Posts Tagged ‘Archaeology’

Personal thoughts during a visit to a museum in Leiden, the Netherlands, primarily to view its Etruscan exhibition


Looking at pots, trinkets, wares left behind
By those lost in time but the same human kind
Living their lives in the way they knew how
Much still mysterious to us here now

Where did they come from? No one is quite sure
Perhaps from the north to that Italian shore
Ancient Greek influence, gods that abound
No written texts but one have yet been found

Much that we know of them comes from their tombs
That we have the right to rob now one assumes
Personal items fill halls of renown
Next to the statues whose eyes look not down


Romans next-door and Egyptians nearby
Both telling their stories whose bones are quite dry
To eyes and ears of those distant in years
Advanced in some ways but with much the same fears

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Stilled life


A quiet street in Pompeii – image thanks to Paul Vlaar (from Wikipedia)

I tempted Vesuvius to no avail
It stayed quietly sleeping
While I stood there peeping
Down into its crater
With face somewhat pale

Pompeii, a city by its ash entombed
With stones flying, falling
Death came swiftly calling
The remnants in silence
Now tell of those doomed

Slaves sold at the hardware store, tools to be used
Mosaics, frescoes, showing
The temple, bar, knowing
Roads, houses, shops, gardens
Scars* of those abused

I left filled with memories: Fires down below
The frozen life grasping
As fumes left them gasping
Those Romans so gifted
Cruel times long ago.

*The word “scars” refers to vulgar Roman graffiti on the walls of rooms in the brothel at Pompeii

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Hello, well I’m in a bit of a philosophical mood this early afternoon. The coffee was reviving and the cheese sandwiches all you could wish from sandwiches with cheese inside – even the sharp tang.
I’ll skip over lunch as breakfast was rather late due to a lingering hangover from Saturday night caused by lateness and admittedly a slight excess libation.
Anyway, anyway, I’ve noticed lately that I’m saying everything twice, or has it always been so? (How worrying). If you’ve followed my posts then you’ll probably have known this a lot longer than I, of course. Is it for emphasis or is there some feeling of insecurity lurking heavily in the dark recesses of somewhere dark and recessed? Who knows? Who cares? Yes, well, anyway, yes. Now what was I going to say?
Oh yes, of course.



The Great Pyramid of Cheops – Credit Nina Aldin Thune in the immediate vicinity of the image.

Yesterday evening I was watching a program on the National Geographic TV channel about the ancient Egyptians and there irritatingly stupefying pyramids that continue to defy a good robust scientific theory of how the heck they got built and what the structures inside all represent. There was a building expert who also appears to hover around the pyramids together with crafty local businessmen selling miniatures and freshly carved ancient relics and other puzzled looking scientists getting older though perhaps not much wiser. He gave us an interesting account of how, approximately 4500 years ago, the builders of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, using nothing but bits of wood, string and soft copper tools, could manage to scrape and gauge out the 600,000 huge limestone blocks, some of granite and weighing as much as 70 tons, to less than a millimeter precision. How they dragged them around and lifted them into place is another puzzle whose answer is still unknown although there are enough theories. Strangely, the mortar used is still unknown and even today cannot be reproduced even though its chemical composition is known. Astoundingly, in its original state this pyramid was covered with a layer of highly polished white limestone whose reflective properties would have made it visible from the Moon. It must have been a wondrous sight.
No mummies have been found inside the three discovered chambers: The King’s Chamber, the Queens Chamber and one unfinished Chamber lying twenty eight meters below ground level.
Well, I suppose it could all be true, but it does seem rather like something that an Egyptian Pharaoh would dream of rather than attempt, even though there was a strong sense of outdoing their forebears. Of course, as gods on Earth they and there advisors did tend to take a rather universal view of things. It remains strange that no writings have been found concerning the building methods used.
One thing I found fascinating was his description of an intriguing way to make a simple leveling tool which might have been used by the Egyptians (see below).
Even today, according to our expert, construction of the Great Pyramid would be a formidable undertaking, apparently taking about six years at a cost in the region of five billion dollars.
Apart from the burial chambers and passages there are mysterious small shafts in the Great Pyramid connecting with the outside walls. These are believed to be either fresh air vents designed to aid the suffocating workers or perhaps to give a breather to buried kings and queens when they secretly wake to travel to the next life. They could also be receivers of cosmic energy emanating from distant stars. They could be … .
At the inside end of one of the shafts is a thin wall which has recently been penetrated by a boring robot (in the sense of making holes). According to a small attached camera, behind this wall is another and behind that may lie secrets that will change mankind forever, or just more golden artifacts and hieroglyphics, perhaps a mummy or two, or yet again a mystifying and creepy nothingness. There are those who are waiting with baited breath, I can tell you. Aren’t you?
There are theories connecting the Giza Pyramids with the stars in the constellation of Orion. Some even think that the Great Pyramid contains a portal to these stars, at least at the spiritual level.
The Egyptian authorities are extremely reluctant to allow more excavation and general tampering of these ancient sites and probably rightly so. They have been ruthlessly looted down through the ages and what’s left should be preserved, though a little careful examination might still reveal something exciting. Research is happily ongoing.


There are so many of these fantastic, seemingly impossible structures, like the Pyramids and Stonehenge, dotted around our planet and made of enormously massive stones laid down with unbelievable precision. One can imagine their builders laughing, in their graves or wherever else they may have ended up, at our attempts to explain the methods used and the ideas behind their construction.
That these ancient peoples had an understanding of mathematics and astronomy is beyond doubt, though why those of the Americas: the Inca, the Aztec, and the Maya, never got around to inventing the wheel, remains another source of great mystery. Perhaps they foresaw the arrival of the industrial revolution with its pollution if knowledge of the wheel should leak out.
The question many ask (including me) is whether they may have had the help of some advanced, perhaps even more ancient, knowledge – outside help so to speak. A method for levitating huge blocks of stone would have been a decided advantage and would answer in one fell swoop a lot of other questions. The figures carved out of the desert in Peru, called the Nazca Lines, which can only really be appreciated from a great height might also have benefited from someone high up giving instructions.
Unidentified flying objects (UFO’s) have been seen so often that it is almost certain they exist, though what they are and where they come from are still debated topics. A fact that emerges is that most of them are capable of sudden rapid changes of direction and of hovering for substantial periods. In any case, the gravity of Earth doesn’t seem to be a great hindrance unless the motor or whatever drives these craft cuts out, of course. At least one is purported to have crash landed. They have been tracked by radar undergoing accelerations which no human could survive and also appear to be unexpectedly and unnervingly silent.


So I got to thinking. When I was young and had spasms of believing my parents and nearly everyone else I came into contact with were aliens, I read everything I could about these fascinating and hopefully not just imaginary creatures. I sincerely hoped they would eventually come in the night and step out of a bright white light to take me off to some exciting Utopian environment. There would be non-polluting vehicles zipping through its clean, fresh atmosphere, lots of open spaces with fountains of cold, refreshing lemonade, and a sense of feeling good all the time. Ah, those were the dreams. The aliens themselves would always be kind and smiling and never tire of answering my questions. They would teach me only things I really needed or wanted to know, such as how to levitate, pilot a spaceship, become a clever-clogs, and extend life expectancy.


I hear the scientists beginning to cough and splutter as they join ranks and wave their fists at me, but let them; the dreams of one man can become the reality of a whole race when Nature finally reveals her secrets.


The construction of the Leveler is as follows:



1. Make a small flat A-frame construction (60 degree angles) out of three pieces of wood and attach a nail or screw just below the apex of the triangle formed and fasten a string to it with a weight on the end.

2. Gauge out a thin and shallow trough on a hard surface, impermeable to water, and fill it with water.

3. Gauge out two small troughs, as wide as the feet of the A-frame, at right angles to and on the same side of the first trough, until their bases are level with the water.

4. Place the feet of the A-frame in the two smaller troughs and where the string crosses the horizontal piece of wood make a mark.

5. You now have your Leveler.


Information on the treasures of Egypt can be found here, for example

For an actual view of the Pyramids look here

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Another heap of junk is about to collide at high velocity with the Moon to test a theory about ice possibly lying in abundance near its poles. This is important for any humans who are planning to exploit it in the near future, not in the least because they’ll need ice in their cokes when the Sun is high.
I hope any sentient creature there will get an inkling of disaster before it gets spread into infinitesimally small, some probably twitching pieces – as cows sense an approaching storm. It is almost certain that microscopic life forms will be sent to their heaven up there, presumably above the none existent sky, perhaps arriving on Earth and eventually replacing us with those of a more enlightened nature.
Man has done this before with the Moon: some eastern nation, probably China, did the same thing not long ago, I believe, though I’m not interested enough to look it up.
Man feels he has a right to blunder his way into the universe any way he sees fit, using collisions (as above), nosy rovers digging holes everywhere and left-over robots now disintegrating in some toxic atmosphere. Perhaps some earthly microbes that have hitched a ride undetected are even now mutating into exciting new forms.
Of course, I should also mention the thousands of pieces of junk flying around our own planet, some still pinging their way in orbit, some dead or dying and heading for the upper atmosphere where they will burn up, perhaps spreading some nasty part of their innards downwards in the process.
The astronauts who landed on the moon seem to have been pretty milieu friendly, leaving little else but a lot of footprints and a few leftovers like a stiff US flag and some reflecting mirrors. These will no doubt cause any visiting aliens a few headaches (if they have heads that is) unless man returns first to clean up a bit. Odds are he will return before long and I wonder how much longer it will then be before the landing sights are turned into tourist attractions with exciting new low-gravity experiences?
Will there be a Mount Armstrong, a Duke City or perhaps a Mitchell Gorge?
Mars has also had its share of unexpected intruders though it has managed to swat quite a few before they could carry out their self centered missions. One made a significant crater of its own on landing due to a mix-up over the system of measurement used by its computer to plot speed and distance, causing the brakes to be applied a little too late.
One Russian probe was zapped in the neighborhood of Phobos under mysterious circumstances. The Phobosians probably have a national day to celebrate.
The early Viking orbiters took pictures of features on the surface of Mars before flying on to oblivion and beyond. Unfortunately due to lack of detail many geological features took on the form of artificial ones when studied by those not brainwashed by science – a human impediment (not science) which may yet prove useful. Unfortunately, later orbiters with sharper eyes appear to show that these earlier signs of civilization are but optical illusions, though only when a human or an advanced robot can run rampage through the Cydonia region or accidentally comes across a beer can somewhere else, which might in turn might lead to a mysterious entrance into a Martian underground extravaganza, will most be convinced one way or the other.
I find it a great pity that these traveling rovers always seem to be put down in the most visually boring locations, so that we laypeople are left with nothing else to do but imagine letters and numbers scrawled on rocks and boulders shaped like familiar objects or gasp with limited excitement at seeing another dust devil spinning by.
I do hope we are not alone within the accessible vicinity of space and that others, whoever or whatever they are, are going to teach us a very good lesson before long.

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The region is noted for the production of olive oil and olive trees dominate the landscape to tight and left as one drives through rolling hills and valleys with the Adriatic never far away.
Italy, as someone said, is just one great big museum and although Apulia’s historical buildings are perhaps less overwhelming than those in other regions, there is much of interest.
One gifted fellow of the region was Frederick II who as Holy Roman Emperor ruled over an area including Germany, Italy, Sicily and Burgundy around the beginning of the thirteenth century and had his seat in the region. History records that he spoke six languages, was a scientist, mathematician and artist and wrote poetry and music. He also took part in one of the crusades which no doubt brought him into contact with Arabian philosophy.
He appears to have been acquainted with the “secret” knowledge of the mysterious order of the Knights Templar. He built a most intriguing castle in Apulia called Castel del Monte


Castle del Monte

around 1240, which is shrouded in mystery. Numerologists have had a field day studying the layout: there is the recurrent use of the number eight (external perimeter of the courtyard, shape and number of towers). Indeed, it appears to be full of symbolic meaning and then there is its uncertain destination. Although the inside has been destroyed partly due to vandalism there are intriguing leftovers such as the doors, made of a softer composite stony material called breccia corallina that could never have remained in tact for long without constant repair. Their were originally three levels connected by winding stairways. There is no moat or drawbridge, features normally associated with castle strongholds.
A fuller description can be found here
No documentation has survived concerning its construction except for a tantalizing short note written by Frederick to someone saying that it must be hurriedly finished for some event (not described). It might just have been used for recreational purposes – perhaps an extremely elegant hunting lodge. No one knows for sure thus far.
Our guide told us that the castle stands over a network of underground streams which some believe emit strange forces. There are four mysterious circles to be found in one of the rooms on the ground floor which are perhaps a sort “beam me up, Scotty” device (transport mechanism for those unfamiliar with Star Trek). If one stands within them one is supposed to feel lighter or heavier. I believe I did, though auto-suggestion is also a strong force. Anyway, it was a strange and thoughtful experience and definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.
As I mentioned above olive oil is a major product of the area accounting for seventy percent of the nations needs and there is a large export market. When not crushing olives the factories involved crush other products of nature of which Apulia has a rich assortment due to its warm, humid climate and rich soil. Apparently good olive oil is expensive because of the processes involved so don’t choose the cheapest when you’re buying.
I like Italy, partly because in its cities, as well as small towns and villages, one can still find lots of delightful small, personalized shops, cafes and businesses with generally helpful enthusiastic owners and staff. For many European countries these have long been lost to supermarket chains and mass-producing factories. Although Italy has these too, smaller businesses are still thriving, though one wonders for how much longer. Hopefully a lot longer.

Another link to Caste del Monte

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Well, just to liven things up a bit again I thought I’d tell you something about where I’ve been while the computer was having its makeover (it just smiled contentedly).
My companion and I took a week’s holiday in Apulia, Italy which is in the southeastern corner of that fair land – at the back end of its “boot”. We were part of a group of thirty eight rather elderly folk heading for new horizons (please don’t sigh!). Although we’d been in Italy before we hadn’t been this far south. The trip was memorable in many ways.
As everyone knows, holidays are not supposed to be too relaxing.
We had to miss a night’s sleep to take a two hour bus trip to an airport across the border in order to catch an early flight there. This was obviously meant to cut the travel organization’s costs, as airport tax and that sort of thing are apparently cheaper there.
We had a transfer in Rome, which was rather exciting as they changed departure gates at the last minute, before finally arriving at the small but pleasant Bari airport late the same morning.
Not that it often occurs, but when transferring from one aircraft to another at the same airport I have a nagging worry that my baggage might be thrown into the wrong one and arrive at a different final destination than myself, perhaps even ending up in some dark corner where the contents gradually turn to dust or becoming distributed amongst the local needy or greedy. Imagine ones carefully chosen undergarments disintegrating or being stretched out of all recognition!
Anyway, all our travel companions, whether embellished with wheels or feet, arrived safely and after another hour’s journey by bus we finally set our extremities on the floor of our hotel’s reception area. It was a remotely situated hotel forming part of a holiday enclave with privately owned holiday accommodations sprinkled around. It was beautifully laid out with luxurious Mediterranean plants and trees everywhere, including palms of course. Abnormal facilities might include archery, five-side-football and a small train to take one to the sandy Adriatic beach around three hundred meters away. It was the end of the summer season so many facilities were either behind cobwebs, disappearing inside those being spun or sadly empty. The well stocked bar, which was open all day, got the most attention from our lot and provided enough recreation. A few even dared to immerse their variously proportioned bodies in one of the swimming pools to the delight of the bronzed attendant who largely had nothing to do but polish the life-vests and strut around showing his muscles.
After a too hasty though filling breakfast, we were picked up each day by a touring car that brought us to places of cultural, historical and scenic interest, usually all at once. Our jovial, authoritative and enormously enthusiastic female guide was an Art Historian and Archaeologist and a leading expert on the area so that meant lots of info and hurrying up. I won’t bore you with descriptions of churches – one place had forty for the twenty thousand inhabitants – and tales of Popes and the clergy who, in general, spent much of their time on their knees often while cowering before heavily weaponed relative heathens.
There were places that especially evoked the harshness of older times: The small, dark but cozy and conically shaped “Trullo” houses of Alberobello built of stone and slates without mortar, some of which are still lived in today. The cave dwellings of Matera that were hacked out of the soft stone forming the steep slopes of a gorge which splits the town in two and were inhabited into the nineteen fifties.
According to information received, an important purpose of these “primitive” dwellings was to avoid paying un-payable taxes to inhuman overlords who somehow couldn’t find a way to convince those above them that these abodes fell into the housing class.
As we all know, medieval times in Europe were not known for their leisurely and tranquil nature. Facts melt into legends. One particularly evil ruling bastard of the period – it seems that every town worthy of a name had one – apparently liked to shoot arrows down from a tower into the headdresses of women working below. Though this seems insane enough, he was apparently also cross-eyed so that arrows often fell in other lethal places. The locals eventually managed to gather enough courage to send him where he had long deserved to go. Let’s hope the little devils that now plague him are also cross-eyed :-)Yes, like most places in Europe, the area has been royally abused over the millennia by many, many races and their armies jostling for a place in the history books and not caring much how they did their abusing or what the local people thought about their lack of courtesy. The general red color of the extremely rich soil could quite easily be partly due to earlier spilled blood, me thinks.
The area has apparently been overrun by Ancient Greeks, Romans, Goths, Lombards, Byzantines, Normans, Germans, Spanish, Turks, Venetians, French ( I may have missed a few) until in 1861 it became part of Italy.
I saw Turkish cannon balls three feet wide that were used to attack this coast in an attempt to overrun Europe together with the Moors. They obviously meant business and though the local people suffered enormously under their cruelty their expansion plans were eventually thwarted by those who obviously had a strong aversion to smoking hookahs, praying five times a day and giving up alcoholic beverages.
Many works of art have been destroyed by those who came along and for whatever reason didn’t take a shine to the works of earlier periods, generally making a mess of the careful and dedicated aesthetic explosions of those who are probably still turning in their graves.
Next time on to more pleasant things.

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I’ve always been interested in archaeology. As a boy I used to go out into ploughed fields with a friend to look for pottery, clay pipes, coins etc. Grovelling in the soil with the sun burning into your neck. Ah, those were the days – flavours of Indiana Jones.
Yes, it was exciting and sometimes we would take things to the city museum to have them checked by a friendly expert who seemed to greatly appreciate our meagre efforts. One or two ended up on shelves somewhere as I remember. The museum was annexed to the city library where they had all the books one needed on the subject and I still remember the youthful glow of discovery.
Lately I bought a book on the history of the human species in Western Europe written from an archaeologist’s point of view by a very enthusiastic scholar. It was filled with a wealth of detailed information on the life of Homo sapiens from prehistoric through to modern times. Artefacts, as they’re called, have long been and are still being dug up everywhere, sometimes in the most unexpected places and often in ancient burial sites. Things that often throw up more questions than answers concerning past ways of life and death.
It seems to be a trend with me lately (perhaps even longer) to be drawn to the darker side of human endeavours, as you’ve probably already diagnosed, but it does bring up some interesting asides.
Many sites containing just ancient structures or human possessions are being unearthed and preserved, that give us a glimpse of past glories or otherwise and often insights into former habits, whether enviable or not. Well, if no descendents turn up to protest or are ever likely too, then why not? Well not, for example, if it leads to the removal of a nearby old folks home in the process, unless the latter’s inhabitants were fortunately ready for something new, because the water kept turning cold in the shower. The prevention of a motorway construction or an industrial development I would heartily welcome, even if the latter was for a new supermarket with even lower prices than the one that normally robs me.
Gradually though, I began to see how many tombs and graves have been desecrated in the name of science and how many have been “robbed” of their contents, something that in another context would be looked down upon and even criticised as barbaric or inhuman.
The spirits of Egyptian Pharaohs and their forcibly devout followers out in the Orion Nebula might be massing for an attack on Earth as I write, or perhaps are already under way, for the desecration of their lovingly built pyramids, where little or nothing of their belongings or their carefully preserved bodies remains where they left it. Come to think of it the Inca’s were also pretty revengeful types as I remember, and maybe their other halves are also somewhere out there getting angrier and angrier. Let’s hope not, but nobody down here seems to be aware of the possible dangers or paying much attention to any warning signs they may have received in their nightmares.
I wonder how many people now, who prefer to be buried rather than cremated, realise that one day there bones may end up in a museum or someone’s heavily dusted cabinet, perhaps with their name on a card? No more flowers arriving to freshen up the grave that’s now lying under some future motorway. Do they care? Will they care as they look out with eyeless despondency from their nebula?
For the religious, one might ask what God thinks of all this and if perhaps we aren’t already being punished by his silent judgment. I hear their answer.
But science doesn’t care for such lily-livered arguments. It’s all about extending human knowledge, going where no man has gone before, even if one does trample on a few graves or dislodge a few bones.
‘Get scraping or no Ph. D. for you, Williamson! I don’t care if she does look nicer as she is!’
The end justifies the means.

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