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Reimagining the Ancient World

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Felecia
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« Reply #15 on: February 21, 2007, 01:21:32 pm »

Sweet Track (UK)”

Definition: Sweet Track is the name given to the earliest known trackway in northern Europe, built, according to tree ring analysis of the wood, in the winter or early spring of 3807 or 3806 BC. The Sweet Track is one of several trackways built during the Neolithic and Iron Age that are preserved in the boggy bottoms of the peat marsh called Somerset Levels near Glastonbury. Excavations in the Somerset Levels were conducted in the 1970s by John Coles of Cambridge University.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology. Sources for the term include the references listed on the front page of the Dictionary, and the websites listed in the sidebar. Any mistakes are the responsibility of Kris Hirst. Related Glossary Entries
Land Transportation

Corlea Trackway (Ireland)

Dendrochronology

http://archaeology.about.com/od/sterms/g/sweettrack.htm
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« Reply #16 on: February 21, 2007, 01:22:04 pm »

Michelsberg Culture

Definition: The Michelsburg Group or culture is a Neolithic culture of central Europe, located between the Rhine River and the Alps, between about 4400 and 3500 BC. Preceded by Bischeim and followed by variations on the Beaker peoples. The typesite, called Michelsburg, is in present-day Germany.

Related Resources:

Neolithic Archaeology
The Neolithic period is when humans first learned to tend plants and animals and eventually domesticate crops and animals. This page links to resources about the Neolithic period.
Archaeology of Germany
Links and reosurces from your About.com guide.

Elsewhere on the Web:

Michelsburg Culture
From Maximilian Baldia's Comparative Archaeology Site.

http://archaeology.about.com/library/glossary/bldef_michelsberg.htm
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« Reply #17 on: February 21, 2007, 01:22:42 pm »

Nabta Playa (Egypt)”

Definition: Nabta Playa is an archaeological site in the western deserts of southern Egypt, where some of the earliest known evidence of domesticated cattle have been identified. The site has three periods of occupation dated to the Early Neolithic (9,800-7,500 BP), Middle Neolithic (7,100-6,700 BP), and Late Neolithic (6,500-4,800 BP). The earliest period (9800-8900 BP) contained gazelle and cattle bones, artifact scatters of stone tools and wasteflakes, and hearths. The first house at Nabta Playa was built about 8500 BP, and the pattern throughout the Neolithic shows a steady increase in the amount of time invested in gathering, pastoralism, and eventually agriculture. Sheep and goats were found at Nabta Playa in the Middle Neolithic period; and the Late Neolithic period evidences agriculture, tombs, and megalithic structures. Nabta Playa was excavated in the 1990s by Fred Wendorf and Romuald Schild.

Johnson, Amber L. 2002 Cross-Cultural Analysis of Pastoral Adaptations and Organizational States: A Preliminary Study. Cross-Cultural Research 36(2):151-180.

Wendorf, Fred, Romuald Schild, et al. 2001. Holocene settlement of the Egyptian Sahara. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology. Sources for the term include the references listed on the front page of the Dictionary, and the websites listed in the sidebar. Any mistakes are the responsibility of Kris Hirst. Related Glossary Entries
Cattle Herding

Suggested Reading
Domestications

Archaeology of Egypt


http://archaeology.about.com/od/nterms/g/nabta_playa.htm
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« Reply #18 on: February 21, 2007, 01:23:17 pm »

Egyptian 'Stonehenge' predates the pyramids


Three metres high, and 7,000 years old.

By Brahm Rosensweig, March 8, 1999


This story was published March 8, 1999
Some 20 years ago, in the Egyptian desert about 100 kilometers west of Abu Simbel, Fred Wendorf noticed a group of large stones on the site of an ancient lake bed. Reasoning by their appearance that they must have been brought there some time in the past, he began excavations. What he uncovered were the oldest-known astronomically arranged megaliths, predating Stonehenge by over 1000 years.
The megaliths, and the ancient lake bed they surround, are called Nabta Playa. The term playa refers to a basin that holds water seasonally. From about 11,000 to 5,500 years ago, Nabta Playa was an important ceremonial center for a variety of ancient tribes that lived in this once-habitable desert. Today it is a harsh and unforgiving region, but around 12,000 years ago a shift in the regional monsoon pattern brought a modest but life-giving 10-15 centimeters of rain per year to the region. Playas like Nabta would remain filled with water for months, and tribes of the desert would congregate around them, holding ceremonies and building impressive stone structures. Today there are dozens of archaeological sites located on and around Nabta Playa.



The ceremonial hub of Nabta Playa may have been the nine three-metre tall unshaped sandstone slabs which are aligned north-south. During the rainy season they would have been partially submerged in the lake.

About 300 meters north of these slabs is a "calendar circle", consisting of a set of smaller sandstone slabs arranged in a circle about 4 metres in diameter. Amongst them are four pairs of larger upright slabs, two of which line up north-south, and two of which line up east-northeast to west-southwest. This would have aligned them with the sunrise of the summer solstice about 6,800 years ago. The solstice would have been of great significance to the Nabta people as it marked the beginning of the all-important monsoon season.


A ceremonial burial of a bull.

About 300 metres north of the calender circle, Wendorf and his crew discovered a burial chamber that contained not human remains as expected, but those of a cow. Despite the wealth of human artifacts at Nabta, no human remains have yet been found. The cattle burial, which was in a clay lined chamber and contained a large, ritually killed bull, is an indication that the peoples of Nabta had a cattle herding, nomadic culture a bit like the nomadic people of southern Sudan or northern Kenya today.


The goddess Hathor.

About 4,800 years ago, the weather patterns shifted, and the area returned to its previous hyperarid state. Human habitation ceased, and exactly where the cattle worshippers of Nabta migrated to remains a mystery. However, archaeologists note with interest that religion in the Old Kingdom which rose a few hundred years later in the Nile Valley had a prominent place for cows as never before. Hathor, for example, the ancient Egyptian deity for love and beauty, had a woman's body and a cow's head.


http://exn.ca/egypt/story.asp?id=1999030852&st=Monuments
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« Reply #19 on: February 21, 2007, 01:23:49 pm »

Nabta Playa is an internally drained basin that served as an important ceremonial center for nomadic tribes during the early part of the Holocene epoch. Located 100 km west of Abu Simbel some 60 miles west of the Nile near the Egyptian-Sudanese border. Nabta contains a number of standing and toppled megaliths. They include flat, tomb-like stone structures and a small stone circle that predates Stonehenge and other similar prehistoric sites by at least 1000 years.


Although some believe the high culture of subsequent Egyptian dynasties was borrowed from Mesopotamia and Syria, University of Colorado at Boulder astronomy Professor J. McKim Malville and others believe the complex and symbolic Nabta culture may have stimulated the growth of the society that eventually constructed the first pyramids along the Nile about 4,500 years ago. Neolithic herders that began coming to Nabta about 10,000 years ago -- probably from central Africa -- used cattle in their rituals just as the African Massai do today, he said. No human remains have yet been found at Nabta.


The Nabta culture may have been a trigger for the development of social complexity in Egypt that later led to the Pharaonic dynasty he said.
Nabta Playa

African Archaeology
"The symbolic richness and spatial awareness seen in the Nabta complex of the Late Neolithic age may have developed from adaptation by nomadic peoples to the stress of survival in the desert. The ceremonial complex could not be more recent than the onset of hyperaridity in the region around 4,800 years ago, suggesting that the astronomy and ceremonialism of Nabta occurred before most of the megalithic features of Europe, Great Britain, and Brittany were established. Within some 500 years after the exodus from Nabta, the step pyramid at Saqqara was constructed, indicating that there was a pre-existing cultural base, which may have originated in the desert of Upper Egypt. An exodus from the Nubian desert at 5,000 years ago could have precipitated the development of social differentiation in predynastic cultures through the arrival in the Nile valley of nomadic groups who were better organized and possessed a more complex cosmology."

Malville, Wendorf, Mazar & Schild, Megaliths and Neolithic Astronomy in Southern Egypt, Nature, pp. 392, 488-491 (April 2, 1998)


The site was first discovered in 1974 by a group of scientists headed by Fred Wendorf, an Anthropology Professor from Southern Methodist University in Texas. The team had stopped for a break from their uncomfortable drive from the Libyan border to the Nile Valley when, as Wendorf stated, "we were standing there minding our own business, when we noticed potsherds and other artifacts." Throughout the 1970's and 1980's, Wendorf returned to Nabta several times. He determined that humans had occupied the Nabta area off and on for thousands of years, dating from as early as 11,000 years ago up until about 4,800 years ago. Although the area was occupied for more then 5,000 years, the majority of the stone structures and other artifacts originated between 7,000 and 6,500 years ago. It was considered by most to be the height of human occupation at Nabta.


Nabta became a habitable area because of a climatic change that occurred over North Africa around 12,000 years ago. This climatic change was caused by a northward shift of the summer monsoons. This shift brought enough rain to the Nabta region to enable it to sustain life for both humans and animals. Although it was a small amount of rain, usually around four to eight inches (10-15 cm) per year, it was enough to fill the playas with water for months at a time. Between 11,000 and 9,300 years ago, Nabta saw its first settlements. The people living at Nabta herded cattle, made ceramic vessels, and set up seasonal camps around the playa. These people regarded cattle in much the same way as modern peoples of West Africa regard them. The blood and milk of the cattle was more significant than the meat. The ceramics that were found from this period are minimal, but are considered to be some of the oldest identified in Africa.


Once fall came and the playa dried up, these people had to migrate to areas where more water was available, possibly to the Nile in the east or perhaps to areas further south. Larger settlements began to pop up shortly after 9,000 years ago. These people were able to dig wells that supplied them with enough water to live at Nabta year round. They survived on a number of wild plants and small animals like hares and gazelles. By around 8,100 years ago there is evidence for the domestication of larger animals including goats and sheep. This is also a time when the people of Nabta started to produce pottery locally.


Settlements became larger and more sophisticated. One settlement from this period contains 18 houses arranged in two, possibly three straight lines. It also contains numerous fire hearths and these amazing walk-in wells. This settlement also shows the establishment of an organized labor force. This settlement and all the other settlements at Nabta were abandoned for a couple of long stretches between 8,000 and 7,000 years ago when two major droughts occurred. These droughts caused the water table to be lowered to around the same level as it is today, causing Nabta to be hyper-arid and virtually lifeless for long periods of time.


The groups of people that returned to Nabta after the droughts exhibited substantial advancement toward a more complex society that expressed a greater degree of organization and control. This control and organization was probably centered around some ritual or religious belief system. This is the time period when most of the major structures were constructed at Nabta. They constructed five megalithic alignments that radiated from a cluster of stones that has been named E-96-1 Structure A. These megaliths were constructed out of quartzite sandstone that came from exposed sandstone that was at least a half -kilometer away. The stones were erected and embedded into the playa. With the help of GPS satellite technology, recent surveys by Wendorf and University of Colorado at Boulder's Astronomy Professor J. McKim Malville have allowed them to map out the exact location of these stone alignments. These studies confirm that one of the alignments of the megaliths form an east-west line and another alignment forms a north-south line.


Although more research needs to be done, many scientists, including Malville, believe that the alignments had an astronomical significance. Three hundred meters north of these alignments is the stone calendar circle. Compared to Stonehenge, this circle is very small, measuring roughly 4 m in diameter. The calendar consists of a number of stones, the main ones being four pairs of larger ones. Each of these four pairs were set close together to form what Wendorf calls "gates." Two of these pairs align to form a line very close to a true north-south line, and the other two pairs or gates align to form an east-west line. The east-west alignment is calculated to be where the sun would have risen and set from the summer solstice 6,500 years ago.


Fire hearths from around the circle date to around 6,800 years ago. Another 300 meters north of the calendar circle is a stone covered tumuli that contained the remains of cattle. One of the tumuli contained a cow that was fully articulated. This particular tumulus was dug into the ground surrounded by a clay frame. It had a roof made from the limbs of tamarisk. It was then covered with broken rocks that formed a mound eight meters in diameter and one meter high. Wood from the roof of the chamber has been dated to around 6,500 years ago. Other tumuli that were found in the area were more basic and consisted of unshaped stones that contained disarticulated cattle bones. They had no subsurface structure and were basically piles of bones covered with stones. These tumuli were dated to about 5,500 years ago.


Another major feature at Nabta is a group of thirty "complex structures." These structures are located about a kilometer south of the cattle tumuli measuring 500 meters in length and 200 meters in width. The framework was constructed by using roughly shaped or unshaped stones that were set upright to form a structure that was oval in shape measuring 5 meters by 4 meters. Aside from a few minor details, all of the structures were basically the same. They all face slightly west of north and they all have one or two large stone slabs that lay horizontally in the center of the structure. What makes them unique is that they have been built over large mushroom-shaped tablerocks. The tablerocks were shaped by years and years of erosion and then covered by two to three and a half meters of playa clays and silts.


It is unclear as to how the Nabtians were able to locate these tablerocks. One theory is that they were located by accident when they were digging wells, but nobody knows for sure. The largest excavated structure reveals that a large pit was dug before the **** of the walls. The pit was about 6 m in diameter and 4 m deep. It was dug down to the tablerock. They shaped the rock to have three convex sides and one side that was worked to form a straight edge that face north. In the pit they placed another large shaped stone or sculpture that resembled a cow or some other large animal. The sculpture was placed upright with its axis facing north, the same way as the tablerock below it. The pit was backfilled with playa clay one meter thick in order to support the sculpture. Two smaller stones were also placed in the pit to help secure the sculpture even more. Once the sculpture was in place and the pit was completely backfilled, the surface stones were then erected and placed into position. Testing done on charcoal from around the structures indicates a date to 5,500-5,000 years ago. The actual function of the complex remains a mystery.


About 4,800 years ago there was another climatic change. The African monsoons shifted south to approximately the same area that they were prior to 12,000 years ago. The land became hyper-arid again and caused human habitation at Nabta to cease. The cattle worshipping people of Nabta had to migrate to a more livable area. But to where did these people migrate? Some people believe that the people of Nabta eventually made their way to the Nile Valley. Perhaps they were the people responsible for the rise of the Egyptian Empire. This theory is based on the prominence of cattle in the religious belief system of Pre-dynastic Egypt continuing into the Old Kingdom.


In ancient Egypt, cattle were deified and regarded as the earthly representative of the gods. Egyptian Pharaohs were said to represent two gods. Horus represented Upper Egypt and Seth represented Lower Egypt. Horus was the son of Hathor who was depicted as either a cow or a strong bull. Another Egyptian god that is represented by a bull is the god of rain, a very important entity to the people of Nabta, considering that life or death could have been determined by the amount of rain they received. Another point of interest is that pre-Egyptian societies did not place the same importance on cattle in either a social or religious capacity, indicating that outside influence must have played a part in the Old Kingdom belief system. This may have happened because the pastoralists from Nabta came to the Nile to conquer and take over the land from their farming neighbors. Perhaps they simply joined together with the farmers and their beliefs were blended with those of the farmers. No matter how you look at it, given the closeness of Nabta to the Nile, there had to have been interaction between them and ideas had to be exchanged to some degree.


Whether or not the people of Nabta had anything to do with the Egyptian civilization, it is still a site of great importance. It dates to a time when climatic and social changes were occurring. Complex societies or civilizations were starting to emerge not only in Africa, but throughout the world. Nabta helps to provide us with a better understanding of what life was like during this time in history.


REFERENCE:


Nabta Playa and its role in Northeastern African Prehistory, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 17:97-123, 1998
An assembly of huge stone slabs found in Egypt’s Sahara Desert that date from about 6,500 years to 6,000 years ago has been confirmed by scientists to be the oldest known astronomical alignment of megaliths in the world. Photo credit: J. M. Malville (U. Colorado) & F. Wendorf (SMU). [site]


Mystic Places: Astronomical Alignments of

Ancient Structures
Map courtesy of Mary Settegast, Plato Prehistorian: 10,000 to 5000 B.C. Myth, Religion, Archaeology, (2000)

http://www.homestead.com/wysinger/nabtaplaya.html
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« Reply #20 on: February 21, 2007, 01:24:29 pm »

Nabta Playa

Nabta Playa is an internally drained basin that served as an important ceremonial center for nomadic tribes during the early part of the Holocene epoch. Located 100 km west of Abu Simbel in southern Egypt, Nabta contains a number of standing and toppled megaliths. They include flat, tomb-like stone structures and a small stone circle that predates Stonehenge and other similar prehistoric sites by at least 1000 years.

The site was first discovered in 1974 by a group of scientists headed by Fred Wendorf, an Anthropology Professor from Southern Methodist University in Texas. The team had stopped for a break from their uncomfortable drive from the Libyan border to the Nile Valley when, as Wendorf stated, “we were standing there minding our own business, when we noticed potsherds and other artifacts." Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, Wendorf returned to Nabta several times. He determined that humans had occupied the Nabta area off and on for thousands of years, dating from as early as 11,000 years ago up until about 4,800 years ago. Although the area was occupied for more then 5,000 years, the majority of the stone structures and other artifacts originated between 7,000 and 6,500 years ago. It was considered by most to be the height of human occupation at Nabta.

Nabta became a habitable area because of a climatic change that occurred over North Africa around 12,000 years ago. This climatic change was caused by a northward shift of the summer monsoons. This shift brought enough rain to the Nabta region to enable it to sustain life for both humans and animals. Although it was a small amount of rain, usually around four to eight inches (10-15 cm) per year, it was enough to fill the playas with water for months at a time. Between 11,000 and 9,300 years ago, Nabta saw its first settlements. The people living at Nabta herded cattle, made ceramic vessels, and set up seasonal camps around the playa. These people regarded cattle in much the same way as modern peoples of West Africa regard them. The blood and milk of the cattle was more significant than the meat. The ceramics that were found from this period are minimal, but are considered to be some of the oldest identified in Africa.

Once fall came and the playa dried up, these people had to migrate to areas where more water was available, possibly to the Nile in the east or perhaps to areas further south. Larger settlements began to pop up shortly after 9,000 years ago. These people were able to dig wells that supplied them with enough water to live at Nabta year round. They survived on a number of wild plants and small animals like hares and gazelles. By around 8,100 years ago there is evidence for the domestication of larger animals including goats and sheep. This is also a time when the people of Nabta started to produce pottery locally.

Settlements became larger and more sophisticated. One settlement from this period contains 18 houses arranged in two, possibly three straight lines. It also contains numerous fire hearths and these amazing walk-in wells. This settlement also shows the establishment of an organized labor force. This settlement and all the other settlements at Nabta were abandoned for a couple of long stretches between 8,000 and 7,000 years ago when two major droughts occurred. These droughts caused the water table to be lowered to around the same level as it is today, causing Nabta to be hyper-arid and virtually lifeless for long periods of time.

The groups of people that returned to Nabta after the droughts exhibited substantial advancement toward a more complex society that expressed a greater degree of organization and control. This control and organization was probably centered around some ritual or religious belief system. This is the time period when most of the major structures were constructed at Nabta. They constructed five megalithic alignments that radiated from a cluster of stones that has been named E-96-1 Structure A. These megaliths were constructed out of quartzite sandstone that came from exposed sandstone that was at least a half -kilometer away. The stones were erected and embedded into the playa. With the help of GPS satellite technology, recent surveys by Wendorf and University of Colorado at Boulder’s Astronomy Professor J. McKim Malville have allowed them to map out the exact location of these stone alignments. These studies confirm that one of the alignments of the megaliths form an east-west line and another alignment forms a north-south line.

Although more research needs to be done, many scientists, including Malville, believe that the alignments had an astronomical significance. Three hundred meters north of these alignments is the stone calendar circle. Compared to Stonehenge, this circle is very small, measuring roughly 4 m in diameter. The calendar consists of a number of stones, the main ones being four pairs of larger ones. Each of these four pairs were set close together to form what Wendorf calls “gates.” Two of these pairs align to form a line very close to a true north-south line, and the other two pairs or gates align to form an east-west line. The east-west alignment is calculated to be where the sun would have risen and set from the summer solstice 6,500 years ago.

Fire hearths from around the circle date to around 6,800 years ago. Another 300 meters north of the calendar circle is a stone covered tumuli that contained the remains of cattle. One of the tumuli contained a cow that was fully articulated. This particular tumulus was dug into the ground surrounded by a clay frame. It had a roof made from the limbs of tamarisk. It was then covered with broken rocks that formed a mound eight meters in diameter and one meter high. Wood from the roof of the chamber has been dated to around 6,500 years ago. Other tumuli that were found in the area were more basic and consisted of unshaped stones that contained disarticulated cattle bones. They had no subsurface structure and were basically piles of bones covered with stones. These tumuli were dated to about 5,500 years ago.

Another major feature at Nabta is a group of thirty “complex structures.” These structures are located about a kilometer south of the cattle tumuli measuring 500 meters in length and 200 meters in width. The framework was constructed by using roughly shaped or unshaped stones that were set upright to form a structure that was oval in shape measuring 5 meters by 4 meters. Aside from a few minor details, all of the structures were basically the same. They all face slightly west of north and they all have one or two large stone slabs that lay horizontally in the center of the structure. What makes them unique is that they have been built over large mushroom-shaped tablerocks. The tablerocks were shaped by years and years of erosion and then covered by two to three and a half meters of playa clays and silts.

It is unclear as to how the Nabtians were able to locate these tablerocks. One theory is that they were located by accident when they were digging wells, but nobody knows for sure. The largest excavated structure reveals that a large pit was dug before the **** of the walls. The pit was about 6 m in diameter and 4 m deep. It was dug down to the tablerock. They shaped the rock to have three convex sides and one side that was worked to form a straight edge that face north. In the pit they placed another large shaped stone or sculpture that resembled a cow or some other large animal. The sculpture was placed upright with its axis facing north, the same way as the tablerock below it. The pit was backfilled with playa clay one meter thick in order to support the sculpture. Two smaller stones were also placed in the pit to help secure the sculpture even more. Once the sculpture was in place and the pit was completely backfilled, the surface stones were then erected and placed into position. Testing done on charcoal from around the structures indicates a date to 5,500 - 5,000 years ago. The actual function of the complex remains a mystery.

About 4,800 years ago there was another climatic change. The African monsoons shifted south to approximately the same area that they were prior to 12,000 years ago. The land became hyper-arid again and caused human habitation at Nabta to cease. The cattle worshipping people of Nabta had to migrate to a more livable area. But to where did these people migrate? Some people believe that the people of Nabta eventually made their way to the Nile Valley. Perhaps they were the people responsible for the rise of the Egyptian Empire. This theory is based on the prominence of cattle in the religious belief system of Pre-dynastic Egypt continuing into the Old Kingdom.

In ancient Egypt, cattle were deified and regarded as the earthly representative of the gods. Egyptian Pharaohs were said to represent two gods. Horus represented Upper Egypt and Seth represented Lower Egypt. Horus was the son of Hathor who was depicted as either a cow or a strong bull. Another Egyptian god that is represented by a bull is the god of rain, a very important entity to the people of Nabta, considering that life or death could have been determined by the amount of rain they received. Another point of interest is that pre-Egyptian societies did not place the same importance on cattle in either a social or religious capacity, indicating that outside influence must have played a part in the Old Kingdom belief system. This may have happened because the pastoralists from Nabta came to the Nile to conquer and take over the land from their farming neighbors. Perhaps they simply joined together with the farmers and their beliefs were blended with those of the farmers. No matter how you look at it, given the closeness of Nabta to the Nile, there had to have been interaction between them and ideas had to be exchanged to some degree.

Whether or not the people of Nabta had anything to do with the Egyptian civilization, it is still a site of great importance. It dates to a time when climatic and social changes were occurring. Complex societies or civilizations were starting to emerge not only in Africa, but throughout the world. Nabta helps to provide us with a better understanding of what life was like during this time in history.

REFERENCES

J McKim Malville, News-University of Colorado at Boulder, May 31, 1998

http://www.colorado.edu/PublicReleases/1998/Oldest_Astronomical_Meg

http://www.comp-archaeology.org/WendorfSAA98.html Wendorf, Fred and Schild, Romuald, Late Neolithic structures at Nabta Playa, southwestern Egypt, 1998,

J. McKim Malville, Fred Wendorf, Ali a Mazar, and Romauld Schild,

Megaliths and Neolithic astronomy in southern Egypt, Nature 1998

http://www.nature.com

StarDate Ancient Horizens, Nabta: Circle in the Sand,

http://stardate.utexas.edu/egypt/nabta01.html

Jeff Hertaus

http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/archaeology/sites/africa/nabtaplaya.html
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« Reply #21 on: February 21, 2007, 01:25:21 pm »

Late Neolithic megalithic structures at Nabta Playa (Sahara), southwestern Egypt.


By



Fred Wendorf

Anthropology Department

Southern Methodist University

Introduction



Located 100 km west of Abu Simbel, in southernmost Egypt, Nabta Playa is a large, internally drained basin, which during the early Holocene ( ca. 11,000 - 5500 calibrated radiocarbon years ago) was a large and important ceremonial center for prehistoric people. It was intermittently and seasonally filled with water, which encouraged people to come there, and today it contains dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of archaeological sites. People came from many regions to Nabta Playa to record astronomical events, erect alignments of megaliths, and build impressive stone structures.

From around 65,000 years ago until about 12,000 years ago the Western Desert was hyper-arid, at least as dry as today and perhaps drier. This began to change after 12,000 years ago when the summer rains of tropical Africa began to move northward, bringing sufficient moisture for a wide variety of sahelian grasses, trees and bushes to grow, and for a few small animals to exist, mostly hares and small gazelle, but also including a few small carnivores. Even with the rains it was still very dry; the annual rainfall was no more than 100 - 150 mm per year, and it was unpredictable and punctuated with numerous droughts, some of which caused the desert to be abandoned for lengthy periods. The earliest (11,000 - 9300 years ago, calibrated) settlements at Nabta were composed of small seasonal camps of cattle-herding and ceramic-using people. These early cattle are regarded as domestic (Wendorf and Schild 1994), and it may have been in the Western Desert that the African pattern of cattle herding developed, wherein cattle serve as a "walking larder" and provide milk and blood, rather than meat (except for ceremonial occasions) and are the economic basis for power and prestige. Pottery is very rare in these sites, but distinctive. It is decorated over the entire exterior with complex patterns of impressions applied with a comb in a rocking motion. The source of this pottery has not been identified, but it is among the oldest known in Africa, and older than pottery in Southwest Asia. These early people probably came into the desert after the summer rains from either farther south or the adjacent Nile Valley, in either case searching for pasture for their cattle. Each fall, when the surface water in the playas dried up and there was no water for them or their cattle, they had to return to the Nile, or perhaps to the better watered areas to the south.

By 9000 years ago (8000 bp, uncalibrated), the settlements were much larger, and their inhabitants were able to live in the desert year-round, digging large, deep wells and living in organized villages consisting of small huts arranged in straight lines. The many plant remains in these sites tell us they were collecting large numbers of edible wild plants, including sorghum, millets, legumes, tubers, and fruits. Around 8800 years ago (7800 bp, uncalibrated), they began to make pottery locally, possibly the earliest pottery in Egypt. A few hundred years later, around 8100 years ago (7100 bp, uncalibrated), sheep and goats occur for the first time at Nabta, almost certainly introduced from Southwest Asia, where domestic caprovids had been known for over 2000 years. There must have been many changes in the settlement system to accommodate these new animals; the settlements are very large and contain numerous hearths, but there is no evidence of huts or houses.

A major change occurred in the character of the Neolithic society at Nabta occurred around 7500 years ago, following a major drought which drove the previous groups from the desert. The groups who returned to the desert now clearly had a complex social system that expressed a degree of organization and control not previously seen in Egypt. They sacrificed young cows and buried them in clay-lined and roofed chambers covered by rough stone tumuli, they erected alignments of large, unshaped stones, they built Egypt's earliest astronomical measuring device (a "calendar circle" which appears to have been used to mark the summer solstice), and they constructed more than 30 complex structures having both surface and subterranean features. A shaped stone from one of these complexes may be the oldest known sculpture in Egypt.

These structures are important because they indicate the way the people were able to organize work, celebrate their culture, and perhaps express their religious beliefs, and furthermore, they tell us that the Saharan people may have been more highly organized than their contemporaries in the Nile Valley.




Nabta: A Regional Ceremonial Center
A regional ceremonial center is a place where related but widely separated groups gather periodically to conduct ceremonies and to reaffirm their social and political solidarity. Even today in many parts of Africa these centers serve as foci of religious, political and social functions for the entire group. Nabta seems to have been such a center for pastoralists living in the southwestern portion of the Egyptian Western Desert. It probably began to function as a regional ceremonial center during the Middle Neolithic (8100-7600 years ago), when groups residing in other nearby basins gathered there for ceremonial and other purposes during the summer wet season when the playa was at its largest extent. This gathering occurred on a dune along the northwestern shore of the playa where there are hundreds of hearths and more than two meters of accumulated cultural debris.

Among the more interesting elements in the cultural debris at this gathering site were numerous bones of cattle. While present in most sites, bones of cattle are elsewhere never very numerous, good evidence that they were kept primarily for their milk and blood, rather than for meat. This pattern resembles the role of cattle among modern African pastoralists, where cattle represent wealth and political power and are rarely killed except on important ceremonial or social occasions, such as the death of a leader or a marriage. This so-called "African Cattle Complex" may have begun in the Western Desert of Egypt.

The role of Nabta as a regional ceremonial center is also indicated by a north-south alignment of nine large (average, 3 x 2 x 0.5 m) quartzitic sandstone slabs set upright about 100 m apart, and partially imbedded in playa sediments near the gathering area along the northwest margin of the seasonal lake. The blocks were unshaped, and many of them are now broken; however, they can be refitted. Outcrops of similar sandstone occur in the vicinity, some less than a kilometer from the alignment. The alignment cannot be dated precisely, but it is probably Late Neolithic in age, and if so it was erected between 7500 and 5500 years ago. It is similar to the large stone alignments found in Western Europe, where they are dated to the late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, about the same age as the Nabta alignment. There are other alignments known farther south in both East and West Africa, but they are thought to date much later, to the Iron Age.

About 300 m beyond the north end of the Nabta alignment is a "calendar circle" consisting of a series of small sandstone slabs arranged in a circle about 4 m in diameter. Among the ring of stones are four pairs of larger stones, each pair set close together and separated by a narrow space, or gate. The gates on two of these pairs align generally north-south; the gates on the other two pairs form a line at 700 east of north, which aligns with the calculated position of sunrise at the summer solstice 6000 years ago. In the center of the circle are six upright slabs arranged in two lines , whose astronomical function, if any, is not evident. Charcoal from one of the numerous hearths around the "calendar" dated around 6800 years ago (6000 bp +- 60 years, CAMS - 17287).

Another 300 meters farther north of the calendar circle is a stone-covered tumulus containing the remains of a complete articulated young adult cow buried in a chamber that was dug into the floor of the wadi, surrounded by a clay collar, and roofed with limbs of tamarisk. The chamber was then covered with broken rocks forming a mound 8 meters in diameter and a meter high. A piece of wood from the roof yielded a calibrated radiocarbon date between 7400 and 7300 years ago (6470 bp +- 270 years, CAMS - 17289). In the same area seven other similar stone tumuli containing the remains of cattle were excavated, but none of them had subsurface chambers; instead, the bones of the cattle, a few of which were still articulated, were simply placed among the stones.

Among the most interesting features at Nabta is the group of thirty "complex structures" located in an area about 500 meters long and 200 meters wide, on a high remnant of playa clays and silts about a kilometer south of the large settlement which yielded so many bones of cattle. Each of these structures consists of a group of large, elongated, roughly shaped or unshaped sandstone blocks set upright to frame an oval area about five meters in length and four meters in width, oriented slightly west of north. In the center of this oval there is one, sometimes two, very large flat slabs laid horizontally. Two of these structures have been excavated, a third has been tested, and drill-holes have been dug at two others. All are basically similar, although they differ in some details. All of the excavated and tested structures were built over mushroom-shaped tablerocks, the tops of which were deeply buried (from two to three and a half meters below the surface) in heavy playa clays and silts. These tablerocks are quartzitic lenses in the underlying bedrock which were shaped by erosion of the softer surrounding sediments before the overlying playa sediments were deposited. How the Nabta people managed to find these tablerocks deeply buried below the surface is not clear, but it may have been mere chance and occurred during the excavation of a water well. Except for the structures, however, there is no other archaeological material in this area, which is highly unusual for the Nabta Basin, where archaeological sites of various ages occur almost everywhere.

The excavation of the largest of these complex structures disclosed that before the upright stones were erected, a large pit about six meters in diameter and four meters deep had been dug. The table rock at the base of the pit was shaped by removing the irregular edges, leaving a convex perimeter on three sides. The fourth side, at the north end, was worked by flaking to form a straight edge. The top of the table rock was also smoothed. The pit was then partially refilled with playa clay to a level about a half meter above the top of the table rock, and then an enormous (ca. 2.5 tons), carefully shaped stone was brought in and held in position by several small slabs. The base of the shaped stone was 2.5 meters below the surface. What this "sculpture" represents is not clear; it is shaped on only two sides, and its sculptors used the natural bedding in the rock to achieve a wide, curved surface which they smoothed. In some views the stone vaguely resembles a large animal. After the shaped stone was placed in position, the pit was backfilled completely, and the surface architecture of large upright stones and two large horizontal central stones was erected directly over the tablerock.

The other excavated structure also had been erected over a tablerock, and it too had a large stone over the tablerock, but work on that stone was limited to a few flakes removed from one end. The third complex structure was only tested. It was one of eight that were tightly clustered and interlocked together. The units were smaller, constructed of smaller stones, but had the same configuration with a large horizontal central stone. The test excavations recovered charcoal from a shelf on the edge of the pit under the structure, and this charcoal yielded a calibrated radiocarbon age between 5600 and 5400 years ago (4800 +- 80 years bp; DRI 3358). This is the only date available for these structures, and it is about 1500 years later than we had estimated from the stratigraphic evidence. This cluster differs from the other complex structures, and it may relate to a late phase in this phenomena; however, there is no other reason to reject the date.

Drilling at two other structures showed that they had also been erected over buried tablerocks. Although only two of these features were excavated completely, and a third only tested, it is highly likely that most of the others were also built over deeply buried tablerocks that may or may not have been modified, and may also have large worked stones in the fill above the tablerock. These complex structures appear to be unique to Nabta; they are not known to occur in the Nile Valley, or elsewhere in the Western Desert. It should be noted, however, that they are difficult to recognize (they were regarded a bedrock outcrops for many years), and they may be more widespread in the Eastern Sahara than now believed.

We had expected to find burials of elite individuals below the central stones, but no traces of human remains were seen, although the excavations were carried beyond the limits of the original pits dug to expose the tablerock. The function of the complex structures remains unknown, however, it may be useful to consider the implications of their presence at Nabta.





Additional Comments
The construction of the megaliths and the large complex structures at Nabta required significant effort, indicating the presence of a religious or political authority with control over human resources for an extended period of time. They, together with the calendar circle and cattle burials, represent an elaborate and previously unsuspected ceremonialism in the Neolithic of the Eastern Sahara. Although the evidence remains insecure and thus it cannot be demonstrated that these Saharan cattle pastoralists had a ranked society, this is, nevertheless, a strong possibility.

The discoveries at Nabta Playa suggest the possibility of a previously unrecognized relationship between the Neolithic people living along the Nile and pastoralists in the adjacent Sahara which may have contributed to the rise of social complexity in ancient Egypt. This complexity, as expressed by different levels of authority within the society, forms the basis for the structure of both the Neolithic society at Nabta and the Old Kingdom of Egypt. It was this authority at Nabta which made possible the planned arrangement of their villages, the excavation of large, deep wells, and the construction of complex stone structures made of large, shaped and unshaped stones. There are other Nabta features which are shared by the two areas, but which appear suddenly and without evident local antecedents in the late Predynastic and early Old Kingdom in the Nile Valley. These include the role of cattle to express differences of wealth, power and authority, the emphasis on cattle in religious beliefs, and the use of astronomical knowledge and devices to predict solar events. Many of these features have a prior and long history of development at Nabta.

The geographic position of the Nabta center is also of interest. Nabta may have been a contact point between the early Neolithic groups along the Nile who had an agricultural economy and the cattle pastoralists in the Eastern Sahara. The functional separation of these two different economies may have played a significant role in the emergence of complexity among both groups. The evidence for Nilotic influence on pastoralists is not extensive and is presently limited to ceramic technology, domestic caprovids, and the occasional trade of shells of Nile species and rare stones from the Nile gravel. However, there are many aspects of political and ceremonial life in the Predynastic and Old Kingdom that reflects a strong impact from Saharan cattle pastoralists.

The likely possibility of a symbiotic relationship between the cattle pastoralists in the Sahara and the Neolithic groups in the Nile Valley points to a potentially important role for the Nabta regional ceremonial center. Among East African cattle pastoralists regional ceremonial centers, because of their integrative role, are frequently placed near boundaries between different segments of a tribe, or between different tribal groups. The Nabta center could well have served that purpose, it could have been located between several groups of pastoralists, and between pastoralists and the Neolithic farmers along the Nile, 100 km away.

It has long been assumed that Egypt borrowed the concepts of complexity from Mesopotamia; however, it is now generally recognized that a process like social complexity cannot be diffused from one area to another, but instead develops from local causes. It might occur, for example, when there are two radically different economic systems in close physical proximity, as is found where agriculturists have close relationships with pastoralists. Pastoralists usually live in tense harmony with their village neighbors, but from time to time they will take advantage of a weakness and take control. It is in this setting that the socially complex Late Neolithic cattle pastoralists and their regional ceremonial center at Nabta is of particular importance.

There are many features in the religious beliefs and social systems of early Egyptians which are not found in Mesopotamia. Among the ancient Egyptians, cattle were the central focus of the belief system. They were deified and regarded as earthly representatives of the gods. A cow was also seen as the mother of the sun, who is sometimes referred to as the "Bull of Heaven." The Egyptian pharaoh was regarded as the embodiment of two gods, Horus, for Upper Egypt and Seth, for Lower Egypt, but he was primarily Horus, son of Hathor, who was a cow. Horus is also sometimes depicted as a strong bull, and images of cattle are prominent in Predynastic and Old Kingdom art; in some instances images of bulls occur with depiction's of stars. Another important Old Kingdom concept was Min, the god of rain, who is associated with a white bull, and to whom the annual harvest festival was dedicated.

It is significant that the emphasis on cattle in the belief system of the Old Kingdom was not reflected in the economy. While cattle were known and were the major measure of wealth, the economy was based primarily on agriculture and small livestock - sheep and goats. Also, cattle were not important among the preceding Neolithic in the Nile Valley, which suggests that the Old Kingdom belief system was imposed from the outside, perhaps in the traditional fashion, a conquest by pastoralists who periodically come in from their "lands of insolence" to conquer their farming neighbors (Coon 1958:295-323; Khazanov 1994). It is tempting to suggest that the impressive cattle burials at the A-Group site of Qustul (Williams 1986), in Egypt south of Abu Simbel, may relate to just such an event. At the moment these interesting possibilities must be regarded as speculative; the data on the structure of the Saharan pastoralist societies remains inadequate, and the character of the early Neolithic in the Nile Valley in Nubia and Upper Egypt is poorly understood, but a study of the interaction between the Sahara and the Nile may throw significant light on the processes that led to the rise of Egyptian Civilization.

http://www.comp-archaeology.org/WendorfSAA98.html
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« Reply #22 on: February 21, 2007, 01:25:56 pm »

Kitoi culture

Definition: Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic culture in the Baikal region of Russia. The Kitoi were fisher-hunters, primarily relying on fish and deer. Followed by the Serovo-Glazkovo culture in the Baikal cultural sequence.

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« Reply #23 on: February 21, 2007, 01:26:49 pm »

Toe Bones Reveal World's Earliest Shoe-Wearers

John Pickrell in London
for National Geographic News

October 24, 2005


A new analysis of toe bones suggests that ancient people from Europe and the Middle East were the first to adopt supportive footwear—most likely primitive sandals—around 30,000 years ago.

Before that time, most humans went barefoot—regardless of their environment.


Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, found that humans at the end of the Old Stone Age had weaker small-toe bones than their ancestors but no corresponding loss of leg strength.

The finding suggests that the ancient humans were using footwear for support for the first time in history.

Humans from the far north are thought to have begun insulating their feet from the snow around 50,000 years ago.

However, the coverings provided no support, and no similar footwear is known from Europe or the Middle East during the same period.

Rapidly Degradable

Pinpointing the origin of shoes has been a difficult task, because footwear made of leather or plant materials degrades rapidly.

Currently the oldest surviving shoes are mostly complete sandals from California that date to 9,000 years ago. Other evidence comes from fossilized footprints.

Eric Trinkaus, a physical anthropologist at Washington University, tried a different approach and decided to look for changes in human foot anatomy between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago.

"The [best] evidence for earliest forms of foot protection is likely to be indirect," Trinkaus said.

He has shown that modern Alaskan Inuits, who sport sealskin boots, have less sturdy toes than other ancient Native Americans, who are known to have gone barefoot

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/10/1024_051024_ancient_shoes.html
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« Reply #24 on: February 21, 2007, 01:27:25 pm »

Toe Bones Reveal World's Earliest Shoe-Wearers
2
The work suggests that wearing shoes promotes more delicate small toes. When people walk barefoot, the four smaller toes on each foot flex to allow better traction. This promotes growth of sturdy toe bones.

By contrast, sandals, sneakers, and other supportive footwear lessens the load on the four small toes, thus weakening them.


Trinkaus compared the toe anatomy of western Eurasian human skeletons from the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods (about 100,000 to 40,000 years ago and 40,000 to 10,000 years ago, respectively).

The anatomy of the skeletons' feet began to change around 26,000 to 30,000 years ago, becoming more delicate in later skeletons, the anthropologist found.

"I discovered that the bones of the little toes of humans from that time frame were much less strongly built than those of their ancestors, while their leg bones remained large and strong," Trinkaus said. "The most logical cause would be the introduction of supportive footwear."

"[These] people were routinely using semi-rigid- to rigid-soled shoes, boots, and sandals to protect the foot," he said.

The findings are detailed in a recent edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Support and Skepticism

Mike O'Brien directs the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

He said it's frustrating that the earliest direct evidence of footwear comes from North America, when "almost assuredly Upper Paleolithic peoples living in Europe and elsewhere were wearing footwear before anyone entered the Americas, 13,000 years ago."

"Looking at the anatomical evidence of footwear is a very novel and interesting approach," he said. "And the evidence strongly suggests that there was a significant increase in the use of footwear between Middle Paleolithic and middle Upper Paleolithic humans."

"Did Upper Paleolithic people always wear shoes? Apparently not always, but certainly routinely," O'Brien said.

Cameron Kippen, a podiatrist and shoe historian with Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia, counters that "the idea that shoes influenced toe function seems unlikely. But it is an interesting theory."

Kippen argues that shoes have made little genetic impact on foot anatomy in the last 9,000 years. He also notes that majority of the population would still have been barefoot even after shoes were adopted.

"There are still more people unshod today on Earth than wear shoes," he said.

Kippen believes that shoes first appeared as a decorative garment worn by only a few important people in a tribe—perhaps witch doctors and chieftains—on special occasions.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/10/1024_051024_ancient_shoes_2.html
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« Reply #25 on: February 21, 2007, 01:28:04 pm »

Stone Age Cemetery, Artifacts Unearthed in Sahara

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News

Updated October 26, 2005


Archaeologists have excavated a trove of Stone Age human skeletons and artifacts on the shores of an ancient lake in the Sahara.

The seven nearby sites include an extensive cemetery and represent one of the largest and best preserved concentrations of ancient skeletons and artifacts ever found in the region, researchers say.


Harpoons, fishhooks, pottery, jewelry, stone tools, and other artifacts pepper the ancient lakeside settlement. The objects were left by early communities that once thrived on the former lake's abundant fish and shellfish.

"They were living on a diet rich in catfish [and] mollusks," said Paul Sereno, a University of Chicago paleontologist and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence.

"It was a place you could walk out the door of your hut amid the sand dunes and perhaps see hippos, elephants, giraffes, and crocodiles," he added.

Sereno led a team of dinosaur fossil hunters that first discovered the archaeological site in 2000.

The paleontologist returned to the site this September with an expedition co-led by Italian archaeologist Elena Garcea.

The researchers found shells scattered on the dry lakebed and thousands of fossilized bones from catfish that likely grew six feet (two meters) in length.

The remains "indicate that here were perennial waters in the area, and that certainly must have been one of the reasons so many people were attracted to it," said Garcea, speaking by telephone from her office at Cassino University in Italy.

"I think that the area was a paradise on Earth for the people who were living there," she added.

But just who were those people? Garcea says there is no single answer.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/10/1021_051021_sahara_artifacts.html
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« Reply #26 on: February 21, 2007, 01:28:46 pm »

Stone Age Cemetery, Artifacts Unearthed in Sahara

2


"This site doesn't represent a single period but a long period of time," she said.

The team's radiometric analysis is not yet complete. But based on artifacts at the site, Garcea made a preliminary estimate that the area was occupied "between 10,000 and 5,000 or 4,000 years ago."


The site may not have been continuously occupied. But it was likely inhabited for much of that time, which was a crucial one in early human history.

During the New Stone Age, humans moved from hunter/gatherer societies to become early agrarians who domesticated plants and animals.

The region has long been arid. But it was a wetter, greener place at the end of the last Ice Age some 12,000 years ago.

Early hunter/gatherer peoples, such as the Kiffian, apparently lived on the natural bounty provided by the ancient lake.

Their remains still lie there, found in older archaeological layers and surrounded by harpoons, fishhooks, other tools, and remains of their catch.

Tools such as large pottery and heavy grinding stones suggest that Kiffian peoples may have occupied the ancient lakeside area at least semi-permanently, Garcea says.

Scientists know that by about 6,300 years ago the Sahara's first pastoral people, the Tenereans, began tending herds of newly domesticated cattle. But researchers are uncertain whether Tenerean peoples occupied the particular dig site.

Ancient Cemetery

The team says the site's human remains were most striking. Members found hundreds of skeletons in the site's large cemetery, some still adorned with ancient jewelry.

The researchers found tools, such as precision stone blades, bone hooks, pottery stamps, and other artifacts, in graves and other site locations.

Some artifacts suggest travel and perhaps even distant trade. Stone tools made of pale green volcanic rock could have their source some 50 miles (80 kilometers) distant in the Air Mountains, an area rich with period rock art.

The ancient lakeside settlements had long escaped discovery in the remote, sweltering, windy, area of Niger's Ténéré Desert. But during a hunt for dinosaur fossils in the area in 2000, expedition photographer Mike Hettwer discovered something quite unexpected.

"'There are whole human skeletons just over there,' [Hettwer] said, pointing to a low ridge," Sereno wrote in a 2000 online dispatch from the field.

"Our jaws dropped as we tiptoed among skeletons that were buried thousands of years ago. Around the neck of one, we found a series of beads—the outline of a necklace!"

In 2003 Sereno returned to map the site and stopped counting at 173 skeletons, which easily made it the largest New Stone Age cemetery ever found in the Sahara.

"We saw jewelry on the surface, tools everywhere, the remains of hundreds of people," Sereno recalled. "I knew that I had to help an archaeological team get a footing out there."

Sereno has accomplished that goal. But archaeologists are not the only ones who have visited the historic site. Niger is a poor nation, and the temptation to profit from its rich cultural history has proven too great for some.

"We followed some 4x4 tracks that our guides said were definitely not made by tourists but by vendors going out there for stolen artifacts," Sereno said. "A photographer with our team estimates that he photographed as many as 3,000 artifacts in one day, found in shops of communities near the site."

The team employed secrecy to cover their tracks and protect the site from future plunderers. Sereno is also launching a major effort to achieve official protection for the site.

"Part of our work in Niger has been … ultimately to save [these discoveries] for everybody," he said.

Yet the unique site faces an even more daunting threat from Mother Nature.

"The wind is destroying these sites very quickly," Garcea, the Italian archaeologist, said. "I saw pictures that [Sereno] took in 2003, and you can really see the deflation."

"Some skeletons that were covered are now exposed to the surface and the hyper-arid desert conditions. In two or three years I'm sure I won't be able to see some of the things that we can study now," she added.

The team hopes to return next fall, when conditions should allow future exploration. "We can't wait too long," Garcea said, "because the wind is out there 365 days a year."

Field updates from the expedition, including the most recent research, are available at Project Exploration ( www.projectexploration.org/niger2005/).

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/10/1021_051021_sahara_artifacts_2.html
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« Reply #27 on: February 21, 2007, 01:29:23 pm »

New Underwater Finds Raise Questions About Flood Myths

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News

May 28, 2002


Ancient stories of massive floods pass from generation to generation and in many places in the world are integral to a people's spoken history.

The tales differ by locale, but commonly feature torrential rains or a hugely destructive wall of water bursting into a valley, destroying everything in its path. In many cases, the flooding is an act of retribution by displeased gods.


Many scientists, historians and archaeologists view these enduring tales as short, dramatised versions of the memory of rising seas at the end of the Ice Age. Like all good stories, they are rich with local drama, religious legends, and moral principles.

While images of catastrophic floods are popular, many scholars argue that the real rising sea level slowly invaded the Stone Age hunting territories for thousands of years, and the stories compress this event into overnight floods, storms, and destruction.

Recent undersea findings may yield new clues to the study of human habitations that now lie beneath the waves.

Cuba's Sunken City

Deep in the waters of Cabo de San Antonio, off Cuba's coast, researchers are exploring unusual formations of smooth blocks, crests, and geometric shapes. The Canadian exploration company that discovered the formations, Advanced Digital Communications, has suggested that they could be the buildings and monuments of an early, unknown American civilization.

Many scientists are skeptical of any theory that might tempt people to draw a parallel with the fabled lost city of Atlantis. Geologist Manuel Iturralde, however, has stressed the need for an open mind while investigations of the site continue.

"These are extremely peculiar structures, and they have captured our imagination," said Iturralde, who is director of research at Cuba's Natural History Museum. Iturralde has studied countless underwater formations over the years, but said, "If I had to explain this geologically, I would have a hard time."

In his report on the formations, Iturralde noted that conclusive proof of man-made structures on the site could reinforce some oral traditions of the Maya and native Yucatecos. These people still retell ancient stories of an island inhabited by their ancestors that vanished beneath the waves.

Iturralde makes it clear, however, that just because no natural explanation is immediately apparent, it doesn't rule one out. "Nature is able to create some really unimaginable structures," he said.

Further research is scheduled to take place over the summer. Data thus far has been collected using sonar scans and video. The structures are buried under 1,900 to 2,500 feet (600 to 750 meters) of water.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/05/0528_020528_sunkencities.html
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« Reply #28 on: February 21, 2007, 01:30:26 pm »

New Underwater Finds Raise Questions About Flood Myths
Back 1 | 2
Collecting samples from the blocks and the sediment in which they are imbedded is the next step toward determining the origin of these curious structures.

Temples Beneath The Sea


Off the coast of Mahabalipuram, in Tamil Nadu, South India, the discovery of a complex of submerged ruins has sparked an investigation into their origin. Local lore has long held that the area once boasted seven magnificent temples, but that six of these were swallowed by the sea. The seventh, and only remaining temple, still stands on the shore.

Stories passed from one generation to the next tell of a large, beautiful city that once occupied the area. The legends say the ancient metropolis was destroyed by the gods who were jealous of its beauty, and sent a flood to bury it beneath the waves.

Best-selling author Graham Hancock spent several years cataloging and studying these myths. When he returned to the area as part of an expedition team jointly sponsored by Great Britain's Scientific Exploration Society (SES) and India's National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), the goal was to search beneath the sea and make a detailed survey that would confirm the existence of the temples, and investigate the date of their destruction.

Local fishermen raised on the legends were able to point the team to a dive site where the ruins were located. Expedition leader Monty Halls described the excitement the team felt on discovering the underwater structures.

"The initial feeling was one of disbelief," Halls recalled. "The sheer scale of the site was so impressive, and the fact that it was so close to shore. This gradually gave way to absolute elation."

Diving in challenging conditions, the team found the "foundation of walls, broken pillars, steps, and many scattered stone blocks," said Kamlesh Vora, a marine archaeologist with NIO.

Vora, Halls, and the rest of the team were quickly convinced that they had made a major discovery of man-made structures. "Here there would be no furrowed brows, no peering at reefs from different angles, no dusting for elusive archaeological fingerprints," said Halls. "Here man was everywhere."

Still, the Mahabalipuram expedition has created as many questions as it has answered.

"It is very rewarding that we have found something of such significance," Halls said. "However, the real questions still demand answers: How old is it? How extensive is it? What artifacts remain hidden in the ruins? For these reasons we must return as soon as possible and give this wonderful site the scientific and disciplined inspection it deserves."

Vora agrees that much work remains to be done on the site, which spreads over an area of several square miles. "We will have to carry out extensive explorations beyond this area to find out if the man-made structures observed underwater are indeed of the same temple complex," he said.

"All structures are made of granite stone which is locally available," Vora continued. "The archaeological and inscriptional evidence of sites on land near shore indicate a possible date of construction of these structures between 1,500 to 1,200 years before present. We now need to carry out detailed explorations and searches for datable antiquities and inscriptional evidences on the finds."

If the Mahabalipuram ruins are found to be of the same temple complex as the shore temple, the discovery would lend credence to the local tales that outsiders have often disregarded as legend.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/05/0528_020528_sunkencities_2.html
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« Reply #29 on: February 21, 2007, 01:31:04 pm »

UPDATE on Underwater City Off Coast of Cuba
26-Aug-2005


sonar image click for detail
National Geographic Magazine will sponsor another underwater exploration of the sunken city off the Coast of Cuba this fall. Russian-Canadian oceanographer Pauline Zelitsky will head the expedition. Political differences prevent the US from participating, and much of the work has been done by France and Russia. So far, the exploration has been done by remote-controlled mini submarines, armed with video cameras. Their provocative images have shown what look like stepped pyramids, extending as far as South America (where these types of pyramids were built by the Mayans).
Zelitsky's theory is that a peninsula once stretched from the Yucatan to Cuba, which collapsed due to seismic activity. This reinforces the theory that early man did not arrive in the Americas by crossing the Bering Straits (a land bridge from Russia which no longer exists) but instead arrived from Asia via the Pacific Ocean. British archeologists have found human footprints in Puebla, Mexico that are 40,000 years old. On her early expeditions, Zelitsky discovered an underwater city with not only pyramids, but geometrically precise passages, tunnels and temples, many carved with ancient symbols. Since natural structures can be pyramid-shaped and have straight lines as well, these carvings are especially important. There is still controversy about whether the underwater pyramid off the coast of an island in Japan was manmade or is a natural formation.

http://www.unknowncountry.com/news/?id=4801
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