Archive for July, 2011
Historians are now looking at the Salem witch trials in a whole new light. In the past, they had thought that mass hysteria had been behind the conviction and deaths of 25 men and women. Four others were found guilty of witch craft but were not executed.
The year was 1693. The people living in Salem, Massachusetts strongly believed that Satan was both present on earth and very active as well. The settlers had brought this belief with them from Europe where charms were used in order to increase the productivity of both their farming and their agricultural pursuits.
Over time, the harmless “white magic” that allowed fields to produce a larger crop yield and to protect their animals from disease or injury was slowly transformed into something darker. Now people who used witch craft did it to harm their neighbors. If an animal was born with a defect or crops failed it was witch craft that was to blame.
This belief was especially strong in Salem. They blamed the supernatural for every ill that befell them such as arguments or strife between members of the congregation. If a baby died, crops failed or there was any kind of disagreement among the colonists it was Satan and his minions that were to blame. Men such as Cotton Mather and Joseph Glanvill wrote about the supernatural and went a long way to strengthening sentiments against the supernatural.
It didn’t help that in 1692, a group of young girls began to have strange fits. They were examined and it was found that the fits were not caused by epilepsy or any other known disease. The girls were related to Reverend Samuel Parris, a Puritan minister. When the girls had their fits they tended to scream, make strange sounds and even contort their bodies into strange positions. These strange actions were then mimicked by other girls in the town.
Many historians have looked for a reason for the Salem witch trials. They felt that it was mass hysteria that was to blame for the deaths of innocent men and women. In one case, children as young as four testified against some of the members of the Salem community.
Now scientists and historians have a different theory as to the cause of the Salem witch trials. It is now theorized that ergot poisoning may have been the reason for the fits and strange dreams rather than simple mass hysteria. Ergot is caused by a fungus that grows on rye and other grains that would have been grown in the Salem settlement. The poison can be passed from mother to infant through breast milk, making it possible for very young children to suffer from this condition.
Some of the symptoms include convulsive fits that are very similar to those that the girls had during the trials. Sufferers will experience muscle spasms, parasthesia, nausea and vomiting. They also experience hallucinations similar to those that are produced by LSD.
While it is not possible to blame all of the activities in Salem on ergot poisoning it goes a long way to explaining many of them.
A discovery made in Iklaina Greece has turned out to be the oldest example of decipherable text in Europe. A dig has unearthed many Mycenaean artifacts including a piece of writing made by a Greek-speaking Mycenaean scribe.
Other Mycenaean artifacts were found at the same dig. They included parts of a palace, murals, giant terrace walls and even proof of a drainage system. The Mycenaeans had a very advanced civilization and were able to dominate much of Greece between 1600 BCE and 1100 BCE. The civilization became legendary after Homer mentioned them in his work, the Ilead, which is an account of their war with Troy.
The tablet measures 1 inch tall by 1.5 inches wide. It was written using a writing system known as Linear B. This system was made up of 87 different signs that represented syllables rather than individual letters. The system was usually used to record financial matters that may have been of interest to the ruling elite at the time. This holds true for the pottery fragment that was discovered. Archaeologists have been able to determine that the syllable appearing on the fragment had to do with manufacturing although it is unknown what the rest of the piece would have said in its entirety.
There is also text on the back of the piece as well. This piece of writing includes a list of names as well as numbers. Archaeologists believe that this may have been part of a property list. There are a number of reasons why this find is so big.
The first reason is that the tablets were only meant to last a season and were therefore not made out of clay that was fired. They were dried in the sun and this made them extremely fragile. Because they were so brittle very few of the tablets have been found. They usually turn up in major palaces rather than at digs like the one at Iklaina.
It was believed that the tablet was only preserved as a fluke of luck. It appears as though the tablet was thrown into a fire pit where garbage was being burned. The heat from the burning garbage fired the clay and made it durable enough to last for thousands of years.
It is important to remember that while this is the oldest known sample of writing in Europe it is not the earliest known sample of writing that has been discovered to date. The oldest samples include pieces found in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. The writing that has been found in those areas dates back to as early as 3,000 BCE. Scientists are hoping to be able to find evidence of an earlier writing system known as Linear A that may have been related to Egyptian hieroglyphics. Scientists and archaeologists have been unable to translate any of the Linear A writings that have been found to date.
Scientists are also hoping that the Linear B writing will give information on how Greek kingdoms may have been organized.
Archeologists excavating a site in the Ural mountains have discovered a tool kit that may have belonged to Neanderthals. What is exciting to scientists is the fact that these tools were much newer than scientists expected them to be. This suggests that Neanderthals may have been alive and active for a much longer period of time than was previously known.
Before the discovery of the Russian tool kit, it was thought that the remaining Neanderthals were located on the Iberian Peninsula where Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar are now located. However, evidence now exists that suggests that may not have been the case. It is not surprising that the tools were still found on the outskirts of their former range as these were the areas that had Neanderthals living with the least amount of interference by Homo sapiens.
Evidence at the Ural mountain site included hundreds of stone tools, butchered mammoth bones and sand grains. They all show evidence that the site was in use approximately 33,000 years ago. The items were dated using luminescence and radiocarbon techniques. Luminescence dating is a technique that shows how long ago an item was exposed to sunlight. Scientists had believed that Neanderthals were no longer in existence 33,000 years ago.
Unlike other sites, there were no human remains found at the site, which was located at Byzovaya. This makes it difficult to prove that the site was inhabited by Neanderthals. However, the style of the tools is distinctly Neanderthal. In the past, the only sites that had these items were those that were inhabited by Neanderthals.
What has also surprised archaeologists is the fact that the site is located much further north than the range that was previously determined for Neanderthals. The site is located at the same latitude as Iceland. The weather there is brutally cold and it would have been necessary for Neanderthals to learn how to survive and flourish in an extreme climate.
Scientists have found that some humanoids exhibited Neanderthal traits as much as 600,000 years ago. Neanderthals were believed to be comparable to that of modern humans although their bone structure was much more robust than that of Homo sapiens. Neanderthals were also much stronger than modern humans and they had brains that were similar in size, if not larger, than the brain capacity of modern humans.
Previously, it was believed that Neanderthals were strict carnivores although recent evidence of cooked plant matter in the teeth of a Neanderthal skull has caused scientists to reevaluate this view. Neanderthal bones were first discovered in Engis, Belgium in 1829 CE and in Gibraltar in 1848. It is believed that they were alive and active for approximately 100,000 years. Their remains have not been found in Africa.
There have been several theories as to why the Neanderthals became extinct. One theory simply states that modern humans moved into their habitat approximately 80,000 years ago. There may have been violent conflict between Neanderthals and modern humans that eventually led to the Neanderthals being displaced. Another theory states that they interbred with modern humans and simply ceased to exist as a separate species. A final theory states that there may have been a volcanic super-eruption approximately 40,000 years ago that may have led to the demise of Neanderthals.
Archaeologists now believe that the discovery of the Mayan city of Holtun (which means Head of Stone) in Guatemala may provide them with a wealth of information about the daily lives of the ancient Maya. The site was discovered in the 1990’s and is located in northern Guatemala. The name “Head of Stone” comes from the massive stone masks located at the site.
Archaeologists first discovered the site after looters unearthed large, sculpted stone masks that were located on the side of one of the principal structures. Unfortunately, looters managed to destroy the major architecture at the site. The site was later surveyed by the IADAEH’s Department of Prehispanic and Colonial Monuments and investigations were continued at the site in 2010.
The site is made up of approximately 115 structures. They had previously been concealed by the thick jungle that had grown over them. The structures are grouped into six architectural groups. Some of the structures at the site include basal platforms, patios, mounds, pyramids, courtyards, causeways and several other structures. They are still largely obscured by the jungle vegetation that had grown over them. The site is also home to a number of stone houses or buildings that may have been used as burial chambers by Mayan kings. It is this use of stone homes as burial chambers that may have made it more difficult for researchers to find the royal remains.
Scientists have been able to determine that there would have been important religious ceremonies held at the city even though it was not as large or culturally advanced as other cities such as Tikal. Archaeologists have stated that if Tikal was the equivalent of a New York or a Los Angeles that it would have roughly compared to an Atlanta or a Denver.
Now scientists have been able to use different mapping techniques imaging technology in order to further excavate and explore the site. They have used three dimensional mapping in order to erase centuries of jungle growth as well as ground penetrating radar that has shown them a wealth of new information about what life would have been like when the site was being lived in.
It is believed that the site was in use between 600 BCE and 900 CE (the Late to Middle Preclassic period). At this time, it was estimated that approximately two thousand permanent residents would have made their home in the city. It was believed that at this time the Mayan peoples did not view their kings as being the center of the universe. Because of this view, it may have made more sense for kings to have been buried in their homes rather than in pyramids as they were in later Mayan civilizations.
It is also believed that the site would have accommodated a number of visitors who would have come to the site at times of great importance. Some of these events would have included the crowning of a king or the naming of a royal heir. At this time the site would have had to accommodate several thousand additional visitors.
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