Archaeology in the News! Here’s a door.

Another quick copypasta, courtesy of Jason, Roger Ebert, and CBS News!

Archaeologists Unearth “Door to Afterlife”

3,500-Year-Old Artifact Was Part of Royal Minister’s Tomb in Luxor

(AP) Archaeologists have unearthed a 3,500-year-old door to the afterlife from the tomb of a high-ranking Egyptian official near Karnak temple in Luxor, the Egyptian antiquities authority said Monday.

These recessed niches found in nearly all ancient Egyptian tombs were meant to take the spirits of the dead to and from the afterworld. The nearly six-foot-tall slab of pink granite was covered with religious texts.

The door came from the tomb of User, the chief minister of Queen Hatshepsut, a powerful, long ruling 15th century B.C. queen from the New Kingdom with a famous mortuary temple near Luxor in southern Egypt.

User held the position of vizier for 20 years, also acquiring the titles of prince and mayor of the city, according to the inscriptions. He may have inherited his position from his father.

Viziers in ancient Egypt were powerful officials tasked with the day-to-day running of the kingdom’s complex bureaucracy.

As a testament to his importance, User had his own tomb on the west bank of the Nile in Luxor, where royal kings and queens were also buried. A chapel dedicated to him has also been discovered further south in the hills near Aswan.

The stone itself was long way from its tomb and had apparently been removed from the grave and then incorporated into the wall of a Roman-era building, more than a thousand years later.

False doors were placed in the west walls of tombs and faced offering tables where food and drink were left for the spirit of the deceased.


Archaeology in the News! You may want to stand back.

Just a quick copypasta, my gentle readers, as I’m supposed to be “working” right now. Enjoy! Also, you may want to stand back.

Unusual lead coffin unearthed near Rome!


A mysterious, 1,700-year-old coffin made from a 360-kilogram slab of lead — bizarrely folded over its ancient corpse like a “burrito” — has been unearthed on the outskirts of Rome by a team of archeologists that includes a visiting professor at Hamilton’s McMaster University.

The gravesite at Gabii, a once-thriving city-state located about 20 kilometres from the centre of old Rome, is prompting speculation by experts that a great gladiator, beloved bishop or some other notable figure from the 3rd century AD was given the rare honour of a sheet-metal burial.

“All we can say so far about the contents is that the lead wrapping contains a human skeleton — or at least a portion thereof — as there is visible bone at the open, foot-end of the sarcophagus,” McMaster University archeologist Jeffrey Becker, managing director of the U.S.-led dig at Gabii, told Canwest News Service.

“Once we assess the contents, we will make a plan of how to study them, but we are interested in studying any human remains inside.”

Gabii is located due east of Rome, along the ancient road once known as the Via Gabina, in the central Italian region that was called Latium around the time of Christ. The historian Plutarch named Gabii as the birthplace of Romulus and Remus, the mythic twin founders of Rome.

The city had existed for more than 1,000 years before it began to decline around AD 300 — about the time the lead-encased body was buried. The University of Michigan is leading a major, long-term archeological study of Gabii, prized by scholars because it has undergone little modern development since its virtual disappearance around AD 900, and remains a well-preserved time capsule of city planning and cultural life in the Roman Empire in the early centuries of the first millennium.

“We’re very excited about this find,” University of Michigan Prof. Nicola Terrenato, said in a summary of the finding. “Romans as a rule were not buried in coffins to begin with and when they did use coffins, they were mostly wooden. There are only a handful of other examples from Italy of lead coffins from this age.”

He added: “A thousand pounds of metal is an enormous amount of wealth in this era. To waste so much of it in a burial is pretty unusual.”

Becker said sawing the coffin open could pose a health risk to researchers. X-ray and CT-scanning are “not feasible because of the thickness of the lead,” he added, so the team is currently planning to insert a fibre-optic endoscope in the coffin’s foot-end opening to gather more data.

An MRI analysis of the artifact is also being considered.

Becker said the body may offer clues about the era when Gabii’s abrupt decline began around 1,700 years ago.

“It seems likely that we are dealing with later phases of the city’s life in Roman Imperial times, when the populated area was contracting to an increasingly smaller nucleus,” he said.

In a report on the coffin discovery by the National Geographic, which partially funded the Gabii excavation, Becker said the elaborate lead covering of the corpse “is a sure marker of somebody of some kind of substance” — particularly since the burial was in the central part of the city rather than in a traditional outskirts location.

“To see someone who is at first glance a person of high social standing associated with later layers of the city,” Becker stated, “opens a potentially new conversation about this urban twilight in central Italy.”

Delicious pesto sauce

This is a mythology post

All The Single Ladies

The mythology fun continues, gentle readers, and this one’s for the ladies!

The Greek Artemis was later adopted into the Roman Diana, but both ladies were essentially the same deity with a few regional differences. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo. Diana was the daughter of Jupiter and Latona and remained the twin sister of Apollo. Both Diana and Artemis were depicted with deer and a sacred tree: Diana had the oak and Artemis had the cypress. Both spent their days being virginal and hunting the forests of their respective realms with their loyal hunting dogs and occasionally taking a break to turn any man unlucky enough to lay eyes upon them into deer. Artemis, and later Diana, was also associated with fertility, young girls, womens’ illnesses, the wilderness and childbirth. Both ladies also have strong associations with the moon and are often depicted with a rather stylish crescent moon headband or are referenced in the form of Selene, a Greek titan and moon goddess

For some reason it was the cool thing among Greco-Roman deities to announce their commitment to chastity, and Minerva and Athena are another pairing of goddess who made chastity their top priority. Often the companion of adventuring heroes, Minerva and Athena were associated with wisdom, strength, strategy, civilization, crafts. justice and skill. Both ladies came into being fully armed and armored from the split head of their father Jupiter/Zeus when he complained of a headache. Fun Fact: only Jupiter/Zeus and Minerva/Athena share the aegis and thunderbolt because they’re awesome like that.

The third of the main ladies who were all about chastity is Vesta/Hestia, tenders of the hearth in the Greco-Roman world. This was extremely important because the hearth was the center of the family and domesticity, which were one of the main pillars of ancient Mediterranean life. Hestia represented the more private hearth, while Vesta took on a more public aspect and represented the public hearth-at-large for Rome. Neither the public hearth nor the private family hearth were allowed to be extinguished, unless it was part of a ritual extinguishing, cleansing and re-lighting. Vesta is perhaps best known for her followers, known as the Vestales, or Vestal Virgins. Vestales were from wealthy Roman families and once initiated, had to remain in service and chaste for 30 years while they tended the sacred hearth flame. This job came with a few perks, especially for a Roman woman. Vestales were emancipated from the control of their father and could move about the city on their own, albeit in a carriage. Once their service to the sacred flame was completed, Vestales were free to marry if they wished and many often did.

Bona Dea
Quite literally the ‘good goddess’, Bona Dea was one of several Roman goddess associated with virginity, women, fertility and healing. She was the daughter of the god Faunus and sometimes was referred to as Fauna. Her specialty was in the healing of the sick, specifically the sick lower-class citizens of Rome, and those seeking her help were tended to in the garden of her temple with the various medicinal herbs that grew there. She had a main temple on the Aventine Hill, but there are mentions of rituals associated with Bona Dea being performed at the home of a Roman magistrate during which all men and male animals were forbidden. She frequents Roman coins quite a bit and can be identified by her cornucopia.

Both Astraea and her mother Themis were considered personifications of justice, but Astraea tended to represent innocence and purity in addition to that. She is perhaps best recognized as the constellation Virgo, in which she holds a set of scales which make up the constellation Libra. Apparently she’s supposed to return to the world of us humans and usher in a Golden Age of sorts…so look busy!
I realize now that the majority of these ladies are from the Greco-Roman world and this is because they were the ones I was able to think of first and also reference the quickest on the internets…as I have to sneak these posts in while I work 😛 I’ll be doing a second Storm God post and potentially a second Single Ladies post so if you want anyone added to the lists, let me know!

This is a mythology post

Storm Gods and You

Greetings on this lovely Spring day, oh gentle readers! Today, in honor of the weather and the fact that my work day is particularly hellacious, I present to you a brief guide to the storm deities we all know and love. Pick your favorite! I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

Zeus and Jupiter are combined here because they are essentially an amalgamation of the same person. Zeus the Thunderer was known to the Achaeans and everyone else in the greater Hellenic and later Hellenistic world. Jupiter Optimus Maximus was favored by the Romans. Zeus’ favorite symbols were thunderbolts, eagles, bulls and oaks. As the youngest child of Rhea and Cronus, he rescued his other siblings from his father’s stomach and claimed his place as head of the pantheon. His favorite hobbies include cloud gathering, annoying his sister/wife Hera and engaging in various sexy escapades with mortal women that more often than not result in the birth of demi-gods and heroes. Jupiter kept it real as the head of the Capitoline triad with his lovely sister/wife Juno and his numerous divine offspring. He enjoys law, order and watching over the city that his grandchildren Romulus and Remus helped found.

Thor hails to us from the piney northlands of Europe/Scandinavia. He is usually depicted as a rather burly and beardy man and is rarely without his trusty hammer Mjollnir. He is the son of Odin (yar!) and the Earth giantess Jord. When not riding around in his goat-drawn chariot, Thor enjoys spending time with his wife Sif, and when he’s not with her he’s with his mistress Jarnsaxa or just passing the time at his home, Bilskirnir. Thor is the deity you call on to protect objects you feel are important, like runestones.

Or, as Matthew the raven calls him, Lord Susan thingy, is the Japanese Summer storm deity who is the brother of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and Tsukuyomi, the moon god. Susanoo was born when his father, Izanagi, returned from a particularly harrowing trip to the underworld and washed his face to cleanse himself of the ickiness that dwells there. Susanoo came into being when his father wiped his nose. His name sometimes translates as “His-Swift-Impetuous-Male-Augustness” and when he’s not slaying eight-headed serpents, he rules over seas and storms.

Seth is in charge of the desert, storms, darkness, chaos and generally anything else that could be perceived as bad to the average ancient Egyptian citizen. He is the brother of Osiris and Isis and consort to his sister/wife Nephthys. Seth is traditionally depicted as a weird, still-unidentified animal that looks to be part dog, part donkey and part who knows with a forked tail. Seth is most famous for his lengthy conflict with Osiris’ son, Horus and was eventually bested by the combined superteam of Horus and his mother Isis. This conflict can also be interpreted as the constant struggle between the destructive nature of the desert (Seth) and the fertile waters of the Nile (Osiris). His favorite place was Sepermeru.

Representing the storm systems of North America is Thunderbird! Depictions of Thunderbird can be found everywhere in the history and culture of the First Nations people and the native peoples of North America. A supernaturally giant eagle, Thunderbird’s name comes from the thunder created by the beating of his enormous wings. Thunderbird can either be a deity or a species of divine bird but is almost always depicted as a large, multi-colored eagle, sometimes with teeth and curled horns. Thuderbirds are known to be moody and it’s best to stay out of their way if you come across one. Every so often a thunderbird was known to take human form and marry, producing human offspring that often lived in the area around Vancouver.

Last but definitely not least, there is Xolotl from Mesoamerica. He is primarily associated with lightning but often takes time out of his busy schedule to guide souls to the underworld. He is better known as the twin of Quetzalcoatl and helped his more famous twin bring humankind into the world. When not being a bit of a trickster, Xolotl tended to be associated with fire and the dark part of the evening star, Venus. He was also depicted in a variety of forms, including as a skeleton or an odd dog-headed creature.
Until next time! Also, excuse the odd formatting. My work computer seems to be, for lack of a more scientific term, wigging out. I’ll see if I can correct these problems later on a different computer.

Happy Ides of March!

Happy Ides of March, gentle readers! Yes, it’s that magical time that comes but once a year. Sure, there may be ides of other months, but today’s ides are the special ones. Why so special, you may ask? Because today is the day made famous by the death of Gaius Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. (or 709 AUC if you happen to be Roman)

While this is perhaps not the happiest of occasions, I just enjoy the fact that people still know that March has an ides.

But what, you may ask again, IS an ides? Why are they even in a month? What’s the deal? It’s quite simple. The ides were one of three fixed points in each month of the Roman calendar that the Romans would then count backwards from to denote the particular day of the month. The other two were the Nones and the Kalends. For example, a date would be x days until the Nones/Ides/Kalends as opposed to day # of that month. Wikipedia gives a good example with the date of a.d. III Kal. Oct., or ‘on the third day before the October ‘, which would then be September 28th. A little odd but then again, so were the Romans 😛

Originally thought to be a lunar-based calendar, the Romans held that their particular calendar was invented by Romulus, but his calendar wasn’t actually lunar. It did have 10 months and the vernal equinox was during the first month of the year. It did have some familiar names, as the months were were named based on their position in the calendar: Quintilis comes from quinque (five), Sextilis from sex (six), September from septem (seven), October from octo (eight), November from novem (nine) and December from decem (ten). Around 713 BC, the calendar was modified and 2 months, January and February, were added at the beginning of the year by Numa Pompilius. This was a bit of a problem because it meant all the other months were scootched out of position and the days didn’t work right anymore! To fix this, Numa added 51 days to the 304 days in the calendar of Romulus and took one day from each of the six 30-day months giving a total of 57 days to share between January and February. January was given 29 days leaving February with the unlucky number of 28 days, suitable for the month of purification. Of the eleven months with an odd number of days, four had 31 days each and seven had 29 days each. Oy vey! Each month still had its three fixed points: The Kalendae (or Kalends) was the first day of the month. All interest and debts were due on this day. The Nonae (Nones) were around the time of the half moon. The Idūs (Ides) were the half-way point of the month, thought to be for the day of the full moon but it means ‘half’ so it fell on the 15th day of the 30 day month and on the 13th in the other shorter months.

Other important dates were known by their festival, such as the Lupercalia, Terminalia, Quirinalia or Feralia.

Before he got quite thoroughly assassinated, Julius Caesar made some changes to the calendar as well, creating what was thenceforth (word power!) known as the Julian Calendar. He added a day to September and effectively scooted the dates yet again so they lined up better with the seasons and religious festivals, creating dates as such: a.d. XVIII Kal. Oct. = 18 days before the Kalends of October = 14 September.

Another important calendar-related fact is that Romans didn’t count their years sequentially but instead labeled them in reference to the year of consulship for whoever was in charge. For example, on the front of the Pantheon it tells us (in very big letters) that the place was made in the 3rd year of Marcus Agrippa’s consulship. Later on people began to count years from the founding of the city and that’s where that AUC from the beginning of this post comes from!

sic semper tyrannosaurus.

Here There Be Monsters

In honor of a particularly awesome show I watched about Colossal Squids last night, I present to you, gentle readers, a brief historical and archaeological overview of some of the more fearsome sea creatures that terrorized the seas of yesteryear.

Perhaps the most popular of the sea-dwelling folks, mermaids (or mermen) were traditionally thought to be half human and half fish, and usually with the upper portion of a woman. Sailors throughout history had varying opinions on these watery ladies but most agreed that the most common act of mermaids was to distract unsuspecting sailors and ultimately result in their deaths. Their mere presence could cause a sailor to accidentally fall overboard or run the ship aground, with the particularly unlucky ones being dragged into the depths. This is another point at which there can be variations on mermaids and their mythology. Some mermaids were simply lonely women who, upon spying a particularly attractive sailor, would attempt to bring the unlucky man with them back to their undersea home and usually forget that humans can’t breathe underwater, resulting in the rather unfortunate death of the sailor and only compounding whatever sea-related issues the mermaid may have. This was also said to have happened when mermaids tried to rescue drowning sailors, as they often were not aware of their own strength and would often end up squeezing the unsuspecting sailor too hard, not unlike a puppy playing with a small animal. Other times sailors would be dragged below the waves out of spite because that was apparently how they rolled…or swam. In any case, it is generally agreed that the most popular form of mermaid was that of, you guessed it, a maid. It gave the homesick and lady-sick sailors something to focus on during their long voyages.

The first known tales of mermaids came from Assyria around 1000 BC. The story told of how the goddess Atargatis, mother to the queen Semiramis, fell in love with a mortal shepherd and accidentally killed him. Out of shame and grief, she jumped into a lake but the lake couldn’t hide her divine beauty, so she remained human above the waist and fish below. Thus, mermaid!

Another fun story is Greek in origin and concerns the greatest Alexander. Legend has it that his sister Thessalonike became a mermaid after she died and patrolled the waters of the Aegean asking any ship she encountered, “Ζει ο Βασιλιάς Αλέξανδρος”– “Is King Alexander alive?” to which the appropriate response was, “Ζει και βασιλεύει και τον κόσμο κυριεύει“–“He lives and still rules” and she would allow the ships fair passage. Any other responses were promptly met with storms and shipwrecks.

Mermaids were not always limited to the sea. They often inhabited lakes and other bodies of water existing as water nymphs or other similar beings. They could be benevolent, offering cures for illnesses or immortality, or a bit nastier and continue to lure or forcefully encourage humans into the mysterious watery depths.
…or they were manatees.

Like mermaids, sirens were also popularly depicted as being half female human and half something else. Some sirens were essentially land-frequenting mermaids or various combinations of ladies and birds. Sirens could have talons and/or wings with a regular female body or fish tails like their mermaid cousins but regardless of what animal part they had, they too would usually contribute to the deaths of unsuspecting sailors. The most famous sirens are found in The Odyssey (XII, 39). Odysseus, being ever the hero, volunteered to have himself tied to the mast as his ship sailed by the Sirens because he wanted to say that he had heard the Sirens’ Song and lived to tell the tale. The rest of his crew stuffed their ears with wax and rowed their ship safely past the dreaded rock while Odysseus proved his machismo and was untied once they were safely out of earshot of the nefarious bird-women.On the whole, sirens were one of the less pleasant creatures one could encounter out at sea. Whether there were two, three or five of them (depending on who you talk to or where they’re from…) these seductive bird-fish-women could be found either on Anthemoessa, Cape Pelorum, Capreae or near Paestum. It is perhaps best to avoid these places should you find yourself boating around there.

Killer Waters
Often sailors would find themselves navigating rather treacherous areas along the coast and had no idea why that area seemed like it was actively trying to keep them from reaching their destination. One such place is the Strait of Messina, between Sicily and Calabria, Italy. This narrow strait is generally accepted to be the inspiration for the dreaded Scylla and Charybdis also found in The Odyssey, although more recently people have favored Cape Skilla in northwestern Greece as the location. This particular passage was so dangerous because it posed a dual threat: if you try to sail a safe distance from one threat, you will encounter the other. In the case of Odysseus, the option was to either lose a few sailors to Scylla, the six-headed beastie who dwelled in the rocky cliffs, or lose the entire ship and crew to the whirlpool Charybdis. He chose the former. Jason, of …and the Argonauts fame, sailed right through the dreaded strait with Hera’s assistance and Aeneas was able to bypass the strait entirely! Of course, Odysseus would choose the path of most resistance just to continue to prove his superiority.

The story of Charybdis varies by source, but everyone seems to agree that Charybdis was once a naiad who was transformed into a sea monster that would swallow huge amounts of water and then belch them out three times a day, creating a giant whirlpool.

Also, “between Scylla and Charybdis” is the origin of the phrase “between the rock and the whirlpool” (the rock upon which Scylla dwelt and the whirlpool of Charybdis) and may also be where we get the phrase “between a rock and a hard place”. This sounds a bit more reasonable than being between a horrible six-headed monster and killer whirlpool.

These legendary beasties were the scourge of sailors in colder climates. Regardless of origin, krakens were giant tentacley sea monsters that had a nasty habit of rising from the deep and attacking passing ships. The word actually comes from the Scandinavian word krake, meaning a twisted, unhealthy animal. In German, kraken is the singular form of krake and it means ‘octopus’ or The Kraken, depending on the context. It’s always good to figure out if you’re just talking about one octopus…or one REALLY BIG OCTOPUS. There are many different mythologies surrounding krakens but it is generally agreed that the mythical kraken was inspired by sightings of COLOSSAL SQUIDS. I mean, seriously. Look at this squid. You’d think this was a sea monster too!
And that, my Spanish Galleons, is all I have time for today. Until next time, keep your eyes peeled on the horizon and stay out of the doldrums!

Archaeology of The Oscars!

Happy Oscar Monday, gentle readers! In honor of the fact that I had to work last night (yes, really) I present to you a bit of knowledge about the biggest night in film!

I’m sure most of you are aware of the general history of the Academy Awards or various aspects of it so I’ll spare you the re-cap and get right to the awesome part, which concerns the coveted golden statue. Perhaps you notice a similarity or two between the Oscar statuette and a certain Egyptian deity named Ptah? Behold!

There’s more than a few, wouldn’t you say? This is more than a coincidence. While the statue is supposed to be an Art Deco interpretation of a knight holding a Crusader’s sword (why are we crusading at The Oscars?) on top of a film reel, I find the similarities to be a bit more intriguing.

So who is this Ptah, you may ask? In a nutshell, Ptah is more or less the personification of the primordial mound in the Egyptian Ennead (nine) cosmogony. Ptah is associated with the djed pillar of hieroglyph fame and depending on who you talk to he was the one who called the world/universe into being. He has some fertility associations as he was believe to manifest himself as the Apis bull and was worshiped extensively in Memphis. They really liked him there. Because of his association with the creation of the world/universe, he became known as the god of craftsmen and artisans. This was originally applied to stone-based crafts but eventually branched out to other areas of artisan crafts and professions, including music and art. So much so that craftsmen believed that Ptah held sway over their destinies, especially those who were employed as tomb builders and decorators. Nowadays, Ptah is interpreted as a patron deity of artists and can be seen presiding over the most important event in the acting profession!

When not being part of the annual Ttelecast, Ptah enjoys spending time with his consort, Sekhmet, and making sure the sun gets reincarnated every night when it goes below the horizon into the underworld where we can’t see it.