Mar 05 2017

4,000 Year Old Dolmen Found in Upper Galilee

(Photo credit: GONEN SHARON / TEL HAI COLLEGE)

(Photo credit: GONEN SHARON / TEL HAI COLLEGE)

An unusually large Bronze Age dolmen, or megalithic tomb, has been discovered by Dr. Gonen Sharon of Tel Hai College’s Galilee Studies Program. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, this dolmen is unique due to its size, its surrounding structure, and rock drawings engraved on its ceiling — the first art ever evidenced on a dolmen from the ancient Near East.

Dolmens are well evidenced globally, from the U.K. to Asia, including those with known or suspected astronomical alignments or markings. For example, dolmens have been found in North Korea decorated with cup marks corresponding to various constellations, with many such marks aligned toward the direction of the sunrise at winter solstice. (1) In the Middle East, thousands of dolmens have been found, including concentrated areas known as “dolmens fields”.

Archeologists from Tel Hai College, the Antiquities Authority, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem published a study on the find in the Upper Galilee last weekend in the scientific journal PLOS One.

At this point, there have been no specific archeoastronomical findings related to this dolmen. I will update if any new information is published.

To read the full Jerusalem Post article, please visit this link.

To view several other dolmens in the Middle East and beyond, please click here.

(1) Yang, Hong-Jin. 2014. “Astronomical Aspects of Korean Dolmens”. In Clive L. N. Ruggles, Ed. Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy. Springer, pp. 2149-2156.


Jun 28 2016

New publication: Divination as Science A Workshop on Conducted during the 60th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Warsaw, 2014. Jeanette C. Fincke, Ed.

divinationasscience

 

This new book on the scientific nature of divination in the ancient Near East was recently released (June, 2016) by Eisenbraun’s. Reviews and comments are very much welcome.

Bibliographic details:

Divination as Science
A Workshop on Conducted during the 60th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Warsaw, 2014
Edited by Jeanette C. Fincke
Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale – RAI 60W1
Eisenbrauns, 2016
Pp. xi + 172
ISBN: 1-57506-425-1
ISBN13: 978-1-57506-425-3
Your Price: $44.55

Description 

There is no doubt that Ancient Near Eastern divination is firmly rooted in religion, since all ominous signs were thought to have been sent by gods, and the invocation of omens was embedded in rituals. Nonetheless, the omen compendia display many aspects of a generally scientific nature. In their attempt to note all possible changes to the affected objects and to arrange their observations systematically for reference purposes, the scholars produced texts that resulted in a rather detailed description of the world, be it with respect to geography (the urban or rural environment on earth, or celestial and meteorological phenomena observed in the sky), biology (the outer appearance of the bodies of humans or animals, or the entrails of sheep), sociology (behavior of people) or others. Based on different divination methods and omen compendia, the question discussed during this workshop was whether the scholars had a scientific approach, presented as religion, or whether Ancient Near Eastern divination should be considered purely religious and that the term “science” is inappropriate in this context. The workshop attracted a large audience and lively discussion ensued. The papers presented in this volume reflect the focus of the sessions during the workshop and are likely to generate even more discussion, now that they are published.

Table of Contents for Divination as Science

Preface

Abbreviations

Bibliographical Abbreviations

Divination Between Religion and Science, JoAnn Scurlock

Bias in Observations of Natural Phenomena made for Divinatory Purposes, Ulla Susanne Koch

“Šamaš, great lord, whom I am asking, answer me with a reliable ‚Yes!”: The Influence of Divination on the Result of War, Krzysztof Ulanowski

Sheep Anatomical Terminology in the šumma immeru Omen Series and Additional Texts, Yoram Cohen

Some Remarks about the Old Babylonian Libanomancy Texts, Maria Stella Cingolo

The Oldest Mesopotamian Astronomical Treatise: enuma anu enlil, Jeanette C. Fincke

Divination and Religion as a Cultural System, Paul Delnero

Indexes

General index

Index of texts

For more information, or to order, please visit Eisenbrauns.


Oct 15 2015

Article: ‘Decoding the Star Charts of Ancient Egypt’

Nut (top), the Egyptian sky goddess Photograph by Ferit Kuyas; courtesy of the University of Tübingen Museum

Nut (top), the Egyptian sky goddess
Photograph by Ferit Kuyas; courtesy of the University of Tübingen Museum

Courtesy of the Agade listserv, this fascinating article in Scientific American Volume 313, Issue 4, available for purchase here.

Preview:

Decoding the Star Charts of Ancient Egypt
Mysterious tables of astronomical information have been found in 4,000-year-old coffins. What in the world was their purpose?

By Sarah Symons and Elizabeth Tasker

The Egyptian town of Mallawi is not on the main tourist beat, given its location 260 miles and a seven-hour train ride north of the temple complexes at Luxor. But one of us (Symons) traveled there in May 2013 with Robert Cockcroft, a postdoctoral researcher in her laboratory, hoping to see one of the oldest astronomical records in the world. The record, which had been described only vaguely, was indeed there, but to their astonishment, it was not the only one.

“I can see writing!” Cockcroft exclaimed. At that moment, he was crouched beside a display case that enclosed a coffin in the central room of the Mallawi Monuments Museum, craning his neck to peer at the underside of the propped-up wood lid. Symons flicked the beam of her flashlight to illuminate a thin batten-a cross piece-that held the flat panels of wood together. The batten’s surface was painted with graceful hieroglyphics representing star names, and Symons and Cockcroft immediately realized that the cross piece was part of yet another ancient astronomical record. Until that moment, no one had recognized the batten’s significance; it had been attached to this particular coffin by mistake [....]

[Click here for full purchasable full story, with charts].


Jul 09 2015

The Nebra Sky Disc — an astronomical Bronze Age treasure

Photograph by Gerhard Singer, on Flickr

Photograph by Gerhard Singer, on Flickr

Discovered in 1999, the European Bronze Age astronomical artifact known as the Nebra Sky Disc was nearly lost to the black market, but fortunately found itself in the hands of the scientific community. It is now on display at the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany.

Dated to circa 1600 BCE, the bronze and gold-emblazoned disc contains a graphical representation of the sun, moon, and the constellations Andromeda and Cassiopeia, among other celestial objects of agricultural and calendrical importance, including the Pleiades.

The astronomical sophistication it demonstrates is remarkable. Astronomer Ralph Hansen has determined that the disc served to coordinate the solar and lunar cycles for agricultural purposes.

Perhaps just as important is the glimpse it offers into the astral religion of the Bronze age in Northern Europe. This is supported by Hansen’s research, which demonstrated a striking parallel to a rule of intercalation (i.e., adding a thirteenth month to the year) related to the lunar crescent found in the Babylonian MUL.APIN, dating a thousand years later, to the seventh-sixth centuries BCE.  According to Hansen, the intercalary month would be added every two to three years when the position of the Pleiades in the night sky matched its position on the Nebra sky disc. However, according to archaeologist Harald Meller of the State Museum for Prehistory at Halle (who was involved in the recovery of the disc), later layers suggest that at least some of its astronomical function was eventually lost, and “that in the end the disk became a cult object.” Astronomers Emilia Pasztor and Curt Roslund go even further, stating that it more likely served a religious purpose for the Northern Bronze Age European elite, including chiefs and shamans. [The full article, in Antiquity 01/2007; 81 (312):267-78, may be accessed here.]

In 2013, the Nebra sky disc was added to UNESCO’s ‘Memory of the World’ Register.

 

 


Oct 31 2014

Book review: Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple Literature

ancientjewishsciencescover

As promised, my review of the 2013 publication Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple Literature, edited by Jonathan Ben-Dov and Seth L. Sanders. New York: NYU Press.


Sep 17 2014

5000 year old lunar monument identified in Galilee

lunarmonument

 

Hebrew University Ph.D. candidate Ido Wachtel has discovered compelling evidence that a crescent-shaped stone structure located in the Galilee was not part of a fortifying wall as previously thought by scholars, but was a lunar monument.

According to Wachtel, and as cited by Livescience:

The shape may have had symbolic importance, as the lunar crescent is a symbol of an ancient Mesopotamian moon god named Sin, Wachtel said. [. . .] An ancient town called Bet Yerah (which translates to “house of the moon god”) is located only a day’s walk from the crescent-shaped monument Wachtel noted.

This is an exciting finding in Levantine archaeoastronomy, shedding light upon the context pre-dating the Hebrew Bible — particularly its polemic against astrolatry, as found in Deuteronomy 4:19, Deut. 17:3, 2 Kings 17:16, and elsewhere.


Sep 06 2014

Colloquium announcement: The Star of Bethlehem — Historical and Astronomical Perspectives

This two-day colloquium will take place at the University of Groningen on October 23 and 24, 2014.

Scholars in the history of astronomy, ancient history, religion and related fields will speak on the topic of the Star of Bethlehem. There is also space for approximately thirty guest attendees.

Among the list of speakers are Owen Gingerich, Alexander Jones, John Steele, Kocku von Stuckrad, and Mladen Popović. This should be a most exciting and fruitful colloquium.

More information may be found at this link.


Mar 16 2014

Happy Purim! Article — ‘Chaldeans Apologize, Urge Jews To Return and Offer Citizenship’

Category: Humour,The Ancient Worldalobel @ 9:50 am

Hope you enjoy this Purim article from The Jewish Daily Forward:

http://forward.com/articles/194087/chaldeans-apologize-urge-jews-to-return-and-offer


Feb 10 2014

Now available online! ‘Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple Literature’

For your reading and research enjoyment courtesy of the NYU Library’s Ancient World Digital Library, in partnership with the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW):

Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple LiteratureEdited by Jonathan Ben-Dov and Seth L. Sanders.

What is there to say but thank you?

N.B. One of my favourite introductory lines may be found in the above volume, in “Networks of Scholars: The Transmission of Astronomical and Astrological Learning between Babylonians, Greeks and Jews”, by Mladen Popović:

“What do we know about what ancient Jewish scholars knew about what Babylonian scholars knew?”


Jan 20 2014

New publication: ‘From Alexandria, Through Baghdad: Surveys and Studies in the Ancient Greek and Medieval Islamic Mathematical Sciences in Honor of J.L. Berggren’

Greek and Islamic astronomy and mathematics

Sidoli, Nathan and Van Brummelen, Glen, Eds. 2014. From Alexandria, Through Baghdad: Surveys and Studies in the Ancient Greek and Medieval Islamic Mathematical Sciences in Honor of J.L. Berggren. [Hardcover]

Of interest to scholars and students of the history of mathematics and astronomy in ancient Greece and Medieval Islam is this volume, honouring the career of history of mathematics professor J.L. Berggren. The volume includes contributions spanning approximately seventy years of research, from the mid twentieth century onward.

Notable astronomical chapters include:

James Evans and Christian Carlos Cartman, “Mechanical Astronomy: A Route to the Ancient Discovery of Epicycles and Eccentrics.”

Alexander Jones, “Some Greek Sundial Meridians.”

and

David A. King, “An Ottoman Astrolabe Full of Surprises.”

For more information, please see the Springer web site.


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