Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bones, Stones and Other Items Used for Divination Found in Armenian Dig

Are these "dough stamps" -- designed to impress raw dough with images that were used in divination?  Or were they used in an entirely different way altogether, hmmm?  These look similar to ancient game pieces to me.  Might they have been used in an elaborate ritual to make impressions on a chessboard-like grid drawn into the dirt of the sacred sanctuary where the diviner practiced -- one not unlike the Dogon "fox print" ritual still practiced today?

Image courtesy of Professor Adam Smith, from news article at The Daily
Mail (UK -- see link at end of this post).  "Dough stamps" discovered
in three different ancient Armenian sanctuaries.  

Story and photos at Phys Org

Bronze Age bones offer evidence of political divination

Mar 13, 2015 by H. Roger Segelken

Trying to divine the future of a precarious administration, "House of Cards" President Frank Underwood enters the inner sanctum with a trusted adviser. "It's really a crapshoot," the adviser says, and the president nods. The bourbon is drained, cigars are snuffed, and the political leader emerges with a more confident sense of what's to come.

"It really was a crapshoot, with very high stakes for sovereign rulers in a turbulent time," says Cornell archaeologist Adam T. Smith, interpreting evidence from 3,300-year-old Bronze Age shrines, ensconced within a hilltop fortress on the Tsaghkahovit Plain of central Armenia. Smith, a professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, studies the role that the material world – everyday objects, representational media, natural and built landscapes – plays in the political lives of ancient and modern-day people.

Dice-like knucklebones used for osteomancy and colored stones used for lithomancy (divination with bones and stones, respectively) were found deep within the ruins of the fallen citadel of Gegharot.

Aleuromancy (divination with freshly ground flour) is a likely explanation for implements found in one of three shrines, Smith and Cornell Ph.D. candidate Jeffrey F. Leon report in their October 2014 American Journal of Archaeology article, "Divination and Sovereignty: The Late Bronze Age Shrines at Gegharot, Armenia." > Excavations conducted at Gegharot since 2002 have turned up a variety of ceremonial, iconic and fortune-telling objects:

  • censers and basins for burning aromatic plant materials that could induce a trance state;
  • covered storage containers made of clay where pollen analysis found evidence of wheat;
  • drinking vessels, probably for long-gone wine;
  • sculpted clay idols "with vaguely anthropomorphic features and hornlike protrusions" and stele (standing blocks) the archaeologists say "likely served as focal point for ritual attention";
  • grain-grinding implements and stamp seals to make impressions in flour dough;
  • dozens of knucklebones (also called astragali) of cattle, sheep and goats with certain sides blackened like the markings on dice; and
  • polished stones in colors ranging from black and dark grey to red, green and white.
The Tsaghkahovit Plain was sparsely populated until around 1500 B.C. when a nameless people (they left no written record of what they called themselves) began to build strongholds and new institutions of rule there.

"It was a time of radical inequality and centralized practices of economic redistribution," Smith says, "and the political leaders were scrambling to hold on to their power. Knowing what the future held was critically important." [Sounds like the USA today.]

The diviner, Smith says, was a kind of primordial actuary, assessing risks and advising on pathways forward. "We call them 'shrines' because of two distinctive qualities of the spaces: They were quite intimate in scale, with not much room for public spectacle," Smith explains, "yet they appear to have been religiously charged places, designed and built to host esoteric rituals with consecrated objects – secretive rites focused on managing risks by diagnosing present conditions and prognosticating futures."

 The Bronze Age people who tried to predict futures there had a quarter-millennium run, until about 1150 B.C. Their divination paraphernalia, meticulously unearthed by the archaeologists, looks as if it had been abandoned in place, moments before the inhabitants fled some cataclysm.

 Without Bronze Age mystics to interpret the bones and stones, it's hard to know whether the citadel's demise was presciently foreseen. As the fictional President Underwood said: "It's not the beginning of the story I fear; it's not knowing how it will end."

 More information: "Divination and Sovereignty: The Late Bronze Age Shrines at Gegharot, Armenia American" Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 4 (October 2014), pp. 549–563 DOI: 10.3764/aja.118.4.0549


See also interesting interpretative article on the findings reported at The Daily Mail (UK) - where else, LOL!  The article does provide additional information along with several maps, diagrams and photographs of the excavation site and some of the excavated artifacts -- which are very interesting.  Check them out and see what you think.

"DNA of an Entire Nation Assessed"

I find this article rather alarming, hmmm...

Article at BBC News

DNA of 'an entire nation' assessed

The genetic code of "an entire nation" has effectively been deduced, say researchers in Iceland.
The feat was performed by combining DNA data with family trees.
The team say they could now find every woman at high-risk of breast cancer "at the touch of a button" and it would be "criminal" not to use the information.
The reports, published in the journal Nature Genetics, used the data to make a suite of discoveries including the age of the last common ancestor of men.
DNA is passed from one generation to the next. If you knew everything about the DNA of a child and their grandparents, you could figure out a lot about about the DNA of the parents too.
The deCODE genetics team has taken the whole genome sequence of 10,000 people and combined it with nation-wide family trees.
"By using these tricks we can predict, with substantial accuracy, the genome of the entire nation," the chief executive of deCODE, Dr Kari Stefansson told the BBC News website.


Mutations in the BRCA genes lead to a much higher lifetime risk of cancer and led the Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie to have her breasts and ovaries removed. [Notice how they want to inform women that it may be best to mutilate yourself but there is no mention of mutilating men for the sake of preventative cancer treatment.]
Dr Stefansson argued: "We could, in Iceland, at the push of a button find all women who carry mutations in the BRCA2 gene.
"This risk could basically be nullified by preventative mastectomies and ovariectomies. It would be criminal not to take advantage of it and I am convinced that my fellow countrymen will begin to use it pretty soon."
The data is all anonymous at the moment. Using such data in medicine would raise ethical issues, including identifying deadly disease genes in people who never volunteered their own DNA for study.
Dr Stefansson says there is a lot of debate still to come "but I'm just an old-fashioned physician, my gut instinct is simply to go to these people and warn them".
He is already in discussions with the Icelandic healthcare system.


The 100,000 genomes project in England and President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative both aim to use such genetic information to revolutionise medicine.
Professor Mark Caulfield, the chief scientist at Genomics England, said the studies were "very interesting" and "very elegant".
He told the BBC: "The team in Iceland is to be congratulated as it has continued, over many years, to contribute to an understanding of the genetic information of disease by looking at the level of the population."
He said the progress being made around the world showed: "We are on the cusp on the application of transformative genomic medicine at scale"
However, he cautioned that there were many types of BRCA2 mutation and it was important to be certain they were relevant before informing women.

Common dad

The project made a series of other discoveries including a new gene linked to Alzheimer's disease.
The team has calculated a new estimate for the last common ancestor of all men by looking at the rate of mutation in the male Y-chromosome.
They believe the last common ancestor was 239,000 years ago - down from a previous estimate of 308,000 years ago.
They discovered that in Iceland that 8% of the population is missing all copies of a gene.
This could be harmful, beneficial or have no impact at all. The Icelandic group is starting a study to assess the health of these people.
Dr Susan Wallace, who worked with the Nuffield Council of Bioethics on a report on the use of biomedical data, said: "It sounds like a very exciting study and could bring health benefits to people.
"The concerns are that the data is going to be made public, anonymity technically promises protection, but you can be re-identified in datasets.
"There are also concerns of commercial interests in the use of these databases, so there are a lot of concerns that need to be addressed.
"There needs to be more engagement I think." [DUH!]

Carnelian and Iron Ring with Image of Goddess Artemis or Diana Found Near Herod the Great's Mausoleum

Story at Live Science -- contains photos and links:

New Excavations Planned for Jiroft (Iran)

Article from The Tehran Times

Iranian, German experts to excavate “archeologists’ lost paradise”

On Line: 10 March 2015 19:07
In Print: Wednesday 11 March 2015
TEHRAN -- A team of Iranian and German archaeologists will head to Jiroft in southern Iran in the near future to excavate the 5000-year-old site, which is known as the “archeologists’ lost paradise.”
Preparing a map of the site, searching for new structures near the Halil-Rud River, and analysis of the outcome of the excavation will be high on the agenda for the excavation, the director of the Iranian team, Nader Alidadi, said in a press release on Monday.
He said that the excavation project, which will last five years, aims to study the cultural boundary of the Halil-Rud region, cultural relations between the Halil-Rud region and the Mesopotamian civilization over the prehistoric periods, particularly during the Bronze Age.
The team is composed of 16 members, including eight German archaeologists, who will be led by Professor Peter Pfälzner of the University of Tubingen.
Eight Iranian archaeologists will also collaborate in the excavation project.

The collaboration between the Iranian and German archaeologists is based on a memorandum of understanding, which was signed between the University of Tubingen and Iran’s Research Institute for Cultural Heritage and Tourism in late January.
The Jiroft civilization was discovered next to the Halil-Rud River in Kerman Province in 2002 when reports surfaced of extensive illegal excavations and plundering of priceless historical items in the area by locals.
Since 2002, five excavation seasons have been carried out at the Jiroft site under the supervision of Professor Yusef Majidzadeh, leading to the discovery of a ziggurat made of more than four million mud bricks dating back to about 2200 BC.
Many ancient ruins and interesting artifacts were excavated by archaeologists at the Jiroft ancient site.
After the numerous unique discoveries in the region, Majidzadeh declared Jiroft to be the cradle of art. Many scholars questioned the theory since no writings or architectural structures had yet been discovered at the site, but shortly afterwards his team discovered inscriptions at Konar Sandal Ziggurat, causing experts to reconsider their opinions about it.
The Konar Sandal inscriptions are older than the Inshushinak inscription, suggesting that the recently discovered inscriptions link Proto Elamite script, which first appeared in Susa about 2900 BC, with Old Elamite, which was used between about 2250 and 2220 BC.
Many Iranian and foreign experts see the findings in Jiroft as signs of a civilization as great as Sumer and ancient Mesopotamia. Majidzadeh believes that Jiroft is the ancient city of Aratta, which was described as a great civilization in a Sumerian clay inscription.

I have written several posts about Jiroft over the years since this blog began in 2007, but the primary article I wrote was done in November, 2005, and updated in January, 2007.  You can find it at the Goddesschess website if you're interested -- it is an indictment of the gross negligence of the Iranian government when news of the discovery of the site and its massive looting became public.  To this day I have seen nothing that proves to me there was no collusion between the massive and organized looting and sales on the illegal antiquities market (and subsequent massive quantities of manufactured "antiquities" that, simultaneously, flooded the international market for illegal sale) and the Revolutionary Guard. 

Chess Collectors International -- Meet Them in St. Louis!


The Western Hemisphere members of the Chess Collectors International will be hosting a get-together for members and interested parties in St. Louis, Missouri that will coincide with the Third Annual Sinquefield Cup (the tournament will be held at the beautiful Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis or, as popularly known, the St. Louis Chess Club).  Meeting dates will be August 28 - 30, 2015.  Special room rates will be available for CCI members at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel (a FABULOUS hotel) and the Holiday Inn Express, both within a few blocks of the Chess Club and the World Chess Hall of Fame and Museum.

I attended a CCI meeting in St. Louis in September 2011 and had a wonderful time -- and I took lots of pictures of the area.  You can probably find some of them by doing a search here under "St. Louis."  I attended the grand opening of the World Chess Hall of Fame and Museum that is located across the street from the St. Louis Chess Club, met several of the chessplayers who were participating in the Kings v. Queens Tournament that was being held at the time at the St. Louis Chess Club and visited the club a few times to sit in on the analysis (fascinating!), socialized, shopped, attended lectures and presentations by the CCI members, attended a private showing of part of a fabulous collection of chess sets that were premiering the opening of the World Chess Hall of Fame and Museum, and enjoyed strolling through the Chess Fair that closed the CCI meeting.  At the Chess Fair CCI members present chess sets and other chess collectibles that are offered for sale.  The highlight of my stay in St. Louis in 2011 was having lunch with 12th Women's World Chess Championship GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, who is sweet, kind, and charming in person as well as stunningly beautiful.

Nope - not Alexandra Kosteniuk - that's me
making a rare appearance in a cocktail dress
at the 2011 CCI Gala Banquet in St. Louis.
I don't have further information at the present time, it will be forthcoming at a later date.  In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about the CCI, please visit the website.

Update on Findings: The Red Lady of El Miron (Spain)

Hola everyone!

I am sad to report that I have not seen my little injured squirrel since March 17th.  I had named him Intrepid, Treppy for short.  I fear Treppy may have succumbed to his injuries (infection), got run over by a car or fell prey to a predator.  However, I have a squirrel who started visiting at the same time as Treppy who is blind in one eye (cataract). I've named him Blinky because when he is not on the alert his eyelid droops over the blind eye and it looks like he is blinking or even winking.  Here is a photo of him I took on Monday during a brief snowfall -- yes, it is still snowing in Milwaukee (damn!)

Sorry, it is not the best photo, I had the lens on the longest close-up I could get but the camera is 10 years old - an antique by today's standards!  He is very chubby now since he found my yard and a steady food source of peanuts, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds.  When he hears me whistle he comes running and turns his good eye toward me so he can see where I am tossing the food for him -- very clever!  You really cannot see it in this photo although because I know it is there, I imagine I do -- his right eye is totally opaque with a cataract.

Okay, enough about my wild "pets."  I came across this article last night at Ancient Origins:

Archaeologists unravel secrets of 18,700-year-old burial of the Red Lady of el Miron

The woman whose remains were tinted with red ochre and buried with flowers about 18,700 years ago in a cave in northern Spain may have had what modern people would consider a hard life. But on the other hand, she must have been considered special because no burial so elaborate has been found from this period in Europe.
Researchers excavating the cave where she was buried call her the Red Lady of el Miròn. They announced this month that they found a triangular engraving on a large limestone block possibly placed to mark the grave. They interpret the engraving as representing the female pubis.
New Scientist magazine says this is the first Magdalenian culture burial site found on the Iberian Peninsula after a 150-year search. The Magdalenian Age in Europe lasted from about 19,000 to 11,000 years before the present. The woman lived during the Ice Age.
The researchers wrote an article for the Journal of Archaeological Science about the Red Lady’s burial for the March 2015 issue. An abstract of this article at ResearchGate says:
Her burial may have been marked by rock engravings suggestive of a female personage, by red ochre staining of a large block adjacent to her skeleton, and by engravings on the adjacent cave wall, and the burial layer itself was intensely stained with red ochre rich in specular hematite specially obtained from an apparently non-local source. The ochre may constitute the only demonstrable ‘grave offering.’ The grave was partially disturbed by a carnivore of wolf size after the corpse had decomposed. Then, it is hypothesized that the skeleton was covered over again and (re-) stained by humans after they (or the carnivore) had removed the cranium and most of the large long bones.
A photo of the woman’s jawbone here shows she had most of her teeth.
The lead researcher, Lawrence Straus of the University of New Mexico in the United States, has been taking students on Stone Age digs around Europe for 38 years. The co-director of the project is Manuel González Morales of the Prehistoric Research Institute of Cantabria.
“Since 1996, he has been digging El Mirón Cave in Cantabria, Spain, with levels that range in age from the Mousterian (41,000 years ago—the time of the last Neanderthals) to the Bronze Age (3500 years ago),” says a 2013 press release from UNM.
In addition to the woman’s body, found in the 2010-2011 dig, archaeologists excavating the cave have found the milk tooth of a child, thousands of stone artifacts and bones of ibex, red deer and fish. They’ve also found several antler points, bone needles and beads made of animal teeth and perforated marine shells.
Encyclopedia Britannica says people of the Magdalenian culture lived at the same time as large herds of bison, reindeer, and wild horses. They appear to have had a semi-settled life and abundant food. Their housing included rock shelters, caves and substantial dwellings in winter and tents in summer. They hunted animals with traps, snares and spears. “The great increase in art and decorative forms indicates the Magdalenians had leisure time. They also experienced a population explosion, living in riverside villages of 400 to 600 persons; it has been estimated that the population of France increased from about 15,000 persons in Solutrean times to over 50,000 in Magdalenian times,” the encyclopedia says.

Of the Lady in Red, who died between age 35 and 40, Straus and his colleagues wrote:
She had lived in the cold, open environment of Oldest Dryas, with a subsistence based on hunting mainly ibex and red deer, fishing salmon and some gathering of plants, including some starchy seeds and mushrooms. The technology of her group included the manufacture and use of stone tools and weapon elements made on both excellent quality non-local flint and local non-flints, as well as antler projectile tips and bone needles. Her burial may have been marked by rock engravings suggestive of a female personage.
While huge advances in knowledge have been made, there is still much research to be done to fully understand the lives and death rites of Paleolithic humans.
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