The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Another Archaeology Update

If you're among the select few who actually read this blog, you'll know I've long had an interest in things archaeological. I'm certainly no expert, not even a knowledgeable amateur, but I do try to stay abreast of what's happening in this fascinating field of study. Science and technology have provided today's archaeologist with tools undreamed of just a few years ago. The result has been a remarkable expansion of our knowledge of ancient civilizations and the societies that formed them.

I'm especially interested in what is often labeled "Biblical Archaeology", that branch of the science that relates to the events described in Sacred Scripture. Of course, any good archaeologist doesn't set out to "prove" the accuracy of Sacred Scripture; rather, he tries to uncover the truth in the form of objective facts, and then based on these hard facts share with us how our ancient ancestors lived, worked, prayed, and died. Interestingly, recent findings uncovered by archaeology, palaeography, and textual philology seem increasingly to support the truth of Sacred Scripture.

I'm also intrigued by those discoveries that bring the ancient world to light and often demonstrate that the ancients were far less primitive than previously thought. I'm always pleased when the temporal bigotry that colors the thinking of today's progressives is exposed for what it is, a blind prejudice that assumes we are smarter and wiser than those who preceded us. Indeed, looking at the chaos, brutality and global destruction that typifies much of our recent history, one can make a pretty good case that we have devolved and are far less wise than many of our ancient ancestors. In itself, this is a good reason to study the ancients, how they lived and what they believed. Maybe we'll actually learn from them.

Although we moderns certainly view the world very differently from the ancients, when it comes to our interpersonal relationships we are remarkably unchanged. As a student of Sacred Scripture I find the manifestations of human nature to be one of the constants that spans the centuries between the ancients and us. One need only read Genesis, Exodus, and the Gospels to realize that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and the Apostles are very much like us as we struggle to live our faith in a world hostile to God's Word. In the loosely translated words of the French writer, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

All that being said, what's been happening lately in archaeology?


Sarah Parcak, Space Archaeologist. Dr. Sarah Parcak, a Yale- and Cambridge-educated archaeologist and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has led what can only be described as a revolution in her field of study. For the past decade or so she has pioneered the use of satellite imagery to identify likely archaeological sites. Her work has led to the identification of hundreds of sites in Egypt, Sinai, Rome and elsewhere throughout the world. Many, perhaps most of these sites would never have been located by means of surface-based techniques. Dr. Parcak's work will keep her and many of her colleagues busy for decades to come.

There are, of course, some archaeologists who dispute her conclusions, but I expect most would resist any new techniques, especially those that might force them to reevaluate their own work.

Here's a brief video of Dr. Parcak discussing her work.

Babylonian Trigonometry? This story really interested me since trigonometry was among my favorite subjects back in high school. Back then (I think it was in my junior year), I'm pretty sure we were told that modern trigonometry and all its sines and cosines and tangents was something developed by the Greeks. The Egyptians might have used a primitive form to help them as they built pyramids and other edifices, but the Greeks were the ones who perfected this branch of mathematics. 
Mathematician David Mansfield holding ancient tablet
Now, it seems a couple of Australian mathematicians -- David Mansfield and Norman Wildberger -- have concluded that an ancient (3,700 year-old) Babylonian tablet found over 100 years ago contains a trigonometric table with "exact values for the sides of a range right triangles." In other words, instead of using angles, the Babylonians, with their base 60 math, expressed trigonometry in terms of these exact ratios of the sides of triangles. If the Aussies are correct -- and there's no shortage of folks who dispute their claims -- it's an amazing discovery. I expect we'll hear more about this in the future. You can read more about it here.

Destruction of Ancient and Religious Sites by Islamists. This is becoming a standard headline as followers of ISIS, al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas and other Islamist terrorist entities seem determined to destroy anything that doesn't support their warped sense of history and religion.

In the Philippines, particularly in the south, where ISIS influence has increased greatly in recent years, ISIS followers regularly destroy Christian churches. A recent example is destruction of the Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippine city of Marawi by Islamists who made a video of their rampage:



Read the story here.

In Iraq, ISIS, during the two years they controlled the city of Nimrud, carried out a plan of total destruction of this ancient city. When ISIS forces were finally driven out, the Iraqi soldiers found near total devastation. ISIS used bulldozers, explosives, sledgehammers, anything that could destroy, as they went through the ancient city smashing everything in their path.

At one time Nimrud was the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire. It was an archaeological marvel, the site of temples, ziggurats and other ruins thousands of years old. The Iraqi troops also found mass graves filled with the bodies of the local people murdered by ISIS. Seemingly proud of what they had done, ISIS also made several videos showing how they destroyed much of this ancient city. Here's a video  made after ISIS had been driven from the city, showing the level of destruction:


The Islamists' war of devastation continued in Syria with the destruction of much of the ancient city of Palmyra. They also bulldozed the Christian monastery of Mar Elian. They removed ancient mosaics, presumably to sell on the black market, from the Roman trading city of Apamea. In the city of Dura-Europos, located on the Euphrates and perhaps the easternmost of Roman outposts, they destroyed one of Christianity's oldest churches, a beautiful synagogue, and many Roman temples. And they looted the bronze-age city of Mari. And all of this destruction was just in Syria. The Islamists were guilty of even more looting and damage in the Iraqi cities of Hatra, Nineveh, Mosul, and Khorsabad, to name only a few.

The Sea People. Here's a fascinating story that shows it's important to take notes and keep them.


A few years ago I read a book entitled 1177 B.C., The Year Civilization Collapsed. Written by Eric Cline, an American archaeologist who focused on the causes of the sudden and near simultaneous collapse of many of the societies that ringed the Mediterranean Sea and even beyond. Many historians and archaeologists have placed the blame on the so-called "Sea People" who embarked on a series of invasions and raids that destroyed the key cities of these societies. Even Egypt was attacked, and although the Egyptians repelled the attackers, their society never fully recovered.
Egyptian wall frieze depicting Egypt repelling the Sea People

But Egypt wasn't the only victim. Hittites, Minoans, Trojans, and others all seemed simply to disappear. Cline isn't so sure this was all the result of the Sea People and adds natural calamities and economic factors to the mix of causes. But no one was ever absolutely sure where these Sea People came from. We might now have an answer, and it comes from an unexpected source.

Back in 1878 a French archaeologist, George Perrot, came across a limestone slab in the Turkish village of Beykoy. The slab, about a foot high and almost 100 feet long, was covered with ancient inscriptions. Because the locals intended to use the stone as part of the foundation of their mosque, Perrot decided to make an accurate copy of the inscriptions before the slab was destroyed.
Copy of Luwian Inscriptions
The copy, long forgotten, surfaced in 2012 in the estate of an English historian. Its inscriptions were then identified as Luwian, an ancient language that only a handful of experts can decipher. The translation of the inscriptions describes how kingdoms in Western Asia formed a confederation -- the Sea People -- and with a united fleet conducted raids of the eastern Mediterranean. Here's the story.

That's enough. More archaeology later...

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