12th century BC carving may hold the secret of Karnak Temple

By Ahmed Maged

First Published: December 19, 2006


The stone consists of two parts: the upper part depicts King Set Nakhat lying prostrate with the blue crown on his head


CAIRO: Egypt announced Sunday the discovery of a carving dating back to the 12th century BC which could hold the key to valuable information on Karnak Temple, the largest ancient 

religious site in the world.


According to an Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) statement, the stone carving was found during excavations at the Kibash Alley that links the Karnak with the Luxor Temple.


Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni reportedly pointed out to the significance of the find which it reveals a lot of new facts about the 20th dynasty.


Dr Zahi Hawas, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities explained that the large quartzite stone, carved with 17 lines of hieroglyphics, highlights the achievements of high priest Bak En Khonso and his contributions to the grand hall at Karnak.


Hawas told reporters that the stone consists of two parts: the upper part depicts King Set Nakhat lying prostrate with the blue crown on his head. He offers the symbol of justice to the supreme deity Amon Ra, that appears sitting on his throne while holding with his left hand

Alwast — emblem of the city of Thebes — and in his right, the key of life.


Behind Amon Ra Goddess Mot — one of Thebes’ Trinity that consists of Amon, Mot and son Khanso — is depicted raising her left hand, a gesture meant to bestow protection on the king, Hawas added. 


Seventeen lines of hieroglyphic text are carved on the lower part of the stone, followed by an illustration of chief Amon priest Bak En Khonso, seen in a worshipping posture and in full official priest attire.


"This is very important because we never knew anything about Bak En Khonso, the second most important man after the king,” said Zahi Hawass.


He noted: "This is going to reconstruct history and will enrich our understanding of Karnak.”


Bak En Khonso lived during the reign of King Setnakhte, founder of Egypt's Twentieth Dynasty.


A high priest was considered to be the most important man after the king, performing duties, religious rituals and offerings on his behalf.


Karnak Temple in the southern city of Luxor is the largest ancient religious site in the world.

Of its four main parts, only one is accessible to tourists.


"There are still so many treasures underground," said Hawass, who believes that 70 percent of Egypt's antiquities are yet to be discovered.



The wines and herbs in the land of Pan

A survey of ancient Greek sources reveals the surprising properties of certain wines that continue to provoke the curiosity of scholars today


A parody of Circe offering Odysseus wine that contains a magical herb that will make him behave like an animal. Hermes has given the ancient Greek hero another herb called moly so that Odysseus is not seduced by Circe. Medical historian Sevasti Karahaliou says moly must have been an anti-aphrodisiac. (From an early 4th century BC Boeotian cup, Ashmolean Museum.)


By Stavroula Kourakou (chemist and oenologist).


In early December, the interdisciplinary Oino Istoro (or Talking Wine) group and Ktima Spyropoulos winery held the “Symposium of Arcadian Wine Talk.”


I presented a paper there, which I want to summarize here. The inspiration for this paper came from an extract from “The Deipnosophists” by Athenaeus, which refers to certain wines with unusual qualities: “Theophrastus says that in Heraia, Arcadia, they produce a wine which when drunk stimulates men and makes women get pregnant. He also says that in Keryneia in Achaia, there grows a vine variety from which is made a type of wine that makes pregnant women miscarry; they even miscarry if they eat its grapes. The wine of Troezen makes those who drink it infertile. In Thassos they make a wine that is a soporific and another that causes insomnia.”


Wonderful though wine is, with hypnotic and aphrodisiac properties known since antiquity, it could not have such effects on human health. These “miraculous” properties were the result of drinking concoctions, as Dioscurides calls the plethora of pharmaceutical wines whose methods of preparation he describes. He notes that the preparations acquire the strength of the plant that is mixed with them, and that such wines are not suitable for healthy people.


Both Dioscurides and Theophrastus describe the potency of various herbs, that is to say their pharmaceutical properties. For instance, some herbs cause relaxation and help those who have difficulty sleeping.


Tisanes and tablets made of such herbs are in use today in medicine and homeopathy. In antiquity one of the best known soporifics was mandrake.


In the “Symposium” of Xenophon, when the host suggests that everyone start drinking because they are thirsty, Socrates agrees, saying, “The time has come to drink, my friends, because wine, watering our souls, puts our sorrows to sleep as mandrake puts humans to sleep; and it awakens cordiality just as oil livens up the flame.”


Dioscurides gives a detailed description of how mandrake wine was prepared by the addition of the peel from the root of the plant, and he adds that in large doses it was fatal.


Apart from mandrake there were other herbs that promoted sleep, such as aristolochia or Dutchman’s pipe, one of the well-known herbs of Arcadia. According to Theophrastus, robust honeyed wine, to which shavings of aristolochia root had been added, induced sleep. Hence it is no surprise that on Thassos they used to make a wine that fought insomnia. There were then, as there are today, herbs that promote sleep. By contrast, just as a cup of coffee can give some people insomnia when drunk at night, so there were herbs which were drunk in wine in those days to keep the Thassiotes awake.


A glance at Dioscurides reveals a surprising number of herbs said “to induce abortions.” And Plutarch confirms this: “They gave pregnant women a herb that was capable of inducing an abortion.”


The ancient Greek world, encouraged by philosophers such as Aristotle, who supported birth control as a means of dealing with poverty and the crimes that it gave rise to, used many drugs in order to induce abortions.


As for the paradoxical event in Keryneia where not only the wine but even the grapes were said to be abortifacients, Dioscurides explains that there is a wine that is harmful to embryos “elleboros (hellebore) or sikyos agrios or skammonia are planted among the vines, and the grapes absorb their potency,” affecting the wine that was made from them. Naturally enough, in such circumstances the grapes themselves acquired abortifacient properties.


There is however a significant difference. Those herbs were not deliberately planted among the vines; in many vineyards they grew wild. Besides, in many areas the grapes were sprinkled with salted shavings of the root of the herbs so that the bitter taste would protect the fruit from locusts and other parasites.


Anyone who happened to eat the unwashed fruit suffered the effects of the herb that had been used as a pest repellent. So there is nothing surprising about what went on in the vineyards of Keryneia.


While many herbs are referred to as abortifacients and others as possessing contraceptive properties, only two of the herbs described by Dioscurides are mentioned in relation to male sterility. Apiganos (Ruta graveolens) when its seed is drunk in wine, and cultivated cannabis when its fruit is eaten in large quantities were said to be spermicidal.


So there are very common herbs among Greek flora that explain the side effects of the wine preparation of Troezen in the Argolid, which was said to make those who drank it sterile. But we must not assume that the purpose was to tie a man down, as with the magical herbs of the Middle Ages and more recent times. Apiganos was drunk in wine as an antidote to poisons, while cannabis has many uses – it is spun for fiber, contains oil and is edible. Unlike Indian cannabis, it contains the minutest quantities of the psychoactive substance tetrahydracannabinol. Both, however, were said to affect sexual performance, just as some contemporary drugs for hypertension create problems with erectile dysfunction.


The first phrase in the extract from Theophrastus concerning Arcadian wines is hard to interpret because the verb “existimi” has many meanings, one of which is “make someone go mad.” But the same verb also has the meaning of “excite, stimulate” and it is that sense which has been attributed to Athenaeus’s translation in the French university collection.


The ancient sources refer to several herbs which, apart from their other therapeutic properties, were considered to be aphrodisiacs, depending on whether their seeds, buds and roots were drunk in sweet or dry wine, Dioscurides mentions a number of such herbs including akalifi (the common nettle) which, when made into a soup, is considered to this day to be an aphrodisiac dish.


The second meaning of the verb fits in with the rest of the phrase in question. Notwithstanding immaculate conception, the women of Arcadia could not have got pregnant by drinking wine, no matter what miraculous herb had been added to it. The only way would have been if they took advantage of the stimulating effect of the wine on their men.


In his work on the nature of women, Hippocrates advises what should be done if a woman wishes to become pregnant. He counsels a woman to drink wine and then sleep with her husband. However, neither of the two meanings of the verb “existimi” can be ruled out if one takes into account that the effect of certain herbs directly depends on the quantity that is taken. For example, take common coriander. When its seed is swallowed in small quantities in sweet wine, it promotes fertility, writes Dioscurides, while if it is taken in a large quantity it can cause dangerous confusion, so regular consumption of large amounts is to be avoided.


Thus coriander wine could have an aphrodisiac effect but in the case of abuse might lead to madness – the dual meaning of the verb “existimi.”


I do not have the honor of being either a doctor or a botanist. I simply wanted to use exclusively ancient Greek sources to examine the properties of certain wines that raised questions among scholars. And so I came to Mantineia, the land of Pan, rich in pharmaceutical herbs.




Reunited at last! This is David, the brother I lost just 1,000 years ago

Gene study is throwing a new light on our nation's history - and our personal ancestry, reports science editor Robin McKie

Sunday December 31, 2006

The Observer


A scientific revolution is taking place in the study of our ancient past. Once the preserve of academics who analysed prehistoric stones and crumbling parchment, the subject has been transformed by the study of our genes by scientists who are using the blood of the living to determine the actions of men and women centuries ago.


In the process, a mass of fascinating information about our predecessors has been revealed, from the physical appearance of Britain's first Stone Age settlers to the impact that invading Romans, Saxons and Normans had on our bloodline.


The approach can turn history into an extraordinary, personal business, as I found when I started researching a book on the subject. I have often been asked if I am related to the Guardian writer David McKie. The distinguished columnist and former deputy editor has my surname, though David comes from north London while I am Glaswegian. Little common ancestry there, it seemed.


But now David has been revealed to be my long-lost 'brother'. Our DNA shows that, between AD1000 and 1400, either in Ireland or Scotland, our lineages shared a common ancestor, a grandfather of multiple 'greatness'. Even better, that ancestor turns out to have been a direct descendant of the Irish king Niall of the Nine Hostages, who created a vast fifth-century dynasty around modern Strabane. David and I are related to a notorious Irish warlord. Not bad for a pair of old Fleet Street hacks.


Such a revelation demonstrates the power of archaeogenetics, the subject of my book Face of Britain, written to accompany the forthcoming Channel 4 series, in which modern Britons explore their Celtic, Viking and Anglo-Saxon origins.


DNA analysis turns out to be an immensely useful tool, as Dr Jim Wilson, the Edinburgh scientist whose company EthnoAncestry tested those McKie genes, puts it: 'Genetics is going to be the best thing that happened to archaeology since the trowel.'


A key example is provided by the People of the British Isles study, led by Sir Walter Bodmer, which has found rich concentrations of genes of the British Isles' first hunter-gatherer settlers in men and women now living in Cornwall, Devon, Scotland and Ireland. One version of the gene MCR1 often confers red hair on its owners and explains those ancient Roman and Greek reports of widespread ginger locks among early Britons. Red hair was common until invasions by non-redheads - like the Anglo-Saxons - pushed these settlers to Britain's outer edges. Hence the red-haired Scots and Irish we see today.


Bodmer has found signs of Anglo-Saxon genes in east England, the remnants of the invaders who established English as the language of the British Isles, while Wilson's research has discovered evidence that Vikings, who colonised Orkney, did so by eradicating nearly ever male member of its Pictish population. This latter discovery was made by analysing the Y-chromosome. Orkney men today tend to have Y-chromosomes like those of modern Scandinavians, the Vikings' direct descendants.


And there are the personal stories. These have often emerged by combining DNA studies with the other scientific techniques, such as the use of computer databanks of surnames.


One study, by Mark Jobling of Leicester University, has found that if you discount a few very common surnames - like Smith and Johnson - there is a 50 per cent chance that any two men with the same surname will have the same Y-chromosome. This unexpectedly tight correlation has led Jobling to propose to the Home Office that gene tests be used on crime scene samples to pinpoint names of suspects. Just pinpoint a Y-chromosome in a blood sample and you should get a candidate surname. 'It won't prove guilt, but it will help pinpoint likely suspects,' he says.


And that takes us back to the McKies. Given the tight correspondence of name and Y-chromosome found by Jobling, it was perhaps not that shocking to find David and I are related. What is remarkable, however, has been the linking of our lineage to one man, Niall of the Nine Hostages, who lived 1,500 years ago. His descendants are known as the Ui Neill, from which we get the surname O'Neill, a family already known from genealogical studies to be connected to the Bradleys, Devlins, McKies and others.


Knowing about this academic connection is one thing. To see it reflected tightly in the Y-chromosomes in all these families today is a different, very dramatic matter. As Jim Wilson showed me, at precisely the same points along each strand of DNA provided by me, David, and other Niall descendants, there are stutters in which a sequence of DNA sub-units is repeated the same number of times: 30 times at marker 449, 12 at marker 449 and so on.


The Ui Neill Y-chromosome was originally discovered by scientists at Trinity College, Dublin, and was found in 23 per cent of all men in north-west Ireland. Intriguingly, 17 per cent of men in central and west Scotland have it, as do 2 per cent of US males. The Irish, and later the Scots, were great travellers, so that around three million men worldwide now possess this chromosome. Of course our progenitors gave us a great start. In the past, power meant fecundity: one 15th-century O'Neill chieftain had 18 sons.


The Ui Neill link is important. Some genealogists had considered Niall to be a mythical figure imagined to explain past political links between dynasties. Genetics has now shown he was real, a discovery of some significance to academics and of considerable satisfaction to his descendants, David and I included.


· Face of Britain is published by Simon & Schuster. The TV series is scheduled for broadcast in February.






10:00 - 01 January 2007


A Battle is underway to stem the tide and record two historic landmarks.


A project by English Heritage is looking at ways to preserve the memory of archaeological sites on Lincolnshire's coastline, including a shipwreck and medieval fish traps off the Cleethorpes shore. The two sites are only visible at very low tide and rising sea levels mean they - and hundreds of other important sites in the UK - could soon be lost forever.


The ship, said to be around 20 metres in length, and the two V-shaped fish traps, are located on an area of coast adjacent to the Cleethorpes Golf Club.


Experts estimate, that with the onset of climate change and the inevitability of encroaching seas, the sites could be permanently underwater in five to 10 years.


To help preserve the memory of these historical gems, archaeologists are creating an extensive photographic archive, currently consisting of 12,000 aerial photographs covering 137km of eastern coastline.


Findings will be fed into the English Heritage National Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey.


By 2010, the survey aims to have produced the most detailed archive ever of the nation's heritage.


Dave MacLeod, aerial archaeologist with English Heritage, said: "We scan the best images onto a computer, then use specialist software, sharp eyes and archaeological knowledge to create digital maps.


"We have no more chance than King Canute of holding back the tide on this coastline, so we have to go for preservation by record, rather than physical preservation of buildings or ancient earthworks."


Peter Murphy, coastal strategy officer with English Heritage, said: "Rates of erosion along many parts of the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire coast are very high.


"It is also an area rich in archaeology, so it is a national priority to get the work done."


Interpretation and archiving work is due to be completed by April, 2007.


Humber Archaeology team member John Buglass has been examining the Cleethorpes sites for the survey.


He believes it could be as little as five years before the sea permanently covers them. He said: "The boat is built of wood and has wooden trenails, with a little iron used, for fastenings. This could indicate the boat is from the early to mid-19th Century.


"She may - and I stress may - have been lost in an accident.


"Obviously, with Grimsby and Cleethorpes being so important in the fishing industry, it is not surprising to find fishing boats wrecked.


"The traps are classic fish traps and could easily be medieval or later as the design changed little over hundreds of years.


"They are probably about 100 metres wide at the top, funnelling down to about a metre at the base.


"These are the first I have seen along this section of coast."


Members of the public are urged not to try and investigate the sites for themselves due to the dangers of boggy sand and the possibility of getting cut off by the tide.



Medieval watercourse unearthed


Workmen preparing the site of new public toilets have unearthed a 600-year-old sandstone watercourse, believed to have been an important feature of the Shrewsbury Abbey grounds in medieval times.


The find was made as contractors broke the ground for the new loos being built in Abbey Foregate.


Construction is due to start in the new year, and archaeologists were hired by Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council to keep a watching eye on the development.


The existence of a redundant Victorian culvert was known and had been recorded some years ago, and a pair of brick tunnels were duly unearthed.


It is believed that the tunnels were built by the Victorians to drain the remnants of the Abbey pools that served the monastic community in medieval times.


The remains of the pool are recorded on a map of Shrewsbury as late as the 1880s, and monks are said to have farmed fish in the pools to supplement their diets.


But a more important discovery has been made in the form of a course of sandstone blocks that may have formed the outer edge of a watercourse leading to the Rea Brook.


Archaeologists were this week in the process of recording and photographing the remains.


Speaking about the find, Pat Frost of Castlering Archaeology said: “The area around the Abbey is rich in archaeology. The medieval watercourse has been cut across in the late 19th century period in order to build what is a very impressive double-chambered culvert.


Fortunately some of the alignment of the medieval watercourse has survived and we have been able to record the remnants.


“It’s important to record this information for future generations and it also helps us build up a clearer picture of the extent of the monastic buildings in the area of the Abbey.”


The remains will be preserved by a concrete base being laid for the new building, which is due to open in the spring.


Michael Watson, historic environment officer for Shropshire County Council, said that the borough council had been advised of the archeological implications of the development.


“As part of the planned work, what I know from my visit to the site, is that there are two brick lined culverts from the 19th century, but of more interest is a length of sandstone which is probably medieval in date. That has been exposed and will not be destroyed, it will be covered, sealed and preserved.”


The excavation has attracted great interest from passers-by, many of whom contacted our newsdesk.

One observer, Jim McCallum, worked on the same site as an archaeologist 20 years ago.


He said: “The council decided that all was required was a watching brief, and there does not seem to have been enough care taken. They have smashed into the culverts for a Victorian mill and this was all known.


“The whole area was photographed and surveyed as part of our excavation in the 80s, I wonder what happened to those records?”



Transit van excavated as a relic

Martin Wainwright

Monday January 1, 2007

The Guardian


British archaeologists have found a new relic of the past to dismantle: a 1991 Ford Transit van. Three months of painstaking research has seen the light van broken up into hundreds of 'finds' and archived.


Chosen to test techniques on "a common and characteristic part of contemporary life," the vehicle was given to Bristol university by the Ironbridge museum in Shropshire. Everything from a Victorian threepenny bit, dropped down a crack in the floor of the van, to crude spot-welds have been scrutinised and recorded.


"In many ways it has been like a conventional study in field archaeology," said Cassie Newland, a doctoral student at Bristol who organised the project as a trial of archaeology's potential to help in the analysis of modern British society.


Three separate layers within the van were then carefully excavated, yielding lost pencils, dog hair and confetti from a distant museum party.


Fingerprint dusting proved that the Transit was one of Ford motor company's first British vehicles made by robots - "a discovery reflecting a huge social change in employment," said Ms Newland.


All finds are to be reported in British Archaeology magazine and other data on the Transit, one of only 191 surviving models of its type and year, will be kept at Bristol for future study. Ms Newland said: "Archaeology concerns the interpretation of material culture in pursuit of understanding. That material can be van just as a prehistoric ditch or settlement."



Lucas: Fourth Indiana Jones will be best yet

Saturday, 30 Dec 2006 19:11


The fourth instalment in the Indiana Jones saga will be the best film in the series so far, producer George Lucas has said.


Steven Spielberg is set to direct the as yet untitled film, with principal filming to take place in Los Angeles in 2007.


By that time it will have been 17 years since Harrison Ford last cut a dash as the eponymous Nazi-hating archaeologist/adventurer/womaniser, but Star Wars supremo Lucas says the fourth film will be "really cool".


"It's going to be fantastic. It's going to be the best one yet," he said.


The Indiana Jones trilogy was a huge commercial and critical success in the 1980s, with Ford cementing his position as a Hollywood legend in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.


Earlier this year the 64-year-old hit back at claims that he was too old to star in the upcoming film, insisting that he was "fit to continue" and relished the chance at being given one last crack of the whip.


Despite this insistence however, Indiana Jones and the Ravages of Time was still put forward as a potential title for the film by cheeky fans.

A host of familiar faces are rumoured to be connected with the project, including John Rhys-Davies, Karen Allen and Sir Sean Connery, who played the archaeologist's father in the Last Crusade.