Monday, March 1, 2021

Lent - Temptations in the Wilderness - Exhausted, hungry Christ & Satan 12C

1124+ Psalter of Christina of Markyate  English, St. Alban's, 1124-1145  Hildesheim, Dombibliothek, p. 33 (3)

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
& he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
& the angels ministered to him.”
Mark 1:12-13

All 3 Gospels relate that Jesus spent a period of 40 days & nights in the desert immediately following His Baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist & the dramatic recognition given by Heaven to this event. The number 40 obviously has resonance with such Old Testament events as the 40 days & nights of the Great Flood (Genesis 7:9), the 40 days & nights that Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God (Exodus 24:18) & the 40 years in which the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness (Numbers 14:32-34).  Mark’s reference to the Temptation of Jesus is the shortest of the three. Matthew (Matthew 4:1-11) & Luke (Luke 4:1-13) both describe in detail the temptations tried by Satan, temptations to power & pride, which Jesus resisted. All three agree that at the end of these 40 days & nights, Jesus was tired & hungry.

"Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
"If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread."
Jesus answered him,
"It is written, One does not live on bread alone."
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
"I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me."
Jesus said to him in reply,
"It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve."
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
"If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
and:
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone."
Jesus said to him in reply,
"It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test."
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.”
Luke 4:1-13

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Lent in the Wilderness - Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Rising from Sleep

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) Christ in the Wilderness Rising from sleep in the morning  (1940)

The origin of the season of Lent lies not in a conscious re-enactment of the Lord's time in the wilderness, but in the preparation of Christians for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ at Easter.  In many Christian churches, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday lasting for 40 days (not including Sundays) reflecting the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. Related to Jesus' time in the wilderness, the Bible states;

‘I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee.’ Luke 15:18

British artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) sought to give some form to the Lent's 40 days. In the 1930s-40s Spencer set himself a goal of creating 40 paintings, one for each day Christ was in the wilderness. The series, called "Christ in the Wilderness," never came to full completion. Eighteen drawings were made & 8 paintings completed. Each of the designs explores the solitary figure of Christ interacting with various elements of the wilderness - a hen, a scorpion, lilies, eagles. The paintings titled "Driven by the spirit into the wilderness" was inspired by Mark 1:12.  Nothing overt in the paintings speaks of the details Christ's 40 days in the wilderness, echoing Mark's lack of narrative specifics. The figure of Jesus is not the slim body commonly seen in paintings. A bulky figure & billowing garment are common to all the finished paintings in the series. Spencer envisioned the pictures hanging as a group on the ceiling of a church. In such a position Jesus' garments would be perceived as billowing, ethereal clouds.

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”  Mark 1:12-15

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Lent in the Wilderness - Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Foxes Have Holes

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) Christ in the Wilderness The Foxes Have Holes

The origin of the season of Lent lies not in a conscious re-enactment of the Lord's time in the wilderness, but in the preparation of Christians for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ at Easter.  In many Christian churches, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday lasting for 40 days (not including Sundays) reflecting the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. Related to Jesus' time in the wilderness, the Bible states;

‘ And Jesus saith unto him, the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.’ Matthew 8:20

British artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) sought to give some form to the Lent's 40 days. In the 1930s-40s Spencer set himself a goal of creating 40 paintings, one for each day Christ was in the wilderness. The series, called "Christ in the Wilderness," never came to full completion. Eighteen drawings were made & 8 paintings completed. Each of the designs explores the solitary figure of Christ interacting with various elements of the wilderness - a hen, a scorpion, lilies, eagles. The paintings titled "Driven by the spirit into the wilderness" was inspired by Mark 1:12.  Nothing overt in the paintings speaks of the details Christ's 40 days in the wilderness, echoing Mark's lack of narrative specifics. The figure of Jesus is not the slim body commonly seen in paintings. A bulky figure & billowing garment are common to all the finished paintings in the series. Spencer envisioned the pictures hanging as a group on the ceiling of a church. In such a position Jesus' garments would be perceived as billowing, ethereal clouds.

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”  Mark 1:12-15

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Lent in the Wilderness - Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Christ & The Scorpion

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) Christ in the Wilderness The Scorpion

The origin of the season of Lent lies not in a conscious re-enactment of the Lord's time in the wilderness, but in the preparation of Christians for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ at Easter.  In many Christian churches, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday lasting for 40 days (not including Sundays) reflecting the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. Related to Jesus' time in the wilderness, the Bible states;

‘Behold, I give unto you the power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.’ Luke 10:19

British artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) sought to give some form to the Lent's 40 days. In the 1930s-40s Spencer set himself a goal of creating 40 paintings, one for each day Christ was in the wilderness. The series, called "Christ in the Wilderness," never came to full completion. Eighteen drawings were made & 8 paintings completed. Each of the designs explores the solitary figure of Christ interacting with various elements of the wilderness - a hen, a scorpion, lilies, eagles. The paintings titled "Driven by the spirit into the wilderness" was inspired by Mark 1:12.  Nothing overt in the paintings speaks of the details Christ's 40 days in the wilderness, echoing Mark's lack of narrative specifics. The figure of Jesus is not the slim body commonly seen in paintings. A bulky figure & billowing garment are common to all the finished paintings in the series. Spencer envisioned the pictures hanging as a group on the ceiling of a church. In such a position Jesus' garments would be perceived as billowing, ethereal clouds.

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”  Mark 1:12-15

Friday, February 19, 2021

Lent in the Wilderness - Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Christ & The Hen

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) Christ in the Wilderness The Hen

The origin of the season of Lent lies not in a conscious re-enactment of the Lord's time in the wilderness, but in the preparation of Christians for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ at Easter.  In many Christian churches, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday lasting for 40 days (not including Sundays) reflecting the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. Related to Jesus' time in the wilderness, the Bible states;

‘...how often would I have gathered my children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings...’ .Matthew 23:37

British artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) sought to give some form to the Lent's 40 days. In the 1930s-40s Spencer set himself a goal of creating 40 paintings, one for each day Christ was in the wilderness. The series, called "Christ in the Wilderness," never came to full completion. Eighteen drawings were made & 8 paintings completed. Each of the designs explores the solitary figure of Christ interacting with various elements of the wilderness - a hen, a scorpion, lilies, eagles. The paintings titled "Driven by the spirit into the wilderness" was inspired by Mark 1:12.  Nothing overt in the paintings speaks of the details Christ's 40 days in the wilderness, echoing Mark's lack of narrative specifics. The figure of Jesus is not the slim body commonly seen in paintings. A bulky figure & billowing garment are common to all the finished paintings in the series. Spencer envisioned the pictures hanging as a group on the ceiling of a church. In such a position Jesus' garments would be perceived as billowing, ethereal clouds.

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”  Mark 1:12-15

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Where did the Stories of Gospels come from? An Early View of Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John + a few of their Fierce Friends c 875

Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of Matthew, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 33v Freising, Germany c 875.

A gospel is an account describing the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The most widely-known gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John.  Some Christians use the term "gospel," otherwise known as the "good news," in reference to the general message of the biblical New Testament.  Here Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John are portrayed with a few of their fierce friends writing about the life of Jesus.
Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of Mark, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 90v Freising, Germany c 875.
Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of Luke, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 126v Freising, Germany c 875.
Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of John, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 178v Freising, Germany c 875.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ash Wednesday

In the early Christian church of Rome, the length of the Lenten celebration varied, but eventually it began 6 weeks (42 days) before Easter. This provided only 36 days of fasting (excluding Sundays). In the 7C, 4 days were added before the 1st Sunday in Lent in order to establish 40 fasting days, in imitation of Jesus Christ’s fast in the desert.

It was the practice in Rome for "penitents" & "sinners" to begin their period of public penance for the "guilt" of their offences on the 1st day of Lent in preparation for their restoration to the sacrament of the Eucharist. They were sprinkled with ashes, dressed in sackcloth, & obliged to remain apart, until they were reconciled with the Christian community on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. When these practices fell into disuse (8C–10C), the beginning of the penitential season of Lent was symbolized by placing ashes on the heads of the entire congregation. (Probably because we are all, each & every one, "penitents" & "sinners" by thought, word, & deed each & every day.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Sunday, February 14, 2021

A Small, Human Valentine

1663 Vincenzo Ferdinando Ranuzzi as Amor by Elisabetta Sirani

Who was Saint Valentine?

Pair of Lovers, c 1480 Attributed to the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet or theMaster of the Housebook (German artist, fl c 1470-1500)

It is said that on February 14, somewhere around the year 270 A.D., Valentine, a priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed. Well, Chaucer said it was February 14th, and that's good enough for me.

Rome's emperor was called Claudius the Cruel for good reason. During his reign, he involved his empire in many unpopular & bloody campaigns. Claudius needed to maintain a strong, loyal army, but he was having a difficult time enticing soldiers to join his traveling troops. Claudius believed that strong, young Roman men were unwilling to join the army, because they wanted to stay close to their loves.

To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages & engagements in Rome. If he could have banned sex between lovers, I suppose he would have. Priest Valentine, incensed by his emperor's cold decree, defied Claudius continuing to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

When the disobedient priest's actions were discovered, Valentine was arrested & dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs, so that he might suffer a little for his disloyalty to his supreme emperor, & then to have his head cut off. The sentence was said to be carried out on February 14.

Legend has it that, while in jail Valentine became enamoured with his jailer’s daughter, who was blind. The jailer asked Valentine if his God could restore daughter’s sight. They prayed together & the young woman regained full sight. Reportedly, Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter signing it "From Your Valentine." No, I do not know the extent of the priest's relationship with the jailer's daughter, & I do not wish to know.

For his great service to loyalty & truth & love, the church named Valentine a saint after his death.

Well, now, there is some debate about how the date February 14th came about; and there also seems to be some question about the exact identity of St. Valentine. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of 14 February." One was a priest in Rome, the 2nd was a bishop of Interamna (now Terni, Italy), & the 3rd St. Valentine was a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

Perhaps it is just coincidence, but probably not,that the date of his death may have become mingled with the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love. During these popular celebrations, the names of young women were placed in a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius decided to put an end to all the silliness of the Feast of Lupercalia, & he declared that February 14 be celebrated as St Valentine's Day.And to this day, February 14 became a date for exchanging love messages, poems, & beautiful gifts such as flowers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Candlemas - The Presentation of Jesus at The Temple

11C Menologion of Basil Presentation of Jesus at The Temple

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is an early biblical episode in the life of the infant Jesus, describing his presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem in order to officially induct him into Judaism, that is celebrated by many Western Christian Churches on the holiday of Candlemas. (Luke 2:23–40).

In some liturgical churches, the Compline on the Feast of the Presentation marks the end of the Epiphany season. In the Anglican Communion, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is celebrated on February 2 or as close as possible  

According to the gospel, Mary & Joseph took the Infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after Christmas to complete Mary's ritual purification after childbirth & to perform the redemption of the firstborn son, in obedience to the Torah (Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12–15, etc.). Luke explicitly says that Joseph & Mary take the option provided for poor people (those who could not afford a lamb; Leviticus 12:8), sacrificing "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." 

Upon bringing Jesus into the temple, they encountered Simeon. The Gospel records that Simeon had been promised that "he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ" (Luke 2:26). Simeon then uttered the prayer which prophesied the redemption of the world by Jesus: "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, & for glory to your people Israel". (Luke 2:29–32).

In art, early images concentrated on the moment of meeting with Simeon, typically at the entrance to the Temple. In the West, beginning in the 8C or 9C, a different depiction at an altar emerged, where Simeon eventually by the Late Middle Ages came to be shown wearing the elaborate vestments attributed to the Jewish High Priest, & conducting a liturgical ceremony surrounded by the family & the elderly prophetess Anna. In the West, Simeon is often already holding the infant, or the moment of handover is shown; in Eastern images Mary is more likely still to hold Jesus.

This parchment 1310-1320 image of The Presentation of Jesus at The Temple in a Missal originates from East Anglia, one of the earliest examples of a Missal of an English source. Sarum Missals were books produced by the Church during the Middle Ages for celebrating Mass throughout the year. National Library of Wales.
15C South German Depiction of The Presentation of Jesus at The Temple

Monday, January 25, 2021

Farmers Discover Rare Statue of Pre-Hispanic Woman in Mexican Citrus Grove


 Farmers Discover Rare Statue of Pre-Hispanic Woman in Mexican Citrus Grove

On New Year's Day, farmers in Mexico uncovered a sculpture dated to between roughly 1450 and 1521 A.D. (INAH)  By Isis Davis-Marks in Smihsonianmag.com 1/14/2021

On New Year’s Day, farmers in the Huasteca region of Mexico’s Gulf Coast were ploughing soil in a citrus grove when they discovered something strange. After hitting an object they initially assumed was a rock, the group shoveled deeper, ultimately unearthing a six-foot-tall limestone statue of a Mesoamerican woman, according to a statement from the country’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

As the Associated Press reports, the statue likely dates to between roughly 1450 and 1521 A.D. After examining the artifact, INAH experts determined that it was the first of its kind to be found in the region.  The area where it was found was not previously known to be an archeological site, and the stone statue may have been moved from some unknown original site.

Locals excavated the figurine between the pre-Hispanic Haustec ruins of El Tajín and the Aztec city of Tuxpan, in an area not previously identified as an archaeological site. Given the absence of similar historical objects in the grove, the team suggests the sculpture, which appears to shows Aztec influences, truly may have been moved there from its original location.

In the statement, as translated by the AP, archaeologist María Eugenia Maldonado Vite says the work could depict “a ruler, based on her posture and attire, [rather] than a goddess.”  Maldonado adds that she could also be “a late fusion of the Teem goddesses with the representations of women of high social status or politician in the Huasteca.”

The supine subject wears an ornate headdress, a necklace with a circular adornment known as an oyohualli, a long shirt and a skirt that grazes her ankles. (As Live Science’s Laura Geggel points out, the headdress is reminiscent of one worn by Star Wars character Ahsoka Tano.) The statue may depict an elite ruler or a fusion of a goddess and ruler. (INAH)

“The style of the young woman from Amajac is similar to representations of Huastec goddesses of the Earth and fertility, but with an external influence, possibly [the indigenous group] Nahua,” says Maldonado in the statement, as translated by Live Science.

Though she’s shown resting in a peaceful position, the woman’s open-mouthed, wide-eyed expression is closer to a scream than a smile. Originally, Maldonado notes, the statue probably had obsidian inlays in place of its now-hollow eye sockets.

As Nathan Falde writes for Ancient Origins, the Huastec people who likely created the sculpture originally descended from the Maya. The group settled in the northeast region of the Gulf Coast around 1500 B.C. and created their own distinct culture—albeit with some Maya influences, according to a 2006 Arqueología Mexicana article by Felipe Solís Olguín.

Around the 15th century A.D., the neighboring Aztec civilization began encroaching on Huastec land in a series of military campaigns that ultimately resulted in the latter’s defeat, per Ancient Origins. (The Spanish conquest later decimated both Indigenous groups.) As a result of this contact, Aztec culture may have had some influence on Huastec artisans. Aztec sculptors also created stone figurines, many of which depicted deities connected to fertility or agricultural rites, as Mark Cartwright pointed out in a 2014 Ancient History Encyclopedia article.

If the newly unearthed statue does, in fact, portray an elite woman, not a goddess, she will join the ranks of quite a few female rulers depicted in pre-Hispanic artifacts.

In 1994 in the Mayan ruin site of Palenque, archaeologists found the tomb of a woman dubbed The Red Queen because of the red pigment covering her tomb. But it has never been firmly established that the woman, whose tomb dates from between 600 and 700 A.D., was a ruler of Palenque.

Susan Gillespie, an anthropology professor at the University of Florida, said there “there are quite a few pre-Hispanic depictions of elite women and female rulers elsewhere, best known among the Classic Maya but also in Classic Zapotec bas-reliefs and Postclassic Mixtec codices. Colonial era Aztec documents mentioned women ‘rulers’ or at least holders of the crown to pass on to their successors … so that is not a surprise,” Gillespie added. Women were highly valued in the pre-Hispanic era, drastically losing their status only after the conquest.

However, she noted that “if there is only one such find, it’s hard to say whether it is significant, or even correctly identified. Archaeology works best with repeated occurrences, to show a pattern."

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Archaeologists identify Ancient North American Mounds using new Image Analysis Technique

 

Four shell ring features identified using the object-based image analysis (OBIA) algorithm. The ring on the top right has been confirmed as a shell ring site.

Archaeologists identify ancient North American mounds using new image analysis technique

Binghamton University - July 1018

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - Researchers at Binghamton University, State University at New York have used a new image-based analysis technique to identify once-hidden North American mounds, which could reveal valuable information about pre-contact Native Americans.

"Across the East Coast of the United States, some of the most visible forms for pre-contact Native American material culture can be found in the form of large earthen and shell mounds," said Binghamton University anthropologist Carl Lipo. Mounds and shell rings contain valuable information about the way in which past people lived in North America. As habitation sites, they can show us the kinds of foods that were eaten, the way in which the community lived, and how the community interacted with neighbors and their local environments.

In areas that are deeply wooded or consist of bayous and swamps, there exist mounds that have eluded more than 150 years of archaeological survey and research. Due to vegetation, these kinds of environments make seeing more than a couple of dozen feet difficult, and even large mounds can be hidden from view, even when one systematically walks on the terrain.

The use of satellites and new kinds of aerial sensors such as LiDAR (light detection and ranging) have transformed the way archaeologists can gather data about the archaeological record, said Lipo. Now scientists can study landscapes from images and peer through the forest canopy to look at the ground. LiDAR has been particularly effective at showing the characteristic rises in topography that mark the presence of mounds. The challenge to archaeologists, however, is to manage such a vast array of new data that are available for study. Object based image analysis (OBIA) allows archaeologists to configure a program to automatically detect features of interest. OBIA is a computer-based approach to use data from satellite images and aerial sensors to look for shapes and combinations of features that match objects of interest. Unlike traditional satellite image analyses that looks at combinations of light wavelengths, OBIA adds characteristics of shape to the search algorithm, allowing archaeologists to more easily distinguish cultural from natural phenomena.

Lipo's team systematically identified over 160 previously undetected mound features using LiDAR data from Beaufort County, S.C., and an OBIA approach. The result improves the overall knowledge of settlement patterns by providing systematic knowledge about past landscapes, said Lipo.

"Through the use of OBIA, archaeologists can now repeatedly generate data about the archaeological record and find historic and pre-contact sites over massive areas that would be cost-prohibitive using pedestrian survey. We can now also peer beneath the dense canopy of trees to see things that are otherwise obscured. In areas like coast South Carolina, with large swaths of shallow bays, inlets and bayous that are covered in forest, OBIA offers us our first look at this hidden landscape."

Having demonstrated the effectiveness for using OBIA in conditions of dense vegetation and after optimizing our processing, Lipo and his team are expanding their efforts to include much-larger areas.

"Fortunately, satellite and LiDAR data are now available for much of the eastern seaboard, so undertaking a large-scale project is now a task that is achievable," said Lipo. "Due to climate change and sea-level rise, many major mounds and middens on the East Coast are threatened by erosion and inundation. It is urgent we document this pre-contact landscape as soon as possible, in order to learn as much as we can about the past before it is gone forever."

The paper, "Automated mound detection using LiDAR and Object-Based Image Analysis in Beaufort County, SC," was published in Southeastern Archaeology.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

How Ancient DNA Unearths The Americas Corn’s A-maize-ing History


How Ancient DNA Unearths Corn’s A-maize-ing History 
Smithsonian Magazine, December 14th, 2020 by Erin Malsbury 

 Sequencing entire genomes from ancient tissues helps researchers reveal the evolutionary & domestication histories of species. (Thomas Harper, The Pennsylvania State University) In the early 2000s, archeologists began excavating a rock shelter in the highlands of southwestern Honduras that stored thousands of maize cobs & other plant remains from up to 11,000 years ago. Scientists use these dried plants to learn about the diets, land-use & trading patterns of ancient communities.

After years of excavations, radiocarbon dating & more traditional archaeological studies, researchers are now turning to ancient DNA to provide more detail to their insights than has ever before been possible. In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists used DNA from 2,000-year-old corn cobs to reveal that people reintroduced improved varieties of domesticated maize into Central America from South America thousands of years ago. 

Archeologists knew that domesticated maize traveled south, but these genomes provide the first evidence of the trade moving both directions. Researchers at the Smithsonian & around the world are just beginning to tap into the potential of ancient DNA. This study shows how the relatively recent ability to extract whole genomes from ancient material opens the door for new types of research questions & breathes new life into old samples, whether from fieldwork or forgotten corners of museum collections.

DNA, packed tightly into each of our cells, holds the code for life. The complex molecule is shaped like a twisting ladder. Each rung is made up of two complementary molecules, called a base pair. As humans, we have around three billion base pairs that make up our DNA. The order of these base pairs determines our genes, & the DNA sequence in its entirety, with all the molecules in the correct position, is called a genome. Whole genomes provide scientists with detailed data about organisms, but the process of acquiring that information is time sensitive.

“In every cell, DNA is always being bombarded with chemical & physical damage,” said lead author Logan Kistler, curator of archeobotany & acheogenomics at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “In live cells, it’s easily repaired. But after an organism dies, those processes that patch things up stop functioning.” As a result, DNA begins breaking down into smaller & smaller fragments until it disappears entirely. This decomposition poses the greatest challenge for scientists trying to sequence entire genomes from old or poorly-preserved tissue.

Researchers wear protective suits & work in sterile conditions in the ancient DNA lab to prevent contamination. (James DiLoreto, Smithsonian) You have to take these really, really small pieces of DNA — the length of the alphabet in some cases – & try to stitch them back together to make even a 1000 piece long fragment,” said Melissa Hawkins, a curator of mammals at the Smithsonian who works with ancient DNA. “It’s like trying to put a book back together by having five words at a time & trying to find where those words overlap.”

This laborious process prevented researchers from sequencing whole genomes from ancient DNA until around 2008, when a new way to sequence DNA became available. Since then, the technology & the ability to reconstruct ancient DNA sequences has grown rapidly.

Friday, January 22, 2021

10,000-year-old Jewelry among Artifacts Found while Clearing Land for NC Highway Project

Artifacts including pottery, tools and jewelry from more than 10,000 years ago were found during digging for the last leg of the Triangle Expressway.

10,000-year-old Jewelry among Artifacts Found 

while Clearing Land for NC I-540 project

By Ed Crump Thursday, January 14, 2021 Raleigh, NC (WTVD)  

Before the North Carolina Department of Transportation began clearing land for the last leg of the Triangle Expressway, its archeology unit fanned out looking for sites used by North Carolina's original inhabitants.

The scientists found something significant.

"As a result of the survey for this entire corridor, we identified, I believe, it's over 155 sites," said Matt Wilkerson who heads up the NCDOT's archeology unit.

Anytime NCDOT plans to build a road, federal law requires that it documents historic or even prehistoric sites in the construction corridor.

"NCDOT takes its stewardship responsibility very seriously," Wilkerson told ABC11.

He said that is why NCDOT formed the archeology unit more than 30 years ago, deciding it would be the most efficient way to handle that responsibility.

In the case of the Triangle Expressway, which will complete the 540 outer loop around Raleigh, most of the sites that archeologists found were not in the direct path of the asphalt.

There was one exception -- an area in southeastern Wake County below Garner near Williams Crossroads.

So, the team got to work.

For three months, they dug up a large area in 540's path and sifted every inch through large screens.

There was so much work that they contracted with other archeologists such as Susan Bamann with Commonwealth Heritage Group.

She showed us pieces of a pot that was apparently dropped and broken.

"It probably dates to somewhere around 500 A.D., something like that," she said. "We'll probably be able to reconstruct much of the pot."

The inside of that pot could provide a trove of information.

"We'll probably do some chemical analysis on it. It's possible to extract residues from the wall of the ceramic vessel and determine the kinds of foods that were being cooked in the vessel," Bamann said. "That's really exciting,"

Those artifacts and many others, including tools, all date from about 1,500 years ago and were found about 12 inches below the surface.

The archeologists surmise this was a popular campsite for the nomadic natives who were North Carolina's first inhabitants.

But the campsite's origins apparently came thousands of years earlier because as they went deeper, the archeologists found more artifacts including what they call "points."

Bamann showed us a collection of those "points" -- stone tools with sharp edges.

"These are from the archaic period," she said. "This one's from the early archaic period, so 6,000 to 8,000 B.C."

The excavation has just ended but when we visited, the scientists were sifting the last of the dirt removed from the site.

As they worked, heavy equipment rumbled nearby and blasting occasionally sent shock waves through the air and ground.

But the archeologists never flinched.

One of the most exciting finds unearthed on the dig was a broken and once polished piece of stone with holes drilled in it from about 10,000 years ago.

"Probably a piece of personal adornment, jewelry, if you will," Bamann said, and she added, "it's a two-holed item that someone would have suspended as a piece of personal decoration or ornamentation. At least that's what we believe these items are. So, finding something that's a personal item from someone who lived here, and camped here is, I think, is just one of those things that makes all of this extra interesting because it's a little bit of a glimpse into the past."

Bamann said this was obviously a popular camp for hunter-gatherers.

Some of the items found here revealed just how far those people may have roamed.

Bamann pointed at the projectiles, noting that some were made from materials that wouldn't have been found in the area near the campsite.

"These are all fashioned from stone, some of these from the stone source that we associated with the Uwharrie Mountains," she said.

Those mountains are in Montgomery County nearly 100 miles west of Wake County.

The artifacts collected at the site will eventually end up at the North Carolina Office of State Archeology.

Be sure to click on the link in the title above to learn much more...