Archives For Israel

As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts, and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up which challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Alexander the Great in a synagogue?
While uncovering a 5th century synagogue in Huqoq, Israel, archaeologists found something very unusual: a mosaic appearing to show Alexander the Great meeting with a Jewish high priest. The mosaic may be the depiction of a meeting between the conqueror and prominent religious Jewish leaders as told by proto-historian Josephus. This is the first example of non-biblical stories and imagery to be found in a synagogue. Also discovered were images of elephants, roosters, theatre masks, women surrounded by cupids, Greek gods and other mythological creatures.

Mosaic thought to portray Alexander the Great [photo Jim Haberman via The Daily]

Mosaic thought to portray Alexander the Great [photo Jim Haberman via The Daily]

Did the Greeks have their own ‘Walking Dead?’
Carrie Weaver, a lecturer and Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, believes they did. Weaver has been examining the burial of two Greek bodies, which are dated between 500 and 200 BCE and were found pinned down with large rocks. She believes that those rocks were piled on the two bodies in order to hold them down and keep them from reanimating as zombies.

The bodies were found just outside of what was once the Greek colony of Kamarina in Sicily. One was a child between 8 and 13 years old and the other was an adult.

Weaver says the ancient Greeks were frightened of zombies prowling the streets seeking retribution. They thought that the persons most susceptible to turning into a zombie were illegitimate offspring, victims of suicide, mothers who died in childbirth and victims of murder, drowning, stroke or plague.  However, the prevailing thought among scholars (and Hellenic polytheists) is that the ancients actually believed that spirits, who were wronged during life, roamed the earth on certain lunar dates and were not actual zombies.

Bigger than Troy
Excavations continue at the largest Bronze Age settlement in the Aegean region. Archaeologists have uncovered multiple castles in the Kaymakçı Hill in Manisa’s Gölmarmara Lake basin in present day Turkey. The castles are all within walking distance of one another and cover an area four times larger than that of the famous city of Troy.

Not much is known about the late Bronze Age (1600 – 2000 BCE) and the people who lived during that time. Those who would have lived in this area would be the ancestors of the Lydians. The Lydians reached the apex of their power in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, but were eventually conquered by Cyrus the Great in 546 BCE. The Lydian religion was a polytheistic religion whose main Gods included Cybele-Rhea, Pidans (Apollon), Artimu (Atremis), Kore, and Zeus. Nothing is known, so far, about the culture or religion of the pre-Lydian people who built the castles just discovered.

One of the castles being excavated. [photo, Department of Historical Antiquities, Turkey]

One of the castles being excavated. [Photo Courtesy the Department of Historical Antiquities, Turkey]

Ancient farmers, not so peaceful
A pet theory that war was rare among Neolithic farming communities is under assault. A 7000 year old mass grave was recently uncovered in Germany which contained the bodies of 26 people. They appeared to be the victims of a war with a rival farming village. Of the 26 bodies found, about half were children and most had their shinbones systematically broke before they were buried in a pit. The skeletons were of 13 adults, one teenager, and 12 children, 10 of whom were under 6 years of age.  

Farming is thought to have spread from present day Turkey into Europe 7500 years ago. Anthropologists have long debated if early farmers were peaceful tillers of the soil or if they also engaged in warfare. This is the third such mass grave in Europe from the Neolithic era and appears to put that debate to rest.

Ancient indigenous Amazonians, not so gentle on the earth
Another popular theory is about to bite the dust. This one posed that the pre-Columbian indigenous people from the Amazon-region lived in harmony with the earth, barely altering the landscape. Instead, archaeologists are now finding a series of square, straight and ringlike ditches scattered throughout the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon. Furthermore, these structures were created before the rainforests actually existed.

As of yet the purpose of the structures isn’t known. They could have been used for defense, agriculture, or for religious purposes. Yet it is now clear that prehistoric Amazon peoples did alter the landscape. The earthworks are up to 16 feet high and as much again wide. The earthworks also call into question if those peoples engaged in slash-and-burn techniques for clearing land.

Even more intriguing, the new find shows that humans have been impacting global climate in how they use the land for thousands of years, rather than just in the last few centuries. The Amazon before 3000 years ago had a climate closer to that of the present day African savanna. Human activity, such as growing more edible plants and trees, may have changed the soil chemistry and composition. When the climate became wetter, that allowed the rainforests to develop.

Amazon - Brazil, 2011. ©Neil Palmer/CIAT

Amazon – Brazil, 2011.
©Neil Palmer/CIAT

A henge twice as old
A henge 39-foot-long and twice as old as England’s Stonehenge has been found in the waters off the coast of Sicily. The man-made stone structure weighs approximately 15 tons and is at least 9,350 years old.

Oceanographers say there is no known natural process that could have created this henge and it is made of stone different from the surrounding rock. The area was an island, until it was submerged in a flood about 9,300 years ago. Archaeologists say this dramatically changes the way we view humans from this time period. To make a monolith requires skilled stone cutting, extraction and transportation techniques, and engineering skills not normally associated with “primitive” hunter-gatherer societies

Vikings no longer first
Someone may have beaten the Vikings to the Faroe Islands, one of the first stepping stones to crossing the Atlantic to the Americas.

The Faroe Islands, positioned halfway between Norway and Iceland, were originally thought to have been first settled by the Vikings during their great migration in the ninth century. Yet contemporary writing hinted that some other people beat the Vikings to the islands.  An Irish monk named Dicuil wrote in 825 AD that Irish hermits had already settled the islands.

It’s not clear who the settlers were or where they were from, but there’s now firm evidence that the islands were colonized 300 to 500 years before the Viking landed. Archaeologists found burnt peat ash that could only be created by human activity. The ash contained burnt barley from what looks like home hearths. Barley isn’t native to the Faroe Islands, so it must have been brought to the islands by the earlier settlers.

Galen was right, mead is a health drink
If you needed an excuse to drink mead, here it is. Scientists from Sweden say that mead may help  fight illness and avoid antibiotic resistance.

Mead has long been thought to be a curative medicine. Galen of Pergamon, a prominent Greek physician in the first century AD, prescribed mead for persons who tended chill easily and to ease “afflictions of the mind,” cure sciatica, gout, and rheumatic ailments.

Now scientists in Sweden are lauding the medicinal properties of the alcoholic beverage made from honey, water, and yeast. They found the lactic acid bacteria in honey cures chronic wounds in horses that had proved resistant normal antibiotics. Now they are testing to see if the bacteria can kill off drug resistant pathogens in humans.

Since the process used to make mead commercially kills off the bacteria, the scientists are brewing up their own brand of mead, Honey Hunter’s Elixir and are having volunteers drink it and measure to see if the  measure different parameters to see if the compounds the bacteria produce could end up in the blood system and for that to cause a prevention or a cure for infections.

Palmyra [Photo Credit: James Gordon / Wikimedia]

Palmyra [Photo Credit: James Gordon / Wikimedia]

This round up of archaeology news is dedicated to all we will now never learn from the temple dedicated to Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria.

The temple was reported to have been destroyed by the Daesh sometime in the last month. The Islamic militants have already established a history of destroying historical monuments, especially those dedicated to polytheistic Gods.

The temple, which was built in the first century AD,  was considered one of the most well preserved in the Greco-Roman world. As we’ve seen, new techniques often shed new light on even the most thoroughly examined archaeological sites, leading to new theories and ways of understanding our ancestors. When sites are destroyed, those opportunities may be lost forever.