Weekly Roundup of Archaeology and History Sept 16-22

Here are some posts I enjoyed this week:

image of The Shield of Achilles, Illustration from Pope's translation of the Iliad

The Shield of Achilles, Illustration from Pope’s translation of the Iliad

Homer and advanced technology? This engineer says the Mycenaeans had highly advanced knowledge that was lost and is only now returning, like artificial intelligence. I think Homer and the long tradition he arises from had as powerful imaginations as any sci-fi writer of recent decades and that explains Hephaestus’ robots, etc. After all, how does an author portray a visit to a divine workshop in all its glory? I’d do some mental leaping to make that magically exciting. I do like his discussion of the composite metals of the Shield of Achilles. Now that might be knowledge the Mycenaeans really did have (or the Hittites nearby from whom they borrowed it—Anatolia is where the best metallurgical skills developed early on). I may have to pay close attention to those Homeric details next time I want to describe a particularly durable and impenetrable shield for some hero or other. Click here for Huffington Post “The Shield of Achilles”


A new conclusion in an old debate. The debate: did copper smelting develop in one place and then spread or in multiple places accidentally and develop in each of those separate locations? One of the pieces of evidence of the one place only theory was a very early “slag” example found in Turkey at Çatalhöyük. If I’m understanding this correctly, it was evidence of the one spot because it was so very much earlier (Neolithic period) than all other examples. Now closer study and some intelligent analysis of the context of the find concludes it’s not slag at all. It was a bag of cosmetics in which was stowed green pigment (hence the copper “slag” when heated) that along with the bones buried with the bag suffered a burning. So we’re more strongly back to the multiple locations. This makes tons of sense to me given how easily copper is “smelted” and how similar pottery kilns of the time and smelting fires were. The raw material for copper was often scattered on the ground, so would have ended up in pottery kilns. Click here for University of Cambridge “Mystery of 8,500-year-old copper making event revealed through materials science”

In search of the earliest zero. Found in the Bodleian Library, Oxford on an early Indian scroll, the Bakhshali manuscript. Recent carbon dating puts it 500 years earlier than the other example that was thought earliest, a 9th C AD inscription on a temple wall in India. Until now no one had paid a whole lot of attention to this scroll because it was assumed much later. So now we know the oldest recorded use of the symbol. Click here for Archaeology News Network “Earliest recorded use of zero is centuries older than first thought”

image of The usual form of the numeral figures used in the Bakhshali manuscript in Bodleian Library

The usual form of the numeral figures used in the Bakhshali manuscript in Bodleian Library

In the cool discovery department, a Viking sword in Norway. Apparently left behind by a man frozen in a blizzard. Just stuck in between some rocks. Found by reindeer hunters. And now we know that it might have been a woman’s sword, given the recent DNA work done on a different Viking find, an old warrior burial that had always been assumed to be a man because, well, hey the remains were surrounded by a lot of big weapons and two dead horses. That would have to be a male burial, right? Wrong! I do like ancient swords, even if this one is positively modern compared to some of the weapons I love. The photo in this article sends chills down my spine. Click here for Archaeology News Network “Norwegians Find Well-Preserved Viking-Era Sword”

The season excavation report is in from the site of Erimi-Laonin tou Porakou, Cyprus. This is a Middle Bronze Age site, then abandoned so the Bronze Age ruins can be accessed without going through many layers (that’s true of several sites in Cyprus). They looked at four areas, an “industrial” area that was a workshop for dyeing textiles, a domestic area (i.e. where people lived, a house or houses), the circuit fortifications and the southern cemetery area. It sounds like a productive season without any “sexy” discoveries, just the slow expansion of understanding daily life long ago. That’s archaeology for you. Patience required. Click here for Archaeology News Network “2017 excavations at Erimi-Laonin tou Porakou completed”


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