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Silbury Hill, and other archaeological news

4 February 2010

Gazette and Herald, February 2nd … letters that were archived over 200 years ago seem to suggest Silbury Hill may originally have been constructed around a huge pillar – or tree trunk. Letters written in 1776 and stored in the British Library describe a 40 foot pole which once stood at the centre of the hill – when it was much smaller, little more than a large mound. When the hill was built up to its present size the tree trunk was buried in situ as on separate excavations a long cavity was found or fragments of oak timber within a cavity. The tree had rotted away leaving a hole where it had once been.

www.time.com January 2010 … has a report on archaeology in Jerusalem. It seems the friction between Finkelstein and Eilat Mazar also has a political dimension and is not just about dating the archaeology (using different C14 laboratories in order to support respective chronological positions). Eilat Mazar works under the umbrella of a settler organisation called Elad and takes a fundamentalist view of Biblical history – and interprets accordingly. The object at the moment is to find the city of David and she thinks it is at the Arab village of Silwan on the side of the Mount of Olives. It was here that Charles Warren, in the 19th century, uncovered a shaft leading to an underground stream and hypothesised that he had found the Pool of Siloam, the water supply for Jerusalem. Finkelstein accuses Elad of mixing faith with archaeology but Mazar says ‘our working theory is that David’s palace is down there’.

www.telegraph.co.uk January 19th …. Tartessos, closely associated with the Phoenicians, is thought to have thrived between the 11th and 7th centuries BC. The city has never been found but an area of marshland appears to show large circular and rectangular forms beneath the top soil. Archaeologists have never looked at this region before as it was thought it lay under water – higher sea levels having prevailed in the past. Now, it is thought, in the early second millenium BC, sea levels might have been substantially lower for a town to have grown up and flourished – before being submerged once again in the middle to late first millennium BC (or even in the late Roman era). 

Times Online January 25th … scientists claim to have discovered evidence of surgery in the Early Neolithic era. It comes from a tomb 40 miles south of Paris and dated to the 4th millennium BC. The patient appears to have been anaesthetised (using herbs) and the cut was clean and the wound treated. This means a reassessment of the history of surgery as there is also evidence of Neolithic amputations in Germany and the Czech republic too. It is well known, but generally little is made of it, that they were capable of performing trephinations, cutting through the skull – but amputations were generally thought beyond Neolithic skill levels.

Al Ahram Weekly January 2010 … David O’Connor’s book, Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris, published by the University of Cairo Press: 2009 is subject of a review in Egypt’s leading daily newspaper. The book is of interest to revisionists as some of them have questioned Petrie’s OK dating of finds at Abydos. It remained a centre of cult long after the OK, and this is probably why so many revisionists have homed in on the city as it was occupied for a very long period of time. Abydos houses the tombs and mortuary cult enclosures of the First Dynasty pharaohs and was the centre of the cult of Osiris – which remained in vogue for a very long period and later persisted as a central focus of Egyptian popular myth. The debate over its archaeology is what O’Connor addresses and because of that this book will be important for a long time to come.

Science News January 29th … a skeleton from a tomb, one of a group of 200 at a 2000 year old cemetary in western Mongolia near China’s northern border, was according to DNA analysis of European or western Asian extraction. He also probably held an important position in what was Mongolia’s Xiongnu Empire which embraced a vast territory between 209BC and AD93. It was composed of ethnically mixed nomad tribes and controlled the Asian Silk Road. 

The Guardian January 3rd … a new translation of the Sumerian/ Babylonian flood story is said to describe Noah’s Ark as round – a giant circular reed raft. Although there are plenty of clay tablets found telling of the flood tale this is the first one to actually describe the vessel’s shape. A self educated Londoner who was based in Iraq with the RAF during 1945-8 (after the war) brought it home as a souvenir and when he died recently his son found the tablet in the attic and sent it to the British Museum. The description is logical, the journalist claims, as all the Ark had to do was float in the rising waters – but I’m sure some people will disagree. The shape does actually resemble coracles made from plaited palm fibres and bitumen once common in the region.

Science Daily December 9th … early humans were eating wild grains and tubers at least 100,000 years ago. Wild Sorghum, the ancestor of the most widespread grain in sub-Sahara Africa and used to make flour, bread, porridge and beer in the modern world, along with legumes, wild oranges and root vegetables were found in a cave in Mozambique by Canadian archaeologist Julio Mercader. Hence, the diverse diet of humans goes back a very long way – it is just a matter of finding evidence of it beyond the Holocene/ Pleistocene boundary.

www.asiannews.net January 14th … the Vientiane Times reports on the latest discovery of city pillars that appear to have been buried. Over 190 pillars were dug up in 2007 and now archaeologists have found more of them. They go back to the reign of Phothsarath who in 1527AD had a new city and temple built at Vientiane and pillars were set up at the same time it would seem. Why so many painted columns of stone were buried deep in the ground is a mystery but presumably they were originally set out on the ground. According to folklore people held ceremonies around village or district pillars when setting up new communities – they appear to symbolise boundaries and mark out territory. At times of drought and famine, or even outbreaks of epidemic disease, the stones were resanctified, or blessed, with the purpose of warding off evil. More stones were added to the village pillars so that it became a central feature of the community over time – but its origins are lost.


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