Wednesday, December 23, 2009

House Discovered in Nazareth from time of Jesus

Archaeologists have uncovered what may have been the home of one of Jesus' childhood neighbors. The humble dwelling is the first dating to the era of Jesus to be discovered in Nazareth, then a small colony of around 50 Jewish families where Jesus spent his boyhood.

Archaeologists and present day residents of Nazareth imagined Jesus as a youngster, playing with other children in the isolated village, not far from the spot where the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she would give birth to the boy.

Today the ornate Basilica of the Annunciation marks that spot, and Nazareth is the largest Arab city in northern Israel, with about 65,000 residents. Muslims now outnumber Christians two to one in the noisy, crowded city.

The archaeological find shows how different it was 2000 years ago. There were no Christians or Muslims, the Jewish Temple stood in Jerusalem and tiny Nazareth stood near a battleground between Roman rulers and Jewish guerrillas.

The Jews of Nazareth dug camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority. But the hamlet was so far off the beaten path that the caves were apparently not needed, she said.

Based on clay and chalk shards found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a "simple Jewish family," Alexandre added, as workers carefully chipped away at mud with small pickaxes to reveal stone walls. This may well have been a place that Jesus and his contemporaries were familiar with," Alexandre said. A young Jesus may have played around the house with his cousins and friends. "It's a logical suggestion."

The discovery so close to Christmas pleased local Christians.

"They say if the people do not speak, the stones will speak," said the Rev. Jack Karam of the nearby basilica.

Archaeologist Stephen Pfann, president of the University of The Holy Land, noted: "It's the only witness that we have from that area that shows us what the walls and floors were like inside Nazareth in the first century." Pfann was not involved in the dig.

Alexandre said workers uncovered the first signs of the dwelling last summer, but it became clear only this month that it was a structure from the days of Jesus. Alexandre's team found remains of a wall, a hideout, a courtyard and a water system that appeared to collect water from the roof and supply it to the home. The discovery was made when builders dug up the courtyard of a former convent to make room for a new Christian center, just yards from the Basilica.

It is not clear how big the dwelling is. Alexandre's team has uncovered about 900 square feet of the house, but it may have been for an extended family and could be much larger, she said. Archaeologists also found a camouflaged entry way into a grotto, which Alexandre believes was used by Jews to hide from Roman soldiers who were battling Jewish rebels for control of the area.

The grotto could have hidden around six people for a few hours, she said. However, Roman soldiers did not end up battling Nazareth's Jews because the hamlet had little strategic value. The Roman army was more interested in larger towns and strategic hilltop communities, she said.

Alexandre said similar camouflaged grottos were found in other ancient Jewish communities of the lower Galilee, such as the nearby biblical village of Cana, which did witness battles between Jews and Romans. Archaeologists also found clay and chalk vessels likely used by Galilean Jews of the time. The scientists concluded a Jewish family lived there because of the chalk, which Jews used to ensure the ritual purity of the food and water kept inside the vessels.

The shards also date back to the time of Jesus, which includes the late Hellenic, early Roman period that ranges from around 100 B.C. to the first century, Alexandre said. The determination was made by comparing the findings to shards and remains typical of that period found in other parts of the Galilee, she said.

The absence of any remains of glass vessels or imported products suggested the people who lived in the dwelling were simple, but Alexandre said the remains did not indicate whether they were traders or farmers.

The only other artifacts from the time of Jesus found in the Nazareth area are ancient burial caves that provided a rough idea of the village's population at the time, Alexandre said.

Work is now taking place to clear newer ruins built above the dwelling, which will be preserved. The dwelling will become part of a new international Christian center being built close to the site and funded by a French Roman Catholic group, said Marc Hodara of the Chemin Neuf Community overseeing construction.

Alexandre said limited space and population density makes it unlikely that archaeologists can carry out further excavations in the area, leaving this dwelling to tell the story of what Jesus' boyhood home may have looked like.

The discovery at "this time, this period, is very interesting, especially as a Christian," Karam said. "For me it is a great gift."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Anglo Saxon Gold and Artifacts found on farmland in England

An amateur treasure hunter with a metal detector searching in a farmer's field has discovered a huge collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver artifacts. The important find offers new insight into the world of the Anglo-Saxons, who ruled England from the fifth century until the 1066 Norman invasion and whose cultural influence is still felt throughout the English speaking world.

The 55 yr old Terry Herbert spent five days searching the field alone before he realized he needed help and notified authorities. Professional archaeologists then took over the find. "I was going to bed and in my sleep I was seeing gold items," Herbert said of the experience.

The cache of gold and silver pieces was discovered in what was once Mercia, one of five main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and is thought to date to between 675 and 725. The large number of artifacts include intricately designed helmet crests embossed with a frieze of running animals, enamel studded sword fittings and a checkerboard piece inlaid with garnets and gold. One gold band bore a biblical inscription in Latin calling on God to drive away the bearer's enemies.

Archaeologists say they're likely to be busy for years puzzling out the meaning of some of the collection's more unusual pieces, like five enigmatic gold snakes or a strip of gold bearing a crudely written and misspelled Biblical inscription in Latin.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Opium Wars of China 1839-1842

The Opium Wars in China were a 4 year long war between China and Britain beginning in 1839 and ending with the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. The British and the West had developed quite an appetite for Chinese goods, but China wanted little of the goods the West had to offer in trade. Thus a large trade inbalance developed. The British decided to import opium and cotton via India even though China had been running anti-opium campaigns for over a decade prior. In the black market the British were able to trade the opium and cotton for the goods they wanted.

The Qing government had spent years trying to stop the opium trade prior to the British meddling. Finally becoming fed up, the Qing government dispatched commisioner Lin Zexu to Guangzhou to suppress illicit opium traffic. Lin seized illegal stocks of opium owned by Chinese dealers and then detained the entire foreign community and confiscated and destroyed some 20,000 chests of illicit British opium. The British retaliated with a punitive expedition, thus initiating the first Anglo-Chinese war, better known as the Opium War .

The British began by seizing Hong Kong in August 1839. In 1840 an expeditionary force of 15 barracks ships, 4 steam-powered gunboats and 25 smaller boats with 4000 marines blockaded the mouth of the Pearl River. 1841 saw the British capture the Bogue Forts and 1842 saw the occupation of Shanghai.

The Chinese were thoroughly unprepared for the war though and had no idea of the capabilities of the British war machine. It was a lopsided war with the British the easy victors. The result of the Opium War was the Treaty of Nanjing in which China ceded Hong Kong to the British, abolished the licensed monopoly system of trade, opened 5 ports to British residence and foreign trade, limited the tariff on trade to 5% ad valorem, granted British nationals exemption from Chinese laws and paid a large indemnity.

In addition, Britain was to have most favored-nation treatment, that is, it would receive whatever trading concessions the Chinese granted other powers then or later. The Treaty of Nanjing set the scope and character of an unequal relationship for the ensuing century of what the Chinese would call "national humiliations."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Discovery of Prehistoric Fishing Gear found in Egypt

An archaeological team has found prehistoric fishing gear, sewing equipment and jewellery all made from animal bones, as well as pottery and coins, near an oasis south of Cairo, Egypt.

Culture Minister Faruk Hosni said in a statement: "An Egyptian archaeological mission working near El-Karn island on Lake Qarun in Fayoum has found a large amount of fishing tackle, sewing equipment and jewellery made from animal bone dating back to prehistoric time."

"The mission also found caves used by prehistoric man," he said. "The most important item is an awl made of animal bone and granite, which shows that prehistoric man devised many ways to sew leather," Khaled Saad, who headed the mission, was quoted as saying.

The team also found ancient pottery, coins, whale vertebrae and fossils of seals, sawfish as well as crocodile and turtle parts, Saad said. Medical equipment and weapons made of animal bone were also unearthed, he said. The site was used by many civilisations, antiquities chief Zahi Hawass was quoted as saying in the statement.

"During excavation, the mission found antiquities from the Pharaonic, Greek, Roman and Islamic periods," Hawass said.

The team also found a rare block which dates back to 3150 BC depicting the mythical leader known as the Scorpion King, as well as colourful mosaic plates with engravings of the Fatimid caliph Al-Zafir.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Four New Egyptian Temples Discovered

Archaeologists exploring an old military road in the Sinai have unearthed four new Egyptian temples amidst the 3,000 yr old remains of an ancient fortified city that could have been used to impress foreign delegations visiting Egypt, antiquities authorities announced.

The find was made in Qantara, a couple of miles east of the Suez Canal. These Egyptian temples mark the latest discovery by archaeologists digging up the remains of the city on the military road known as "Way of Horus." Horus is a falcon-headed god, who represented the greatest cosmic powers for ancient Egyptians.

Among the discoveries was the largest mud brick temple found in the Sinai with an area of 70 by 80 meters and fortified with mud walls 3 meters thick, said Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The Way of Horus once connected Egypt to Palestine and is close to present-day Rafah, which borders the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

The chief of the excavation team Mohammed Abdel-Maqsoud stated the large brick temple could potentially rewrite the historical and military significance of the Sinai for the ancient Egyptians. The temple contains four hallways, three stone purification bowls and colorful inscriptions commemorating Ramses I and II. The grandeur and sheer size of the temple could have been used to impress armies and visiting foreign delegations as they arrived in Egypt.

The dig has been part of a joint project with the Culture Ministry that started in 1986 to find fortresses along the military road. Hawass said early studies suggested the fortified city had been Egypt's military headquarters from the New Kingdom (1569-1081 B.C.) until the Ptolemaic era, a period lasting about 1500 years.

Abdel-Maqsoud said the fortified city corresponded to the inscriptions of the Way of Horus found on the walls of the Karnak Temple in Luxor which illustrated the features of 11 military fortresses that protected Egypt's eastern borders. Only five of them have been discovered to date.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Titanic and the fate of its contents to be decided

What will be the fate of the Titanic and all of her contents? It has been almost 100 years since the most famous sinking in history occured as the Titanic struck an iceberg and went down in the North Atlantic.

Since the Titanic went down in international waters the wreck site and its artifacts have been subject to competing legal claims since an international team led by oceanographer Robert Ballard located the Titanic. The courtroom survivor is RMS Titanic Inc., also known as RMST, which gathered the artifacts during six dives. Courts have declared it salvor-in-possession, meaning it has exclusive rights to salvage the Titanic's artifacts. However, the court has also stated RMST does not own the 5,900 artifacts or the wreck itself.

US District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith, a maritime jurist who considers the wreck an "international treasure," is expected to rule that the salvaged Titanic items must remain together and open to the public. That would ensure the thousands of pieces of china and personal belongings will not end up in a collector's hands or in an auction house.

RMST is seeking limited ownership of the Titanic artifacts as compensation for its salvage efforts. In its court filing for a salvage award, the company put the fair market value of the collection at $110.9 million.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Impressive Video of the Underwater Volcano Eruption near Tonga

Spectacular columns are spewing out of the sea about 6 miles southwest of the main Tongan island of Tongatapu as an undersea volcano has been erupting for days. It is in an area where up to 36 undersea volcanoes are clustered. Here is some wonderful video of the eruption.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Great Lakes sinkholes harbor diverse life

Sinkholes in Lake Huron are being studied for their peculiar geological formations as well as the extreme ecosystem within. Researchers are exploring the extreme conditions for life in a place not known for extremes. In as little as 60 feet of water in Lake Huron peculiar geological formations, sinkholes made by water dissolving parts of an ancient underlying seabed, harbor bizarre ecosystems where the fish typical of the huge freshwater lake are rarely to be seen.

Instead, brilliant purple mats of cyanobacteria, cousins of microbes found at the bottoms of permanently ice-covered lakes in Antarctica, and pallid, floating ponytails of other microbial life thrive in the dense, salty water that's hostile to most familiar, larger forms of life because it lacks oxygen.

Groundwater from beneath Lake Huron is dissolving minerals from the defunct seabed and carrying them into the lake to form these exotic, extreme environments, says Bopaiah Biddanda of Grand Valley State University, one of the leaders of a scientific team studying the sinkhole ecosystems.

Those ecosystems are in a class not only with Antarctic lakes, but also with deep-sea, hydrothermal vents and cold seeps. "You have this pristine fresh water lake that has what amounts to materials from 400 million years ago ... being pushed out into the lake," says team co-leader Steven A. Ruberg of the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The researchers describe this underwater habitat and their ongoing investigations of it in the current issue of Eos, the newspaper of the Earth and Space Sciences, published weekly by the American Geophysical Union. AGU is the world's largest organization of Earth and space scientists.

The scientists report that some deep sinkholes act as catch basins for dead and decaying plant and animal matter and collect a soft black sludge of sediment topped by a bacterial film.

In the oxygen-depleted water, cyanobacteria carry out photosynthesis using sulfur compounds rather than water and give off hydrogen sulfide, the gas associated with rotting eggs. Where the sinkholes are deeper still and light fails, microorganisms use chemical means rather than photosynthesis to metabolize the sulfurous nutrients.

Biddanda, Ruberg, and their team are probing the origins of ancient minerals flowing in from beneath this fresh inland sea, striving to understand how long ago the minerals were deposited that are now entering the lake and how fast the salty brew containing them is arriving.

The scientists also plan to chart transitions from light, oxygen rich, fresh water near the lake's surface to dark, anoxic, salty soup down inside the sinkholes. The sinkhole research may shed light on how similar microbial communities can arise in environments as disparate as Antarctic lakes, deep-sea vents, and freshwater-lake sinkholes, the scientists say.

Biddanda adds, "it might also lead to the discovery of novel organisms and previously unknown biochemical processes, furthering our exploration of life on Earth."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Five Amazing Discoveries from 2008

Ever thought of doing some treasure hunting or rockhounding? If you haven't then these stories might change your mind. Being a big rockhound myself I can say over the last few years I have collected gold and rhodochrosite in Colorado, fish fossils in Wyoming as well as opal and agate. Here are 5 great finds from around the world in 2008.

1. You probably saw this one on the news or in your papers. The Israel Antiquities Authority reported the discovery of 264 ancient gold coins in Jerusalem National Park. The coins were minted during the early 7th century.

“This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem, certainly the largest and most important of its period,” said Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, who are directing the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Nadine Ross, a British archaeological volunteer, happened onto the coins during the dig just below the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The 1,400 year old coins were found in the Giv’ati car park in the City of David in the walls around Jerusalem National Park, a site that has yielded other finds, including a gold earring with pearls and precious stones.

2. Nearly 6,000 copper alloy coins were found buried in two pots in a field at Sully, Vale of Glamorgan by a local metal detector enthusiast in April. It is one of the largest coin discoveries ever made in Wales. It is hoped the coins will be donated to National Museum Wales, which has called the find “exceptional”.

The 1,700 year old coins dated from the reigns of numerous emperors, notably Constantine I, during whose time Christianity was first recognised as a state religion. Two separate hoards were found by the metal detectorist on successive days, one involving 2,366 coins and the other 3,547 coins. The stashes were only 10 yards apart.

3. John Stevens, 42, couldn’t believe his eyes when he rubbed off the soil and saw lettering indicating the ring was from the early medieval period, possibly the 11th century. He had found a beautiful gold ring with a rare black diamond set inside it in a muddy field. It is believed the ring would have belonged to a wealthy person either from the Church, or possibly even royalty.

Black diamonds are rare today and would have been even rarer nearly 1,000 years ago, having come from Africa. The ring has not yet been valued but is thought it could be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

4. Hundreds of ancient coins unearthed close to Sweden’s international airport suggests the Vikings were bringing home foreign currency earlier than previously thought, archaeologists say. Buried almost 1,200 years ago, the treasure is made up mainly of Arabic coins and represents the largest early Viking hoard ever discovered in Sweden.

Archaeologists from the Swedish National Heritage Board unexpectedly found the stash of 472 silver coins while excavating a Bronze Age tomb near Stockholm’s Arlanda airport.

5. A hobbyist with a metal detector struck both gold and silver when he uncovered a cache of 109 ancient Celtic coins in a cornfield in southernern Holland. Experts say the 39 gold and 70 silver coins were minted in the middle of the first century BC as Julius Caesar led a campaign against Celtic tribes in the area. Curfs said he was walking with his detector this spring and was about to go home when he suddenly got a strong signal on his earphones and uncovered the first coin.

“It was golden and had a little horse on it — I had no idea what I had found,” he said.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Mars Rovers Still Going After 5 Years

It has been five years after the NASA rover Spirit landed on Mars and the robotic geologist and its twin Opportunity are still on the job. Expectations were far lower when Spirit made a bouncing landing in a cocoon of air bags on January 3, 2004. The Opportunity followed 3 weeks later. The goal was to try to operate each solar-powered rover for at least three months.

"That's an extraordinary return of investment in these challenging budgetary times," Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a December statement.

Combined, the rovers have made more than 13 miles of tracks on Mars and sent 700,000 images back to Earth. Their instruments have uncovered evidence that Mars was once a far wetter and warmer place than the frigid, dusty world it is now.

An accumulation of dust on the rovers' electricity-generating solar panels was expected to be one of the most likely causes of their eventual deaths, but wind has occasionally cleaned the panels. Spirit, however, has an 18-month buildup of dust and its panels were barely able to provide sufficient power during Mars' just ended southern hemisphere winter. At one point it failed to receive commands, and its status fell to "serious but stable" condition.

The winter was a "squeaker" for Spirit, John Callas, the rover project manager at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said in the NASA statement. "We just made it through."

Mission managers are pressing ahead with plans for more exploration even though NASA says either rover could fail without warning. Spirit has begun stirring after sitting immobile for most of the autumn and winter, JPL spokesman Guy Webster said Saturday. Plans are being made to drive it about 200 yards to a pair of sites that have drawn interest.

Opportunity, which is closer to the equator and has cleaner solar panels, has been driving toward a 14 mile wide crater, stopping on the way to examine interesting rocks.