Quotulatiousness

July 17, 2017

The Bronze Age Collapse – IV: Systems Collapse – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 15 Jul 2017

It started with famine… and ended with four great civilizations’ utter destruction. The Bronze Age Collapse is still a matter of scholarly debate, but our favorite theory rests on an understanding of Systems Collapse and how societies build themselves to survive disaster.

July 14, 2017

The Bronze Age Collapse – III: Fire and Sword – Extra History

Filed under: History, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Jul 8, 2017

At last, we have the Sea People: marauders who swept into Bronze Age cities and ground them into dust. But while they’re often blamed for the Bronze Age Collapse, were they really its cause? What else must have been going on to cause such illustrious civilizations to crumble?

July 12, 2017

The Bronze Age Collapse – II: The Wheel and the Rod – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Jul 1, 2017

Bronze Age societies built intricate networks of trade, advanced military infrastructure, and hugely organized central governments. But when crucial parts of those systems began to disappear, the societies built on them began to crumble.

July 10, 2017

The Bronze Age Collapse – I: Before the Storm – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Jun 24, 2017

Egyptians. Hittites. Assyrians. Myceneans. Long ago, these four Bronze Age civilizations lived together in a healthy system of trade, agriculture, and sometimes warfare. But then, everything changed when the Sea People attacked.

December 28, 2016

QotD: The importance of fabric as a technological driver

Filed under: History, Quotations, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The ancient Greeks worshiped Athena as the goddess of technē, the artifice of civilisation. She was the giver and protector of olive trees, of ships and of weaving (without which there would be no sails). When she and Odysseus scheme, they ‘weave a plan’. To weave is to devise, to invent – to contrive function and beauty from the simplest of elements. Fabric and fabricate share a common Latin root, fabrica: ‘something skillfully produced’. Text and textile are similarly related, from the verb texere, to weave. Cloth-making is a creative act, analogous to other creative acts. To spin tales (or yarns) is to exercise imagination. Even more than weaving, spinning mounds of tiny fibres into usable threads turns nothing into something, chaos into order.

‘The spindle was the first wheel,’ explains Elizabeth Barber, professor emerita of linguistics and archeology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, gesturing to demonstrate. ‘It wasn’t yet load-bearing, but the principle of rotation is there.’ In the 1970s, Barber started noticing footnotes about textiles scattered through the archaeological literature. She thought she’d spend nine months pulling together what was known. Her little project became a decades-long exploration that turned textile archaeology into a full-blown field. Textile production, Barber writes in Prehistoric Textiles (1991), ‘is older than pottery or metallurgy and perhaps even than agriculture and stock-breeding’.

Of course, pottery and metal artifacts survived the centuries much better than cloth, which is rarely found in more than tiny fragments. That’s one reason we tend to forget how important textiles were in the earliest economic production. We envision an ancient world of hard surfaces much as we imagine the First World War in black and white.

But before there was gold or silver currency, traders used cloth. In the 20th century BC, the Minoan kingdom on resource-poor Crete swapped wool and linen for the metals that its famed craftsmen, represented by the mythical Daedalus, used to create their wares. In the pre-monetary trade of the ancient Aegean and Anatolia, writes the archaeologist Brendan Burke in From Minos to Midas (2010), textile production was of ‘greater value and importance … than the production of painted clay pots, metal tools, and objects carved from precious metals: everyone depended on cloth’.

Archaeologists often track fabric production by what is left behind. Huge numbers of spindle whorls (usually of clay) survive, as do the clay loom weights that held vertically hung warp threads in tension. By counting the clay weights left from his workshops’ looms, writes Barber, ‘we can calculate that King Midas of Gordion could have kept over 100 women busy weaving for him, which makes him more than twice as rich as Homer’s fabulous King Alkinnoos [Alcinous, from the Odyssey], who had 50. No wonder the Greeks viewed Midas as synonymous with gold!’

Virginia Postrel, “Losing the Thread: Older than bronze and as new as nanowires, textiles are technology — and they have remade our world time and again”, Aeon, 2015-06-05.

June 12, 2016

Discovering the “Pompeii of Peterborough”

Filed under: Britain, History, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The New Yorker, Charlotte Higgins describes the Bronze Age archaeological dig near Peterborough in the fens:

… from time to time, the soil pushes up clues, particularly in the fens, where the waterlogged earth creates anaerobic conditions that slow decay. One summer day in 1999, a local archeologist was walking at Must Farm, along the edge of a disused clay pit; at one time it was filled with water, but the water level had dropped enough to reveal some wooden stakes poking out. The Cambridge Archaeological Unit, which operates out of the university, an hour’s drive away, did some exploratory work and found, through radiocarbon dating, that the material dated from about 900 B.C. The site was monitored for several years, until Historic England, a government agency devoted to preserving the country’s heritage, began to press for it to be properly excavated. Last September, with funding from Historic England and the brick-making company Forterra, a team of about a dozen archeologists went to work.

Each day, they are making discoveries that are radically expanding the knowledge of Bronze Age Britain. The site is unparalleled in the U.K. for its wealth of artifacts and the pristine state of their preservation. Three thousand years ago, it was a settlement of wooden roundhouses, but life there ended abruptly: a fire tore through it, and the buildings collapsed, sank into the marshland, and were quickly entombed by silt and mud. “In archeology, very occasionally, there is the feeling that you have turned up just a week too late, that the people who were here have just moved on,” Mark Knight, the archeologist in charge of excavation at Must Farm, told me when I visited for a day in April. “This site has that feeling to it. Normally in Britain, when you dig, three thousand years of history seems manifest in the remains, because the most you tend to find is a few postholes and a potsherd. Here, somehow, the time span feels short. It’s so intact, so three-dimensional.” Inevitably, perhaps, the site has been nicknamed the Pompeii of Peterborough.

[…]

We stood on a low rise, and in the dip below us was a white tent about a quarter the size of a football field, erected to cover the archeological site and keep it from drying out in the harsh East Anglian wind. Knight led me down a path toward it. At the top of the slope, marking the present day, were fragments of bricks, rejects from the nearby factory. Farther down, he indicated a dark layer of earth. “This is Iron Age peat,” he said. And a few steps later: “This is where the sea came in, in the early Roman period, the first century A.D.” As we approached the tent, he said, “Now we’re down into the period where we’re excavating, around 900 B.C.—river channels. Can you see the shells of freshwater mussels?” Inside the tent, the excavation was being conducted two metres below the surface; had we been able to continue down another eighteen metres, to the level of the base of the quarry, we would have arrived at the Jurassic, a hundred and forty-five million years earlier.

From a viewing platform, we could look down on the whole excavation: a large, muddy, roughly rectangular area from which a number of wooden stakes poked up. Gradually, some of the stakes resolved themselves into the shape of a palisade that had once encircled the whole settlement. Inside this enclosure, I could make out individual objects—a human skull, the spine of a horse, something that looked like a woven-willow fence, the lips of pots, all half-buried. “There are some bowls,” Knight said. “There’s a wooden platter. There’s a big wooden trough. Over there, a storage vessel.”

Also within the perimeter of the palisade were three large shapes, each comprising a number of wooden rafters radiating unevenly outward from a central point, like the spokes of a broken umbrella. These were the collapsed roofs of the roundhouses. Several archeologists were working on excavating a fourth. They had already lifted and removed its roof timbers and were uncovering the dwelling’s contents, now compressed by three millennia of mud. They scraped with their trowels methodically, emptying the dirt into buckets that would later be sifted for small finds. One researcher, who looked to be in his twenties, wore a sweatshirt with the words “MY FUTURE LIES IN RUINS.”

August 30, 2014

That’s not vintage wine. This is vintage wine.

Filed under: History, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:31

Storing a few old bottles in your cellar? Not as old as these bottles:

Israel isn’t particularly famous for its wine today, but four thousand years ago, during the Bronze Age, vineyards in the region produced vintages that were prized throughout the Mediterranean and imported by the Egyptian elite.

Last summer, archaeologists discovered a rare time capsule of this ancient drinking culture: the world’s oldest known wine cellar, found in the ruins of a sprawling palatial compound in Upper Galilee.

The mud-brick walls of the room seem to have crumbled suddenly, perhaps during an earthquake. Whatever happened, no one came to salvage the 40 wine jars inside after the collapse; luckily for archaeologists, the cellar was left untouched for centuries. [In Images: An Ancient Palace Wine Cellar]

Excavators at the site took samples of the residue inside the jars. In a new study published today (Aug. 27) in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers describe what their chemical analysis turned up: biomarkers of wine and herbal additives that were mixed into the drink, including mint, cinnamon and juniper.

[…]

The residue from all 32 jars sampled in the study contained tartaric acid, one of the main acids in wine. In all but three jars, the researchers found syringic acid, a marker of red wine. The absence of syringic acid in those three jars may indicate that they contained some of the earliest examples of white wine, which got its start later than red wine, Koh said.

The researchers found signatures of pine resin, which has powerful antibacterial properties and was likely added at the vineyard to help preserve the wine. Scientists also found traces of cedar, which may have come from wooden beams used during the wine-pressing process.

The researchers noticed that the cellar’s simplest wines, those with only resin added, were typically found in the jars lined up in a row against the wall near the outdoor entrance to the room. But the wines with the more complex additives were generally found in jars near a platform in the middle of the cellar and two narrow rooms leading to the banquet hall next door. Koh and colleagues believe the wine would have been brought from the countryside into the cellar, where a wine master would have mixed in honey and herbs like juniper and mint before a meal.

As for the taste, Koh said the ancient booze may have resembled modern retsina, a somewhat divisive Greek wine flavored with pine resin — described by detractors as having a note of turpentine. (Koh said he and his colleagues usually hear two different kinds of remarks about the ancient wine: Some say, “I would love to drink this wine,” while others say, “It must have just tasted like vinegar with twigs in it.”)

February 23, 2014

Winter storms uncover a “Welsh Atlantis”

Filed under: Britain, Environment, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:54

A story in the Express about waves from recent storms having uncovered a previously unknown ancient forest on the shores of Cardigan Bay:

Gales stripped the sand from a beach at Borth in Ceredigion, West Wales, revealing the remains of a 6,000-year-old forest.

A picture of the same spot taken before the storms shows a strip of pristine sand.

The ancient oaks and pines date back to the Bronze Age.

They were discovered by Deanna Groom and Ross Cook from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.

Miss Groom, a maritime archeologist said: “The site around Borth is one where if there’s a bad storm and it gets battered, you know there’s a good chance something will be uncovered as the peat gets washed away.

“It’s regularly monitored and that’s why we went to have a look there again now to see if anything new had emerged.”

The ancient remains are said by some to be the origins of the legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod, a mythical kingdom now submerged under the waters of Cardigan Bay.

It has been described as a “Welsh Atlantis” and has featured in folklore, literature and song.

H/T to Elizabeth for the link.

Update: Elizabeth also sent a link that shows that ancient oak stumps aren’t the only things being uncovered by the waves:

The latest hazard caused by this winter’s devastating storms and floods has been revealed by police — unexploded bombs.

The storms that have ravaged and reshaped parts of the British coastline have led to the discovery of wartime shells long-buried on beaches.

There are also fears that flooding along the Thames will erode riverbanks, leading to the discovery of bombs dropped on the area by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War.

Police say that high tides and huge waves have either exposed devices or brought them closer to the surface.

Further storms and flooding are expected today as a new front moves in from the Atlantic. The Met Office has issued three severe rain warnings and gusts of wind are expected to reach 70mph.

The Environment Agency also still has 48 severe flood warnings issued across the UK following what the Met Office has described as the wettest winter on record.

Now walkers are being urged not to touch unidentified metal objects but to alert police to their finds instead.

In South West England and West Wales, which bore the brunt of the storms, six devices have been handled by bomb disposal units in six weeks.

The Navy’s Southern Diving Group said it had received a 20 per cent increase in reports of unexploded bombs since January.

A 100lb Mk XIX Second World War British anti-submarine mine was found by surfers at Watwick Bay, Haverfordwest, while a rare First World War German mine surfaced on a beach near the popular Cornish resort of Newquay.

July 22, 2010

First results from new study around Stonehenge

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:27

A new study of Stonehenge by the University of Birmingham and Vienna’s Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology has made its first major discovery:

Archaeologists have discovered a second henge at Stonehenge, described as the most exciting find there in 50 years.

The circular ditch surrounding a smaller circle of deep pits about a metre (3ft) wide has been unearthed at the world-famous site in Wiltshire.

Archaeologists conducting a multi-million pound study believe timber posts were in the pits.

Project leader Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University of Birmingham, said the discovery was “exceptional”.

The new “henge” — which means a circular monument dating to Neolithic and Bronze Ages — is situated about 900m (2,950ft) from the giant stones on Salisbury Plain.

I imagine, given how many times Stonehenge has been mucked about with by earlier enthusiasts, there must be much misleading data has to be sifted and re-sifted before any definite discoveries can be announced. Stonehenge has been fascinating people for centuries and there are probably lots of amateur investigations that may well have made the situation more confusing (think of a sixteenth century equivalent of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft with a nose for treasure).

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