Tag Archives: ancient

Holy bin chickens: ancient Egyptians tamed wild ibis for sacrifice



A scene from the Books of the Dead (based at the Egyptian Museum) shows the ibis-headed god Thoth recording the result of “the final judgement”.
Wasef et al./PLOS ONE, CC BY-SA

Sally Wasef, Griffith University and David Lambert, Griffith University

These days, not many Aussies consider the ibis a particularly admirable creature.

But these birds, now colloquially referred to as “bin chickens” due to their notorious scavenging antics, have a grandiose and important place in history – ancient Egyptian history, to be precise.

Using DNA from ibis mummies buried around 2,500 years ago, our research published today explores this bird’s stature in ancient times, and how it was reared.

Our findings suggest ancient Egyptian priests practised short-term taming of the wild sacred ibis. This was likely done somewhere in natural ibis habitats, such as local lakes or wetlands. Also, it was probably done close to the Thoth temple at Tuna el Gebel, in a bid to meet an ibis demand fuelled by religious burial rituals.

We’ve bin chicken out some DNA

The preservation of bodies through mummification is a hallmark of ancient Egyptian civilisation.

Unfortunately, unfavourable environmental conditions such as high temperatures, humidity and alkaline conditions often result in scepticism about the authenticity of genetic results from ancient Egyptian human remains.




Read more:
Friday essay: the rise of the ‘bin chicken’, a totem for modern Australia


However, animal mummies in the region are much more common. And the sacred ibis, (Threskiornis aethiopicus), is by far the most common bird mummy in ancient Egypt’s underground catacombs, with more than two million found.

The Egyptian sacred ibis looks very similar to the Australian white ibis (Threskiornis molucca). We once thought they were both sacred ibises, but the two are actually sister species in the ibis family.

Our analysis of 14 sacred ibis mummies, which we collected ourselves from catacombs, helped reveal the role of this bird in ancient Egyptian society and religion.

We collected sacred ibis mummy remains from the ibis catacomb in Saqqara.
Author provided

We analysed and compared mitochondrial DNA, which is a section of DNA inherited from the mother and passed only through females. In doing so, we were able to compare the genetic diversity among the ancient ibis mummies to that of modern sacred ibis populations in Africa.

All hail the Ibis

Ancient Egyptians thought animals were incarnations of gods on Earth. They worshipped the sacred ibis as the god Thoth, which was responsible for maintaining the universe, judging the dead, and overseeing systems of magic, writing, and science.

It’s not surprising then, that professionally mummified Ibises were sacrificially offered to Thoth at his annually celebrated festival. In fact, offering sacred ibis mummies in ancient Egypt was a common practice between the 26th Dynasty (664-525 BC) and the early Roman Period (AD 250).




Read more:
Mummies have had a bad wrap – it’s time for a reassessment


For ancient Egyptian priests, the mummification of animals like ibises was not simply a ritual duty, but also a profitable business. Considering the number of ibis mummies found, one has to wonder how the priests secured supplies for this practice.

Some evidence from ancient Egyptian text suggests the birds may have been raised in dedicated large-scale farms over the long term – either next to or within temple enclosures.

In the writings of the priest and scribe Hor of Sebennytos, from the second century BC, he reported regularly feeding about 60,000 sacred ibises with “clover and bread”. This could be interpreted as domestication, or controlled breeding.

In 1825, French naturalist Georges Cuvier described the skeleton of an ibis mummy from Thebes that he’d unwrapped, saying:

One sees that this mummy must have come from a domestic bird in the temples, because its left humerus was broken and reset. It is highly improbable that a wild bird with a wing broken would have been able to capture prey and escape predators. Hence it would have been unable to survive long enough to have healed.

Researchers today have also suggested the seasonal taming of ancient wild ibises, wherein the birds were reared over a single generation by priests, in natural habitats close to temples. Moreover, it seems they were not domesticated, which would have required breeding in captivity over many generations.

The rearing is thought to have occurred at locations such as the Lake of the Pharaoh, in which a natural basin was filled annually by flood waters from the Nile River.

These actions were almost certainly aimed at collecting a large number of adult birds, which were required for the Egyptian ritual of offering a mummified ibis to please Thoth.

1.75 million birds, then suddenly none?

Millions of sacred ibis mummies have been found stacked floor-to-ceiling along kilometres of dedicated catacombs in Egypt.

It’s believed that about 10,000 mummies were deposited annually in the Sacred Animal Necropolis at Saqqara.




Read more:
A recipe for mummy preservation existed 1,500 years before the Pharaohs


This amounts to an estimated 1.75 million birds deposited at this location alone. Another catacomb at Tuna el-Gebel contains approximately four million sacred ibis mummies, the largest known number of any mummified birds at a single Egyptian site.

But these birds disappeared from Egypt around 1850, centuries after the cessation of the mummification practice. How and why they disappeared remains a mystery.

Clearly, the people of today treat the ibis in a very different way to the ancient Egyptians. For the latter, they were sacred birds that held a special place in society.

Perhaps we should remember that and recognise, at least a little, their honoured status in the past.The Conversation

Sally Wasef, Postdoctoral research fellow, Griffith University and David Lambert, Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Forgotten citadels: Fiji’s ancient hill forts and what we can learn from them



While most Fijian settlement is coastal, new research into mountain settlements can teach us about this country pre-colonisation. Pictured is the Seseleka hill fort, 420 metres above sea level.
Patrick Nunn

Patrick D. Nunn, University of the Sunshine Coast

Far away from Fiji’s golden beaches and turquoise seas lies what might appear to many people – visitors and Fijian alike – another reality. One that is hidden, almost forgotten, yet one that recent research is helping bring out from the shadows.

Fiji is not known for its hill forts, but it was not so long ago that they were almost ubiquitous. Consider the comment of colonial official Basil Thomson in 1908 who noted that “almost every important hilltop in western Viti Levu [the largest island in Fiji] is crowned with an entrenchment of some kind”.

The evidence for people having once occupied mountain tops in Fiji is plentiful yet today barely known and hardly studied. This evidence hits you the first time you see it. You are on a perspiring, muscle-aching uphill walk along one of the steep-sided volcanic ridge lines when suddenly the ground in front of you unexpectedly drops away.

There is a deep ditch artificially cut across the ridge, an impediment to your progress today but doubly so 400 years ago when its base would have been lined with sharpened sticks to impale unwanted visitors. On the upslope side of the ditch you find a stone platform – on which a guard house would have been built – and above, a series of cross-ridge stone walls.

In the case of the hill fort of Vatutaqiri on the Vatia Peninsula (northern Viti Levu), we mapped a series of five concentric stone walls built from hundreds of rocks that must have been rolled uphill from the base of the mountain. Like many such hill forts, the Vatutaqiri summit comprises an artificial mound, in this case some 12 metres high, with a flat top, likely to have been a symbolic refuge and/or a lookout post.

One of the five concentric stone walls on the flanks of Vatutaqiri hill fort, Vatia Peninsula, Fiji.
Patrick Nunn

Researching and dating the hill forts

A three-year research project, just concluded, in collaboration with the Fiji Museum sought to understand the hill forts of Bua (northern Fiji). At the outset, we knew only that such places existed here because written accounts described them.

These include that of Commodore Wilkes of the US Navy who described in 1845 “a high and insulated peak […] which has a town perched on its very top.” We identified this peak as Seseleka, 420 metres above sea level, and mapped and excavated it as part of this project.

Maps of Seseleka hill fort, Bua, Fiji. Map A shows the approach to the summit of Seseleka along steep-sided ridge lines cut by artificial ditches and stone walls. Map B shows the summit of Seseleka with the main residential area to the west (with yavu or stone house platforms) and lookout mounds along its axis.
Patrick Nunn

As shown in our map, the flat-topped summit of Seseleka comprises an ocean-facing terrace with the remains of residence platforms (yavu) slightly below a series of three artificial mounds used as lookouts.

Pot shards and edible shellfish remains are scattered around, the latter well suited to radiocarbon dating. There is also an artificial pool (toevu) on top of Seseleka from the mud in the bottom of which we extracted carbon samples for dating.

The results show that people were living on top of Seseleka as early as AD 1670, probably earlier, utilising earthenware for cooking and storage, periodically going down to the coast to collect shellfish that were brought back for less-mobile inhabitants to consume.

In total, we re-discovered 16 hill forts in Bua and, through a range of techniques from radiocarbon dating to the collection and analysis of oral traditions, have helped fill in some details of this poorly-known period of Fiji history.

A plausible explanation is that some 700 years ago, when sea levels in Fiji fell slightly, a food crisis resulted, which led to warfare and the abandonment of coastal sites for mountain-top ones.




Read more:
Rise and fall: social collapse linked to sea level in the Pacific


A few weeks ago, we returned from a reconnaissance trip looking for hill forts in the high volcanic islands of the Kadavu group (southern Fiji). On the pristine stellate island of Ono, we visited and mapped five hill forts, including ones on the summits of Qilai and Uluisolo, the latter reputed to be the place where the god Tanovu who battled the recalcitrant god of distant Nabukelevu island once lived.

But the least expected find was on top of the mountain named Madre where numerous large rocks have been rolled up onto its summit and arranged, it seems, in ways consistent with megalithic structures elsewhere in the world.

In a first for Fiji, there seems to be the remains of a dolmen (a stone tomb) on the summit of Madre.

The dolmen on the hill fort at the summit of Madre, Ono Island, Fiji.
Patrick Nunn

The Fijian word for village is “koro”, used today to refer to any nucleated settlement, mostly along the islands’ coasts. But up until about the 1830s, the word koro was used only to refer to a mountain-top village, thus the name Korolevu means “big village”, Korovatu means “rocky village” and Koronivalu means “war town”. The study of place names can help illuminate history in countries like Fiji where written history is incomplete.

On Ono Island in Kadavu, the researchers stayed in the villages of Vabea and Waisomo and made several ascents of the formidable mountain behind them. This mountain – and the impressive hill fort that sprawls across it – is named Korovou, meaning “new village”, in this sense a new hill fort built, presumably, after another was abandoned. Where its predecessor was, no one is sure … yet.

The author would like to acknowledge his co-researchers in the three-year study of Buan hill forts – Elia Nakoro and Niko Tokainavatu (Fiji Museum), Michelle McKeown (Landcare New Zealand), Paul Geraghty and Frank Thomas (University of the South Pacific), and Piérick Martin, Brandon Hourigan and Roselyn Kumar (University of the Sunshine Coast).The Conversation

Patrick D. Nunn, Professor of Geography, School of Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


How ancient seafarers and their dogs helped a humble louse conquer the world



Male (left) and female Heterodoxus spiniger from Borneo.
Natural History Museum, London, Author provided

Loukas Koungoulos, University of Sydney

This is the story of how a parasitic, skin-chewing insect came to conquer the world.

For more than a century, scientists have been puzzled as to how an obscure louse native to Australia came to be found on dogs across the world. Heterodoxus spiniger evolved to live in the fur of the agile wallaby.

Despite little evidence to back the idea, many researchers believed it was linked to people from Asia bringing the dingo to Australia in ancient times. Perhaps people later took dingoes infested with this parasite back home, where it spread to local dogs, and onwards from there.




Read more:
Dingoes do bark: why most dingo facts you think you know are wrong


But when we approached the question again using the most up-to-date information, my colleague Peter Contos and I came up with a completely different explanation – one that better fits what we know of ancient migration and trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

As we report in the journal Environmental Archaeology, this louse probably originated not in Australia but in New Guinea, an island with a long history of intimate connection with seafaring Asian cultures.

Louse on the loose

H. spiniger is a tiny louse that lives on mammals around the world, mostly dogs. Using its clawed legs to hang on, it bites and chews at the skin and hair of its hosts to draw the blood on which it feeds.

As all its closest relatives are specialised parasites of marsupials, mostly other wallabies, logic suggested that H. spiniger must have evolved within Australia. It also seemed logical it would have spread first to the dingo, Australia’s native dog.

Our first task was to figure out just how far away from Australia it had spread; this would inform the likely pathways by which it could have travelled to the wider world.

We looked at museum collections, entomological surveys, and veterinary research reports to generate a map of its worldwide distribution.

Global distribution of H. spiniger.
Lougoulos and Contos, Author provided

The specimens we found, collected from the late 19th century to the present day, showed that this species is found on every continent except Europe and Antarctica.

But in Australia, we couldn’t find a single verifiable instance of the parasite living on dingoes. The only cases were from agile wallabies and domestic dogs.

That meant the prevailing wisdom had been wrong, and we had to look elsewhere for the origins of H. spiniger.

Don’t blame the dingoes.
Blanka Berankova/Shutterstock

Where did it really come from?

Although marsupials are best known from Australia, they are also found in other parts of the surrounding region. The agile wallaby is also native to the island of New Guinea, which was once joined with Australia.

Dogs have also been in New Guinea for at least as long as the dingo has been in Australia. Traditionally, dogs were kept in Papuan villages, and were used to hunt game, including wallabies.

It came as little surprise, then, that we found H. spiniger on both agile wallabies and native dogs in New Guinea – and only a few decades after the first ever identification of the species.

So here was a more likely place in which the first transfer from wallaby to dog took place. But who took them out of New Guinea and into the wider world?

Austronesian voyagers

New Guinea was first colonised by humans around the same time as Australia. But since that time, compared with Australia it has had notably stronger connections with the outside world, reaching back millennia before European colonisation of Australia in 1788.

Around 4,000 years ago, agriculturalists known as Austronesians sailed out of Taiwan to settle several archipelagos in Oceania. With them they brought domestic species of plants and animals, including dogs.

By 3,000 years ago, at the latest, they reached New Guinea. We suggest this was the crucial moment when dogs first picked up H. spiniger.

In the ensuing centuries, Austronesians went on to settle much of Indonesia, the Philippines, Melanesia and Polynesia, and coastal sections of mainland Southeast Asia.

They even settled as far as Madagascar, suggesting their voyages probably took them around the rim of the Indian Ocean, along the margins of India and the Middle East.

Dogs accompanying the migrants probably helped spread the louse, which is found almost everywhere they went.

This spans an enormous distance – from Hawaii to Madagascar – a testament to the ancient Austronesians’ supreme seafaring skills.

New directions

Our research suggests how the parasite first got around the world, but not precisely when. Its journey probably progressed at different times in different places.

The Austronesian diaspora established trade routes between the places they settled, some of which spanned impressive distances across several island groups.




Read more:
How to get to Australia … more than 50,000 years ago


Later, foreign traders connected these communities with greater Asia and Africa. And in modern times, dogs continue to be transported as desirable goods themselves.

Trade and contact has probably led to further, possibly ongoing, dispersal of H. spiniger.

Unfortunately there are no archaeological examples that could demonstrate the louse’s early presence outside New Guinea, because this species prefers hot, humid environments.

A genetic approach is a better way forward. A start would be testing specimens from different parts of the world, to see when different regional populations – if they exist – branched off from one another.

This is particularly important in tracking its spread to the Americas, which likely occurred in recent centuries alongside European colonisation.

This research will help us further understand how migration, contact and trade unfolded in the prehistoric Asia-Pacific region, and how it affected the animal species – including the humblest of parasites – we see there today.


This paper would not have been possible without the contributions of Peter Contos, the work of volunteers on the Natural History Museum’s Boopidae of Australasia digitisation project, and the contributions of the public to Wikipedia Creative Commons, for which we are grateful.The Conversation

Loukas Koungoulos, PhD Candidate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Ancient Helike


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the ancient Greek city of Helike and how it disappeared in an earthquake.

For more visit:
https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2019/06/what-happened-to-ancient-helike.html


Trees, the ancient Macedonians, and the world’s first environmental disaster


Anthony Dosseto, University of Wollongong and Alex Francke, University of Wollongong

It’s a simple enough equation: good soil is the key to good food. And good soil starts with trees.

Alexander the Great conquered a vast empire that extended from Greece all the way to India. However, his ancestors’ fortune was a mixed bag. A new series of studies show the ancient Macedonians may have been struck by one of the earliest environmental disasters linked to human activity.

Ancient sediment records sealed in lakes for thousands of years reveals how logging may have affected erosion, which ultimately destroyed the capacity of the ancient Macedonians to grow food.




Read more:
Soil is the key to our planet’s history (and future)


More trees, on the other hand, appears to have made soil erosion less susceptible to climate change. The lessons for modern people – and our future prosperity – are clear.

Soil is a kingmaker

Something wonderful happens when rocks, formed in the guts of the Earth, come into contact with air and water: they break down into clays (and other things) to form soils. Because of their ability to store water and nutrients, soils are the food basket of land plants and all the animals that feed on them, including us.

Preserving soil has been the key for success to all past civilisations. Those who lost it would rapidly be precipitated into oblivion. This happened everywhere: the Middle East, Greece, Rome and Mesamerica.

Preserving our soil should therefore be at the centre of our concerns (although it rarely gets a look-in on the nightly news).

Erosion isn’t just a problem because the land loses soil. This soil enters waterways, increasing the sediment load of rivers. This high sediment load harms freshwater and coastal ecosystems, including fish population and, ultimately, us. We therefore need to better understand how climate change and humans shape soil erosion.

Macedonian timber and the first environmental disaster

The chemistry of sediments deposited on lake’s bottom records how the environment changed over hundreds and thousands of years. Recently, we have studied sediments from Lake Dojran, straddling the border between Northern Macedonia and Greece. We looked at the past 12,000 years of sediment archive and found about 3,500 years ago, a massive erosion event happened.




Read more:
500 years of drought and flood: trees and corals reveal Australia’s climate history


Pollen trapped in the lake’s sediment suggests this is linked to deforestation and the introduction of agriculture in the region. Macedonian timber was highly praised for ship building at the time, which could explain the extent of deforestation.

A massive erosion event would have catastrophic consequences for agriculture and pasture. Interestingly, this event is followed by the onset of the so-called Greek “Dark Ages” (3,100 to 2,850 years ago) and the demise of the highly sophisticated Bronze Age Mycenaean civilisation.

Further to the west, at the crossroads between Albania and Norther Macedonia, Lake Ohrid holds a much longer storyline: an international scientific drilling program is uncovering the past million year of climate and environmental stories locked in Lake Ohrid sediments.

We recently looked at Lake Ohrid on a more modest time scale, similar to the Lake Dojran project: the past 16,000 years.

At Lake Ohrid, there are also signs of increased soil erosion around 4,000 years ago. These results are consistent with previous suggestions of a human role on soil erosion at other lakes in Greece.

Overall, there are clear signs that deforestation and the development of agriculture precedes the Greek “Dark Ages”. While the causal link cannot be established with certainty, this timeline could represent the first negative feedback loop where humans depleted environmental resources, which in turn harmed communities.

Trees can make soil less sensitive to climate change

Lake Ohrid tells us another interesting story: until 8,000 years ago, soil erosion was closely following climate change. During dry and cold periods, erosion was shallow, probably as a consequence of dry conditions; while during warmer periods, higher levels of erosion delivered more sediment to the lake.

Around 8,000 years ago, something interesting happens: trees become the dominant type of vegetation cover. While trees were already abundant in previous warm periods (and less during cold periods), from 8,000 years ago onwards, they overwhelm the type of pollen that fell into the lake and became trapped in the sediment.




Read more:
Forest soil needs decades or centuries to recover from fires and logging


This tree dominance has an important consequence for soil erosion: after 8,000 years ago, soil erosion became shallow and remained so, even while the climate continued to oscillate. We can see soil erosion became less sensitive to climatic fluctuations.

We already knew that trees, thanks to their deep roots, help stabilise soil and prevent its loss; what we learn here is that over a certain threshold of tree cover, they also make soil erosion much less sensitive to climate change.

Lake Ohrid provides us with an important lesson, especially as we are increasingly concerned with how our soil and water resources will be affected by global warming. If we want to preserve our soils and rivers (and feed our communities) we need to ensure that enough of our landscape is covered with trees.

Planting trees and forest management should not be a concern for nature enthusiasts only, but for all us – regardless of political inclination – who enjoy eating. Understanding the past is not simply about learning from our ancestors’ mistakes so we do not repeat them, but freeing ourselves from their grip so new paths unfold ahead of us.The Conversation

Anthony Dosseto, Associate Professor, University of Wollongong and Alex Francke, Research Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Life in Ancient Rome



The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt



Hidden women of history: Enheduanna, princess, priestess and the world’s first known author



File 20190207 174861 1s749k2.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Standard of Ur mosaic, 26th century BC.
Wikimedia Commons

Louise Pryke, Macquarie University

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

The world’s first known author is widely considered to be Enheduanna, a woman who lived in the 23rd century BCE in ancient Mesopotamia (approximately 2285 – 2250 BCE). Enheduanna is a remarkable figure: an ancient “triple threat”, she was a princess and a priestess as well as a writer and poet.

The third millennium BCE was a time of upheaval in Mesopotamia. The conquest of Sargon the Great saw the development of the world’s first great empire. The city of Akkad become one of the largest in the world, and northern and southern Mesopotamia were united for the first time in history.

In this extraordinary historical setting, we find the fascinating character of Enheduanna, Sargon’s daughter. She worked as the high priestess of the moon deity Nanna-Suen at his temple in Ur (in modern-day Southern Iraq). The celestial nature of her occupation is reflected in her name, meaning “Ornament of Heaven”.

Enheduanna composed several works of literature, including two hymns to the Mesopotamian love goddess Inanna (Semitic Ishtar). She wrote the myth of Inanna and Ebih, and a collection of 42 temple hymns. Scribal traditions in the ancient world are often considered an area of male authority, but Enheduanna’s works form an important part of Mesopotamia’s rich literary history.

Ancient Akkadian cylindrical seal depicting Mesopotamian love goddess Inanna.
Wikimedia Commons



Read more:
Friday essay: the legend of Ishtar, first goddess of love and war


Enheduanna’s status as a named poet is significant given the anonymity surrounding works of even earlier authors. Yet she is almost entirely unknown in the modern day, and her achievements have been largely overlooked (a notable exception is the work of Jungian analyst Betty De Shong Meador).
Her written works are deeply personal in subject, containing numerous biographical features.

Enheduanna’s cycle of temple hymns concludes with an assertion of the work’s originality and its authorship:

The compiler of the tablets was En-hedu-ana. My king, something has been created that no one has created before.

While clearly asserting ownership over the creative property of her work, Enheduanna also comments on the difficulties of the creative process — apparently, writer’s block was a problem even in ancient Mesopotamia.

Long hours labouring by night

In her hymns, Enheduanna comments on the challenge of encapsulating divine wonders through the written word. She describes spending long hours labouring over her compositions by night, for them then to be performed in the day. The fruits of her work are dedicated to the goddess of love.

Enheduanna’s poetry has a reflective quality that emphasises the superlative qualities of its divine muse, while also highlighting the artistic skill required for written compositions.

Her written praise of celestial deities has been recognised in the field of modern astronomy. Her descriptions of stellar measurements and movements have been described as possible early scientific observations. Indeed, a crater on Mercury was named in her honour in 2015.

Enheduanna’s works were written in cuneiform, an ancient form of writing using clay tablets but have only survived in the form of much later copies from around 1800 BCE, from the Old Babylonian period and later. The lack of earlier sources has raised doubts for some over Enheduanna’s identification as the author of myths and hymns and her status as a religious official of high rank. However, the historical record clearly identifies Enheduanna as the composer of ancient literary works, and this is undoubtedly an important aspect of the traditions surrounding her.




Read more:
Friday essay: the recovery of cuneiform, the world’s oldest known writing


Aside from poetry, other sources for Enheduanna’s life have been discovered by archaeologists. These include cylinder seals belonging to her servants, and an alabaster relief inscribed with her dedication. The Disk of Enheduanna was discovered by British archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley and his team of excavators in 1927.

The Disk of Enheduanna.
Zunkir/Mefman00/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

The Disk was discarded and apparently defaced in antiquity, but the pieces were recovered through excavations and the scene featuring the writer successfully restored. The scene depicts the priestess at work: along with three male attendants, she observes a libation offering being poured from a jug.

Enheduanna is situated in the centre of the image, with her gaze focused on the religious offering, and her hand raised in a gesture of piety. The image on the Disk emphasises the religious and social status of the priestess, who is wearing a cap and flounced garment.

Art imitates life

Enheduanna’s poetry contains what are thought to be autobiographical elements, such as descriptions of her struggle against a usurper, Lugalanne. In her composition The Exaltation of Inanna, Enheduanna describes Lugalanne’s attempts to force her from her role at the temple.

Inanna temple relief.
Wikimedia Commons

Enheduanna’s pleas to the moon god were apparently met with silence. She then turned to Inanna, who is praised for restoring her to office.

The challenge to Enheduanna’s authority, and her praise of her divine helper, are echoed in her other work, such as in the myth known as Inanna and Ebih.

In this narrative, the goddess Inanna comes into conflict with a haughty mountain, Ebih. The mountain offends the deity by standing tall and refusing to bow low to her. Inanna seeks help from her father, the deity Anu. He (understandably) advises her against going to war with the fearsome mountain range.

Inanna, in typically bold form, ignores this instruction and annihilates the mountain, before praising the god Enlil for his assistance. The myth contains intriguing parallels with the conflict described in Enheduanna’s poetry.

In the figure of Enheduanna, we see a powerful figure of great creativity, whose passionate praise of the goddess of love continues to echo through time, 4000 years after first being carved into a clay tablet.

Note: Translations of the Temple Hymns are taken from Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Fluckiger-Hawker, E, Robson, E., and Zólyomi, G., The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford 1998.The Conversation

Louise Pryke, Lecturer, Languages and Literature of Ancient Israel, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Heaven on earth: the ancient roots of your backyard garden



File 20190110 43525 rg3r3b.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The connection between the gardens of Versailles, and your backyard garden, are closer than you might think.
Shutterstock

Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides, Macquarie University

You don’t have to be an avid gardener or know all the Latin names of plants to appreciate the opportunity for reflection that a stroll in the garden can afford us. The explosion of colours, shapes, and textures in the garden, the tenacity and ingenuity of the plants, so determined to claim their right to life and beauty, can suspend for us the troubling aspects of everyday life.

But gardens are also bound to their political and religious history, traces of which can be found in our ongoing cultural obsession with them. The connection between the famous gardens of Versailles, once the coveted possession of Louis XIV, and our humble back garden is deeper than we might imagine.




Read more:
Friday essay: what is it about Versailles?


In the book of Genesis, our creation begins in Eden, the “garden of God” which our ancestors, Adam and Eve, failed to appreciate. Having lost our privileged access to this divine garden because of their sin, we perpetually try to re-create it – in our homes, in our cities, in our heads. The earthly garden as a reflection of the paradise we can hope to experience after death is also a central motif in the Qur’an, a promise delivered by Allah himself.

Adam and Eve Chased out of the Terrestrial Paradise. Jean Achille Benouville, 1841.
Wikimedia

Gods and kings

In the ancient Near East, in whose fertile soil the Biblical traditions took shape, kings (who often assumed priestly duties) were believed to have the monopoly of communicating with the gods in the royal garden. This was seen as a microcosm of the divine garden.

In the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh (from around 2000 BCE), the hero-king Gilgamesh travels to the wondrous garden of the sun-god, where flowers boast precious gems instead of leaves, in a quest to claim immortality. Although immortality eludes Gilgamesh, the divine garden offers him wisdom. Thus equipped, he returns to his city, Uruk, also known as “the garden of Gilgamesh,” and builds magnificent walls which will etch his name into the memory of mankind.




Read more:
Guide to the classics: the Epic of Gilgamesh


In another story, despite his uneasy relationship with the fertility goddess Inanna, whose advances he eventually rejects, Gilgamesh poses as her dedicated gardener. He carves a throne and a bed for Inanna from the Huluppu tree while she makes him a magical drum and drumstick from it to summon warriors to battle. When Inanna’s favourite tree is threatened by a serpent nesting at its roots, only Gilgamesh and his companions rush to her aid.

Throughout the Near East, the garden was a place where gods confirmed the legitimacy of kings. Sargon I (1920-1881 BCE), the founder of the Akkadian-Sumerian empire, poses in the epic The Legend of Sargon as a humble gardener, and was hand-picked by the goddess to become the king.

Ancient Near Eastern kings invested exorbitant sums of money in building magnificent royal gardens, architectural marvels which crystallised in people’s minds their unique communion with the gods. Sennacherib (704-681 BCE) likely commissioned the famous hanging gardens to be built near his capital Nineveh, although we still commonly refer to them as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

‘Garden party of Aššurbanipal’ relief, reproduced with the permission of the Trustees of the British Museum. Found in Nineveh, Iraq, dated circa 645 BCE.
British Museum

The notion was also known to the Israelite king Solomon (circa 970-931 BCE), who proudly announced his construction of lavish, well-irrigated gardens and groves, and was widely used by the Achaemenids (a Persian dynasty). Indeed the Persian word for an enclosed garden, pairi-daêza, was introduced into Greek as paradeisos (“paradise”) by the historian Xenophon.

A possible image of Prince Mirza Hindal in a Garden from Los Angeles County Museum of Arts (public domain). India, Mughal, 1600-1610.
Wikimedia

In his biography of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, the Xenophon notes with admiration the king’s impeccable gardening skills which matched his royal virtue. Seleucus I, Alexander the Great’s general who came to rule Babylon, also embraced the profile of the king as gardener. His famous garden at Daphne, outside Antioch, renowned for its abundance of shady laurel trees, tall cypresses, and perennial fountains, was closely associated with the foundation of the Seleucid dynasty and Apollo, their divine patron. In the east the tradition never lost its appeal.

From the Middle East to the world

The Romans, who inherited the kingdoms of Alexander’s successors, adopted the ideology of gardens with renewed zeal, transplanting it in Europe. The Roman Empire withered, but generations of aspiring aristocrats and rulers, including Charlemagne, Count Robert II of Artois (1250-1302), Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464), and Henri II (1519-1559) never forgot the sense of grandeur and superhuman aura that exotic, exclusive gardens could afford them.

Dating from the Middle Ages, the Vatican Gardens, owned by the Pope, continue to evoke the political and religious dimensions of the garden, which were especially celebrated in Britain with the ascension of Henry VIII in 1509. European colonization of the Middle East saw the idea of the garden reintroduced in the places of its origin, but, also imported in the New World. Gardens such as the Victoria gardens in Mumbai showed off the legitimacy of British rule.




Read more:
The science is in: gardening is good for you


The Vatican evokes the political and religious dimensions of gardens.
Shutterstock

The connection of the garden with politics remains strong. Community gardens are cast as an epitome of democratic values, and the Royal Gardens in all major Australian cities advocate inclusiveness, despite their monarchical titles. Gardens surrounded ancient temples to bring worshippers closer to god; gardens surround war memorials inviting us to reflect on life lost and life gained.

So next time you’re wandering around your own garden, reflect on the fact that you’re walking in the footsteps of the kings and queens of yesteryear, in your own slice of paradise.The Conversation

Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides, Associate Professor in Ancient History, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


How huge floods and complex infrastructure could have triggered ancient Angkor’s demise



File 20181017 17671 1edzf8f.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A monument to urban frailty?
Javier Gil/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Dan Penny, University of Sydney

A series of floods that hit the ancient city of Angkor would have overwhelmed and destroyed its vast water network, according to a new study that provides an explanation for the downfall of the world’s biggest pre-industrial city.

Our research, published in Science Advances, explains how the damage to this vital network would have triggered a series of “cascading failures” that ultimately toppled the entire city. And it holds lessons for today’s cities about the danger posed when crucial infrastructure is overwhelmed.

Angkor, in modern-day Cambodia, was founded in 802 AD and abandoned during the 15th century. Its demise coincided with a period of highly variable rainfall in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, with prolonged droughts and extremely wet years.

We know Angkor’s water distribution network was heavily damaged by flooding during that period. But we didn’t have an explanation of how this triggered the city’s eventual collapse and abandonment.

Flooding fate

Angkor is an unusual archaeological site because the remains of the city can still be seen on the ground and, particularly, from the air. It is thus possible to map precisely the constructed features that made up its urban fabric and, from this, to interpret the function and flow of the living city.

We used existing archaeological maps of Angkor to chart the city’s water distribution network, which was made up of hundreds of excavated canals and embankments, temple moats, reservoirs, natural river channels, and other features. This sprawling network, covering more than 1,000 square km, provided both irrigation and flood defence.

We then used a computer model to simulate the effects of flooding, such as would have occurred during huge monsoonal rains, to see how the system would have coped with the biggest deluges.

We found that large floods would have been channelled into just a few major pathways, which would have suffered significant erosion as a result. Other parts of the network, meanwhile, would have had less water flow and would have begun to fill up with sediment.

The resulting feedback loop would have caused damage to cascade through the network, ultimately fragmenting Angkor’s water infrastructure.

A watery end.
Alcyon/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

There are two main messages from our research. First, it demonstrates how climatic variability in the 14th and 15th centuries could have triggered the demise of the city.

Second, it shows how Angkor’s fate resonates with today’s concerns about the resilience of our own urban infrastructure – not just to extreme weather (although that is important), but also to other potentially damaging events such as terrorism.




Read more:
What’s critical about critical infrastructure?


Angkor was once the largest city on Earth. But its huge growth made it unworkable, unwieldy, and ultimately irreparable. Its critical urban infrastructure was both complex and interdependent, meaning that a seemingly small disruption (such as a flood) could fracture the entire network and bring down an entire city.

Ancient Angkor, it seems, experienced the same challenges as modern urban networks. As we move further into a period characterised by extreme weather events, the resilience of our urban infrastructure will be tested.

As cities grow, their infrastructure becomes more complex. Eventually, networks such as roads, water infrastructure or electricity grids reach a critical state that is neither predicted nor designed by those that operate them. In these networks, small errors or outages in one part of the network can quickly propagate to become a much larger failure. One example would be an electrical fault that triggers a wide-scale blackout.

Government agencies around the world have developed or are developing strategies to deal with threats to critical infrastructure, including from terrorism, natural disasters and, increasingly, extreme weather events related to climate change. Resilience can be built into infrastructural networks by increasing redundancy (or alternative flow paths) and emphasising modularity, so that cascading failures, if they occur, can be localised while maintaining the function of the wider network.

Our research on the demise of Angkor’s infrastructure sounds a warning from history about the dangers of the complex urban environments in which most humans now live, and the urgent need to prepare for a more variable future.The Conversation

Dan Penny, Associate Professor, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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