Laputan Logic
Saturday, April 19, 2003

Vindolanda, was a fort that once guarded part of the Northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. Situated a kilometer South of Hadrian's wall, it was garrisoned for over three centuries starting from the late first century AD.

In 1972 while digging a drainage ditch as part of an excavation of the site, a deposit of organic matter was discovered under a layer of clay. The clay had served to seal this material in anaerobic conditions which preserved a number wooden artifacts, items which under normal conditions would have decayed to nothing centuries before. Chief amongst these was over 1,000 post-card sized wooden tablets handwritten in ink and dating from the first and early second centuries AD.

These tablets contain letters of soldiers, merchants, women and slaves and provide a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of a community living on the frontier of the Empire during this formative period.

"... the Britons are unprotected by armour (?). There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins."
"Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present (?). Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him (?) their greetings. (2nd hand) I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail. (Back, 1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa."
"... he beat (?) me all the more ... goods ... or pour them down the drain (?). As befits an honest man (?) I implore your majesty not to allow me, an innocent man, to have been beaten with rods and, my lord, inasmuch as (?) I was unable to complain to the prefect because he was detained by ill-health I have complained in vain (?) to the beneficiarius and the rest (?) of the centurions of his (?) unit. Accordingly (?) I implore your mercifulness not to allow me, a man from overseas and an innocent one, about whose good faith you may inquire, to have been bloodied by rods as if I had committed some crime."
This is a fascinating and very well designed website and one that nicely demonstrates what online archaeology should be all about. All of the tablets found are available in a searchable database.  

Friday, April 18, 2003
  Giza from a different angle

This featured image is a 61-centimeter pan-sharpened image of the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt, collected by QuickBird on February 2, 2002. The Great Pyramid is estimated to have been built circa 2650 B.C., and was erected as a tomb for the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty. Upon the completion of its construction, the Great Pyramid stood 145.75 meters (481 feet) high, and over the millennia has lost approximately 10 meters (30 feet) off the top. It stood as the tallest structure on Earth for more than 43 centuries.

To help make sense of the surrounding structures, take a look at this map of the Giza plateau area.

The satellite image is from Digital Globe which has lots of other interesting aerial photos. Thanks to Scott for making me aware of this site.  
  More parallels

Adding to my list of uncanny parallels between the Jehoash Insciption and the James Ossuary stories is this one:

On the Jehoash Inscription: Hershel Shanks, editor of the Washington-based Biblical Archaeology Review, said the tablet, if authentic, would be "visual, tactile evidence that reaches across 2,800 years."
On the James Ossuary: Beneath his soft-spoken, scholarly manner, a slightly awestruck tone underlies Shanks' words..."To me, the ossuary provides a visual and tactile bridge over 2,000 years".
Thursday, April 17, 2003
  SARS Sequenced

Scientists have announced that they have sequenced the SARS virus. SARS is thought to be caused by a type of virus called a coronavirus which has an irregular shape but with 'crown-like' appearance. Most human coronaviruses do not grow in cultured cells and so relatively little is known about them. Fortunately, SARS has been able to be successfully cultivated in primate cells.

Labs crack killer's code

Scientists have worked out the genetic sequence of the virus that is thought to cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The code supports the idea that the disease leapt from animals into humans - and should help to refine a diagnostic test.

Over the weekend, two research groups separately revealed the complete genetic make-up of the suspected SARS virus, called a coronavirus. The flu-like disease has infected an estimated 3,169 people and killed 144 since November last year.

The sequence suggests that the coronavirus is "far from anything known before", says Herbert Schmitz of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany. Although it is more than 75% identical to known animal and human viruses in some regions, it diverges widely in others.

This is what the SARS virus looks like

And here's that sequence that they've been talking about. Let me hum a few bars for you.

ctacccagga aaagccaacc aacctcgatc tcttgtagat ctgttctcta aacgaacttt
aaaatctgtg tagctgtcgc tcggctgcat gcctagtgca cctacgcagt ataaacaata
ataaatttta ctgtcgttga caagaaacga gtaactcgtc cctcttctgc agactgctta
cggtttcgtc cgtgttgcag tcgatcatca gcatacctag gtttcgtccg ggtgtgaccg
aaaggtaaga tggagagcct tgttcttggt gtcaacgaga aaacacacgt ccaactcagt
ttgcctgtcc ttcaggttag agacgtgcta gtgcgtggct tcggggactc tgtggaagag
gccctatcgg aggcacgtga acacctcaaa aatggcactt gtggtctagt agagctggaa
aaaggcgtac tgccccagct tgaacagccc tatgtgttca ttaaacgttc tgatgcctta
agcaccaatc acggccacaa ggtcgttgag ctggttgcag aaatggacgg cattcagtac
ggtcgtagcg gtataacact gggagtactc gtgccacatg tgggcgaaac cccaattgca
taccgcaatg ttcttcttcg taagaacggt aataagggag ccggtggtca tagctatggc
atcgatctaa agtcttatga cttaggtgac gagcttggca ctgatcccat tgaagattat
gaacaaaact ggaacactaa gcatggcagt ggtgcactcc gtgaactcac tcgtgagctc
aatggaggtg cagtcactcg ctatgtcgac aacaatttct gtggcccaga tgggtaccct
cttgattgca tcaaagattt tctcgcacgc gcgggcaagt caatgtgcac tctttccgaa
caacttgatt acatcgagtc gaagagaggt gtctactgct gccgtgacca tgagcatgaa
attgcctggt tcactgagcg ctctgataag agctacgagc accagacacc cttcgaaatt
aagagtgcca agaaatttga cactttcaaa ggggaatgcc caaagtttgt gtttcctctt
aactcaaaag tcaaagtcat tcaaccacgt gttgaaaaga aaaagactga gggtttcatg
gggcgtatac gctctgtgta ccctgttgca tctccacagg agtgtaacaa tatgcacttg
tctaccttga tgaaatgtaa tcattgcgat gaagtttcat ggcagacgtg cgactttctg
aaagccactt gtgaacattg tggcactgaa aatttagtta ttgaaggacc tactacatgt
gggtacctac ctactaatgc tgtagtgaaa atgccatgtc ctgcctgtca agacccagag...
Catchy isn't it?

See also:

Coronaviruses - the cause of SARS 

  Gourd Lord
A four-thousand-year-old gourd fragment found on the Peruvian coast may push back the appearance of ancient Andean religion by a thousand years.

Archaeological teams from the Proyecto Arqueológico Norte Chico were conducting surface collections of looted cemeteries in Norte Chico, a region some 120 miles north of Lima, when they found the painted and incised fragment, once part of a gourd bowl. It features a fanged creature with splayed feet whose left arm appears to end in a snake's head and whose right hand holds a staff.

This figure appears to be the earliest depiction of the Staff God, interpreted as the principle deity of the Formative Period Chavín culture (ca. 1000-200 B.C.). Over the course of the following millennium, the Staff God appears in various manifestations in many Andean cultures, and reappears during the Wari and Tiwanaku empires of A.D. 600 to 1000.

Gourd vessels were very important in ancient Peruvian society. Long before they invented ceramics (around 3600 BC) they grew and used gourds for everything from carrying water in them to eating dinner out of them. Finding fragments of these gourd receptacles (even ones from a later period such as this one) is a relatively rare thing. 
  Reworking the HTML

I've been shamed (yes, shamed I tell you!) into doing something about the lousy loading time for this page through the kind words of Steve of languagehat. His appeal for some "blog maven" to help me out on the HTML was a little more than this so-called web developer could bear. Steve's own site, by the way, is sensational, a veritable bottomless pit interesting observations about language and linguistics. I wish I had read his post about click languages and genetics before I posted about it here. I've since spent quite a bit of time trawling through his archives. The site has also been just moved to MovableType and looks a treat.

So anyway I'm off my arse finally and on to it.


Monday, April 14, 2003
  Repost Because Blogger has somehow managed to trash my archive (hey, what a novel concept!), I thought I'd repost this piece from January. It's about about fears expressed for the fate of Iraq's antiquities in the case of a war.

I doubt anyone at the time was thinking that the peace was going to be worse than the war...

29th January, 2003
As the nation comes ever closer to war with Iraq, Americans should take a closer look at our prospective foe ...

The cradle of civilization

While President Bush describes Iraq as the "axis of evil" and the lair of a defiant Saddam Hussein, young American military cadets are learning that it is also the cradle of Western civilization.

A drawing from the Standard (flag) of Ur (circa 2685 B.C.), an ancient Mesopotamian city, depicting Ur at war. The other side of the flag showed Ur at peace.
At the same time, worried scholars are compiling a list of major Iraqi archaeological sites - with their map coordinates - and urging the Pentagon to avoid them.

"It is an ironic twist of fate to stand on the remains of a city in southern Iraq where the civilized world began and realize it could all end right there as well," cautions historian Bradley Parker.

"Iraq is the cradle of Western civilization. It is how we came to be what we are. Mesopotamia was the center of the universe" 5,000 years ago, adds Parker, who teaches ancient Near Eastern history and archaeology at the University of Utah.

"Mesopotamia was the oldest civilization anywhere on this planet. It is older than China or the Americas," adds history professor Michael Cook of Princeton University.

The area produced the first form of writing in the Western world; wheeled vehicles; cultivated and irrigated crops; domesticated livestock; the calendar; mathematics; and astronomers and philosophers who laid the groundwork for future Greek thinkers.

Some biblical scholars even suggest it is the site of Adam and Eve's Garden of Eden and the birthplace of Abraham.

As combat troops once again leave nearby Fort Carson for the Persian Gulf, freshman cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs are receiving a thought-provoking lecture from their history teacher: "President Bush speaks of the need to 'defend civilization,"' Lt. Col. Dave Kirkham tells his students.

"Then I point out the irony of defending civilization against the cradle of civilization," adds Kirkham, deputy director for international history at the academy. Kirkham says ancient Mesopotamia, which covered modern-day Iraq, "is deemed to be where it all started." [More...]

And here is a partial list of archaeological and cultural sites within Iraq compiled by some of those "worried scholars". I emphasise partial because a comprehensive list would likely have somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 sites on it.

1. Ninevah and Khorsabad Assyrian capitals

2. Mosul Important museum containing Assyrian and Islamic items, Ommayad mosque, Mujahidi mosque, mosque to Prophet Jonas, mosque to Prophet Jerjis, Palace of Qara Sarai. bombed Nearby army base, air base, Saad-16 missile site, chemical weapons and nuclear centre bombed 1991.

3. Ashur Assyrian capital 10 miles south of Nimrud

4. Nimrud Assyrian capital near Makhmur.

5. Arbil Ancient Roman town of Arbela, continuously inhabited for 5000 years or more.

6. Dukan

7. Makhmur

8. Kirkuk Supposedly site of the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel. Important Ottoman castle. Nearby command centre, army base, air base, large oil refinery bombed 1991.

9. Baija Important unexcavated archaeological remains l40 miles north of Baghdad. Nearby centre for production of feedstocks for chemical weapons (phosphoric acid) bombed 1991.

10. Tikrit Saddam Hussein’s home town with important old citadel. Nearby air base, army base missile site bombed 1991.

11. Samarra 70 miles north of Baghdad. Northern capital of Caliph Al-Mutasim, built 836. Ancient town extends along Tigris for 20 miles. Great Mosque, Ma’shouq Palace, Caliph’s residence, Abu Duluf mosque, Askari Tomb. Nearby main Iraqi chemical research complex and production plant (mustard, Sarin and Tabun gasses); major bridge, and main north/south artery road bombed 1991.

12. Haditha Near Anah with Babylonian inscriptions and Assyrian minaret. Nearby missile site, air base, chemical weapons complex and major new dam bombed 1991.

13. Al Ramadi Ancient town of Heet on Euphrates.

14. Al Fallujah Ancient site with cuneiform tablets drawn by Pellugto. Ruins of pre-Islamic Anbar, most important city in Iraq after Ctesiphon in 363. Capital of Abbasid dynasty in 752. Nearby chemical research complex producing feedstocks (including phosphorous) bombed 1991.

15. Baghdad World famous National Museum of Antiquities, Abbasid Palace, Mustansiriyah college (possibly oldest university in world), Martyr’s Mosque, Archaeological sites of Jemdat Nasr and Abu Salabikh. bombed 1991 because of operation, command and communication centre, presidential palace, major airbases and laboratory specialising in biological warfare.

16. Al-Iskandriyah l00 miles south of Baghdad.

17. Musayyib l30 miles south of Baghdad.

18. Kerbala Shi’a shrine to Imam Al-Hussein, most renowned of Iraq’s Islamic sacred attractions. 60 miles south of Baghdad, 45 miles from Najaf and 30 miles from Al Hillah. Nearby chemical weapons plant and rocket, missile programme and test range for missiles bombed 1991.

19. Babylon Nebuchadnezzor and Alexander the Great’s capital 60 miles south of Baghdad. Borsippa Ruined city eight miles from Babylon. Kish Biblical site. Capital of King Sargon, founder of first Mesopotamian Empire.

20. Al Hillah

21. Nippur Major religious centre of third and second millennia about 40 miles from Al Hillah and Najaf.

22. Najaf Most important Shi’a shrine to Ali Ibn Abi Talib. One of Islamic world’s principal centres of instruction. Chemical weapons facilities bombed 1991.

23. Uruk Sumerian city, 4000 BC.

24. Ur Iraq’s most famous site, perhaps earliest city in the world. Sumerian city at height 3500-4000 BC. Major airbase of Tallil and radar centre, bombed 1991.

25. Basra Al Qurna said to be site of Garden of Eden with Adam’s tree. Shrines dating back to early days of Islam suffered extensive damage during war with Iran. Nearby naval and air bases, oil refinery, chemical weapons research complex and plant bombed 1991.
While highlighting this issue, I am also hoping that military planners will give due attention to respecting and preserving the civilisation and culture of the living people of Iraq. 
  "Stuff Happens"

For Iraq's priceless heritage bombing was the least of it's troubles.

Our Heritage Is Finished

At the National Museum of Antiquities, where priceless artifacts had been wrapped in foam and secured in windowless storage rooms to protect them against U.S. bombs, an army of looters perpetrated what war did not: They smashed hundreds of irreplaceable treasures, including Sumerian clay pots, Assyrian marble carvings, Babylonian statues and a massive stone tablet with intricate cuneiform writing.

As employees returned today to survey the damage at one of the world's greatest repositories of artifacts, they encountered devastation that defied their worst expectations. The floor was covered with shards of broken pottery. An extensive card catalog of every item the museum owns, some of which date back 5,000 years, was destroyed. A cavernous storeroom housing thousands of unclassified pieces was ransacked so badly that an archaeologist predicted it would be impossible to repair many of the items.

"Our heritage is finished," lamented Nabhal Amin, the museum's deputy director, as she surveyed a Sumerian tablet that had been cracked in two. "Why did they do this? Why? Why?" [More]

Deputy Director Nabhal Amin and her husband walk through the Baghdad museum. "If there were five American soldiers at the door, everything would have been fine," Amin said.

Museum workers mourn plunder

The plundering that has descended upon this ancient city has invaded what amounts to the storehouse of civilization's cradle.

Gone from the National Museum of Iraq is an ornate animal-covered cosmetics container from Nimrud. Gone is a finely carved tusk decorated with Assyrian and Syro-Phoenician designs. Gone is the head of an Egyptian sphinx with traces of gold leaf.

All taken by the hordes of marauding thieves who in recent days swept through the museum after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Gone as well, grieving museum workers said Saturday, is a delicate golden bull's head that fronts a harp dating to Sumerian rulers more than 4,000 years ago. The piece had been discovered at the Royal Cemetery at Ur, reputedly the birthplace of Abraham.

Leafing through an old catalog in the trashed storeroom, Mahsin Hassan, a museum official, toted up the losses. "They took gold pieces, small pieces, very important pieces," Hassan said. "They took from all subjects, from prehistory to Islamic history." [More]

Hey, "Stuff happens".

"The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?'"

Well, any way, at least the Ministry of Oil building is safe.

See also:
Looters steal Iraq's heritage
Plundered, relics from the dawn of civilisation

Fanciful. Preposterous. Absurd.

October 06, 2002 / October 13, 2002 / October 20, 2002 / October 27, 2002 / November 03, 2002 / November 10, 2002 / November 17, 2002 / November 24, 2002 / December 01, 2002 / December 08, 2002 / December 15, 2002 / December 22, 2002 / December 29, 2002 / January 05, 2003 / January 12, 2003 / January 19, 2003 / January 26, 2003 / February 02, 2003 / February 09, 2003 / February 16, 2003 / March 02, 2003 / March 09, 2003 / March 16, 2003 / March 23, 2003 / March 30, 2003 / April 13, 2003 / April 20, 2003 / April 27, 2003 / May 04, 2003 / May 11, 2003 / May 18, 2003 / May 25, 2003 / June 01, 2003 / June 08, 2003 / June 15, 2003 / June 22, 2003 / June 29, 2003 / July 06, 2003 / July 13, 2003 / July 20, 2003 / July 27, 2003 / August 03, 2003 / August 31, 2003 / September 07, 2003 / September 21, 2003 / September 28, 2003 / October 05, 2003 / October 19, 2003 /

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