German Research Foundation approves Research Unit on "Un/doing Differences. Practices in human differentiation" at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
11 January 2013 Universität Mainz
The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved the establishment of a new Research Unit at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz on the topic of “Un/doing Differences. Practices in human differentiation.” Within the research network, which has been initially established for six years, the eight participating researchers from the fields of Sociology, Anthropology, American Studies, Theater Studies, and German Linguistics will look at the cultural differentiation of humans and investigate how differences between individuals and communities arise or are created, and how these change or are expunged. The coordinator of the new DFG Research Unit is Professor Dr. Stefan Hirschauer of the JGU Institute of Sociology. A Research Unit funded by the German Research Foundation takes the form of a close working alliance between several prominent scholars who plan to collaborate on an innovative research topic over a longer period of time. The general idea behind the establishment of such research groups is to open up new areas of inquiry.
Human differentiation involves the identification or attribution of individuals as members of specific communities and groups in terms of their ethnicity, nationality, language groups, religions, or other factors, as well as intrasocietal differentiations on the basis of characteristics such as age, gender, or performance in school, work, or sports. There is a bewildering array of research fields that already deal with the categorization of humans. The new DFG group will take the corresponding findings as its starting point, but will also transcend these. The group will be thus be studying the important fundamental distinctions that form major research areas such as ethnicity, 'race', nationality, religion, gender – presumably the oldest form of human differentiation from a cultural history standpoint – and performance groups.
These various characteristics used for differentiation are usually studied separately in individual research areas, such as Gender Studies and Race Studies, but also as isolated topics within various disciplines, including Social Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science, History, Literature, Linguistics, and Social Psychology. However, there are considerable differences in the approaches taken by the social sciences and the humanities while there is a general consensus that it is necessary to define those universal characteristics common to the practices of cultural categorization and demarcation. "It is our aim to investigate for the first time how the many different social memberships of individuals actually compete with each other in order to demonstrate that people are not merely 'different' but can be distinguished from each other in the social context in various ways – or are not distinguished from each other at all," explained Hirschauer.
Each of the group's eight sub-projects addresses various aspects of the broader issues and, at the same time, sets its own emphases. Two African ethnological and two American Studies projects will be primarily focusing on the factors that determine the cultural lines of demarcation between communities. Four Sociology, Linguistics, and Theater Studies projects will be considering the cultural aspects of the categorization of individuals. Once the project group has completed its work, we may at last understand what conditions obtain to the differentiation of humans and why we assign them to categories, why differences arise and disappear again, and what essentially lies behind our need to categorize humans as 'types'.
Ancient floor not seen for 10,000 years
Published on January 10, 2013
AN ANCIENT floor which has not seen the light of day for 10,000 years has been uncovered at the Ayia Varvara-Asprokremmos site, the antiquities department said yesterday.
The department said new finds during the latest excavations had redefined the understanding of the kind of human occupation that existed at the Neolithic site in the Nicosia district, which has been radio-carbon dated to between c. 8,800-8,600 BC.
The excavations took place in November 2012 and were run by Dr Carole McCartney on behalf of the University of Cyprus working in partnership with Cornell University and the University of Toronto.
According to an announcement, the floor which “was exposed for the first time in 10,000 years” exhibited a dished form, raised above the central area providing a rough bench that ran along the circumference of the interior wall.
The floor was made of trampled mud, refreshed by erosional washed sediments that appear to have collected during short term (perhaps seasonal) abandonment events.
“As seen in the northern side of the feature, ash heaps and stone tools were stratified in a sequence of repeated use events,” the department said.
The presence of buried artefacts (usable, but abandoned) and evidence of erosional episodes indicated the punctuated character of the structure’s occupation, while the nature of the artefacts demonstrated the domestic character of the building, it added.
Constructional features illustrated the significant degree of investment given to the building, including the deeply dished form of the building dug into bedrock and a 10-15 cm thick wall lining.
The department said the latter exhibited significant evidence of burning and was likely constructed of an organic super-structure of branches cemented in place by mud plaster.
It said the finds suggested a decline in the investment applied to the construction of shelters utilised at the site, and a shift towards a more temporary architectural form during later phases of occupation. A large carefully engraved teardrop-shaped picrolite pendant, representing a more developed form of ornament than those recovered previously, was also recovered.
Renewed excavation in another area of the site uncovered a unique arrangement of chalk slabs encircling a large hearth-like setting of burnt stone.
“This provides important information regarding the activities conducted at the site,” said the department, adding that the indications were the site may have been used for the tanning of animal, and specifically pig, skins as multi-coloured pigments, including red, yellow, orange, purple and grey ochre as well as bright green, terra verde, were found.
MOLECULAR EXPLORATION OF THE FIRST-CENTURY TOMB OF THE SHROUD IN AKELDAMA, JERUSALEM
Article created on Friday, January 11, 2013
The Tomb of the Shroud is a first-century C.E. tomb discovered in Akeldama, Jerusalem, Israel that had been illegally entered and looted. The investigation of this tomb by an interdisciplinary team of researchers began in 2000. More than twenty stone ossuaries for collecting human bones were found, along with textiles from a burial shroud, hair and skeletal remains.
The research presented here focuses on genetic analysis of the bioarchaeological remains from the tomb using mitochondrial DNA to examine familial relationships of the individuals within the tomb and molecular screening for the presence of disease. There are three mitochondrial haplotypes shared between a number of the remains analyzed suggesting a possible family tomb. There were two pathogens genetically detected within the collection of osteological samples, these were Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium leprae.
The Tomb of the Shroud is one of very few examples of a preserved shrouded human burial and the only example of a plaster sealed loculus with remains genetically confirmed to have belonged to a shrouded male individual that suffered from tuberculosis and leprosy dating to the first-century C.E.
This is the earliest case of leprosy with a confirmed date in which M. leprae DNA was detected.
Read the full article on www.plosone.org
2,000-Year-Old Treasure Discovered In Black Sea Fortress
By Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor | LiveScience.com – Thu, Jan 10, 2013
Residents of a town under siege by the Roman army about 2,000 years ago buried two hoards of treasure in the town's citadel — treasure recently excavated by archaeologists.
More than 200 coins, mainly bronze, were found along with "various items of gold, silver and bronze jewelry and glass vessels" inside an ancient fortress within the Artezian settlement in the Crimea (in Ukraine), the researchers wrote in the most recent edition of the journal Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia.
"The fortress had been besieged. Wealthy people from the settlement and the neighborhood had tried to hide there from the Romans. They had buried their hoards inside the citadel," Nikolaï Vinokurov, a professor at Moscow State Pedagogical University, explained.
Artezian, which covered an area of at least 3.2 acres (1.3 hectares) and also had a necropolis (a cemetery), was part of the Bosporus Kingdom. At the time, the kingdom's fate was torn between two brothers —Mithridates VIII, who sought independence from Rome, and his younger brother, Cotys I, who was in favor of keeping the kingdom a client state of the growing empire. Rome sent an army to support Cotys, establishing him in the Bosporan capital and torching settlements controlled by Mithridates, including Artezian.
People huddled in the fortress for protection as the Romans attacked, but Vinokurov said they knew they were doomed. "We can say that these hoards were funeral sacrifices. It was obvious for the people that they were going to die shortly," he wrote in an email to LiveScience. The siege and fall of the fortress occurred in AD 45.
Curiously, each hoard included exactly 55 coins minted by Mithridates VIII. "This is possibly just a simple coincidence, or perhaps these were equal sums received by the owners of these caskets from the supporters of Mithridates," the team wrote in its paper.
A Greek lifestyle
Vinokurov's team, including a number of volunteers, has been exploring Artezian since 1989 and has found that the people of the settlement followed a culture that was distinctly Greek. The population's ethnicity was mixed, Vinokurov wrote, "but their culture was pure Greek. They spoke Greek language, had Greek school; the architecture and fortification were Greek as well. They were Hellenes by culture but not that pure by blood."
Greeks are known to have created colonies on the Black Sea centuries earlier, intermarrying with the Crimeans. The customs and art forms they introduced appear to have persisted through the ages despite being practiced nearly 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Greece itself.
This Greek influence can be seen in the treasures the people of Artezian buried. Among them is a silver brooch engraved with an image of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and gold rings with gems engraved with images of Nemesis and Tyche, both Greek deities.
When archaeologists excavated other portions of the torched site they found more evidence of a Greek lifestyle.
"In the burnt level of the early citadel, many fragmentary small terra cotta figures were found depicting Demeter, Cora, Cybele, Aphrodite with a dolphin, Psyche and Eros, a maiden with gifts, Hermes, Attis, foot soldiers and warriors on horseback, semi-naked youths," the researchers wrote in their paper, adding fragments of a miniature oinochoai (a form of Greek pottery) and small jugs for libations also were found.
All this was torched by the Romans and later rebuilt by Cotys I, who had been successfully enthroned by Rome. However the treasures of the earlier inhabitants remained undiscovered beneath the surface, a testament to a desperate stand against the growing power of Rome.
Pompeii 'Wall Posts' Reveal Ancient Social Networks
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior WriterDate: 10 January 2013 Time: 01:05 PM ET
Think of it as the earliest version of the Facebook wall post: Ancient Pompeii residents revealed their social networks through graffiti on actual walls.
Now, a new analysis of some of these scribbled messages reveals the walls of the wealthy were highly sought after, especially for political candidates hoping to drum up votes. The findings suggest that Pompeii homeowners may have had some control over who got artistic on their walls, said study researcher Eeva-Maria Viitanen, an archaeologist at the University of Helsinki.
"The current view is that any candidate could have chosen any location and have their ad painted on the wall. After looking at the contexts, this would not seem very likely," Viitanen told LiveScience. "The facades of the private houses and even the streetwalks in front of them were controlled and maintained by the owner of the house, and in that respect, the idea that the wall space could be appropriated by anyone who wanted to do it seems unlikely."
Amid all these amateur "wall posts" were political campaign ads, most of which were done by professional painters, Viitanen said. It was these posts that she and her colleagues focused on, mapping out each message and noting its context. The researchers wanted to know where candidates put their messages — near bars and other high-traffic areas, or on the walls of private houses? And where did certain candidates focus their campaigns?
To narrow down the enormous amount of graffiti, the researchers focused on three regions of the city: two residential areas on opposite sides of town and one business district. There were more than 1,000 electoral messages scrawled on the walls in these regions, most dating from the last three centuries of Pompeii's existence.
Most of the messages are simple, containing just a name and the office the person was running for, Viitanen said.
"Sometimes there are some simple attributes such as 'a good man,' 'worthy of public office,'" she said. One candidate even bragged about his bread-baking abilities on his campaign-wall post, Viitanen said.
Other ads were sponsored by groups supporting a particular candidate, including such unsavory fraternities as pickpockets, late-night drinkers and petty thieves.
"Makes you wonder whether their candidates were really worth voting for!" Viitanen said.
The first find was that politicians wanted an audience. The campaign ads were almost invariably on heavily trafficked streets, Viitanen reported Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle.
The second, more surprising, discovery, was that the most popular spots for ads were private houses rather than bars or shops that would see a lot of visitors.
"Bars were probably more populated, but could their customers read and would they vote?" Viitanen said.
Some 40 percent of the ads were on prestigious houses, she said, which is notable because there were only a third as many lavish homes as there were bars, shops and more modest residences. Clearly, candidates were vying for space on the homes of the wealthy.
That discovery makes Viitanen and her colleagues think the ads reveal early social networking. It seems likely that candidates would need permission from the homeowner to paint their ads, suggesting the graffiti is something of an endorsement.
The research is preliminary and not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, and Viitanen said there is much more work to do to map the social networks revealed on the ancient walls.
"So far, we have barely scratched the surface on this," she said. "There are hundreds of texts and locations, and it takes a lot of time to go through them all."
'Exceptional' find of Roman statues linked to poet Ovid
By Alan Johnston
8 January 2013 Last updated at 19:20
Archaeologists in Italy say they have discovered what they've called a "very important" series of statues dating back to the Roman era.
The seven figures were found in a villa outside the city owned by the patron of the celebrated poet, Ovid.
They depict one of the myths recounted in his masterpiece, Metamorphoses, that of the proud mother Niobe.
The team unearthed the 2m-high figures at the bottom of what would have been a richly-decorated swimming pool.
Action, and life from ev'ry part are gone, And ev'n her entrails turn to solid stone; Yet still she weeps”
It is reckoned that the statues toppled in to the pool during an earthquake and remained there for about 2,000 years.
In Metamorphoses, Ovid recounted many myths of transformations. He wrote of Niobe, the mother of 14 children who boasted about how much more fertile she was than the goddess Leto.
She was punished her for her pride. Leto's two children, Artemis and Apollo, slaughtered her offspring. In her grief, Niobe turned to stone, weeping continuously.
The discovery of the statues raises an intriguing question - which came first, the statues or Ovid's famous poem?
Perhaps the owner of the villa ordered the making of the statues for his home after reading the tale in his favourite poet's work.
Or maybe it was the other way round.
Maybe the statues inspired the poem. Perhaps Ovid admired them as he lounged by his patron's pool, and was moved to write of the disaster that engulfed Niobe.
The archaeologists have only just announced their discovery of the statues, which are in comparatively good condition. The team described them as an "exceptional" find, the discovery of a lifetime.
Roman era graffiti found on Colosseum
Graffiti dating from the Roman era has been found scrawled on the walls of the Colosseum during restoration work.
By Nick Squires, Rome1:59PM GMT 10 Jan 2013
Restorers also discovered fragments of brightly coloured frescoes, suggesting that the ancient monument was gaudily decorated when it hosted gladiatorial fights and wild animal hunts under the emperors.
The fragments – in ochre, red, blue and green – are in stark contrast to the monochrome grey and white of the travertine marble that covers the facade of the amphitheatre today.
The graffiti includes hard-to-decipher words and symbols as well as two large phalluses – possibly an erotic representation, or perhaps just lewd scribbling.
The new discoveries were made on the third and highest level of the Colosseum, which is closed to the public.
They are spread out over a 200ft-long section of a covered tunnel which would have funnelled spectators to their seats high above the arena.
The coloured frescoes were "an extraordinary discovery", said Rossella Rea, who is in charge of the landmark in the centre of Rome.
"We weren't expecting to find them. There is still a great deal to be studied and there will almost certainly be other surprises."
The frescoes would have been "rich and elaborate" in colour and detail, said Ida Simonelli, the head of the restoration team.
A £22 million restoration of the Colosseum, to be funded by Diego Della Valle, the multi-millionaire founder of the Tod's shoe empire, is scheduled to begin within weeks.
It will be the most comprehensive restoration effort in more than 70 years and is expected to take two years.
The project, which will entail removing decades of grime from the facade of the Colosseum, will take place in phases so that the amphitheatre can remain open to visitors.
The privately-funded work, which has been delayed by months of bureaucracy, is being seen as a model for the sponsoring of other ancient sites in Italy, including Pompeii.
Ancient Eye Treatment Recovered From Tuscan Shipwreck
by Dennis Normile on 7 January 2013, 3:15 PM
Medicinal tablets retrieved from a 2000-year-old shipwreck suggest that classical Mediterranean civilizations had sophisticated drugs.
Around 130 B.C.E., a merchant ship sank just off the coast of Italy's Tuscany region. The wreck was spotted in 1974 and dubbed the Relitto del Pozzino after the beach near where it was found. Archaeological excavations in 1989 and 1990 yielded glass bowls, amphoras for carrying wine, lamps, and tin and bronze vessels all likely to have come from the eastern Mediterranean.
There were also artifacts presumably contained in a wooden chest that had rotted away: wooden vials, a cup possibly used for blood-letting, and other objects likely to have been found in an ancient physician's medical bag. Among them was a small tin cylinder known at the time as a "pyxis," that contained five tablets that were about 4 cm in diameter and had been preserved from the elements by a tight-fitting lid. Italian scientists recently analyzed fragments from one tablet and found primarily two zinc-rich materials (hydrozincite and smithsonite), as well as various animal and plant residues, pollen grains, beeswax, and pine resin. In a paper appearing online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists argue that the writings of Pliny the Elder, a Roman, and Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek, both recognized by classicists for their writings on medicinal materials, claim these zinc compounds were once thought beneficial for the eyes and the skin. And they note that the Latin word for eyewash, collyrium, derives from a Greek word meaning "small round loaves."
"This is a fascinating paper on a very interesting set of new finds," says Richard Evershed, a chemist at University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. He adds that the chemical and microscopic analyses "seem robust, although there are aspects I would have pursued in further detail." He is less sure that the materials were really used to treat the eyes, though he agrees the case is strengthened by the links to the classical literature.
The tablets were originally thought to be vitamin pills sailors might take while on long voyages. But the researchers have concluded that "the tablets were directly applied on the top of the eyes," says Erika Ribechini, a chemist at the University of Pisa and a co-author of the report.
Despite lingering questions about the use of the tablets, the study "provides a further example of the high level of knowledge our ancestors possessed concerning the properties of natural materials and technologies required to refine and manipulate them to provide improved products," Evershed says.
Scale Model Discovered for Florence Cathedral
JAN 10, 2013 // BY ROSSELLA LORENZI
Italian archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a mini dome near Florence’s cathedral — evidence, they say, that the structure served as a scale model for the majestic structure designed by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446).
Found during excavations to expand the Cathedral museum, the model measures 9 feet in circumference and it’s made of bricks arranged in a herringbone pattern.
“This building technique had been previously used in Persian domes, but Brunelleschi was the first to introduce it into Europe when he worked at the dome,” Francesco Gurrieri, professor of Restoration of Monuments at the University of Florence, told Discovery News.
“Although at the moment we cannot confirm the small dome was the demostration model for Brunelleschi’s plans, it did belong to the yard he created between 1420 and 1436, when he worked at one of the most incredible feats of engineering,” Gurrieri said.
One of the most instantly recognizable churches in the world, the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore is the highest and widest (143 feet in diameter) masonry dome in the world.
For centuries scholars have wondered how the Florentine architect could roof the huge octagonal of the Cathedral using not concrete and steel, but 25,000 tonnes of stone, timber and brick — and no scaffoldings.
Indeed Brunelleschi won the right to build the dome by saying that he wouldn’t need any internal scaffolding.
He raised sandstone and marble slabs hundreds of feet into the air and boldly constructed the huge masonry bubble without relying on a centering wooden framework.
To do so, the Renaissance genius used complex techniques — still debated by experts — and inventive brickwork which included creating a new way of sharing the weight around the dome so that it wouldn’t collapse.
Laying the bricks in the herringbone pattern was a crucial aspect as it allowed the bricks to convey the forces downward along the curving of the dome.
“The small dome could be the first example of an herringbone pattern structure in Europe,” Gurrieri said.
Roberto Cecchi, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, agreed that the finding is important.
“The herringbone tecnique is very much linked to Brunelleschi and Florence. Outside the city we have only a couple of examples of this technique, and they date later to the 16th century,” Cecchi said.
Once it is fully excavated and restored, the mini dome will be permanently displayed at the new museum of the “Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore,” which is set to open in October 2015.
The Teotihuacans exhumed their dead and dignified them with make-up
09 January 2013 Plataforma SINC
In collaboration with the National University of Mexico, a team of Spanish researchers has analysed for the first time remains of cosmetics in the graves of prehispanic civilisations on the American continent. In the case of the Teotihuacans, these cosmetics were used as part of the after-death ritual to honour their city’s most important people.
A research team from the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the University of Valencia has studied various funerary samples found in urns in the Teotihuacan archaeological site (Mexico) that date from between 200 and 500 AD.
The scientists have been researching Mayan wall paintings in Mexico and Guatemala since 2006. Published in the ‘Journal of Archaeological Science’, this project came about after contact on various occasions with other researchers in the area, namely the National University of Mexico, who wanted to know the composition and function of the cosmetics found in pots.
“The conclusion that we have reached, given the structure of the pigments found, is that they are remains of cosmetics that were used in rituals following burial. At that time it was common to periodically practice a kind of remembrance worship of the deceased high nobility,” as explained to SINC by María Teresa Domenech Carbo, director of the University Institute of Heritage Restoration of the Polytechnic University of Valencia and lead author of the study.
In these rituals the high priest of the city would conduct a ceremony in the dwelling of the most noble of citizens (nobility, princes and kings). The reason for this is that unlike today where graves are located in special places, in those days the deceased were buried underneath the floor of their homes.
“The priest would go to the home and would pay homage to the deceased with the family present. Cosmetics were used by the priest carrying out the ceremony and formed a part of the ritual. The remains of carbonaceous particles found lead to the belief that aromatic material were burnt, with the priest painting parts of the body with those pigments. In addition, it is probable that the body was removed and ‘redecorated’ too,” explains Domenech.
Furthermore, the researchers outline that although we could think that these materials in the urns belonged to the deceased in life and were put in the grave to accompany their owner into the ‘new life’, as in the case of the Egyptians, the fact that the make-up did not contain any agglutinative substance (an organic vehicle that allows make-up to stick to the face or body) leads us to believe that they had more of a symbolic nature.
“It is not very frequent to find cosmetic products in archaeological excavations in America. These are the first on this continent to be analysed in a serious and systematic way,” ensures the researcher. In Europe and Africa, mainly in countries such as Italy and Egypt, the analysis of cosmetic products is more common.
Teotihuacan is one of the most important and most visited archaeological sites in Mexico thanks to its close location to Mexico City and its spectacular great Mayan pyramid.
Flowing trade in Prehispanic Mexico
As well as providing more knowledge on the funerary rituals of this millennium-old culture, the cosmetic remains found help us to identify the social relevance of the buried individuals and they prove the existence of fluid commerce between the different areas of Mexico.
The scientists found material coming from the surroundings of Teotihuacan, such as pulverised volcanic rock pigments and other clay-like types typical of the area’s geology.
Nonetheless, some remains, such as those mica and jarosite particles found, are not native to the surroundings and were probably imported from different parts of Mexico. This, in turn, confirms the existence of trade. “No surprise since this city dominated the entire Mesoamerican region and it has been shown that fluid trade existed in certain southern areas,” points out the researcher.
In addition, the appearance of these remains with the body of the deceased indicates their social status. “Unless the person was very important to this civilisation they were not buried with cosmetic products. The deceased would have had to hold an important position in society, such as that of a king, a prince or a high noble,” ensures the expert.
Following this study, the research team analysed another collection of cosmetic material in the region of Guatemala. The results are currently awaiting publication.