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More Archaeological Facts!

The newly-found artifacts in the Judean desert

The Judean desert is famous for being an archeological gold mine with all its caves and the knowledge and/or horrors they hide. Archeologists are still unraveling some of our species history through the relics hidden in these caves. 

A recent expedition in the cave of horrors, a name it earned after 40 skeletons were found inside of it back in the 1960s, revealed 80 dead-sea scroll fragments containing biblical texts…and a 6000-year-old mummified child. How are those two related? Well we just don’t know… 

Judaean Desert
Judaean Desert. By David Shankbone, is licensed under CC-BY

Moreover, a little controversy stirred around the naming of the found scroll fragments. Media outlets opted for the name the Dead-Sea scrolls, in relation with the scrolls found in the Qumran caves that are near the Dead Sea, while the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) referred to them as “the biblical scrolls” since the cave of horrors and the Qumran caves aren’t that close. 

The same expedition unearthed what is most-likely the oldest complete woven basket in the Murabba’at caves. The basket dated back approximately 10,500 years. 

These archeological efforts were all a part of the Isreali National Rescue Operation Project that was implemented to prevent the looting of artifacts by relic hunters. I feel like I have already watched a Nicholas Cage movie with the same plot.

Archeologists ≠ grave diggers

Have you ever thought of archeologists as glorified grave diggers? Well, they aren’t. In fact, archeologists go through rigorous training just like any other scientific profession. Aside from the tedious hours of digging (pun intended) through old books and publications, and the occasional relic cleaning, archaeologists rely on a multitude of technologies to unveil the secrets of their findings; some of them are developed for the archeology specifically while others come from other fields of study like botany and geology. 

Here’s a quick rundown of a few of these technologies:

1. Ground penetrating radar: Sort of like an X-ray for surfaces using radar pulses. Saves 

excavating time and energy.

2. Geochemistry: Used to locate ancient human/animal settlements through the detection of certain elements found in faeces. I wonder which expression an archeologist uses when they mess up a sample: Crap! or Shit! (couldn’t help myself).

3. Drones: Used to investigate certain sites for collecting aerial images. 

Studying garbage

Son Goku and Vegeta use the fusion dance, we get Gogeta, but when archeology and studying garbage fuse, we get Garbology. The first-ever Garbology project was carried out in Tucson, Arizona back in the 1970s. William Rathje, the father of Garbology, was a professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona when he had the idea of sifting through landfills to better understand society. In his own words “Today derives from the past and if we can see both from the same perspective, if we can plot our ancestors and ourselves on the same trajectory, we may be able to anticipate some of our future.” 

With the help of his students, he was able to disprove the myth that paper degrades easily and quickly in landfills, and to shine the light on consumer behavior better than surveys did. For instance, a questionnaire filled-out by individuals about their alcohol consumption contradicted their actual level of alcohol consumption (which is obviously and not surprisingly higher) after analyzing their trash.

The oldest d*ck pic

If you’re a guy, chances are you had drawn a penis at least once during your childhood and teenage years. 

But dick pics have actually been around for thousands of years. 

The oldest penile graffiti was discovered by a prehistoric archeologist, Dr. Andreas Vlachopoulos, on a Greek island called Astypalaia. The artwork, carved in dolomite limestone, dates back to the 5th and 6th centuries B.C. 

Here’s the kicker: a racy inscription was found engraved next to one of the dick pics that says “Nikasitimos was here mounting Timiona” (both of them being male). So much for don’t kiss and tell.

Jokes aside, this discovery brought new evidence to the table on some issues and backed up other controversies:  

  1. It was thought that only philosophers, historians, and scholars were trained in the art of writing and scripture. The graffiti shows that common folks were also capable of such skills. 
  2. Bragging is indeed a part of human nature.

The ancient Egypt Pompei

Pyramids: check, Pharaohs: check, One of the greatest ancient civilizations: check. We would think with all the unraveled history, the relics, and the artifacts that Egypt can no longer harbor or reveal anything else; but, recently, archeologists did exactly that by uncovering an old city labeled the “Ancient Egyptian Pompeii”.

Pompeii fountain
Pompeii fountain. By Wknight94, is licensed under CC-BY-SA

Aged over 3,400 years, the city was built during the reign of the ninth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty, Amenhotep the magnificent. 

The archeologist leading the excavations, Zahi Hawass, and his team struck gold by accident as their initial objective was to look for a mortuary temple (built adjacent to the royal tombs) near Luxor. 

What’s super cool about the discovery of this city is the incredible state of preservation it was in: The walls are still standing up to 3 meters high apart from some wear and tear, and the houses’ rooms were filled with daily-life items and other artifacts. The infrastructure was basically intact as the excavation team was able to discern the different areas of the city (one large bakery, a cemetery, administrative areas, neighborhoods, etc.)

Zahi Hawass said one of the mission’s expectations is to uncover untouched treasure tombs and that only further excavations can piece together the history of the Egyptian Pompeii. 

The second oldest cooking recipes 

Imagine this: You open the Food Network Channel or your favorite foodie YouTube channel. 10 minutes into your screen time, you’re feeling adventurous in the kitchen. At the click of a button, you can have the recipes laid out for you in different formats.

Obviously, things weren’t as convenient back thousands of years ago. 

In fact, recipes were engraved on tablets and not the digital kind.  

French Assyriologist and gourmet chef, Jean Bottéro, translated a recipes tablet 35 years ago. Preserved in the Yale Babylonian Collection for over 50 years, The tablet is over 4000 years-old. 

Bottéro found the recipes to be unexpectedly intricate and delectable as he went on to tell the LA times in 1985 “[It’s] cuisine of striking richness, refinement, sophistication and artistry, which is surprising from such an early period. Previously we would not have dared to think a cuisine 4,000 years old was so advanced.”

You’re probably wondering what’s in this tablet? Bottéro was only able to decipher 21 meat-based dishes and 4 vegetarian ones. He was unsuccessful decoding the rest. 

Despite his culinary expertise, Bottéro did not attempt to recreate the recipes due to the lack of actual instructions and the complexity of some recipes/ingredients (fun fact: one Yale professor of Assyriology thought the tablets were actually “magical texts.”). That did not deter one food historian from replicating a stew recipe back in 1988 for an American Oriental Society meeting.

And in case you’re wondering, the oldest cooking recipe is nettle pudding. Yuck!

Archeology and dog poop

“Oh, that’s hyena poop.” is a great punchline to an archeological poop true story. 

The year was 1981, the setting was Paleolithic cave in southwestern Iran. Graduate student Melinda Zeder had just licked an identified fragment thinking it was either animal bone or actual stone (bone sticks to the tongue when you lick it). The fragment dissolved on her tongue then, her colleague broke the bad news. 

For those who are wondering what poop has to do with archeology, human feces provide insight on the type of lifestyle a specific culture was used to. 

Christina Warinner, a molecular archaeologist at Harvard University, and her colleagues developed an AI-based tool, named christened Christened cCoproID, that can make the distinction between fossilized human and dog poop (a.k.a coprolites). 

It turns out that feces, the canine kind, is spread all across the archeological archives, excuse the pun. 

These findings are key to figuring out pivotal milestones in dog domestication.

One of the distasteful revelations is that traces of dog genetic material was found in human feces because humans ate dogs, and traces of human genetic material was found in dog feces because dogs, sometimes, ate human excrements. 

Whoever coined the phrase “the dog is man’s best friend” might have been on to something.

Classifying archeology

You know how there’s an umbrella term housing sub-genres and/sub-classifications of something? For instance, Rock music is an umbrella that houses punk rock, soft rock, alternative rock, etc…

The same system is applied to archeology. 

We know that archeology is the study of human cultures through retrieval and analysis of the cultures’ remains. Yet, archeological discoveries are made almost on a daily basis, which makes it tough to keep a log of everything. 

Enter the archeology subfields, and there are plenty to a point where there’s no way they can be covered in a one-to-two minutes video. 

However, it’s way easier to explain the system of classification. These subfields are created with two main ideas: 

  • ways of thinking about archeology 
  • and ways of studying archeology. 

Scholars agree that prehistoric and historic archeology are the major disciplines. From these two major disciplines stem the rest of the subfields. 

Each subfield corresponds to a distinct thematic concern such as 

  • Civilization (i.e Classical archeology of the Greeks and Romans, Egyptology, and Indology), 
  • Historicity (i.e Taphonomy a.k.a the study of fossil formation and Ethnoarchaeology a.k.a the study of ethnic groups’ way of living), 
  • Time period (i.e Medieval and African archeology), 
  • Wars and battlefields (battlefield archeology), 
  • Paleontology (i.e Ross from Friends occupation),
  •  etc. 

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