World's oldest temple built to worship the dog star

16 August 2013 by Anil Ananthaswamy

Magazine issue 2930.


THE world's oldest temple, Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, may have been built to worship the dog star, Sirius.


The 11,000-year-old site consists of a series of at least 20 circular enclosures, although only a few have been uncovered since excavations began in the mid-1990s. Each one is surrounded by a ring of huge, T-shaped stone pillars, some of which are decorated with carvings of fierce animals. Two more megaliths stand parallel to each other at the centre of each ring (see illustration).


Göbekli Tepe put a dent in the idea of the Neolithic revolution, which said that the invention of agriculture spurred humans to build settlements and develop civilisation, art and religion. There is no evidence of agriculture near the temple, hinting that religion came first in this instance.


"We have a lot of contemporaneous sites which are settlements of hunter-gatherers. Göbekli Tepe was a sanctuary site for people living in these settlements," says Klaus Schmidt, chief archaeologist for the project at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Berlin.


But it is still anybody's guess what type of religion the temple served. Giulio Magli, an archaeoastronomer at the Polytechnic University of Milan in Italy, looked to the night sky for an answer. After all, the arrangement of the pillars at Stonehenge in the UK suggests it could have been built as an astronomical observatory, maybe even to worship the moon.


Magli simulated what the sky would have looked like from Turkey when Göbekli Tepe was built. Over millennia, the positions of the stars change due to Earth wobbling as it spins on its axis. Stars that are near the horizon will rise and set at different points, and they can even disappear completely, only to reappear thousands of years later.


Today, Sirius can be seen almost worldwide as the brightest star in the sky – excluding the sun – and the fourth brightest night-sky object after the moon, Venus and Jupiter. Sirius is so noticeable that its rising and setting was used as the basis for the ancient Egyptian calendar, says Magli. At the latitude of Göbekli Tepe, Sirius would have been below the horizon until around 9300 BC, when it would have suddenly popped into view.


"I propose that the temple was built to follow the 'birth' of this star," says Magli. "You can imagine that the appearance of a new object in the sky could even have triggered a new religion."


Using existing maps of Göbekli Tepe and satellite images of the region, Magli drew an imaginary line running between and parallel to the two megaliths inside each enclosure. Three of the excavated rings seem to be aligned with the points on the horizon where Sirius would have risen in 9100 BC, 8750 BC and 8300 BC, respectively (arxiv.org/abs/1307.8397).


The results are preliminary, Magli stresses. More accurate calculations will need a full survey using instruments such as a theodolite, a device for measuring horizontal and vertical angles. Also, the sequence in which the structures were built is unclear, so it is hard to say if rings were built to follow Sirius as it rose at different points along the horizon.


Ongoing excavations might rule out any astronomical significance, says Jens Notroff, also at DAI. "We are still discussing whether the monumental enclosures at Göbekli Tepe were open or roofed," he says. "In the latter case, any activity regarding monitoring the sky would, of course, have been rather difficult."




Article created on Sunday, August 18, 2013


Archaeologists have long debated what caused the Late Bronze Age (LBA) world of the Eastern Mediterranean, a rich network of Aegean, Egyptian, Syro-Palestinian and Hittite civilizations to collapse about 1300 BC. Many scholars have cited warfare, political unrest and natural disaster as factors. But a new study supports the theory that climate change was largely responsible.

Map of Cyprus with an overview of the Larnaca Salt Lake (Hala Sultan Tekke) in the Larnaca Bay. Core B22 is indicated by a red star in the modern salty area. High concentrations of Posidonia oceanica fibers are highlighted in the corer, and in lower samples.   doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071004.g001

Map of Cyprus with an overview of the Larnaca Salt Lake (Hala Sultan Tekke) in the Larnaca Bay.

Core B22 is indicated by a red star in the modern salty area. High concentrations of Posidonia oceanica fibers are highlighted in the corer, and in lower samples. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071004.g001

Collapse of cultures

Pollen grains from Cyprus provided the clue that a huge drought hit the region about 3,200 years ago. Inscriptions and clay tablets have described crop failures, famines and war all occurring  during the same timeframe, suggesting that the drought triggered a chain of events that led to widespread societal collapse of these Late Bronze Age civilizations with population migrations and wars leading to new societies and new ideologies.

Egyptian bas-reliefs along with hieroglyphic and cuneiform texts portray the cause of the collapse as the invasions of the “Peoples-of-the-Sea” at the Nile Delta, the Turkish coast, and in the rich heartlands of Syria and Palestine there is a time when great armies clashed, famine-ravaged cities were abandoned, and the countryside itself became depopulated.

Despite abundant literature devoted to these Sea Peoples, we still do not know exactly who they were, where they came from, why they attacked and where they disappeared to after the raids. Some scholars are even uncertain whether the Sea People’s existence was a cause or an effect of the decline of the LBA.

The new palaeoclimate data from Cyprus for the Late Bronze Age crisis, alongside a radiocarbon-based chronology integrating both archaeological and palaeoclimate proxies, reveals the true extent and potential effects of abrupt climate change-driven famine and a definitive causal linkage with the Sea People invasions in Cyprus and Syria.  Between 1206 and 1150 BCE almost every large city between Pylos in Greece and Gaza at the southern limit of the Levant was abandoned.


The researchers drilled a core about 27 feet long from the bed of the Larnaca Salt Lake on the island of Cyprus which is acknowledged as a major centre of ancient eastern Mediterranean trade and then used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of each sediment layer.

Then they examined the pollen grains preserved within the core and were able to identify the tree species each grain came from, producing a time line of the vegetation in the region.

They found that lush woodlands gave way to arid grasslands about 3,200 years ago, marking one of “the driest [periods] of the last 5,000 years in the eastern Mediterranean region,” said Joel Guiot, a palaeoclimatologist at Aix-Marseille University in France and a study co-author.

Analysis of marine fossils in the core revealed that the site was once a bustling harbour that had dried into a landlocked salt lake, disrupting trade and farming.

Their findings closely match archaeological evidence of the collapse of civilizations in the region. The last trace of Late Bronze Age artefacts dates to the same time as the climate shift, while hieroglyphs and cuneiform texts describe famines and waves of mysterious “sea people” raiding Egypt, Turkey, Syria and Palestine’s shores about the same time. Archaeologists are now able to suggest these people were probably eastern Mediterraneans fleeing inhospitable homelands, seeking new areas to settle in mass migrations.

Radiocarbon-based archaeology, climate and agricultural productivity from Gibala-Tell Tweini, Northwest Syria. The pollen-derived climatic and agricultural proxies are plotted against time (1500–500 cal. BC). Radiocarbon dates for the ca. 300 year dry event are indicated with red stars. The time-window of the invasions at the Bronze-Iron Age boundary is framed by radiocarbon dates from the destruction layer (blue). At the top, the cross-correlogram shows the correlation between the pollen-derived proxy of moisture availability from Hala Sultan Tekke and that from Gibala-Tell Tweini.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071004.g006

Radiocarbon-based archaeology, climate and agricultural productivity from Gibala-Tell Tweini, Northwest Syria.

The pollen-derived climatic and agricultural proxies are plotted against time (1500–500 cal. BC). Radiocarbon dates for the ca. 300 year dry event are indicated with red stars. The time-window of the invasions at the Bronze-Iron Age boundary is framed by radiocarbon dates from the destruction layer (blue). At the top, the cross-correlogram shows the correlation between the pollen-derived proxy of moisture availability from Hala Sultan Tekke and that from Gibala-Tell Tweini. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071004.g006


A far reaching consequence

The LBA crisis, associated with a wave of destructions led by a flow of migrants, the Sea Peoples, and this is clearly attested in Cyprus with the end of the Late Cypriot IIC period, and the Late Cypriot IIC-IIIA transition dated to 1220–1190 cal yr BCE.  Late Cypriot IIC ceramics, imported from Cyprus, were also found at the site of Gibala-Tell Tweini in northwest Syria, in the destruction layer dated from the end of the LBA.

Gibala-Tell Tweini was a thriving trade centre located on the coast of the ancient Ugarit kingdom, where large-scale excavations over the past 13 years have unearthed a well-preserved destruction layer coeval with the end of the Bronze Age world. A stratified radiocarbon-based archaeology  has given the first chronology for the Sea People raids with a mean radiocarbon age of 2962±14 14C yr BP, calibrated to 1 σ at 1215–1190 cal yr BCE.

By combining environmental and archaeological data, the study marks a serious investigation into the root cause of the LBA collapse in the Eastern Mediterranean – and without a doubt, climate change and the subsequent drought and three hundred years of reduced rainfall is that cause.

Guiot concludes, “We tend to focus on political, human-driven problems, but there isn’t a human driver for the destruction that matches what happened 3,000 years ago.”

The study serves as a reminder for current generations to address climate change, especially in the Mediterranean, he said.

Source: PLOS One



Mini-Colosseum of 'Gladiator' Emperor Found



The Roman emperor Commodus might have cultivated the skills showcased in Ridley Scott’s blockbuster film “Gladiator” in a personal miniature Colosseum on his estate near Rome.


Archaeologists from Montclair State University, in New Jersey, believe that a large oval area with curved walls and floors made of marble is, in fact, the arena where the emperor killed wild beasts, earning the nickname “the Roman Hercules,” as recorded in historical writings.


Found in Genzano, a village southeast of Rome which overlooks Lake Nemi, a crater lake in the Alban Hills, the oval structure measures 200 feet by 130 feet and dates to the 2nd century.


It was found by the U.S. team as they excavated thermal baths at an estate known as the Villa of Antonines.


Based on literary references and the discovery in the 18th century of marble busts of imperial figures, the site is believed to have been the property of the Antonine Dynasty (138–193), which begun with the reign of Antoninus Pius and included emperors Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and Commodus.


 “We first noticed a small section of a curving structure next to the baths. Ground-penetrating radar mapped out the entire foundations revealing new specular curving structures,” Deborah Chatr Aryamontri, a co-director of the excavation, told the Italian daily Il Messaggero.


Forming an ellipse, the arena could sit more than 1,300 people. It featured an imperial box and was richly decorated with mosaic tesserae and luxurious, imported marbles.


“The very numerous pieces and fragments of marble of varied thickness and dimensions include white marbles as well as colored ones such as serpentine, porphyry, giallo antico, pavonazetto, cipollino and africano — basically the most common decorative types imported from North Africa and the Aegean region,” Chatr Aryamontri, and co-director Timothy Renner, wrote.


“The tesserae, or cubic tiles used for mosaics, include many from black and white compositions (leucitite and white limestone), while the remainder are small colored glass tesserae that represent a large part of the color spectrum and include transparent examples covered with gold leaf,” they added.


According to the archaeologists, several large blocks of worked peperino stone would have helped support an awning system (velarium) to shade spectators from the sun, just like at the Colosseum in Rome.


Most likely, it was in this opulent setting that Commodus practiced for his first semi-public appearances as a killer of animals and a gladiator.


Succeeding his father, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus ruled Rome from 180 A.D until 192 A.D., when he was strangled in his bath by a wrestler.


Immediately after he became emperor, he displayed his strength in gladiatorial combats at Rome’s Colosseum.


According to his contemporary Dio Cassius, Commodus killed men in his private gladiatorial bouts, and was known for “slicing off a nose, an ear or various other parts of the body.”


An accomplished left-handed fighter, determined to cast himself as “Hercules reborn,” Commodus was also a skilled hunter, showing his ability in the Colosseum by killing bears, tigers, hippopotamuses, elephants, but also domestic animals.


He delighted the public by shooting crescent-headed arrows at ostriches, who continued to dash around even after they had been decapitated.


In the Oscar-winning film “Gladiator,” Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, fought to the death in the Colosseum in Rome with fictional army general Russell Crowe.


At the private mini-Colosseum in Genzano, Commodus might have enjoyed more elaborate shows.


Indeed, an underground canal around the amphitheater suggests that naval battles were staged there. Leading down to underground chambers, a spiral staircase brings to mind the arrangements at the Colosseum in Rome. Most likely, lifts were used in the Genzano Colosseum to raise scenery and possibly animals.



Roman temple clues found during dig in Conwy Valley

15 August 2013


The remains of what is suspected to be a Roman temple have uncovered by archaeologists who had been searching for a lost 11th Century church.


Archaeologists had been trying to find a Norman church on farmland in the Conwy Valley after baked remains became apparent during the hot summer of 2006.


But as the dig got under way the team realised there was a much older building on the site.


Researchers are trying to establish if it was a temple used by Roman soldiers.


The dig, which was being filmed for a Welsh-language television series, had been to try and uncover the remains of a church but instead artefacts dating back to Roman times were unearthed.


During extremely dry weather features hidden under the soil can often be seen from the air.

In areas of raised stone - as in walls - there is less soil so the grass becomes yellower.

If there is a trench or ditch then the grass is greener than the surround area because deeper soil takes longer to dry out.


"There had been questions before the dig began because a church would be orientated east west where as this building was north south and as soon as we started to dig all we found were Roman artefacts," said Dr Iestyn Jones, presenter and archaeologist on the programme.


The finds were recovered from two trenches are thought to date back to the 2nd and 4th Centuries, said Dr Jones.


He said more work was needed to determine if the site was a mithraeum - a temple used by Roman soldiers.


"One was found in Caernarfon in the 1960s but that was dug out and houses built on it, so whilst this find is not unique it is very unusual," he said.


"It was thrilling really and we had experienced archaeologists with us who take part in digs all around the country and they were delighted too."


Morgan Hopkins, a series producer and director with Trisgell Television Company, said: "I was quite certain that we would discover a Norman church in Llwydfaen but it became obvious as we were digging, and from the discoveries, that this was a Roman building.


"We discovered six bronze Roman coins, countless pieces of slate and Roman nails as well as pieces of Roman pottery.


The S4C series is due to be broadcast in 2014.



Offa's Dyke: Part Of Monument Bulldozed

It is alleged travellers used a digger to flatten around 50-yards of the ancient monument, which lies in a World Heritage site.

1:05pm UK, Friday 16 August 2013 Offa's Dyke

It is a criminal offence to damage Offa's Dyke which is protected by law


An investigation has been launched after a section of Offa’s Dyke - the ancient earthwork running along the England and Wales border - was levelled with a bulldozer.


Police have been alerted and Cadw, the Welsh Government's heritage service, is making inquiries into damage to a stretch of the 1200-year-old protected monument, which experts have likened to "driving a road through Stonehenge".


Travellers have been accused of using a bulldozer to flatten at least 50-yards of the dyke, which lies in a World Heritage site, close to the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in North Wales, last Sunday.


The 8th century structure, which consists of a wide ditch and rampart, is Britain's longest ancient monument at 82 miles long.


It is seen as one of the great engineering achievements of the pre-industrial age, and the most significant surviving structure from Anglo-Saxon times.


It is thought King Offa of Mercia built it in the last quarter of the 8th century to mark the western boundary of his kingdom and guard against invasion from Wales.


It is a criminal offence to damage Offa's Dyke under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. Anyone breaking the law could face six months in jail or a £5,000 fine.


A spokesman for Cadw said: "We are aware of the reported damage to a section of Offa's Dyke which is a nationally important ancient monument protected by law.


"An investigation is currently underway to determine whether or not an offence has been committed. The police have been informed."


North Wales police confirmed they were aware of the situation and were in contact with Cadw.



Burren archaeological discovery of woman and two children ‘very significant’

Remains pre-date construction of 10th or 11th century fort being excavated at Caherconnell

Gordon Deegan

Fri, Aug 16, 2013, 01:00


An archaeologist has described the discovery of the remains of a woman and two children at least 1,000 years old at a dig in the Burren as “very exciting and significant”.

The director of the Caherconnell Archaeological School, Dr Michelle Comber, said yesterday there was “an air of excitement” on the second last day of the eight-week summer dig when the remains were discovered.

She said the remains were of a “45-year-old plus” woman, a baby aged between one and two years and a very young baby.

The school called local gardaí and the scene at Caherconnell, a kilometre from the Poulnabrone dolmen, was photographed.

“The find is unusual and it came as a complete surprise to us,” Dr Comber said. The remains “could be thousands of years old but we won’t know for a couple of months until the results of carbon-dating of the bones are made available”.

They definitely pre-dated the construction of the fort or cashel under excavation at Caherconnell which was built about the 10th or 11th century, she added.

The remains were contained in stone boxes, or cists, buried beneath the wall of the cashel enclosure at Caherconnell. The smaller of the two contained the remains of the children and the body of the woman was in the second one.

“She suffered from joint disease, probably as a result of much physical labour over the course of her lifetime,” Dr Comber said.

She said the excavation at Caherconnell “puts the natives back into the picture of medieval Ireland.

“We know a lot about the Anglo-Normans at this time who built large castles and towns, but this well-off family at Caherconnell was making a statement that they were going to hold on to their culture, their land and cling to their traditions.”

Caherconnell was owned by an important branch of the local Gaelic rulers, the O’Loughlins, in medieval times and it was very possible that the builders of the cashel were ancestors of the O’Loughlins.

Dr Comber said that the 2013 excavation, together with previous excavations at the Caherconnell site, “reflect a wealthy family who wore jewellery of bronze, quartz and glass, who hunted and fought, who farmed the surrounding land and who played games and listened to music”.



Poole Swash Channel Wreck: Rudder brought ashore

19 August 2013 Last updated at 13:44

Stephen Stafford

BBC News Online


The rudder of a 17th Century merchant vessel shipwrecked off the Dorset coast has been brought ashore.


The so-called Swash Channel Wreck was discovered in a sand and shingle bank outside Poole Harbour that was struck by a dredger in 1990.


Its 8.4m (28ft) rudder, carved with the image of a man's face, was lifted onto Poole Quay by Bournemouth University marine archaeologists, at 08:45 BST.


Little is known about the name and origins of the vessel and its crew.


A £450,000 conservation project funded by English Heritage has already seen several parts of the ship raised, including rare examples of carved Baroque woodwork.


The rudder had been kept in the sea off Poole since it was initially raised from the wreck site in July

Almost 80% of the port side of the Dutch ship survived since it sank early in the 17th Century.


In the shadow of the modern car ferries bound for France, part of a ship from a very different maritime era was raised out of the murky waters along Poole's quayside.


The ornate carved face on the rudder head is the centre of attention, immediately sprayed with water to prevent it drying out in the sunshine.


The team of marine archaeologists looked on with pride at the culmination to hundreds of hours spent diving the Swash Channel Wreck site.


Next port of call is York for specialist conservation work and hopes that something more can be learnt of the history of this mystery wreck.


The rudder was raised from the wreck site in July and has been kept underwater at Poole's quayside.


It is due to be taken to York for conservation and research work to be carried out on it.


Dave Parham, from Bournemouth University, described it as "spectacular" and said he was relieved it had been brought ashore "in one piece".


"Up to now we could only see a few metres of it underwater," he said.


"Now it's on shore you can see everything in the light - it's huge, it's an incredible sight."


The rudder is the last major piece due to be raised. The wreck has since been covered in sand to protect it from the seawater.


Along with other artefacts, it is due to go on show in Poole Museum in two years time.