Roundup of Archaeology and History Dec 9-Jan 5

Personal update: I’m done with radiation, the last part of my cancer treatment, and I’m feeling healthy. Thank you for all the good wishes. To a healthy, productive 2018 for all.

Here are some posts I enjoyed the last month or so:

Aliette de Bodard, one of the author-essayists in this post

Aliette de Bodard, one of the author-essayists in this post

“Science Fiction when the future is now” The journal Nature shares the intelligent discussions by six writers about where science fiction (and fantasy) are going and what its purpose is in this world gone mad. Deep social vision, anyone? What sci-fi or fantasy novel gave you an epiphany of understanding about the way we live, right now, right here, by throwing you into a faraway place in time and space? Click here for Nature “Science Fiction when the future is Now”

Here’s a good story. A dig in Iraq demonstrates to me the wonder and complexities of archaeological finds and processes and the drama. You can easily imagine, for starters, how hard and potentially dangerous archaeology in Iraq today can be, which makes particularly refreshing the safety and welcome these archaeologists found in Iraqi-Kurdistan, with the locals providing essential supplemental help to their tiny budget. Then add in a 7.3 earthquake that the archaeologists narrowly missed. Then look at the finds. Two sets of finds, one 16 feet deeper than the first and many centuries earlier. The first find was a loom and associated weights and seals. I was intrigued because, although this dates to early 2 century BCE or so they think, it is a warp-weighted loom like the ones from more than a thousand years earlier that women in the ancient Greek and Hittites worlds used and which I depict in my novels. Such looms leave telltale evidence of their use in the form of stone or ceramic weights in a rough row where they fell from their wool warp when burned and sometimes, as here, traces of the wooden beams supporting these looms. This one had brick benches in front, which the weaver could sit on (or stand on, though this article doesn’t mention that) to work the ceiling to floor looms. Apparently, the method of “marking” commercial products with clay seals was still used also at this late date, just as in the Hittite world, and the seal found here was especially lovely, a griffin (eagle head and wings, lion body) in full flight. I’m a big fan of griffins and have been trying to work them into a future book. The much lower level revealed an Assyrian seal of the cylinder type (to be rolled across clay to reveal the miniature image). This had a commonly-used image of divine figures, partly human/partly animal, surrounding a tree of life and enacting a purification ritual with pitchers of liquid (water, wine?). I also see a winged sun disk over the tree, I think, which at an earlier period, was the sign of the Hittite royal family and is adopted by many Near Eastern cultures as a sign of power and divinity. There are many such similar seals and images in the record, indicating how common such rituals and worship processes were. I’ve always found the notion of a divine figure that is an amalgam of man and animal intriguing. All these finds came to light in the final days of the dig, with some fast work encouraged because of the lead archaeologist’s hunch when the first ceramic bits came to light. And then they departed and an earthquake hit. So there’s a lot of drama and beauty. But I’m guessing to the archaeologists it felt mostly like a lot of dust and digging, with an amazing moment of beauty when they cleaned the seals and photographed them in the cramped, badly lit dig house and realized what they had found. Click here for “Archaeological Treasures in Iraq Unearthed Just Before Deadly 7.3 Earthquake”

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia by Jan Steen

A rather fanciful depiction of The Sacrifice of Iphigenia by Jan Steen

Evidence of human sacrifice crops up now and then across the Mediterranean/Near Eastern world. Given the tale of Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter to get his army to war, it’s hardly surprising that archaeologists have turned up some evidence of this in Greece. But it’s still horrific. I cannot get my head around this particular form of religious practice, but humans have done a lot of weird things to please their gods. So, aiming for less grotesque, what’s your favorite practice of placating divinity? Historical or modern! Click here for Newsweek “ANCIENT GREECE: “SHOCKING” DISMEMBERED HUMAN SKULL REVEALS LONG-DEBATED RITUAL SACRIFICE OF VIRGINS”

No release date yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to this Trojan War 8 part series by Netflix and BBC combined. Here are a few sneak pictures. Past movies about Troy haven’t set a high bar, but this one shows thought. I’ll keep my hopes up. What is your favorite historical or mythological gaffe in a movie? Click here for “Netflix’s exciting new series about the Trojan War shares first photos”

Site of Göbekli Tepe, photo by Teomancimit on Wikimedia

Site of Göbekli Tepe, photo by Teomancimit on Wikimedia

Archaeology Magazine’s top ten discoveries this year. I agree with putting on the list the carved skulls at Göbekli Tepe, the mysterious Neolithic site with huge standing stones and carved animal/human figures that’s been tantalizing us for a long time. Not that we know what to make of the human skulls exactly, but they certainly intrigue. Some of the rest of the list puzzles me. I’d have added at least one of the Mycenaean tomb finds. What’s your favorite snippet of retrieved information from the past this year, whether archaeological or not? Click here for Archaeology Magazine “Top 10 Discoveries of 2017”



Roundup of Archaeology and History Dec 9-Jan 5 — 4 Comments

  1. Re: Radiation – Congratulations! May you have a purely healthy and happy year in 2018 and in the years to come! Sounds like what I went through in 2001. Very fortunate to find the cancer early. No recurrences. Wishing the same for you.

  2. Thank you to all of you for the kind wishes for good health. I am enjoying the freedom from going to the hospital every day. Glad to hear that my posts offer points of interest. Just my idiosyncratic meanderings through the current events in the world of history and archaeology. I do try to point out what’s interesting to me amidst the roaring.

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