as I know them, were usually carved from one solid piece of stone much like the sphinx, then transported to their final site. The Washington monument would have been near impossible to create in this manner and is in fact constructed of individual bricks. Score one for the egyptians.

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Last interesting point for me are the inscriptions at the top of the Washington monument, on the eastern sunrise facing side, which say in latin “Laus Deo.”

I’ll let you check out the source article to figure out what it means. Its short and pretty interesting.

 

http://www.nps.gov/wamo/historyculture/index.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obelisk

Sicilian Mummies!

I am a Biological Anthropology major, and as a requirement we have to take ANP 203 – Introduction to Archaeology. What we learned in the first week or so of this class, ANP 264, was review of ANP 203. I am very happy I took ANP 203 first because it really allows me to appreciate the hard work that went into making all of these remarkable discoveries. Speaking of discoveries, I love to read National Geographic Magazine for their wide array of captivating articles. With all of this talk about Ancient Egypt, I can’t stop thinking about mummies! I came across an article about Sicilian mummies that were taken from crypts and churches in Italy.

Archaeology is about understanding past cultures through analyzing their material remains. The Sicilian Mummy Project has been going on for 5 years now, and a recent discovery has allowed archaeologists to understand this culture in a different way. The Sicilians mummified their dead by letting them sit and drain of bodily fluids while surrounded by leaves and straw to maintain the shape of the body and keep down the smell. After all of the fluids had drained, they would wash the corpse in vinegar and then dress and display them. Due to their process of mummification, modern scientists were able to analyze the gastrointestinal systems of the mummies to draw conclusions about how they lived and died.

These bodies were mummified and placed in crypts because during their lives they were wealthy and/or members of the clergy. By analyzing their stomach contents, these people were blessed with a diet of meat, fish, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. This diet reflects their social status, but diseases were found that explained a lot about the mummies’ lives. A whip worm infection tells us that although these people were well-to-do, their lives involved interaction with the poor. One of the mummies actually turned out to have cancer, but was using medicinal plants not from the region to treat it. This is a remarkable finding because it shows they had and used knowledge from beyond their geographical limitations.

The Sicilian view of death has changed significantly over the centuries ranging from embracing death to ignoring it completely. The World Wars caused the people of this region viewed death as a negative event and treated their dead as such. As a result of the Sicilian Mummification Project, they began to remember that death is a part of life and it is not taboo. Just as centuries ago when mummification was a common practice in Sicily, these people are beginning to acknowledge the relationship between the living and dead once again.

Hope you enjoyed my post!

Source – http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130128-sicilian-mummies-archeology-italy/

A Struggle to Uncover the Past Today

I don’t think people outside the anthropology community really understand how today’s technologies and structures are obstacles anthropologists and archaeologists now need to overcome in order to uncover the past. With ancient cities becoming growing and bustling cities full of millions of people like Rome, Cairo, and Mexico City, it becomes difficult to excavate as carefully as an archaeologist would prefer to in these infamous antique cities. An article from the New York Times discussed a recent discovery of a female skeleton of possible noble Aztec descent in the heart of the vast city of Mexico city led by archaeologist Raul Barrera and his team. The site was the remains of an ancient Aztec temple, Templo Mayor, that had been decimated by the Spanish and replaced with their new empire and from then it has transformed into Mexico City today.

Archaeologists have been uncovering the site with a few issues. “To get there, Mr. Barrera’s team must first navigate the electricity lines and water mains that are the guts of the modern city and then travel down through a colonial layer, which yields its own set of artifacts,” these are the obstacles today’s archaeologists have to overcome when it comes to excavating the once ancient cities. With all of the limited access the point the article makes is, “Mexico City’s archaeologists cannot dig anywhere they please,” which puts a damper on the possibilities that lie under bustling cities. Even with the limitations, the discoveries found on this site like the noble female skeleton, remains of ball court, and a small plaza. Sadly the ball court is under a Spanish cathedral and street.

The site of Templo Mayor in the heart of Mexico City

The site of Templo Mayor in the heart of Mexico City

This also makes the whole field of archaeology more interesting to me. How do archaeologists deal with this? And what does it take to excavate in cities like Mexico City and still obtaining all the information from the site? Being an archaeologist today is not like how it was a few centuries ago with all the open land and smaller population, it would make it more possible to excavate a site without the technologies and buildings that sprawl majority of the land on the planet. Being an Anthropology major myself, I find this fascinating and also a little intimidating because if I want to pursue a career as an archaeologist, this will be what I will have to deal with when excavating sites in large cities like Mexico City in the future.

source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/03/world/americas/mexico-citys-aztec-past-keeps-emerging-in-the-present.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Time, Knowledge, and the Pursuit of Truth

In archeological and scientific pursuits, one crucial question is constant, whether or not we realize the question exists. The question is this: what is truth? What is observable, what is able to be assumed, and what is impossible to know for certain? This question is at the crux of the study of the physical world, and if it is not properly answered, we can be mislead and misinformed all too easily.

It would seem that we could assume that truth is what we observe to be true. If we see that two pieces of broken pottery fit together with no gaps, we can safely say that those two fragments came from the same pottery piece. Our own logical intuition gives us the ability to reason, from which we can deduce this fact.

Care must be taken, however, as observation can only go so far. The senses can be fooled, for instance, by sleight of hand. In these situations, if we don’t see through the illusion, we may form a false truth. Our main defense against this is the same logical intuition that allows us to deduce truth in the first place. As stated so well by the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the true.” Thus, we must define the impossible before defining truth. But this is a paradox – the definition of the impossible is in reality the assignment of truth to a negative.

If truth is impossible to know by observation, then how can we know anything about the ancient world, or even our world today? Put simply, we define the improbable as the impossible. Perhaps the pyramids were built merely as tourist attractions, and the Pharaohs entombed within were actually trapped accidentally and buried during their construction. Despite the possibility, our logic tells us that it is so unlikely that it becomes essentially impossible. We make these kinds of assumptions constantly both in our daily lives as well as in our scientific endeavors. Even though we can’t actually define it as truth, we can assume.

One more factor needs to be addressed, however, in terms of truth: faith. We can’t define truth by ourselves, but we need truth to have something on which to base both our lives and our research. All we hold true, whether completely or in part, must have some basis in some form of faith. Each discovery and observation must agree with this, and if not, we need to consider why it doesn’t fit, and either reconsider our faith or reject the observation. Whatever we place our faith in must agree with our observations; if not, we are lying to ourselves.

Archaeology, then, in light of these thoughts, is much more than just a science, but rather it becomes a means by which we can affirm our most core beliefs. I encourage everyone to consider briefly what you believe and why you believe it to be true. Throughout the class, look at not the assumptions, but the facts. Use your intellect. Reason. Do the facts confirm what you believe?

If you seek the truth, you will find it.

The Wonder of Archaeology

I’m not an archaeology major, I’m taking this class as an elective. But already I have a greater respect for the study. That isn’t to say that I didn’t respect it before, but now I feel like I’ve been given a greater understanding of it. Anyway, the primary point I want to make is how much we don’t know, and archaeology is so great in that it let’s us uncover what we haven’t discovered before. Obvious, I know, but I feel that was really driven home today in the lecture about the pyramids.

Basically when you think of Egypt, you think the pyramids. From there you’ll probably expand to the pharoahs, cities and other landmarks, but the first thing you generally think of is the Great Pyramids. This makes quite a bit of sense, as three massive stone structures jutting out of the sand is very attention grabbing. But, as we saw today, that’s not all there is on the Giza Plateau. In addition to the Pyramids, there’s also the queen’s pyramids, the boat graves, the causeways, the funerary temples, the two cemeteries, the Sphinx, the valley temples, and more. Just on the Giza Plateau, there is so much more than you see at first glance. Without archaeology many of these sites and their artifacts would remain undiscovered and unanalyzed and we’d be deprived of the knowledge of Ancient Egypt these things provide.

When I think of how much more there was to be discovered besides the Pyramids at the Plateau, I expand the focus a little bit and think of how much hasn’t been discovered in the rest of Egypt, or even the world. Perhaps something that was as significant to the knowledge of Ancient Egypt as the discovery of King Tut. It’s also amazing to think about, that there could possibly be another “King Tut” somewhere that hasn’t been discovered yet that could intensify the modern world’s knowledge of the Mayans or perhaps the Babylonians.

It’s also interesting to think that in this day and age there’s still much to discover. We generally think of our society as so much more technologically advanced than we were in the past, and because of that there arent many places that are considered unexplored or undiscovered. However, though we aren’t finding a new King Tut everyday, there are still archaelogical discoveries being made. I just think it’s so interesting that we as a species have been here for quite a bit of time, and yet we’re still finding out new things.

 

Class Intro

I decided to take this class because my friend recommended it to me. She signed up, because she was interested in learning more, and encouraged me to enroll too.The romanticism of this science has always intrigued me and drawn me in. As soon as my friend told me about this class and what it actually was, I knew I had to follow her lead and go for it. Learning more about this fantasy world was going to be fun. However, I honestly had no idea what I was really getting into. Little did I know that everything I believed about Archaeology was about to be challenged and changed. Even though I was way off in my expectations of this new world I am entering, I want to learn more about it; and less about the myths I have always believed.

To me, archaeology was exactly what everyone thought it was before learning something truthful about it. I was influenced by the media and fantasy it brought to this study. Archaeology was something exotic and exciting. It was all about treasure hunting and discovering secret truths. Archaeology was a sort of fantasy profession that I think had an appeal to anyone who saw anything about it in the media (whether fictional or accurate).

That being said, the connection between archaeology and anthropology was surprising at first. Anthropology was a boring science and Archaeology was an exciting fantasy. I always thought of anthropology as more of a study of people and cultures through observation. Archaeology was the study of things drug up from the earth. Of course, now I know that my view of archaeology is wrong and that it is basically the same thing as anthropology. Of course, with hindsight being 20-20, I feel foolish for not noticing this before. However, before this class I did not know much about anthropology either. The extent of my knowledge came from watching the television show Bones, which only covers a tiny portion of this science.

I’m sure most people know this show somewhat. The main character is a forensic anthropologist. She uses human remains to identify who they belong to, along with several other facts about the person and their environment. This is what I now understand as Bio-Archaeology. It helped me make the connection between Anthropology and Archaeology.

This class is going to be interesting. I am excited to learn more about the truths of Archaeology along with the truths of some of the world’s most interesting and mysterious places.

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!

 

Pyramids Lecture 2/7

Today’s lecture was one that I and others probably found quite interesting due to the amount of history there is within the Giza Pyramids in which we learned about today. These are the pyramids that us as kids would also see when we talked about this in our childhood class days. Now that we are able to learn about them in much greater detail they become a lot more interesting to us due to the fact that we now can grasp how much work and dedication it took for these slaves and workers to complete these monuments for there Kings.

After learning about the shire size and weight of each block it took to build these monuments shows the amount of strength and determination this culture had to become one of the most remembered cultures in the world. Slaves and workers would not work in the best conditions and for sometimes on one pyramid for over 25 years. Because it took so long for them to build these man made mountains sometimes the king would pass away before it was finished and if so the construction stopped because the body would have to be buried immediately after. The fact that construction stops after the ruler is dead is surprising to me because I would think with all the work they have put in to the structure they might as well finish it to make it look good but it seems to tell me that these slaves were happy to get out of the heat and hard work conditions for awhile and maybe they never liked the ruler in the first place.

The engineering techniques used in building these man made mountains is also remarkable given the time period in which they were built. When shown the blueprints of the pyramids it amazed me to see the tunnels and chambers built on the inside and how they were constructed to withstand a great amount of force for so many years. One pyramid that sticks out to me from the lecture and movie is the bent pyramid. The way the pyramid was built on a faulty foundation and tried to be salvage by quick thinking and measurements was a game changer for future reference for after that they were able to find that perfect angle as to which the pyramid would stand tall and give off the perfect glimmer when the sun was shining on it.

Another important part to the lecture today to me was the part about the Necropolis in the Giza Plateau. It amazed me as to how much detail and work was put into all the features around the pyramids and not just the single monument itself. The amount of talent they had at shaping stones and building artifacts out of things we would never consider a building material now. This lecture just went on to show me that this culture was powerful and sophisticated in there own ways.