Monthly Digest - August 2021

Issue 4

From the Editor

It is difficult to believe, I know. Four issues later and we are still here. We learn how the staples to human society have always been bread and beer and may have also inspired early agriculture forming the very foundations of human society. We also observe that even during the Hellenistic Period, ancient Greeks were casting magical curses on their rivals. And what of early humans? How did they keep track of their items? All of that and so much more can be found in this issue. So, let us not waste any more time and just dig right in.

Quote of the Month

The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold. - Aristotle

In the News…

The Ancients and their love for Bread and Beer

Bread and beer formed the foundation of human society and civilization. It was the love of these staples alongside other carbs that helped bring ancients together to start agriculture and cultivating the soil.

Now that view is changing, thanks to researchers such as Laura Dietrich at the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. Over the past four years, Dietrich has discovered that the people who built these ancient structures were fuelled by vat-fulls of porridge and stew, made from grain that the ancient residents had ground and processed on an almost industrial scale1. The clues from Göbekli Tepe reveal that ancient humans relied on grains much earlier than was previously thought — even before there is evidence that these plants were domesticated. And Dietrich’s work is part of a growing movement to take a closer look at the role that grains and other starches had in the diet of people in the past.

Read more on Nature Portfoio.

Greek Archaeologists Discover a 2,300 Year-Old Curse Jar

The Archaeology News Network reports that in the Athens Agora, Greek Archaeologists discovered a 2,300 year-old curse jar containing the bones of a dismembered chicken. The bones were likely used as part of a curse to paralyze and kill 55 people in Athens.

“Curse tablets” or thin sheets of lead inscribed with curses against a certain person, are well-known in Greece. They are commonly found underneath the ground after being buried there many centuries ago by the person who wanted someone to be cursed.

Prehistoric Humans and Counting

Archaeological finds suggest that Neanderthals, alongside other prehistoric humans developed the ability to use numbers tens of thousands of years ago, even earlier than previously suspected.

Some 60,000 years ago, in what is now western France, a Neanderthal picked up a chunk of hyena femur and a stone tool and began to work. When the task was complete, the bone bore nine notches that were strikingly similar and approximately parallel, as if they were meant to signify something.

Read more on Nature Portfolio.

Archaeologists Discover New Artifacts Submerged in Abu Qir bay in Alexandria

Ahram Online reports that during an underwater excavation at the sunken city of Heracleion, archaeologists uncovered remains of a military vessel and a funerary complex.

During an underwater excavation at the sunken city of Heracleion in Abu Qir bay in Alexandria, the Egyptian-French mission, led by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM), uncovered remains of a military vessel and a funerary complex.

Mostafa Waziry, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced the discovery of the remains of a military vessel in the submerged city of Thônis-Heracleion, which sank receiving huge blocks of the famed temple of Amun in the second century BC. The ship was to be moored at a landing stage in the canal that flowed along the south face of the temple, when it was totally destroyed during a cataclysmic event. The fallen blocks have kept the precious naval remains pinned to the bottom of the deep canal along with the debris of the sanctuary.

An 13,000 Year-Old Ancient Battleground Has Been Discovered Possibly Being the Site of the ‘first race war’

A prehistoric battleground in Sudan is thought to be the site of the 'first race war' that occurred 13,000 years ago. Analysis of skeletal remains also suggests that the site actually hosted a series of violent episodes.

Prehistoric violence on the edge of the Sahara desert, believed to be the oldest identified race war, was actually a series of conflicts, reanalysis of 13,000-year-old skeletons suggests.

Healed trauma on remains found in the Jebel Sahaba cemetery in Sudan indicates that individuals fought and survived several violent assaults, rather than fighting in one fatal event as previously thought.

The cemetery, discovered in 1965 on the east bank of the Nile, contained at least 61 individuals dating back to 11,000BC — around half of whom had died from inflicted wounds.

Read more at the Daily Mail.

1,800 Year-Old Headless Statue of a Roman Woman Discovered in Turkey

According to Smithsonian Magazine, archaeologists have discovered an 1,800 year-old statue of a Roman woman in the ancient city of Metropolis located in western Turkey.

To date, archaeologists working at the site have unearthed artifacts and structures from the classical, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Finds include a Roman palaestra (wrestling hall), mosaics, ceramics, a council building and a columned gallery.

Italian Construction Worker Unearth ‘Sacred Stone’ Tied to the Legend of Romulus and Remus

Construction workers unearth a 2,000 year-old immense stone that defined the ‘sacred’ city limits of ancient Rome in the historic center of the city.

The so-called pomerial stone or "cippus," is more than 6 feet (nearly 2 meters) tall and made of fine limestone called travertine. Workers discovered it in June while installing new sewers in the plaza around the recently-restored Mausoleum of Augustus, which opened as a museum earlier this year.

It was one of dozens of similar stones that marked Rome's "pomerium" — a sacred strip of land just inside and outside the city walls where it was forbidden to build or farm, and within which weapons were forbidden. According to ancient Roman law, anything inside the pomerium was part of the city of Rome (called "urbs") and everything beyond it was merely territory (called "ager").

More information can be found at Life Science.

Evidence of 8th Century BCE Biblical Earthquake Discovered in Jerusalem

Reported by the Biblical Archaeology Society, excavations have led to the discovery of an 8th century BCE earthquake corroborating the mentions found in both the books of Amos and of Zechariah.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, evidence for a powerful earthquake mentioned by the prophets Amos and Zechariah has been discovered in Jerusalem. According to excavation directors Joe Uziel and Ortal Chalaf, the evidence was found in a destruction layer of the City of David Archaeological Park. Amid the destruction, which dates to the mid-eighth century B.C.E., they found collapsed walls and shattered vessels, but no signs of fire. After extensive research, the team concluded the destruction must have resulted from the famed earthquake that occurred in the lands of Israel and Judah during the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah.

Featured Publications

The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times

By Adrienne Mayor

Griffins, Cyclopes, Monsters, and Giants--these fabulous creatures of classical mythology continue to live in the modern imagination through the vivid accounts that have come down to us from the ancient Greeks and Romans. But what if these beings were more than merely fictions? What if monstrous creatures once roamed the earth in the very places where their legends first arose? This is the arresting and original thesis that Adrienne Mayor explores in The First Fossil Hunters. Through careful research and meticulous documentation, she convincingly shows that many of the giants and monsters of myth did have a basis in fact--in the enormous bones of long-extinct species that were once abundant in the lands of the Greeks and Romans.

As Mayor shows, the Greeks and Romans were well aware that a different breed of creatures once inhabited their lands. They frequently encountered the fossilized bones of these primeval beings, and they developed sophisticated concepts to explain the fossil evidence, concepts that were expressed in mythological stories.


Cuneiform Writing with Irving Finkel

How writing began, and other unexpectedly funny stories about cuneiform

Cuneiform, the ancient Sumerian script that emerged in Mesopotamia’s Fertile Crescent circa 3000 BCE, is the first known system of written communication to move beyond pictograms into abstract representations of language. In this lecture, as unexpectedly funny as it is edifying, Irving Finkel, a writer and curator at the British Museum in London, elucidates how cuneiform developed into an advanced writing system with its own internal logic, contradictions and – for those who would attempt to decipher it centuries later – exasperating snags. 

View the very entertaining video on the Aeon website.



Online Class: Reading the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (8 weeks)

Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Adult Programs
September 13 –November 1

The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead has become a staple of twenty-first century pop culture, appearing in film, literature, music, art, comics, graphic novels, pulp fiction, and endless online videos. However, what does the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead actually say? This course will provide a comprehensive overview to the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, including training with the tools needed to work with the texts and manuscripts directly. The course will cover developmental history, materiality, textual content, sequencing, theology, ritual practice, transmission, and manuscript traditions. We will look closely at original texts in both hieroglyphic transcription and English translation. Students will be guided through selected readings of Book of the Dead spells, using both Egyptian hieroglyphic transcriptions for those who have previously studied Middle Egyptian grammar and English translations for those who have not. By the end of the course, students will gain a nuanced understanding of the differences between ancient and modern conceptions of the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and will develop the skills necessary to pursue reliable independent research in this area of study.

Prices and additional information can be found here.

Upcoming Events

24th Annual Bible and Archaeology Fest ONLINE via Zoom

World leading Bible scholars and archaeologists will be engaging in live talks over the course of two days via ZoomOctober 16 and 17.

The BAS Scholar Series: The Book of Genesis: Tracing the Origins of the Ancestral Narratives

On Thursday, August 26, 2021 8:00-9:00 PM Eastern, join Professor Gary A. Rendsburg of Rutgers University as he…

…highlights key discussions from his chapter, “The Ancestral Narratives,” in BAS’ highly acclaimed new fourth edition of Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple.

The stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with their primary wives Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, are among the best known stories in the Bible.


The 14-day Royal Egypt Tour with Dr. Zahi Hawass

Explore the wonders of the ancient Egyptian civilization including the enormous Karnak and Abu Simbel temples, the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, and much more! The Royal Tour offers private entrances to the entire Giza pyramid complex and the Luxor Temple outside of opening hours. Only with us will you stand between the paws of the Great Sphinx and gain exclusive access to the places closed to the public! Thanks to special permission granted by the Minister of Antiquities, you will see the Tombs of the Pyramid Builders in Giza, an active excavation site. 

To view more details, visit the Archaeological Paths website.

Artifact of the Month

The lamassu statue was one of a pair that guarded the entrance to the throne room of King Sargon II. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

An ancient Assyrian protective spirit or deity known as a "lamassu" (sometimes referred to as a shedu or a karibu) is traditionally shown as a composite being with the head of a human, the body and ears of a bull, and the wings of a bird.