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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 8:55pm | IP Logged
Ancient Tsunami Ravaged Three Continents
Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
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Dec. 4, 2006 — A volcano avalanche in Sicily thousands of years ago caused a gigantic tsunami, which engulfed the Mediterranean Sea and ravaged the coastline of three continents in less than four hours, according to geological evidence and computer simulations.

In a study entitled "The Lost Tsunami," published in the current issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Maria Teresa Pareschi and colleagues at Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology suggest that the tsunami might also have caused the mysterious abandonment of a Neolithic village along the coast of present-day Israel.

Pareschi modeled the collapse of the eastern flanks of Mount Etna in the early Holocene (nearly 8,000 years ago), drawing a scenario in which six cubic miles of rock crashed into the water at a speed of 224 miles per hour.
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According to the simulation, waves splashed tremendously high near the landslide area and traveled as far as the coasts of Southern Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor.

"It is hard to find on-shore evidence of such a catastrophic event because since then the sea level has increased by about 10 meters (33 feet). But we found a wealth of submarine evidence across the floor of the Ionian Sea and the Sirte Abyssal Plains in Africa," Pareschi told Discovery News.

Indeed, the simulation showed that pressure from the ancient tsunami liquefied thick layers of soft

marine sediments across the Ionian seafloor and triggered a far-reaching underwater mudslide.

Holecene deposits in the Ionian Sea and the Gulf of Sirte in the form of so-called homogenite and megaturbidite deposits — both related to tsunami dynamics — would confirm the rapid and devastating event.


"Along the Calabrian coastline, the tsunami run-up wave reached heights of up to 40 meters (131 feet). The coasts of Greece and Libya were impacted by waves up to 13 meters (43 feet) high, while the coast of Egypt, Syria and Israel were inundated by two- to four-meter (six- to 13-foot) high waves," Pareschi said.

She believes that it is possible that the now submerged Neolithic village of Atlit-Yam in Israel was abandoned because of the Etna tsunami impact.

The village shows evidence of a sudden evacuation, including 6,000 fish that had been gutted and stored for future consumption and trade but then left to rot.
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Europe's top expert on volcano-generated tsunamis, geophysicist Stefano Tinti of Bologna University, described the study as interesting and credible, adding that the ancient event holds lessons for present-day dangers.

"Although there is absolutely no immediate risk for collapses similar to the one described by Pareschi, we should not forget the danger of island volcanoes," Tinto told Discovery News. "It is important to have constant monitoring and a tsunami warning system in the entire Mediterranean area."

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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 8:57pm | IP Logged
Roman Emperor's Insignia Unearthed
Marta Falconi, Associated Press
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Dec. 4, 2006 — Archaeologists have unearthed what they say are the only existing imperial insignia belonging to Emperor Maxentius — precious objects that were buried to preserve them and keep them from enemies when he was defeated by his rival Constantine.

Excavation under Rome's Palatine Hill near the Colosseum turned up items including three lances and four javelins that experts said are striking for their completeness — digs usually turn up only fragments — and the fact that they are the only known artifacts of their kind.

Clementina Panella, the archaeologist who made the discovery, said the insignia were likely hidden by Maxentius' people in an attempt to preserve the emperor's memory after he was defeated by Constantine I in the 321 A.D. battle of the Milvian Bridge — a turning point for the history of the Roman empire which saw Constantine become the unchallenged ruler of the West.
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"Once he's lost, his objects could not continue to exist and, at the same time, could not fall in the hands of the enemy," she said Friday.

Some of the objects, which accompanied the emperor during his public appearances, are believed to be the base for the emperor's standards — rectangular or triangular flags, officials said.

An imperial scepter with a carved flower and a globe, and a number of glass spheres, believed to be a symbolic representation of the earth, also were discovered.

The discovery was announced Wednesday by Italy's Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli during a visit to New York.

The items, inside wooden boxes and wrapped in linen and silk, were found buried at a sanctuary last year and have since been restored and analyzed. The depth of the burial allows experts to date them to the early 4th century A.D., ministry officials said.

"These artifacts clearly belonged to the emperor, especially the scepter, which is very elaborated, it's not an item you would let someone else have," Panella said.

"As far as we know, there are no similar findings," said Angelo Bottini, the state's top official for archaeology in Rome. "Similar representations are only on coins and paintings, but we never saw them for real," he said. Bottini added that the artifacts will be shown to the public in February.
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Darius A. Arya, an archaeologist and professor at the American Institute for Roman Culture, said the discovery was highly unusual.

"Here's something precious that represents the greatness of Maxentius, buried by his loyal people to save something that belonged to him," said Arya, who was not involved in the excavation. "All together, they represented the power of this particular emperor and you wouldn't want the enemy or the usurper to get a hold of it."

Excavations on the Palatine in recent decades have turned up wonders such as the house of Rome's first emperor, Augustus. Experts said that much has yet to be uncovered, hidden in underground passageways.

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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 8:59pm | IP Logged
Robot to Probe Cheops Pyramid
AFP
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Nov. 30, 2006 — A robot archaeologist is to be sent deep inside Egypt's largest pyramid in a bid to solve secrets revealed by a first foray more than four years ago, antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass said.

"The new robot will be sent down very narrow passages in the so-called Queen's Chamber, where the first robot was sent in 2002," said Hawass, who heads Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Teams from Egypt and Singapore and a joint group from Britain and Hong Kong plan to insert the robot in February inside the Pyramid of Cheops at Giza, near to Cairo.
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Equipped with tiny cameras, the robot will be sent down the chamber's north and south passages in the hope of discovering what lies behind two inner walls — or doors — revealed during the first robotic expedition in September 2002.

At the time, the robot was sent into a northern shaft leading from the Queen's Chamber, only to be blocked about 65 yards from the chamber by "a stone wall or door" with copper handles.

It also revealed the existence of a similar obstruction the same distance down the south passage.

The robot drilled a tiny hole through this blockage that was large enough to insert a micro camera which showed a cavity filled with stones — itself closed on the far side by another wall or door.

Archaeologists have always hoped to find clues that might lead them to discover the tomb of Cheops himself. The pharaoh reigned more than 2,500 years before Christ, and it he was he who had the largest pyramid in Egypt built.
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Stonehenge Once a Healing Sanctuary?
Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
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Nov. 30, 2006 — Stonehenge might have been seen as a healing destination for ailing Neolithic and Bronze Age pilgrims, according to a new investigation into the megalithic monument.

Thought to have been built around 2700 B.C., the ring of standing stones has long puzzled scholars. Theories on its origins range from the possibility that it served as a mortuary to it being designed for human sacrifice or astronomy.

But according to Timothy Darvill, professor of archaeology at Bournemouth University in southern England, Stonehenge "was a sanctuary that served as an oracle and a place of pilgrimage for the sick."
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Darvill, who has detailed his findings in the book "Stonehenge: The Biography of a Landscape," suggests that the key to understanding Stonehenge lies in the Preseli Mountains in western Wales.

There he and colleague Geoffrey Wainwright located the quarry where the bluestones forming Stonehenge's inner circle were cut around 2500 B.C.

Weighing about 4 tons and standing between 6 and 9 feet tall, the blue-grey stones had to be transported 240 miles to the Stonehenge site in Wiltshire, England. According to Darvill, they were carried so far because they were regarded as holy.

"It was believed that the bluestones had many healing properties because in Preseli there are many sacred springs that are considered to have health-giving qualities," Darvill told Discovery News.

The belief that the stones held special power survived into the late 18th century, when many people went to Stonehenge to break off bits of rock as talismans.

Other evidence for his argument is found in the burial sites at Stonehenge, Darvill said.

"Amongst these burials, there seem to be a good proportion of people who show signs of being unwell — they would have walked with a limp or had broken bones and so on — just the sort of thing that in modern times pressures people to seek help from the Almighty," he explained.

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The deities worshipped at Stonehenge would have been the prehistoric equivalent of the Greek and Roman god of healing, Apollo, and his twin sister Artemis, says Darvill.

"Although (Apollo's) main sanctuary was at Delphi in Greece, it is widely believed that he left in the winter months to reside in the land of the Hyborians, usually taken to be Britain," Darvill said.

Raimund Karl, a senior lecturer in archaeology and heritage at the University of Wales, Bangor, found Darvill's view of Stonehenge as a major international prehistoric healing center "an interesting idea, which cannot be ruled out as a possibility."
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"However, I'm not convinced that healing properties were already ascribed to the stones at any time in prehistory and that there was a predominance of sick people buried there," said Karl. "Generally speaking, the health of people in prehistory was not particularly good."

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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 9:03pm | IP Logged
Maya Teased Ears Through Architecture
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
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Nov. 27, 2006 — Some ancient civilizations may have had an ear — not just an eye — for architecture. Two recent studies suggest early builders intentionally added unusual, and often psychedelic, sound effects to their structures.

Some of the most striking examples are at the 1,100-year-old Maya Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza, Mexico, according to David Lubman, who will present findings at the upcoming Fourth Joint Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and the Acoustical Society of Japan in Hawaii.

Lubman studied the court's acoustic elements, including two "whispering galleries" that allow visitors to hear whispers from 460 feet away.
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The feature could have once allowed a king or priest to address crowds of up to 3,000 outside without a microphone, Lubman explained.

The sound effects may have also held spiritual significance to players taking part in a bizarre game on the court.

In the Maya competition, players were fully padded and threw around a hard, rubber ball. They deflected the ball with their hips and a device at their chest known as a ball deflector.

The unusual acoustics on the court likely added an eerie ambiance to the play. The effect was perhaps appropriate, considering the competition's losers were sometimes sacrificed after a defeat, according to Lubman.

"Players on the ball court would hear voices but see no one," he explained. "This would seem supernatural to pre-scientific listeners... . According to the K'iche' Maya myth called the 'Popol Vuh,' the noises of the ball court play evoked the Lords of the Underworld."

A single ball striking the court would have echoed four times per second, Lubman found.

"I suspect that the flutter echoes sounded like the rattles of a menacing rattlesnake," he said. "(They) must have added an exciting aural element to the deadly drama of the ballgame."

The echoes were made possible by massive, smooth stone walls carefully positioned to reflect sound, similar to today's band shells. The walls at the court are 270 feet long and 28 feet tall

The whispering galleries work by pushing sound waves along the playing field. The effect is similar to that produced by speaking through a long tube, which conserves sound energy and reduces losses.

Historical Maya writings paint a fuller picture of the games once played on the court, telling of hallucinogenic drugs that may have further heightened the auditory illusions. Fragrant incense has also been unearthed at the site.

Chris Scarre, a professor of archaeology at Durham University in England, recently conducted a survey of acoustical features in ancient structures. He told Discovery News that Lubman's research is "convincing and exciting."
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In addition to Mesoamerican structures, Scarre said sound effects can be heard in Paleolithic caves and various European structures, including St. Paul's Cathedral in London, which has a whispering gallery.

"We do not know in detail how (the more ancient) sites were used, and the challenge is to discover a methodology that enables us to construct a convincing argument," Scarre said, adding that he hopes the research "brings sound, music and hearing back into archaeological discussion."

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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 9:06pm | IP Logged
Peruvian Tombs Offer Wealth of Artifacts
Martin Mejia, Associated Press
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Nov. 22, 2006 —Archaeologists said Tuesday they have unearthed 22 graves in northern Peru containing a trove of pre-Inca artifacts, including the first "tumi" ceremonial knives ever discovered by archaeologists rather than looted by thieves.

The find, which prominent archaeologist Walter Alva called "overwhelmingly important," means that scientists can study the tumi — Peru's national symbol — in its original setting to learn about the context in which it was used.

"This discovery comes as an important contribution to know the burial rites of the elite of this culture," said Alva, who was not involved in the dig. He confirmed that no tumi had before been unearthed by archaeologists.
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The tombs, more than 900 years old, were found next to a pyramid in the Pomac Forest Historical Sanctuary, 420 miles northwest of the capital, Lima. They are from the Sican culture, which flourished on Peru's northern desert coast from A.D. 750 to 1375.

The occupants "are clearly from the social elite and therefore some of them have gold objects, some of them have copper-gilded objects, but they are quite complex, well-endowed tombs," said Izumi Shimada.

Shimada, an anthropology professor at Southern Illinois University, began excavations at the site in July with Carlos Elera Arevalo, director of Peru's Sican National Museum. He said 10 tumi knives were found, including a 14-inch copper alloy tumi bearing the image of the Sican deity.

"The tumi has for many years been the symbol of Peru, and yet no decorated tumi has ever been found or documented scientifically," he told The Associated Press.



All known tumi knives were looted by grave robbers, Shimada said. Sican artifacts, he has argued in his research, were often misidentified as coming from the later Inca Empire because they were always seen out of context.

"It is the first time that such a tumi has been found in context, in a scientific manner, and therefore we will be able to speak a lot about the cultural significance of this object," he said.

Alva agreed that the discovery could help explain the history of these ceremonial weapons, with their figurine handles and arched-shaped blades.
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"Finally, archaeologists have the opportunity to show a scientifically excavated tomb where the context can be known for these objects," said Alva, who led one of Peru's most famous archaeological digs, which uncovered the Lords of Sipan tombs in the late 1980s.

The archaeologist gave President Alan Garcia a tour Tuesday of the Pomac Forest excavation site, where Shimada said his team has found 22 tombs at up to 33 feet below ground level.

"This is an extraordinary find," Garcia said.

One grave contains the remains of a woman about 25 years old buried with 120 miniature clay "crisoles" or crucibles, Shimada said, which he believes were made by each member of the funeral ceremony "as a sort of last offering to be placed in the burial chamber."

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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 9:08pm | IP Logged
Peruvian Tombs Offer Wealth of Artifacts
Martin Mejia, Associated Press
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Nov. 22, 2006 —Archaeologists said Tuesday they have unearthed 22 graves in northern Peru containing a trove of pre-Inca artifacts, including the first "tumi" ceremonial knives ever discovered by archaeologists rather than looted by thieves.

The find, which prominent archaeologist Walter Alva called "overwhelmingly important," means that scientists can study the tumi — Peru's national symbol — in its original setting to learn about the context in which it was used.

"This discovery comes as an important contribution to know the burial rites of the elite of this culture," said Alva, who was not involved in the dig. He confirmed that no tumi had before been unearthed by archaeologists.
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The tombs, more than 900 years old, were found next to a pyramid in the Pomac Forest Historical Sanctuary, 420 miles northwest of the capital, Lima. They are from the Sican culture, which flourished on Peru's northern desert coast from A.D. 750 to 1375.

The occupants "are clearly from the social elite and therefore some of them have gold objects, some of them have copper-gilded objects, but they are quite complex, well-endowed tombs," said Izumi Shimada.

Shimada, an anthropology professor at Southern Illinois University, began excavations at the site in July with Carlos Elera Arevalo, director of Peru's Sican National Museum. He said 10 tumi knives were found, including a 14-inch copper alloy tumi bearing the image of the Sican deity.

"The tumi has for many years been the symbol of Peru, and yet no decorated tumi has ever been found or documented scientifically," he told The Associated Press.

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