Posts Tagged ‘Archaeology’

Bronze head of a king, thought to be Sargon of Akkad. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Bronze head of a king, thought to be Sargon of Akkad. Via Wikimedia Commons.

I was going to write a very brief blog entry about Enheduanna, an ancient Sumerian priestess thought to be the first named author in history. I thought it was interesting that that honor fell to a woman. But as often happens, I kind of plunged down a rabbit-hole when I started to try to pin down some of the details.

Enheduanna was the name of an Akkadian priestess of the moon-god Nanna and daughter of the king known as Sargon of Akkad. I came across Enheduanna in “The Rhetoric of Origins and the Other: Reading the Ancient Figure of Enheduanna,” a chapter by Roberta Binkley in the book Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks. Binkley is lecturer in rhetoric at Arizona State University (see an essay by her about Enheduanna here).

(Here at this website and blog I’m focusing on my historical-fiction writing project, The Cursed Ground. However, under another pen name I write non-fiction, thus the interest in rhetoric.)

Binkley’s chapter is fascinating for all kinds of reasons, but I was struck by her statement that Enheduanna is “the first named historical author.” (47) Enheduanna “lived and wrote around 2300 B.C.E.,” says Binkley, “almost two thousand years before the “golden age” of Greece. (48) I found that tidbit fascinating, that the earliest-known named writer was a woman. Beyond that, I was eager to read Binkley and the other authors who contributed chapters to the book, just because they challenge the received wisdom that rhetoric started in fifth- or fourth-century Athens.

To be frank, though, I got a little stuck on Binkley’s dating of Enheduanna at “around 2300 B.C.E.” The Wikipedia entry on Enheduanna places her a few years later, at 2285-2250 BCE. It seemed to me doubtful that the lifetime of someone living so long ago could be known so definitely that it could be placed within a 50-year range like that. How can they be so certain?

I get a little cranky when experts act too certain about events of the past and their dates — see my blog entry “How Much Do We Really Know About Human History?” An expert in one field generally only has time to thoroughly investigate his or her own narrow specialty enough to feel justified in making strong assertions. When it comes to placing their findings within the larger historical context, they tend to just go with whatever is asserted by other experts. This seems to go on frequently in academia, with the result that multitudes of specialists end up relying on other specialists, and they all kind of cooperate to construct this vast chronological model of the human past, everybody trusting the soundness of the others’ scholarship.

Most of it is valuable work and worth consulting, but is the great hypothetical model of the past so certain that the everyday thinking person should just accept it all on faith?

Enheduanna is believed to have been the daughter of Sargon of Akkad, a.k.a, Sargon the Great. He used to be known as Sargon I, but then researchers found out about an even earlier Sargon, who now gets that designation. Some think that “Sargon” might really be more of a title than a proper name. Anyway, out of my interest in Enheduanna and her lifetime, I learned that Sargon of Akkad’s lifetime is actually somewhat uncertain. In the information box in his Wikipedia entry, his dates are listed as c. 2334-2279 BCE. (For this entry, I’m relying quite a bit on Wikipedia — maybe I’ll jump further down this rabbit-hole in the future, but I expect Wikipedia can be trusted as accurate for something like this.)

However, if you read the detailed discussion of Sargon’s origins and rise to power, you’ll see that the 2334-2279 range is based on what’s called the “Middle Chronology.” Meaning there are other chronologies. In fact, the Sargon article also mentions a “short chronology,” which dates Sargon later, at 2270-2215. I thought that was interesting to see two chronologies mentioned for the early period in Sumerian history, and that idea of multiple chronologies sounded familiar. I thought I had run into it before, so I went a little deeper.

In fact, consulting the article on “Chronology of the Ancient Near East,” what I found is that there are what the article editors call “competing proposals” for the chronology of the second and third millennia BCE. Here is an interesting table borrowed from the article under the section “Variant Bronze Age chronologies“:

Chronology Ammisaduqa Year 8 Reign of Hammurabi Fall of Babylon I ±
Ultra-Low 1542 BC 1696 BC – 1654 BC 1499 BC +32 a
Short or Low 1574 BC 1728 BC – 1686 BC 1531 BC ±0 a
Middle 1638 BC 1792 BC – 1750 BC 1595 BC −64 a
Long or High 1694 BC 1848 BC – 1806 BC 1651 BC −120 a

The various versions of the chronology depend greatly on the interpretation of astronomical records recovered from cuneiform tablets, particularly the Ammisaduqa tablet recording observations of the planet Venus. As you can see here, the reckoning of a key date can vary as much as 150 years, depending on which chronology you follow. The editor says that the Middle Chronology “has strong academic supporters” and that the High and Ultra-Low chronologies “are minority views,” which is probably why the Middle Chronology is the one that has prevailed in the discussions of Sargon and thus Enheduanna. However, that’s not to say that the Ultra-Low Chronology should be completely discounted. In fact, if I understand correctly, the Ultra-Low Chronology would place Enheduanna closer to 2200 BCE rather than 2300 BCE.

Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Yet, I wonder whether there are Akkadian scholars who would scoff at the 2200 date and insist that 2300 is the “right” one — see “The Way Things Are, the Way Things Were, and What Is True.”

But I digress.

Here’s another wrinkle: The Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa, the cuneiform document so important to establishing anchor dates in the ancient Near East chronologies, is not universally loved. In fact, digging down further and consulting the Wikipedia article on that document, we learn that this tablet supposedly records the movements of Venus for a mere period of 21 years during the reign of a King Ammisaduqa, a successor of Hammurabi. However, the earliest extant copies of this tablet are dated between 720 and 704 BCE. You can see from the table above that this tablet is used to fix events that supposedly occurred about 900 years earlier than its writing. Maybe the copyists did their work properly during all that long period of time, but maybe not.

In fact, V.G.Gurzadyan casts doubt on the validity of the Venus tablet altogether, as seen in this abstract from his article “On the Astronomical Records and Babylonian Chronology“:

We outline the priority of high quality data of astronomical content as our strategy for the analysis of the ancient astronomical records in the search of the absolute chronology of the Near East in II millennium BC. … We then discuss why the 56/64 year Venus cycle cannot be traced in the Venus Tablet and therefore cannot serve as an anchor for the search of chronologies. … In sum the available data support the Ultra-Low Chronology proposed in the book by H.Gasche, J.A.Armstrong, S.W.Cole and V.G.Gurzadyan, “Dating the Fall of Babylon” (1998) and, particularly, leave no astronomical background for the High Chronology. Ultra-Low Chronology is supported also by archaeological, dendrochronological, Assyrian king lists and other data as summarized at the Intern. Colloquium on Ancient Near Eastern Chronology (Ghent, July, 2000).

Oops, that’s a least one scholar who prefers the Ultra-Low Chronology.

And another wrinkle on top of the other wrinkles. The editors of the “Chronology of the Ancient Near East” article in Wikipedia also add this little tantalizing tidbit:

The chronologies of Mesopotamia, the Levant and Anatolia depend significantly on the chronology of Ancient Egypt. To the extent that there are problems in the Egyptian chronology, these issues will be inherited in chronologies based on synchronisms with Ancient Egypt.

If you want to learn something about the problems with the Egyptian chronology, I refer you again to my article “How Much Do We Really Know About Human History?

So what’s the lesson here for the average person interested in the ancient world? Maybe the lesson is that we have to be careful when supposed experts tell us they “know” what took place thousands of years ago, and when it took place. This is especially so for those who are interested in Bible history and who know the chronology set forth in that reliable set of documents. The work of historians and archaeologists and philologists and linguists — and, yes, professors of rhetoric — is immensely valuable in helping us understand the past. But beware when someone claims to have the last word about what happened in the human past.

ARK — 1 November 2014







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How much do we really know about history — or maybe more properly, how much do we know about the human past?

(The Institute of Historical Research defines “history” as “the bodies of knowledge about the past produced by historians,” along with everything involved in producing and communicating that knowledge. That said, we often use the word “history” as an umbrella term for everything that happened in the past, and I’m not going to nitpick here.)

I often ask that question, because people who think they are erudite will sometimes tell me that I’m wrong about this or that fact about the past. Or, more often, they will just make some unequivocal statement about the past — such and such happened during such and such period, as if there were no question. (See one of my meditations about such certainty at “The Way Things Are, the Way Things Were, and What Is True.”)

Egyptian inscription, menu of Tepemankh

Inscription from tomb of Tepemankh, Giza, Egypt, conventionally dated about 2350-2300 BCE. Via Wikimedia Commons.

When historians make a statement about the past, how certain are they really? What prompted me to write about that question today was a comment contributed by a reader calling himself “Columbus” (I think his real name is Norbert — no comment on that) responding to my recent post, “Did Columbus Prove the Earth Is Round?” The commenter made reference to an article on the topic by historian Jeffrey Russell, who had this to say about what he called “the precariousness of history”:

History is precarious for three reasons: the good reason that it is extraordinarily difficult to determine “what really happened” in any series of events; the bad reason that historical scholarship is often sloppy; and the appalling reason that far too much historical scholarship consists of contorting the evidence to fit ideological models. The worst examples of such contortions are the Nazi and Communist histories of the early- and mid-twentieth century. (boldface mine)

All three reasons are causes for concern, particularly the urge for promoting ideologically-based falsehoods, one of the principal motivations behind the myth that Columbus proved the earth is round.

However, what I’m thinking about today is Russell’s reason number one, just the sheer difficulty of determining what really happened.

If you think about it, what is history based on, that is, our hypothetical narrative of the human past? Things like written documents and inscriptions, which become scarcer and more fragmentary the further back you go in time. Archaeologists help by creating conjectures based on traces of human activity dug up from the ground — the foundations of ancient buildings, shards of pottery, old pieces of metal, the occasional bone. But how much certainty does such evidence impart, especially when it comes to ancient history?

As an example, supposed erudites often assert that the Bible chronology can’t be correct, because the chronology of Egypt continues back in time before the Biblical date of the Great Flood at 2370 BCE. Many people “know” that, but what’s it based on? For the most part, two lines of shaky evidence — the puffery of Egyptian kings engraved on monuments, and an account of Egyptian history based on a source named Manetho, reputed to be an Egyptian historian living in the 3rd century BCE, more than 2,000 years after the Bible’s date for the Deluge and any Egyptian kings thought to have been living at that time. On top of that, Manetho’s history has never been found in its original complete form, and is only known from excerpts quoted in a work by the Jewish historian Josephus in the first century CE, four hundred years after the purported life of Manetho.

You still run across people who dismiss the Bible account based on that shaky foundation. Perhaps this is an example of what Russell refers to as “contorting the evidence to fit ideological models.”

But is Russell the only historian who suggests that history as commonly written is less certain than we like to let on?

Moses I. Finley

Moses I. Finley

The best reference I have found on this topic is Ancient History: Evidence and Models, a 1985 book by the Cambridge Classics scholar Moses I. Finley (1912-1986). If you’re open-minded enough to consider a criticism of history at the deepest level, I encourage you to read the book, which can be obtained through Amazon, or perhaps through an academic or public library.

However, following are a few selected quotes which help to express Finley’s thinking and observations about history as it is written.

Much of Finley’s focus is on classical Western history, beginning with Ancient Greece and Rome. In discussing Roman history as understood through Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus:

Try as we may, we cannot trace any of their written sources back beyond about 300 BC, and mostly not further than to the age of Marius and Sulla. Yet the early centuries of the Republic and the still earlier centuries that preceded it are narrated in detail in Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Where did they find their information? No matter how many older statements we can either document or posit — irrespective of possible reliability — we eventually reach a void. But ancient writers, like historians ever since, could not tolerate a void, and they filled it in one way or another, ultimately by pure invention. (9, boldface mine)

One of the problems Finley points to in reconstructing ancient history is the paucity of real primary documentation. In discussing government documents, he writes:

Outside Egypt, governmental documents available to us are solely those that the authorities chose to display publicly in lasting materials, stone or bronze (apart from the quotations that are preserved in the literary sources) …

… it is worth noting that of all the publicly displayed Roman laws, senatus consulta and imperial ‘enactments’ down to Constantine, barely one hundred are now available in some condition from the whole of the territory under Roman rule. For the whole of antiquity, in sum, what we have at our disposal (apart from Athens) is a scatter of documents from one end of the Mediterranean world to the other, the great majority of them isolated texts without a context … (37-38, boldface mine)

While Finley’s critique of history is strong, he does not assert that it is impossible to come up with a better accounting of the past, but that this requires a more systematic way to assemble and evaluate ancient sources, which he discusses in the book. It also requires that historians give up precious assumptions that have let them fool themselves into thinking they are able to unequivocally “tell ‘how it really was.'” (47)

ARK — 28 October 2014

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Indiana Jones

Credit: Wikimedia

Science writer Erik Vance posted a good piece this week titled “Why Archaeologists Hate Indiana Jones” at the science blog The Last Word on Nothing. His piece is a kind of companion and commentary to his more formal National Geographic article in August about looting at archaeological sites in Guatemala.

Much as we might get a kick out of Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequel films, when it comes down to it, Indiana Jones is not an archaeologist but a looter. As one Tulane archaeologist told Vance:

“That first scene, where he’s in the temple and he’s replacing that statue with a bag of sand — that’s what looters do. [The temple builders] are using these amazing mechanisms of engineering and all he wants to do is steal the stupid gold statue.”

Vance makes the point that

A real archaeologist would have taken a photo of it, told the Nazis they could have the stupid thing, and spent the next 10 years studying the temple’s booby traps.

The National Geographic article stresses the harm that is done through the looting of ancient sites. Some antiquities collector gets a few pots for his collection, and meanwhile a whole building gets destroyed. Those pots might be interesting and valuable, but their archaeological value is practically nil if no record is made of the context in which they were found.

I follow archaeology news because it informs my Edhai project, an historical fiction series set in ancient times. To keep in touch with me and to receive updates on my project, as well as my comments on ancient history, fiction writing, and other topics, please follow this link to sign up for my email newsletter: http://eepurl.com/2U3Uf

ARK — 11 September 2014


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Robert Pershing Wadlow. via Wikimedia.

Robert Pershing Wadlow. via Wikimedia.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post showing that some popular photos of giant skeletons were faked — see “Have Archaeologists Found Skeletons of Biblical Giants in Greece?

However, in that post I didn’t say much about whether giant humans could in fact have existed at one time. The “giant skeletons” article has been viewed tens of thousands of times and has received many comments from people who seem to take it personally that I exposed these photos as faked. Many took it that I was contradicting the Bible account in Genesis, which they believe speaks of a time when giant humans walked the earth.

I should point out that very large people have been known even in modern times. The American Robert Pershing Wadlow lived from 1918 to 1940. Wadlow reached 8 feet 11.1 inches (2.72 meters) and 492 pounds (223 kg). So it doesn’t seem impossible to suppose that a human could reach a height of 10 feet or so.

About giants in the Bible: According to 1 Sam. 17:4, the Philistine giant Goliath was six cubits and a span, about 9 ½ feet tall (2.9 meters). That’s not too much larger than Wadlow. Pre-flood creatures described at Gen. 6:1,2,4 are sometimes called “giants,” but the actual word used there is nefilim, meaning “fellers” in Hebrew, or those who cause others to fall down by striking them. The Bible doesn’t say how big they were.

giants6smallIf you look at the first faked photo I show in the “giant skeletons” post, you will see that it shows a skull appearing to be about five feet high (or 60 inches). If you figure that a normal human skull is about seven inches high, the skull in the faked photo would have to represent a human about 50 feet tall.

Could a human exist at a height of 40 feet, 50 feet, or more? It’s an interesting question, but it has been explored by competent researchers.

In 1928, geneticist J.B.S. Haldane wrote a well-known essay called “On Being the Right Size,” in which he wrote that “it is easy to show that a hare could not be as large as a hippopotamus, or a whale as small as a herring. For every type of animal there is a most convenient size, and a large change in size inevitably carries with it a change of form.” Haldane gives an extensive discussion of the relationship between size and function in living things, but he also addresses the problem of a giant human by supposing a human were the size of the giants Pope and Pagan in the version of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress that he, Haldane, had when he was a child. He shows what engineering problems would result from being so large:

Let us take the most obvious of possible cases, and consider a giant man sixty feet high — about the height of Giant Pope and Giant Pagan in the illustrated Pilgrim’s Progress of my childhood. These monsters were not only ten times as high as Christian, but ten times as wide and ten times as thick, so that their total weight was a thousand times his, or about eighty to ninety tons. Unfortunately the cross sections of their bones were only a hundred times those of Christian, so that every square inch of giant bone had to support ten times the weight borne by a square inch of human bone. As the human thigh-bone breaks under about ten times the human weight, Pope and Pagan would have broken their thighs every time they took a step.

Such problems are solved in nature by what we might call “right-sizing.” Haldane offers the example of the gazelle:

To turn to zoology, suppose that a gazelle, a graceful little creature with long thin legs, is to become large, it will break its bones unless it does one of two things. It may make its legs short and thick, like the rhinoceros, so that every pound of weight has still about the same area of bone to support it. Or it can compress its body and stretch out its legs obliquely to gain stability, like the giraffe. I mention these two beasts because they happen to belong to the same order as the gazelle, and both are quite successful mechanically, being remarkably fast runners.

Movie poster by Reynold Brown via Wikimedia.

Movie poster by Reynold Brown via Wikimedia.

Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope goes into greater detail about the structural problems of being a 50-foot-tall human in his post “Could an attacking 50-foot woman actually exist?” The reference here is to the science fiction movie Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Adams explains that, according to the Principle of Similitude, “women, men, and critters in general can only get so big,” because “strength increases with the square of height while bulk increases with the cube.” So if an animal were to get taller while keeping the same proportions, it would get too weak to support its weight: “doubling the size of an animal while keeping its proportions the same increases the cross-sectional area of its muscles and bones by a factor of four while increasing its weight by a factor of eight.” Consequently, “if a woman starts off at five feet and 100 pounds and then grows to 50 feet, she’ll have 100 times the bone and muscle area but weigh 1,000 times as much — 50 tons.”

Adams also explains that a human of that size would run into insurmountable problems with its cardiovascular system, among other difficulties.

Given the engineering obstacles around human gigantism, I suggest that we all be satisfied with imagining giants of more modest size. After all, a nine-foot-tall guy would be pretty impressive, no?

ARK — 6 Nov. 2013

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A recent story from BBC News emphasizes how difficult it can be to pick out the science from the hype when reading science news reporting.

The article, “Woolly mammoth extinction ‘not linked to humans’,” explains some recent research by a Durham University professor based on a computer simulation of climate change over the last 42,000 years, and how this would have affected vegetation.

This sounds pretty interesting, but what struck me more than anything was the way the results were reported, certainly by the BBC reporter, possibly by the researchers as well.

Reading the headline, you would think the case is closed — our hunter-gatherer ancestors are not guilty — vindication at last! “Woolly mammoth extinction ‘not linked to humans’.”

One clue that the truth is more nuanced can be seen in the BBC headline writer’s weaselly use of single quotes. The headline writer can make the article sound more sensational, while using the quotation marks to shift the burden of proof on others. (See a colleague’s comments on this practice: “John the Baptist’s Bones and BBC’s Quotation Marks.”)

The article says that the reason for the mammoth’s extinction has been controversial. Some scientists claim it was climate change, others that it was encroachment by humans. Others have rolled in the beloved deus ex machina of a meteor strike.

Now, according to the BBC writer, “that debate has been settled.” Case closed! Congratulations on your latest sensational science story!

But then I notice a quote from the actual scientist:

What our results have suggested is that the changing climate, through the effect it had on vegetation, was the key thing that caused the reduction in the population and ultimate extinction of mammoths and many other large herbivores,” he said.

“Our results have suggested…“? Humans have been exonerated and debates have been settled based on … ‘suggestions’?

Certainly a computer simulation of climate change and its affect on vegetation is interesting and useful, but it’s really just one piece of scientific evidence. And, like any computer program, a simulation is subject to one of the basic limitations on any computer program: Garbage in, garbage out. Not that the simulation is wrong, but it could be, especially if it is programmed based on erroneous assumptions.

When reading science news reporting, or original scientific research for that matter, it’s important to realize that it’s difficult to prove definitively what happened in the past. And the further in the past the events in question, the harder it is to prove anything, without written records by reliable observers.

Digging up bones, fossilized pollen, or pottery shards from the ground is valuable work, as are analyzing DNA and running computer simulations. But the interested reader needs to keep in mind that scientists (and the journalists who write about their work) have skin in the game in one way or another — whether that be professional ambitions, funding to attain, reputations to uphold, or just plain personal ideologies to justify.

ARK — 21 August 2010

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[Updated 22 May 2010]

I was intrigued recently when someone sent me a series of photos purporting to show the skeletons of giant humans excavated at archaeological sites. Here is an example to the right.

However, some quick Internet research revealed that these photos are all doctored. You can see all the photos at About.com — here is an explanation and analysis by urban-legends specialist David Emery: “Giants in Greece — Analysis.”

The photo shown here turns out to be an altered version of a 1993 photo from a dinosaur dig by the University of Chicago — see the original here.

From the detail shown below, you can see that the image of the skull is inconsistent with the rest of the photo — the inserted segment is flat, and one of the workers at the site even appears to have his foot on the skull:

Giant skull detail shows doctoring

[Update added 22 May 2010] A reader asked about another photo in the series, showing a skeleton with a hole in its temple, lying in a grave. I believe she is referring to this one (linked from the About.com article):

Photo of giant skeleton in a grave - probably a fake

David Emery points out that the skull in this photo show “incongruously bright highlights on the teeth and around the edges of the gaping temple wound.” I’m no expert at analyzing photos, but to me the skeleton in the photo looks like a black-and-white image, whereas the surface of the ground surrounding the hole seems to be in color, which is certainly the case in the image of the two people in the photo.

Here’s a detail showing the suspicious bright highlights on the image of the skull:

Detail from photo of supposed giant skeleton

All that said, just because somebody was able to fake some photos and a bunch of people believed them only proves that somebody can use image-editing software to fake photos and fool other people. It doesn’t mean that the Bible’s accounts about the Nephilim and other giants aren’t true.

The Bible’s account of the Nephilim appears in Gen. 6:1,2,4 — you can look up Bible texts here. Apparently the Nephilim were hybrids resulting from the marriage of materialized angels and human women. Most likely they were sterile and had no descendants themselves. They would not have survived the global deluge.

The historical account in the Bible does not say how tall the Nephilim were. It does, however, say that the height of the Philistine warrior Goliath was six cubits and a span, which would make him about 2.9 meters or 9 1/2 feet tall — see 1 Sam. 17:4.

This height is not much greater than the heights of some humans recorded in modern times — see this list at Wikipedia of the world’s tallest people.

[Update added 26 Nov. 2013: I’ve recently written a blog entry exploring how large a human could actually get, given the limitations of physics and biology — see “Could Giant Humans Exist?“]

It’s not impossible that fossil remains of pre-flood humans are among those that have been discovered in the past or that might be found in the future. However, you need to keep in mind that human (and animal) remains normally decompose completely without leaving any trace. Also, the flood waters would probably have been unimaginably violent and destructive and could have covered human remains with hundreds of meters of sediments, making them rare and difficult to recover.

One intriguing archaeological discovery was announced by a group that conducted digs very recently on Mount Ararat, where they uncovered a wooden structure high on the mountain that some believe is the ark of preservation built by the patriarch Noah — see “Group Claims New Noah’s Ark Find on Ararat.”

[Update from 11 Sept 2014] Readers interested in this post might want to know that I have started up an email newsletter. If you want to keep up with my writings about ancient history from a Biblical perspective, as well as progress on my historical fiction series The Edhai, please follow this link to sign up now: http://eepurl.com/2U3Uf

ARK — 10 May 2010

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A group of Chinese and Turkish explorers sponsored by Hong-Kong-based Noah’s Ark Ministries International (NAMI) has reported the discovery of a “4,800-year-old wooden structure on Mount Ararat in Turkey.” (Note that the organization’s Chinese-language web site does have an English version but is very slow-loading.)

Explorer inside the structure thought to be Noah's Ark

This is not the first time someone has reported finding Noah’s Ark — some previous claims have been dodgy — a lone tribesman coming forward years after his supposed visit — an anti-biblical hoaxter who made false claims about finding the ark, proving … what? … that people are capable of making false claims, I guess.

But this expedition has returned with artifacts and some stunning photo and video records showing a wooden structure with multiple compartments encased in ice and frozen earth — see this video of the team exploring inside the structure. The structure was found at a height of about 4,000 meters, which reportedly would place it above any tree growth and above any known human habitations.

At a press conference April 25, 2010, in Turkey,  NAMI organizational representative Man-fai Yuen said:

The search team and I personally entered a wooden structure high on the mountain. The structure is partitioned into different spaces. We believe that the wooden structure we entered is the same structure recorded in historical accounts and the same ancient boat indicated by the locals.

An announcement by the organization says that

Team members entered the wooden structure and proceeded to conduct field studies, take measurements and collect samples, with the entire process filmed. This is the first team in history ever to visually document the interior of the wood structure on the mountain.

Evidently, the group has been conducting secret expeditions to the site on Ararat since about June 2008. One explorer, Panda Lee, who visited the site in October 2008, reported what he saw:

At an elevation of more than 4,000 metres, I saw a structure built with plank-like timber. Each plank was about 8 inches wide. I could see tenons, proof of ancient construction predating the use of metal nails. We walked about 100 metres to another site. I could see broken wood fragments embedded in a glacier, and some 20 metres long. I surveyed the landscape and found that the wooden structure was permanently covered by ice and volcanic rocks. Prior to my expedition, the Turkish team had excavated the site to expose the structure.

Since the structure is broken up, team members have had to enter through various openings to explore the interior.

NAMI reports that Turkish officials intend to initiate scientific inquiries so the structure can be studied as an archaeological site.

NAMI’s web site has many photos and the video linked above. However, due to the slowness of their site, I recommend seeing the photos accompanying the Fox News story: “Has Noah’s Ark Been Found on Turkish Mountaintop?” Go here to see an interesting slide show: “Has Noah’s Ark Been Found?

The Bible’s account of the survival of the patriarch Noah and his family through a global deluge can be found at Genesis chapters 6-9 — go here to find the account in a modern-language translation.

Genesis 6:14-16 describes the ark as a ventilated box-like structure of three stories, constructed of wood and waterproofed with tar. The dimensions are given as 300 cubits long by 50 cubits wide and thirty cubits high. If a cubit was about 18 inches as commonly thought, this would be a structure 133 meters long, with a capacity of 1.4 million cubic feet. This would provide plenty of capacity for Noah, his family, a sufficiently broad representation of animal kinds, and food and provisions.

Although critics have called into question the capacity of the Ark and its ability to accommodate such a floating menagerie as that described in the Bible, these objections have been well countered by defenders of the Bible account. One example for those with an open mind: Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study, by John Woodmorappe.

AB — 27 April 2010

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An inscription on a pottery fragment recently deciphered at the University of Haifa in Israel shows that Hebrew was in use during the 10th century BCE, much earlier than generally acknowledged by mainstream scholars.

An announcement from the University of Haifa (see “Most ancient Hebrew inscription deciphered“) says the inscription appears on a pottery shard 15 cm x 16.5 cm and was deciphered by Prof. Gershon Galil of the university’s Department of Biblical Studies. Galil has demonstrated that the inscription is Hebrew. Radioactive dating placed the fragment during the 10th century BCE, making this the oldest known example of Hebrew writing.

The writing’s distinctive use of verbs and particular content show it to be attributable to Hebrew and not to other cultures of the area at that time. Galil is quoted as saying,

This text is a social statement, relating to slaves, widows and orphans. It uses verbs that were characteristic of Hebrew, such as asah (“did”) and avad (“worked”), which were rarely used in other regional languages. Particular words that appear in the text, such as almanah (“widow”) are specific to Hebrew and are written differently in other local languages.

The content itself was also unfamiliar to all the cultures in the region besides the Hebrew society: The present inscription provides social elements similar to those found in the biblical prophecies and very different from prophecies written by other cultures postulating glorification of the gods and taking care of their physical needs.

Galil says this finding argues against the mainstream view that the Bible was written during a later period and that the kingdom of Israel didn’t exist that early.

Galil adds that

It can now be maintained that it was highly reasonable that during the 10th century BCE, during the reign of King David, there were scribes in Israel who were able to write literary texts and complex historiographies such as the books of Judges and Samuel.

Although the content does not appear to copy or quote from the Bible, the university says it is similar in content to such scriptures as Isa. 1:17, Ps. 72:3, and Ex. 23:3.

Translated into English, the text reads:

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].

2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]

3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]

4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.

5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

ARK — 15 January 2010

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